Did you know I play soccer? An unhealthy amount of soccer. I've played since I was 5 and am pretty obsessed with making sure I always have somewhere to play. I didn't play last fall because I wanted to allow myself time to transition into school and California life. So when Spring seasons came around I went a little nuts and joined 3 different leagues. I'd like to say I will not be doing this again, but that could be a lie.
Saturday night my soccer game got called early due to a player tearing one of the ligaments in her knee (a soccer player's worst nightmare). I did my best to bring order to the chaos on the field as we stabilized her knee and got her into a car for one of her teammates to drive her to the hospital. I felt so bad for her as she's a really talented player. Depending on what it is, you go from 8 months+ recovery to career ending. Such a shame.
Because I was done an hour early and I got a text from a friend inviting us over to a potluck dinner the following night, I ended up doing some major food shopping (we're also having guests this coming week, so I had to get our regular stuff, special stuff for many special meals, and things for the smoked gouda mac and cheese that I brought as my dish to the pot luck). I went to Whole Foods (or as we've started calling it, Whole Paycheck) and Trader Joe's.
I actually don't go to Trader Joe's that often. Partly because Nick and I rarely spend money on real food (ie. things that are not peanut butter, bread, milk, bananas, and plain pasta...yes we lead the exciting culinary life of college students), and partly because I love Trader Joe's and the day I am allowed to shop there and not budget myself will be the first time I spend over $200 at a supermarket.
Maybe it was because I was a little but freaked out over the way my game ended, maybe it was because we went to a cooking class on Friday night (got a great deal through Group-on) so I was in the mood to cook, or maybe it was because I really wanted to spend some quiet time with Nick that didn't involve watching TV, but I decided to not be so strict with our food budget and bought a few things to make a nice meal for us. It was really hard to make a decision because everything is so good there. I think I spent a good 30 minutes there, and I only bought 5 or 6 things. But on the upside, trolling through aisles of Trader Joe's gave me the idea for this entry!
So here are my top favorite things from Trader Joe's:
Frozen Gnocchi - in particular the sweet potato in a butter and sage sauce and Gorgonzola sauce varieties. Both are so easy to make (just put them in a pan and cook until warm), and they will make anyone who tries them think you did it from scratch. We've gone through periods before where we have one of them once a week. This is very dangerous because I always try to add extra things (like smoked salmon and asparagus to the Gorgonzola one) to make them last more than one meal, but I end up eating it all in one sitting.
Milk Chocolate Macadamia nut Lace Cookies - Walking through the frozen food section, you cannot help but be distracted by all the cookies and chocolates TJs sells. Mini peanut butter cups, chocolate covered blueberries and pretzels, it's a dieter's worst nightmare. Recently when trying to pick one of these yummies out, we discovered these lace cookies and have vowed never to buy them again. They are just too good. A mixture between a lace cookie and toffee, if I sit down to eat one, the whole box will disappear. I now consider it my crack.
Wine - Our TJ's has a halfway decent wine section, and after recently being turn on to an Italian red wine variety called montepulciano, I grabbed a random bottle off the shelf the last time we were there and tried it. The wine was Incanto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and for a $10 bottle it was really good. I generally am not a red wine fan, but this is smoother, lighter, and sweeter than heavier varieties. Needless to say the red wine drinker in the family (Nick) is super happy whenever I bring it home.
Frozen Pizzas and Flat Breads - When we were living in NJ once every other month we'd stock up our freezer with different things in case I didn't feel like cooking or we had nothing for lunch in a pinch. 90% of those thing were from TJs and 50% of those things were from the pizza section. I really hate frozen pizza because I don't like red sauce and frozen red sauce is particularly bad, and pizzas always end up being disappointing when you are used to NY pizza and you have to settle for not that. But I like Trader Joe's pizza because they have different kinds of toppings and you're eating it for that more than just wanting pizza. Our favorites are the roasted veggie (which unfortunately I think they may have stopped making), truffled wild mushroom, and caramelized onion and ham varieties.
Vanilla Almond Granola - Back in college when we first discovered Trader Joe's, this was the first thing I ever made my mom buy me. It tastes like cake batter ice cream from Coldstone (but with waaaaaaay less calories). Still addicted.
Honorable mentions go to their extremely cheap section of Trader Joe's Cheese (goat cheese mozzarella? smoked gouda? drool.) and corn bread stuffing, but since I've already talked about those in past entries I didn't want to repeat myself. I also love their butternut squash ravioli which is just as good as any of the fancier brands, but a 1/3 of the price and the frozen smoked salmon crepes and the frozen breaded eggplant...maybe this should have been a top 10 entry?
And for those of you who were curious, here's the meal I ended up making for us:
From Trader Joe's:
Sweet Potato Gnocchi (I also added some onions and crimini mushrooms to it)
Incanto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
From Whole Foods:
2 Steaks (I soaked them in the wine with garlic and rosemary)
Sweet Corn on the Cob
A Giant Cream Puff for two from the bakery