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Showing posts with label seafood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label seafood. Show all posts

Monday, August 29, 2022

Trader Joe's Farm Raised Lightly Smoked Salmon


It may seem counterintuitive, but over the long haul, boring old pantry staples and culinary essentials actually account for the majority of clicks on this blog these days. For example, the two most popular posts here over the past 12 months have been Greek chickpeas and gluten free pizza dough. They may not be as fun or exciting as some of the other stuff Trader Joe's puts out, but for whatever reason, people keep reading those reviews many months and years after their debuts.

I was hoping that's what we had on our hands here: a new under-the-radar classic. I love salmon, and having it available in a shelf-stable version that can last for a couple years is super convenient. I also love that it's skinless and boneless: ready to eat right out of the tin. I'm not thrilled, however, that it's packed in oil. I always prefer canned fish in water.


There's just one big fillet of salmon in the can, although it's extremely soft and forks apart easily. I wasn't super impressed with the taste of the fish right from the get-go. It wasn't "fishy" per se, but it was just kind of lackluster and slightly metallic. There wasn't much in the way of smokiness either. It's definitely not the best salmon I've ever had, and unfortunately, it's not even the best canned salmon.

Heating it on the skillet yielded something a bit more palatable. I added some lemon juice and paprika which helped cover over the blandness of the fish. The cooking process also seemed to wake up the smoky flavor a tad. Sonia liked it more than I did but wasn't completely won over.


With 21 grams of protein and plenty of good fat, canned salmon isn't a bad thing to have on hand to supplement the fresh stuff, but I doubt we'll purchase this version again. Product of Chile. $3.69 for the 5 oz can. Three and a half stars from Sonia. Two and a half from me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Trader Joe's Wild Caught Cooked Atlantic Octopus

Okay, sorry, story time. It's cute, don't worry. For many nights over the past few weeks, at bedtime, i've had to spend ample time convincing one of my young kids that no, a giant octopus was not going to eat her overnight. I have no idea where she got that idea. I've "locked" the door and put her other stuffed animals on guard. I've made magic protective spells. I've even reminded here that here in Pittsburgh we live nowhere near an ocean. Doesn't matter. She had legit fear that a giant octopus was gonna come eat her. Even if Daddy was bigger and tastier looking, as I also reminded her. Nothing worked...

...until Trader Joe's Wild Caught Cooked Atlantic Octopus debuted in freezers a couple weeks back. "Look, sweetie!" I exclaimed. "Trader Joe's caught the giant octopus! We're safe!"

She totally bought that, then in toddler logic deduced that if the giant octopus can no longer eat us, we should eat the giant octopus. I thought she was joking but she insisted for weeks that we buy it to eat it. Finally, we relented.

And know what? We'd do it again. 

Granted, it can be somewhat of a visually challenging buy. I mean: tentacles, right? Gulp. 

But thaw it out and warm it up. As it says, fully cooked, which saves a few hours of prep from raw. We decided to make a simple "salad" of sorts with red onion, cucumber, and grilled octopus, prepped with just a little EVOO and salt and pepper. The octopus itself is firmer than we thought - sort of like a cross between calamari and a chicken sausage - while being extremely mild. No fishiness or anything. Likely if marinated, it'd soak up whatever flavor it was swimming in. Okay, not sure I like that visual either...my bad. 

And there's no rubberiness or anything, and as my lovely bride stated, even when chewing on a tentacle, it's the same feel in your mouth. Your teeth don't know the difference. If it's just a bit much, though, the tentacles can be removed easily enough which we did for our kids to get them to eat a bite before rewarding them with a hot dog. More octopus for us and happy kids. Win win. 

And our kid who begged for the octopus? We let her have first bite. She popped it in, amde a face, spat it promptly out, then said she loved it but had to twist her arm to eat it the rest of the meal, only for her to state afterwards it was her favorite. Yeah, I don't know either. 

Anyways, the eight ounce package is enough for two servings and costs $8.99. Seems reasonable compared to most seafood, and a buy we'd make again. Would love to hear ideas of how you all may have enjoyed the TJ's octopus, so share away. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Wild Caught Cooked Atlantic Octopus: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Friday, May 14, 2021

Trader Joe's Shrimp Seafood Burgers


This is one of those non-beef products that's definitely not even trying to be a hamburger, so why call it a shrimp "burger" at all? I mean, really, it's shrimp and pollock fish and there's no way to make that combo taste like a beef hamburger. It's much more like a chicken patty in terms of texture, and maybe even a little bit in terms of flavor, too. Well, I can't say for sure why Trader Joe's went this route with the moniker, but I, for one, like the word "burger" better than the word "patty" for reasons I can't quite put my finger on, semantically accurate or not.

Taste-wise, it's about equal parts shrimp and pollock, and both flavors are balanced out by garlic powder and other "spices." I can't tell you what the other spices are, because Trader Joe's didn't tell me, but I can say that they're definitely detectable and also delectable by my reckoning.


The burgers are not hot nor spicy by any means, just flavorful and savory—not fishy at all, either. Another plus: they actually stay together when being consumed and don't disintegrate and crumble like some other patties we've seen from Trader Joe's. Must be the rice flour.

