Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Trader Joe's, I think I love you

I retract my previous statement; I KNOW I love Trader Joe's. On February 14th, mayhem broke out across the Denver metro area, when 3 brand-spankin'-new Trader Joe's opened their doors to desperate Coloradans.  The parking lots overflow with agitated customers, jonesing for inexpensive olive oil and frozen berries.  Patagonia-clad Boulderites tap their feet impatiently, with their carts busting at the seams with Pesto gouda (yes, it exists), tamari almonds, cookie butter (Trader Joe's riff on the mythical Speculoos butter), and bags of pre-washed, baby arugula.  Everyone is irritated by the crowds, but it is worth the delight that ensues from rejoicing in the spoils within the privacy of our own kitchens.  

If there has been some sort of media blitz on unethical business practices employed by Trader Joe's, please let me know; current affairs are not my strong suit.  I cannot begin to fathom why their products are so inexpensive.  The only explanation is that something is amiss, but the Polly Anna in me so badly wants to believe otherwise.  Without concrete evidence, I will continue bingeing on soft and chewy ginger cookies, organic spaghettios, and Spanish cheese samplers, and I will be doing so at curiously reasonable prices.

This week, I tried Trader Giotto's Porcini and Truffle Triangoli. That's a ravioli shaped like a triangle (cheeky, I know). For under 4 dollars per package, these little pillows boast tender pasta and a palpable truffle-y funk (and yes, that is most definitely a good thing).  The scent hit me like a ton of bricks upon opening the package. 

There was quite a bit of pasta in the package, so I prepared it two ways. First, I made a quick tomato sauce, that I'm dubbing "pomodoro crudo." It's very simple: 1 chopped tomato, sautéed in olive, garlic, and a tablespoon of tomato paste. Then I added about a half cup of chicken broth and a glug of white wine. This simmered for about 10 minutes.  When the pasta was finished, it was gently coated with this quick tomato sauce, with a few splashes of pasta cooking water, as needed.  I finished it with a ton of fresh parsley and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.  The tomato sauce added a nice, bright acidity to the earthy, rich filling of the pasta.  The dish was surprisingly filling, but I guess I should expect that from stuffed pasta laced with truffle oil.  

Later, I ate the unaltered leftovers with a drizzle of olive oil, pepper, parsley, and Parmesan. You can't go wrong with either preparation; however, the inclusion of parsley and parmesan cheese go a long way no matter what.  I look forward to exploring the seemingly infinite array of novelly items, such as Truffled Triangoli, at my new favorite retail store.


  1. My friend Mikki Brisk made up this list for her family members in Colorado of her favorite Trader Joe items:

    ■Pound Plus 72% Dark Chocolate – I keep this giant bar on hand and use it more than one might think. Because I’m not a fan of milk chocolate, this is my go-to most of the time when chocolate is called for in a recipe. And a single cube makes a perfect dessert for me.
    ■Buttermilk – When I need it, this is where I get it.
    ■Half and Half – I don’t know why I love TJ’s Half and Half so much, but I do. More than others. It doesn’t have to make sense. It simply is.
    ■President’s Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil – This is my workhorse olive oil. Yes, I have others that are used for special needs, but this one is my everyday oil and I go through it faster than I should. I even use it in cakes and brownies. The olive oil flavor is something I happen to like.
    ■Tomato-Basil Marinara Sauce – This simple sauce serves as a base most of the time when I need red sauce. I jack it up, down and sideways – and always to lovely results.
    ■Dijon Mustard – I’m a mustard junkie, and this dijon is my fave.
    ■Unsweetened Soy Milk – Who needs sugar? This soy milk does its job without causing cavities.
    ■Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar – This is another product I turn to again and again. And like Olive Oil, I go through this faster than you can believe.
    ■Balsamic Vinegar (Jug) – This giant jug of Balsamico is more handy in our kitchen than I can say. I often make Balsamic reductions, and this baby is the vinegar for that. Salad dressings, marinades, sauces – you name it. Jug Balsamico rules.
    ■Balsamic Vinegar (Small Bottle) – This Balsamico is aged just enough to give it a bit more quality than the jug. I don’t cook this one, as it’s better than that. And while I do own Balsamico that is so precious as to be dispensed from a dropper (I kid you not), this one serves most of my finer Balsamico needs.
    ■Olive Oil Spray – This is another of those oil products that I use, regardless of the flavor. It doesn’t add so much olive oil flavor as to impact baked goods, so I use it all the time.

  2. here's part two:

    Brown Rice (All Varieties) – I don’t know why I love TJ’s Brown Rices so much, but I do. They’re yummy and consistently good.
    ■Sourdough English Muffins – I’ve tried other Sourdough English Muffins, and for me there is no contest. These are the best and I love, love, love them.
    ■Creamy, Unsalted Almond Butter – Peanut Butter does exist in our house, but it’s rarely used. Almond Butter on the other hand, is consumed regularly. And this one is primo.
    ■Cheese – I’m a cheese whore, y’all. And I do occasionally buy cheese from swank sellers. But most of my cheeses are purchased at Trader Joe’s. There’s a good variety and the quality is consistent. Their Parmigiano-Reggiano is top-notch. Their Cave-Aged Gruyere makes me close my eyes in gratitude. When they carry a special item (usually seasonally), I get it while I can.
    ■Instant Chai Latte Mix – I don’t drink this too often, but I do love it. The flavors are lovely and it’s sort of like a dessert for me.
    ■Pesto Sauce – In season, I make homemade Pesto. But when that’s gone, I turn to TJ’s. Happily.
    ■Jalapeno-Stuffed Olives – These bad boys are too yummy. And in a dirty martini, well, let’s just say Mikki is a happy girl.
    ■Cornichons – Love these little French pickles. They add so much to a dish, be it Tuna Tartare or homemade Tartar Sauce.
    ■Pure Bourbon Vanilla Extract – This quality Vanilla Extract is top-notch. Please don’t use “Imitation” Vanilla Extract. It’s the little things, Kelly.
    ■Skinless, Boneless Chicken Breasts – This package contains individually wrapped breasts, so I can pull out one at a time and keep the rest frozen. This chicken is high-quality and convenient.
    ■Black Forest Bacon – Well I mean really, it’s bacon. Of course it’s good! But this one is flippin’ awesome. For me, pig-meat equals love.
    ■Select Produce – I admit I don’t buy a lot of produce at TJ’s. This is because I’ve not had the greatest luck with some of it. The list of what I do buy includes Persian Cucumbers, Grape Tomatoes, Bagged Avocados, Green Onions, Fresh Herbs, Lettuces, Blueberries (in season), Meyer Lemons, Shallots, Bananas, Gold Potatoes and Basil (when not growing it myself). And these items are trusted.

  3. A great list! I would also like to add green olive tapenade to that list, as it can elevate a boring pasta dish or vinaigrette for new heights