The Trader Joe’s Report – vol. 2

Here are my Trader Joe’s All-Stars – everyday products I always have on hand:

  • Baguettes and Ciabatta Loaves – While every loaf of sliced bread I’ve ever bought at TJ’s has been an unmitigated disappointment (see my post on TJ’s Hall of Shame), the fresh baked breads are winners.  They are baked locally and are fresh and delicious.  I think the bread in our area is baked at a local Lebanese store and restaurant which sells great breads.  I saw their truck making a delivery to TJ’s and I couldn’t think what else TJ’s would be buying from them, but I’ll have to see if I can confirm that theory.  Since these breads are fresh and preservative free, you will need to freeze them if you don’t finish them in a day or so.  When I buy loaves I immediately cut them into serving size chunks and put what I won’t eat that day in a zip top bag in the freezer.  If you defrost the bread slowly at room temp, (wrapped in plastic so it doesn’t dry out) it will taste just like fresh baked.  You can also defrost bread by wrapping it tightly in foil and heating it in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
  • Organic Tri-colored Peppers – these bags of three colored bell peppers (one each of red, orange and yellow) are a great buy.  They are usually very fresh and flavorful, but you have to check the bags carefully.  Every once in awhile they are all a little too soft and you have to pass them up.  I always have these in the fridge for salads, stir-fries, crudité and my favorite use for them – my special summer succotash (check the recipe section).  Peppers are one of the “dirty dozen” fruits and veggies that you should always buy organic if you can.  One thing I love about TJ’s is that they make buying organic so affordable.
  • Salts and Spices – TJ’s offers good prices on a limited selection of quality seasonings.  My faves are French thyme, oregano, dried pepper flakes (some seriously hot pepperoncino – be sure to store them in the fridge to prolong their freshness), pink Himalayan salt and smoked salt, and my tip-top fave, Pumpkin Pie Spice.  I went nuts when I discovered their incredibly yummy version of Pumpkin Pie Spice!  I sprinkled it on my morning lattes and if a recipe called for any spices, I swapped in this mix with great success.  One caution:  they only carry Pumpkin Pie Spice in the fall, so get it while you can!
  • Frozen Cilantro Cubes – These cubes of frozen herbs are just the right size when all you need is a bit of cilantro to perk up some salsa or guacamole.  As a bonus, I reuse the cute little trays to freeze grated fresh ginger into tsp. sized cubes.
  • Frozen Diced Mango – Mangos have been all the rage for the last few years, and they are certainly appealing both health-wise and looks-wise (we eat with our eyes, yes?).  Truth is, though, I really hate fresh mango.  It has a sharp, peppery taste that is 100% unpleasant to me.  Besides, they are a pain to peel and seed.  However, TJ’s frozen diced mangos don’t have that taste, and you don’t have to prep them!  I use them in smoothies.  My two fave mango smoothies are (1) mangoes, almond milk, yogurt and morello cherries, and (2) mangoes, yogurt, banana, orange juice (or pineapple juice) and a tsp. of matcha powder.
  • Frozen Veggies – TJ’s has great prices on high-quality frozen veggies, many of them organic.  I especially like the organic peas and corn, edamame, the lovely haricot verts, asparagus (not for eating on its own, but in quiche or on a pizza) and especially the organic chopped spinach.  Their spinach is the best frozen spinach I have ever found.  When you defrost other brands of spinach you end up having to squeeze out a tremendous amount of water (and nutrition).  I don’t know if it is the type of spinach they use or the fact that it is organic, but TJ’s spinach just doesn’t give off much water when it is defrosted.  You get more usable product, more nutrients, and the benefits of organic produce – win, win, win!
  • Pound Plus Chocolates – These large bars of milk and dark chocolates, both with and without nuts, are great both for baking and well, I’ll admit it, simply chowing down on.
  • TJ’s Chocolate and Yellow Cake Mixes – Again, I’m not much for using mixes.  Most commercial cake mixes are choc-a-block with preservatives, funky additives, artificial colors and synthetic flavors.  But the ingredients in TJ’s mixes are exactly what you would put into a cake if you were making it from scratch.  Nothing fake, funky or felonious.  And the cakes themselves are moist and delicious.  Can’t ask for more than that!
  • President’s Reserve EVOO – this is a well-priced olive oil with a fresh, not too assertive taste.  At prices like this, you can use it for everything – dipping, salad dressings, pastas and sauteeing.
  • Trader Giotto’s Balsamic Vinegar – I’m sure this is not the best stuff out there, but it is quite passable for salad dressings, cooking, and dzujing up a sandwich (I love balsamic vinegar on my Italian sandwiches!).
  • This … Walks into a Bar Fruit Bars – These are tasty little snack bars, kinda like giant Fig Newtons.  Fig is my fave flavor, but blueberry and strawberry are good too.
  • Frozen Brown Rice – This seems like the height of lazy here, but sometimes you want dinner on the table quick and we all know brown rice takes at least 40 minutes to cook.  These pouches of cooked brown rice nuke up light and fluffy and ready to eat in minutes, and the rice has a great nutty flavor.
  • Frozen Potato Cakes – Another breakfast fave at the Whitesides house.  They’re like ginormous flat tater tots.
  • Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips – John is a major nacho hound so we always have a bag of these going.  I got really spoiled on the amazing tortilla chips you get in Mexico – they are so thick, crisp and fresh tasting.  To me most American tortilla chips taste like cardboard and are soooo not worth the calories.  These are my favorite “domestic” chips – nothing like the ones in Mexico, but they have a good corn flavor and they stand up to hearty dips.
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