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

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.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Trader Joe's Honey Walnut Shrimp

It should be pretty simple, really. Read a food package, have a reasonable understanding of what's inside and what it would taste like. Or read the ingredients or nutrition label, and figure out if it's a product you should/want to eat or not. That's not so easily always the case, of course, and I'm not talking about personal error to cause a misjudgement (though those rolls were still gross). Just last week I reviewed Trader Joe's Honey Butter Chips, and made mention of the bag stating 70 calories per serving. That caused several readers to report seeing signs at their local TJ's stating they were actually 150 calories per serving. Upon further reflection, a label error makes more sense than chips made from more or less the usual ingredients having half the caloric value of their fried spud brethren. Doesn't make that any less frustrating, of course.

Here's a less devious example: Trader Joe's Honey Walnut Shrimp.

Should be easy, right? Honey. Walnuts. Shrimp. I know what all those taste like separate, and can imagine what they would be like altogether, and my mental tongue thinks its delicious. Can't be much more straightforward than that.

So why do I taste nothing but pineapple?

Well, yes, the walnuts and shrimp are also present, and obviously so, but the honey? Not so much. It's there as a subtly sweet lingering flavor, in a delicious manner, but the overarching taste by far is pineapple. It totally takes over the milky sauce that, like other similar TJ's products, comes in a separate packet to defrost and pour over/mix in the shrimp. Unlike most other TJ's products, there's actually more than enough sauce, enough to leave a veritable puddle, instead of the usual just-barely-enough portions. Wish we had some cauliflower rice on hand to help sop all that up, because it's pretty tangy, sweet, and know, like a pineapple should be, at the expense of honey flavor that I'd be hardpressed to discern if I didn't know to look out for it.

It's all pretty good otherwise. The shrimp baked up extremely well in the oven, and were firm and fresh with a crispy tempiura batter that held up well in the sauce. TJ's got that down to a science. The walnuts were a little sparse, but when present added a little earthy crunch. Pretty tasty overall, but only if you like pineapple.

Sandy swears this is very similar to a dish we ate two years ago at a Chinese New Year celebration we attended. I'll take her word for it...I can barely remember dinner from two days ago, let alone two years ago on a night we were served about 20 different dishes. It was about $6 or $7 for the shrimp, and was ample enough portion for us two adults, so a good value compared to take out/delivery. We both enjoyed it quite a bit, but really, a more accurate product name would be Pineapple Walnut Shrimp, which sounds just as delicious to me. What say you?

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

Trader Joe's Korma Fish Curry

A handful of you might remember that not all that long ago, Sonia and I had been living without a microwave. We purposely neglected to replace it mainly to see how we’d do without it. But now that we’re living in our RV and traveling, we are now, once again, endowed with the ability to irradiate our foods from frozen to ready-to-eat in a matter of minutes—when we’re hooked up to shore power, at least. Oh, how I’ve missed you, nuked foods. May our romance blossom once again. For our reunion date, you prepared a delish fish dish for me. How sweet of you, Samsung MC1015BB.

This blog has explored quite a few different frozen, microwavable Indian products over the years. In my opinion, this is one of, if not the most consistent line of products Trader Joe’s has to offer. No, they can’t compete with a really good, authentic Indian restaurant, but considering the price and convenience, I’ve never found anything that compares.

This dish was no different. It’s the same basmati rice we’ve been seeing with most of these Indian meals. And of course, TJ’s curry is pretty consistently good. And the fish? Well, that was the wild card. Some TJ’s fish is spot on, and some…not so much.

But here we had a delicious white fish with a great taste and texture. Swai? It was soft, but not mushy, and it blended quite well with the thick, spicy curry. The packaging made the fish look like two or three “sticks,” for lack of a better term, but we got a large, triangular filet instead. If anything, it was more fish than I expected, just based on the picture on the box.

