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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Filet of Sole

After a "reduced guilt" disappointment or two, and a Trader Joe's fishy failure or two, I was thinking this product might be a bit of a gamble.

But on a recommendation from one of our readers (Thanks shanaelyse), I decided it might be worth taking my chances. With a price tag under $3 at our local Trader Joe's, not much is lost if it isn't the best thing ever. And, to be fair, we've seen our share of tasty fish from TJ's: think Fish Nuggets, Cod Fillets [sic]*, and Mahi Mahi.

I went ahead and took the lazy route and microwaved the fish. It was extremely simple and involved poking holes in the plastic wrapping and pressing a few buttons on my magical radiation machine. The total heating time was 8 or 9 minutes, which isn't bad if you're cooking it at home, unless you have some serious patience issues, which is entirely feasible in this age of instant gratification. But the 8 or 9 minutes might glean you dirty looks from co-workers if you're heating this fish in a heavily-used office break room microwave. My point is that it's all relative. Even I can wait 9 minutes for tasty fish, and I'm one of the least-disciplined people I know.

And, incidentally, it was tasty. Surprisingly so. The fish was tender, moist, and only tasted mildly fishy. It flaked off the filet with the slightest touch of my fork. The flavor of the fish was delicate and light, and it let all of the other amazing flavors through. Though I was a fan of the fish, I must say that all of the other ingredients were even better.

The sauce was excellent. It was savory, flavorful, and matched perfectly with the taste of everything else in the dish. You can see there in the ingredients list it contains molasses and soy sauce. I've never had anything quite like it before. The butter beans were plump and delicious, and even the soggy spinach leaves were cooked to perfection and blended right in with each of the other elements.

This is one of the biggest pleasant surprises we've had from Trader Joe's in quite a while—at least compared to what we expected. And even though it's not quite Pantheon quality, it comes darn close in our opinion. 4.5 stars from Sonia, who was floored when she saw that this dish o' fish only contains 2 grams of fat. Same score from me.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.
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*I'm not sure why there's a discrepancy between TJ's spelling "fillet" with two "l's" when it's cod and only one "l" when it's sole. I just wanted you to know it's TJ's fault, not mine. I'm a good speller. It just seems like they should be consistent, right? Please reference this article for more info.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Trader Joe's Fruity O's

Yes, these are Trader Joe's Fruit Loops, for all intents and purposes. However, as one might have expected, TJ's left out the scary toxic neon colors, and the flavors come from actual fruits and vegetables. I guess they could have called them "Fruit and Vegetable O's" but that probably would have scared people off. I know I wouldn't have bought 'em.

The organic corn flour makes for one super-crunchy, roof-of-the-mouth-scratching "O." I'd say they're even firmer than actual Kellogg's Fruit Loops. And I've never been a fan of them for that reason. The taste of blood doesn't mix well with milk and cereal.

But for those of you with mouths of steel, this might be a decent breakfast treat for you. This cereal does accurately mimic the flavor of traditional fruit loops, although it's much less sugary and somewhat understated in comparison.

I really used to like the crazy neon milk left over from a bowl of Fruit Loops. The milk barely changes color at all with Trader Joe's version. Likewise, when you pick up the bowl to sip the milk right out of it, it actually tastes like milk rather than a melted milkshake dessert. But I guess that's a sign that it's healthy.

At nearly 34 years old, I suppose I should change my priorities and steer clear of the whole "asking for diabetes" thing and drinking carcinogenic dyes from a cereal bowl. I grew out of Saturday morning cartoons recently, but that's only because the ones they show now suck compared to the stuff we grew up with in the 80's.

Sonia has always been a bigger fan of fruit loops than I have, so I expected her to rave about these things, but she gave a lackluster reaction and shrugged her shoulders when she tried them. However, they kind of grew on her by the end of the bowl, and she settled on a dignified 3.5 star score.

Overall, this cereal's not bad. But if you want a few recommendations for cereals that really wowed us, check out our reviews of Organic Mango Passion Granola and Maple Brown Sugar Mini Wheats.

I give the Fruity O's 3 stars.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Trader Joe's Battered Fish Nuggets


Right in the basement below Sandy's job, there's the college campus greasy spoon/student hang out cafe. Every day when I pick her and Baby M up to go home, I must get there right at the time when they're venting out all the deep fryers or something, because man, that tasty greasy aroma just spills out over the whole parking lot and sneaks right up my sniffer. Most of the time, I'll admit it, it smells gooooood, to the point that Sandy and I comment about it at some length as we're packing up the Tucson. You don't have to sell me on the horrors of greasy fast food - I've seen firsthand what it does to my body, and I've worked at McDonald's and gagged near enough grease buckets to know how foul it is behind the scenes -but man, that good greasy aroma? It must hit whatever evolutionary triggers I have left that beckon me towards fat and calories and comfort and whatever else for self-preservation (even though, ironically, it has quite the opposite effect these days).

Fortunately, I can avoid the grease pretty well these days. It's a work in progress, admittedly, but the results so far have been fantastic (about 30 pounds lost this year!). But also fortunately, when the mood hits and I need me a fix, there's good, relatively healthy/not-as-bad options like Trader Joe's Battered Fish Nuggets out there.

These are not your high school cafe's fish squares. I absolutely love the fact that I can bake these in the oven (admittedly, after spraying the sheet with a little PAM, like the directions say to), but they taste like they're straight from the fryer basket. The batter is the thick kind that as it bakes it crisps all up while keeping the middles perfect. A few extra minutes in the oven, and the nugget batter gets even a little extra crunchy. Most importantly, they taste and even feel a little greasy, but the nuggets really aren't all that much. It's a fishy fake out that fools me pretty well. The pesce piece itself is a pretty typical white fish, pollock, which tastes clean and not too fishy, which is appreciated. Even with the aforementioned extra bake time, the outcome was flaky, not-exactly-dry, not-exactly moist nugget innards. Delishy fishy indeed.

I just so happen to think they're darn near perfect. Condimentally speaking, I'm a hot sauce guy, which made a great accompaniment for the fish nuggets, and I can imagine they'd pair well with whatever your sauce of choice is. Plus, at $3.99 for the box, it's a decent value for two dinners for the wife and me. Sandy said she'll give 'em a four, and I'm disappointed she didn't say much else so I can poke some light fun at her as I usually do. Next time, I hope. I'll go 4.5.

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