Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Top Trader Joe's Picks

Can you hear that buzz? The excitement? The happy glances between strangers? The feeling of joy and peace? Is it the arrival of the Christmas season? No. It's the arrival of the first Trader Joe's in Utah.

Amy and I have spent parts of lives together in Pasadena and Portland and have been huge Trader Joe's fans forever. In fact, and I know this seems silly, but when we decided to move back to Utah about a year ago, the fact that there wasn't a Trader Joe's here was a huge Debbie Downer on the whole affair. But we acted in faith and were rewarded by having our own TJs just a year or so later. It's the tender mercies...

So last Friday we, and apparently EVERY OTHER PERSON living in Salt Lake, headed to the friendly neighborhood TJs. It was packed. We were pros and didn't grab a cart. That would be way too cumbersome. We had brought our own reusable TJ bags and put our groceries directly in those. (I instagramed the photo above while waiting with 1000 other people to check out. Follow me at jooshanoosh!) We knew exactly what we needed and split up to fight the crowds and get the goods. And after waiting in line for a long time, we made it out with our loot. I was grinning from ear to ear the whole time, even though I work in retail so generally avoid anywhere where there are crowds or long check out lines because of the PTSD.

Trader Joe's, it you don't know, is a chain of grocery stores that sells delicious and amazing food, a lot of it organic, and it is really reasonable priced. They are small, and they mostly sell their own brands (you're gonna have to go somewhere else for your Diet Coke.) but the small size makes them seem more curated than understocked. Everything you get there is delicious and if it is not, you can return it, no questions asked. They have great produce, meat and dairy sections and a lot of their own delicious packaged foods and an amazing frozen section.

Friends who know of my obsession have been asking me what the big deal is. There are a million products at Trader Joe's that I don't like to live without like Cherry Jam, Salsa Authentica, White Balsamic Vinegar, precooked lentils, pizza dough and Joe Joe's (TJs version of an Oreo.) But here are a few things that we buy almost every week for meals and snacks. (If this was Babble, these would be presented in a fancy slide show. But we are not fancy like Babble.)

1. Mandarin Orange Chicken with Brown Rice and broccoli. I want this for dinner once a week. It's the ultimate comfort food. The chicken is frozen and cooks up delicious and tangy and spicy. The brown rice is also precooked and frozen so it takes minutes to make (why has no one else thought of this?!?) and the broccoli is just broccoli but for some reason it always tastes better than the non organic stuff from the regular grocery store. We always have a couple of bags on hand. What I love about this meal is it comes together in about 30 min and is filling, warm and delicious. And the fact that you are eating broccoli and brown rice makes you not feel so bad about the breaded chicken covered in a sticky sauce.

2. Stir-fried tofu and veggies with brown rice. Again, frozen brown rice. Frozen yummy stir fryable veggies. I chop up the tofu and then cook it with some rice vinegar, lots of soy sauce, a bit of Worcestershire sauce and a bit of sesame oil. Yummy and super healthy.
3. Turkey Chili Pie. Trader Joe's has a little sample kitchen and they always have something delicious and we end up buying it. This one's super easy. Dump a couple of cans of Turkey Chili into a baking dish. Add a bit of shredded cheddar cheese, if you want. (And believe me, you want.) Mix up the cornbread (which has actual pieces of actual corn in it!) and spread over the top. Bake. Eat with sour cream and salsa. Die and go to heaven. 
4. This is another sample kitchen discovery. You also need shredded cabbage (which Trader Joe's sells and we forgot to buy) and limes. Drain and rinse the black beans. Top with lime juice and salt. Dress the shredded cabbage with the Cilantro Dressing. It's found in the refrigerated section and is so amazing. It's cilantroey and slightly spicy and amazing and has 35 calories. Use the chips to scoop up the cabbage and beans. Eat 100 lbs. 
5. Fruit Floes. I have an unnatural obsession with these. They also come in strawberry, lime and occasionally chili mango. They are basically frozen juice pops, but I eat them all winter long. I have to ration myself to 1 a day or things could get scary.
6. Veggie Egg rolls with Gyoza sauce. These egg rolls are so great. And not that bad for you. And the gyoza sauce is a staple in our house. I also like to dip them in the Thai Sweet Chili sauce that TJs sells. 

I could go on and on. Almost everything I've ever bought from there is delicious. And they are constantly introducing new stuff too. Like last time I was there, I discovered this gem:
Speculoos, if you are unaware, is also called cookie butter. TJ's sells it in jars too. It's basically the consistency of peanut butter, but tastes like ground up gingerbread men. I want to spread it all over my face and then eat my own face. And when it is inside this little dark chocolate candy bar, it might just cure polio. 

If you've never been and you live in Utah, make a little field trip and buy everything on this list and whatever else you see that catches your fancy. And if you live in another state and you've had your own Trader Joe's for a while, you can stop pretending your state is cooler than ours! Let's just all eat cookie butter and be (fat) friends, OK?

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