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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

PSA: Countdown to Trader Joe's: The Staples

The countdown to South Florida's first Trader Joe's started on September 2012 when exMiami
broke the news that that cult grocery store chain had signed a lease for the old Borders location on US1 in Pinecrest.  The plot instantly became one of the most watched construction sites in the area.  Every move was reported on, from the permitting process (which resulted in TJ's being asked to resubmit plans for a structure that would actually withstand a hurricane) to the knocking down of a wall.  All of this in anticipation of the store's official opening on October 18.

With the opening just a month away,  I'm being asked by more and more friends unfamiliar with Trader Joe's what all the fuss is about. For them, and anyone else curious enough, here's a TJ's primer (first in series) counting down to opening day.

First off, the two main things to remember about Trader Joe's are:

  • The vast majority of their products are company-branded and, with a few exceptions, they carry only one type of each item (i.e. if you want garbanzo beans you are not going to find Goya or Libby's, you will find the Trader Joe's brand and that's it)
  • Although possible, don't think of TJ's as a supermarket where you can do all of your grocery shopping. Most people will be disappointed if they go in with that mentality.  Set the expectation that it'll be a supplement to your regular grocery shopping and go from there.
  • Pick up the latest Fearless Flyer (or access it on TJ's website).  It's a seasonal guide to what's new or on special.

For a quick rundown of a visit to Trader Joe's (this one in Naples, FL) click here

To kick off the series is a list of pantry and other staples that I always stock up on.

This South African Smoke seasoning goes on everything from vegetables to deviled eggs.  The ingredients are simple: paprika, garlic, salt, basil, but the combination and the process for slow smoking the paprika give this a depth of flavor that the most placate the most umami-obsessed of us.  The ingredients are coarse but the seasoning comes in a grinder container which brings out even more flavor. At $2.29 it's a steal. (Related products: Smoked Salt; Himalayan Pink Salt)

Just like at one point in your life you thought bread is bread is bread and that Wonder Bread was the be all end all. Then you took your first bite of a San Francisco sourdough or a fresh baked baguette.  You'll get the same feeling when you make your first quesadilla with these handmade flour tortillas.  They're chewier and denser than factory cranked tortillas and crisp up when making quesadillas unlike any tortilla I've used.  Top with some of TJ's canned Hatch chiles and it's an unforgettable combo.  (Related products: handmade corn tortillas, Mexican cheese blend)

A TJ's staple for years, this aioli garlic mustard goes wherever you'd use dijon or, if you're so inclined, French's.  It's less harsh than typical dijon and more complex.  I use it straight from the jar as a sauce for fish (alternatively you can top thick fish fillets with the sauce and roast).  Also great for homemade dressings. 

Shelf stable whipping cream is ideal for those of us that use cream occasionally and either never have any when we need it or end up throwing away half of the carton when we do have it. At $1.29 it's not only cheaper than half as much as regular cream, it'll last that much longer and, as an added bonus, it's perfect for your hurricane survival stash.

Yes, it's simple garlic powder, but this garlic powder made solely with California garlic is the most aromatic version I've found.  And at $1.99 it's also one of the most reasonable.

I usually make salad dressings from scratch and usually it's olive oil based.  But when I don't, and I feel like something creamier, this is cilantro salad dressing is my go to bottle.  It's tangy and herbaceous with tons of cilantro along with cotija, pasilla chiles and pumpkin seeds, and goes well with pungent greens like arugula or endive.  Two pluses: is it carries way less fat and calories than similar salad dressings and its lack of preservatives means it's kept in the refrigerated section.

It's organic, it doesn't contain sugar and it's about half the price of similar items at Whole Foods. Sold.

I'm glad TJ's identifies this as Italian Orecchiette otherwise I wouldn't be sure what I was buying.  This cooks up faster and firmer than other orecchiette I've used (Fresh Market's being the worst).  It's also 99 cents.

You can buy this creme fraiche anywhere. It's cheaper at Trader Joe's.

Because you don't want to make this at home.  Portion size is perfect for a dinner for two

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