The four little discs come individually packaged. So far we've tried heating them on the skillet and also in the air fryer. Both methods yielded pleasant results and took comparable heating times, although the air fryer method was preferred just ever so slightly by both Sonia and me. The air fryer heating method wasn't listed on the packaging this time. We just winged it. I think it was about 375 degrees for 8 or 9 minutes.

The patties go well with condiments like sweet chili sauce, or you can burger them up and use a mild cheese and toppings like lettuce, mayo, and mustard. I can't see ketchup working too well with something like this, but I could be wrong. In general, ketchup is probably my favorite condiment for beef hamburgers, so it's not like I'm biased against it. I just don't do ketchup with fish, unless we're talking fish sticks, and even then I'd lean toward tartar sauce. Hmm. Tartar sauce might work as a topping for these things, too.

If you like the taste of shrimp, and you wouldn't mind trying it in a chicken patty-esque, puck-like format, then snag a box on your next TJ's run. 

Four burgers for $6.99. Four stars a piece on this one.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Trader Joe's Shrimp Tikka Masala


I don't know that I've ever had a tikka masala dish that I've disliked. Just from Trader Joe's alone, we've seen chickenpaneer, and vegan varieties, all of which were thumbs up. Shrimp is one of my favorite foods and always has been. As long as it's cooked properly, it's pretty hard to mess up shrimp, so the bar is set pretty high for this dish already. 

Like most of you, we haven't been eating out much lately. So I guess if anything, that lowers the bar a tad and makes us appreciate near-restaurant-quality microwave meals even more than usual. Hopefully we're giving this Shrimp Tikka Masala its fair shake. 

Anyway, Let's dive in.

I feel like they almost wanted to go with a flippable tray, a la those yogurts that come with mix-ins, but with the shrimp and sauce being flipped into the bed of cumin rice instead of cookie bits getting flipped into a bed of yogurt. The tray isn't quite that flexible, so you're left flicking the shrimps one by one into the other side. Fair enough.


There are about 8 or 10 small shrimp swimming around in a red sauce. For a frozen meal, their texture is about what you'd expect. Shrimp doesn't fare particularly well in the microwave, in my opinion, and these specimens were no better or worse than I expected—just a tad more chewy than steamed or fried shrimp would be. 

The sauce is a "mildly spicy tomato sauce" ...and that's what it tastes like. It's not particularly bursting with Indian spices or heat. It's a wee bit more complex and interesting than, say, tomato soup, but it struck me as being significantly less flavorful than any of the previous tikka masala dishes from Trader Joe's.

The rice here isn't the classic basmati rice we see in most of TJ's Indian food. This is "cumin rice." It's plain white rice...with some cumin seeds and coconut oil. So...pretty much just plain white rice.


I polished off the tray easily enough. Never gagged. Never grimaced at the flavor. But it didn't inspire any moments of bliss or euphoria, either. 

While I can't shaft it too badly, I'd put this near the bottom of the tikka masala pack and maybe even near the bottom of the list of Trader Joe's Indian food in general. That's not to say it's bad in any way. There's just a laundry list of other outstanding Indian foods at TJ's that I'll reach for before I pick up this particular selection again. Sonia sat this one out, citing an upset tummy as her reason for non-participation.

$3.49 for the single serving meal. Ready after 5-6 minutes in microwave.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Trader Joe's Battered Halibut

Any other year, right around now, the most happenin' spots in Western PA on a Friday night are at the local Catholic church, school, or fire hall.

That's right, grab your pierogi tight and hold hope for haluski, we're talking fish fry dinners!

It's the best around here. So much fried fish, so little time. They're all over the place, with fillets so big it's questionable if it came from a regular fish or humpback whale. Mobbed with people, with long lines....

...so yeah, those ain't going on this year any more. We got to one, first Friday a few weeks back. See ya next year, we hope.

Doesn't mean you can't have a little consolation while hunkering down in fish fry-solation.

Is making a batch of Trader Joe's Battered Halibut the same as whatever Lenten sorcery that makes fish fry fish so good? No, of course not. There's certainly not the same ambiance, unless you happen to have a stash of cheap faded plastic lunch trays from the 1980s stashed at your house. Those definitely help.

But you know what? It's darn good fish. My lovely bride and I snagged a couple boxes for our at-home fish fry for our crew. Coulda baked them. Coulda put them in air fryer and baked the fries...or air fry the fries, and deep fry fish on our own in my trusty cast iron. Sacrifice tastes best when deep fried, so that's exactly what we did. If the Good Lord wants our hearts, He may as well have our arteries as well.

There's much good to be had here. Love the batter - it's neither too much with too many crunchies a la KFC chicken, nor too skimpy. It's just right, and crisps up nicely and evenly when fried, in a warm, happy glow. Tastes great too...and gluten free! Corn and rice flour, apparently. Whatever, it works, and works great.

The fish is pretty tasty too. The halibut is mild and fresh, and plenty fleshy. Admittedly there's not much flavor in the fish itself, as it seems mostly derived from the batter. That's no matter, it works really well, or can easily stand up to having a little hot sauce, or tartar, or squeeze of lemon, or whatever.

