Category: Food & Drink

Some of the Best Things to Buy at Trader Joe’s

I love Trader Joe’s. I realize that this declaration is neither unique nor controversial. After all,  Trader Joe’s is often only second to Wegmans when Americans vote for their favorite grocery chain. Known for its quirky culture, Trader Joe’s are neighborhood-centric grocery stores filled with Hawaiian shirt-clad employees who are helpful, friendly, and very knowledgable about the products sold. That’s not to say that Trader Joe’s is universally loved – over at the Thrillist you can read why one guy thinks Trader Joe’s sucks and Slate advertises that the ultimate Trader Joe’s hack is to not shop at Trader Joe’s. The stores are often difficult to navigate during peak shopping-times and it seems like the majority of Trader Joe’s have parking lots that are more fitting for dystopian landscapes rather than suburbia.

I do not shop exclusively at Trader Joe’s but there are a handful of products that I consider to be ride-or-dies. I’m at my local store at least once-a-week so I consider myself fairly well-versed with their products. While the stores do carry some name-brand items, the majority of items bear the Trader Joe’s (or some variation) name. For the sake of clarity, this list will only feature products that are Trader Joe’s private label. This list will also only feature regular non-seasonable items because it totally stinks to fall in love with a product only to discover that it isn’t available year-round (I’m looking at you Trader Joe’s Swiss and Gruyere Fondue and Trader Joe’s pumpkin-spiced pumpkin seeds). So without further ado, here are my ride-or-die, favorite, go-to items found at Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe's Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. Can you imagine living in a world without balsamic vinegar? I use it almost daily and for the price, I find it to be the best around. It has a super robust flavor without too much bite and works in a variety of dishes – from salad dressings, roasts, sauces, and even desserts (try Ina Garten’s strawberries with balsamic vinegar recipe!).

Trader Joe's Organic Virgin Coconut Oil

Organic Virgin Coconut Oil. Despite the Harvard researcher recently calling coconut oil poison, I’m still onboard the coconut oil train. I use it to cook with, I use it on my hair and skin, and I’ve even use it to polish wood occasionally. The price is right and when it is all gone, I even have a mason jar and lid to use. How can you not love that?

Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute

21 Seasoning Salute. This is my go-to universal spice. Inexpensive, super flavorful, and versatile. We use it on almost every cut of meat and no soup on our stovetop is complete without at least a dash of 21 Seasoning Salute. I also like Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend but use it in far less dishes than 21 Seasoning Salute.

Trader Joe's Handmade Flour Tortillas

Handmade Flour Tortillas. I don’t miss a lot about Texas but I do miss the fresh tortillas I’d buy at H-E-B Marketplace. I can’t stand the normal flour tortillas found in American grocery stores (no flavor!) so I make sure I always have a package of these on hand. I lightly brush olive oil on each side and then toss in a hot pan for a few seconds before serving.

Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic and Herb Butter Spread

Roasted Garlic & Herb Butter Spread. My mouth is watering looking at this picture. This product is absolutely perfect on a baguette, or seafood, or potatoes, or pretty much anything savory on which you’d put butter. I haven’t tried the Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Butter Spread yet but I’m sure it is just as tasty.

Trader Joe's Trandoori Naan

Tandoori Naan. I always like to have at least one package of the Tandoori Naan in our freezer. While my preference is to buy fresh naan, I really enjoy the flavor and texture of  Trader Joe’s Tandoori Naan and it’s nice to know that I can use it in a pinch without having to run to the store. We tend to use this naan when we cook Indian food, or as pizza crust, or just torn-up with hummus.

Trader Joe's Roasted Potatoes with Peppers and Onions

Roasted Potatoes with Peppers and Onions. This is another product that I always like to have on hand in our freezer. It’s a great side-dish and super easy to prepare. I’ve cooked it both on the stove-top in a cast-iron skillet and on a pan in the oven with similar results. Bonus – the onions are big enough that my kids can pick them out because they’re weirdos who don’t like onions.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Ice Cream

Speculoos Cookie Butter Ice Cream. It’s impossible to mention Trader Joe’s without someone pledging allegiance to their cookie butter. Yes – cookie butter is amazing but we do not purchase it in our household because it would be consumed immediately and our health would be at stake. It’s that dangerously delicious. However, Speculoos Cookie Butter Ice Cream is a nice alternative and the perfect vehicle to consume cookie butter without going overboard.

