As much as I have valued getting the most bang for my buck in the past, I love it more than ever now. Living in LA, being a college student and standing helplessly in the middle of a murky economic puddle, I've become a frugal, frugal way-too-quickly-approaching, totally-in-denial graduating college student who can no longer spend a lot of money on frivolous amenities and activities. Forget the ten-dollar cocktails, forgo the appetizer, entree and dessert, and, without a doubt, flee from anything that resembles cute shoes or clothes in any shape and form. Thankfully, we still have a place where tasty, healthy and affordable food can be found; to you, Trader Joe's, I owe my still-stable credit and my slightly-wavering sanity.
A throwback to the days when I would go grocery shopping with my mom after school, Trader Joe's is a dream of an establishment for the working mom and the reality-fearing college student alike. Awaiting you among the floral Hawaiian button-downs, Pavlov-dog-like tinkle of the samples bell and hooks carrying colorful canvas grocery bags is aisle after aisle of enough amazingly well-priced and delightfully delicious produce, dry ingredients and prepared food to make one weak in the knees. Here are just a few of my (countless) favorite project currently camping out on a TJ's shelf near you:
1. Trader Joe's Light Feta Cheese: Is this creamy block of Greek-style cheese for real? With half of the fat but all of the sinfully salty and moist flavor of authentic feta cheese, this slab of dairy decadence weighs in at just 40 measly calories for a 2 ounce serving. It melts like nobody's business, fooling even the savviest of cheese connoisseurs and can play the starring role in any meal production from a veggie-filled omelet to a warm orzo salad with ground lamb and Greek olives...mmmmm...
2. Trader Joe's Nuts Unsalted Dry Toasted Sliced Almonds: The perfect topping for every entree imaginable, these perfectly roasted slices of rich-tasting California almonds are truly the best way to add a decadent crunch to your dish. In the morning, sprinkle them on top of your oatmeal, yogurt, pancakes and waffles to add a crisp contrast to the softness of the main event. At lunchtime, throw a handful into your salad or soup instead of soggy, flavorless croutons. When dinner rolls around, top a couscous, quinoa or brown rice pilaf with a medley of these almonds and some golden raisins or cranberries for the quintessential sweet and salty accent. You can't go wrong with these all-purpose toppers.
3. Trader Joe's Greek Style Nonfat Plain Yogurt: No matter how much honey and fruit you add to them, some brands of Greek yogurt just leave a bitter aftertaste in your mouth and a bummed-out feeling in your stomach. Sulk to more; this line of creamy, thick yogurt has an astounding balance of sourness and sweetness that makes it ideal for sweet breakfasts, savory dips, meat marinades and everything in between. Also available in 2% and whole fat, and in various flavors including Honey, Fig, Apricot Mango, and Pomegranate, this milk-based miracle will wipe away any ill feelings toward this European-style export.
4. Trader Joe's Chicken Sausages: What source of filling yet healthy protein comes in over ten varieties and is already cooked to make your life so much easier? The answer is Trader Joe's own line of lean chicken sausages infused with various ingredients, herbs and spices. Ranging from Apple Chardonnay, to Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil, to Spicy Jalapeno, to Mushroom and Asiago, these filler-free fidos (a.k.a. dogs...hot dogs...sausages...get it?) can go from the fridge or freezer to your favorite dish in no time flat. Chop one up and throw it into a salad, or slice one down the middle and grill it as the perfect side to scrambled eggs and toast at sunrise. Just don't be surprised when the pack of five delectable and convenient sausages disappears within a matter of days.
5. Trader Joe's Boxed Soups: Eating healthy and hearty meals on cold winter days has never been this easy. Pop a bowl of Trader Joe's fantastic pureed soups into a bowl in the microwave or into a saucepan on the stovetop and heat. That's it. Personally, I like throwing in some canned cannellini beans or a sliced sausage (see above for recommendations of sausage) and top it with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt (again, see above) and a generous sprinkling of toasted almond slices (see a pattern here?). Voila, instant light meal or side to a good sandwich or salad. My favorites are the Carrot and Ginger, the Low Sodium Butternut Squash and the Sweet Potato Bisque, but there are more kinds on the shelf to choose from. Another great use for these smooth and creamy purees is to use them as a base for sauces to go on pasta and meat-based main dishes.