Google Tag

Search This Blog

Showing posts with label Chinese/other Asian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chinese/other Asian. Show all posts

Friday, July 7, 2023

Trader Joe's Organic Sencha Tea


So I shall start off this post by mentioning that the mug featured in this review was once owned by English model Dolly Martin, wife of Dick Martin, of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. No lie. My mother-in-law was a long time housekeeper for Dick and Dolly, and Sonia grew up spending many hours in their house. During a move, Dolly asked my MIL if she wanted some random coffee mugs, and among them was this "Be British" mug that Sonia eventually wound up with.

Fun fact: I once attended an Arcade Fire concert wearing a casual suit jacket previously owned by my father-in-law which was also previously owned by Dick Martin.


Also, I neglected to mention Sonia's thoughts on the sencha tea in the video companion to this written review, so I'll elaborate upon the beautiful wifey's sentiments here. She loves pretty much any green tea, and she likes this one because "it's very earthy but not bitter." She often drinks it plain with no sweeteners. Four stars from her.

I guess many versions of sencha are loose leaf and come in a large bag, but Trader Joe's Organic Sencha Tea comes in the form of individually-wrapped tea bags, as do most of Trader Joe's teas, which helps keep each serving fresh and moisture-free.


$2.99 for 20 tea bags. Organic. Kosher. I'm not sure if it's a product of Japan, but there's a picture of Japan on the back of the box. Three stars from me for Trader Joe's Organic Sencha Tea. Is this stuff still available? I couldn't tell you. Sonia hopes so.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.


Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Trader Joe's Sliced Korean Rice Cakes


To me, the term "rice cake" has always meant a dry, crispy disk of whole grain rice, usually Quaker brand, mostly plain but occasionally dusted with a flavoring of some sort. Growing up with a wheat allergy, rice cakes were a great alternative to wheat-based crackers and even bread. I'd eat mine with peanut butter and jelly or sometimes just plain and I honestly grew to love them. Despite not having a significant wheat allergy any longer, I'll seek out Quaker rice cakes once in a while just for nostalgia's sake or to curb my once-in-a-while craving.

These rice cakes are obviously a little different from those big crunchy pucks I grew up with. Apparently, something similar to Trader Joe's Sliced Korean Rice Cakes is widely available at Asian grocers like H Mart, but this will be the first time either Sonia or I have tried this specific type of mochi-esque side dish.


The little slices of rices are oval-shaped, but otherwise about the size of a quarter. I don't know if you've ever placed a coin on the railroad tracks and let a train run over it or used one of those novelty crank-operated machines that stamps your penny with the logo from some specific attraction, but they're in that ballpark, size and shape-wise.

I followed the instructions to boil them, and they came out quite chewy. They were pillowy and somewhat soft, but honestly, I was hoping for something a little closer to regular rice or pasta in terms of texture. They're surprisingly dense, and I won't say they're leathery per se, but they don't exactly melt in the mouth quite like I was hoping they would.

Still, they're unique and convenient. There's no sauce in the bag, so you can just add them to pretty much any Asian dish. In our case, we had them with leftover sesame chicken, egg rolls, and stir fry topped with sriracha sauce. You can't really see any veggies in the picture we took, but I promise there's some cabbage in that bowl somewhere.

The cakes, not surprisingly, taste like rice, and they add an interesting texture, particularly if you cut them in half for easier chewing before taking a bite. We both like 'em enough. Repeat purchase? Maybe.

$3.29 for the 5 serving bag found in the frozen section. Vegan. Gluten free. Three and a half stars a piece from Sonia and me on Trader Joe's Sliced Korean Rice Cakes.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Trader Joe's Beef Pho Soup


I hadn't had a decent Asian meal in quite a while, so I thought, what the heck? Let's try some Trader Joe's Pho to see what they've done with the classic Vietnamese noodle soup.

It heats in the microwave from frozen in just six minutes, and unless you wanna get fancy, you can just eat it straight from the plastic bowl for a quick lunch. As the product emerged from the microwave, I detected an unusual potpourri-esque smell. Was that cinnamon and nutmeg in there? I haven't had real pho in a hot minute, but I certainly don't remember the soup smelling like a pumpkin spice candle.


The taste of the soup wasn't as strong in terms of the spices. In fact, it was fairly bland, although there was a hint of fennel. The noodles were slightly chewy, stiff, and mostly flavorless. The meat was excessively fatty for my taste. In a way, the veggies were the best part of the soup, but they were far and few between. I wouldn't have minded more bean sprouts and onions in the mix.

Something spicy was in order. Lacking freshly-sliced jalapeños as the "serving suggestion" depicts, I opted for sriracha sauce. Can't go wrong there. But even generous dollops of my second-favorite condiment couldn't completely redeem this Asian-inspired soup.

