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Dec 27, 2010 01:32 PM

Convenience Foods Vastly Improved with Home Cook Tweaking

Trader Joe's sells many products that, w/ a little tweaking, can be vastly improved and made quite delicious (and still, primarily time-saving). Though not as easy for those using the products away from a home kitchen (hot work lunches, etc.) I hope these suggestions may prove useful to some of you.Please feel free to add your own to this thread.

Vegetarian Pad Thai- frozen
In microwave dish, sprinkle water on a handful of fresh snow peas. Cover and nuke 30 seconds .
Let cool and julienne on the diagonal. With a fork, mix 1T. tamari and 2T. crunchy peanut butter (Arrowhead is much better than TrJ.) Toss w/ cooked hot pad thai. Add snow peas. Top w/1-2 T. lime juice. Optional additions: shredded cooked chicken, cubed tofu, roasted peanuts, slivered red peppers and carrots.

Tarte d’Alsace- frozen
Over the Tarte surface, spread about 1/4-1/3 c. sour cream. Sprinkle all over w/ cayenne, then
2 ou. slivered Jones Canadian Bacon (from slices) and 1/2 c. grated TrJ cave-aged, paper-wrapped gruyere, making sure that both cover the outer Tarte edges. Bake at 475 degrees about 12-14 min. til browned/bubbly.

Ham and Cheese Croissants- frozen
Bake according to instructions, but remove from oven a few minutes before finished baking. Remove flavorless interior Swiss cheese gook, replace w/ 2 slices canadian bacon and 1/3 c. grated gruyere. Bake 5-7 min. at 350 degrees til gruyere melts.

Steak Burritos- frozen
Cover loosely and nuke full power 1.5 min on each side.Cut in half and, with a fork, stuff into each half some frozen carne asado or pork asado, or some leftover home cooked beef or pork . Bake in 350 degrees toaster oven for 5-10 minutes for crunchy exterior.

Serve with Chipotle Sour Cream:
8 ou. Sour Cream
2-3T. Hellman’s Mayo – optional
1-3 T.pureed canned Chipotles in Adobo**
1-2T. Frozen OJ concentrate
2 tsp.Fresh Lemon Juice
1 tsp. minced garlic
Kosher Salt to taste

Mix together thoroughly , starting with the smaller
amounts of chipotle and O.J.
Adjust to taste.

** frozen pureed chipotles keep well. Scrape out amount w/ fork tines
as needed. this is also delicious w/ the tasty TrJ tamales and Beef Taquitos.
Chicken Chilaquiles - frozen
Nuke or bake until a few minutes before done. place some frozen TJ Pork Asado as a center layer and finish by baking 5-10 minutes at 400-450 degrees to heat the added meat and brown/crunch the top.

Grilled SW Chicken Patties- frozen
Grill them over charcoal and serve on TJ toasted curry naan with TJ cilantro yoghurt sauce
and quartered grape tomatoes.

Lentil Ancient Grain Soup- refrig.
Add 2-4T. tamari, 1/4- 1/2 c. tomato juices or sauce, or some tomato paste mixed w/ water,and some kosher salt. For other variation, add more tomato paste and 1-2T.Madras style curry powder.

Chicken Tika Masala- frozen
Not tweaked, really, just supplemented for a more interesting meal:
Serve the chicken dish with TrJ frozen masala dal . Supplement with these excellent frozen products from an Indian foods market: mini potato samosas, Woodland brand Medu Wada, Deep brand Onion Kulcha, and frozen-in-cups cilantro mixture added to your own plain yoghurt.

Norwegian Pancakes: - frozen
Bake, split, fill w/ TrJ pumpkin cream cheese. Toss w/ confectioners sugar mixed w/ cinnamon or cardamom,or drizzle w/ TJ caramel sauce, or serve w/ chocolate fondue.

