I’m not a cook. When my dog needed plain boiled chicken and white rice after an upset tummy, I called a local Chinese restaurant and asked them to do it. I have no intention of using the kitchen for anything more than rudimentary survival, yet loathe preservative-packed nasty frozen dinners. Trader Joe’s was made for us.
Among the standards — white cheddar popcorn in the pinky-peach-colored bag has been around since the dawn of time, pretty sure — and the seasonal debuts (80 percent chance of “pumpkin” in the name), Trader Joe’s has some products that just scream “summer” more than others. We’re bypassing produce here because it’s a given that we’re throwing bags of salad and fruits and veggies into the cart when the temp goes up. A few picks:
This is a life-changing product that just debuted in the Beltway stores. In L.A., every mom-and-pop burger joint makes a gyro; out here, you basically have to rely on Afghan restaurants that learned that making a gyro sandwich in addition to their kabob roster reels in more non-Afghan customers. I’ve found that the TJ’s gyro slices, which are fully cooked beef and lamb strips, cook up nicely and quickly on a George Foreman grill, because George does everything (President George?). Slice on a Greek salad or wrap up in a pita with feta, tomatoes, red onion and tzatziki sauce. Word caught on about the goodness of these slices as local stores have had trouble keeping them on the shelves.
Blue cheese and roasted pecan dip
Summer picnics — or at least newsroom potlucks — conjure images of taking a pint of sour cream and mixing it with a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix. Take the chip and dip appetizer to a TJ’s level with the oh-so-tasty blue cheese dip, which is well blended with no overwhelming flavors. Goes well with the Reduced Guilt Kettle Chips — not that adding a giant dollop of dip balances out the “reduced guilt,” but just because the texture and saltiness of those chips matches well with the blue cheese.
Simply sliced roast chicken breast
I find it rather wimpy when meat is sliced super thin — sometimes you want hearty slices like a turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving. This chicken breast has a great flavor and is super-versatile for cool summer eating. Put it on a salad or stuff in a sandwich or wrap. My favorite is adding it to a croissant with havarti and red onion.
Peppercorn-garlic roast pork tenderloin
The cabernet pot roast at Trader Joe’s is nom-nom, but may be a bit too heavy when it’s 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity outside. This pork tenderloin is marinated just right and can be thrown in the oven or on the grill. Use the leftovers for cold pork sandwiches or salad topping. When it’s steaming hot, a good pairing is the garlic potatoes with parmesan sauce from the frozen section.
Fruit frenzy bars II
When I got the flu after covering CPAC this year I rediscovered popsicles. Now, yanking open the freezer door usually shakes out a couple. I must hate having to choose one flavor, because at Wegmans I’ll grab the red-white-blue bomb pops. At TJ’s, it’s the fruit frenzy bars. Not the original, mind you, but the sequel. And yes, the sequel is usually never superior. The original is raspberry, lemon and strawberry. The numero dos version: grape, tangerine and blood orange. Icy. Yummy.
I like picking up the fresh mango/pineapple salsa that my local Wegmans busts out every summer, and even the refrigerated version TJ’s sells year-round. But isn’t there a version that doesn’t have to be used within two days, a sweet salsa with a kick that can get wedged into the door rail of the fridge along with the rest of the hot-sauce lineup? This new Island Salsa does the trick. Try it with nachos using the shredded pepperjack blend and the spicy chunky guacamole.
Sparkling clementine juice
I’m a fizzy water addict. It can be 10 below with a foot of snow on the ground and I’ll still have a glass of lemon, orange or lime essence seltzer poured over ice with a straw for sipping. TJ’s sells good sparkling mineral water. But you can also kick it up to real juice with their sparklers. Add a dash of Grey Goose, and you’ve got an instant cocktail.
Knotted challah rolls
It’s incredible how many amazingly seasoned, juicy, cooked-just-right summer burgers find their way onto an overwhelmed yawner sesame-seed bun. TJ’s challah makes the best burger bun, the best grilled chicken club bun, the best BBQ brisket bun, the best pulled pork bun, the best all-round mighty bun for your money. Holla for the challah.
Have you seen the new TJ’s Fearless Flyer? Can you picture the marketing meeting where they decided to do to mangoes what they did to pumpkin? Remember when they cleared out the entire cereal aisle in October to pack it with pumpkin madness? By December you never wanted to see an orange squash again? The regular flaky, rich Brooklyn Babka is delicious; they’ve added mangoes now. There’s mango and strawberry flatbread in the frozen section along with mango ice cream and mini mango pies. Mango pudding, mango cereal, mango dressing, you get it. Try to cope.
Tandoori garlic naan
TJ’s does naan a couple of ways: there’s the frozen one that you toss into the oven for a few minutes, and there’s the bakery section one. Six pillowy pieces of naan seasoned just so are stuffed into that bag, and make great flatbreads. Take the roasted chicken patties in the refrigerated section, grill on George Foreman for a couple minutes, chop it up and layer it with shredded mozzarella and red pepper flakes before popping it into the oven for a few minutes. Nom-nom naan.