What I Buy at Trader Joe’s (and what I skip)

I love Trader Joe’s like many of you! It’s about twenty minutes from my apartment so it’s a monthly at max trip for me. There are a few things I buy there and only there, some I like to pick up occasionally and some I can skip. I love to know what others have found among the handwritten signs – so tell me in the comments what you love! 

  • Frozen vegetables- Trader Joe’s has frozen vegetables with a little something extra. This fire roasted corn is great in a dip or creamed corn recipe. The grilled cauliflower is something extra to roasted ( I like it with buffalo sauce) cauliflower

  • These cookies. I have no idea what a Dress Circle is but they apparently make delicious crispy crunchy chocolate chip cookies. These remind me of Nam’s Bits- a boutique staple in the south. 

  • Reduced Guilt Mac and Cheese Frozen. This stuff is so good. I buy a few at a time and it is delicious and easy. You microwave this and I love it! It has less calories than the original and apparently when they reduced the guilt they reduced the price because this is a dollar less than the original variety. 

  • I buy all sorts of crackers and party things at TJ. This set tastes like the name brand but is much cheaper. 

  • Creamy Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce. This pasta sauce is good- like vodka sauce but a little darker. It would make a great base to a soup. I think it’s easy with linguine for a carb heavy quick dinner (enhanced guilt)

  • Fresh flowers – every time I go to TJ I treat myself to the $3.99 bouquet of flowers. If you have fresh flowers in your house, you are an adult. Scientific fact.  At Christmas you can find cheap live wreaths and they last forever. I would know because my neighbor has had one on his door since last Novemember. 

This is the same bouquet – I bought these tonight! 


Other things I buy:

  • Frozen spinach artichoke dip- it tastes like real deal restaurant dip
  • Hummus- so many varieties. Such a low price. Check the dates on these- they vary greatly. Some good for over a month, some a few days.
  • Pita chips- I read these were made in the same factory as Stacy’s and cheaper. Don’t quote me but they are good.
  • Stick butter- when I need it, this is a good price. 
  • Organic salad greens- check the dates but comparable to grocery store prices and organic
  • Goat cheese. The only place to buy it in my opinion- big quantities for good prices, little quantities for nothing. Throw some in your scrambled eggs, and thank me later.
  • Dips- if it’s in the dip section I think it’s usuall good.
  • Greeting cards- $0.99 and great quality paper. I pick up a friendship birthday or sympathy card whenever I go. I love sending mail and the cards you grab absent mindedly at the grocery store are often $3-5 (and not as cute!) 

What I skip

  • Beverages- the sparkling water is disappointing and overpriced. I have started buying Canned Polar for my nightly sparkling lime water. This is my routine because it feels like a night cap but it’s no calories.
  • Salad dressing- I’ve never been impressed
  • Desserts- they are way too tempting and way too plentiful.
  • Cookie butter. I know. I know. Cult classic, but the calories are off the chart and just because it looks like peanut butter doesn’t make it the same. This is cookie in goo form. I like the flavor, so if I’m craving it I’ll buy a biscoff cookie.
  • Meat- I think it’s over priced. I skip the chicken, beef and pork here in favor of a local store. The only exception are flavored Italian sausages which are a good price and flavorful. 
  • Bread- I don’t think it lasts long and I’m not a bread eater.
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Striped Corn Dip

Striped you say? Indeed. This is a variation on my fa-uh-mous hot corn dip. And by my famous hot corn dip I mean Trisha Yearwood’s that I get asked to bring to bunco over and over. 

  

Now the stripes are born of necessity since I only had one skinny piece of each cheddar and pepper jack, these come in a Kraft variety pack that I love! Cover this hot dip with whatever cheese you’d like but the stripes do make it a little *festive* if I do say so. 

  
Now usually my corn dip uses mexicorn, a nifty little invention that is just asking to be mixed up with real mayo (you wouldn’t use Miracle Whip would you? WOULD you?) and eaten on a Frito. But alas, sometimes we don’t have mexicorn and we have to satisfy our corn dip cravings. Enter an item I have never NOT had in my kitchen (do ya love a double negative? ) — Rotel Tomatoes. The basis for the old stand by Velveeta queso and my favorite ever white chicken chili, Rotel and football Saturdays are made for each other. 

