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Feb 9, 2009 10:45 AM

Trader Joe's Challenge...

I am going to Trader Joe's tonight and want to make all meals this week from ingredients found at TJ. I typically don't do my primary shopping at TJ, so any inspiration? Thanks!

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  1. I don't go to chain grocery stores and find that TJs has everything I need. They've really expanded their selection over the last couple of years to include a lot of ready-to-go items.
    Try the fresh carne asada or carnitas. The carne asada takes just minutes on the grill, chop it up and serve it with warm tortillas. TJ's also has a "Guacamole Kit" consolidating all the ingredients for a quick guac. Also in the ready to eat section, you'll find "Just Chicken" which is cooked and boned chicken. So many things you can do with that! In the freezer, they have Korean Ribs. Thaw and brown quickly on the grill. Serve with rice and a vinegary coleslaw.
    Honestly, anything you can think of to cook, TJs will have the stuff you need. But, give the aisle a browse and you'll come up with your own ideas.

    And don't forget to check out their wine selection!!

    6 Replies
    1. re: janetms383

      My daughter hates sandwiches so I buy most of her lunches at TJ's--she loves their hors d'oeuvres like spanikopita, ham-and-cheese puff pastries, baby chicken empanadas, chicken shu mai, individual pizzas (as well as bite-size pizzas), baby chicken tacos, individual broccoli and cheddar quiche....I just pop them in the oven while she's eating breakfast and they're ready to pack up when she is. (Coscto also has some great hors d'oeuvres like sausage in puff pastry on a tiny skewer, yummy pigs in blankets, some with cheddar, bite-size quiches (lorraine and florentine) in puff pastry, chicken-brie-cranberry in puff pastry knots.)

      1. re: cettlinger

        you hit 2 of my favorites... the ham-and-cheese puffs and the baby chicken tacos (and empanadas) ok that's 3

        1. re: janetms383

          Although not dinner, I love the carmelized onion and feta cheese tartlets - yum!

          Their fresh pizza dough is good for stromboli w/ sauteed veggies and fresh mozzarella.

          I also like their flaxseed multi-grain pastas. Of course your options w/ these are endless.

        2. re: cettlinger

          Count me in on the spanikopita. Surprisingly nice for a frozen thing. Overall I've been happily surprised with their premade stuff (which I normally shun).

        3. re: janetms383

          I like Trader Joe's as well. But mostly for wine, liquor, and snacks. If you don't like to prepare your own foods they are pretty convienent with the ready-to-go items. But I find that going that way is really pretty pricy and the portions aren't very big. Their packaged meats are very expensive compared to where I get mine. Three medium sized boneless skinless chicken breasts at TJ's anywhere from 8 to 9 $ (+ or -). My Middle Eastern/Mediteranean ethnic market 5 pack of huge, thick, (and when cooked MOIST) BSCBs 7 to 8 $. It turns out a batch of cubed chicken we can add to variety of dishes for a week. Also I think their fruits and veggies are very limited and again compared to my ethnic market very expensive. I just got, last Sunday, 7 large lemons for 99 cents and 12 large limes for 99 cents. You can't beat that. And two heads of iceberg lettuce...99 cents.

          1. re: janetms383

            I truly am not being argumentative here, but I'm mystified by your statement "I don't go to chain grocery stores and find that TJs has everything I need."

            Trader Joe's has over 300 stores in 24 states. There is absolutely no way in which Trader Joe's is not a chain.

          2. Brown jasmine rice and brown basmati rice
            Concentrated liquid bouillon that somes in a little box containing tear-open packets like those that fast food condiments come in
            English Cheddar with Caramelized Onion
            TJ's brand of Greek yogurt
            Ready-to-cook beef bulgogi
            Refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough
            Tetra-pak quarts of soup: Cream of Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper and Tomao
            Frozen Tarte d"Alsace (in pizza section - very thin, only feeds 1 or 2 as entree)
            Ground beef - maybe it's the packaging, but theirs stays fresher longer in my fridge than
            does supermarket ground beef

            1 Reply
            1. re: greygarious

              I LOVE the concentrated broth/stock packets - cheaper, better tasting, and easier to carry that the canned stuff and easier than making it myself!

            2. TJ's is my primary store, too, though I do hit the chains regularly as well. I don't get the assembled preparations, such as the lasagna and such, very often, but I'm a big fan of their frozen fish. I've found you have to be careful to pick packages that haven't lost their vacuum seal, since those can be freezer-burned, but the fish in the intact packages is always good.

              I like to use the salsas as cooking sauces/garnishes for fish and chicken. The tomato, oil and garlic bruschetta sauce is good, too, though a little expensive; a good substitute for that is to drain a package of the pico de gallo and stir in some olive oil. This is really good spread on fish or chicken and then baked. I use the wasabi mayonnaise to make deviled eggs - just that, a dash of vinegar and a little salt. I also use it for one of my several all-TJ favorites, salmon burgers: pan-fry the premium salmon patties, toast English muffins (we like the whole-wheat "British muffins") and spread wasabi mayonnaise on one half and TJ's tartar sauce on the other, and make sandwiches with a salmon patty and a slice of tomato in each. I also use that mayonnaise to help me "bump" the TJ's potato salad when that's in season and I'm just to lazy to make my own, simply adding a few chopped hardboiled eggs, some chopped onion and enough of the mayo to moisten it properly.

              The packaged vegetables are less of a bargain, but good for a household of just two such as ours. I love the mixed green and yellow beans, the regular Blue Lake beans and the ready-to cook asparagus and the Brussels sprouts. The packaged salad greens are better and cheaper than most supermarket brands, and I like to keep the packaged Belgian endives and such exotics as their frisée around for more interesting salads. I have often had just a chopped-up endive with oil and vinegar as my lunch salad, and that's very nice.

