Thursday, May 13, 2010

Trader Joe's

About a year and a half ago I was shopping in Trader Joe's. After tasting whatever food it was they were sampling that day (I have no memory of what it was) I realized I had gotten in the way of a man with a professional camera.

"Sorry," I said.

"No," a woman near him said, "we are intentionally filming people. Can I ask you a couple questions?"

I said "Sure" and went on to answer a couple questions about why I like Trader Joe's, expounding on my fascination with the paradox of a "neighborhood" grocery chain that has become a national success, selling a small selection of private label products with barely any advertising.

Actually, that's not entirely true. I mostly said "I like the wine, cheese, and frozen pizzas because they're cheap and tasty."

When it was done she asked if I would sign a release to allow them to use the footage, should they so choose. I asked what it was for and she told me "The Food Network." For a few weeks I looked on Food Network's website to see if there was anything about Trader Joe's. There was not. A few months later I was at a barbecue and ran into a friend of mine from high school who is a buyer for Trader Joe's. I asked if she'd seen the thing Food Network filmed.

"Yes," she said. "I don't think you're in it."

So I completely forgot about it. Fast forward about a year to last week. I got a text from one of my best friends, who now lives in Dallas, reading "Holy S**t! I just saw you on TV talking about Trader Joe's." So I searched out the program, found out when it was on again, and watched it the other night. I was on camera less than two seconds, but still, it seemed like a good reason to have an all-Trader Joe's meal.

I wasn't necessarily planning on using these photos or telling this story, but then a couple days ago some comments were made by one of my thousands of readers in Rhode Island (okay, probably my only reader in Rhode Island) who had never been to Trader Joe's and is planning a maiden visit this weekend. So I decided to post photos of that meal, and perhaps a few more, just to give her (and anyone else) some ideas.

Trader Joe's (or rather, Trader Ming's, as they too-cutely call it) Orange Chicken is always a good staple to have in the freezer for nights when you feel like something a little nicer than tortilla chips and hot sauce (which is actually what I had last night; I was exhausted and in no mood to make any effort whatsoever). The only downside to it is that some of the chicken is dark meat - I know some people don't like that. I'm not crazy about dark meat but I don't mind it in these.

The sauce is too sweet for me so when I make it I usually crush a clove of garlic in it and add a few slugs of hot sauce and cilantro. I sometimes add water chestnuts, and usually serve it with either broccoli or snow peas. I used to eat this orange chicken at least once a week, but now I hardly every get it. You'll see why in a couple minutes.

The smoked turkey sandwich is my favorite of Trader Joe's sandwiches. Pretty much every week either Elizabeth or I take one to work with us. The turkey is high quality and is served on a ciabatta roll with a few slivers (not enough, in my opinion) of red onion and red pepper. On the side is a container of basil mayo. It almost doubles the caloric count of the sanwich (although it's still healthier than almost any fast food sandwich) but I don't care because I think it's really tasty.

Sometimes at home I will cook this sandwich on the panini press. Not surprisingly, it is even better that way.

Again, Trader "Ming's," although this time it's the Tempura Chicken. This is the reason I no longer eat the orange chicken: this is all white meat, is much higher-quality chicken, and, in my opinion, tastes much better. This is the dinner Elizabeth and I ate the other night during my two seconds of fame.

The sweet & sour sauce that comes in a little packet with the Tempura Chicken is only telling half the truth: it is very sweet, but there is no sourness to it. So, like with the orange chicken's sauce, I doctor it up with chili flakes and cilantro. The chicken crisps up beautifully in the oven and I toss it with the sauce, then serve it with broccoli and:

Vegetable Bird's Nests are one of my favorite frozen snacks at TJ's. They can cook in the oven or quickly pan-fry. When done well (these are slightly more cooked than I like) these taste like something you would get at a great sushi restaurant. There are eight in a package and I think it's costs two and a half dollars. I fully expect these to be the next item I love that disappears from TJ's, as things usually do (like their empenadas or chimichurri, both of which were some of the best I've ever had.)

Trader Joe's "Potato Pancakes" (or Latkes) are very good. I fry them up in just a few minutes. Elizabeth likes sour cream on them; I usually mix up something a little more spicy. I believe these have sour cream and chipotle sauce on them.

I've had their Fish Nuggets a couple times now and they are excellent. Although the box warns that they might contain small bones, I have yet to find one. The instructions on the box say to bake them in the oven for 15 minutes, but I choose to fry them much quicker than that. The fish is Alaskan Pollock.

Elizabeth loves their garlic fries. The bag comes with a pouch of garlic seasoning that you are supposed to defrost and toss with the fries, but we never do. The fries are just fine by themselves, baked in the oven for about 25 minutes.


Nosh Gnostic said...

Wow! Quite the banquet. I like the Trader Ming's stuff 'cause it gives me a reason to break out the old wok and I don't have to chop up a lot of crap. A side of Calrose rice and you've arrived.

Irina Netchaev said...

Trader Joes is by far my favorite store and has been for many years. I love their selection of cheeses, fruits and veggies - all at reasonable prices.

And, have you seen their newest pomegranate seed covered dark chocolate treats? Ok, sounds weird, but they are to die for!

I, literally, refuse to live in a house that is not within a 10 minute drive from TJs.

Hmm... I am really liking your blog. Can't wait for future posts!

SuperLarge said...

Irina, I've said more than once that if I cannot live in the south of France or in Tuscany, then I refuse to live anywhere more than a 10 minute drive to a TJs.

I just recently bought and devoured a bag of their chocolate-covered powder berries. So good.

Diana said...

Thanks for this! I saw you post it a couple days ago, but didn't get around to reading it until just now.
I did go buy TJs today and found it surprisingly small inside. Smaller than I thought it would be, for sure. And on the way in, there was an overpowering waft of wine smell - someone had dropped a bottle in the parking lot.
I only grabbed some ground beef and those frozen Bambino pizzas that you posted about a while back. I felt rushed through the store - there were lots of people there.
Overall, it's definitely not a place that I'd drive 25 minutes (through lots of traffic!) to in order to shop every week, but I'd probably stop in to pick up some frozen foods (which look very promising) and cheese if I'm ever in the area and thinking about it.