Trader Joe’s TRADITIONAL CARNITAS Mexican Style Oven Roasted Pork


Trader Joe’s sells packages of “CARNITAS” (Mexican style oven roasted pork). Frankly in the package it may not look look very appealing but trust me, this is not just good, TJ’s Carnitas are delicious. Tender, slow roasted, melt in your mouth, delicious porky goodness. Carnitas (“little meats) are a traditional Mexican preparation & cooking method with the pork typically cooked in enormous copper pots by special masters, slowly stirring it for hour with long handle wooden paddles. Cooking carnitas is an art. You can’t even really make carnitas at home. When done the pork is so tender and juicy it is almost falling apart. Typically the cooked carnitas meat is chopped up for tacos or other dishes. “Trader José’s” version of carnitas can be used to make excellent tacos. Now even though it’s fully cooked, it will be far tastier if you brown it and I strongly recommend you do. Its worth the little extra effort and your tacos will be far tastier. Please do not microwave it – despite the fact they say you can on the package. Just toss it in a pan. I cut up the big piece of meat into a few pieces and cooked it on low-med heat for about 10-20 minutes turning the pieces every 5 minutes or all the side were golden brown and delicious. Some interior fat in the meat will melt doing this too. The carnitas may start to fall apart as you turn it, that’s fine. When its all done, take out the meat, rest it a minute or two and then either chop it up into bite size piece or what I like to do: shred it up using two forks. You can use the carnitas as a filling for tacos or quesadillas with your desired accompaniments. Personally I like traditional Corn Tortillas but use any tortilla you like. Now besides using this for tacos, this tasty roasted pork can be used for other things too of course. So for example this pork is great used for Chinese cooking. I make fried rice using this pork chopped into bite size pieces instead of Cha Siu and it’s super yummy. How about Ramen? Sure. Cut into slices, grill them a bit and use these as the Ramen topping like the traditional slices of Cha Siu. Italian? Chop up the meat for a super easy tasty meat sauce, which you add to tomato or marinara sauce – voila, an instant “Ragu” or meat sauce for pasta or gnocchi. You can even just serve this delicious pork on its own with some lime or salsa or as a topping for a salad. Or make a Cuban Sandwich with this, ham and some Swiss! Trust me, you will find this TJ Carnitas useful to use for many things. The 12 oz. package of TRADITIONAL CARNITAS goes for $6. I would buy this again

BTW – TJ’s PINEAPPLE SALSA goes very well with this pork carnitas for tacos etc.

Trader Joe’s ROASTED GARLIC MARINARA SAUCE


I tried Trader Joe’s “ROASTED GARLIC MARINARA” and found it to be quite good. It has what you might call a slow cooked taste, and its very tasty. The flavors in the sauce blend well together, the garlic and the spices well balanced. I don’t like overly homogenized smooth tomato sauces, I prefer a little chunkiness in them. This stuff has some chunkiness, all of which makes this sauce taste kind of “homemade”. I made a pasta dish using TJ’s new (really good) ORGANIC BUCATINI (great!) and the dish turned out quite good, the bucatini perfectly absorbing the sauce. OK I had added ground beef which made this into a meat sauce but even without anything extra, this marinara is very flavorful.

TJ’s ROASTED GARLIC MARINARA is $1.99 (24 oz jar) I would buy this again.

One thing though – the jar used to be 26 oz – inflation shrinkage!)

Trader Joe’s ORGANIC POLENTA


Trader Joe’s ORGANIC POLENTA; cooked; ready to heat and serve. Gluten Free.

Ingredients: Water, Organic Corn Meal, Salt

Just in case you are not familiar with Polenta, it’s simple – and delicious. Polenta is just cooked coarsely ground corn meal. This Organic version from Trader Joe’s comes in a tube pre-cooked. Slice the polenta into 1/2″ slices which you grill up into crispy fried polenta. Delicious – and cheap! This is why polenta has been a staple of Italian “cucina povera” for centuries, very similar of course to “grits” here. Polenta is inexpensive, healthy, gluten free, and vegetarian.

TJ’s tube of cooked polenta is convenient, shelf stable, and only $1.99. One tube can easily make a dinner for two people. We love it as an alternative to pasta. I like to pan fry it and recommend that as the best way to serve this. The package also says you can bake it. However please don’t even think about microwaving as it also says on the package; it has to be crispy, as crispy as possible. If cooked till crispy fried polenta gets a really nice chewy “meaty” texture.

