Trader Joe’s Favorites
One of my favorite blogs/bloggers, Nothing But Bonfires/Holly Burns, posted an article a couple of months ago, featuring some of her favorite items from Trader Joe’s, as recommendations for the folks who like the grocery store chain but might find themselves only getting the same thing all the time. With a gold mine of various tastes, flavors and deliciousness as Trader Joe’s, sometimes you DO have to mix it up … and I appreciated what she had to post. After reading the article, Marc and I casually made up our own (verbal, not written) list of things that we love, and things that our readers might love as well (should they have a Trader Joe’s nearby, of course). We filed the idea away under “something that we should definitely write about some day” and then promptly forgot about it.
Without much further ado, here is Marc and my list for things at Trader Joe’s that you should really try. Why? Because we can’t get enough of them. The list was compiled by the two of us together and is written in no particular order. If you know us, you can guess who wrote what, but the truth is, neither of us will turn down any of these products, should they make their way into our little red Trader Joe’s grocery carts. **Note: This is not an ad for Trader Joe’s. As far as we know, they know nothing about our blog, and have not given us money or store credit to endorse any of their products. It would be awesome if they did, but alas, no such luck.**
- Just Mango Slices (Unsweetened and Unsulfured) – These are pretty much an early obsession of mine, upon moving to Boston and experiencing Trader Joe’s for the first time. These simple, tasty, delicious and naturally sweet strips of dried mango are where it’s at. Though not much to look at, these mango slices pack a lot of punch in the flavor department (and can sometimes be just a little tart — in the best way, of course). It is hard to not devour a whole bag in just one sitting, but with the right amount of willpower, it can be done. These are great on their own or topped with a small slice of brie.
- Three Layer Hummus – I absolutely cannot enter and exit a Trader Joe’s store without this in my hands. Being somewhat of a hummus snob, I have a very hard time truly enjoying most brands of hummus sold in supermarkets. It’s either too sharp with citrus, too strongly flavored (masking the chick peas), or overwhelmingly ripe with preservatives. This blend works for a few reasons. The three varieties stand well on their own but also mix very well, even with the old middle type (roasted garlic) and the new (purely traditional). The flavors are fresh but a bit held back, which lets the creaminess of the chick peas and olive oil stand out. My favorite part is that the container is about the height of one baby carrot, which lets you enjoy the combinations in one bite!
- Coconut Curry Chicken Stix – Though I whole-heartedly disapprove of the use of the “x” at the end of the word “stix”, it is hard to argue with these delicious appetizers. Essentially, this is diced chicken, curry, coconut, and possibly lemongrass and/or scallions, formed and wrapped in a yummy wonton. Bake ’em in the oven, and you’re all set. Even though they are frozen, they’re elegant and flavorful, and people are generally more impressed by these than your run-of-the-mill appetizers from a box. I love them!
- Tejava – I fell in love with this stuff when I took a trip with my family to northern California in the mid-90s. It was just about everywhere, in little and big bottles. I never saw it back at home on the east coast until our local Trader Joe’s store in Cambridge started carrying it, in the early 2000s. It is an unsweetened iced tea made from leaves on the island of Java and is brewed to be VERY strong. I have to be very careful when I drink it because I would finish a whole bottle easily in one sitting.
- Vinta crackers and Rondele Horseradish and Cheddar Pub Cheese – OK, so this is a little bit of a cheat, because you can, in fact, get Rondele Pub Cheese AND Vinta crackers at most grocery stores. But I did discover the wonder of these two things together because I went to Trader Joe’s, and therefor, it counts for me right now. Rondele Horseradish and Cheddar Pub Cheese is a passable substitute for a different horseradish cheese spread that Trader Joe’s no longer carries (Betts’ brand). I love anything with horseradish, because I love spicy and tangy, and when you pair it with the smooth and creamy cheese, it’s just about perfect. Those can go on any old cracker, naturally, but if I had my druthers, I would select Vinta crackers, which are a little sweet and full of nutty grains and seeds. The combination of those two things could easily be my perfect snack, 100% of the time.
- Chicken sausages – I realize that chicken sausages can be gotten just about anywhere, but the TJ’s varieties are a little beyond what you usually find in your typical supermarket. They offer mango, spicy jalapeno, sun-dried tomato, and even the combination of spinach, fontina, and roasted garlic, and even have a smoked variety with apple and chardonnay! We have worked our way through most of them, but they just deliver a lot of flavor and provide a healthier (and zestier) alternative to the same old stuff we see at the normal grocery store.
- Pastry Bites with Feta Cheese and Caramelized Onions – Back when our book club was still intact and functional, these little pastry bites generally made their way into almost every meeting — mostly because one person or another would bring them and then within minutes, they’d be devoured. These pastry bites combine the best parts of salty and sweet and do it all so elegantly. And, as a kind of gross aside, I find these even MORE delicious when cold. Yup. If that’s wrong, I really do not want to be right.
- Chicken Enchiladas in Salsa Verde – Despite not being able to find an awesome picture of these enchiladas, you will have to take my word for it that these are QUITE delicious. The enchiladas contain real chicken (I know this because I once found a small bone in them … I didn’t get mad — I marveled at the fact that the chicken was REAL), and are (supposedly) hand crafted before freezing. The sauce is punchy and a little sour, and there are individually frozen pockets of sour cream in each package. So good! My only complaint is that the serving size is 1 enchilada, which I find pretty unrealistic for food that is meant to be microwaved. What, are you going to re-microwave the thing that you already probably over-cooked in the microwave in the first place? Hmm.
- Mango Mochi – Who doesn’t love mochi? It’s chewy, the inside is perfectly textured and sweet, and one or two of these little guys do great for a satisfying dessert. The mango flavor seems to be the only one we get, but the others are great as well. These, like the cheese and crackers, may be a little bit of a cheat since I am pretty sure I saw these at Hmart, but they are at Trader Joe’s, so enjoy them.
- Roasted Seaweed Snack – This is probably the newest addition to the rotation. My coworker turned me onto these little gems, and they are pretty addictive. These are the Trader Joe’s version of a very common Asian snack, and are small sheets of nori, toasted, brushed with oils (including sesame) and seasoned with a little salt. They are crispy, taste VERY good, and are a great way to have a filling snack during the workday while putting on very few calories. They are also only $1!