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Posts Tagged ‘Trader Joe’s’

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With the sole exception of peanut butter, I hated nuts growing up. All of my Halloween Snickers bars and Almond Joys went directly to my sister (and she hated peanut butter, so I got her Reese’s). Peanut butter was my glory. It had to be smooth, though; crunching through nuts appalled me.

Then I outgrew it—all of it and then some. Now there is no nut I won’t eat, although I draw the line at adding them to cookies and brownies. I work in marzipan, grinding my own almonds. And I want my peanut butter as crunchy as they’ll make it.

But recently I read that peanut butter is carcinogenic in high quantities, which is essentially how I was eating it. Peanut butter and homemade jam on hearty bread makes a filling breakfast, no matter how old you are. Same deal on apples and bananas. What could ever replace it? I like almond butter, and I like my homemade walnut butter, but neither touch my heart quite like peanut.

Enter cashews—and it occurs to me now that there was one nut I ate growing up: this one, salted. To me it’s the most assertive, richest, heartiest nut there is. It’s the Bradley Cooper of nuts, if he put on 35 pounds or so.

But I couldn’t find it anywhere in chunky, and why I still haven’t figured out. So I bought a jar of smooth with salt from Trader Joe’s, took a spoonful in the parking lot and tested it. Win for flavor, but very runny. So I went back inside and bought a bag of raw cashews, brought them home and toasted them, ground them up a bit. Then little by little, added them to the jar.

People often tell me how resourceful I am, which is very nice. A lot of my food ideas flop, or take forever to get right, so when an idea nails it from minute one….well, this is the kind of resourceful I am proudest of.

That’s it. All I wanted to tell you. Just how GOOD this is. Better than peanut butter, much as I love it. I can’t wait to dunk some good quality dark chocolate in there. Happy Mond…oh crap. Tuesday.

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It’s at the most impractical times that I feel compelled to get into the kitchen and cook something new. I’ve never made one of these but, burned out after a stressed-out week, there I was. And I very firmly told myself that first I needed to deal with the tax forms I’d spread out on the table or I’d have no room to put the recipe together. This did not stop me.

Anatomy of a Strudel

  1. Ignore two cookbooks and wealth of recipes online and wing everything, right down to setting on the oven. Set at 375 F.
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  2. Peel and chop six apples. Dismiss hunch that traditional strudel apples are minced because too tired to mince. (Actually think apple mincing, whether tired or wide awake, is refuge for the anal.)
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  3. For every three yawns, say ‘apfel strudel,’ as did Schwarzenegger when he put it on the Planet Hollywood menu like a good Austrian. (He’d visit guests with the dessert menu, saying ‘Try the apfel strudel,’ and the people would hmm and sigh and say the chocolate cake looked good, and he’d lean in menacingly and say TRY the APFEL STRUUUUDEL, faux glaring at them. They’d order it. I ordered it once myself; it was pretty great, to tell you the truth.)
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  4. Cook apples on stove top and shake in cinnamon and cardamom. Measure nothing. Grab jar of unlabeled, thickened honey that your sister got from a north Jersey farm last summer and said she’d never eat, and add in three spoonfuls.
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  5. Add about a half-cup of Trader Joe’s chopped pecans to saucepan to toast. Read label, see that this is 410 calories, blanch with panic, and pour half back into bag.
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  6. Push tax forms and last year’s receipts aside on table and set up cookie sheets, box of phyllo, olive oil, apples, and nuts. Fold phyllo sheets in half, brush with oil, sprinkle each sheet with seven miniscule pecan pieces, and envelop apples in center. Use hands instead of large serving spoon, leaving the odd appley drip to land on Industry Magazine 1099 form.
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  7. Roll up and bake strudels. Let cool, slice one, and chase down hundreds of tiny shattered pieces that fly off knife and onto tax forms like mosquitoes at a church picnic, if both mosquitoes and church picnic were same shade of slightly off-white. Start thinking was supposed to layer apples and nuts in all of the layers.
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  8. Probably.
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    Anyway. They’re pretty good, despite the heaping mouthfuls of phyllo necessary to penetrate first. I also like thinking my accountant, trying to organize the labyrinthine tax forms of a freelancer, will sniff and be blissfully transported to Austria, and not know why.

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When I tell people I pick quinces locally, they ask where. I smirk enigmatically and say, ‘I know a tree.’ Then I change the subject. For you, I’ll say a little more.

The tree in question surprised me last fall when I was driving down a busy highway. I spotted it near the entrance to an abandoned restaurant. And my heart started racing the way it does for some women when they see charcoal grey Manolo Blahniks at 1/3 off retail. Golden green fruit was hanging from the tree, so I figured it was either Golden Delicious apples or quinces.

I went back not long after with my stepladder. Even while I was picking them I still wasn’t sure what they were. But once I had them in the car I knew. Quinces have the loveliest fragrance—like their cousin the apple, but sexier. There was no longer any doubt what I’d found.