As shown in the first picture is how I made the polenta into dinner recently for us. I sautéed the slices in olive oil plus a little butter to help it brown better, for maybe 10 minutes a side – note, this is double the recommended time of 4-5 minutes on the package. Trust me, you want this very crispy, golden brown and delicious. I flipped the first side over and put a bit of mozzarella on top of the slices, which melted as the other side cooked. When it was ready to serve, I plated it and spooned over tomato sauce, in this case TJ’s Roasted Garlic Marinara sauce which is quite good by the way. I grated some extra cheese, Asiago all over. This made for a delicious Italian dinner along with a little salad and crusty bread. Dinner for two for about $4 bucks.

I always like to keep one of these shelf stable packages of TJ’s polenta in the pantry as it can make an easy, fast dinner for those times when you have “nothing” to eat in the house. A tube of this and a jar of sauce and you have dinner in 10 minutes. Not to mention Polenta’s perfect for Meatless Monday’s. Would I but this again? Yes I buy this regularly, its an excellent cheap TJ product and a great staple to have in your pantry.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/fried-polenta-5535085

PS DIY PAN FRIED GRITS – might be worth the little extra effort (cook the grits, let cool, cut into slices) not to mention even cheaper

Trader Joe’s GROUND TURKEY (with recipe: Turkey Bean Chili )


Ground turkey is something I buy fairly frequently at Trader Joe’s as I find it a versatile ingredient. It’s a convenient protein to have on hand in the fridge, or freezer. Obviously also it has less fat and calories than ground beef, plus is much less expensive, all of which is why ground turkey is a big go-to ingredient for many people. Taste-wise however ground turkey is on the bland side and needs some jazzing up to be tasty. I have found it benefits from two things. One, deep browning. Getting it really browned improves its flavor (due to the Maillard effect). Number two: using lots of seasoning. One excellent match for ground turkey is TJ’s taco seasoning, the 79 cents “miracle” packet. Other good Trader Joe’s seasoning blends that match well with it are: TJ’s Cuban Style Citrus Garlic Blend seasoning, TJ’s Ajika Georgian Seasoning, ground cumin, black pepper and of course lots of garlic, ground or especially fresh chopped garlic. So my “secret” for ground turkey is I season it really, really generously, coating it completely, as the TJ ground turkey is pretty “wet” which make it’s hard to brown. I’ve found a good amount of dry seasoning coating on the outside gives it a drier surface that makes it brown more easily. So if you put a good deal of seasoning on the outside to provide a dry surface for pan grilling (add as little salt or no salt since the seasonings may have salt, check the package) it helps. I also try to minimally compress the ground meat even if making into a burger. I don’t compress the meat much either, as minimally as possible. I sprinkle the dry seasonings generously all over and gently lay it into a VERY hot cast iron pan with good tablespoon or two of olive oil or an oil and butter mix. I don’t touch or move it at all until the bottom side has turned quite brown which can take a good 6-8 minutes. If making turkey for tacos, I just lay it from the package (seasoned) into the pan and try to not break it up until it is done and very browned. This yields large chunks which I like. If you want to mix it with other ingredients like chopped veggies, then you can even add an egg and some binder (panko, breadcrumbs, etc) and then form that into patties.

Ground turkey recipes are all over the internet and found easily. Here’s mine for a fast turkey bean chili.

EASY TURKEY BEAN CHILI: Season turkey as described above, Cook in a hot pan in a nice slug of oilve oil (better still and oil/butter mix). When turkey is very browned on one side add a chopped medium onion and ground cumin to taste. Sauté together until the onion is a lightly browned and fragrant. Add a few cloves of chopped garlic. Now break up the turkey keeping a few large chunks for texture. Add a large tablespoon of Tomato paste and mix it in and cook on low-medium heat for a minute or two. Add a can of drained red kidney (or black beans) then add in a can of Fire Roasted Tomatoes with Green Chiles. Rinse out the can with a little water to get everything and add that liquid. Simmer everything on low for about 20-30 minutes to let the flavors blend. Taste and adjust seasoning/salt if needed. Serve with rice with grated cheddar cheese on top. (Variation -Turkey Bean Chili Soup; this can easily become a soup instead of a stew, just add more liquid (chicken or beef broth or another can of tomatoes) and simmer together till done. )

The TJ ground turkey goes for about $4 a lb. The regular turkey is better overall. The more expensive all white meat ground turkey breast kind can turn out too dry unless you are super careful cooking it, and mix it with other ingredients to keep it moist. If you don’t use ground turkey within 2 days of purchase, put the package in the freezer, and do an overnight defrost in the fridge the day before you want to use it. Yes I know it has a 2 week “use by” date on the package but all ground meats are best used as fresh as possible, within a day or two. TJ’s dates are way too generous for me.