There’s a surprising amount of heat here, too, which Sonia and I both appreciated. The curry is potent, yet sweet, smooth, and coconutty. All three elements worked beautifully together, and we devoured our entrees quickly, wishing we had purchased another box or two to enjoy another day.

At $3.49 per single-serving package, it’s one of the pricier microwaveable Indian products at TJ’s, but it’s worth it if you ask Sonia or I. Four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Trader Joe's Shrimp Soft Tacos

Another week, another shot to grind my gears about something. Made my annual autumnal rant last week about pumpkin spice. Man, that felt good to get out. This week's target? Food trucks. By in large, I think they're dumb. I get that in some scenarios they may be a way of life...but man. Stand around forever in line just to overpay for one item, have to wait around forever in another line if you want anything else, all from some typically greasy grungy kitchen on wheels. No thanks. Here in the 'burgh, the whole food truck craze has really hit in the past few years. We're kinda slow on a lot of trends - can't wave a Terrible Towel without hitting a mullet or three - but in the past two or three years, any kind of community event anywhere, it's food truck bonanza! And everyone gets so excited! FOOD! FROM A TRUCK! WITH WHEELS! STAND AROUND ON ASPHALT AND EAT FOOD! WOW!

No thanks.

I bring this up in relation to Trader Joe's Shrimp Soft Tacos because on the official TJ's website, there's a whole thing about taco trucks when they start talking these tacos. Blah. That may be a way to entice a lot of potential eaters, but not me...but then again. it's a shrimp taco, so twist my arm.

I'm not going to say these are the best shrimp tacos ever, because they aren't. Far from it. But, I will say these are the best microwavable shrimp tacos that cost less than $1.25 each I've ever had. A three pack cost only $3.69, so keep that in mind with all I am about to say.

Though the taco filling looks nothing like what's depicted on the package, it's still plenty flavorful. There's a spicy heat radiating on nearly every bite, much more than anticipated - there's some potent jalapenos lurking in that salsa verde. Lots of black pepper bite, too. I wish a little more lime flavor were present to cut through the heat some - lime juice is listed as an ingredient - but something like a little lime basil would be killer on these tacos. Once done nuking, the soft 'n mild cotija cheese is kinda indistinguishable from everything else, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Surprisingly, there's plenty ample filling too. One could reasonably expect that a perceived premium taco stuffer could be shorted here, but it's not - not skimpy on the shrimpy. Each taco had at least two to three firm, fresh(ish) bites of shrimp in there. You're not getting cheated here.

As for the corn tortillas...meh. Listen, they do the job. Each taco is actually double-tortilla'd, which is probably the right call - if left with just one, it'd be too soggy and potentially messy. That being said, for a corn tortilla, they're not awful, but not particularly memorable either. I'm spoiled by the handmade ones from two trips to the mountainsides of Mexico, and it's an unfair comparision, but one I hold every other corn tortilla to. I would have preferred flour ones.

Really, not too many complaints. The tacos could really use some vegetation if you have some on hand, just to freshen them up a little bit. Some lettuce or tomatoes or avocado would be a welcome addition if I had any one hand. A little dollop of sour cream would be nice, too, especially to help dampen the spice. Both Sandy and I could totally justify picking up the shrimp soft tacos again, and, heck, probably will for a quick, easy, and somewhat different lunch. No food truck required.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Shrimp Soft Tacos: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.     

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Trader Joe's Smoked Salmon Bacon

For the most part, Sonia and I both love salmon, and we both love Trader Joe's. But when unusual salmon products pop up at TJ's, we've found that they're always a bit of a gamble. The WG@TJ's team has seen everything from two kinds of salmon jerky to bagged pasta with salmon to salmon pastramiand that's just scratching the surface. Some of those products got the thumbs up, and some went straight back to TJ's for a no-hassle refund.

Now I love turkey bacon, and I was quite eager to try yet another "meat" turned into bacon, so this seemed like a logical purchase, despite a spotty salmon track record. No, not spotted salmon...I meant...ugh, nevermind.