I hadn't remembered at the time of purchase, but we did look at a previous iteration of Trader Joe's Beef Pho Soup about 12 years ago. It was packaged differently back then and was likely from a different supplier, as this current cover boasts "Product of Canada" on the box while the previous version did not. We weren't completely bowled over by that last beef pho, but if anything, this rendition is a step in the wrong direction.

Sonia doesn't think this soup is that bad, but then she's never had real pho. She wasn't a fan of the chewy beef either, but she enjoyed the broth and noodles more than I did. Her portion sat around for 5 or 10 minutes longer than mine did, thus causing the rice noodles to soften a bit.

$3.69 for the single serving bowl. I would not buy again. The beautiful wifey is on the fence. Two stars from me for Trader Joe's Beef Pho Soup. Three from Sonia.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Trader Joe's Spicy Tempura Seaweed Snack


If you're one of those hamburger and French fries for every single meal kind of folks, I think you're gonna wanna sit this one out. Nothing wrong with hamburgers and fries. Nothing at all. It's a classic American meal. I like burgers as much as the next guy.

But variety is the spice of life, as they say. Also, spice is the spice of life. In this case, it's "togarashi style seasoning." Well, that sounds very Japanese. A quick glance at Wikipedia confirmed that suspicion. I'm excited now. Let's break open this very bright yellow bag, shall we?


It's not just seaweed snacks. It's seaweed snacks coated with tempura and spice-ified with Japanese pepper. There are little bubbles in portions of the tempura batter that almost look like tiny octopus suckers. And the seaweed itself looks like fish skin. If you wanted a kid to eat this for some reason, you could tell him it's dried meat from a sea monster and he might believe you.

Although it is fairly spicy. Not sure if young kids would tolerate the spice level here. It's like maybe a 6 on a scale of 1-10. Perfect for my taste. I might have even tolerated a notch or two beyond what's here, but the heat builds up on your tongue the more and more you eat. Trader Joe's Spicy Tempura Seaweed Snack might pair nicely with an ice cold Sapporo or Asahi. Man, I haven't had either one of those in a long time. But I sure do wish I had one right now.

The main weaknesses of this product versus traditional seaweed snacks are: the price. You can get a couple dozen seaweed sheets for half the price of this product. And regular seaweed snacks are pliable enough that you can wrap them or roll them up with other foods inside them. These are too brittle to be used that way.

$3.29 for the two serving bag. Product of Thailand. I just got this a couple weeks ago and I see no evidence that it's still being sold at TJ's. Anybody have any inside intel? I'd consider buying again, especially if I had a particular craving...and a Japanese beer to go along with it. Three and a half stars from me for Trader Joe's Spicy Tempura Seaweed Snack. Four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 28, 2023

House of Suntory Roku Gin


Like many fine foods and beverages, gin is an acquired taste. The first time I tried it, I winced and said, "It tastes like drinking a forest." Then eventually I tried Tanqueray with tonic water and decided it wasn't that bad. Now I'm at a point where I can very much appreciate good gin and would generally choose it over whisky, vodka, or tequila hands down.

Sonia's more of a bourbon girl. She hasn't cultivated any love for gin as of the time of this writing, so I'll be scoring this one solo. In short, this Japanese gin is probably the best I've ever tried. It tastes the way I wanted Hendrick's to taste: exotic. It's complex and floral, peppery and smooth at the same time.


There are six botanical ingredients unique to Japan used in the crafting of House of Suntory Roku Gin: sakura flower, sansho pepper, yuzu peel, sakura leaf, sencha tea, and gyokuro tea. I'm only vaguely familiar with two of those ingredients: I've tried Japanese candy featuring the citrus fruit yuzu and its peel before. And I've tried sencha tea, a type of loose leaf green tea similar to matcha. When all six ingredients combine, they yield the most unique flavor of gin I've ever had the pleasure of sampling.

The bottle was $24.99 at Trader Joe's, but you'll find this gin at other mainstream grocery stores like Hy-Vee, as well. It's not Trader Joe's brand, but I think House of Suntory Roku Gin belongs in this blog's Pantheon.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Trader Joe's Mee Krob Snackers


I did exactly zero research before purchasing and trying Trader Joe's Mee Krob Snackers. They've been trending on social media, so I thought I'd just jump in head first.

So...as far as first impressions go, I'll start with the texture. It's not unlike eating uncooked ramen noodles, though slightly more pleasant than that. The noodles here are very thin, like vermicelli style. There's a thin glaze of a reddish sauce that's similar to the coating on flavored potato chips or rice cakes. The whole thing is extremely crispy and crunchy, with some cashews thrown into the mix that add a bit of softer texture. All in all, I'm a fan of the mouthfeel, though I wish the crackers were about half as thick as they are. It'd be easier to take small bites that way.


Flavor-wise, I'll just say this: Sonia and both of her parents are huge fans. I'm not hating on Trader Joe's Mee Krob by any means, but I can't say I'm as enthused as the rest of the family. I think it boils down to the fact that I'm not super fond of tamarind in most contexts, although there are some notable exceptions to that rule. Tamarind is a quintessential flavor for a lot of Hispanic beverages and treats, and it's also one of the key ingredients here, although this has an unmistakably Asian vibe in most respects.

