11 Simple Ways to Turn Trader Joe’s Staples Into Scrumptious Dishes

Photo by Andriy Blokhin / Shutterstock.com

What’s better than grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, with its low prices on all kinds of delicacies and essentials?

Here’s what’s better: a handful of quick, easy ways to combine Trader Joe’s staples in ways you may not have considered.

These 11 hacks take an already good thing and improve on it. The emphasis is on easy, quick and delicious.

If you live near a Trader Joe’s, look for the ingredients mentioned at the store in your area. (Check for locations near you on this map.) The company has more than 460 stores in the United States. If there’s no TJ’s near you, check “opening soon” at the top of the map to view the upcoming store openings.

(Product selection may vary from state to state.)

1. Blue cheese and pecan dip appetizer

Endive is a slightly bitter salad green found in the fresh produce aisles. At TJ’s, look for the plastic package of fist-sized, bullet-shaped, pale yellow heads. The sharp taste of the endive leaves combines beautifully with the creamy, rich cheese spread.

TJ’s ingredients:

  • Blue Cheese & Roasted Pecan Dip
  • Fresh endive

Instructions: Buy a package or two of endive. Wash and cut off leaves. Scoop the contents of a tub of TJ’s blue cheese and pecan dip into a small bowl and place the bowl in the center of a large plate. Arrange the endive leaves around the bowl with the tips pointing outward, like petals on a flower. A friend says she loves bringing this creation to potlucks and basking in the raves she gets for a dish that required just minutes to make.

2. Warm almonds and olives

Here’s another appetizer. It’s from “The I ♥️ Trader Joe’s Cookbook: 150 Delicious Recipes Using Only Foods from the World’s Greatest Grocery Store.” “A ten-minute tapa is always a good thing,” quips the author, Cherie Mercer Twohy, describing this simple, delectable appetizer.

TJ’s ingredients:

  • 2 10-ounce tubs of Greek Olive Medley. (The olives, found in the refrigerated section, are floating in brine.)
  • 1 cup roasted almonds, salted or unsalted
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lemon or orange
  • Rosemary

Instructions: Use a vegetable peeler to remove several long strips of citrus peel or zest from an orange, a lemon or both. Drain the olives. Combine in a baking dish the olives, almonds, olive oil, citrus peel and rosemary sprigs, reserving a few pieces of zest and sprigs for a garnish. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 10 minutes or until warm. Garnish and serve with a crusty baguette.

3. Chocolate-covered banana and peanut butter minis

Wonder How To’s Food Hacks Daily has an inspired idea: Make mini sandwiches with peanut butter and those crazy little chocolate-covered frozen banana chunks.

TJ’s ingredients:

  • Trader Joe’s Gone Bananas (frozen chocolate-covered banana bites)
  • Trader Joe’s Creamy (or Crunchy) No Stir Peanut Butter Spread

Instructions: Could not be simpler. Pluck two frozen chocolate-covered banana slices out of the box, slather a glob of peanut butter (crunchy or smooth) atop one of the slices and top with the other. Serve immediately or freeze the mini sandwiches and bring them to room temperature five minutes before serving.

4. Pulled-pork tacos

Blogger Joanna Goddard at Cup of Jo collects TJ’s hacks. She credits her friend Linsey Laidlaw with this one:

TJ’s ingredients:

  • Pulled Pork in Smoky BBQ Sauce
  • Tortillas
  • Island Salsa (mango)
  • Fancy Shredded Mexican Blend cheese
  • Avocado

Instructions: Writes Goddard:

Heat up the pulled pork. Then pile on tortilla with mango salsa, cheese and avocado. That’s it!

Go really crazy: squeeze a bit of lime juice on the tacos, and top with a dollop of sour cream.

5. Asian flavors slaw

This crunchy, bright salad would be great with the pulled pork tacos above. It’s adapted from the “The I ♥️ Trader Joe’s Cookbook”:

TJ’s ingredients:

  • 2 green onions, chopped fine
  • 1 red pepper, cleaned and cut in strips
  • 1 tablespoon canola or grape seed oil
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (or Trader Ming’s Soyaki sauce)
  • 2 cubes frozen crushed garlic

In addition:

  • 1 teaspoon fresh, finely grated ginger
  • 3 cups shredded green or red cabbage
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced fine (optional)

Instructions: Combine the sauces, oils, sugar, vinegar, garlic and ginger, and whisk vigorously until the oils emulsify (thicken). In a large bowl, combine the vegetables and dress the salad lightly, tossing and tasting. Be careful not to use too much dressing. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl or platter. Garnish with whole sprigs of cilantro and chopped nuts or peanuts.