As far as traditional bacon lovers go, they're probably not gonna love this. Most "normal" bacon fanatics tolerate turkey bacon, at best. And this is yet a step further from pork bacon.

But on the plus side, it's not revolting. At least we didn't think so. This might be a pescatarian's dream come true.

This bacon has a peculiar texture, both crispy and slightly chewy. Sonia thought it seemed like a synthetic mouthfeel—almost like a plastic intended for eating. The cooking instructions call for heating in a "lightly-oiled" pan, so the grease-factor of the finished product will depend on just how "lightly" you oiled that pan. I may have erred on the side of "moderate" oiling since the fish is significantly leaner than most bacon. If traditional bacon is naturally fatty and greasy, it's far less dependent upon added oils for flavor. I think the couple extra drops of olive oil I added helped the taste and maybe the texture, too. Also, I wouldn't say the product ever "browned" per se like the packaging suggests it might, but rather, it simply turned a darker shade of pink.

The "smoked" flavor in the salmon does approximate that of traditional smoked bacon to some extent. I actually found it quite pleasant. There's not a tremendous amount of fishiness, but I mean, it's salmon, so there is some, particularly at the finish. The product smells like fish, too, but not overwhelmingly so. It's salty and savory and again, in my case, a bit oily.

Sonia said she wanted to try the product raw and treat it like salted, smoked lox and have it with a bagel or something just to see what it was like. To date, neither she nor I have actually been adventurous enough to do this, though.

At five bucks per package, it's not cheap, but then I guess they aren't exactly giving away regular bacon these days, either. Score-wise, I think we'll slap this puppy with double three and a halfs.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

(Projected score for traditional bacon lovers: 0 out of 10)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Trader Joe's Mahi Mahi Burgers

Ever see what a mahi mahi looks like? As in the actual fish? I sure as heck hadn't, and since I have a sick sense of humor in which I like to put a face to whatever animal I'm currently eating (sorry, vegans), I Google image searched one the other night while standing out by my grill and came across this. Um, wow. Like, I'm not sure what I exactly expected a mahi mahi to look like, but it wasn't quite that. Big ol' paint dropcloth looking thing. Um...yumm?

Well, in burger form...absolutely.

There's many fine and wonderful and fancy ways to enjoy a good slab of mahi mahi, but for a quick, easy, and convenient preparation, it may be hard to be beat Trader Joe's Mahi Mahi Burgers. These frozen fish pucks are yet another example what draws me to TJ's seafood products - it's overall fresh and clean vibe. So many other frozen seafood I've had is salty or mushy or overly fishy or just off.

But nope, not here. The fish itself has a very mild, clean flavor, with a couple spices like paprika and rosemary put on for a little character, but there's not much standing in the way of the actual fish flavor. One thing both Sandy and I particularly liked: these actually really hit the "burger button." The texture and mouthfeel approximate that of a regular beef or turkey burger - a little softer, yes, but as close as a fish can get to a burger, these do. We're impressed. And even our kiddos love them - our just-turned-four year old M grins with delight every time we tell her fish burgers our on the menu.

Put anything on these burgers you like - we particularly enjoyed some salsa or slaw or (as pictured) the chile lime powder. It's light, good eating. The box of four runs about $6, which isn't awful for some decent quality fish, and as a pro tip, they even reheat well without stinking up the joint (so says Sandy, I'd be too chicken to try that). Great summer time pick up to toss something a little different on the grill, so we're going with some high marks here. I took awful pics of the nutritional stats so see them here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mahi Mahi Burgers: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, April 15, 2016

Trader Joe's Sriracha Tuna Salad

After being traumatized by seeing an open jar of Bacon Jam and Sid Crosby's face in the same blog post on Wednesday, I decided to give myself a day off to recover. 