"Sweet, tart, and savory" sums up the flavor pretty well. I actually wish there were more cashews and cashew flavor, but the bit that's there is mostly drowned out by the tangy sauces and starches. There's a tad too much vinegar flavor in the mix for my taste, as well, though I wouldn't call it a deal-breaker.


We all agree these would make decent croutons for an Oriental or Asian salad or wrap. They'd have to be broken into smaller pieces, but they'd work well. I guess you could add them to soup, too. Sonia and mi suegros are happy to munch away straight out of the bag, but I probably won't reach for them as a stand-alone snack.

But as always, I'm very glad I had the chance to try them. About three bucks for the 3 oz bag. Vegan. Gluten free. Product of Thailand. Four and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Three out of five stars from me for Trader Joe's Mee Krob Snackers.



Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Trader Joe's Gochujang

 

A few years ago, there was some big hullabaloo about a Philadelphia-area contest for best cheesesteak. I'm originally from the surrounding 'burbs, and there were chefs all competing...and putting things like bean sprouts in the cheesesteak. Lump crab. Swiss chard and aiolis and...well...you get the idea. As pretty much a staunch "Wiz wid" guy, I could only shake my head. 

Oh, how times changed. 

Perhaps the western side of the state perverted whatever idea I've had of what a cheesesteak is, as I made them for dinner last night. Not only did I use Mancini's and not Amoroso for the roll (gasp), when I needed something for a little spice for mine....I used Trader Joe's Gochujang.

Fermented red pepper with rice used as a base for this slightly grainy, fairly spicy, and a touch sweet paste...on a cheesesteak? I'm aghast at myself, almost.

Except, you know what? it worked, and worked pretty well. 

Gochujang is definitely a somewhat acquired taste. It's different than most spice, as its a touch deeper, with more depth and taste and subtlety. It's the fermentation that really brings it out. I've used powdered gochujang to add a kick to my own sauerkraut, and I've grown to love it. 

This particular TJ version isn't quite as potent, but still offers a lot of the same warmth and depth. It'll be welcome back on another cheesesteak, as well as any variety of dishes. Rice, veggies, on some meats, added to some soup or sauces, or whatever - sure thing. It'll be just my own, my lovely bride didn't seem interested and my kids weren't entirely up to the adventure.

Just a couple bucks for the lil tub. Worth a pickup. Didn't seem demonstrably different from similar condiments I've scored at Asian groceries around here, but I'll admit I'm not 100% attuned to its authenticity. I'll save that for cheesesteaks, but you know what? Innovation is just fine, if there's a good outcome. Still not sure about the bean sprouts, though.

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

Monday, April 11, 2022

Trader Joe's Thai Banana Fritters

When Sonia and I lived in Los Angeles, we frequented a place called Vegan Glory. Sonia and I weren't vegan then, nor are we now, but their Thai food was so amazing that we went there regularly with friends, the vast majority of whom were not vegan. It was a small, simple, unassuming restaurant at the end of a strip mall, but it often attracted celebrities and high-profile customers because the cuisine was so consistently fantastic.

Our favorite dessert there was banana spring rolls (although the coconut ice cream was a close second) We had some on our latest visit to L.A. when we RV'd through SoCal in 2019. They were still ridiculously tasty. So of course we've been searching for something that could take the place of those spring rolls since we've been apart from that outstanding restaurant.

Enter: Trader Joe's Thai Banana Fritters. I won't say they're AS GOOD as those banana spring rolls, but they're pretty darn close. And of course, these are "fritters" as opposed to "spring rolls" but they're still a desserty banana-based vegan dish with crispiness on the outside...so very similar.


Six minutes in the air fryer and the smell just overwhelmed the kitchen. I snatched my three fritters out of the basket piping hot and ate them with my bare hands. I don't necessarily recommend consuming them that way, as they are quite oily on the outside. I think Sonia used a fork and ate hers from a plate. Either way, they were tasty.

Banana is the dominant flavor. But there's a nice blend of other essences like coconut milk and sesame. There's a good bit of added sugar, too—enough to appease the average sweet tooth at dessert time, I'd say. At least half of each bite is banana, but there's a significant amount of rice flour breading, as well. Texture-wise, there's a nice crispy crunch on the outside and soft, supple banana on the inside.


$3.79 for six fritters, found in the frozen section. We'd buy again. Four and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Four stars from me for Trader Joe's Thai Banana Fritters.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Trader Joe's Tteok Bok Ki


 Here's another periodic reminder that I am a complete amatuer foodie-hack, not overly familiar with many great dishes and treats from around the globe, but always willing to try. 

So, Trader Joe's Tteok Bok Ki...can't say I've ever even heard of them before they plopped into my grocery cart. Thank goodness for the 'murican-'splained "Korean spicy stir-fried rice cakes" in the banner, because that, I can hold a concept of. 