   Now after all the ingredients below are mixed together you can get *fancy* and stripe some cheese on the top. It matters very little because as soon as the people you are watching the game with get ahold of the dip your stripes will be ruined and your effort scooped up on a corn chip and devoured. 

  
Look at those swimming lanes, stripes, flag of cheesy goodness if you will. 

Now bake that bad boy up in a hot oven and it will look like this: 

  
 Now I don’t want to tell you what to do but if I were you I’d scoop me some in a little bowl and hide out in a quiet room, check the football score on your phone just to make sure the dip isn’t eaten before you get a chance to get your corn chip in there.
Kinda like this.  Go ahead, I won’t judge you.  
To make:

1 can corn, drained

1 can Rotel, (tomatoes with green chiles) drained

2/3 cup real mayonnaise

1/2 block (4 oz) cream cheese

1/2 cup Parmesan grated

1 cup mozzarella cheese (or Monterey Jack)

Mix all that good stuff up and top with cheese stripes, or cheddar or nothing at all if you prefer. Bake at 375 until hot, bubbly and slightly browned. Serve with corn chips. 

French Onion Chicken Thighs

I feel like chicken thighs get a bad rap compared to their friends the chicken breast. I love a good slow cooker chicken breast recipe, but chicken thighs are moist and inexpensive so I figured I’d give a crockpot recipe a shot. 

  
I wanted to serve the chicken with some simple sides so I wanted flavorful, but not too complicated. I decided to give cooking them with canned French onion soup (I used Campbell’s)- it turned out so well and the chicken was delicious!

    
I used frozen chicken thighs – bone in/skin on – that I purchased on sale. I paid $4 for 5 pounds! I used my mini crockpot- hint! The exact crockpot I have will be for sale for $4.99 on Black Friday at JC Penny! I am picking up another! 

  
To make the French onion chicken, simply lay the chicken thigh(s) in the bottom of your crockpot and cover with 1 can French onion soup and a third can of water. I cooked on low for 8 hours, and left it on warm for another hour. When it was done I used my tongs to pull off the skin, and grab the meat from the bone, right in the slow cooker. I plated the chicken, and poured the contents of the slow cooker through my colander over the sink and discarded the (gross parts) skin and bones.

 

 I served this with skillet roasted creamed corn, which I made with the roasted frozen corn from Trader Joe’s. We just got a Trader Joe’s and I must say one of my favorite new hobbies is coming up with reasons to go to Trader Joe’s. To make the corn I melted 1 TB butter, 2 TB cream cheese and a third cup of milk in a skillet and added corn and salt and pepper to taste.

  
I also served with a Knorr rice side, which I buy on sale for $1 and divide in half and cook. To divide, measure half a cup of dry mixture (shake around first) and cook with a little less than 1 cup water according to package. 

  

No Spend Month and a yummy baked chicken finger recipe

For me, February is no spend month. It’s an exercise in self control and a reminder to be grateful and content with what I have. For the entire month I aim not to spend money. Last week I spent a whopping $7.98! Of course I don’t stick my debit card in a chunk of ice in the freezer for the whole month but I do set up rules that I follow:
– NO clothes (this is a big one for me)
– nothing optional (house decor etc.)
– nothing I’m not completely out of. This isn’t the month I switch up my shampoo or half used beauty products for fun, try a new laundry detergent when I have some of the old stuff left (who am I kidding- Gain forever) , or buy the pretty lotion at the gift shop.
– no grocery run until the 15th of the month (this is easy because I have my stockpile of freezer meals), but requires a little bit of creativity and planning.

The other night I wanted a baked chicken recipe rather than one of my stockpiled and trust quart sized crockpot meals. I had gotten a set of small chicken breasts on sale and frozen them individually for future use. I took a bag out of the freezer, let it thaw and the next night cooked up this chicken finger recipe. This is hardly a recipe (the way I like it!)

Ritz Ranch Chicken Strips

I started by cutting the breast into three pretty equal strips

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I preheated the oven to 375 and set up two two dunking stations next to a sprayed glass casserole dish. In the first was bottled ranch dressing (I buy farmhouse ranch which has some extra spices and veggies or pieces of “confetti” in it, but it really doesn’t matter what you use). In the second dish I finely crushed ritz crackers and added a little black pepper. I think Parmesan cheese here would be a good addition but I didn’t miss it.