Fondue- refrigerated in tub, Made in France
Heat in fondue pot, continually stirring. Cook down 1/2 c.- 1 c. white wine (buy little 6-pack bottles for cooking) to about 1/3 c., add to fondue with 1/2 c. grated gruyere tossed w/ 1 T. flour, 3 good pinches of cayenne and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir w/ wooden spoon til smooth. Add 1/4 c. kirsch, stir and serve.

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  1. I've improved my Pad Thai improvement:

    Improving Frozen Vegetarian Pad Thai :
    Julienne on the diagonal 3-4 ou snowpeas(don't bother to remove strings).In microwave dish, sprinkle water on snow peas, cover and nuke 30 seconds .
    With a fork, mix 2-3T. crunchy peanut butter (Arrowhead is much better than TrJ.) w/ 2 T. hot water; add 1T. tamari . Nuke frozen pad thai for 2 min. Flip out and remove layer of bean sprouts w/ scallions so they won't get soggy. Reserve. Stir up and separate pad thai w/ a fork; add snow peas, 1/2 chicken breast, shredded, bean sprouts w/ scallions; and opt. slivered red pepper , julienned carrot,cubed tofu, roasted peanuts. Toss all w/ peanut dressing. Nuke 2 min. on near-high. Top w/1-2 T. lime juice.

    Improving frozen Pasta Italiano:
    These cavatelli w/ zucchini and eggplant and tomatoes- are very good. I still like to do this treatment of them which adds a lot more protein and vegetables:
    Sprinkle w/ water 2 c. of frozen TrJ artichoke hearts; cover and nuke for 2 min. Nuke 1 pkg. of TrJ Turkey Bolognese Sauce.
    Over low heat, sautee 1/2 T. minced garlic in 2 T of TrJ California extra virgin olive oil. Turn heat to med high, add bag of frozen pasta and stir fry a few minutes, then cover and occasionally stir til almost al dente. Meanwhile cook down 1 c. of white wine or vermouth to 1/2 c. To the pasta, add sauce, artichoke hearts, reduced white wine, 1/2 - 1 tsp. cayenne, and 2 links of cooked Italian Sweet Sausage,chopped. You could also add cooked kale or chard , TrJ cooked white beans ., and TrJ Eggplant Caponata in place of the Turkey Bolognese Sauce.

    I'm just curious, do you think no one on CH is interested in this topic? I admit to being surprised. i thought my experience might be helpful, above, but not one person has commented/replied. I know that for some, they want convenience foods to be no brainers, no involvement required. But for me, I'm a retired professional chef and i love the head start that TrJ convenience foods give me, but I enjoy the tweaking to make them really delicious. thnx for your thoughts!

    8 Replies
    1. re: opinionatedchef

      OC, I'll usually do a little tweaking of my TJ's purchases - like adding toppings to the 3 cheese pizza (which I think tastes a lot better than their 4 cheese pizza - & I miss the goat cheese one!) - but not nearly as much as you do. I don't do a ton of their frozen / prepped foods so that's probably why. Hope you're happy now - I'm gonna have to stop by & try more of their frozen / prepared foods & give them the OC treatment! ; )
      I do LOVE their wasabbi mayo - it's great to serve with chilled shrimp. I'll make a shrimp cocktail & serve both the cocktail sauce & the wasabi mayo (in seperate containers) & people will RAVE about the wasabi mayo.
      And, the sweet / spicy mustard is back ........ any recipe ideas for that OC?

      1. re: southie_chick

        I'm just introducing my friend to tweaking, although I think a lot of people do it without thinking about it much. I'm starting him off slow, just adding some leftover chicken to a can of trader joe's chicken soup, or using the refrigerated dough from a tube of trader joe's croissants to make baked brie. I should warn him before he walks much further on this path that it can become an obsession. Like a hairdresser who can't leave her own hair alone and is always changing it, I can be compulsive in my tweaking.
        Some of the best tweaks are so simple. Last summer I learned that I love avocado slices added to a just baked pizza, but having ripe avocado always on hand is not so easy for me. But I really miss them on my pizza now when I don't have them.
        Thanks for the tweak suggestions, I'll check back later for more ideas from hounds. It's fun to see my friend's ideas about leftovers change because of the whole tweaking concept. For example today we have a ton of leftover chicken. It is like a blank canvas just waiting for the artist's brush.