These are, at first bite, interesting. There's a few ways to make them, I opted for what purported to be the crispiest option by inserting these oversized frozen rice poogs into the airfryer, while seperately simmering the almost glowing red sauce. I'm not sure if crispy is the right word, because there's still plenty of soft mochi-like chewiness to each bite, but the outside layer  did have a faint crispness, so there you go I guess. It's an unusual to my palate yet pretty fun bite. 


That sauce though...it never really thickened up the way I hoped it would despite following the instructions, far as I know. That being said, I almost didn't mind. It's vibrant and rich with plenty of red pepper and garlic kick. Man, if sold separately, I'd pour it over any number of things. Delicious stuff, and highly recommended as long as you can take some spice. 

Here's one of the times that TJ's really succeeds if looked at from a certain vantage point. Sure, I'm far from a tteok bok ki expert, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and wager that the TJ's version isn't the best in the world. Heck, how authentic it really is (or isn't) is above my pay grade here. But...now I know I'd stand a pretty excellent chance at enjoying the real deal, so if ever granted the opportunity, I'm gonna go for it without hesitation. That somewhat harkens back to the OG TJ's business plan of introducing new tastes and experiences to their customers. For me, it succeeds here. 

A good sized bag, enough for a big side dish or appetizer for two or more, was only around $3 or $4. Absolutely worthwhile in my opinion. If you got a more expert take than I do, fire away. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Tteok Bok Ki: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Trader Joe's Vegan Thai Green Curry


Well here's something I definitely can't heat in the air fryer. Looks like a tasty, convenient, work-friendly microwave meal, and fortunately, I have a hankerin' for some Thai today. Let's dive in.

Like I mentioned, this is a microwavable meal. No other heating options are given. And for the second time in a row, I'm looking at a product that took LESS time to heat than was suggested on the packaging. The instructions say to heat for 3 minutes, then stir, and then heat for 2-3 more minutes. At about the 5 minute mark, the product began to boil over the side of the tray and onto the microwave carousel lazy Susan thing. Our microwave is filthy at the moment. Will the wife even notice if I leave a few little pools of green curry in there?


The tray easily bends in the middle in case you want to try to simply fold the curry compartment onto the rice compartment. I was wary of spillage, so I mostly just flicked the curry over with my fork. Or you could be fancy and put the whole thing in an Asian-style bowl, of course.

It's a tasty product, for sure. If there's any difference between the curry they used here and the epic Thai Green Curry Simmer Sauce, neither Sonia nor I could detect it, flavor-wise, although I think this curry was a tad thinner in texture.

Swimming around in the curry were carrots, eggplant chunks, and tofu sheets. The tofu "sheets" are more like wads of tofu by the time they're heated, transferred to the rice, and scooped up by a fork or spoon. I've never tried tofu in this format before. It yields a less chewy texture by virtue of its thinness. I'm fine with it this way, while Sonia prefers tofu cubes. The veggies weren't chewy or rubbery or anything, so we were good with those, too.

99% of the flavor of this dish is coming from the curry. That's not a bad thing, because it's an outstanding complex, coconutty, salty, spicy, savory flavor. At $3.99 for the single serving, Sonia thinks it would be much wiser to grab a jar of the curry itself for half the price, heat up your own rice, and mix in whatever veggies or additions you choose. You're absolutely paying for the convenience factor here. Guess we can't punish it too harshly for that since that's apparently what TJ's is going for. You'll find it in the frozen section. Vegan.

So...something like three and a half stars a piece on this product.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Trader Joe's Sweet Cinnamon Filled Korean Pancakes


Bro...do you even hotteok?

Can't say I can, because I just learned the word tonight when prepping some Trader Joe's Sweet Cinnamon Filled Korean Pancakes. Lol..."Korean pancakes." Call 'em what they are, TJ's. Hotteok. Granted, yes, I along with likely 80% or more of shoppers wouldn't know what that means at first glance, but I'm always down for a little culinary education. Apparently hotteok is a popular Korean street food, filled with all sorts of stuff, in, well, more or less a pancake form. Never saw or heard of them before as I've never been to Korea and that's not much Korean influence around the 'burgh that'd make something even as tasty and tantalizing like this readily available. 

All that to say, heck yeah, these are pretty good.

Let's take another second to be clear here: I am not qualified in any way, shape or form to claim these as authentic or close to the real thing or for them to even be half as good. I'd actually be fairly and pleasantly surprised if they were. I'm judging these pancakes simply on their own merits, including costing $3ish bucks for 4 of them, and heating them from frozen on my stovetop for just a few minutes. So take as you will.

All that being said, yum. Let's start with the dough. It's delicious and pretty unique for my experience. Even heating right from frozen, with no butter or oil or anything used, the outside gets all browned and crispy and a touch greasy, just like a good comfort food should. Love it. Further in, it's not quite a mochi-esque bite, but in some ways it's close as it's a little chewy but also soft and moist and gooey and oozing out warmth. Looking over ingredients, there's all sorts of stuff in the dough - wheat, sweet potato, rice flour - that come together well into a soft, lightly sweet cake. 


