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first time to trader joes

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I will be going to Chicago this Saturday to Trader Joe's. I am interested in baking breads, sweets and Indian dishes. I also like trying new spices. What are the items I should absolutely check out or purchase? As I am coming from Indiana I'm hoping to make this trip as worth while as possible. Thanks for your suggestions!

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  1. I love TJ's! But where to start? Maraschino cherries without any dyes or horrible chemicals, single source chocolates. People say the chocolate mousse cake - frozen - is great but I haven't tried it. I didn't think their carrot cake or NY cheesecake was anything special. The medjool dates are huge and fabulous and cheap. The cultured and unsalted butters. The organic sour cream and milk are real bargains. Unfortunately I'm not an Indian food fan so I can't help you there. I love their chicken pot stickers though. I read in the NY Times where TJ's just opened for the first time a shopper said thier egg rolls were better than any restaurant. Their white cheddar mac n' cheese mix (89 cents) is absolutley great. Their kosher refrigerated dill pickles are perfect. They sell Better Than Bullion is a jar - which is much better than canned broth. The $1 pizza dough is great - will last up to a week refrigerated. The Bel Gioso chunk parmesan is excellent as is the fresh mozzarella in a tube. The Niman Ranch beef is delicious - and they treat the animals with kindness, very important to me. They have some bacon, ham, sausages and even hot dogs without horrible nitrate preservatives. Their pitted kalamata olives are wonderful. Their big cans of plum tomatoes and basil in puree for 99 cents - as good as imported tomatoes. Italian pasta - 69 cents a pound. Their dishwashing liquid - no chlorine and it works great! This time of year - the mandarin oranges in the crate (5#?)- are excellent and a bargain. Raspberry apple sauce - lovely intense raspberry flavor. The buttermilk pancake mix is really excellent as is the quart of dark maple syrup for $6. Canned artichoke hearts - large size - $1.99. The canned clams are the best canned clams I've ever eaten. So Trader Joes is the best place to shop, period. Low prices, possible to buy all products without chemicals - there are some sausages with preservatives, but plenty without, but I can't find any supermarket pickles without chemicals now and none of TJ's have them, high quality, they even treat their workers well. Personally, I have very few reasons to shop anywhere else.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Niki Rothman

      Hmmm - I'm puzzled about the TJ brand refrigerated kosher pickles. I picked a jar up a couple of weeks ago as I hadn't tried them and I'm always looking for something that comes close to what my long-departed Grandmother made (fresh kosher pickles with garlic and dill, not processed, half sours). I opened them thinking "YUM" - and all I got was a major dose of salt and no other obvious flavor - no garlic - no nothing. I put them back in the frig. A couple of days later I tried them again hoping that my first taste was a fluke but no - just over-whelming salt and nothing else. Did I get an "off" jar?

      1. re: RWCFoodie

        Take them back- they are all about customer satisfaction. I tried their baked brie- and did not like it- threw it away, as a matter of fact. The next time I was in the store, I mentioned it, and they gave me a choice of a refund, or another try at the brie. Gotta love it!

        1. re: RWCFoodie

          OK, I hear your pain. So I just ran to fridge and am sitting here with a jar of TJ's "half sour kosher dill pickles" in front of me, dangerously close to the key-board, considering the fact that there are two cats in the room and I am about to open the jar and smell the pickles for hints of something other than "just salt". OK, there was some leakage as I opened the jar, so I quickly retreated to the kitchen, where upon opening it there was a very strong hit of dill and garlic. Then I looked at the bottom of the jar. Floating there was what I think of as standard pickling spices. I can see lots of mustard seeds, coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, and pieces of bay leaf, as well as garlic and maybe onion. Yesterday, for the hell of it, as I was having a TJ's uncured beef hot dog for lunch, and as I had no sauerkraut but wanted that flavor profile note, I made a cuke, tomato, red bell pep, and greek olive salad and included one of these pickles thin sliced, the whole thing in a vinagrette. What a great salad, and a perfect accompaniment to the very authentic fat garlicky (NO preservatives!) TJ's dog. What a fine lunch!

