Until this spring I'd never knowingly tasted a Trader Joe's product, and until this summer, I'd never stepped foot in the store. But on a city adventure this summer, Brad and I stopped by the Pittsburgh store, which is located in the new posh area of posh Shadyside (where all the cool hipsters live). I'd been jonesin' for my very own bottle of Pear Cinnamon Cider, which my modernist poetry professor brought to class one day in the spring. I must've drunk half the bottle that day . . . .
Brad was skeptical that this was going to be another Whole Foods,* and honestly I wasn't totally sure it wouldn't be, but we went anyway and were both very pleasantly surprised. It was a whole lot smaller than I'd expected, and the customers were super not-friendly. But the staff is awesome, and the prices are super reasonable. Plus, they've got a bunch of products (almost all of which are their own brand) that I just haven't seen elsewhere (though, to be fair, I was never really looking).
We've at least liked nearly everything we've gotten there, and loved a whole lot of it. Below are my four favorites. TJ's products have become a semi-staple (it's hard to get over there, otherwise we'd go bi-weekly) in our diets.Check out a TJ's if there's one local.
4. Trader Joe's Mini Chicken Tacos
I ate too many of these the first two times we bought them (surprise surprise - bah), so I'm sick of them, but Brad loves them, and they are surprisingly tasty and easy to make (8 min. in the oven), and they're not soggy. We always eat them as-is, but I'm sure they'd be delicious with some shredded cheese as per the picture on the front of the package.
I want to say the box of mini tacos is $3.99 (?), but it could be a little more. Even so, it's not a bad price at all, and there's way less sodium in TJ's frozen products than in typical frozen products.
3. Trader Joe's Pear Cinnamon Cider
At $2.99 a bottle, this isn't one of the best-priced items TJ's has to offer, but it's so tasty and different I can't leave it off the list. It's sweet with a bit of a kick (but not too much kick) and not like your usual bottled juice.
(Brad just commented, "That would be one of my favorites, too, if I were ever allowed to have any." It's true: I'm stingy. But you have to understand just how much I adore this cider.)
2. Trader Joe's Masala Simmer Sauce
I think this stuff goes for about $1.99. Maybe $2.49. It's delish. I am not a daring eater, and of the, oh, three (?) Indian dishes I've tried, chicken tikka masala is my faaaaaavorite.
TJ's sauce is thinner than what you get at an Indian place, and it does have a bit less spice. But we've found the trick is to not add any water, because when you cook the chicken (in the skillet), the juices from the chicken will already thin out the sauce. (The directions on the jar say to add a jar's worth of water - DO NOT!).
As an additional note, we pair the chicken with TJ's jasmine rice. We've never found a better price on jasmine rice, and, as with all rice, Brad (for some reason) has the most success cooking it in the microwave. Just be sure to rinse it out well beforehand!
1. Trader Ming's Mandarin Orange Chicken
This is by far the best not-from-a-Chinese-restaurant-Chinese-food I've ever had. It actually tastes like Chinese food, which I can't say for any of the other frozen Chinese bag meals I've consumed. And believe me, that number is higher than I'd like to admit.
The chicken comes out crispy, there's nearly enough sauce (instead of the usual absolutely-not-enough), and the flavor is delicious. It doesn't actually taste like orange chicken you'd get at a Chinese restaurant, but it does taste like authentic something (very exact description, I know).
There are three servings in a bag, and we actually parse it out into 3 servings - we each have one and save the other for the next time - so at $4.99 a bag, that's a pretty cheap meal considering all you need to add is white rice.
*No offense to Whole Foods-lovers. They've got great produce and meat and some other nifty stuff, and when we had the money (rarely) or I was on a three-day health binge (more frequently) back when we lived in the city, Brad and I would head on down to the Whole Foods in Shadyside and stock up. But their prices are beyond outrageous, and the air of superiority floating around that place and in a 50-foot radius is unreal.