(I enjoyed this post about Trader Joe’s on Joanna Goddard’s blog, but was miffed that so many of my personal favorites weren’t on the list. Making amends for that today.)
We haven’t always had a Trader Joe’s in our neighborhood.
Until fairly recently—just a couple of years ago—Trader Joe’s was a place we visited like tourists more than anything. We’d visit friends in Seattle, visit their local store, and stock up on enough snacks and drinks to last the week. We’d spend a weekend Chicago and come back with our memories—and enough wine, crackers, and thai lime and chile cashews from their State Street store to last for months. We’d visit my inlaws in Cincinnati and drive miles out of the way to hit up their TJ’s.
Now we have a Trader Joe’s practically in our neighborhood, and I don’t take it for granted, even though I’m there at least once a week. It’s not a perfect store, and it’s not the only place we shop, but there is no better place to knock out a week’s worth of grocery shopping (for a family of 6!) in 15 minutes.
We can’t get everything at Trader Joe’s: the average grocery store carries 50,000 items, but Trader Joe’s stocks just 4000. This is not a drawback in my book: the store is tiny, and I love it that way.
We buy a ton of staples at Trader Joe’s: salad, baby carrots, avocado, eggs. But Trader Joe’s is famous (and rightly so) for doing specialty products, really well, and for cheap.
These are a few of my favorites. (I’d love to hear yours in comments!)
Fresh flowers. Trader Joe’s has a consistently great selection of blooms at budget prices.
Nuts and snacks:
• Freeze-dried strawberries. We always use these as a healthy road trip bribe for the kids.
• Coconut chips. Sweet, crunchy, addictive.
• Thai lime and chile almonds. Tasty enough that you’ll want to eat the whole bag, spicy enough that you can’t. The cashews are also fantastic.
Dairy: Trader Joe’s has a terrific cheese section, stocking their house products and popular brands like Cabot, Kerrygold, Boursin, and Baby Bells. These are our offbeat favorites:
• Creamy toscano with black peppercorns. Yum. The toscano with syrah is equally delicious.
• Quattro formagio. My favorite shredded cheese blend.
• Blueberry chevre. Lucy and I went to Trader Joe’s the other day on a mother-daughter adventure. I told her she could pick out whatever she wanted. I expected her to choose chocolate, or sushi. She chose this.
Pizza dough: we used to make our own, but now we pay $1.29 so we don’t have to wash the mixing bowl. (We like the garlic and herb variety.) Hot tip: this freezes well.
• Pound plus bars. Massive 17.6 ounce chocolate bars (for $5), available in a variety of flavors. We keep these on hand for baking and occasional snacking. The bars are thick enough that you need a knife to hack off a snack-size portion, which keeps me from snitching it every time I go in the kitchen. (A good thing!)
• Macarons. Available in the freezer section, $5 for a package of twelve. We like to keep these in the freezer for impromptu guests or special occasions.
• French vanilla ice cream. It’s just vanilla ice cream, but it’s really good vanilla ice cream.
Crackers: we rarely buy crackers, so when we do we want them to be good.
• Mini brioche toasts. A fantastic (and adorable) holder for dips and spreads of all stripes.
• Savory thin mini crackers. (Gluten-free.)
• Raisin rosemary crisps. These are great with tangy cheese. The fig and olive variety is also pretty tasty.
• Hot and sweet cherry peppers. I adore these. I love to slice them thin and add them to salads, or stuff them with creamy cheese (feta, goat, boursin) and top them off with slivered almonds for a snack or appetizer.
• Pesto. We keep finding new ways to use this, most recently on pizza with goat cheese. YUM.
• Cornichons. Trader Joe’s has a great variety of antipasto-type snacks in jars. The kids love these tiny tart pickles.
• Coconut cream. This is what you’d see labeled as “coconut milk” everywhere else, but for much less than you’ll see anywhere else.
• Sockeye salmon. Trader Joe’s has a great price on filets. Occasionally we’ll bake or grill it, but usually we cure it like this. My 5-year-old begs for this, on brioche toasts with cream cheese, or in an omelet.
• Lasagna. We rarely eat pasta, but I bought this once so the kids could have a nice dinner with the babysitter and now they’re obsessed. On the plus side, it’s great quality at a great price.
• Tamales. These are fun and fast for ball game nights, or a quick lunch.
• Frozen berries: they have great prices on the basics, and we love their Very Cherry mix.
What are YOUR favorite things to buy at Trader Joe’s?