          Ooops, sorry. I digress. These pickles are just as good as any half-sour kosher dill pickles I have ever eaten. You can bring back the (even empty) jar to TJ's and even without a receipt, they will give you a refund.

      2. Go for the Chicken Masala with Brown rice in the frozen section. Great alternative to Amy's or Lean Cuisine. Also, the curry chickpeas are awesome!

        I know that I also can't live without the pita chips, turkey bacon, and chicken shu mai.

        So many good things...just explore!

        1. Triple Ginger Snaps - the absolute best.

          Various excellent olive oils at great prices

          Tuscan Pane bread is superb, and the Asiago Peppercorn is excellent as well.

          Their chocolate is usually very well priced, with a good selection of dark/milk and with or without nuts

          Triple Ginger Snaps (above the frozen food aisle)

          My coworkers like their frozen Massaman and Tandoori rice bowls for a quick lunch

          Nuts and nuts/dried fruit mixes - great prices and quality

          Frozen roasted corn

          Fage Total yogurt

          Triple Ginger Snaps

          Fresh orange juice

          Probably a lot more that I can't think of right now. Oh, did I mentioned Triple Ginger Snaps? :-)

          7 Replies
          1. re: Linda W.

            I don't think Linda mentioned them, so I'd like to add Triple Ginger Snaps.

            Also the ginger chews.

            1. re: lissar

              The triple ginger snaps are crazy good, but the ... I think dog-shaped ginger cookies taste even more ginger-y if that is possible. I like them both.

              1. re: lissar

                ...also the Carr's ginger lemon cremes are wonderful and a very good price.

              2. re: Linda W.

                Be cautious about the bread. People here don't seem to realize that a lot of the baked goods at TJs are sourced locally and can be very different state to state. I used to live in CT and found the bread at TJs there mediocre. I now live in Chicago and go to the Northbrook store and find it very good.

                1. re: rjka

                  Thanks - didn't know that about the bread. Here in MA the two I've tried were very good.

                  1. re: rjka

                    I imagine they use the same recipes produced at local suppliers for a lot of the breads under the TJ label. The lemon bread - which is a sweet bread/cake loaf with a light glaze is really wonderful - full of lemon zest.

                  2. re: Linda W.

                    I am in love with triple ginger snaps! I ate them on the way home-couldn't wait-then decided they'd taste better with coffee. And they did. I also bought Chocolatey Cats as suggested by a customer.

                  3. This same question gets asked very often on this board, so you may want to browse for previous threads. There was also a thread about what NOT to buy there. Using Control-F searches on the General Topics board for "trader" or "tj" will speed up the process. You could also try the search engines but those are so unreliable now. I'm not saying you shouldn't have asked or trying to be mean, it's just that with these subjects that come up all the time, poeple will often post great recommendations once but not do so again the next time the question is asked. So going through some of the older threads will yield a lot more advice.

                    For my own part, I rarely leave Trader Joe's without a few bags of cashews. The quality is good and the prices are the lowest I've ever seen, even the organic ones are cheaper than conventional anywhere else.


                    1. Be aware - Saturdays are crazy at both locations. Go early.

                      1. 2 Buck Chuck Cabernet
                        Black and/or White Truffle Oil
                        Brie (much cheaper than other places)
                        Interesting cheeses that are always cheaper than other places
                        Pine Nuts
                        Cornichons (maybe where you live you can find these, but I can't find them at home)
                        Nicoise Olives in a jar
                        Valhrona Chocolate - small bars, but excellent and less expensive at TJ's then other places
                        Emergen-C (1/2 the price you can order from the manufacturer)
                        Dried Fruits
                        Gingeroo's - try and get the freshest bags they are dated and taste better when fresh
                        Fresh mozzarella
                        Basil - buy a lot, make a huge batch of pesto and freeze it in portions for later use. That's what the pine nuts are for as well.
                        Balsamic Vinegar - not sure of the brand but they have some good ones at reasonable prices
                        Dare cookies

                        I miss my TJ's and always carry a bunch of stuff home in my suitcases after returning from anyplace I visit that has a TJ's. This last visit I mailed two empty boxes with special packaging for wine that I had kept from an online wine order delivery. Packed them up with 2 Buck Chuck and mailed them home. So now my 2 Buck Chuck is 4 Buck Chuck, but still well worth the price. Enjoy your shopping trip.

