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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Trader Joe's Favorites for the Big Day

It's finally happening.  After years of rumor and conjecture, the first Trader Joe's in Miami is opening tomorrow.  For anyone heading out this weekend to see what all the fuss is about, here's some help.  This completely biased list spans 20 years.  Favorites have come and gone only to be replaced by new ones.  Below are some current favorites that will hopefully be around a while:

The tarte d'champignon is one of the first items to get used after TJ's run.  Imported from France, it's a savory puff pastry/phyllo-like crust is topped with creme fraiche, emmental and mushrooms.  It's a 15 minute or so bake in the oven an the result is a light, crispy ridiculously addicting snack that, when finished, will make you wish you had more, which is why you are going to buy at least two of these. (Related products: Tarte d'Alsace)

Speculoos Cookie Butter is good example of Trader Joe's taking a snack that is popular in one part of the world, in this instance speculoos cookies, of which Biscoff is probably the best known brand, and making it a craze in the US.  Cookie butter is basically the same ingredients as a speculoos cookie (think a not so gingery gingerbread) but in a consistency not unlike peanut butter.  Though the ingredients are natural (wheat flour, vegetable oils, etc.), the product is stable enough so that it is encouraged that you do not refrigerate it after opening.  Recommended as a topping for ice cream, pancakes, waffles, etc. my favorite use is scooping a spoonful when you want a quick hit of something sweet to satisfy a craving. (Related products: Speculoos Crunchy Cookie Butter)

You love Mexican chorizo, but you're in Miami and it's tough to find.  You eventually find it but realize your Lipitor prescription ran out two weeks ago and a shock of ground pork bits might be too much for your body to take.  Your choices are skipping a delicious chorizo taco meal or ditching authenticity and shooting for soy chorizo.  This TJ's product ditches the pork for soy protein but leaves the spices that make chorizo addicting intact.  The product cooks up to the same consistency as chorizo, even to the point of charring, and once stuffed into a corn tortilla and topped with chopped onion, cilantro and hot sauce, you'd be hard pressed to miss the pork.  Not to say you won't miss it, I almost guarantee you will, but this product comes closer than any I've had to mimicking the real thing, making it easier to convince yourself that you're not sacrificing flavor for health.

Keeping with the Mexican theme, the mini beef tacos are one of the items you'll love or absolutely hate.  These remind me of the taco joints in LA that would fry the tacos, shell and meat together, then stuff them with pre-shredded lettuce and Reagan's free cheese.  If you didn't grow up with it you'll hate these.  But TJ's other frozen Mexican products, including mini chicken tamales as well as a host of frozen tamale duos (chicken, chile and cheese, beef) will probably be up most people's alleys.

One of the things I missed most about Trader Joe's were their reasonably priced pates.  Local grocery chains carry the usual brands at absurd prices.  TJ's carries as many, if not more brands, at about half the cost.  My favorite of the lot is the truffle mousse pate made with chicken liver and truffles and sealed with a brandy aspic.  The consistency is velvety smooth and at less than $6 it's a steal.  (Related products: Les Trois Petit Cochons Mousse Truffee, Everything Crackers, Classic Original Water Crackers)

Olives are another TJ's strong suit, with different varieties from California, Spain, Greece, Italy and beyond.  None however compare to the lucques olives from France.  Their meaty texture, not too crisp and not too mealy, and clean taste from just a light brine make them a favorite.  Stock up on these.

These country potatoes with haricots verts and wild mushrooms (including chantrelles) are incredible.  It's imported from France which explains the use of the palm oil that adds so much richness. Try it once and you'll want more.  

These are the tres leches of the cookie world, but instead of the three different types of milk products used in the dessert, these cookies use three different ginger products (fresh, ground and crystalized).   The result is a very gingery cookie that forces you to make a strong chai to accompany it.  

Don't get these mixed up with the thai lime and chile cashews (which are awful).  These lime and chile mixed nuts not only contain lime and dried chile, but also an extra flavor kick from dried lemongrass.  It's a favorite out of the bag or crushed to and put on green papaya or other thai salads.

There's tons more to try than what I've covered here so if it looks interesting give it a shot because one great thing about Trader Joe's - if you don't like it you can take it back, no questions asked.

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