In other words, these halibut fillets are a perfectly good substitute for an at-home fish feast, and as bonus, there's no priest around asking for donations for the school AC that's been broke since 1975. No 50/50s either though.

And of course it should go without saying that you don't have to enjoy them the way we did. Fish 'n chips? Baked? Just eat 'em without thinking about 'em too much? Sure thing to all that and more!

There's seven fillets per box, each being probably four to five large bites, and a serving considered two fillets. At $8.99 for the halibut, it's not exactly cheap but enough for 3 folks, and the average fish fry dinner costs at least that much each, so for us there's some value there. In a rare move, it got a thumbs up from everyone in our little family. Nothing wrong with a little comfort in some trying times. Life is better when you focus on what you have and not on what you don't. Thanks for getting our backs, TJ's.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Battered Halibut: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Monday, December 2, 2019

Trader Joe's Crispy Rice Salmon Bites

Whatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinner......

If you're a guardian of some miniature trolls AKA have some young kids in the house, no doubt that's a familiar refrain. Undoubtedly it is for my lovely bride, with whom I just celebrated ten years of mostly married bliss, and I.

To combat, I troll right back. With hamsters.

Think Bubba Shrimp...except hamsters. Hamster stew. Hamster steak. Fried hamsters. Hamster meatballs. Hamster omelettes. Mashed hamsters. Grilled hamsters. Hamster flambe.  At least what's I tell them, making it up, over and over again until they stop nagging me.

Of course, they never really believe me, until I told them that Trader Joe's Crispy Rice Salmon Bites were hamster nuggets with a side of hamster sauce. The juvenile gulps were barely audible at the sound of the news.

Yeah, I can assure you these bites are definitely not hamster. TJ's does have a somewhat spotty history with salmon products but has mostly been on the upswing as of late. I think these continue the trend.

For $6.99, you get twelve respectively sized chunks battered somewhat tempura style with rice flour and spices. The breading does seem to crisp up pretty well while baking and maintain its texture without getting soggy over the fish. That's good news - nobody sane likes soggy nuggets. It does add a little bit of flavor, too, for sure, but pretty mildly so, leaving most of the flavor to the salmon.

So here's the thing. We do enjoy salmon in our family - well, 75% of our voters, at least - but mostly we do cold smoked on bagels, so actual fleshy chunks are a somewhat unfamiliar form to us. Perhaps that's why the strike me as a little bland - it may be the unfamiliarity of the protein more than anything else. There's part of me that feels I'd really enjoy chicken a lot more in this form than salmon. There's nothing wrong with the fish - it's perfectly fine - but just a bit fleshy and subtly flavored.

So that's why TJ's put in dynamite sauce! Kaboom!

What's dynamite sauce? Apparently it's like a sriracha/mayo remoulade with some soy sauce mixed in as well. I don't think it stands well on it's own - the soy adds a cloying sweetness that strips the sauce of much of its spiciness. I don't want to have a bottle of this separately. But when drizzled over or dunked with the salmon bites, it works, adding flavor that works well with the natural fish flavor without overpowering it. There's also plenty to go around. Our kids hated it - "too spicy!" they claimed, which is code for having flavor other than straight up salt - while I was indifferent. Sandy thinks it'd taste great on a burger.

Well, there you go. Serve as a hot appetizer or a side dish like we did to go along with some veggie soup. The TJ's salmon bites are a little different, and an interesting take. We'll probably buy once or twice again. Mostly thumbs up, with added points for not actually being hamsters.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Rice Salmon Bites: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Friday, September 20, 2019

Trader Joe's Spicy Shrimp Appetizer Duo

Ah, nothing says "fall" like spicy shrimp appetizers. In fact, I think we might have a Chinese New Year theme going on here. That was only back in February, over seven months ago...but it feels like yesterday, doesn't it? Anyway, I found these in the back of our tiny freezer, covered in frost, which probably served as camouflage for those many months, which might help explain why they weren't reviewed long ago.

I cleared the frost off of the packaging and thought, what the heck? I remembered we had some frozen appetizers hidden away, but for some strange reason, I was thinking they were chicken. Spicy Chicken Appetizer Duo. Weird, huh? Maybe Trader Joe's should offer a box of those, too.

Shrimp appetizer duo it is. So we tried them. And they're definitely worthy of review. I shrimply couldn't resist. I promise it has nothing to do with the fact that we are in desperate need of a TJ's run and haven't purchased any of the new fall items yet. <readers can't see that my fingers are crossed.> Apologies if this item is discontinued or out of stock. Hopefully they'll have them back for the next Chinese New Year season, a mere four months away.


Both items in the duo are quite tasty and high-quality. Let's start with the kung pao shrimp spring rolls. There's a decent bit of shrimp in them—more than I was expecting. There are also veggies, a light, crispy wrapper, and some spicy kung pao flavors. I wouldn't call either of these overly spicy. I wouldn't have minded a great deal more heat, but the overall effect is pleasantly garlicky, salty, and savory, with just a hint of an Asian spice kick.  