Trader Joe's Garlic Fries

Garlic Fries. My family isn’t crazy about the garlic fries as I am (they are SO garlic-y) but I think they’re incredibly tasty. I always have a package of their sweet potato fries in the freezer and when I am feeling extra frisky, I grab a bag of the garlic fries too.

Trader Joe's Salsa

Salsa Autentica and Salsa Verde. We don’t use the Salsa Autentica or the Salsa Verde as stand alone salsa to eat with chips, rather I use them when I am cooking tortilla soup, taco soup, Mexican-flavored roast, etc… If I am making a Mexican-inspired dish, chances are that I will use one of these products in some way or form. They are just really good staples to have on hand.

Trader Joe's Sparkling Lime Water

Sparkling Spring Water – Lime Flavored. The kids love it. I love it. My husband does not love it because he is a freak who doesn’t like sparkling water. Whenever I’m feeling like I want to kick a meal up a notch, I drink this instead of regular water. Crazy – I know. It’s also great with some tequila and a fresh squeezed/muddled lime.

Trader Joe's Patisserie de Chocolat

Patisserie de Chocolat. When I am running short on time and we’re entertaining people for dinner, this is my go-to quick dessert that doesn’t require any effort from me beyond going into Trader Joe’s. Guys – this cake is amazing and everybody raves about it for good reason. You or your guests won’t be disappointed.

Trader Joe's flowers

Well – there you have it, some of the best things to buy at Trader Joe’s according to me. This list is nowhere exhaustive (it doesn’t even include wine!) so I look forward to revisiting this topic in the future. Are you lucky enough to live near Trader Joe’s? If so, what are some of your favorite products?

best products at Trader Joe's

Three Evenings, Many Years

There was a stretch of time during middle school when I would watch Grease after school almost daily. As a result, I can recite every line and lyric – which is quite horrifying as an adult because the movie is quite problematic well beyond 30-year-olds playing teenagers. And because of this, it is impossible for me to think of summer nights without quoting at least one line from the infamous song. A few weeks ago, I signed the kids up for an evening three-day Vacation Bible School and I crossed my fingers and toes that the Army wouldn’t send Clay away during those days so we could have some kid-free summer nights – at least for a couple of hours.

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Well – the stars and moon aligned and Clay was actually home those three days. After our children excitedly joined their friends, we waved goodbye and promptly went out for dinner and drinks every.single.night. It was absolutely glorious and a reminder of what our lives were like before deciding to expand our team. The first night, we ended up at El Paso eating chimichangas and drinking margaritas and then we hit up the grocery store for pints of ice cream – obviously a super hot date.

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Because we only had 2.5 hours each night, we chose places in our little pocket of Northern Virginia. If we were cooler (and wealthier!), we’d be closer to the district but instead, we’re leaning into our young-family-with-two-kids-and-a-dog-wanting-good-schools personas and find ourselves living on the other side of the Potomac. The second night, we made reservations at Mike’s American Grill, which is our favorite local restaurant.

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I had a traditional martini and Clay had his favorite IPA. We ate crab dip, filet, salmon, and too much bread. And as I wrote on Instagram – we talked politics, we goal-mapped, and we tried to out-do each other with pop culture references. Between our jobs, the kids’ schedules, and day-to-day responsibilities, there are times we wonder where the teenagers from 17 years ago went. But then whenever we manage to grab a moment together – just the two of us – we realize that we’re just still two young kids in love, albeit with more wrinkles and gray hair.

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On our third kid-free evening, we went to Taco Bamba Taqueria. We freely admit that while we weren’t the biggest fans of Texas, we do miss the tacos terribly. But having Taco Bamba nearby helps because they are by far the best tacos we’ve had in the DC area.

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I had a local Fair Winds Quayside Kolsch and Clay had a west coast IPA. Our tacos were coco loco shrimp, barbacoa, Ricky Bobby, taco bamba, and hail to the hog. My favorite is the barbacoa taco and Clay’s is the taco bamba but they’re all really good. And I am forever indebted to their salsa verde – I could put that stuff on anything and everything.

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This picture of us from 2001 is one of my favorites. We had been dating for about a month and I was completely infatuated with the guy – I knew I loved him more than I could love anyone else. And thankfully almost 17 years later, I still feel the same way. There’s nobody else I’d rather eat chimichangas, filet mignon, and street tacos with and I’m thankful that the timing worked out and we were able to enjoy three evenings out in a row. It felt like a callback to our dating days and first five years of marriage. The responsibilities of parenthood can sometimes make us wonder where these carefree teenagers went. But it turns out that they didn’t go far – they just have more refined tastes in beer and food.