During my down time, I finished up our Sriracha Tuna Salad. It's not exactly comfort food, but tuna salad is nice and familiar, plus there's a bit of that international flair I love—in the form of tasty, Thai-inspired sriracha sauce. Although, both Sonia and I don't think it tasted a whole lot like sriracha. I mean, we could tell there was a tangy hot sauce up in the mix, but somehow it tasted a little different than the sriracha we've come to know and love.

And of course, there's mayo and some chopped up veggies. The whole thing was a tad on the liquidy side if you ask me, but it was still passably crunchy and full of good-quality tuna fish. And just as I expected, there was only a hint of heat—Sonia and I were both pining for more. We would have added some extra sriracha of our own, but we were fresh out. At 8 oz, the package is slightly less than the size of two cans of tuna. With a price point of $3.99 per tub, it's not outrageous, but we'll probably opt to make our own tuna salad and add our own customized amount of sriracha in the future, rather than make this a repeat purchase. Double threes here.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.
(Nate's Notes: We would have had a brand new podcast episode up for you today, but I apparently blundered the mic settings during recording, thus rendering it unusable. So apologies to anyone who was looking forward to that. We'll hopefully have a new episode up in a week or so.)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Trader Joe's Seafood Paella

Sonia has a few quirky allergies that come and go mysteriously. One is to mushrooms. Although, that particular sensitivity didn't apply when it came to the Portobello Mushroom Fries. Another one of her fun "come and go" allergies involves certain kinds of shellfish. Maybe. We've figured out she's okay with crab and lobster. But she usually plays it safe with things like clams, oysters, and scallops...except when my dad orders the fried oysters and she takes a couple bites. Maybe she's grown out of the allergy and maybe she's not as sensitive when the food is prepared a certain way. Who knows? But it took some convincing to get her to try this paella. She finally agreed, but only on the condition that I take all the mussels out of her portion.

That was just fine by me, because I really liked these mussels. They came out nice and soft, but not too chewy. The "calamares" were by far the chewiest ingredient in our bag. I've had squid before that was not this chewy, but really, it wasn't horrendous—just a tad more rubbery than I would have preferred. The rest of the textures were wonderful and blended together seamlessly.

South Jersey is full of fresh seafood, but I haven't seen many places around here that offer any kind of paella. In fact, the only other time in my life that I've had proper paella was in Spain. There was a quaint sidewalk cafe in Madrid where I tried this "national dish" of EspaƱa. It was a while back, but honestly, I remember not being impressed. It was much soupier than Trader Joe's offering, the vegetables were stringy, and I felt it lacked flavor. They might have given me a bad batch on purpose, though. They didn't seem fond of non-Spanish speakers there. <Sigh.> Six and a half years into a marriage to someone whose first language is Spanish, and I'm still trying to learn it.

But back to the paella. It's good. It's complex, flavorful, and not-at-all-fishy. Seafoody? Yes. Fishy? No. I'm not sure how authentic it is, but I certainly prefer it to the only other paella I've ever had. Ironically, this selection is a "product of France," not Spain, according to the bag. Eh, close enough, I guess. Four stars from me. Three and a half from my better half.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Trader Joe's Lightly Breaded Reduced Fat Fish Sticks

Fish sticks have never been terribly exciting—especially when you start tacking phrases like "reduced fat" on to the title of the product. I mean, sure, one might argue that fish filets, croquettes, and nuggets aren't much better. But to me, they seem a little more "Trader Joe-esque" than just plain old fish sticks do. But I must admit, these aren't bad.

The texture of these depended greatly on their time in the oven. One slightly under-baked batch came out soft and delicate, another spent some extra time in the oven and came out crispy—almost crunchy. So it's pretty easy to tailor these sticks to your specific taste. The fish was fairly consistently flaky and white, with very few weird, dark spots and irregularities, as I've seen with some other brands of fish sticks.

