I take my grocery shopping very seriously. I'm not opposed to hitting three or more stores in one trip to get exactly the ingredients I want, at the price I want.
Trader Joe's is one of my usual stops, and not just because of the tubs of kitty cat cookies. Or the tiny ice cream cones. Or the Candy Cane Joe-Joe's, which I wait for all year.
The ever-changing array of only-at-TJ's snacks is the catnip that keeps many of us shopping there, but I can live without them (and should more often, except for maybe the Joe-Joe's).
There are a few staple items, however, that I only get at Trader Joe's and refuse to buy anywhere else.
These eight products are the core of my TJ's list, and heaven help me if the company discontinues them, like they have a few of my other favorite things (bring back the Danish pancakes, please!).
Here are the eight things I only buy from Trader Joe's.
1. Savory Broth Concentrate
I've been buying these little boxes filled with tubes of concentrated broth goo for years. The concentrate is delicious, not overly salty like those jars and tubs of bouillon can be, which means they're a lot more versatile because they don't have to be diluted.
I use them as a flavor boost in pan sauces, much like chefs use demi-glace. I'll squeeze a tube into braised greens, stir fries, and "sauceless" pastas. And, yes, I use them as a soup base; love being able to control how much water I add.
2. Frozen Chicken and Pork Gyoza Potstickers
Other flavors have come and gone over the years, but these are the stalwarts, and with good reason. The fillings are delicious and amenable to many different flavors and accompaniments. I've served them alongside teriyaki chicken rice bowls, floated them in a ginger-lemongrass soup, and dipped them in a gochujang-spiked sauce. They come in handy to eat as snacks or quick lunches, or to round out a veggie-packed dinner.
3. Pastures of Eden Feta
We're big fans of feta in our house. The salty, crumbly cheese is a favorite in leafy green and grain salads, and one of my kids' favorite lunches to take to school is a meze plate of feta, bread, and olives. This luscious version, imported from Israel, is the only one we buy. It has the perfect tangy-salty flavor, but is so creamy it borders on decadence.
4. Freeze-Dried Fruit
Crispy as chips, but way more nutritious, I'm happy to give my kids a bag of freeze-dried fruit to snack on. They can be expensive, though, since it takes many pounds of fresh fruit to make just a few ounces, but TJ's offers bags of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and mangoes for a great price. We often use them as an ice cream topping, mix them into granola after baking, and sprinkle them into bowls of cereal that need a little more oomph or sweetness.
5. Dried Fruit
As an avid baker of granola, muffins, cookies, and scones, I seem to go through quite a bit of dried fruit in my house, and I always buy it from TJ's. The fruits are always high quality and often cheaper than the bulk bins at other supermarkets. The tart, moist "slab apricots" are my absolute favorite and a go-to snack. The wild blueberries are a must for my "maple buttermilk pancake" granola. And I toss the cranberries into just about everything — even salads.
6. Steamed Lentils
It's not like lentils are hard to make, and they're certainly cheaper when dried, but the vacuum-sealed packs of steamed lentils in the TJ's refrigerator section are just so good I can't resist buying them. They're perfectly cooked, not mushy or hard, and so perfectly seasoned you can eat them straight from the pouch. I love serving them as a speedy and healthy weeknight side dish, tossing them in vegetable soups, or using them as the base for a filling lunch salad, with feta (see above), diced vegetables, chopped fresh herbs, and mustardy vinaigrette.
7. Lemon Curd
People spot the jar of lemon curd in my fridge and ask, "What do you use it with?" Um, how about everything? Truly, lemon curd is my Nutella. I use it anywhere and everywhere I can, from my morning cup of yogurt to company-worthy desserts. I slather it on biscuits, swirl it into vanilla ice cream, mix it into frosting.
One of my favorite guilty pleasures is faux lemon cheesecake — cream cheese and lemon curd on graham crackers, or even toast. As a longtime lemon curd addict, I have tried many different brands, and Trader Joe's has the hands-down best.
8. Puff Pastry
Trade Joe's only stocks its frozen all-butter puff pastry during the holiday baking season. Luckily, I have a spare freezer so I can stock up and enjoy it year-round. It's far cheaper than the other premium, all-butter versions you can buy in fancy supermarkets, and it doesn't have the crazy list of scary-sounding ingredients that the ubiquitous shortening-based versions have.
I don't make a ton of fancy puff pastry desserts, but knowing I have it in my freezer is like insurance. It's perfect for weeknight pot pies and fast appetizers like cheese straws. And my kids love to bust out a sheet and make little fruit tarts and jam turnovers when friends sleep over.
What about you? What are the things worth trekking to Trader Joe's for?