I don’t go to Trader Joe’s regularly, preferring to avoid the intersection of Brentwood and I-64 whenever possible. But once in the trendy grocery, I’m invariably drawn to some item with a cute name or artsy packaging. My impulsive purchases have made for some poor decisions. So I was glad to see their 2016 Customer Choice Awards survey that listed favorite items purchased last year. I printed out the list and tucked it in my purse as a reference.
On my next shopping trip to TJ’s, I told a nice young man stacking shelves, that I was conducting a food test for my blog and showed him my list. He got into the spirit of the venture and took me to where every item was located in the store. Hmm. . . I may have to do this more often.
When I got home with my grocery sacks of fun food, I immediately tested the three that required no preparation. I had a Peanut Butter Cup (You thought I was going to eat the lentils first, didn’t you?); a slice of the Soft Pretzel Stick, and a pinch of the San Francisco-Style Multi-grain Sourdough Boule. The others foods I worked into meals on subsequent days. Below is a brief review of the other items.
Trying Out the Winning Food Items
Mandarin Orange Chicken: This was at the top of TJ’s 2016 overall customer list and the frozen food category, as well. It can be prepared in the oven (20 minutes) or with oil in a skillet (10 minutes). Microwave or pan warm the Mandarin orange ginger sauce. It’s crispy on the outside and tender on the inside with a flavorful sauce—though it could have used an extra sauce packet. (The runners up in the overall favored category were Cookie Butter and Joe’s Diner Mac & Cheese.)
Melodious Blend: A medley of green garbanzo beans, red and green lentils with a bit of tomato and olive oil. You just warm it in a covered saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water for 7 minutes or microwave several minutes. I found it to be a little dry and short on flavor.
Steamed Lentils: (find in refrigerator section by cheeses) The cooked lentils can be used as is or in recipes. These are grown in France and steamed with a bit of salt and are ready to eat or use in a recipe. If using in a recipe calling for lentils, don’t cook it as long.
Cruciferous Crunch Collection (kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and red and green cabbage.) You can steam, roast, use in cream sauce. If using in a salad, toss with a hot dressing that let’s them wilt a bit. I liked the mix sauteed with onion and garlic.
Soft Pretzel Stick: This was the #1 bakery item at TJ’s. Made from scratch using traditional German techniques and cooked in specially designed ovens. No artificial colors or flavors or preservatives. I’m not a pretzel bread fan, but this made for a very nice ham and cheese combo.
Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. Leader in the candy category this year. It contain palm oil, if that’s a concern. There’s only about 8 tiny cups to a package, so it’s a small indulgence. Way better than Reese’s cups.
San Francisco-Style Multi-grain Sourdough Boule: This tangy bread with millet, sunflower and flax seeds ranked 3rd on the customers’ favorite bakery items. The name and ingredients make it sound like a healthy loaf. No artificial colors or flavors or preservatives.
Other Category Winners (I didn’t try): Favorite Beverage: Spiced Cider; Favorite Cheese: Unexpected Cheddar; Favorite Condiment: Organic Ketchup; Favorite Salad Mix: Wild Arugula; Favorite Snack: Peanut Butter Pretzels
What to Buy and What to Bypass at TJ’s
Today suggested the best items to buy at TJ’s and which to skip. They say skip the overpriced produce, with the exception of the bananas, which are 19 cents each. By-pass the pre-packaged meat and fish, too. Better to stick with your butcher or fishmonger, where prices and choices are likely to be better. On the other hand, wines, pantry staples, breads, dairy, chocolate, nuts and flowers are among their recommended selections.