The cinnamon reservoir is pretty fantastic too. I mean, it's a lot of cinnamon. Be careful that stuff is ridiculously hot and stays that way for longer than expected. The cinnamon adds a great spice bite that complements the dough really well, making these compact cakes have more punch than expected. 

Still, adding a little ice cream or whipped cream or something like that to just really fill it out? That'd be worthy of hashtagging a #chefskiss all over this. 

Delicious, We love 'em and I'm glad we got a second bag that I'm already looking forward to busting open. Authentic? Maybe, maybe not...if you know, tell me. But I'm glad that TJ's has introduced me to this particular chunk of the culinary world, and I know I'll be seeking out the real deal if I ever get the chance. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sweet Cinnamon Filled Korean Pancakes: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Trader Joe's Crispy Thai Chilies & Sesame Seeds


 In October 2006, Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green, after a particularly frustrating loss, unleashed one legendary postgame tirade with a phrase that I still think of often: "They ARE who we THOUGHT they WERE!" 

Sometimes, yup, it's just really that simple. 

But there's also the old, always applicable adage that appearances can be deceiving. If you're paying any sort of attention to the world around you, you likely know this is unassailable truth. 

And with Trader Joe's Crispy Thai Chilies & Sesame Seeds, we get a little bit of both at the same time.



Let's get coach to cool off by going his way first. Thai chili peppers and spices. Vibrant, flaming red. Overly aromatic. It's got that crispy, slightly greasy yet dry feel. Even the seeds help the whole spicy vibe, even though it's important to note they're sesame and not pepper seeds. Nonetheless, there's the undeniable impression before even one taste: this peppery snack is gonna be flamelickingly hot. And yup, it is as we thought it is: hot hot hot. lots of heat, towards the upper limit of my tolerance for easy consumption. I'm not sure of the Scovilles but it's up there. Even with that, there is a little flavor nuance with some garlic and whatnot, but oh yeah: hot. 

So there's that. But there's also the word "snack" as a descriptor, and truth be told, it doesn't look like much of a "snack." The peppers are really no more than little papery wisps without much of anything behind them, leaving the girth of the snack to the little clumps of sesame seeds. Kinda like bird food (not a recommended usage btw). Yet, after a few bites, that's how the chilies and seeds kinda come together, with a little sense of fullness behind them. Maybe it's a little of the heat, or the peppers getting some rehydrated while consumed, or some other sorcery, but it's a legit snack, albeit perhaps a lighter one.


There's other applications I could see. I'd love to mix some peppers and seeds up with some tempura chicken or sdauteed shrimp and serve with rice, or even just over some fried rice. Maybe a salad or some eggs too. I think it could work. Snack and condiment - why not?

Good stuff, and not a bad buy from the impulse islands near the checkout. I think a sack was only like $2 so if this sounds like your kinda thing, I'd give it a go and not just let it off the hook. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Thai Chilies & Sesame Seeds: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, June 28, 2021

Trader Joe's Red Curry Thai Noodles


Time to break out something from the back of the pantry. Red curry Thai noodles. The name sounds appetizing enough. The packaging? Not so much. I've had some truly awful noodle offerings in big paper bowls that look very similar to this one. Hopefully it's just a trick of the eye and this will be on par with or better than the other instant curry options we've seen from Trader Joe's over the years.

After a quick glance at the heating instructions, something stands out to me: there's no mention of adding water. Huh? You mean these things are already full of their own moisture? Or maybe they'll have enough just from the sauce packet mentioned on the packaging..? Not adding water to this big bowl of noodles goes against my every instinct. But I'll be a good boy this time and follow the directions.


Preparation involves opening two big pouches, one full of noodles, one full of sauce and veggies. Then you simply nuke for 90 seconds. Simple enough. No water involved.

Things came out perfectly after following the heating instructions. I stirred the elements around a bit, since the noodles are so tightly packed from being smooshed in their vacuum sealed pouch for goodness knows how long.

The noodles are nice and thick, almost like udon. They've got some body to them. They're nothing like cheap ramen noodles. They're more like soba noodles in terms of thickness, though they're not as dark as buckwheat noodles. Although it's not apparent in the photo I took, there's the perfect amount of sauce to coat all the noodles, which is good because the noodles don't bring a whole lot to the table in terms of flavor just by themselves. There are peas in the mix and also bamboo shoots, which remind me of carrots in terms of texture and maybe even a little in terms of flavor.


The sauce steals the show. It's coconutty, sweet, spicy, and flavorful. I'll almost always want more heat in a product like this one, but I'm honestly surprised just how much spice there is in this bowl—more than enough to keep it interesting. I'm not saying I didn't crave a little more of that Thai red chili spice, but the amount I got was acceptable. I really expected this product to be bland and unappetizing, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I'd ask for more peas, bamboo shoots, and maybe some other veggies in the mix. A little more heat never hurts a dish like this. All in all, not a bad lunch for $2.49. Shelf-stable, pescatarian, easy to prepare, and surprisingly good as far as taste is concerned.