There's a nice, subtle fish flavor here. The breading is indeed light and only lends a whisper of carby goodness to the tender pollock. Overall, though, I thought the product was a little too bland to be eaten sans condiments. Lacking authentic tartar sauce, we whipped up a makeshift batch using Miracle Whip and relish. We applied it sparingly to our fish sticks and found that it worked pretty well. With a salad and some juice, they made a pleasantly satisfying dinner for Sonia and I one evening last week, and there were still enough left over for lunch the next day. There's no reinvention of the wheel here. These are solid, palatable fish sticks—even if they are a tad boring. Four stars from Sonia, three from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Trader Joe's Pacific Flounder with Crab Meat Stuffing

Here in Pittsburgh, we take Lenten Fridays seriously. How seriously? Just click here - fish fry season! Any Catholic church worth it's weight holds their own, though no one yet can ably explain to me why eating a giant slab of fried fish is exactly a "sacrifice." Eh well. Bonus points to any fish fry with homemade pierogi. And if you don't know what a fish fry even is - here's a spot-on comedic primer. can't always make it to one. That's our no-fry Friday last Friday. We did make it to Trader Joe's though, saw his Pacific Flounder with Crab Meat Stuffing, and in case you find yourself in similar predicament and motivation today....

Pass on by. Not that great. Not awful. But not good. All in all, this stuffed seafood contrivance is a good idea...but just lacks any taste. Like, none. No herbs. No spice. Nothing from the cheese or breadcrumbs or saucy mayo stuff or anything else listed (the label says bell peppers, we didn't spot any!).  Just soft, flaky fish of the decent variety, filled with mushy nondescript crab with the occasional crumby grit or saucy splooge.

Both Sandy and I ended up after a couple bites reaching for the brown sugar BBQ sauce we had out for our fries just to add a little something to make our dinners actually taste like something. In all, these aren't the worst things you could spend $4ish on at TJ's, but there's lots better. Maybe these could be a Lenten sacrifice.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pacific Flounder with Crab Meat Stuffing: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Salmon & Vegetable Croquettes

When I was a little kid, my dad brought home some croquettes from the supermarket once. They weren't salmon and vegetable...they were potato and something I think. But anyway, that doesn't matter. And honestly, I don't even remember what they tasted like, but I must have liked them because I remember asking for them more than once. 

I had never heard of a croquette before, but the way I remembered the name was that it was similar to the sound a toad makes: "croak." So the next day I used my (faulty) memory device and asked my dad for another "ribbit."

Silly the things you remember and the things you don't. And one thing I'm not soon to forget is the fishiness of the last salmon product I reviewed or that of the worst salmon product I've ever had. But fortunately for me, this salmon dish is the exact opposite of those fishy salmon dishes. It still tastes like salmon, but with virtually none of the bad kind of fishiness. That is to say, it was quite tasty.

I pan fried mine on the stove top with some coconut spray until they were golden brown on the top and bottom. As per the instructions, I thawed them in the microwave for about 45 seconds prior to the actual cooking. I still think they needed a couple extra minutes in the pan—maybe because my microwave is old and weak. But I trusted my eye instead of following the instructions to the letter, and I wasn't disappointed.

They were slightly crispy on the outside and all the ingredients were nice and soft—almost like crab cakes—in the middle. Flavor-wise, everything was well balanced and delicate. There was a good bit of that high-quality salmon, and it was definitely the main attraction, although the edamame, kale, broccoli, and chia seeds gave it a nice veggie base, with subtle notes of nuttiness.
At first, I thought $5.49 was a bit steep, but if you compare this product to an appetizer at a restaurant, it's not a bad deal. And yes, these croquettes are indeed restaurant-quality, if you ask Sonia or me. The wifey was just as impressed as I was. She really enjoyed this salmon, but also really loved this particular medley of veggies. Double fours here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Trader Joe's Wild King Salmon Jerky

At about 46:20 of Let's Talk TJ's! Podcast Episode 6, there's a fairly entertaining discourse about the Wild Salmon Jerky Russ reviewed last year. Near the end of that conversation, I volunteered to be the What's Good at Trader Joe's guinea pig for "Salmon Jerky version 2.0." I try to be a man of my word, so yesterday morning I shelled out the $5.49 for the small three ounce bag and "took one for the team," all in the name of intrepid food blogging. 

