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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: http://www.cdkitchen.com/recipes/recs.... 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.

                      2. cook the spanakopita till it is golden brown....it takes longer than the instructions, in my experience. it IS delicious. those little mushroom onion empanada-type thingies have a delicious filling. crust is ok, to me...but mr. alka loved the crust and the filling.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: alkapal

                          Here I am, thanks for the link alkapal.

                          Reading this I didn’t realize TJ’s was heavy on prepared foods. I still want to check it out as soon as I get chance (and when I can spare the cash)...I have a feeling I’ll leave the store loaded! :-)

                          1. re: cuccubear

                            yep, and with the wine, the bill adds up fast! ;-).

                            1. re: alkapal

                              But it always amazes me how I can walk out of there with 9 bottles of wine and a few other things and the bill is still under $100!

                              1. re: alkapal

                                When we go to TJs, if I lose my husband, I know I can find him on the wine aisle. He's more frugal than I am so wants to load up on every cheap wine he sees. He has admitted that we can afford and do a little better than TBC so that's a step up :)

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  c -- tell him that it may be cheap, but then you have to drink it! it is a false economy, to be certain. ;-D.

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    Well, at least I don't have TBC any more. PS to you: found the Pillsbury thin pizza crusts 1/2 off at Safeway the other day. Due to Armageddon'ish qualities I bought three!

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      yes, same here at harris teeter. i noticed the expiration date was sometime before armageddon -- like mid-april. had pizza with the fennel tonight!

                                      btw, i'm not crazy about trader joe's pizza dough. too sweet. mr. alka even thought the pillsbury thin crust was too sweet. definitely the "classic" is too sweet -- more like their other "crescent" dough. in fact, all their doughs tend to be sweet -- even their biscuits.

                                      i really need to just make my own doughs!!! my mom taught me how to make biscuits, so i'm good there.....

                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        I'm planning it tomorrow with fennel and sausage and other "stuff."

                          2. the whole grain tortillas make a great substitute for indian roti.

                            their cheeses are the best deal on cheese around here.

                            i like their asian dumplings, and think they're better than the shiu mai (sp?).

                            the french truffles are an OUTSTANDING bargain.

                            1. I also love the wild dried blueberries, great in pancakes, or just on cereal. I have had good luck buying a Niman ham slice for a quick dinner, or to chop up and put in recipes. Also good luck with the various "new" potatoes, the bell peppers, the bananas, and the baby persian cucumbers (in season, only). I like their raw Italian sausage, the "Hot" is really hot, though, so beware. Our TJ's also has Berkeley Farms buttermilk, which is good. Addicted to the roasted, salted, shell-less pistachios as well. Frozen tamales aren't bad, and the mac n cheese is good (neither are low-cal, though).

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: dkenworthy

                                roasted. salted. shell-less. pistachios.
                                = recipe for total loss of control. ;-).

                                on another thread, daisym recommends the frozen artichokes, cleaned and quartered -- all edible.

                                i'm gonna make a special note for both of these items.

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  The frozen artichokes are fabulous! I keep a supply at all times. Cook chicken cutlets with these, perhaps some sauteed mushrooms, and one of TJ's cooking sauces (Indian, Italian, Cuban, Thai, etc.) and you have a great cook dinner, good enough for company!

                                  1. re: City Kid

                                    you know they discontinued the cuban mojito sauce? it was our favorite.

                                    typical of trader joe's!!!!

                                    1. re: alkapal

                                      Oh, I know! Just used up my supply...why'd they do that! We should clamor for them to bring it back...maybe comment on the website?

                              2. I love Trader Joe's. I can't get all ingredients there on a weekly basis, and usually go to the regular supermarket too (for things like soda), but the prices at Trader Joe's on produce, cheese, meats are very good.

                                I, too, like to make most things from scratch, but some of the things that I keep on hand are the frozen turkey meatballs, red pepper hummus (my daughter will take hummus sandwiches for lunch to preschool), potato pancakes. I actually served the potato pancakes at my family Hanukkah dinner -- a friend recommended them and they are delicious and no mess with a frying pan! My kids love them too as a side dish for dinner with some applesauce. I also like the bulgogi (they spell it "bool kogi"). I often buy the ground turkey, ground beef and chicken breast (fresh not frozen) and I think the quality/price is very good. We also really like the sun-dried tomato chicken sausage (also fresh in the meat case, not frozen). Better texture than Aidell's.

                                Oh, and my son can't eat real milk products so I buy tons of the soy yogurt. I can't say that I've ever tasted it (I hate yogurt), but my 2 year old son loves it!