7.5 out of 10.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Trader Joe's Korean Inspired Bulgogi Beef Fried Rice with Kimchi


I've had bulgogi beef a couple times from some pretty legit Korean barbecue restaurants before. Granted, I haven't been to one in a number of years, but I still remember that bulgogi-style beef being among the best red meat I've ever consumed in my life. I'm not sure exactly what it was marinated in, but man, that stuff was tasty.

It'll be hard for any grocery store frozen product to compete. Also, I guess I'm on record on this blog saying I'm not really into the whole fermented vegetable thing, i.e. kimchi or even sauerkraut. However, I don't think this dish is full of the rotted cabbage that I'm familiar with—just scant bits of the stuff distributed throughout. There seem to be some green beans and maybe some scallions or green onions, vegetable-wise, too. I'm not sure if they're a type of kimchi as well. I know there are more kimchi varieties than just the cabbage one that's most famous. I'm always ready to give most foodstuffs a second chance. So kimchi, here we come.


Anyway, I cooked the bag of rice, from frozen, in a big pan that I insist on calling a "wok." Sonia always corrects me and tells me it's just a big saucepan. Hmmm. Looks like a wok to me. Although, I'm sure Sonia is technically right. In true Trader Joe's fashion, the heating time took nearly double the suggested 7 minutes listed on the instructions on the bag. But heat it did eventually, nice and evenly.

The kimchi flavors here are subtle. For that matter, the bulgogi flavors are subtle, too. I'd say there's a decent amount of beef in the product. There's not enough that you'll get a piece in every bite, but not so sparse that you'll run out before you finish, either. Some of the meat tidbits are gristly. One slab even appeared to have a large vein or artery sticking out of it. Gross. Most pieces are pleasant, though—not super chewy or tough—but as expected, they lack that melt-in-your-mouth quality that I remember from my previous encounters with Korean barbecue.

If anything, I'd probably want more of the green onions and green beans throughout the mixture. As it is, it's mostly just rice. And it begs for some soy sauce and/or sriracha. Fixins help it a lot. I even tried some K-Mex fusion, adding Cholula hot sauce in place of sriracha, yielding moderately agreeable results.

At $4.99, this dish is vastly more accessible price-wise than an authentic Korean restaurant meal. Those aren't usually cheap. Not surprisingly, the quality isn't quite on par with restaurant quality, though, either. We probably won't pick up this particular item again, but if Trader Joe's offers similar Korean meals in the future, we'll definitely sample those as well. Maybe some Korean folks can share their opinions here, or maybe they have some tips on what sauces and condiments they use to doctor this dish up.

I give it three out of five stars. Sonia gives it three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Trader Joe's Roasted Barley Tea

"Cheerios water."

For better, or for worse, or for whatever reason, those were the first words out of my mouth after my first sip of a new icy cool Trader Joe's Roasted Barley Tea.

"Ch...Cheerios water? What the heck are ya talking about, and how would you know what Cheerios water would taste like? You tryin' that out on you own time or sometime?"

"Heck no. But like...if I had a bowl of Cherrios, but instead of milk poured water over it, ate the Cheerios, then drank the water, I think this would taste like that."

"Okay, weirdo. It's..." pauses for another sip "...more like coffee. Like a really weak coffee, like what I'd imagine emergency ration coffee would be like, all watered down and everything...which I hope we won't find out what that'll be like..."

"Thanks for the stark assessment, love."

Well, there ya have it. There's a little slice of life between my lovely bride and I the other night, after making a quick stop at TJ's after a long hot day capped off with a family bike ride to try and save some of our collective sanity. Left us parched, and I figured no better time to give a new beverage a try.

For a first time tryer of boricha (the actual Korean name for this type of drink, though I make no claim to this TJ's version's authenticity), it's so simple a drink, yet one that leaves me intrigued. I mean, literally, it tastes like nothing but grain, kinda, and water. There's no sugar, no other flavors or spices or anything to "liven" it up. It's barley...and water. Part of me wants to be all wiseguy 'merican and say to add malt and hops and then we might really be on to something, but that's not what we have here.

It's light but not overtly crisp and I waver on calling it refreshing or not. I'm sure some folks could consider it that, but I'm not quite on board. It's not awful, by any stretch, and I definitely enjoyed it the more I drank it, but I didn't finish the bottle entirely overjoyed, either. Yet I wish to try it again, and for $1.19 a bottle it's a low priced gamble.

I just noticed on the bottle it said it the barley tea can be served hot or cold. If it ever cools down, I'll definitely have try a heated up version - honestly I think I'd enjoy it more that way, but not when it's in the mid 90s and I have no AC, thank you very much.