6. Warm lentil salad

“Karen,” a Cup of Jo reader, shares this combo made with products from the store:

TJ’s ingredients:

  • Cubed pancetta
  • Trader Joe’s Mirepoix (prepared diced onions, carrots and celery)
  • Packaged cooked lentils
  • Chicken broth (a small splash)
  • Sherry vinegar

Instructions: Saute the pancetta in a bit of oil. Add in rest of ingredients and simmer (on very low heat) for 15 minutes, with salt, pepper and a bay leaf or pinch of dried thyme. Remove from heat, add a tablespoon sherry vinegar, mix and serve. Karen suggests topping the warm salad with bite-sized oven-roasted vegetables — sweet peppers, zucchini, eggplant or cauliflower would work well.

7. Boursin and pea ravioli

Here’s one more Cup of Jo hack, which blogger Joanna Goddard says she picked up from her sister:

TJ’s ingredients:

  • One package (recipe based on an 8.8 ounce size) of TJ fresh or frozen ravioli (the butternut squash, for instance, or the goat cheese and sun-dried tomato)
  • Half a container of Boursin cheese
  • Dash of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • Half a bag of TJ Organic Baby Spinach (optional)
  • Ground black pepper

Instructions: Heat the peas and ravioli in separate pans or microwave dishes. Toss them with the cheese and oil, and add the baby spinach if you’re using it. The spinach will wilt when combined with the warm ravioli and sauce. Season to taste with ground pepper, and serve.

8. Pot sticker soup

Here’s a warm and cozy idea from “The I ♥️ Trader Joe’s Cookbook for a meal (4-6 servings) made from TJ’s frozen pot stickers and a few other simple ingredients.

TJ’s ingredients:

  • 4 cups stock or broth (vegetable or chicken)
  • 2 cubes frozen crushed garlic
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • Half of a 16-ounce package of frozen vegetable or chicken pot stickers
  • 1 20-ounce bag of frozen stir fry vegetables
  • 1/2 cup shredded fresh carrots
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 4 scallions, sliced thin on the diagonal

Instructions: Heat the first four ingredients in a saucepan on the stove top until boiling. Add the frozen pot stickers, bring once more to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer for about four minutes. Add the vegetables and simmer them until tender and the pot stickers are thoroughly cooked. Cookbook author Twohy suggests garnishing each bowl full of soup with a splash of sesame oil and a sprinkle of sliced scallions.

9. Cheese and chutney mini rolls

What can’t you do with Trader Joe’s teeny little slider buns? Well, for one tasty example, toast them lightly, spread with TJ’s fig butter and top them with a dab of Trader Joe’s Creamy Blue Cambozola. Give them 10-15 seconds under the broiler to soften the cheese, and you’ve got an awesome instant appetizer.

But Twohy, in “The I ♥️ Trader Joe’s Cookbook,” has another idea. Here it is:

TJ’s ingredients:

  • 1 package of eight mini hamburger buns
  • 4 ounces of Swiss Gruyère or aged sharp cheddar
  • 4 tablespoons Trader Joe’s Mango Ginger Chutney

Instructions: Make eight little sandwiches, distributing the cheese and chutney evenly on the buns. Serve a tray full of these babies at your next party, and be sure to make extras.

10. Seriously upgraded mac ‘n cheese

The folks at Wonder How To’s Food Hacks Daily aren’t the first to suggest upgrading a TJ staple, Joe’s Diner Mac ‘n Cheese, made with Swiss cheese, cheddar, Gouda and Havarti. Other suggestions include coating the top with panko (bread crumbs) or adding oven-roasted chunks of TJ’s chicken sausage. But doesn’t this recipe leave all other mac ‘n cheese hacks in the dust?

TJ’s ingredients:

  • Joe’s Diner Mac ‘n Cheese
  • Uncured Applewood Smoked Bacon
  • Asiago cheese

Instructions: While your mac ‘n cheese is heating, chop the bacon (as much as you want) into pieces roughly a half-inch in width and saute. Grate the Asiago. Before serving the mac ‘n cheese, toss in the bacon and sprinkle with grated Asiago.

11. Dressed up jalapeño-artichoke dip

The TJ’s Chunky Artichoke & Jalapeño Dip is delicious on its own. But combined with a few other ingredients — ooh la la!

TJ’s ingredients:

  • TJ’s Chunky Artichoke & Jalapeño Dip
  • TJ’s Roasted Corn, defrosted
  • 1 cup TJ’s Lite Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped TJ’s Cilantro, plus more for garnish
  • Tortilla chips

Instructions: Combine the first four ingredients with a grind or two of fresh black pepper. Put the dip in a serving dish and garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve with chips.

Hungry for more? Take a look at recipes on Trader Joe’s site using the store’s ingredients.

And share your Trader Joe’s secret recipes with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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