You can actually taste the lemongrass in the wontons. It's not over-the-top, though. The wonton bread is nice and thick, yet it's supple and flaky. The meaty insides of the wontons are soft, and they flaunt a fair amount of real shrimp, like their spring roll counterparts.


Other than the lack of heat, our biggest complaint is the lack of dipping sauce. There's a pic of sweet Thai chili or something on the cover art, and as is typical, the words "serving suggestion" are printed in a tiny font right next to it. We didn't have any sauces on hand, but we enjoyed them enough plain that they'll still get thumbs up from both Sonia and I. Fifteen minutes at 450 degrees. $4.99 for package of 12 appetizers. We're looking at four stars from Sonia and three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Trader Joe's Shrimp Scampi Lasagna

Hmmm....

...hot, bubbly, cheesy lasagna...

...baking at 400 degrees for nearly an hour...

...on a hot, humid July evening...

...in an insulated, Thermosified brick oven of a house, with no AC...

...just to sit in your stomach, requiring a shower after to cool down from. With your house all heated up from that oven.

Yeah, I'd almost pretty much have to say no to that.

Except we're talking about Trader Joe's Shrimp Scampi Lasagna. It's all the rage on Instagram from what I hear from my lovely bride. So, off to do our sacred duty once more.

The whole premise of this product sounds great, right? Make a decent shrimp scampi except in lasagna form, with the layered noodles and whatnot. Add enough garlic and butter to make a sanguivoriphobic Paula Deen blush and it should be a slam dunk, right? How can this lose?

For perhaps the first time in reviewing TJ's products, I'd say the failure is the shrimp itself.

Listen, I get what they're going for here. With the open intent of making the product even more lasagna-esque (and likely also to help obfuscate how many shrimp are actually in here), the shrimp here are ground up. As in, not whole. As in, not fleshy and firm but instead little mealy tidbits kinda resembling really bad ground turkey. It just doesn't work. The shrimp tastes fine but still just seems wrong, if that makes any sense. Ground shrimp? That'd be a no from me.

Everything else works well enough if graded on a frozen pasta curve. There's plenty of the mozzarella/Parmesan cheese mix to go around - even my cheese loving kids said there was a little bit too much. I got a pretty good guilty pleasure from scraping some of the last remnants from the tray that had some extra butter and garlic on them. The white wine sauce was solid if not overly notable except a little tick up in spice from some crushed red pepper, and noodles were fine and firm and all that.

Still, yeah, the shrimp...the scampi lasagna would have been better with whole shrimp, even if it meant shrimp in less bites. Quality over quantity.

The setup costs $5.99 and comes as 3.5 serving tray. We picked up two to have for our family and it seemed about the right idea. My lovely bride enjoyed the shrimp lasagna just fine, without the same qualms I had. One kid scrunched her nose at it but ate it anyways, mostly, while another one asked for seconds, so there's a plus. I don't love it, I don't hate it, there's a good chance I wouldn't buy it again but wouldn't be upset if we did.

Maybe we can wait til it's cooler out though.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Shrimp Scampi Lasagna: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Thursday, May 30, 2019

Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Seasoned Smoked Salmon

Used to be my lovely bride wouldn't dream of touching something such as Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Seasoned Smoked Salmon. No way, no how. I mean, when we first started dating she had all these picky rules and barely ate any meat aside from maybe chicken, and once tried to convince us to go vegetarian (which I for some reason bought into to her face while sneaking beef jerky at work).

Not any more, thank God. Good smoked meats like my dad's pastrami or my patented smashburger have convinced her that meat is perfectly acceptable. Still...salmon. She likes fish just fine, but fish that stays pink was always weird for her. Wouldn't touch it.

Notice all that past tense? Not only did Sandy alert me to the existence of this new TJ's smoked salmon, she dragged me to the store to buy it, and spotted it when I couldn't, and completely insisted we have it for dinner, forgoing bacon out of all things. Dang, girl.

And it's well worth it. This salmon is pretty dang good. Is it the seasoning? As previously reviewed, the Everything but the Bagel seasoning is absolutely delish. It's everything from an everything bagel, except the bagel. Duh. And of course it goes well on almost everything, including bagels, but in this case also on salmon, which we placed, namely, on a bagel, nova lox style.

It helps that the salmon itself is really mild, non fishy Atlantic salmon. As good as Pacific? Nah...but good. The fish gives an excellent base for the ample amounts of garlic an onion and everything else to really kinda spread out and express itself. It's really almost creamy too, and soft, as opposed to fleshy or even meaty. It's closer to, say, prosciutto than a sliced fish filet.

It's $5.49 for the smallish two serving package, which is about the going rate for these type of deals. So savor it a little bit, eh? We sure did, even though our nearly seven year old scowled through almost every small bite we gave her. That poor child, she doesn't know any better....yet. Her mama sure learned though. Go get it and don't regret it. Thumbs up all around.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Seasoned Smoked Salmon: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Trader Joe's Spicy Salmon Gyoza

Taking one for the team! It's what I do!

