Trader Joe’s Hot Weather, Must Have, Summer Staple Items!


Its HOT all over the U.S. at the moment. Here’s just a couple of suggestions for some Trader Joe’s staples that are good to have on hand for hot weather, that can make easy pantry meals you don’t have to cook, or barely have to, and you can just throw together quickly.

Canned Salmon

TJ’s Fresh (cooked) Roasted Salmon Fillet

Greek Chickpeas

Hummus

Pita Bread / Pita Chips

Norwegian Crispread

Eggplant Garlic Spread

Shaped Pasta (tuna pasta salad)

Cans of Tuna

Rye Bread

Baked Tofu

Japanese Sesame Dressing

Coleslaw

Greek Yogurt

Ice Cream (your pick)

Parsley, Lemons, Olive Oil, Red Onion, Celery, Lettuce, Salads

Trader Joe’s PAPPARDELLE egg noodle pasta (RECIPE)


“Pappardelle is a hearty noodle with many uses. Traditionally this hearty noodle is served with high-flavor chunky sauces made from game or pork… We like it with a robust Bolognese. It’s perfect for soaking up the flavorful juices of a pot roast and an ideal noodle for soups…”

Trader Joe’s Pappardelle noodles are good, hearty Italian egg noodles. These are especially perfect with robust chunky sauces, like a ragu Bolognese. A bag is $1.99 (8 oz). Here’s what I learned from making these a few times. To bring out the best of these noodles I suggest you don’t just cook them and put them on a plate and top with sauce. If you are just serving these with butter and cheese that’s OK to do. But if you are serving with a sauce (Bolognese maybe?) these will taste best if you finish cooking them in the sauce for a minute or two at the very end. Meaning pull them out of the water at about 4 or 5 minutes, drain (but not too thoroughly) and finish cooking them with 1/2 your sauce till they are al dente (save a little of the cooking water, which you can add to get the sauce consistency you want). Again grab them after about 4 minutes of boiling, throw them into a pan with about 1/2 cup of sauce per portion, cook and toss gently for a minute or two, until the noodles are cooked to your liking. The noodles will absorb the sauce and all the flavors, and make for a very hearty dish (see my dish, served with some asparagus as a side). Top with a bit more of your (reserved) sauce and a little grating of Parmesan.

Pappardelle with Bolognese sauce is made for each other so that’s definitely a combo you should think of for these noodles. If not a homemade ragu Bolognese you can easily use Trader Joe’s TURKEY BOLOGNESE “just sauce”. I can’t say it’s great, but it’s decent if you don’t want to make your own (see my easy turkey ragu bolognese recipe below)

RECIPEFAST & EASY TURKEY BOLOGNESE: Brown up a pound of ground turkey (optionally you can use ground beef, or mix of 1/2 pound each ground beef and pork, or Impossible meat for that matter). Sauté on high heat in a tablespoon of EVOO. Once the meat is browned nicely add 4 cloves of crushed fresh garlic, 1/2 a chopped onion (optional: a grated carrot) and turn down to medium heat. Add a spoon of wine, balsamico or just water to deglaze the bottom of the pan scraping up any bits. Saute on low covered for about 3 minutes then add a can of ROASTED TOMATOES (with or without chiles). Rinse out the the can 1/4 to 1/2 way full with milk. Add that in. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Italian herbs. Simmer on low for 20 minutes. Serve the sauce with a hearty noodle like Pappardelle.

DIY Shawarma Chicken (Recipe)


The other day, I wanted SHAWARMA CHICKEN but I was a bit resentful at the current price of a package of TJ’s Shawarma Chicken. It now costs about $11-12 ($6.50/lb. currently) way up from what it orginally cost. I knew I had some boneless chicken thighs in my freezer, and I have spices of course and Greek yogurt. Why not just do a DIY SHAWARMA style chicken on my own and save some dough!? So I did just that. How did it turn out? Delicious! You can easily do a DIY Shawarma Chicken if you want to save some money, and who doesn’t these days with the constant inflation and sticker shock when you go shopping?

I used Trader Joe’s boneless skinless chicken thighs that I had in my freezer (I defrosted the chicken overnight in the fridge) Or buy fresh boneless skinless thighs; they will easily be about $2 cheaper per pound (if not more) Vs. TJ’s Shawarma Chicken which has crept up in price a few times from the original $3.99/lb to $6.49/lb as of this post.