UPDATE: (April 2022, I noticed ground turkey has prices crept up about 50 cents due to rampant inflation)

TJ’s ORGANIC ITALIAN ARTISAN GIGLI PASTA (with recipe)


Trader Joe’s Artisan Organic Italian Pasta

This shape, “Gigli” is sometimes also called “Campanelle” (tower) a twisty corkscrew shape with a frilly edge. This is one of TJ’s premium pastas that go for a bit more than the regular Organic pastas they carry. This one goes for $2.99 for a 1.1 lb bag, a premium price but its a premium pasta. This is a high quality Organic Pasta made in Italy by a premium manufacturer. You can note by the closeup of the pasta, it has that rough exterior indicating it’s bronze die cut and the lighter color indicating it’s slow dried, like the best Italian pastas you might find at a specialty Italian grocery – and which probably sell for double or more than this.

The cook time is only 5-7 minutes and I would stop it at a minute under Al Dente for finishing with a sauce (which means maybe around 4 minutes). I cooked this pasta with a sauce of sautéed fresh cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and feta cheese and everyone seemed to love it. My only minor complaint is when it was cooked some of the frilly edges detached into little stringy things, which look a bit weird but again this a very minor complaint. Taste wise this is another excellent quality pasta from Trader Joe’s. This corkscrew shape will be good with any sauce especially any sauce that will get into every nook and cranny of this shape. Though I haven’t tried it yet for CACIO E PEPE, I have a feeling they would be good with each other

RECIPE – EASY CHERRY TOMATO AND FETA CHEESE PASTA

Put up a large pan of salted water to boil for the pasta. In a large sauté pan, cook about 12-16 oz of cherry tomatoes (sliced in half) in a good amount of olive oil on med-high heat until the tomatoes start to soften up, about 5-7 minutes. Throw in about 4-5 cloves of minced garlic and cook for another few minutes and at the same time, I push the tomatoes to the side and put a good amount of FETA cheese cut into cube on the other side of the pan and cook on medium heat until they start to brown a little bit. Turn off the heat. Cook the pasta; check it for about a minute under al dente and toss the drained pasta into the pan with the sauce adding about a ladle of the pasta water. Cook for one minute until al dente and mix it all together. Top with a bit of more grated cheese (Parm, Pecorino, or Asiago), some fresh ground pepper and plate it up. Enjoy!

TJ’S LINK

https://www.traderjoes.com/home/products/pdp/organic-italian-artisan-gigli-pasta-060942

TRADER JOE’S SAYS:

Traditional Italian pasta is made with only two ingredients, durum wheat semolina flour and water—a small amount of softer wheat flour is allowed by law, but Trader Joe’s Organic Italian Artisan Gigli Pasta is crafted with 100% organic durum wheat semolina sourced from farms in Puglia. Our supplier has been producing artisan-made pasta for more than 35 years. Most dried pasta are made in huge batches and dried quickly, from three to 12 hours. This Artisan Pasta is made in small batches, and dried at much lower temperatures for up to 24 hours, resulting in a more rustic texture that cooks to a delightfully al dente texture. Gigli, also known as Campanelle (translates to “bellflowers” or “little bells”), has a ruffled edge and hollow center, so it holds any sauce extremely well. Marinara? Carbonara? Just a bit of olive oil and shaved Parmesan? Any of these will do, deliciously.