Seriously, as second out of four kids, I have classic middle child syndrome. Always had ever since my little sister was born. Remember minivans with only one side door and bench seats so there was that back corner spot? Who always volunteered for it, on the long road trips we'd take to New England as a kid? Me! Happily. Heck, one vacation up to my grandparent's old cabin, everyone realized we shorted ourselves a bed and blankets. So who volunteered to sleep in the van without complaint! Me! I was like 10. True story.

Kinda extends to the blog...except you're all like my TJ's siblings, and since this is where we all meet, I'm still in the middle. So if there's something a bid odd, a bit strange, a bit new looking, I'll happily volunteer to try it out...even if I'm a bit, well, apprehensive about it.

Such as it is with Trader Joe's Spicy Salmon Gyoza. TJ potstickers a common freezer staple, but those are like chicken, and pork, and stuff...salmon though. That's a different level. I like salmon just fine...but as a frozen dumpling? Errrr...well...I got it! I'll try it out! All for you all.

Pro tip: Don't bust them open while cooking, as I did. That's why I didn't take a pic of the actual product...because it looks, well, kinda gross. Smushed up salmon, some cabbage strands, some edamame, all in a pinkish hue...as a parent of small kids, there's a certain thing that came right ot mind that this resembled.

No matter, how it taste?!?!?! I think "interesting" is a good word. How to describe it? There's a certain fishiness to the salmon, a bit more than expected. It kinda leads off the flavor profile as dominant. Soon enough, there's some chili and sriracha and pepper that creeps in, and then lingers for a while. But there's still this fishiness that impedes it all. A cleaner tasting protein, whether it be salmon or chicken or pork, would have been a vast improvement.

Also, the salmon seems to be mushier than other gyoza in TJ's inventory. Not that any of them are overly firm, but there's at least a semblance of fleshiness to them. Not here. It's not completely unpleasant, but to that I'd say I'd have a hard time eating them if not sauteed a little bit first to get a little crispiness to the wrapper. A soggy steamed only outer shell just wouldn't work here, I don't think.

The instructions say to pair with your favorite sauce. There seems to be enough flavor here to not warrant too much more in terms of dipping dumplin's in a little sumpthin', but if that's your thing it could work. I'd suggest something mildish.

My receipt says the bag cost $4.99, but I swear the price tag on the freezer window said $4.19...regardless, it's not an awful price for an alright product. I guess the biggest thing to me is when I eat gyoza or dumplings or anything close to them, I crave more of a comfort vibe, and these seem more experimental. Good try though, and I applaud the overall effort. Chances are I'll finish the bag but it'll take me a bit to, especially if my beautiful bride continues to decide to sit them out as a non-salmon fan.

Middle kid gives these a middle score...can that keep everyone happy? Please?

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Spicy Salmon Gyoza: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Trader Joe's Hot Smoked Salmon Fillet

Well, looky here. It's Lent again. I'm not complaining, it's one of my favorite times of year, even though I'm not Catholic. It means it's fish fry season here in the 'burgh! Because, according to tradition, as a sign of repentance and sacrifice you need to eat a Frisbee-sized fried fish sandwich for dinner on Fridays because it's "not meat." I mean no disrespect, but I don't totally understand that, but that's fine. It's tradition!

As a personal budding tradition, occasionally on days off I have from work during the week I'll stop in at TJ's or wherever, grab a kombucha, and maybe some tasty dried meat like some prosciutto or something for lunch. Which is how I found myself this past week on Ash Wednesday, another designated no-meat day which I observed out of deference to my wife's upbringing, but since fish is somehow still okay, I snagged a pack of Trader Joe's Hot Smoked Salmon Fillet.

Search "salmon" on this blog and you'll see that it has a spotty history on here. I mean, salmon jerky....I shudder still. I didn't have high hopes and wasn't really quite sure what I was thinking when plopping down $8 for the 10 oz chunk, but I did so anyways.

Probably shoulda kept on the shelf.

First, I'm no smoking whiz, but I've done some of it in my day, and am pretty sure that salmon is best when cold smoked (indirect, in seperate chamber from heat source) than hot (same chamber). Take a look at the actual product pic that I took after having a few bites. That nice firm fleshy pink up top? That's how salmon is supposed to look. That mushy brownish-gray stuff towards the bottom? Nah. That's the part right near the skin that was most exposed to direct heat, i.e. grossly overcooked. That stuff is edible but not pleasant.

Everything is okay at best. The whole fish piece is pretty glazed over by a fairly basic brown sugar kinda rub. It's not particularly spicy or flavorful - the "hot" in the product name isn't an indication of spice in case it's not obvious. The actual salmon flavor is pretty decent - fresh, not too fishy, a little salty but not bad.

Still, this TJ's smoked salmon is kinda underwhelming at best. The thought of returning it crossed my mind, but hunger won out. Plus I'm not gonna ask for money back on something I consumed most of not all of - seems a little disingenious to me. All told, I would have been happier going for some of the pastrami-style salmon or something else completely. Maybe you'll have a different take. Sandy sat this one out - salmon isn't her thing, so all there is here is me. Double twos.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Hot Smoked Salmon Fillet: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Smoked Salmon Poke Bowl


It's been nearly two years since Pokemon Go launched, and now there's finally a Pokemon-themed seafood and salad bowl available at TJ's. Go Team Instinct! Wait. What? You say this has nothing to do with the wildly popular augmented reality game that 39-year-olds should totally not be ashamed that they play on the regular?