                                I would probably keep more stuff on hand, but a lot of the items have cheese, so it won't work for my son. I do, however, buy cheese there when I am having company.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: valerie

                                  I also forgot that I am addicted to the Cranberry Almond Crunch cereal. I mix it with Chobani vanilla yogurt (which sadly they don't have at TJ's).

                                2. TJ's greek yogurt, a fraction of the price of Fage.
                                  TJ whole wheat english muffins and whole wheat organic pita.
                                  Empire Kosher chickens, I find these to be the best tasting chickens going.
                                  Pomegranate cereal
                                  Buffalo Burgers,
                                  Diced pancetta, I use this a s a base for greens, Brussels sprouts , etc.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: GodfatherofLunch

                                    Thanks again everyone - great info... Just got back and stocked up on a few of everyone's suggestions! I forgot a few of my other favorites:
                                    Multigrain frozen waffles, yogi green super anit-oxidant tea, the pistacio dark chocolate crusted english toffee. they were sampling the mini almond biscotti, which i thought was tasty...

                                    1. My husband and I went to TJ's this weekend and got some great stuff. Usually I go to the Manhattan store- which is sooo crowded it's almost impossble to buy anything. We ended up going to a store on Long Island and bought a lot. Suprisingly, a lot of the stuff was kosher.
                                      They had this red pepper and eggplant dip/spread that would be great mixed with a bit of olive oil and served over chicken. As a side you can serve brown rice- they have the regular kind and precooked frozen rice.
                                      Not sure if this appeals to you, but make a meal out of hummus. One or two types of hummus, olives, grilled chicken strips, pita chips, marinated artichhokes..
                                      You can also get some TJ's whole wheat pasta and a jar of sauce, and doctor up the sauce. Quick and delicious.

                                      Dessert- my husband is the big dessert eater and picked out a few items this week. We got the vanilla choc chip meringues and crumbled them over vanilla soy ice cream- yum. He also bought a box of mini chocolate ice cream cups which had chocolate ice creams from around the world. I'm not one for chocolate, but it was seriously delicious.

                                      1. The wife and I walked in one night and they were doing a demo on tilapia with their Creole sauce and rice. We bought the ingredients and were eating dinner within 30 minutes of leaving the store.

                                        1. Who knew... someone wrote an entire book on this (I have not read it)...


                                          And the authors' blog with more recipes:


                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: Chowtimore

                                            That has been discussed on CH before - don't buy it before reading the reviews on Amazon. The author has no association with TJ's and they do not endorse or sell the book. If it were worthwhile, you'd think they WOULD, since that could increase their business and spur interest in buying previously untried items. Many complaints that ingredients in the book are no longer carried, that "recipes" consist of opening one package of prepared food and serving it with another. Also that the book is sold shrink-wrapped so you can't thumb through before buying.

                                            1. re: greygarious

                                              I agree that it would suck if you bought it and they didn't carry half the items. But I don't get the complaint that the recipes only consist of combining prepared foods. In fact, that makes total sense if it's a cookbook that uses Trader Joe's products. I'm not sure what those people expected... if it was an actual recipe from scratch, what would differentiate it from a regular cookbook?

                                              It would be rather pointless, for example, if there was a recipe for apple pie and it said "Go to Trader Joe's and buy apples, flour, butter, sugar, etc."

                                              Not that I plan to buy it, but for people looking for convenience and like Trader Joe's quality, it makes sense -- aside from the products that don't exist anymore, of course.

                                              1. re: Chowtimore

                                                Not combining......the objection was to "recipes" along the lines of heat up the TJ's apple pie and top with a scoop of their vanilla ice cream.

                                                Last year TJ's had a contest for actual recipes that used 3 TJ's products and little else. I entered but never heard any results. Perhaps they were looking for material for a cookbook of their own.

                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                  Darn. I wish I'd seen that. I have a favorite TJ's recipe that calls for exactly three TJ's products and nothing else. It's a shrimp pasta salad made with two packages of the small cheese tortellini from the refrigerated section (not the frozen), a bag of the medium-sized cooked frozen shrimp (the size that's about the same size as the tortellini), and a tub of the fresh bruschetta sauce. Cook the pasta, thaw the shrimp, puree half the tub of sauce and toss with the warm pasta and shrimp. Refrigerate for an hour to let the flavors meld. Toss with more of the remaining sauce just before serving (the warm pasta will have absorbed most of the pureed sauce).

                                                  To get back to the original topic, I used TJ's as my primary store for a couple of years. I agree with the person who said above that the best thing to do is go in with an open mind and let yourself be inspired whatever is in stock and looks good. You can cook from scratch from TJ's, though. I regularly buy organic sugar there, they carry eggs, flour, milk, butter, pasta, canned organic garbanzos for making your own hummus, etc.