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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Trader Joe's Spicy Thai Shrimp Fried Rice

Admittedly, Sandy and I are on a dinner time slump of sorts. We used to cook an actual "real dinner" almost every night, as opposed to our current habit of ripping open a box or bag and heating whatever's inside. Used to be that on "lazy nights" I'd end up making us some fried rice of some sort, using whatever we had around. These days, even that sounds like a bit of an undertaking. There's many reasons why I guess - tiredness from workday, the baby needing attention, the house needing to be cleaned and prepped for putting it on the market - but man, I at least miss actual cooking, but the allure of something quick and easy, with one less mess to clean up is pretty tempting these days. I'm hoping this will change as things hopefully begin to slow down, more veggies get in season, and the farmer's market/CSA season gets into swing.*

But until then, we still need to eat. Trader Joe's Spicy Thai Shrimp Fried Rice was a pretty natural pick up. Pretty much every word in its name is a buzzword that once my eyes see them, I'm instantly interested in whatever it is. It's like naming something Dinosaur Baseball Bikini Beer or Sleeping Baby Couch Netflix White Russian - there's too many good sounding things about it that I gots to see what it is.  I'm just glad that this name at least makes sense.

This dish isn't a terrible pick up. On some levels, the fried rice is a pretty straightforward, fairly typical variety one might expect from the freezer section. Typical veggies, typical spices, typical shortage of shrimp, and so on. But there's one or two extra things done right that help kick it up a notch. The teenyThai lime leaves scattered about make a great, flavorful extra touch that I wasn't fully anticipating, even though I've become reacquainted with them recently thanks to these catchy cashews. Also, while the rice and other contents maintain an adequate level of spice that'd be accessible to most folks, the sliced red chiles actually kick things up several notches in the heat department. If you like heat, head for them; if not, avoid them, and the rest of your dinner should be unscathed. And thankfully, TJ's has kept up its track record of of having only fresh, firm, delectable shrimpies included, which is not the norm I've experienced at other chains. 

That's not to say it's a perfect dish. According to the label, this is a four serving bag. I ensure you it is not. Sandy and I, who have been watching our portion sizes, were easily able to polish it off without much trouble in one sitting. Need more evidence? There were only seven shrimp in the bag. Tell me how four people split seven shrimp. If you need to feed a crowd bigger than two, I'd say get an extra bag, or at least add some extra protein like some eggs or cashews. I for one am glad that frozen egg bits were not included, unlike other shrimp fried rice offerings in the past.

Other than that, this particular iteration made a decent enough dinner. Grab some spring rolls and you can make a reasonable approximation of a Thai dinner out at a fraction of the cost. I misplaced the receipt, but this cost about four bucks if I remember right. Seriously, only about a small handful of shrimp keep this away from a much higher score. Also, if this didn't give poor Sandy a little bit of heartburn after the fact. I told you to give me those chilis, love, because you're hot enough the way you are, and you just had to roll your eyes. Tsktsk. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Spicy Thai Shrimp Fried Rice: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

* Sandy and I are jumping aboard the CSA bandwagon this year, and quite honetly, I'm frightened about it. The reason can be summed up in one word: kohlrabi. Never had one, have no idea what to do with it, and it reminds me of the veggies from Super Mario 2 that you throw at the bad guys. When's the last time you saw a Shy Guy riding an Ostro around in real life? Thought so. So what the heck am I supposed to do with it? We'll see.....

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Trader Giotto's Eggplant Parmesan

I am a fan of eggplant. And the Rodgers have had pretty decent luck with Trader Joe's eggplant products in the past, although the Shellys haven't been quite as fortunate. Plus, I recently reviewed a surprisingly good eggplant parm pizza that I highly recommend. Furthermore, I had heard quite a bit of buzz about this particular dish by Joe's cousin from the old country, Giotto. So my expectations were very high.

Which is probably why I found it so disappointing.

Before I begin complaining, I should point out that TJ's offerings often vary from region to region, and even package to package in some cases. So it's always possible that we got a bad batch. So we'd love to hear your experience with this product in the comments below. Keep in mind, we're very tough graders, and we've made it our mission to be critical of all aspects of Trader Joe's usually-incredible foods.

The cheese and tomato sauce were on par with what I'd expect, though they certainly didn't go above and beyond my expectations. They tasted like run-of-the-mill mozzarella and very-recently-frozen, somewhat-watery tomato sauce. They both lacked zest. They both lacked that special something that would have set them apart from other frozen parmesan dishes.

But the eggplant was the most disappointing part of the meal. It tasted like eggplant, but it was extraordinarily chewy. I cooked the dish for exactly the amount of time called for on the instructions, and I even overcame the urge to yank it out of the microwave immediately and let it sit for 2 minutes, as prescribed. The rubberiness of the bulk of the eggplant slabs wasn't the worst part. The worst part was the skin around each piece. I understand the skin contains a lot of vitamins and minerals, but it was stringy, tough, and difficult to chew. What would have been a moderately pleasant meal turned into a rigorous set of jaw exercises.

I'm sure someone wiser than myself took the time to scour the back of the package and discovered that there are, in fact, instructions for heating in a conventional oven and got much better results, but I honestly didn't see them at first. Usually, if a non-microwave option is listed, I'll do it that way. In this case, I missed them because they're crammed right up against the microwave instructions, to the ruin of my poor eggplant parmesan lunch.

I won't be too brutal with my scoring since I could have cooked this in the oven and didn't. 2.5 stars from me. While eating the dish, Sonia said, "It makes my mouth tingle." Apparently not in a good way. She gives it 2 stars.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10.

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