Apparently, poke (POH-keh) bowls are pronounced similar to the first part of "Pokemon," but actually pre-date the whole Japanese pocket monster craze by a few centuries. Also, they're native to Hawaii. I'll admit I have no previous poke bowl experience. I've heard the term and been vaguely aware of poke bowl joints here in the Philly area, but haven't made it into one yet. I do, however, enjoy salads as well as sushi, so...I should love this product, right? Let's dive in.

I'll save you my usual spiel about Trader Joe's and salmon and simply state that there's no way this product would have worked with nasty salmon. Fortunately, this smoked salmon sushi was awesome. I learned from Anthony Bourdain that sushi isn't necessarily supposed to taste "fresh," but that in most cases it has been frozen at some point, and should boast an umami flavor that fish straight from the sea will never have...or something like that. I'm no expert. But this salmon was delicious. It was smoky, flavorful, and fresh not overly funky. In fact, it was the best part of the bowl.
 
 
The pickled veggies worked well here, blending with the fish, dressing, and rice seamlessly. They added tang and zip, but did not overpower any of the other elements in the bowl. The dressing was nice, too. It was very thin, with a texture similar to traditional soy sauce—but it had a delicate ginger flavor with just a hint of citrus.

The worst part of the bowl? The rice, simply because there was too much of it. I like brown rice just fine, but it was the least interesting element in the bowl. Sonia thought the rice may have even been a bit undercooked. For $5.99, you'd think they could throw a bit more fish our way, along with more exotic veggies and dressing. But the bowl was filled with rice. Before I mixed the ingredients, there was a large "brick" of rice all wadded together at the bottom of the bowl. Just out of curiosity, I checked out a nearby poke place's menu to compare prices. Looks like you won't find anything under $9 there, and most products are more like $10-$13. Couldn't tell you if the serving sizes are comparable or not.
 
 
Another negative: the packaging is a little clunky and overdone. It's difficult to open up the lid without jerking the salad quickly, sending vegetables and fish flying across the table. Likewise, the dressing comes in its own cup covered with a plastic film and desperately wants to be spilled as it's unsealed. And there's yet another little baggie full of miniature seaweed strips, which, to be fair, was quite simple to open, but still seemed somewhat unnecessary. I guess we don't want soggy seaweed.

In summary, we were both pleasantly surprised with the overall flavor of the bowl, but we have a few reservations. I'm certain someone with more poke-experience (no, not Pokemon Go XP) will chime in and give us their opinion in the comments below. If poke bowls weren't a thing, and this were just some random unique salad that Trader Joe's offered, I think I'd throw out four stars for creativity and pleasant taste. Knowing this is a centuries-old tradition with hundreds of restaurants popping up all over the country and offering their take on the dish, I feel tragically underqualified to give an accurate score. But in the end, I'm gonna go with my gut. Four out of five stars from me. Three and a half from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Trader Joe's Tempura Shrimp


Bubba never mentioned shrimp tempura—and boy, was he missing out.

I've always loved shrimp, fried, steamed, or otherwise, and I've always loved tempura anything. So there are plenty of things stacked in favor of this product right off the bat.

There's also one big thing I have against it, even before tasting it: the price. At $7.99, this product ranks right up there with the most expensive things we've ever bought from Trader Joe's. I'm not saying it's not a good value. I'm just saying that it takes a lot to get that much money out of me for a single product at the grocery store. In other words, I'm cheap. When compared to a restaurant, of course, the price is more than reasonable—and these shrimp are most definitely restaurant-quality.


They're huge, farm-raised, and tasty as can be—not fishy in the slightest. We baked ours in the oven, followed the directions pretty closely, and they came out just about perfect. The tempura is good, too, although, I'd say it's a bit thicker here than most tempura products I've tried. I've only ever had tempura as a very thin, crispy outer layer. In this case, the tempura is crisp on the outside, but there's enough of it that there's almost a doughy layer in between the crispness and the shrimp. It's not so thick or soft that it's off-putting in any way. It's just not quite what I'm used to.

The sauce is simply a sweet soy sauce—basically what you'd get if you dumped a bunch of sugar into those ubiquitous packets from Asian restaurants. And there's TONS of it. I'm generally a gluttonous condiment hog, and there have been dozens of TJ's products throughout the years that were super-skimpy on dipping sauces. Not here. There are two large packets where just one would most likely have sufficed. If I had it to do over, I would have only opened the first one and saved the other for leftover rice and veggie dumplings from our next Asian take-out run. Oh well. Live and learn, as they say.

There are ten shrimp in the pack. Three work well as a single serving. They're quite filling and satisfying, and definitely not wanting as far as quality is concerned. The price tag alone will prevent this from being a regular purchase in our home, but if I ever get a particular craving for shrimp, I have a feeling this product will quickly come to mind. Sonia enjoyed them, too, but I don't think she's quite as big a shrimp-o-phile as her hubby. Three and a half stars from her. Four from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Trader Joe's Sriracha Shrimp Bowl

This was gonna be it. This was gonna be my revenge.