This uncommon jerky is a new product that no longer uses chum salmon as the primary ingredient, but instead employs the use of regal, fresh, Alaskan king salmon. Some have speculated that chum salmon was also sometimes referred to as "dog salmon" because Alaskan native peoples would only feed it to their sled dogs. Others claim the nickname came from the fish's canine-esque mandibles and many teeth. Either way, it's a fact that chum salmon are commercially undesirable, and so king salmon are a big step in the right direction. And best of all, they're still "wild," or "free range," like the salmon in those fictional breakfast muffins.

But still, this product is amazingly fishy. I mean, it's almost completely made of fish, so I don't know exactly what I was expecting. I guess I was thinking that the jerkifying process would make it significantly less fishy. But no. Still quite fishy. And to add to the fishiness, you can actually see where the scales were on the salmon chunks (see pic). So yeah. Fishy.

Good thing I like fish. My dogs do, too. No matter where in the house I opened this package of salmon jerky, the dogs smelled it immediately and were at my heels, begging for scraps. I mean, sure, they do that for everything, but they seemed especially enthused about this product—probably because of the fairly pungent fishy smell. I'm pretty sure if they were going to score this product, it would get 10 stars. But unfortunately, the humans in the house weren't quite as wowed.

However, I must admit the quality of the "meat" itself is pretty good. There's a nice smoky, spicy, sweet flavor to it. And it does taste like salmon—certainly not the best salmon I've ever had, but not the worst salmon I've ever had either. The texture is pretty close to traditional jerky, although this salmon stuff has a tendency to flake off in little angular chunks, similar to the way a normal fish fillet would. It's also more oily than any other jerky I've had lately. You'll pine for moist towelettes after handling it.

Even if you're a huge fan of the taste and texture, it's a little on the pricey side. I can't see this ever becoming a regular purchase in our house. It's not terrible, though. I'm just glad I'm not the one who tried the version with chum in it. 3 stars from me. Sonia was initially overwhelmed by the fishy smell, but got over it quickly. She gives this product 3.5 stars, and insists that it tastes somewhat like bacon. I'm not sure where she's getting that from. Silly Sonia.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Trader Joe's Pastrami Style Smoked Atlantic Salmon

It's kinda crazy, the busy lives we live. Most if not all of you know what I mean. Might look like different things to different people, but at the base, there's a common truth - we're just busybusybusy people. Sandy and I are no exception. Both of us have more than fulltime jobs, a couple young kiddos, a house hitting the century mark this year (so lots of upkeep, and that doesn't even include the laundry), family, friends, errands...the list goes on. That's why I really treasure our weekend mornings. We make it a point to have at least one leisurely weekend morning meal, where we can actually sit down, chat, drink a couple cups of coffee, and just hang out for an hour or more. It's the best, and it's a great re-centering point for the week. It also helps that breakfast is probably our favorite meal, foodwise, so we usually go with the classics - eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, fruit, etc.

Well, this past weekend we had only shot at this, on Sunday morning. I got roped into some early morning weekend OT at the day job, which preceded another busy day of errands (Huzzah Costco!) and kid-wranglin'. As mentioned on our new podcast, Let's Talk TJ's, Sunday morning is the best time to go shopping at TJ's, so we headed out early, pre-breakfast, with bacon on our mind. Then we saw this, Trader Joe's Pastrami Style Smoked Atlantic Salmon, and were intrigued enough to give it  try.

Make no mistake: this was a gamble. This was our one true laidback family meal of the week, and if the food stunk, that'd be a real stinker. TJ's, in the history of our blog, doesn't have the shiniest track record with salmon products (like this or this). Plus...Sandy doesn't usually like salmon. Pink meat kinda creeps her out. It's only because this blatantly said "Pastrami Style" that she was willing to try it - she loves my dad's smoked pastrami (yes, I know, another pink meat) so semi-begrudgingly we got this, with a pack of bagels to make some sandwiches for a brunch with blueberries and coffee. 