                        1. The first TJ item I fell in love with, 20+ years ago, was their own-label Dijon mustard. At least as good as any of the fancy brands for less money, fresh and strong. Cheap enough to cook with, which I do a whole lot.

                          If I were still 2000 miles away from the nearest TJ's, I might be better able to give you a short list of must-tries, but now that I'm within 15 minutes of SIX of them they're just another everyday grocery...not that I'm complaining!

                          1. Judging from your interests I'd say TJ is not the place for you. Yes they do have some pretty good bread, but there are much better places if you want really good bread. And if you are doing your own baking they are not an ingredients shop. I don't go there for interesting spices either, nor Indian food.

                            What I usually get are hummus, no trans fat snacks (chips, crackers), nuts. Others go for their cheese selections and wine.

                            1. We've fallen for their frozen pizzas. We don't have any good pizza that delivers to our house and some days just don't want to mess up the kitchen. Theirs are affordable and have good flavor. Particularly like the quattro formaggio & the Tarte Alsace which has gruyere, ham, & carmelized onions. Did not the pizza margherita--too much cheese.

                              Did not like the 2-buck-Chuck Shiraz, way too fruity like grape juice, but because of that might be good to cook with for certain dishes like duck where you want the sauce kind of sweet.

                              Have only tried one of their jarred sauces, the Bolognese, good for a jarred sauce and keeps us away from the more expensive ones we like at the boutique food stores.

                              1. While you might be able to find some of the stuff below at your local markets, TJ's has the lowest prices for some of these items:

                                King Arthur flour
                                Plugra butter (great for eating or baking and amazingly low at $2.79/lb. last time I bought)
                                Spanish saffron
                                vanilla beans
                                lemon extract (just bought so haven't tried yet)
                                dried fruit
                                olive and canola oils (I also buy the canola oil spray)
                                arborio rice
                                Pomi diced tomatoes in a box
                                Carr's ginger lemon creme cookies
                                Chimay ale
                                McCann's steel cut oats (they have another brand for 1/2 the price that's fine but not as good)
                                house brand sour cream

                                They also sell Scharffen Berger chocolate but I haven't tried it yet. I personally do not buy any of the breads, baked goods, or produce unless I'm in a pinch. Have fun!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Carb Lover

                                  PS. Muir Glen organic fire-roasted tomatoes for quick salsas, chili, and other cooking.

                                2. has anyone experienced buying a jar of Trader Joe's kosher dill pickles in the refridgerator section of the store and opened the jar only to have it start fizzing like carbonation? Even the pickles are fizzy. Yuk! I bought two jars and now I can't eat them.

                                  1. Probably will repeat others, but here are my TJ's staples and treats in no particular order and not all purchased weekly :)

                                    FF Cottage cheese
                                    Total 0% yogurt
                                    Broccoli/Cauliflower bags
                                    Cubed butternut squash
                                    Berries, peaches, fruits in season
                                    Tapioca Pudding
                                    Zen Bakery muffins, fiber cakes, and cinnamon rolls
                                    Chocolate Caramel Tarts
                                    Multi-Grain Oats
                                    Hi-Lo Cereal
                                    Chicken Salad in the fridge
                                    Mochi Ice Cream
                                    Chocolate Lava Cakes
                                    Spinach Pie
                                    Dried Persimmons
                                    Pecan Pralines
                                    Candied Peanuts and Cashews
                                    Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread
                                    Jams, esp. Apricot
                                    Pumpkin butter in season
                                    Chicken Fried Rice
                                    Turkey Meatballs
                                    Pita Chips
                                    Peanut Butter filled Pretzels
                                    Chocolate- Truffles and Baking chocolate
                                    Pure Protein drinks
                                    White Balsamic Vinegar