For all the slightly too loud talk with a little bit too much TMI. For all the ice crunching and nail clipping and shoe stripping. For all the times my jokes weren't laughed at - I mean, I'm not always funny, but be a little polite, ok? For all the burned popcorn and odd smells and perfumes and other scents, whether from something mass produced or from something...rhyming with what I just wrote.

Yes. I was gonna microwave Trader Joe's Sriracha Shrimp Bowl for my lunch at work, right in the central break room. I was going to parade it proudly back to my desk, as the aroma of nuked seafood and various spices would waft around the cubicle farm.

I try to get along as best I can....but today would be different. Revenge, in this case, would be a dish best served hot.

Too bad it didn't quite turn out that way.

Surprisingly, this spicy shrimp and rice bowl is not overly aromatic, whether from a seafood or a spice perspective. It's almost completely innocuous. I don't think a single coworker noticed. No one asked. No glares. No nothing. I just looked like a dude eating lunch at his desk.

Overall, it makes for an okay lunch. For $3.49 you can't expect too much, so that's how I'm trying to approach this. The biggest issue seems to be the shrimp itself. My bowl had five in there, which seemed to be a reasonable number. But the shrimp just didn't taste all that great, mostly because it wasn't seasoned, and the sauce didn't have a chance to really flavor the shrimp either. The result was every bite with shrimp had a big, fleshy, taste-tempering feel that wasn't too spectacular.

Everything else was about on par, though. Mostly brown with a few red grains spinkled in, the rice added a hearty, earthy bite, while the veggies remained steamed yet firm enough. And the sriracha was about what one could expect, and it definitely helped tie it all together, too.

I'm not sure if this says more about me or the dish, but one letdown was, only about an hour after eating it, I was kinda hungry again, enough to consider running downstairs to our work cafe for chicken fingers or something along those lines. I'd definitely advise not considering thes hrimp bowl to be an entire lunch in of itself, but pack along some fruits or veggies or something to help complement it all.

Good chance I'd buy this TJ's rice bowl again. There's only so many times I can eat leftovers per week, and I certainly can't buy/order out every day...unlike most of my coworkers...but that's another story. Just me grading it this time around, so gonna double up.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sriracha Shrimp Bowl: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Shrimp & Salmon Trio


I wish I had an exciting story to share about these happy appetizers. I wish I could tell you we served these at some happening party, perhaps at a recent New Year's bash, sharing them with lots of beautiful people and getting tons of compliments for serving them. 

No, sadly. That's not the case. I ate these for breakfast yesterday morning. 

I'll explain.

You know it's been cold here. Today will see the first temps above freezing since Christmas, two weeks ago. That's pretty rare for South Jersey. So we haven't been going out very much. We've been hibernating and refraining from our usual grocery store runs. As I stumbled out of bed yesterday, braving not only the nip in the air, but also the Monday morning blues, I realized we were not only out of cereal, but also the fun little danishes I've been munching on for the past few days. So I proceeded to open up the freezer, and I dug into our "For Review on a Rainy (or frigid) Day Stash." I set the oven to 400° and minutes later I was eating shrimp and salmon for my morning meal.


And I don't regret it one bit. I mean, my waistline might. Those sat fat stats are definitely not all that. But I did force Sonia to eat some, too. She was going to do some boring thing like have toast and coffee for breakfast, but I insisted that she eat some of these yummy apps with me, both to get a second opinion on the food and to make me feel like less of a freak. Here are our findings:

The shrimp toasts are my favorite. They're nice and crispy, full of good shrimp flavor, and they pair quite well with the dipping sauce included in the package. There's just the right amount of breading and shrimp, and you'll find copious quantities of sesame seeds on top for both a nutty flavor and even more crunchiness. Ours were a mite bit greasy. 

The shrimp "parcels" are Sonia's favorite. They're like little shrimp-filled egg rolls. They've got mushroom, carrot bits, and little funky noodley things. Their wrappers came out crisp and delicious, and their filling piping hot. We learned fast to break them open and blow on them before shoveling them straight into our mouths.

The salmon pinwheels were least favorite for both Sonia and I, but for slightly different reasons. Sonia wanted more salmon and less breading. I think the ratio of crust to fish was just fine. I liked them slightly less than the others because they didn't work as well with the dipping sauce (salmon with sweet chili sauce?) and because the salmon was just a wee bit "fishy" tasting to me. It wasn't awful. It certainly wasn't the worst salmon we've had from TJ's. Click here and here for entertaining Trader Joe's salmon horror stories.

Finally, the sauce. This is the first time I can ever remember having sauce left over after finishing a TJ's product—not because it was bad, but because they actually provide more than enough of the stuff with these appetizers. I guess it didn't hurt that we used very little of it on the salmon puffs, but still. I used copious quantities on both types of shrimp snacks, and there was a good bit left over. It's sweet, it's sour. In fact, I might have assumed it was "sweet and sour sauce" if the package hadn't indicated that it was, in fact, "sweet chili sauce." There is a hint of heat, but I'll always be pining for more with sauces like this one.