Glad we rolled the dice. We both are very happy with the purchase. In the packages there's about eight or nine slabs of fresh fleshy fish a few inches long by maybe a millimeter or so thick, so just about the right amount for two decently-stacked sandwiches. The salmon is pretty clean and mild, for the most part. From my dad's aforementioned smoking prowess, I'm fairly certain I can tell the difference between different smoking wood chip varieties. For my part, I sensed more sweetness from the apple and cherry than depth from oak and maple, which isn't a bad thing for a meat like the steak that swims.

One thing not present throughout the salmon: all those pastrami spices. That's because all the black pepper and parika and whatnot were rubbed in post-smoking, not before. I'm thinking that's a good call, as we were able to enjoy both the sweet smokiness of "plain" salmon and the spicy peppery bite from around the edges in about equal measure.

I'm not sure if this a brand new product, but it's definitely the first time we saw it. The four ounce package cost $4.99, about which I'm indecisive about the value. That equates to $20 a pound, so yeah...that's a lot. Then again, we're not frequent salmon purchasers, so maybe that's the going rate, but the curse of TJ's is I sometimes just expect an exceptional value, which I'm not convinced this is. Regardless, I'm glad we overcame our reservations to give our relaxed morning a little changeup Matching fours from the wife and me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pastrami Style Smoked Atlantic Salmon: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Trader Joe's Sushi Sensations

Like those Snickers commercials allude to, when you're hungry, you're not yourself. Case in point: Mid-Sunday evening, the family and I standing in the brand-spankin' new McCandless Crossing Trader Joe's in Pittsburgh's North Hills. Nice store, grand opening weekend, it's kinda busy, we're getting the lay of the land, and all of us are h-u-n-g-r-y. All we want is an easy dinner, but we can't figure out what. M, our increasingly rambunctious two and a half year old, wants "nuggets and mac and cheese." Easy enough for her...but we eat that way too often to have that sound palatable for us. For whatever reason, I have a real hankering for onion rings, but they're nowhere to be found. Sandy's eying up the wraps, as am I, but they're pretty well picked over. We don't feel like pizza. We don't want to put much of any effort besides maybe roasting some veggies into dinner. Nothing frozen catches our eye. And the rumble in our tummies just grows and grows.

And then...

Listen, I have no idea what propelled me to even consider Trader Joe's Sushi Sensations. It's not that I'm against sushi. It's just that I've never heard anything good about Trader Joe's. Google "worst things to buy at Trader Joe's" and their sushi will almost always be mentioned. Years ago, in an article on The Daily Meal, I even said I never, ever wanted to try their sushi. Yet, here it was, in my hand, mulling it over....and even more amazingly, Sandy even said she'd eat some with me if we also got her a buffalo chicken wrap as a back-up. I've never seen her near sushi in the seven-plus years we've known each other. This was going to be an interesting night.

Well...there are some positives. I guess. In true amateur foodie-hack fashion, I'll admit, I'm neither a huge sushi fan nor anything close to an expert. But even I could tell this wasn't exactly top-notch fare. There's four types of sushi laid out for sampling here: Shrimp Nigiri, California, Spicy California, and Tempura Shrimp. There's also some dipping sauces: a slightly spicy "dynamo" (not to be confused with the juice), some sweet, some wasabi, and a packet of soy sauce, as well as a small bucket of crispy Panko bread crumbs. The nigiri were reasonably okay, though nothing special, as well as the shrimp tempura. Some common complaints regarding TJ's sushi is the quality and texture of the rice - there wasn't too much (if any) sliminess present, and the shrimp had a good firm texture and taste. Each paired well with the variety of the sauces (although we skipped both the plain soy and the wasabi) and the breadcrumbs also added a nice, little touch.