        1. re: southie_chick

          hi southie/neighbor, try this, substituting your TJ mustard?:


          3-4 lb.‭ ‬Chicken‭ Breast, skinless, boneless

          4‭ ‬Egg Whites‭ w/ few pinches salt

          1/3‭ ‬C‭ ‬Pommery Mustard‭

          2‭ ½ ‬C‭ ‬Fresh Bread Crumbs (i prefer french baguette types)‭

          2‭ ½ ‬C‭ ‬Ground Pecans‭
          ‭ Unsalted Butter

          Line flat surface with wax paper.
          Whip egg whites until foamy and almost stiff.‭ Quickly and gently f‬old in pommery mustard with spatula.‭ ‬Grind Pecans and bread crumbs separately.‭ ‬Combine 1/2 the pecans and bread crumbs.‭ ‬Dip both sides of chicken breasts in egg white mustard mixture and then press down thoroughly into pecan bread crumb mixture.‭ Use other nut/crumb mixture as needed.
          ‭Sprinkle w/ S and P. ‬Place chicken on flat surface and let chill at least‭ ‬1‭ ‬hour.‭ ‬Saute on both sides in butter til crunchy brown and juices run pale pink when meat is skewered. Drizzle generously w/ warm or cold maple syrup. Serve.

          This is excellent served chilled but loses its crisp crunchiness.

          and btw, the thread on Uses for Soy Sauce/Tamari has a good recipe concept from me that would be good for your wasabi mayo.(i.e. the recipe calling for sushi tuna and avocado and sesame oil).

          1. re: opinionatedchef

            Thanks for the recipe OC / neighbor. I'll have to keep an eye out for ya the next time I'm at the Tyngsboro TJ'S! : )

        2. re: opinionatedchef

          I recently discovered the frozen mushroom fettucini through the 'TrJ yay/nay thread' on the Chains forum. I actually am really impressed w/ it; the fettucini is nice and al dente while the mushroom flavor is robust.
          How I tweak it:
          Sautee a little minced garlic in some evoo; pour in 1/2 c. - 1 c. marsala(Pastene is fine)and let cook down by 1/2-2/3 over med hight heat. Add the bag of the fettucini and 2 strips of cooked and chopped bacon, turn down to simmer, cover, cook a few minutes. Turn over the pasta nests, cover and cook a few more minutes. Taste; add 1-2 T. tamari . Add and cook down more marsala if needed. Season.Serve as an entree or alongside a chicken or veal dish.

          1. re: opinionatedchef

            Grilled SW Chicken Patties

            Grill chicken patties.Toast a Curried Tandoor Nan Bread and spread w/ Cilantro Yoghurt Dip/Spread. Top w/ chicken patty and chopped grape tomatoes. Supplement w/ Southwest Salad w/ corn and black beans.

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              I think some of your tweaks sounds just fabulous...the tarte d'alsace is making me drool :). However, I usually either feel in the mood for cooking, or not. Many of your tweaks are pretty elaborate, and require a bunch of other ingredients-they sound delicious, but kind of defeat the purpose I have in purchasing any of this convenience foods: to have something relatively yummy on hand when I don't feel like/don't have the time to cook. When I'm up to cooking, I'd just as soon start something from scratch, and not spend the money on the prepared item.

              1. re: girlwonder88

                Energy, 88: When ya got it, flaunt it!
                But seriously, try one some time and see if it's worth it to you. I usualy keep the extra additions/ tweaking ingredients on hand, so they're pretty quick prep. Even the pad thai., which is the most elaborate simply because i like to add alot of veggies, can be easily and quickly improved by simply nuking per instructions and tossing w/ the quick peanut sauce.xo

            2. Vienna sausages ... add hot sauce.

              1. had to major tweak the masala simmer sauce. an employee said that she uses it straight on her eggs. i could see that…but for curry,,,too much work to doctor.