DIY Shawarma Chicken Recipe: Put chicken in a bowl and add 3 tablespoons of Greek Yogurt. Add a few teaspoon of fresh lemon juice. Crush 4 cloves of garlic with a little salt and mix into chicken. Add a few spoons (to taste) of ZHOUG Yemeni spicy green sauce. Mix. Even this very simple version will work fine, however to make this better we should add ground spices with “Middle Eastern” flavors. Here’s some ideas for Trader Joe’s spices you can add :

Trader Joe’s EVERYDAY SEASONING (grinder), Onion Salt, Ground Turmeric, Ground Cumin, TJ’s AJIKA blend, TJ Smoked Spanish Paprika, TJ Zaatar spice blend, Black pepper, PINK SEA SALT. A pinch of cinnamon. A small glug of olive oil. MIX everything well so all the spices are mixed in. Let it marinate in fridge for 2-6 hours or overnight or up to 2-3 days. When ready to cook, just make it as you normally grill TJ’s Shawarma chicken thighs. You can of course also make this instead with CHICKEN BREASTS if you prefer white meat but just be very careful about not overcooking them. I like to cook a sliced onion in the same pan as I grill the chicken.

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 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 a mix of oil & butter). Cook until turkey is very browned on one side; then flip and 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. Break up the turkey keeping a few large chunks for texture. Add a large tablespoon of Tomato paste, mix in and cook on low-medium heat for a minute. Add a can of drained red kidney (or black beans) then a can of Fire Roasted Tomatoes with Green Chiles. Rinse out the can with some water to get everything and add all 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 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 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 ATLANTIC SALMON FILLETS (frozen)


(Product of Norway, Farm Raised)

Each 1 lb package contains 4 x 4 oz. portions of boneless Norwegian farmed Atlantic salmon, perfectly flash frozen. So first things first, DEFROSTING: The best method to defrost anything is always an overnight thaw in the fridge. In a pinch however you could do the quick thaw method written on the package (bagged, in cold water 30 minutes) however try to think ahead if you can for the best texture . Obviously if you are not using it all, just seal the package back up for the freezer with the nice built- in air lock of the package being sure to squeeze out excess air.

COOKING : I tried the quick brine technique of giving the defrosted salmon fillets a 30 minute soak in brine and I liked the results (see link below for full info at The Kitchn)

https://www.thekitchn.com/best-salmon-cooking-method-skills-showdown-23004976

After drying off the salmon, I gave it seasoning on both sides with a nice sprinkle of AJIKA which will give great color as well as flavor (in my case as it was brined, I added no more salt). I cooked the fillets using the pan fry method in a cast iron pan (or use a non stick pan) in a mix of oil and butter for about 5 minutes on the skin side first till the skin looked crispy. Flipped them, then cooked about 2 minutes on the second side which needs less time than the first. Personally I hate overcooked fish. Don’t overcook it. Cook fish just till it’s no longer translucent and flakes easily with a fork. You can always put it back for 30 seconds if it needs it.

If you want to serve with a sauce, TJ’s tzaziki sauce would be very good with this salmon. Or Greek yogurt mixed with lemon juice, or tartar sauce. Even simple lemon juice and butter is great. Fresh dill is wonderful with salmon. This time I plated the salmon up with some lemon butter, and served it with a side of TJ’s Harvest Grain Blend (shown) which is perfect with this. The salmon was tasty, if a bit mild of course as this is farmed. Wild salmon, which I love is usually about double the price of this. Trader Joe’s sells this for $8.99 for a 1 lb package (a bit little over $2 a portion). For the price I think this salmon is very tasty and a good value. I find Trader Joe’s version, superior to Costco’s version. So giving this a thumb’s up for value and quality. INGREDIENTS: Atlantic Salmon (no added salt) Protein = 23 grams! EAT FISH

(note: price has increased)

Don’t feel like cooking but want some good salmon? Check out Trader Joe’s new product, LIGHTLY SMOKED SALMON . Gourmet quality.

BONELESS PORK TENDERLOIN (with recipe ideas)


Another one of those things that I get almost every time I go to Trader Joe’s as it’s delicious and an extremely versatile thing to have in the fridge (or freezer) and a pretty good deal.

If you are not familiar with “pork tenderloin” let’s put it this way… If this was beef it would be the filet mignon. The best melt-in-your-mouth deliciously tender cut. One big difference? Beef filet mignon costs about $15-20/lb or more? But this “pork filet mignon” sells for $4/lb at Trader Joe’s. A $5 piece can feed a family. So deliciously tasty as well as super affordable.