If those were the only rolls in there, we would have been reasonably fine with dinner and given a middling to solid score. But...the California rolls. Ugh. This is what California rolls are supposed to look like. These TJ impostors? Not close. Instead, the filling and the insides looked like some sort of cross between seafood salad and cat food - just a mishmash o' mush shoved inside some seaweed and rice. And I mean "mush." I didn't realize that the sticker with the nutrition label and ingredients was missing, and I can't find a picture of one online, but the filling tasted like all sorts of fake seafood-type junk smushed together. If there was a shred of authentic seafood in either one of those rolls, I;d be shocked. The "spicy" and regular had no discernible taste difference either. Sandy took one bite of one of them and nearly spit it right out for the texture being so offsetting. I'll admit that I was able to eat the rest...I must've been really, truly hungry and the sauces and breadcrumbs helped cover a lot.

For a couple deliriously hungry sushi novices like us, the Sushi Sensations platter made a somewhat passable dinner, but barely. This is what you get when you pay $6.49 for a large sushi plate - we should have figured and gone for something else. At least I can say that I've overcome my fears and tried it out, all to say you'll probably want to stay away. This is not going to be purchased again.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sushi Sensations: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Trader Joe's Crispy Green Curry Shrimp Gyoza

You readers are so smart. S-m-r-t. No, seriously. I'm going to pick up just a recent example: The one who pointed out that the "enzymes" in Trader Joe's Super Burrito! probably included L-Cysteine, which is from animal sources and -gulp- can be derived from human hair -ewwww - therefore not making the burrito a vegetarian or vegan product, despite it going out of the way to include vegan mayo. That's an unsettling sentence for me to type. Yuck. Now every time I see the word "enzymes" on an ingredient list I'm going to think of the first half of this Family Guy scene.

Here's a cheerier example: A couple weeks back I reviewed those Thai Shrimp Gyoza, thinking there were some new hot item, and being pretty disappointed in their lack of taste and flair. Another one of you was pretty quick to point out that I probably really had these Trader Joe's Crispy Green Curry Shrimp Gyoza  in mind, and a quick consultation of the "What's New" shelf and display at the store and even quicker comparison of package colors (green vs. yellow) showed that yes, once again, you all are right. Thanks as always!

And these gyoza are absolutely what I wanted when I got those other ones. Like Cher, if I could turn back time...These are the real deal. There's very little to not like about these crispy dumplin's. First, the wrapper. Even though we just baked these (as is even the preferred prep method, you can also microwave, but why?), the wonton wrapper got very crispy despite its thinness, while still holding the innards and stuffing all together with very few leakages. It was rather impressive, actually, and although my waistline likes the fact we didn't deep fry them, well, my tongue would have loved to tried. Must be that palm oil they're pre-cooked in...ohh..I'll let that slide, yet again. I know, I know. 

It's not just the outside that lived up to the "crispy" billing. The insides were too. Oh, no, it wasn't the shrimp - that was yet another example of superior TJ firm, fresh, nongritty, nonsalty, yummy shrimp. Didn't even notice the "shrimp paste" unlike previous times. Nope, it was the veggies in there too, which were predominantly carrots and kale. Those too were fresh and firm, with a little crunch, offering a great mouthfeel-y counterbalance. And then there were all the great flavors that Thai food can offer, especially in curries - the sweet coconut, the bite of some lime, the heat off some spices. They may err slightly on the spicy side, so if you prefer milder, these may be a little strong.

The only real complaint that either Sandy or I had was we would have loved an included packet of dipping sauce. Just a little extra somethin'-somethin' to dunk these gyoza in would have been an absolute killer, and given that my choices on hand were Frank's Red Hot or my new favorite BBQ sauce, I think we might the right decision to forgo any condiments. Something like a currylicious dipping sauce, though? Man, my mouth waters. In our minds, this is a tremendous pick-up for the roughly four bucks for a spicy seafood pick-me-up that approaches restaurant quality for a fraction of the price. Matching fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Green Curry Shrimp Gyoza: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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