TJ’s ARGENTINIAN RED SHRIMP with Ginger Garlic Butter & Togarashi Seasoning


(note: after defrosting)

This is the wild same Argentinian Red Shrimp TJ’s has but packaged up with seasoned butter for a ready-to-cook meal. Convenient, yes, but naturally you pay extra for said convenience. We made this and the finished dish with the sauce was very tasty, but honestly nothing I could not have done with maybe 5 minutes of extra effort. This pack is $8 for a 9 oz portion which cooked makes for two meager portions for 2 as a dinner. To make this into a full meal (for two) I served the shrimp with a few sides plus a salad and a little French bread. Follow the instructions on the package which are to thaw overnight in the fridge. After defrosting I used a thin knife to get it out of the package (actually a bit tricky) and tossed the whole mess into a hot nonstick pan with a little (extra) butter. These Red Shrimp cook fast – they will be done in about 1 1/2 minutes – so be careful not to overcook them if you want the shrimp to stay plump and juicy. Frankly if you want to get more for your money, it’s quite easy to make a similar sauce. Buy the bag of frozen WILD RED ARGENTINIAN SHRIMP ($10.99 for 1 lb) and just add some butter and seasonings over the convenience of this pre-packed item. This package is convenient but not great value and its so easy to make. I probably won’t buy this again, I’ll just do it myself. Your call.

Need a recipe for sauce? Here you go folks:

GINGER/GARLIC BUTTER SAUCE: Grate or finely chop 1/2″ of fresh ginger and 2-3 cloves of garlic (optional: a little grated fresh lemon peel too); Toss garlic and ginger into about 2 tablespoons butter in a hot non-stick pan; Sauté 30 seconds, then toss in the (defrosted) shrimp and cook tossing them for about 60-90 seconds till they just turn opaque (max, 2 minutes or they will shrivel up). As soon as they are opaque (and red) toss in the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Optional: if you like spice, add a small spoon of BOMBA or your favorite something spicy. A little salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley or scallions. Serve with rice and/or crusty bread to mop up the tasty sauce.

Cooked (I garnished with scallions)

Trader Joe’s CHICKEN SAUSAGES (Smoked Apple Chardonay…)


Trader Joe’s carries a number of different kinds of chicken sausages, all of which are pretty good. The ones I especially like are the Smoked Andouille, Spicy Jalapeno and these, “Smoked Apple Chardonnay” Chicken Sausages. If you’ve never tried any of the many chicken sausages TJ’s has, these might be good to try first as they are mildly sweet with a general kind of middle of the road flavor that most people might like. I find them convenient to have on hand to get a quick dinner ready. You can use the chicken sausages in a variety of ways. You can grill, sauté or roast them. They are already fully cooked. Still for flavor I think you want to get a nice sear on them.

Pictured below is a dish I made using these sausages (two) of pan fried gnocchi and green beans. I just sautéed everything in olive oil with lots of garlic until lightly browned and then tossed in some French Green Beans at the end. Grate a little Parmesan on top. Easy, yummy dinner.

There are no artificial ingredients listed (no nitrates for example). Ingredients include: chicken, dehydrated apples, celery juice, onion, pepper, nutmeg, thyme, ginger, chardonnay, rosemary. The TJ Chicken Sausages come in a 12 oz package of 4 for $3.99. Trader Joe’s has a few varieties of other chicken sausage flavors too, so try them all and see which you like best. I liked this one, Roasted Garlic and Andouille….

This is a recipe for the Andouille Chicken Sausage with TJ’s Southern Greens (you might use these sausages but the Andouille ones would be a bit more Southern)

INFLATION UPDATE: Some of these packages are now $4.29 (Apr 2022) !

RANT: TUSCANO MARINARA SAUCE (discontinued) + Marinara RECIPE


“Trader Giotto’s” Low Fat Tuscan Marinara

RANT

Ode to yet another discontinued Trader Joe’s product, a classic rant about an excellent TJ product, which they discontinued! Some people thought this was the best marinara sauce on the market. Many were bumbed to learn TJ’s Discontinued their favorite tomato sauce! So why am I writing about this now? Well the other day I happened to be clearing out my pantry and found I had a can of this Marinara way in the back. I opened it and tasted it and was pretty shocked to see how good it was. This marinara is, or should we say was, a terrific sauce. For one thing it’s not super smooth, it’s full of chunks of tomatoes like a homemade sauce you had put together. The current glass jars of Marinara sauce that Trader Joe’s replaced this with are smooth. I made a pasta dish using this Marinara and the dish turned out really well. I made a pizza with it a few days later which also turned out great. So yes, it’s a crime TJ’s got rid of this great and very useful sauce. Mind boggling. So just posting this Rant and sorry you won’t be able to find this really great product anymore . At least TJ’s still sells the 28 oz cans of crushed or diced tomatoes which will make you a great sauce with little effor. I always have cans of tomatoes in the pantry as well as tomato paste (can and/or tube) So if you are inclined to make your own sauce, which is not hard and I think is worth the little effort it takes. Here’s an EASY HOMEMADE MARINARA RECIPE from NatashasKitchen, link below.