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This year I brought a bigger stepladder. It was my birthday. I had my long hair down, which I don’t recommend, because when you climb up into the branches your hair will get caught in eleventy-hundred directions, and you’ll have to pry it loose, and afterward go to Trader Joe’s looking like Annie Oakley after the second week of deer camp, not that I’d know anything about that. I picked maybe six pounds of fruit and took these shots in the early evening light.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous walking toward the tree with my stepladder, thinking—despite the fact that it was on an abandoned property—that the people wandering around the car wash next door would hassle me. Then I remembered this:

After people ask me where I find what I find, they often follow up with, ‘I drive down that road all the time and have never seen it. How did you?’ I’m not brighter or more skilled at finding wild edibles than anyone else. The shortest answer is that I’m looking. Consciously or unconsciously, you have to be looking. It has matter to you.

And it’s the same case with the people at the car wash. They didn’t see me because they weren’t looking.

I picked in peace…just the way I like. Happy golden green birthday to me.

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I used to hate fresh tomatoes. Growing up in New Jersey, that was as heretical as blasting Conway Twitty music on the street outside the Pony.* I said it anyway, though. And to be fair, the supermarket tomatoes I grew up eating were hardly flavorful. Grown strictly to withstand shipping and handling, picked unripe and hit with ethylene gas**, they were pink, watery, and a bore on the taste buds.

Then maybe eight years ago I had a fling with an heirloom tomato and became even more smug in my distaste of remotely grown fresh tomatoes. Heirlooms taste like the berries tomatoes are: tender and richly flavored.

Yesterday I walked into Asbury Park for lunch—well, for the makings of it. First I stopped by a local organic farm stand run by a woman in a floppy straw hat. When I picked up one of the two tomatoes on display, I asked if she had raised them herself. She said she had, and warned me that the tomato I held ‘wasn’t perfect.’ I gave it a little squeeze, and a tiny bit of juice oozed out. It was probably two hours off the vine, a youngster in a new town. I told her I don’t care about perfect, and bought it.

Then I went to the bread stand run by a gregarious Roman guy. As he talked to customers he sliced up narrow anchovy-provolone sandwiches, casually handing bits to passers-by.*** Sold me two rolls for a buck. ‘Thank you, sweet dahling!’

Then I walked home, stopping by the lake to pick some wild mint.

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The tomato sandwich with basil is a time-honored thing, and for good reason. I figured mint and basil are cousins, so I’d give that a whirl. Picked a bunch—some for my sandwich, more for my friend who loves to cook and wouldn’t look at me the way the anti-Conway-Twitty crowd would. It takes a rare person, Jerseyan or not, who will not look at me askance for eating plants I picked by a lake. She is one of them.****

I sliced up the roll and gutted it a bit—I don’t like too high a bread-to-filling ratio—and added a slice of Trader Joe’s addictive mozzarella, a little bit of mayonnaise, and kosher salt. The juice from the tomato mixes with the mayo and makes the bread a little soppy, but that’s a plus.

You can try to build a quicker, better, cobbled-together summer sandwich than this, but it won’t work. Okay, maybe if you use two slices of cheese. I’m reasonable.

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*That’s bad. Trust me on this one.

**You’re smacking your lips at that image, aren’t you? I shouldn’t tease so.

***Several turned up their noses; I almost bit his hand off.

***This just occurred to me: the friend I mention is one of three good friends who are first-generation kids (Filipino, Italian, and Japanese). I find in cases such as this there is a stronger connection to where food comes from, and less of a tendency to be afraid of it. Kind of fascinating.)

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Indulge me a bit, will you? I wait all year for the tiny crepe stand on the Asbury Park boardwalk to open, and I always eat my inaugural crepe on Memorial Day weekend. The four kids working behind the counter at this place have about as much space as Trader Joe’s allows between cash registers, yet they duck and move between the six hot plates with impressive efficiency. Which is good, because the crowd I was standing in was hungry, as the sun-soaked tend to be.

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This year my sister, who loves to say the crepes made here at this little tin shack are better than those she had in Paris, got the cannoli crepe. It comes with cannoli cream and little chocolate chips. Her friend got a S’mores crepe, with ground Graham crackers, baby marshmallows, and a squiggle of chocolate syrup.

I get what I always get: the Elvis Presley, containing Nutella, sliced bananas, and crumbled Reese’s peanut butter cups—everything but the barbiturates, as I told my friends. (Since you were wondering, there is a Priscilla, which has all of the Elvis ingredients plus vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Elvis could have put away the latter and then ordered in country-style ribs for dessert, so I’d switch the names of the crepes, myself. But I can still eat in peace.)

