Weekly Top Five: Things to Buy at Trader Joe's Right Now
I made the mistake of going to Trader Joe’s last Saturday, right smack in the middle of the afternoon. Wait. Come again? Trader Joe’s? On a Saturday afternoon? During the heyday of Christmas shopping season? In the shopping epicenter of Nashville known as Green Hills? Ya darn tootin’ I did. There is only one Trader Joe’s in this city. And when you need Trader Joe’s, you need Trader Joe’s.
Although my drive to and from the store proved fairly normal, the parking lot was like a warzone. Cars spilled out onto Hillsboro Pike, creating a line that backed up all the way to Abbott Martin. A stealthy Toyota Prius cut off a beat-up, old Jeep Cherokee, stealing the recently vacated spot for which the Jeep had been patiently waiting. Horns blared. Kids shrieked. Heads turned. Luckily, I found a spot quickly — a reject spot, located as far as geographically possible from the front door without crossing into Walgreens territory — but I ended up spending a minimum of 15 minutes in a tangle of congestion and animosity when it came time to leave.
I waited for three waves of people to pass before I was able took my turn selecting produce from the consistently mobbed cooler. Can a girl get a fennel bulb? My heel was clipped by the cart of a feverishly impatient woman who tried to pass by me while I took a gander at all of TJ’s frozen goods. Can a girl get a “‘scuse me”? And when I made my way to the spice aisle to pick up a jar of my favorite Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning, I was met with the grim reality that they’d sold out. Can a girl get a break???
Despite all of that, I did get some really good stuff. Because that is the redeeming factor of any hellish Trader Joe’s visit: they sell some really good stuff. From special holiday items to year-round staples, I find Trader Joe’s to be worth the lines, drama, and anxiety — usually.
Check out the Top Five Things I’m buying at Trader Joe’s these days:
1. Autumnal Harvest Alfredo Sauce
I live in a house that does a lot of cooking; I’d wager to guess we cook dinner six out of seven nights each week. But there are some weeks when we’re working late, or we have obligations after work, or we plumb don’t have the creativity, or inspiration, or oomph within us to conjure up a meal. Those are the nights that we pull a box of tortellini or ravioli out of the freezer, dump them in some boiling water and then toss them with jarred pesto and shaved parm. Not a bad meal if you ask me. But swapping out said jarred pesto for TJ’s Autumnal Harvest Alfredo Sauce makes it a damn good meal. Available in the refrigerated section in somewhere between the hummus and deli meats, this alfredo sauce is just the ticket for making a quick and easy meal that screams of the season. (Pro tip: pair it with TJ’s lobster ravioli and whoa Nelly, things just got taken to the next level.)
2. Shishito Peppers
Please tell me you’ve had shishito peppers before. Maybe the ones from Two Ten Jack in East Nashville? Or the ones from Tavern in Midtown? Or maybe you got to try the ones Henrietta Red had on their menu last summer? They say something like 1 in 13 is spicy, so not only is eating them delicious, but it’s also kind of a gamble, which makes it fun; exciting! Trader Joe’s sells a neat little 8 oz package of shishitos that are prime for the pickin. Plus, they make a great, healthy appetizer if you’re hosting guests. Simply throw them into a hot pan slicked with oil until they begin to blister and char. Sprinkle them with salt, drizzle a little soy sauce on top, and serve ‘em alongside a bowl of chili sauce for dipping.
3. All The Pumpkin Things (but especially the Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix)
Spiced Pumpkin Madeleine Cookies. Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps. Pumpkin Bread and Muffin Mix. Pumpkin Butter. Pumpkin Ice Cream. Clearly, I’m not yet over the pumpkin. Sure, most associate this particular squash with Thanksgiving more so than Christmas, Hanukkah, or the New Year, but I’m a firm believer that pumpkin should last for as long as we can get it! (Pumpkin Spice Latte season at Starbucks began this year on Labor Day and it’s set to last through January...just sayin.’) But there are no pumpkin products I love more than TJ’s Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix. When paired with a lazy Sunday morning, a big pot of coffee, a sprinkle of chocolate chips or chopped pecans, and a hearty drizzle of maple syrup, I’m happier than a PSL-loving basic bae on Labor Day.
4. Cauliflower Gnocchi
At a time of year when rich and heavy foods proliferate, it’s nice to have a lighter alternative that still feels decadent. These frozen cauliflower gnocchi are exactly that. A substitute for traditional potato gnocchi (or its cheesy cousin, ricotta gnocchi), this cauliflower version gives you the same experience of eating soft pillows of chewy, tender goodness but with a little more lightness. Made — in Italy, I should mention — with about 75% cauliflower and 25% cassiva flour, these suckers can’t claim to be gluten-free but they can claim to be fuss-free! Sauteé ‘em in brown butter and fresh sage and grate some salty parmesan on top; toss ‘em in your favorite pesto or pomodoro; or heck, maybe give that Autumnal Harvest Alfredo Sauce a go. Trader Joe’s for the WIN!
5. Lebkuchen Cookies
Traditional holiday treats from Germany, these chewy gingerbread cookie are available this December at Trader Joe’s — and only in December. Not only are they available in their original glazed form, but these Christmastime delights are now being sold in a chocolate-covered form to boot! Be still my heart. Of course, if you’re not a gingerbread guy or gal like me, but still want some seasonal sweets that are only available at the year’s end, don’t miss Trader Joe’s Buche du Noel Ice Cream or the Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe’s. Oh, and let me know if you find the rumored-to-be-available Mini Stroopwafel Ice Cream Sandwiches...Can a girl get some dessert?