By Caroline Benveniste
I shop at Trader Joe’s all the time. It’s the best place to get staples, but the real fun is discovering some of the more unusual offerings. Here are some guidelines that should help improve your shopping experience:
- Shop only at the Chelsea store. The UWS store is located on two underground levels, making it confusing and claustrophobic. Also, the lines are long and there are often empty shelves. The 14th Street store is small and very crowded. Interesting fact: according to a cashier I spoke to, the Chelsea store has the most cashiers (30) of any Trader Joe’s anywhere.
- Don’t go a on a Monday morning. The stores get cleaned out over the weekend and it takes the staff a few hours to get products back on the shelves.
- Shop early to avoid long lines.
- Always take a shopping cart—even if you’re only planning on picking up a few items, you will end up buying more than you expected.
- In the produce section, get the bags of citrus, particularly blood, heirloom and Cara Cara oranges (when available) and lemons, limes and mandarins. The tastiest salad is the wild arugula. Also, get the sweet onions (use them and the clarified butter to make caramelized onions) and the avocados. The vacuum packed cooked French lentils are wonderful for soups and salads.
- There is an impressive array of rice and rice blends; the Sprouted Organic California Rice and the Brown Rice Medley are the best, and you can use the coconut milk and Jasmine rice to make coconut rice.
- The heavy cream is not ultra-pasteurized, a rare find and better for beating. In the cheese section, stick to the Pub Cheese (good with the pretzel sticks) and the Greek Sheep’s Milk Feta.
- The nuts are high quality and reasonably priced, as are the dried fruits (e.g. fancy Blenheim apricots and Montmorency cherries) and trek mixes. The Thai almonds with lemongrass and chiles are amazing!
- The snacks are extensive—get the partially popped popcorn and cheese puffs of different sorts. The pita chips are rumored to be made by Stacy’s. They taste the same and are cheaper.
- The chocolate/candy selection is considerable—two standouts are the Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Butterscotch Caramels and Milk Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Pretzels. The Belgian Dark Chocolate 3-pack is perfect for hot chocolate—melt one bar in 2/3 cups milk and simmer for two minutes—then strain, serve with whipped cream and voila—a delicious chocolat chaud!
- There is a large beer section and you can buy individual bottles.
- In the meat section, some of the sausages are good, particularly the Bratwurst, cooked and uncooked versions (serve with caramelized onions) and the Chicken Andouille.
- In frozen foods get the Green Tea Mochi, frozen fruit for smoothies and the Green Chile Cheese Tamales (delicious with a homemade salsa).
- Three great seasonal items are the Chocolate Covered Peppermint Jo-Jo’s (Jo-Jo’s are like Oreos but without the hydrogenated fat), Fried Onions and frozen puff pastry. If you like them buy early and stockpile as they sell out quickly and don’t return until the following year.
- Check the new item display at the back of the store—and try the sample of the day.
- Pick up the “Fearless Flyer” when they have one. It lists new items and favorites. The Green Curry Shrimp Gyoza in the current issue sounds intriguing.
- Don’t be afraid to try something—if it turns out you didn’t like it you can bring it back for a refund, no questions asked and you don’t even need your receipt.
Turkish Salad with Feta, Fruit and Nuts
Ingredients (available at Trader Joe’s)
- Salad Greens (Baby Lettuces or Arugula)
- Sheep’s Milk Feta
- Red Grapes
- Dried Fruit (golden raisins, Montmorency cherries, etc.)
- Unsalted pistachios
- Pomegranate seeds (optional)
- Equal parts Balsamic Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil, with a splash of Pomegranate Vinegar
Tear greens into smaller pieces. Cube Feta. Slice grapes in half. Add remaining ingredients and toss with dressing until well mixed.