TIP (1) IMO adding a tablespoon of tomato paste at the start will make it even better (2) My mom taught me useful advice: Just double up the recipe when you cook some things because for the same amount of effort you will have another meal. You can also freeze the extra batch.

Pizza from scratch; made using this terrific marinara sauce

Trader Joe’s recipe idea: Smoked Salmon on Potato Pancakes


This is hardly a “recipe”, just putting out an idea how sometimes putting two or three TJ products together is an easy way to come up with something good. For New Year’s Eve I had the idea for a “Russian inspired” taste: Smoked Salmon with Potato Pancakes (the pancakes instead of blinis). The combo turned out just as delicious as I hoped and we really enjoyed these as a super easy special holiday meal – however you can make them any old day!

I took a package of Trader Joe’s Latkes / Potato Pancakes and Smoked Salmon and OK instead of sour cream I actually used Greek yogurt to save a few calories. Of course a Russian would use lots of Sour Cream, calories be damned, plus fresh dill. To put the dish together all I had to do to was cook the frozen Potato Pancakes till crispy in an frying pan, then topped them with a good amount of smoked salmon and topped that with a spoon of Greek yogurt. Better with sour cream sure, up to you. Sprinkle some fresh dill on if possible plus a few drops of fresh lemon juice. Voila, it took about 5 minutes until they were ready to serve as a dinner with salad and roasted beets on the side. Easy as pie to “make” and really yummy, so try this if it sounds good to you. You could make this as an appetizer for a few guests in minutes and make a big splash with almost no work except assembling the ingredients. Now I was hardly the only one shopping thinking about Smoked Salmon early afternoon of New Years Eve. Trade Joe’s whole section with smoked salmon was completely sold out except for a few packs of this Nova Salmon! The Nova was a wee bit saltier than some other versions they sell, but as fine with the creamy sour cream / yogurt as it it all balanced out. The next time I make these I will probably opt for the Everything Salmon.

Trader Joe’s (frozen) Potato Pancakes Latkes are $2.69 for 10 little pancakes. I think the Nova was about $9 for 8 oz package.

Trader Joe’s STONE GROUND GRITS


“There are grits and then there are stone ground grits.”

Up here in the Yankee North of NYC, most of us are probably not as familiar with grits as folks in the South are. I tried these Trader Joe’s Stone Ground Grits and guess what? This damn Yankee loves me some Grits! Maybe its not such a surprise as I have always enjoyed and made Italian Polenta, and let’s face it grits are almost the American version of polenta, right? OK not exactly as grits use a different kind of corn.

Anyway these TJ’s stone ground grits are much better than commercially mass produced grits you see at the supermarket kind which are not stone ground. Stone Ground Grits are milled from the whole kernel of corn including the healthy tasty germ. They have a coarse, varied texture, as you can see in the picture and have more corn flavor than the supermarket kind. Think of these as “gourmet grits”. Grits take about 25-30 minutes to cook, stirring them every 5 minutes or so. You can just follow the recipe on the package and you will get good grits. I like to cook them using more milk (half milk/half water) which makes them even creamier. Shredded cheddar cheese at the end makes them even better if you like them savory (Unexpected Cheddar perhaps!? Oh yeah). I like to use grits as the Base for a dish, such as the base for sautéed GREENS or especially the base for SHRIMP AND GRITS, which is terrific and typically Southern. You can even do it a super simple version of Shrimp and Grits: just grill up some red shrimp with lots of seasoning and serve them on top of cheesy grits with the pan juices. Yum!

Cook grits low and slow in a thick bottomed pan and stir them often so the bottom doesn’t burn. They may be even better with another 10-15 mins of cooking (ie 40-45 minutes total). If they get too thick, just add a little more water. TJ’s Stone Ground Grits are $2.29. Grits are GLUTEN FREE of course.

TIP: Double up the recipe when you make some grits; then you have leftovers which you can use to make pan fried grits, kind of the way you might make pan fried polenta, which I just love.

Here’s a few recipes for shrimp and grits:

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/lemon-garlic-shrimp-and-grits-recipe-1973610

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/the-best-shrimp-and-grits-7448205

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