TJ’s Channa Masala (frozen)


Trader Joe’s Channa Masala (cooked chick peas with onions, tomato and spices)

TJ’s of course has quite a number of good frozen and non-frozen Indian foods, many worth exploring. I find this is one of TJ’s best frozen offerings. Their “Channa Masala” (spice chick peas) is really good; almost equal in taste to many Indian restaurants. Vegetarian of course. Well spiced, tasty, can be nuked or what I do is let it defrost on the counter for a few hours and put it in a pan. It’s a steal at $1.99. Serve this with Basmati Rice and some Naan and you have a meal for 2. Especially if you eat with TJ’s excellent Mango Chutney and some yogurt.

PS – no one says you can’t add something. I often add another ; like chopped swiss chard or spinach and another pat of butter, cooked for 5 minutes. this variation with some added greens is excellent.

$1.99 (10 oz package)

TJ’s Hot & Sweet Jalapeños


RAVE

TJ’s Hot & Sweet Jalapeño Slices

Another simply Brilliant condiment, which Trader Joe’s seems especially good at coming up with. These are sliced picked jalapeños plus sweetness from organic cane sugar so Hot & Sweet which makes for an even improved version over TJ’s regular pickled jalapeños. Now know that these are SPICY! Spicier than just TJ’s pickled jalapeños. There are whole dried red chilis in the jar plus it says pureed jalapeños too to ramp up the heat level.

My wife and I dream up new ideas for things to put these on. Last night we put them on top of grilled hamburgers (on toasted brioche bread). Ok this is a no-brainer of course, they were freakin’ delicious on hamburgers… or hot dogs or sausages or sandwiches. For breakfast this morning I put a few slices of these hot and sweet babies on my toasted half a bagel with cottage cheese. They went perfectly with the mellow cottage cheese to spice up something that otherwise would be pretty boring. Great combo. The bottle has good suggestions on the label, such as add them chopped up to your guacamole. For that matter add some chopped up on top of your avocado toast! Grilled cheese? Oh yes, these go perfectly put some in with the cheese before you grill them so they mix into that melted cheese (chopped or whole if you want big spicy bites). Scrambled eggs? Oh yes, again delicious. Ditto with cream cheese and crackers. Brilliant. Especially with the Red Chili Crackers. For nachos? Another no-brainer. Finally do not ignore TJ’s suggestion about not wasting that leftover juice in the bottle for using in marinades. This hot and spicy pickle juice is amazing. I keep of bottle of just that in the fridge.

Here’s just one idea: SPICY CHICKEN – Marinate BONELESS CHICKEN (BREASTS or THIGHS) in the spicy juice for a 1 hour. Then grill them with a sprinkle of Ajika Georgian seasoning. When done, spoon a little extra spicy syrup on top of the finished grilled breasts with their juices. Dot with a few slices of the jalapeños. You’re welcome.

$2.50/12 oz jar

TJ’s Washable PAPER PLACE MATS


Trader Joe’s Washable Paper Placemats

Wait! Wha?!! Trader Joe’s sells place mats? Yeah, you read that right. These just recently appeared in the New Products “home goods” area at my TJ’s. Looking at them, they so totally say “IKEA” to me. These intrigued me that way, then reading the label, about how they’re made from “Supernatural Paper” (!) that really got me interested. Honestly I’m always intrigued that TJ’s has any home goods type things at all. They seem to especially appear around the holidays (I slightly regret not getting some olive wood bowls and cutting boards I saw last Xmas but they were a bit pricey even for TJ’s, but they looked beautiful and handmade). Anyway since we needed to replace some old placemats and these were just $10 bucks I got them in kind of an impulse buy. I picked a darkish color out of the 4-5 colors on offer as I thought this darker grey / green color would hide dirt better? They are OK, admittedly on bit the thin side, meaning when you pick up a glass that was on them you see a a little ring depression area where it was, but it brushes out easily by just swiping it with your fingers. They have kind of a faux leather texture. Feels a little like thick waxed paper? I think there are two pieces sown together. “MADE WITH SUPERNATURAL PAPER (cellulose and latex). Latex = rubber. “CAN BE WASHED”….As far as washing them, I have my doubts and will avoid that as long as possible. Washing machine? I don’t believe that at all. Personally I will just wipe them clean I think. I had a little stain from some food after using them so I just wiped the mat with a damp rag and a little soap and that took off the stain, as I hoped. So the rubbery, waxy covering seems to work. I don’t love them but I do kind of like them, at least as a change from a textile placemat. My wife complained about the white stitching they have on the edges but that doesn’t bother me at all, and kind of like it. They have a little bit of a bit funky feel going on…but in a good way. If you see them, check them out at least with a feel and see what you think. $10 for set of 4.

Is this the maker of “Supernatural Paper”?

TJ’s Everything but the Bagel Seasoning Blend


RAVE

Is Trader Joe’s “Everything but the Bagel Seasoning” blend the bomb that everyone on the internet says it is? Well, yes. It’s terrific. It’s a classic blend of seasonings which obviously, bagel makers originally threw together perhaps a hundred years ago. TJ’s has an excellent version which is a blend of: white sesame seeds, sea salt flakes, poppy seeds, dried minced garlic and onion plus black sesame seeds. Now if by any chance you happen to be a “New Yawker” and grew up your whole life intimately acquainted with “Everything Bagels” then you already know how good this seasoning tastes. As a kid the Everything Bagels were frequently the ones our family usually fought over in a batch of fresh H&H assorted bagels my dad used to send us out for.

When Trader Joe’s introduced this seasoning blend it was such a major hit, sometimes it even got sold out. It just flew out of the store. Its so successful that TJ’s have now even started putting the seasoning on other products, such as smoked salmon (a great combo) and I even saw it in a new popcorn variety! In my opinion it’s especially the dried garlic toasty bits that make this so good. I really enjoy sprinkling EBTB on top of a TJ Artisan everything bagel topped with cream cheese and tomato (or sliced cucumbers or smoked salmon) plus more “everything” on top of the whole thing to Super Size the everything seasonings! This Everything seasoning is great on so many things: Scrambled eggs, avocados, avocado toast, grilled or smoked salmon, tuna fish sands, mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables, hamburgers, grilled chicken, cottage cheese (yes!), salads, steaks…. you name it, it will probably be good on it. So if you’ve been wondering if this actually worth the hype, the answer is Yes. Great stuff!

$1.99 jar (2.3 oz.)

https://www.eatingwell.com/article/291465/50-ideas-for-using-trader-joes-everything-but-the-bagel-seasoning/

https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/everything-you-can-do-with-everything-bagel-seasoning-article

TJ’s GINGER HAND CREAM


RAVE

Trader Joe’s Ginger Ultra Moisturizing Hand Cream ($4.99)

The package caught my eye. Catchy design. “Ginger? Hand cream?” That’s an interesting combination. I bought some for for my wife, a big hand cream user, to try. I asked her opinion of it….

“Fantastic product”

I put some on and sure enough, it smells great with a really nice clean ginger smell from “ginger root extract” (ZINGIBER OFFICINALE). It’s got a few recognizable ingredients (to me) the first two being shea butter and coconut oil. Personally what got my attention originally is the clean simply graphic design which is brave as they went with a text wraparound on the box with only half of “Ginger” hanging off the top of the box in a long narrow San Serif type. Notice how your brain just completes the word?

I’m going with my wife’s 2 word review, a “fantastic product” (and she’s tough so that’s a double RAVE) a reasonable price, smells great, and works great to moisturize your skin. What’s not to like? At a big name beauty shop this would cost double the price. Another good health and beauty product from Trader Joe’s. Worth trying.

gingerhandcream2

Trader Joe’s CHICKEN POT STICKER DUMPLINGS


Chicken and Vegetable Pot Stickers – Perfect for now (its currently Chinese Lunar New Year) or ANYTIME!

Chinese dumplings are one of my very favorite things to eat. Seriously. Over my lifetime I would not be surprised if I’ve eaten a thousand of them, in one small hole in the wall place or another, mostly in Manhattan’s Chinatown or Flushing’s. Flushing especially has become a destination for dumplings with terrific places that specialize in dumplings of all kinds. I’ve even learned how to make dumplings myself, from scratch, including at times even making the wrappers! (I usually buy them in an Asian market). However that’s too much for most people. Which is where these babies come in. When you just get a craving for Pot Stickers, you can buy these frozen Chicken Gyoza Pot Stickers that TJ carries in their frozen Asian section. They’re good! They’re cheap. $3 bucks a bag. Wow.

Now I am not going to say that these dumplings can measure up against my favorites dumpling joints but I do buy these dumplings all the time to have on hand in the freezer for whenever I get a dumping craving and don’t want to leave the house (which let’s face it is all the time right now in the middle of Covid-19!)

These TJ bagged dumpling are not at all bad for what they are, they are super convenient, and frankly at $3 a bag (about 21 dumplings) they are a steal. TJ sells both a Pork & Veg version and this Chicken & Veg version which I am reviewing here. As the pork one is not “porky” enough for me (I can make a decent pork and cabbage dumpling) personally I give a slight edge to the chicken ones surprisingly, as of course pork dumplings are way more typical dumplings. Now for me the insides of both versions are way too finely ground. In any handmade dumpling you would be able to see chopped up vegetables which one can’t in either these pork or chicken frozen dumplings. These are a tiny bit on the blandish side but with a good dipping sauce they are fine. One can easily add some a great deal of Asian flavors with a good dipping sauce. My first choice is to make these in a pan as Gyoza or Pot Stickers. Pot Stickers means first frying the bottoms, then steaming them, giving one the best of both worlds texture-wise in a single bite, with the wrapper both a bit crispy/chewy plus soft. The skins on these TJ dumplings are neither too thick nor too thin but acceptable in proportion to the filling. If I make them myself they would have thicker skins, be bigger and more packed with filling. But these do fine in a pinch. I have never tried cooking these in a microwave though the package states you can make them that way. Nor have I tried making boiled dumplings with these, as also suggested on the bag. If you did boil them in a strong flavorful chicken broth they might be very good that way, especially with some spinach, kale or other leafy vegetables, i.e., a “chicken soup with wontons and greens” type soup (hmm, i just gave myself an idea to try out!)

PAN FRYING YOUR DUMPLINGS: One can boil these but personally I make these mostly as Pot Stickers aka Gyoza (fried/steam) using a well-seasoned black cast iron pan. If you don’t have one of those just use a good non-stick pan. Swirl a tablespoon or so of a neutral vegetable oil in the pan with medium high heat. Put your frozen dumplings in bottoms down, being careful to be sure they don’t touch, or they will stick together. You will hear them start to sizzle. Let them cook without touching them till they are nice golden brown on the bottom, maybe 4-5 minutes, You can check one every once in a while. You don’t want to burn them but you do want very browned bottoms. When they are there, you now toss about 3-4 tablespoons of water (or stock) into the pan and immediately put a cover on! Stand back of course. Reduce the heat a bit. If you have a clear glass cover thats ideal so you can see whats going on inside but if you don’t, any cover that fits tightly will be fine. We want to let them steam until the water is just about all gone which may take about 6-8 minutes. Check when you think they are done. When they are almost ready if you put a tiny bit more oil when the water is all gone and let them keep cooking they can get a quite crispy bottom which is lovely, but this step is tricky, and optional. Anyway this is the reason these dumpling are called “pot stickers” as they do tend to stick to the pan and not want to leave it! If they are a bit stuck use a thin spatula to gently help release them, being careful not to tear the skins.

You should to eat your Gyoza right away while they are nice and hot, so timing is critical. What we do, is we get everything else ready, then take just 2 or 3 dumplings at a time on our plates, cover the pan with the heat off to keep them warm and come back to fill up with a few more when we finished the first ones. Thats way you always eat nice hot dumplings. In the first picture you can see I served them with edamame and peas which were a great match with these dumplings to add in more veggies. You can serve them with a little rice too and any kind of veggie or salad. We can usually eat about 6 each easily as the Main, along with other stuff though they can be just an appetizer of say 3 or 4 each. I strongly suggest eating lots of green veggies with these. Edamame go great. If you can get Bok Choy or Choi Sum, that would certainly go well. And toss lots of chopped scallions all over these when you serve them.

Many countries have some variation of pot sticker dumplings. In Korea, “Mandoo“. In Japan they are called “Gyoza“. In China, Jiao-zi or Guo-tie.

锅贴 
Goutié

https://www.tasteatlas.com/guotie/recipe

You eat dumplings with a dipping sauce. One classic sauce might be Chinese Black Vinegar* with lots of fresh julienned ginger. Or soy sauce plus vinegar, sugar, ginger and garlic. TJ sells a bottle of “GYOZA DIPPING SAUCE” which is fine if making your own sauce is too much trouble. If you like fresh cilantro it’s wonderful with these chicken dumplings. Something spicy to add a kick if thats up your alley. Green Dragon hot sauce for example is great with these! TJ’s Sweet Chili sauce is also lovely! I mean some mixed in with your basic sauce.

While I can’t say these TJ frozen dumplings compete with the best Chinese homemade dumpling places I have gone to, these are quite decent and make up a great deal with the convenience of being able to have them anytime you get a craving! These bagged ones are such a bargain for 3 bucks for a 1 lb bag. TJ has a number of other “fancier” dumplings in the frozen section in boxes which cost a bit more but frankly I keep coming back to these. I recently tried TJ’s Pork and Ginger Soup Dumplings and frankly was not impressed. Not surprising as making Xiao Long Bao is a pinnacle of the art of dumpling making. I’ve eaten them at some top dumpling restaurants like Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao in Flushing, Queens (fantastic! go if you get a chance).

  • Chinkiang Black Vinegar can be found at most Chinese or Asian groceries (5-6 dollars?) If you can’t find it and don’t mind paying through the nose Amazon sells it. It’s a classic, pantry item.

If you live in NYC and want great pot stickers and boiled dumplings I highly recommend VANESSA’S DUMPLING HOUSE which I first enjoyed 20 years ago in her original tiny hole in the wall joint on Eldridge Street where no more than 4 people could fit. Word grew about her amazing dumplings which were a buck for 5. Vanessa’s business grew and she became a very successful immigrant entrepreneur who kept expanding and improving and now has multiple beautiful places. If you eat her pot stickers or any of her many kinds of dumplings you will learn what great dumplings are truly like. They do cost more though now! Finally, if you really are interested in learning more and maybe trying your hand at them you will find lots of great info here

https://carlsbadcravings.com/potstickers/

and if you are REALLY inspired, make these yourselves!

VEGETARIANS – TJ does have vegetable dumplings too ! (boxed, frozen)

Trader Joe’s Liquid Dish Soap


I liked this Liquid Dish Soap that TJ sells under their own brand.

This is the LAVENDER TEA TREE SCENT version. They also sell a Citrus scent version. It’s clear, meaning no dyes. Is Dawn blue naturally? I think not.

I imagine this stuff is probably comparable to one of those crazy expensive dish soaps you see in Whole Foods that I will never let my wife buy (“Seven dollars for dish soap?! You’ve got to be kidding me. Don’t worry I’ll pick some up at the dollar store next time I go. “) And yes I do frequently buy the huge bottles of dish washing liquid at the dollar store. 40 ounces for a buck. Now I do recognize they are more “watery” and I have to put more on the sponge more often but its just going down the drain anyway, quite literally.

Anyway to make my honey happy, I “splurged” and got a bottle of TJ’s Dish Soap It’s $2.99. You can tell instantly this is thicker than my $1 soap. Turn it upside down and see how fast it takes a bubble to rise. I tried it out washing up and this does a good job, it made a lot of foam that lasted. It smells quite nice (lavender and tea tree oil).  I can tell I don’t have to use as much soap as often as I do with my Dollar Store stuff. I’m sure its really some famous brand sold under TJ’s label at half the price the name brand usually costs, as is typical with some Trader Joe’s products. A big thing on the internet is guessing who really makes a product TJ sells (for example Annie’s Mac and Cheese vs. TJ Mac and Cheese) Anyway for $2.99 I will probably now buy this soap from now on. OK perhaps in addition to having one of the big bottles of the cheap stuff under the sink just in case we run out. Old habits die hard.

LAVENDER TEA TREE SCENT – made from plant derived cleaners Biodegradable. Hypoallergenic. Cuts Through Grease.

A 25 oz bottle is $2.99

TJ’s TANDOORI NAAN (frozen)


I really enjoy the Naan Indian breads that TJ carries. The frozen Naan are tasty, cheap and super convenient, just needing some warming up, and they as the package states handmade and “Made In India”, to me that sounds Authentic. A package of 4 Naan is just $1.99! TJ sells two frozen versions, this plain Tandoori Naan and a Garlic Naan version which includes cilantro too. Both versions are good. TJ also sells some non-frozen Naan breads in the regular Bread section. These cost a little more and I think are a bit thicker and bigger.

Naan breads can be used for so many things. Of course these flatbreads go great with any of TJ’s pretty numerous Indian food offerings but Naan can be used anywhere a flatbread type bread would be good… with saucy foods, soups, etc. Bake these with cheese on top, or some ham or prosciutto, and you have a terrific easy creation. Pizza? I’ve done them that way*. Really your imaginations are your only limit on what you can do with these.

To heat them, throw these in the oven or toaster oven. I sometimes just throw them in a cast iron pan. Hit them with some olive oil or butter or ghee and they become even more tasty. I sometimes add butter and fresh crushed garlic and then put the breads in that. These are fab. Or buy the Garlic Naan versions if you don’t want to smash your own fresh garlic. The Garlic Naan ones are great and have green stuff (cilantro or scallions). I buy a pack of each kind to keep in the freezer.

  • You can put together pizzas using Naan as your base. These ones are kind of thin so if you want a bit thicker base, get the fresh Naan TJ carries in the fresh breads section. Though they sell a Pizza base there too!

So with your next TJ Indian feast, grab some Naan while you’re at it. A package of maybe TJ’s frozen Channa Masala ($2.29 and delicious) or foil pack of Tadka Dal ($1.99) plus some Naan and some tomato and you have a dinner in 3 minutes for a few bucks that is as good some takeout. I even made my own Tadka Dal and ate it with this Naan. Since I had extra dal, I gave some and 2 naan to my upstairs neighbors who thanked me profusely and told me they devoured it in minutes and that it was as good as an Indian restaurant.

RAVE

Envy Apples


I never heard of this apple before I saw them at Trader Joe’s. A hybrid developed in New Zealand, “Envy” apples are a hybrid of Royal Gala and Braeburn varieties. Both of those are excellent apples, and this hybrid, Envy, is well, just a terrific tasting apple. When I first tasted this Envy, my taste buds went pretty wild with “this must be one of the best apples I ever had”. Seriously this is just a great apple. Nice crunch, firm texture, sweet but with a hint of sour underneath? It’s a complex flavor, way more complex than just “sweet” like say a Honey Crisp apple or Red Delicious (yuck). Envy are a favorite pick of the Trader Joe’s crew, who I imagine taste everything they sell. I kind of trust those “crew picks”.

INFO

https://envyapple.com/en/about-envy#tab-1

These apples go great with just about everything. What about Envy with cheese? Yes, please. I knew they would match well with most any cheese, and frankly there is absolutely nothing better than to slice up these apples and put them on a plate with the Unexpected Cheddar. What a combo these make together. Seriously. Try either that or Cabot cheddar with these apples. I would imagine Brie would be great, or let’s face it any cheese you like. I love these just eaten out of hand on their own of course. I like them in the morning, diced up for my breakfast cereal. Your kids will love these paired up with some peanut butter. I know I do. Envy sell for $1.29 each. A bit more than the apples TJ sells for 79 cents but worth the little splurge every now and then. So if you haven’t ever tried these, try one for yourselves. You may get hooked on them. I know I have. I always buy one when I’m at TJ’s.

RAVE

Trader Joe’s DRIED BABY BANANAS


Over in the Dried Fruit section at TJ’s I’ve always liked the dried bananas (the full size ones). Recently this bright yellow package caught my eye for DRIED BABY BANANAS. I’m not quite sure if this replaced the bigger ones the used to see or I just never noticed these before. These stoked my curiosity. Well I really liked these DRIED BABY BANANAS, which are interesting looking. In fact some people might think they look a little scary as they look like little dried monkey fingers! Taste-wise they are just what they are bananas, which I am guessing are sun or air dried, and these are a bit moist, and a bit chewy and have an intense banana taste as the flavors are very concentrated from drying. And yes “baby bananas” are a different variety than your normal banana. So did I like them? Here’s one way to answer. After I tasted one, then another, I basically couldn’t stop eating them. They were quite tasty as-is right out of the bag. But then I had a bright idea, “Hmm, I wonder if they would be good match if I dipped them in peanut butter!?” Needless to say, they are a great combination. If you put some out with a little bit of PB to dip them in on the side I have a feeling kids would love these as a snack, though when they first see them no doubt they will say something like, “ewww gross, these look like dried baby monkey fingers ! The package says they come from Thailand and the INGREDIENTS list one thing: “DRIED BANANAS”. So I call that a pretty “natural” product. A package costs $1.99. The bag I got yesterday seems to have only 4 little bananas left when I just checked them…. so you could say they went down easy and way too fast. Next time I better buy 2 bags. By the way – I found out that Potassium is good for blood pressure and these have a lot of Potassium, a bit more than even regular fresh bananas. In short, another very good dried fruit snack from TJ, well worth trying so check them out.

RAVE

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