Getting crepes over Memorial Day afternoon, standing in the late-day sunshine in the middle of a crowded boardwalk, cooing over them and feasting on their gooshy warmth with plastic forks—it’s a very simple, very communal, and intensely satisfying experience. I don’t eat like this normally. It’s almost dizzying, actually, the degree to which this luxury tops the scales of my brain and taste buds. And full disclosure, I saved half and it’s in my fridge. Really cold, it’s good, too. A treat worth the wait once more…at least until tomorrow morning.

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I’m not a whiner by nature, disclaimer, sometimes it’s good to get things off your chest, disclaimer disclaimer, so you don’t explode, disclaimer.

Chefs, writers, I love you. But not all of you.

Expressions

1) Mouth-feel. We already have a perfectly serviceable word: texture. And it does not call to mind tiny fingers wiggling around on your tongue and in your cheeks, like something Steven Moffat might dream up after his fourth Rusty Nail.

2) Wash it down with. I think of a hose aimed downward, at everything I ate. Tasty image.

3) Grab lunch.* Just cliche. Put it in the same Glad 3-ply with ‘boom’ and ‘bucket list.’

4) Fusion. I spoke with a chef recently who said it’s short for ‘confusion.’ Some make a thoughtful effort to harmonize dissimilar ingredients and techniques.** Others artfully arrange leftovers on a glossy white plate and call themselves geniuses.

Foods and Irritating Substances Pretending to be Foods

1) Greek Yogurt–0% Fat

I know I’m in the minority with this one, but I’ve tried every kind I could find, and they all taste like wallpaper paste. Full fat, now–these are incredible. I love the Honey variety made by The Greek Gods, which is what I suppose they do when not boffing mortal females***; and an Apricot-Mango kind I found this morning. It was amid the 0% and low fat kinds, and I didn’t even think to read the label carefully until I had the first spoonful in my mouth. The second ingredient is cream. Swoonable. Just bloody fattening.

2) Chocolate-Dipping Everything Not Tied Down

Edamame? Et tu, Trader Joe’s?

3) Ditto, but Wrapping, and with Bacon

4) Processed Doughnuts Covered with Processed Cereal and Filled with Icing

This was in the news this week. It bears repeating only as an example of a vomitizing waste of energy and a wicked sharp choice for my list here. Reminds me of an episode of ‘Roseanne’ in which the couple is unloading their junk-food groceries and Roseanne remarks, ‘Hey, Dan? Did you ever notice we eat like our parents are away for the weekend?’

More lists to follow. Charm me, food trenders! I can’t wait.

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I’m just putting this here because I made these today and they turned out great. They don’t relate to anything. Meatball Parm sliders! Yay!

*This expression and the previous one are courtesy of my sister, who’s grossed out by both.

**Just kidding, guys, seriously, your yogurt tastes like butter cream. It’s a knockout. Carry on.

***Shameless plug for my pal Casey’s family: His dad’s wife is French trained and Japanese, and her pastries are glimmering examples of careful, ordered fusion that works (patisserietomoko.com).

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It was chilly in my apartment all last week, so I did what came naturally: turned on the oven and cooked.

The above and immediately below are coconut custard pie. I have never made one, so I blind-baked my basic crust, stirred up my basic custard, and did what my revered and liberally duct-taped Joy of Cooking suggested: tossed a 1/2 cup of shredded coconut into the bottom of the baked crust and then poured the custard on top of it. This was pretty good, but it needed to be more coconutty. So I threw in a splash of coconut extract and gave it a stir. And I ate it for breakfast all week because early-American settlers used to eat pie for breakfast, and while I can’t abide everything they did back then, I sure can this.

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Gratuitous second shot.

Next I found a recipe for Quick Jambalaya in an old February issue of Martha. I used San Marzano plum tomatoes, a red bell pepper (which I never buy out of season, but it does not do to argue with Martha), garlic, red onion, Old Bay, dark meat from half a dozen chicken legs, smoked andouille sausage, and jasmine rice. That last is an embarrassing anachronism, and per my last controversial post makes it Not Really Jambalaya, but either way it was pretty solid.

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Trader Joe’s had an awesome deal on blood oranges, so I snapped up a bag and made a sort of marmalade with them, but with less sugar. My cutting board looked like a vampire crudite platter.*

Then I made some vanilla-bean scones and ate it all up with a little plain yogurt. Also a worthy breakfast, early-American or not.**

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The below is my favorite pic. It was not a product of my kitchen.

While I was waiting for the woman at my local post office to ring up my purchase, I asked her what was in the pastry box on the counter next to her. I’ve always thought her sort of standoffish, but when I asked her she brightened and said she didn’t know, and was excited to take a peek. When she did, she squealed, and said I must take one with me.

Yet another reminder—and there will be more, and I will document them, count on it—that food can be miracle-izing. She didn’t know I’d had a chilly week, and was feeling kind of poopy. It hit the spot in a lot of ways. She even introduced herself. Thanks, Chantal.

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*That was totally gross. But true.

**Not. Whatevs.

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