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Place the strips in the ranch and cover well. I let them soak in the ranchy goodness for a while as I prep a side dish (no spend month confession- I really wanted some of my famous cream cheese mashed potatoes with this meal but I couldn’t break the no grocery rule so early in the month- even to buy one measly potato, so I served up some yellow rice I had on hand for Jamaican chicken and black beans – I have enough left over for that meal, which I froze cooked in a freezer bag).

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I forgot to take a pic of the chicken strips after I coated them in crackers, but I’ll bet you can imagine what that step looked like.

I baked these in a greased glass dish for 25-35 minutes. I used my Misto olive oil sprayer to lightly spray the tops in the last five minutes of cooking to crisp them up. They were SO moist and yummy! I served them up with the aforementioned, second choice yellow rice and my standby microwave steamed broccoli (I season with a little garlic salt and pepper). I’ll definitely be picking up more frozen veggies when I do my mid month grocery run! Finally!

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Have you ever tried a no spend month?

Making things work

I make a lot of things that are designed for families work for just me. Below are some examples:

Full casseroles:
I cook full casserole recipes, mix them in a bowl , cook one right away and freeze the rest in throw away tins

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I try to think ahead and unthaw one of these the night before.

I make cous cous and freeze one cup servings in plastic quart sized bags and microwave for a minute in the bag.

I buy a frozen loaf of garlic bread, cut it frozen and freeze in a zip top bag and take one out at a time.

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I also buy big frozen bags of vegetables and keep them sealed in zip top bags and take out a cup at a time and cook in the microwave, on the stove or in the oven to accompany all my meals.

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Some other things I do are freeze marinara or pasta sauce with meat in individual servings and cook or buy casserole sides and cut into individual pieces and freeze in bags (see above).

What are your great ideas for making big servings work for small or single families?

Spinach Dip Baked Chicken

BakedChick

On nights I don’t have a meal in my slow cooker my go to is a quick and well rounded meal. I recently explored a new grocery store in my area. It was really cute, full of cute single guys after work and had an awesome meat counter and wine section. I noticed the chicken was a really great deal so although I had plenty of chicken dishes frozen for the slow cooker, I grabbed a pack of three breasts to use for baked/sauteed/grilled chicken breasts. I also grabbed my favorite heard to find couscous, the Near East Mushroom Herb variety.

This chicken is made using a super convenient spinach dip seasoning packet. I thought of this idea after spending entirely too long looking at the guy in the seasoning section.

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  • 1/3 packet Spinach Dip Seasoning
  • Olive Oil
  • Chicken breast, butterflied
  • 2 TBS Parmesan Cheese

Take a sharp knife and cut a pocket into your chicken breast to butterfly it, this speeds up the cooking and gives us some more room for the yummy spinach and seasoning. Coat both sides with olive oil and sprinkle each side with the spinach dip mix.

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Bake for 30 minutes at 375. The cooking time will depend on your oven and the thickness of the breast. During the last 5 minutes of cooking sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top of the chicken.  I served this up with couscous (I make the whole package, measure out the three 1 cup servings and freeze two of them in zip top bags, then microwave for another meal). I also just microwaved a little broccoli and a bowl with water and seasoned with salt and pepper.

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Roasted Crunch Broccoli

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I made up a new broccoli recipe yesterday. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. I didn’t have a lot of ingredients on hand but didn’t want to do just basic steamed broccoli for dinner

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It was super crunchy, yummy and a really good alternative to regular old broccoli.

To make:
2 cups frozen broccoli
3 TBS olive oil
2 TBS ranch powder (I use Hidden Valley)
1/3 cup finely crushed cracker crumbs (I used ritz)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Pepper to taste

Coat broccoli in olive oil and toss with remaining ingredients. Spread on cookie sheet, making sure crumbs are on top of broccoli.

Roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until broccoli and crumbs are slightly crisp and golden brown

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Try this next time you’ve got frozen broccoli florets- the ingredients and measurements are flexible for sure- let me know what you try!