Thursday, January 28, 2016

Favorite Things: 14 Items You Really Should Try from Trader Joe's

For a long time, I really thought Trader Joe's was an expensive yuppy/hipster grocery stop.....a place where you would shop if you had a bottomless wallet, or if you didn't know how to do your own cooking.

I have no idea why I thought that. Trader Joe's is fabulous, it's affordable, and it's full of amazing items for fridge, freezer, pantry and party. Every time I go there I try to find something new, and 85% of the time it results in another item added to my 'addicted list': items I absolutely must buy whenever I stop in to TJ's.

So, without further ado- here are the 14 items I absolutely encourage you to try from Trader Joe's.

Note: not everything listed is in the picture above!

1. Trader Joe's Demi French Baguette

At $0.99 a pop, these little baguettes are perfect for a sophisticated sandwich, a cheese board, dips, or to split with someone over soup. Keep a couple of these in your freezer and enjoy a crusty baguette whenever the craving strikes!

2. Trader Joe's Fully Cooked Falafel

Okay- first of all, the freezer sections of TJ's is glorious. Spend a lot of time there. While you're there, do yourself a huge favor and pick up a couple of bags of the Falafel. One to two minutes in the microwave and you have an insanely delicious lunch, appetizer or side dish. My personal favorite way to enjoy these guys is on a flour tortilla with garlic hummus, sour cream, cilantro and Cholula.

Other freezer favorites: Chicken Balti Pies, Mandarin Orange Chicken, Pork or Chicken Potstickers, Naan, Riced Cauliflower

3. Trader Joe's 'Bucket' Cookies

This is a broad category, but one of our house favorites. Trader Joe's makes a variety of cookies, all packaged up in clear buckets. Hubby adores the Ultimate Vanilla Wafers (especially dipped in his coffee), while I'm preferential to the Triple Ginger Snaps. The buckets might seem excessive for small households, but trust me- they go fast.

4. Trader Joe's Organic Mango Nectar

Admittedly, this is one of the more 'splurge' priced items on my list. I promise you, though, that it's totally worth it. This juice IS mango in a glass. Word has it that it's also amazing with tequila, but I wouldn't know anything about that.....

5. Trader Joe's Speculoos Anything

TJ's really hit the nail on the head with speculoos. I like to think of it as their response to the Nutella craze. The traditional jar of cookie butter is always a good place to start for the uninitiated (with apple slices or by the spoonful- it's all good), but TJ's boasts tons of other products incorporating this tasty spread. There's really no wrong way to approach this category.

6. Trader Joe's Lemon Curd

This was the first product from TJ's I fell in love with. Fabulous lemon flavor, not too sweet and pleasantly sticky- insane with butter on a crumpet. If you ever have a recipe that requires lemon curd and don't feel inclined to make your own, this is the only acceptable substitute.

7. Trader Joe's Dried/Freeze Dried Fruit

Another broad category, but one not to be ignored. TJ's has a ridiculous amount dehydrated and freeze dried fruits. If you're looking for anything from dried bananas to jackfruit, this is the place to find it. The dried fruit selection makes for fabulous snacking, or as a great addition to cereal, trail-mix, granola or oatmeal.

My favorites are: dried mangoes, dried banana chips, freeze-dried strawberries, dried jackfruit.

8. Trader Joe's Pumperknickel Pretzel Sticks

Sorry kids- these are pretzels for grown-ups. Deep, toasty rye flavor and not overly hard, these pretzels are perfect with mustard (try TJ's Dijon Mustard mixed with a bit of mayo) or any other dip.

9. TJ's Sour Gummis 

I adore sour gummi candy, and while these are overly sour, they are delicious. Flavored with natural citrus juice, there's something refreshingly not over-processed about these treats. I would sneak these in to a movie theater.

10. Charles Shaw Merlot (aka Two Buck Chuck) or Cotillion Tri-County Pinot Noir

Either of these wines are reliably cheap options for wine. While I wouldn't recommend bringing Two Buck Chuck to a party (better to keep on hand at home for when the good wine runs out), Cotillion is a perfectly acceptable host gift. (Though I have many other favorite wines under $10 that I would recommend instead...)

11. Anything Seasonal

Fall and winter boast a plethora of pumpkin and peppermint flavored treats at Trader Joe's, and they go fast. My advice: as soon as a seasonal item hits the shelves, just buy it.

In the summer, be sure to check out their plant selection. I scooped up a HUGE basil plant for $2.99- way better than anything I found at several of the other stores I went to.

12. Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar Cheese

"Tastes like an aged premium cheddar with hints of Parmesan". I've spent.....a lot of money on cheese before. What can I say? I'm a girl that loves to entertain with a good cheese board, and at $3.99 a package, this cheese is a winner. Enjoy it on a grilled cheese with slices of apple, or on it's own with a good cracker or sliced baguette.

13. Trader Joe's Corn and Chili Tomato-less Salsa

I don't like tomatoes. I love the flavor, but I just can't do the texture. Don't ask me to change my ways- it won't happen. This whole love/hate affair really comes to a head when salsa is involved. I adore salsa, but I simply can't bring myself to do anything more than dip a chip into the liquid and leave all 'chunks' behind. This corn and chili salsa is a life-saver. Surprisingly fresh and with a pleasant flavor, this stuff is great with Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips. Another fabulous way to enjoy it: grilled shrimp, cilantro, corn salsa, diced jalapenos and fresh pineapple all wrapped up in a tortilla.

14. Trader Joe's Frosted Maple and Brown Sugar Shredded Bite Size Wheats

This is what breakfast tastes like. Not overly sweet, but with plenty of maple and brown sugar flavor, I can't imagine ever going back to Kellogg's Mini-Wheats.

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