Not overly in love, but I'll try it again for sure. That warrants a three in my book, subject to change with further experience. Despite our exclusive to ourselves oddities, my wife shares in this assessment with a three of her own.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Roasted Barley Tea: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Trader Joe's Thai Green Curry Simmer Sauce

Some Trader Joe's products seem to get more than their fair share of marketing attention. They get ridiculous, lengthy, lavish titles. They're presented with artsy, colorful packages and placed front and center in the store, maybe on an end cap or at the checkout counter. I'd say more than half the time, these items are gone just months after they drop, and they're forgotten about by the vast majority of patrons that purchased them. 

And then there's a completely understated line of Trader Joe's brand items. They're products that have been around for quite a while, and they need no clever marketing to sell. They get by on the merits of their quality and flavor. No cutesy packaging. No goofy nicknames. It might be just an unassuming jar of sauce with a modest amount of copy on the front—items like this product.

The sauce is super flavorful, medium-thick, and coats whatever foods you mix with it. It's not a sweet curry. I've had some curry sauces so sweet they were almost dessert-like. Not this one.


It's full of lemon grass, garlic, and shallot flavor. It's obviously coconutty, too, but the taste isn't particularly coconut-forward despite the coconut milk base. It's spicy, savory, and it makes your kitchen smell like an authentic sit-down Thai restaurant.

Sonia and I had it with mahi mahi fish for lunch yesterday, and it was scrumptious. Served with veggies and rice, it was one of the most satisfying meals we've prepared ourselves in a long time. All you do is put the sauce on your food in the skillet and let it simmer. So good and so easy.

The sauce darkened a little bit from the time we poured it out of the jar to the end of the cooking process. I'm not good with specific shades of individual colors, but I'd say it went from something like a pea green to more of an olive green tan light brown by the end...? Anyway, it's not much to look at, but it tastes good enough you probably won't care.


You have my word we'll continue to review those brand new nonsense-laden gimmicky products as they're released, but we'd be remiss in our Trader Joe's brand food reviewing duties if we didn't tell you all about products like this one from time to time. Delicious. Apparently, this version has only been around for about a year and a half, but I'm hoping it'll stick around and stand the test of time. 

At $1.99 for the jar, it's a steal. Four and a half stars from me. Five from Sonia.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings

Comfort.

What brings you comfort?

There's a lot of ways to answer this, of course, and there's even a few ways I can answer this right at the time of writing. I'm sipping on a cold beer, which almost always seems right, and listening to a Facebook Live concert from the lead singer of my favorite local band, called Good Brother Earl. I think I first saw them back in about 2003 or 2004 and, no lie, a few hundred times. Helps they used to play at the Pittsburgh Rock Bottom on Wednesday nights, no cover, with $2 beers and half price appetizers. Since corporate pulled the plug on their shows about 7 years ago, after at least a five year run, I haven't been back.

But anyways, through the many stages and changes in my life over the past 15-plus years, their music has been a constant. Jeff, the singer, has been a good friend as well. And in these times, I'm thankful that he and his band's music is continuing to be that constant that they have been.

Long, not entirely connected lead up to a review about the new Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings, eh? Sorry, couldn't think of much better. It's that beer I'm telling you.

But food brings comfort, right? And what's more comfort-in-edible form than a warm soup dumpling? I can't think of much.  So there ya go.

Find 'em in the freezer section, bring 'em home, steam 'em up, chow 'em down. These dumplings are pretty darn good. There's the soft, typical noodle shell holding the whole thing together. Inside, of course, is a light broth and the pork/ginger/whatever else filling. The meat itself is mild, soft and a bit crumbly, like a meatball bent on falling apart. That's not a bad thing. There's not more than a mildly aggressive hit of ginger - there's nothing near the searing bite ginger is capable of. It's more a soft warmth feel, and is complemented nicely by a little soy and garlic.

It'd be great if it ended there. But nah.

Instead, right at the end, this sweetness kicks in. At first I thought maybe it was some soy sauce trickery, but no. It's too cloying. It's got to be added sugar. Why would you add sugar to this? Makes no sense to me, not with flavor profile. We're going for savory here. Why sugar? Can't be sugar. Nah. Let's just go check the ingredients, I'm making this up...

Nope. Added sugar. As confirmed by the ingredient list and nutrition label. WHY???

Fortunately all the good flavor business in the front makes up pretty well for the lame wannabe sweet party in the back, but still, it's a knock. Would be much better without IMHO.

Otherwise, great dumplings, bordering on being down right umamilicious. That's not a word but it shoukd be. Umami + delicious = umamilicious. Say it aloud. It's fun. There's absolutely a comfort element at work, and in these times that's not a bad thing at all. My lovely bride, our squad of shorties and I all enjoyed them pretty well, and will likely pick up again soon, even with my faint quibbles.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls

I've said before I'm an eater, not a foodie. This means I'm not necessarily all that well educated in different food terms. Longtime readers of this blog probably know that already.