(UPDATE: Price has increased since this was written)

Trader Joe’s sells 4 versions of the pork tenderloin. “Plain”, 2 marinated ones (peppercorns and garlic & herbs) that cost more – come on it’s so easy to do a marinade of your own in a few minutes. TJ also sells a “crate free” pork tenderloin if you prefer which is $6/lb. more expensive. At Whole Foods I’m just guessing this would cost double that price?

Boneless pork tenderloin is a lean cut with almost zero waste. It can has a “silverskin” which should be removed. This is not very hard, you just need a sharp knife.

I frequently just cut the tenderloin into “medallions” or steaks about 1/2-3/4 ” thick, season them, and cook them as one might cook filet mignon. Or one can cook it whole in a pan, then slice it afterwards (deglazing the pan after for a pan sauce). Cut the meat into strips, and this is so perfect for Asian dishes & stir-fry’s. Or Fajitas or Tacos! Whole, its great for roasting in the oven. Pork tenderloin can be an impressive center-piece of a fancy dinner (See the stuffed roast pork tenderloin video recipe below) Another tip: Be sure not to overcook tenderloin, as it’s so lean it can easily get overcooked and dried out. A correct cook of tenderloin should have a bit of pink (trust me, it’s safe and fine) TIP: Slice slits in the meat and insert thin slices of garlic all over.

Seasonings for pork tenderloin? You can not go wrong with any of these: garlic, lemon, rosemary, cumin, peppercorns…. and AJIKA!

TIP for Asian stir frying: The Chinese technique of Velveting any meat for 20 minutes will make it even better.

https://www.theendlessmeal.com/baked-pork-tenderloin/

https://www.cookinglight.com/food/recipe-finder/healthy-pork-tenderloin-recipes

This is a terrific looking, easy recipe from Milk Street, SPICE CRUSTED PORK TENDERLOIN BITES

Trader Joe’s Harissa Chicken Thighs


By now you’ve probably heard of TJ’s Shawarma Chicken Thighs which are very good and a big hit. I gave them a big thumbs up, and from what I can gather checking the internet, everyone seems to agree that they’re great. TJ later came out with other marinated chicken thigh flavors. They have three versions now, they added a “HARISSA” version and a “LEMON & HERB” one. I decided to give the HARISSA flavored chicken thighs a try. These are a bit trickier for me. Unlike the SHAWARMA version which I buy pretty regularly now, I don’t think I would buy the HARISSA version again, though I did make a great Chicken and Rice dish using them. Some bloggers seem to like the Harissa version while many others don’t. Not a clear cut winner, so you may have to try and decide for yourself if you are interested. As for me, these Harissa things are nowhere near as good as the Shawarma ones. 

Now after some careful label checking, I think I figured out one major “problem” with these after I looked closely at the two packages. Here’s one big difference between the Shawarma and Harissa versions: the liquid content.

The label on the Harissa Flavored Chicken Thighs says “Contains up to 28% Solution….”

The Shwarma Chicken Thighs however say “Contains up to 7% Solution…”

A-ha, right? The “Harissa flavored” version has a much “wetter” marinade that the Shawarma version and this wetter marinade (i.e., more water) means they would absorb more liquid as weight into the meat sitting in this package. To me 1/4+ of the weight of a package of chicken being marinade seems massive. So one thing I found with these compared to the Shawarma thighs is it was harder to get a good sear going quickly when I threw them into a hot cast iron pan, as with the Shawarma thighs. Which frankly makes sense considering a much higher liquid content, and that fact is not in the Plus Column. Another bugging point to me was, why would tomato paste be the first ingredient in a “Harissa” marinade? Tomato paste is present in harissa, but its a minor player, the primary ingredient being fresh or dried red chiles.

These also didn’t have anywhere near as a distinctive flavor as the Shwarma version. So all in all, these are “just OK” for me. Personally I wouldn’t buy them again (unless I was making an Arroz con Pollo, for which these worked well). Frankly my suggestion is, if you really want to make some “Harissa Chicken” — just buy some boneless chicken at TJ, buy a jar of TJ’s Harissa ($2.70) and marinate it with lots of harissa smeared all over the thighs (or breast) for a 1/2 hour or so. I bet it would be delicious and work way better than these. Boneless skinless organic thighs I think are 2.99 a pound. These Harissa chicken flavored thighs sell for $4.99 a pound. 

PS – If I remember correctly when I looked at the label, the “LEMON & HERB” marinated thighs have an even higher “contains up to XXX % solution” content (50% or more?) You are paying chicken prices for lemon juice!

So these are not terrible but not great. RATED AS “MEH” – UNLESS DOING AN ARROZ CON POLLO which did turn out great with rich tomato-y rice (and if you want a basic recipe idea leave a Comment)