All in all, it was a tasty breakfast. And you "normal" folks who eat it as an appetizer will probably like it, too. 12 pieces for $3.99. We're going with solid double fours here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Trader Joe's Raw Shrimp

"What's for dinner?"

I hate that question.

I hate asking it. I hate it being asked. I hate thinking about it. I hate planning for it. I hate pretty much anything that has to do with it...and so does Sandy. To my continual amazement, she manages to have a warm, ready dinner when I come in the door from work at least 80% of the time during the week. I don't know what kind of modern wizardry that is, but she pulls it off time and time again. Amazing.

But to get to that  point, it's menu planning...and grocery list making...and all that other stuff...which Sandy rightfully asks for my help with. Drives both of us crazy. So, on a certain level, it was kinda nice (and vaguely romantic, if only for the sparing of the few braincells our growing family has left us) that I bought her a menu planning subscription for a whole year for Christmas. Granted, it's not exactly an Apple Watch or a trip to a love shack with a heart-shaped tub nestled somewhere in the Poconos, but it was with slightly more thought than, say, a new vacuum cleaner.

So, of course, with menu planning and grocery lists being made for us, it was off to TJ's for our weekly treak. On the menu: Shrimp chowder. Never would have thought of that ourselves. Awesome. Let's do it, and do it with some Trader Joe's Raw Shrimp.

Hey, life can't be all cookie butter and Stroopwafels.

With numerous shrimp-based TJ's products we've reviewed, I've noted the overall quality of the crustaceanic tidbits. More times than not, the shrimp is firm, fleshy, not overly salty or gritty or mushy or anything that'd be a turn off. It's much the same here. Of course, there's nothing that meets the overall freshness and quality of fresh caught seafood, and it's not gonna happen with a bagfull from the frozen section of your grocery aisle. But too many times, at other grocery chains, I've been so let down by the quality of shrimp that despite it being my favorite seafood by far, I'd stopped buying it.

Only comment is, wish the shrimp came already de-tailed. Not detailed, like a fresh buffer and wax job...but de-tailed, as in, no tail. One less step to take for a family trying to eat heathily but needs quick and easy dinner prep too.

For shrimp as reasonably good - big, meaty, and mild - at the reasonable price of $6 or $7 for the pound (misplaced receipt...again), this will be a repeat purchase for sure. Even if it took our five year old nearly an hour to eat one small bowl of chowder. She did mention she liked the shrimp, just not all the "onions" (actually leeks) that were in there too. Hopefully we'll find more than just mac 'n cheese for family faves...we're in fact planning on it. Good shrimp, and it'll great to have on hand as a new family staple.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Raw Shrimp: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Trader Joe's Sriracha Seafood Potstickers


Trader Joe's 50th anniversary? A rare total eclipse of the sun over the USA? How spectacular on both counts!

Unfortunately, I picked a relatively lame product to review right after the monumental events of the last few days. How anticlimactic.

Sriracha? Seafood? Asian dumplingy things? Doesn't sound too shabby to me. What's not to like? Hmm. Well...

First of all, I thought this was a new product. It's not. It's been around for a while, though it looks like it may have recently been an unwitting participant in one of TJ's infamous repackaging schemes. Apparently, it used to be green and red? I don't know if I have those facts straight, but I have a sinking feeling that someone will correct me in the comments section if they've got better intel than I do.

Anyhoo, I think I heard one of you ask, "What's not to like about this delicious, exotic appetizer, Nathan?" Well, first off, the texture...but before I go on a little rant, let's cover the positives—er, at least the less negative aspects of the product first.


How about we start with the sriracha? I actually think it tastes vaguely like sriracha and does indeed have a little kick. It's not a big kick. And both Sonia and I are always hankerin' for bigger kicks in these foods that are supposed to be spicy. But the spice-level I can live with here. I could certainly stand it stronger, but I personally didn't find a lack of sriracha to be one of the biggest weaknesses in this product.

Likewise, there were little chunks of shrimp that I would have loved a lot more of. They didn't taste bad and their texture was probably the most enjoyable element of the appetizer.

But the texture of the crab combined with that of the wrappers? Weird. It was just a slimy mush. I heated the potstickers via the stove top method detailed on the packaging. I think it was that final steaming step that threw them off. Or maybe I added too much water. At any rate, I drained the water and then fried the remaining pieces in a little more oil. This made them significantly more solid and somewhat more enjoyable, but there was still a gelatinous element to the whole thing that was a little off-putting to me.


I mentioned before that the shrimp wasn't bad and the sriracha wasn't bad, and I'll stand by those assertions. I guess the flavors that didn't really do it for me were those of the crab and the carrot/red pepper wrappers. It really didn't taste like crab to me. Overall, it was a weird flavor—vaguely spicy and vaguely seafoody, but in general, it didn't work. Both Sonia and I feel like onions, shallots, celery and/or actual carrot bits might have served this product well—any kind of actual veggies would have been welcome.

$3.99 for twelve potstickers. Not super cheap, but not the worst value in the world if you're one of the people who happen to like them. In the end, it's not a complete disaster of a product, but neither of us can recommend it very highly.

Sonia: 3 stars
Nathan: 2.5 stars

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.