My Trader Joe’s Grocery Essentials

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My Trader Joe’s Grocery Essentials

This week I decided to try a different kind of blog entry. Instead of writing about a specific recipe, I wanted to talk about my grocery shopping habits, specifically the pre-prepared meals that can be found in my pantry and freezer. One of my favorite places to go for such things is the ultimate cool mom mecca and hipster hangout, Trader Joe’s. For those unfamiliar, Trader Joe’s is a national grocery chain with a Southern California mindset. Their goal is to carry good, wholesome food at a reasonable price.

 

We have 3 stores in our area and each one is at least 20 minutes from the house. That is quite a trek for me…and don’t even get me started about the parking! I go about once a month to pick up a handful of specific items. If it’s a Saturday morning when there aren’t as many people shopping Chris will go with me, but otherwise he’d rather stay away from the crowds.

 Disclaimer: All the opinions listed here are mine and mine alone. No one in the Trader Joe’s organization encouraged me or compensated me for this blog post.

 

Here is the list of my Trader Joe’s necessities:

Trader Ming's Beef and Broccoli

Trader Ming’s Beef and Broccoli

Beef with broccoli: This is by far one of the best prepared freezer meals I’ve ever found. It takes 15 minutes to put together and tastes just as good as our local Chinese take-out. The only thing missing from the bag is a bowl of white rice and a fortune cookie (and the rice is easily remedied). It’s really great for those nights when I’m teaching late and Chris is in charge of dinner.

Egg Pappardelle and Tomato Basil Sauce

Egg Pappardelle and Tomato Basil Sauce

Pappardelle pasta and Tomato-basil sauce- If you’re a loyal reader of this blog you know about my love of pasta. I love the plain egg pappardelle as well as the slightly spicy lemon pepper variety. They are super light and delicious, especially with some of the store’s tomato basil sauce. The jarred sauce is fresh, balanced, and for under $2 a bottle, I’m happy to stick a jar or two in the pantry for those lazy pasta nights.

Frozen Chicken Tikka Masala

Frozen Chicken Tikka Masala

Farfalle with 4 Cheese and Spinach

Farfalle with 4 Cheese and Spinach

Frozen Lunches: I started making regular trips to Trader Joe’s because of their frozen lunches; it’s something the store does better than anyone else. One of my favorites is the Indian takeout classic, chicken tikka masala. It’s, warm, spicy and the perfect size for lunch at my desk. It satisfies my craving for Indian food on a regular basis (big surprise, Chris isn’t a fan). My other favorite is the farfalle with 4 cheeses and spinach. It’s bow-tie pasta, a cheesy sauce, and spinach…I mean how can that be bad? It only takes 5 minutes to heat up in the microwave, and it’s devoured within next five. Both of these frozen lunches are delicious and so much better for my health and my wallet than me running out for fast food everyday.

A good wedge of Parmesan Cheese

A good wedge of Parmesan Cheese

Parmesan Cheese: Speaking of cheese, TJ’s is where I get my hunks of Parmesan. I love this cheese and I use it at least in one dinner per week, if not more. This item is priced for much less what I can find at my usual grocery store. Mmmm, writing about all this cheese and pasta makes me want to cook my carbonara recipe!

Trader Joe's Turkey Corn Dogs

Trader Joe’s Turkey Corn Dogs

Turkey Corn dogs: Ok, these are sort of my dirty little secret, but I love them! I made homemade corn dogs a few years ago, and now every few weeks I get a hankering for them. These frozen turkey corn dogs satisfy my tummy without destroying my kitchen (breading & frying is really messy work). I usually indulge in these puppies when I’m dining home alone. A pair of corn dogs with a squirt of Dijon mustard, and I’m a happy girl.

some very good bubbly

some very good bubbly

Sparkling Wine: Ok, so it’s not a meal unless you’re Coco Chanel, but every time I go to Trader Joe’s I pick up a bottle or two of the Louise d’Estree. It’s a great bubbly on its own or as a mixer for champagne cocktails like mimosas. It’s priced around $10 per bottle, which is really great for my budget, since wines can get costly fast. And really, what meal isn’t made better by a glass of sparkling wine?

 

So there you have it, my list of required household purchases from Trader Joe’s. Do you have a store nearby? If so, what are your go-to purchases? I hope you’ve liked this week’s little post. Next week, we’ll be back to our regular cooking and cat stories!

Recipe Review: Pork and Ricotta Meatballs

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Pork and Ricotta Meatballs

From Michael Symon’s Carnivore

A plate of pasta, marinara and meatballs

A plate of pasta, marinara and meatballs

(sorry no link to use this time!)

I love to have friends over for dinner; nothing’s better than good food and interesting conversation. I always try to be the perfect hostess so once a dinner invitation has been accepted, I begin to plan (worry/obsess) what the meal will be.

In this particular instance, I enlisted the help of my other half. We stumbled upon this meatball recipe in a cookbook that I’d actually gifted to him last year (it may have been the first time since Christmas that he’d opened it). Most people I know enjoy meatballs; who wouldn’t love little balls of carnivorous goodness? I’ve worked with chicken and turkey before, but this was my first experience making pork meatballs. I decided to give this a try because Michael Symon’s recipe seemed so straight forward.

mixing up the balls

mixing up the balls

To start with day old bread is called for. I left a piece of sandwich bread out on my kitchen counter for 4 or 5 hours and it was stale enough to use. Secondly I would make sure that you use whole milk and not substitute because of the fat content, otherwise the meatball may be dry.  There is no pepper of any sort in the recipe, which can be totally fine if you’re planning to serve your meatballs in a spicy marinara sauce. Since my marinara isn’t too spicy, I would probably add 10 turns of freshly cracked pepper to my next batch. Finally I substituted the basil garnish with the parsley I’d already used in the mixture.

17 meatballs from my ice cream scoop

17 meatballs from my ice cream scoop

When rolling out the meatballs, an ice cream/cookie scoop is a really helpful tool. This way all the balls are more uniform in size which helps them to cook more evenly I got 17 fairly sizeable balls out of this batch. Speaking of batches, when frying the meatballs, I separated mine into 2 groups as to not crowd the pan and provide myself with fewer opportunities for oil spatter injuries. The total preparation and cooking time was 30-40 minutes which for me is ideal for after work dinner guests.

Eww...gross

Eww…gross

brown little babies, brown

brown little babies, brown

The recipe says that the meatballs can be served by themselves, but I decided to make it a complete meal and defrosted some homemade marinara sauce, boiled some pasta and tossed it all together. I think for a cocktail party or sports gathering, plain meatballs would be a great option.

the meatballs soaking up some homemade marinara sauce

the meatballs soaking up some homemade marinara sauce

I really like this recipe! The meatballs were creamy and had a lovely bit of sweetness from the cinnamon. As I said earlier, I would probably add a hint of black pepper to them the next go-round. I could tell our dinner guests enjoyed the meal when they started asking for seconds. In fact, I had none left at the end of the evening! Ultimately, I’d call this recipe and dinner a success.

Such a good plate of food

Such a good plate of food