You’ve already heard us wax rhapsodic about Costco, so this week we’re lavishing our affection on the shopper’s paradise that is Trader Joe’s. Since opening its first store in 1958, in Pasadena, the Trader Joe’s empire has grown to include 400 stores in 35 states, and it’s not hard to understand why the company has such a cult-like following: the incredible assortment of natural and organic products, the usually very quick checkout, the quirky decor and signage, the perky courteousness of the goofy-Hawaiian-shirt-wearing staff… But the real reason we love Trader Joe’s is its amazingly high-quality foods offered at ridiculously affordable prices* every day of the year. Here are some of our favorites:
1) Raw Almonds. We’re big fans of Trader Joe’s nuts generally (adding some of TJ’s nuts to a wan salad is one of the cheapest and tastiest ways to spruce it up), but quite a few Epicurious staffmembers are obsessed with the almonds. Though they’re available in many varieties—sliced, slivered, whole, dry roasted/unsalted, coated—we’d go to the mat for the 1-pound bag of raw almonds. As one editor says, “There’s a unique toothsomeness to these that makes them the healthiest kind of addictive.”
2) Frozen Haricot Vert French Green Beans. Consistently sweet, crisp, and tender, these beans are an excellent find, great for a weeknight dinner with a drizzle of olive oil or for an elegant party with a smattering of sliced almonds. And at 1 pound, 8 ounces, that’s a big bag o’ beans! Did we mention that they’re less than $2?
3) Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s. These seasonal crispy chocolate sandwich cookies, filled with a vanilla-peppermint creme, are so wildly popular, there’s even a Facebook page for the product. “They’re like Christmas crack,” says one Epicurious editor.
4) Dried Cranberries and Dried Wild Blueberries. Both of these items win multiple raves from Epicurious staff. The wild blueberries, harvested in the cool climes of the Pacific Northwest, have an extraordinary flavor and a fantastic chew, while the dried cranberries are also much tastier (“less sugary and processed-tasting,” notes an Epicurious editor) than other stores’ options. And, at under $6 for an 8-ounce bag, both are a great bang for your buck. We love both the cranberries and blueberries as a midday pick-me-up, or sprinkled over Greek yogurtand drizzled with a little honey, making for a dreamy—and super-healthy—breakfast.
5) Three Buck Chuck’s Wine. Merlot. Cabernet Sauvignon. Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay. All available at $2.49 to $3.79 a bottle. The deal of the century.
6) Organic Creamy Tomato Soup. It’s fair to say that nothing this delicious has ever come out of a carton. The soup (just $2.49/1 quart) hits all of the marks with its salty, savory, slightly sweet, and tangy flavors. We love it with grilled cheese, of course, but it’s fantastic on its own—or sprinkled with Reggiano and a few crunchy croutons!
7) Spanish Cheese Tapas Sampler. With three varieties of Spanish cheese—Iberico, Manchego, and Cabra al Vino—this $3.99 5.29-ounce package comes pre-sliced and ready to eat, making it perfect for picnics, train rides, and midnight snacks. There are 12 slices in all, so it’s big enough to share with friends—IF you’re so inclined.
8) Dark Chocolate-Covered Pomegranate Seeds. Proof of Trader Joe’s greatness: There are few things the company wouldn’t dip in chocolate. But they really hit the ball out of the park with these, priced at a bargain-basement $2.99/5 ounces: The dark chocolate and tangy pomegranate make for a seriously addictive snack and, packed with antioxidants, a nutritional powerhouse.
9) California Sun-Dried Tomatoes. Unlike other brands of sun-dried tomatoes, Trader Joes manages to keep their version ($3.29/3 ounces) plump, juicy, and tender without packing them in oil. We also love that they come julienne-cut, making them the ideal size for pastas, pizzas, salads, and sandwiches.
10) Steelcut Oatmeal. TJ’s two-pack of frozen (yes, we said FROZEN!) steel-cut oatmeal, gently flavored with brown sugar and maple syrup, is much more delicious than it ought to be. The first time you pop the hard chunk of oatmeal into the microwave, you might be very skeptical, but once you taste these chewy, nutty, wholly satisfying oats, you will have a hard time going back to the stovetop version. Cheap, healthy, delicious, and convenient. Dreams do come true!
11) Steamed Lentils. Food lovers looking to include more iron and fiber in their diet would do well to make a habit of these dainty French-produced lentils from Trader Joe’s. Steamed in just a bit of seasoning and then packed in a pouch containing five 1/2-cup servings, these are perfect for warm salads, cold salads, soups, or tossed with pasta—or just served as is with a bit of lemon ad olive oil. One caveat: You have to use the lentils within two days of opening the package.