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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Trader Joe's Firecracker Shrimp

In a recent post, I described the new morning routine that Sandy, Baby M and I are now have now that we're both back to work while M's off at baby school (fairly conveniently at Sandy's jarb). Those can be a little rough. Know what else is tough? Evenings. For those of you with kids, you probably know that already, and I don't want to sound whiny, but we're just trying to get settled into the "new normal." Finish up a long day of work, get home, feed the baby, take care of the dog, feed the baby again, be tired, be hungry, deal with a crying baby who apparently cannot stand the mere thought of both of us eating at the same time, do chores...the list doesn't end. Add in the occasional run to the chiropractic office not only for Sandy's back, but also for my elbows and arms to stop hurting after sneezing (true story), and it can only make things more hectic.

No wonder convenient meals-in-a-bag are so popular. There's barely time to do much else some nights, especially when your belly just needs some grub before moving on to the next thing. While we definitely got a preference for homemade dinners and have maintained a good habit of those whenever possible, there's some nights we just kinda cave in and grab something quick 'n easy.

Recently we nabbed ourselves the Trader Joe's Firecracker Shrimp. Most TJ shrimp products have done well for us - routinely, it's high-quality, fresh-tasting crustaceany critters that's not salty or gritty or mushy like too many other store brands I've had. Mostly our quibbles have only been with whatever gets slopped on them, or what they come packaged with. History holds true here. Excellent, excellent shrimp itself - fresh, roughly quarter-sized, firm, with a little light coating on them that crisped up in the oven well enough. Absolutely no complaints. It's just the sauce again. Exactly as you do with other products like the Mandarin Orange Chicken, after you bake the bites you swirl them in a bowl of the sauce. For something that's marketed under "Firecracker," I'd expect some heat, except TJ's repeats its classic error and confuses vinegar with spice, which is not that nice. Combine that with the lemon and sugar and whatnot tossed in, and the sauce tastes almost downright citrusy with nary a hint of the sriracha that it purportedly contains. I'm thinking the sauce would be greatly enhanced by adding some of my own chili powder or some crushed red pepper, but as it comes, it's lacking in our book.

That's not to write the dish off completely. But it's kinda disappointing, knowing just how much better it could actually be with a few small tweaks. Aside from the sauce, Sandy said the shrimp could do with either more breading, or none whatsoever. It probably didn't help that half the coating stuck on our foil-covered baking sheet. Also, say, if I were to buy this at a restaurant, I'd be happy with the quantity of shrimp for our $6.99, but for a make-at-home dinner, even a low effort one like this, either the price could stand to go down, or there could be an extra handful of shrimp included. No matter. It did well enough for a busy Monday night, and it reconfirmed that homemade dinners almost always win in our book. However you want to split our score, you're probably right.

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole

If you're familiar with our blog, you might be familiar with some of my wife Sandy's "food rules". If not, check out this corny post for a quick primer, cuz I'm running thru all them again. Anyways, guacamole is just something that she has decided she doesn't like. I have no idea whether or not it's something she's ever actually tried, but that's her. I don't think I could pay her to ever try it - too mushy, too mashy, too chunky, too avocado-ey. It's too bad, because, man, I love me some guac, but it spoils too quickly for me to justify buying a purchase a container just for myself, and truth be told, I'm positive she'd be a fan if only she were to try a little sample.

Anyways, lest you think this will be a one-sided review (I've sworn those off), fear not! For only the second time in our history that I can recall, we have a celebrity guest reviewer today. Ladies and gents, let's please welcome Tanya Novotny to the floor! By day she is a pharmacist extraordinaire, but while she's not busy saving the world one prescription at a time, she is an official TJ's nut who's not only tipped us off to some incredible breakfast treats, but also gave towards my Bike MS fundraising event a few weeks back, winning our reader contest to nominate a TJ's product to be reviewed with her two cents tossed in. Thanks again, Tanya!

As far as Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole goes, it's another winner. I respect what TJ's is trying to do here by taking a kinda-unhealthy dip and turning it into something that's at least somewhat better for you. Basically, think of blending an avocado with a bunch of Greek yogurt and add in some onion and pepper and spices and whatnot, and that's what we got here. Texturewise, it's almost exactly halfway between regular guacamole and Greek yogurt, perhaps erring on the side of creaminess, except for the occasional lil' chunky of avocado or onion, of course. As for taste, if eaten kinda piled on top of taco salad (as I recently ate it), the flavor kinda melds in with everything else, with only the Greek yogurt and lime finishing bite really sticking out. Stick a chip in and have some unencumbered by too many other flavors, and it tastes pretty close to how guacamole should, save for the Greek yogurty part. And that's not a complaint either. I've been on a Greek yogurt kick recently, and using it as a base for a tasty dip is a pretty ingenious idea.  I'd even say, if you partake of this particular guac, you can skimp on additional sour cream or yogurt altogether, which only adds to its healthiness quotient. A little less salt, though would be appreciated - I mean, with everything else, why add the sea salt? Eh well.

Tanya's a fan, as am I. "Almost as good as the real stuff," she said. She's had it a few more times than I have, and has noted she can taste a difference in the level of spiciness from batch to batch sometimes. If that's the case, Trader Joe's, make mine a little hotter next time, please! The ingredients say there's jalapenos in there, and I want to taste 'em a little. I'll add in her only negative statement here: "I know it’s “Chunky” but yesterday, I got a huge chunk of avocado and happily bit into it, only to find that it was an unripe chunk of avocado, and thus, was quite tough and bitter. YUK!" Ewww, glad I avoided that! Still, it's good enough for her to give it the equivalent of about a four. That, too, sounds just about right to me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, October 19, 2012

Trader Joe's Mexicaine Quiche

I'm not sure why TJ's decided to spell "Mexican" with a built-in homage to the cocaine cartels in Juarez. Neither Sonia (who is Mexican-American) nor I are familiar with this bizarre spelling. I guess it makes the product fancier. I'm also fond of mispronouncing "quiche" on purpose, like "kwitch-y." So, at our house, this product became "TJ's Mexi-Cocaine Kwitchy" because I'm weird like that. At any rate, we decided to sample this product and review it for you.

We followed the instructions for a conventional oven. Everything came out cooked to perfection except for the egginess in the middle. It was still too wet. The outer-crust was beginning to blacken and char, and yet the middle was a little too raw—but not to the point that we couldn't eat it.

The product has a fair amount of egg-omelette flavor and there's a hint of mild Mexican peppers. The crust was great. It reminded me of a homemade pie crust. But overall, this quiche is on the bland side. Have salt, pepper, and the hot sauce of your choice on stand-by when and if you decide to cook up this dish.

It's in the ballpark of $3. I don't remember the exact price, I can't find our receipt, and anyway, prices may vary from region to region. It strikes me as being pretty small for a $3 quiche. A grown man could easily eat the whole thing and still be a bit hungry...and holy crap! Just as I'm writing this I glanced at the nutrition information. I don't think a full day's worth of saturated fat is something that most of us are looking for in a small treat from Trader Joe's.

Originally, as I ate it, it was just yummy enough to garner 3.5 stars from me. After thinking about its economic value and its fat content, I think I'll downgrade that to an even 3 stars. Sonia gives it 3 as well, adding "That is a little bland for a Mexican dish. It should have more pepper flavor and more kick."

But don't get me wrong, if you're looking for a breakfasty comfort food omelette-thing, I'd still say it's better than most greasy-spoon diner egg-based dishes. This one's definitely not a must-buy...more like a "might-try."

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

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