              1. I normally cook from scratch, but there were a few months last year that were really nuts for us, and TJ's came in so handy. I'd go in there w/o a list (VERY uncharacteristic of me) and head first to the meat area. I'd riff off stuff I saw there - if carnitas appealed, I'd pick that up. Bulgogi was a frequent go-to. Balsamic & rosemary pre-cooked chicken breasts also. Then I'd backtrack or go forward and build a menu w/other groceries - tortillas, guac., shredded cheese . . . rice, broccoli . . . . salad fixings. It was sort of fun and the stuff, while not all super-duper great, is solid flavor-wise.

                And if you don't want to do that - pick up frozen entree stuff (the turkey sausage stromboli is a favorite here) and do a tossed salad and another veg. and you're all set.

                Good luck!

                1 Reply
                1. re: gansu girl

                  I love their Michigan dried cherries and their California slab apricots. The latter makes incredible apricot jam--way better than fresh, if you can believe it, and almost no work! The basic recipe I use is this one: I generally add in a little brandy, a 1-inch piece of lemon rind, and a bit of cinnamon stick before cooking and add a little almond extract the very end. It does end up a little soupy (more like a compote than a firm jam)--you could add some pectin if you wish to address this.

                2. I'm a big fan of Trader Joe's. They don't always have everything you need (they don't even always have everything they usually carry), but everything is priced fairly and they have a very customer-friendly attitude. Things I get there on a regular basis include imported Italian dried pasta, canned tomatoes, and chicken. As a matter of fact, we're having Buffalo-style drumsticks for dinner tonight.

                  In the freezer case, there's always some good fish, as well as vegetables (peas, spinach, artichoke hearts, and French green beans are our standards) and a variety of fruits and berries. Speaking of the freezer case, TJ's organic four-cheese pizza, pork gyoza potstickers, and beef taquitos are about the only convenience foods that make regular appearances at our house.

                  If you get the taquitos, you can dip them in "Avocado's Number" guacamole. I find it a little bland, but that's cured by mixing in a little Trader Jose's Salsa Authentica.

                  Whatever your taste in cheese, TJs has something for you. And in the same refrigerated case, there's the hummus. Pick up some carrot and/or celery sticks for dipping, as well as the more traditional pita bread.

                  While you're over by the flatbreads, snag some of the "Truly Handmade" tortillas. Not as good as homemade, but better than most anything else you can buy at the grocery.

                  Want a slightly upscale appetizer or snack? How 'bout table water crackers topped with a little whipped cream cheese, a couple of capers, and a slice of smoked salmon? When I serve this, people actually sometimes mistake me for somebody with a little class.

                  Don't forget the nuts. I have a serious weakness for their honey-roasted peanuts, and have been going through bags of their Marcona almonds lately.

                  Of course the wine and spirits (if available in your area) are always worth a few minutes' browsing. Lately I've been enjoying an Ogier Cotes du Rhone that's a steal at $5 a bottle. And when it's in stock, Jepson alembic brandy from Medocino costs about half as much at TJs as anyplace else.

                  I've never been impressed with the quality of the fresh beef, and the fresh pork is priced a little high. Aside from those quibbles, though, I'm pretty uniformly pleased with the stuff I've bought at Trader Joe's. And if you end up getting something you don't enjoy, they're always cheerful about refunding the purchase price.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    Hi everyone - thanks for the great ideas and keep them coming!

                    I actually shop at TJ quite often, but never as my "primary" stop for the week. I usually cook from scratch, but do really appreciate the convenience that TJ provides, when needed!

                    My standard purchases are the hummus (we LOVE it), organic individually packaged chicken breasts, carnitas, frozen berries and spinach for the daily smoothie, organic fiber flax bread... Any more opinions on the quality of the pork/beef? I bought a pork tenderloin once that was BAD and haven't had the courage to try it since.

                    I am looking forward to trying out some of these new ideas - bulgogi, spanikopitas, ham and cheese puffs, salmon patties, etc..

                    I have a baby girl who eats anything, so thanks too for the kids meal ideas!

                    I appreciate the posts - thank you

                    1. re: akp

                      I certainly hope you took the tenderloin back! They'll take back anything you bought at any branch, for any reason whatsoever up to and including you just didn't want it, as long as you have the receipt. I got some low-carb bread that was just inedible, and the manager didn't even ask - just grabbed it and said, "Ghastly, isn't it? But some folks are crazy about it..."

                      1. re: akp

                        I usually cook from scratch too, but with a little one around, sometimes you do need some extra help, don't you? We also love that hummus.

                        My 2 year old loves the samosas (frozen aisle). I often give her one or two with her lunch, and she's thrilled. The frozen squid (lately they've been out of it, but they've assured me they're still stocking it) is really great to cook with - already cleaned, etc. The dried blueberries are a big hit around here. I usually get a bag of them before any trip - they make a great airplane snack. The parmesan cheese stix (I don't think they call them that) are nice. I'm getting lots of good info from this thread - thanks for starting it.

                        1. re: LulusMom

                          I'll have to try the samosas! My two-year-old loves the chicken gyoza potstickers. When her molars were coming in, she would eat them straight out of the freezer. I think the pointy ends were easy to get on just the right spot. (I checked, they are fully cooked.) She loves the bite-size pizzas too.

                        2. re: akp

                          I tried the carne assada once and didn't care for it. The marinade tasted artificial to me... like that pre-marinated stuff you see if the standard chain grocery stores. I, too, steer clear of the fresh beef and pork.