So...mochi?

As far as I knew, mochi was only a term for ice cream treats! You know what I mean - those little rice dough covered balls of frozen deliciousness. A little chewy and odd on the outside, creamy and delicious in the middle, and once accustomed to them they make an awesome snack. That's all what I ever knew mochi to be without ever having much reason to look into it further. I knew I liked mochi already.

So imagine my initial reaction when I heard of the new Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls.

Intriguing? Yes! But...how are they gonna incorporate ice cream into that?

Obviously, there's no ice cream here. Mochi is just a general term, more or less, for the rice dough balls which can be served in a variety of ways. TIL.

But anyways on to the mochi - oh goodness.

I can say that in relation to a lot of different factors here. That rice dough? It's a marvel, especially when cooked in an air fryer! Dry, dusty, crusty on the the outer shell, but that's just so, so shallow a layer that somehow hold plenty of crisp with a little crunch. The flip side (the innards) is completely different - wet, doughy, moist. Yes, I hate that word too. But it all suggest a slight bit of almost sauciness - that's the wrong word, but I don't know what else to use - when interacting with the rest of the set up. More on that coming up next paragraph. But really, for so thin a shell, the mochi is AMAZING with two very different, very enjoyable experiences. I'd suggest to maximize it use an air fryer instead of oven if you have it - about 10 minutes at 400 made 'em just right.

And the filling? Wow. It's HOT.

As in spicy? Yes. Kung pao usually has a couple heat notches. All the spices and peppers and whatnot combine into a pretty potent punch. It won't be the spiciest thing you'll ever eat, but I don't feel as though they're for the faint of tongue, either.  Despite that, I can still taste the chicken and garlic too. I love when spice enhances and doesn't overpower other foods, and that seems the case here.

But it's also HOT in the physical sense. As in, not cold. Those mochi shells hold some heat! I cracked one open and tried to let it cool for a few minutes before eating - still burned my tongue a little. Have a glass of water nearby, or prepare to let us sit and cool for quite some time.

I love 'em. My only complaint is I wish there was a bit more filling as the package picture implies - however I'm glad it's also not that magenta glow either. So there's that. The kung pao mochi has a fair price point too I'd say - it's $3.49 for a pack of eight golf ball sized dumplin's. My lovely bride enjoys them too, and they ought to be in the regular Asian-inspired dinner rotation. 4.5 from me and a solid 4 from her.

Save the ice cream for after!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, March 13, 2020

Trader Joe's Mandarin Style Orange Chicken Bowl


While Sonia and I were on the road, traveling almost every day sometimes for weeks on end, we'd often take advantage of Walmart parking lots for quick overnight stops. Most locations welcomed RVers with open arms for up to 24 hours. Many were adjacent to strip malls, mini malls, and occasionally classic indoor malls. And, of course, many of these malls had a Panda Express as part of their lineup of eateries and shops. 

At this point I should mention I've been referring to Panda Express as "Poison Panda" since college. No, I'm not racist against Asians. I have cute little nicknames for every fast food chain including Toxic Bell, Booger King, Pizza Butt, and Jack in the Crack. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that, perhaps part of some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, not once but twice, Sonia and I fell ill after eating Poison Panda on the road. We had running water in our RV, but for those of you familiar with RVing, it's very limited. You can't take 30 minute long showers, use a gallon of water for each flush, and run the sink the whole time you brush your teeth. You have to dump your tanks and refill your fresh water often unless you're extremely frugal with your usage. All that to say, if you're sick in an RV, it's not fun, and I'm not a fan of Panda since. Maybe I should just stop calling them "Poison Panda," and I'll have better luck. Law of Attraction and all that.


Fortunately, now I can get my orange chicken fix without going to a restaurant. Yes, I know there are decent orange chicken offerings that come frozen in bags and can be made on the skillet, but if you're pressed for time or want a decent break room lunch-at-work type of deal, this selection is quite satisfying.

Prep is simple. 4-5 minutes in microwave, thaw sauce in warm water, mix, serve. It's pretty close to restaurant quality as far as taste, but it's pert near impossible to make any kind of breaded chicken come out perfectly in the microwave. It's on par with Poison Panda orange chicken after you reheat the leftovers. I was surprised how much food there was in the bowl. It was actually filled to the brim. Maybe it's because we eat way less meat these days, but we were also impressed with the plentiful amounts of chicken in the mix. I might ask for more carrots, peas, and broccoli in place of some of the rice, but it was still a decent ratio as it was.

The included orange ginger sauce alone is adequate as far as condiments are concerned. I wouldn't have minded a tad more of it, but there's enough in the packet to coat the pieces of chicken and even some of the veggies and rice. You could throw in some soy sauce or sriracha if you were so inclined. I added a clove of raw garlic to mine, because I LOVE me some garlic and it has tons of health benefits. Also, I hate vampires. Go Team Jacob.

$3.99 for the bowl. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

You Might Like: