Sunday, August 23, 2015

These are a few of my favorite things! {from Trader Joe's}

After years of wishing and hoping and thinking and dreamin'; Trader Joe's is finally on its way to Grand Rapids!

I had the privilege of being introduced to Trader Joe's several years ago by my sister, in Orland Park IL.

We've been hooked on many of their products since, and have taken every opportunity to travel to the east side of Michigan for a semi-annual Trader Joe's haul, and took advantage of stopping in to one every time we visited family in an area that was lucky enough to have their own Trader Joe's.

Many Grand Rapids residents have been in a similar situation for a while, and will be rejoicing with me at no longer having to drive to Detroit or Ann Arbor for their favorite specialty items. I'm also really excited to be able to buy just what I need for a week, and avoiding the strange looks we would tend to receive when buying twenty packages of soy chorizo or fifteen bags of pasta at a time.

However, not everyone in our neck of the woods is privy to the amazingness of Trader Joe's. It is for you that I write this post.

Trader Joe's is unlike any other grocery store you've ever experienced. It's a small store with a neighborhood feel, but it is full of specialty items (many organic and all non-GMO) that are surprisingly low-priced.

I have decided on a select few of our favorite items to feature. Choosing only a few was no easy task, as my pantry and freezer are full of Trader Joe's exclusives.

There are so many things from this store that we enjoy!

This vegetarian chili has a great flavor and comes in handy for quick weeknight dinners of loaded baked potatoes. Or just eat it on its own with some crushed tortilla chips, avocado and cilantro on top. 

  This stuff. For a while, they had reformulated the
soy chorizo to no longer be vegan. It was a dark time. Thankfully, that decision must have proved very unpopular because it is now back to its original, animal-free status. Hooray! 
Possessing just the right amount of heat to keep my kids happy, we use this soy chorizo in tofu scramble, burritos, tacos, nachos, soups/chilis and as a topping for just about anything you can think of. It heats up quickly on the stove top, is safe for my gluten-intolerant son, and tastes delicious. Try it!
 Soy creamy non-dairy frozen dessert. Proof that you can take the moo out of your ice cream and still enjoy a decadent, creamy, sweet treat. This ice cream is available in cherry chocolate chip and vanilla flavors, and my freezer is never devoid of either flavor.
 Being that I love playing and creating in the kitchen, the necessity for frozen pizza nights are few and far between. However, there may come a night when my husband has a late evening meeting and comes home teetering on the brink of becoming seriously hangry. In these rare moments, I am grateful to have one of these dairy-free roasted vegetable pizzas waiting in the freezer. Theses lovelies are topped with a delicious sweet onion sauce, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and artichokes - you won't even miss the cheese. Sadly they are not gluten free, however. (How awesome would that be!) My husband gives them a double thumb's up.
We recently tried this Organic Sriracha and roasted garlic BBQ sauce for the first time; and I am in love. I'm a big barbecue sauce fan and this particular variety did not disappoint. I love it on french fries, and at the bottom of this post, you'll find a simple recipe for BBQ tofu. Use this anywhere you'd normally use bbq sauce, but beware- it's got some serious kick!

 Dark chocolate nutty bits. I got in the habit of grabbing myself a little treat on every Trader Joe's trip, so these sweet and salty little nuggets started showing up in my cart. They're crazy good. Try them.
These Quinoa and Black Bean infused tortilla chips have more flavor than your average tortilla chip. I especially love these dipped in some guacamole. (Trader Joe's has that too, if you're in too much of a hurry to make your own!)

I can't really remember life before the Trader Joe's Pound Plus dark chocolate bar came into it. It's all just a sad blur. Ha! Seriously though, I have three of these in my house at any given time because running out would be a tragedy of unimaginably devastating proportions. There are several varieties of these massive chocolate bars, but the pure dark chocolate is my fave.

Being vegan means there's a good chance you use a lot of cashews. Cashew cream, cashew queso, cashew butter, cashew based deserts...we like cashews.

The problem? Cashews can be expensive, and raw cashews can be hard to find. Raw cashew pieces from Trader Joe's are more affordable than any other cashew I've found anywhere else, and if you're soaking and blending them for recipes, you certainly don't need them whole.
Another vegan pantry staple is coconut milk, or coconut cream. Have you ever seen the coconut whipped cream trick?

Even if you're not vegan or dairy free, this creamy mousse-like deliciousness serves as an excellent cool-whip alternative and has non of the less than desirable ingredients of processed whipped toppings.

The beauty of buying coconut cream instead of coconut milk is more bang for your buck! You refrigerate your cream overnight and the entire can is solid cream. There's no leftover liquid to awkwardly save in a jar for later (or forget about in the back of your fridge. I may or may not have done this on more than one occasion...). Save your coconut milk (which they also sell at Trader Joe's!) for curries, soups or smoothies and whip up some coconut cream!

We've been a gluten free pasta household for about five years, and this is the best I've ever come across. Trader Joe's also has brown rice penne, fusilli and spaghetti, and a couple of corn based pastas. The brown rice and quinoa fusilli is our favorite. If you're not currently gluten free, but curious about trying out some pasta made from grains other than wheat, I recommend giving this a try!
Ever had dolmas from a Mediterranean restaurant? Trader Joe's version of stuffed grape leaves include rice, onions, dill and mint. They rival any takeout dolmas I've ever had, and come conveniently in a shelf-stable can. I've picked these up several times while traveling, and used them for picnic lunches when I didn't want to mess with a salad.
Another specialty item that I usually only indulge in while traveling is the Uttapam with coconut chutney. I was intrigued when I first saw these in the freezer section, and ecstatic when I saw that they were vegan and gluten free!

The chutney has an awesome flavor and I really enjoy these as a special quick meal treat.

Have you tried kale chips yet? Well, unless you have a dehydrator, or think it's totally normal to spend $8 on a 2oz. bag of snackage, you may not have. Now is your chance!

Trader Joe's version of this healthier choice snack is seasoned wonderfully and much more reasonable priced. I love the zesty nacho flavor and always try to pick these up for road trip snacks.

There are so many additional items that I am thrilled to be able to more regularly stock in my kitchen but I just could not list them all here. Grand Rapids, you are in for a real treat. I cannot wait for the doors to open next month and for everyone I know in this area to have the opportunity to experience Trader Joe's.

Do you have a favorite item from Trader Joe's?

Recipe time! This really is so simple it's hardly a recipe.

Easy BBQ tofu (shown served with mashed yukon gold potatoes and steamed broccoli)

1 12-15 oz. package extra firm tofu
1 C. Trader Joe's organic Sriracha and roasted garlic BBQ sauce

Cut the tofu into rectangular cubes, about 1/2 inch thick. Preheat a non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. 

Place the tofu in the skillet in a single layer. It should sizzle when you place it on the hot skillet. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Press down on the tofu with a wide spatula to release moisture and cook another 1-2 minutes. Flip tofu when the bottom is lightly golden brown, then repeat on the other side. Lower heat and pour in the BBQ sauce. Stir to coat the tofu and simmer for another minute or two.

Serve with your favorite starch and veggie, and you have an easy, vegan "meat and potatoes" style meal!

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