Take Taste Toss

Take, Taste, Toss: Trader Joe’s Edition

Our contributors give you brief reviews of recent cookbooks/ kitchen gadgets/ recipes they've tried, and tell you whether you should take it home, just give it a taste, or toss it out.
Crazy good for the price (and how convenient it is).
Crazy good for the price (and convenience).

As the author of a French cookbook who believes it’s fine to take culinary shortcuts—as long as the results are true to France—I’m always on the lookout for great French-food convenience products and readymades. Here’s what I’ve found at Trader Joe’s:

• Maître Pierre Tarte d’Alsace ($4.49): This is a version of Alsace’s “tarte flambée”–a traditional pizza-like dish that tops a cracker-like crust with crème fraîche, onions, and lardons (thick French bacon strips).

The Verdict: Take! Ah, the crisp-thin crust! The smoky bacon! The sweet onions! The creamy lusciousness of it all! I found it amazing that a frozen product could truly approximate this time-honored dish so well. Or, put it this way: If a true tarte flambée in Strasbourg rates a “10,” and your own homemade-in-American version might score a “9,” this is easily an 8.5. And that’s pretty darn good for something this convenient and inexpensive.

Definitely a "Take."
Definitely a “Take.”

• Trader Jacques Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce ($3.49): Let’s start by saying that if I had to forego either chocolate or caramel for a year, I’d say give up the chocolate first. I’m a caramel freak. And I love making my own caramel sauce, so any purchased product had better be pretty amazing.

The Verdict: Take! If my homemade caramel sauce is a 10, this is about a 9.7—and again, that’s high marks for something so convenient. Remember, a great caramel sauce is more than caramelized sugar—it has to have butter or cream, and this one has both. So it’s velvety, luscious, and deeply flavored, with just a little bit of salt to pique the tongue.

Non! This is NOT Trader Joe's Boeuf Bourguignon. It's mine, which I must say is much better!
Non! Trader Joe’s Boeuf Bourguignon is not nearly as good as this homemade version above. Photo by Richard Swearinger.

• Trader Joe’s Boeuf Bourguignon: The classic stew of beef simmered in wine with pearl onions and mushrooms.

The Verdict: Toss. Sure, it’s as easy as Boeuf Bourguignon gets, but I found the sauce to be a bit watery and the beef wasn’t nearly as luscious as it should have been. If a homemade version is a “10″ then alas, the Trader Joe’s version is about a “5.”

• Trader Joe’s Frozen French Green Beans ($1.99): These are those chic, slender haricot verts that go so well with …. well, just about everything, but specifically, roast chicken and steak-frites.

The Verdict: Take! Sure, if you can find fresh French green beans picked that very day at your farmers market, those will be better. But these are mighty good, and they’re loose-packed in a way that makes it easy to pull out a handful here and there. Just be sure to cook them the French way (that is, boil or steam them until just tender, and then saute them in….wait for it….butter).

My favorite way to serve Trader Joe's Savory Thins.
My favorite way to serve Trader Joe’s Savory Thins. Photo by Richard Swearinger.

• Trader Joe’s Original Savory Thins ($1.69): These shiny, crunchy crackers are made from rice meal, sesame seeds and flour, safflower oil, and a few spices.

The Verdict: Take! No, they’re not exactly French, but I use them all the time to make French-inspired canapes. Top them with a little hummus and tapenade for a go-to appetizer with wine. Or, top them with a semisoft cheese (Brie, Camembert, Taleggio, etc.) and a few herbs and run them under the broiler until just oozy.

I’d love to hear about other must-haves (or misses) from Trader Joe’s—whether or not they’re French.


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About Wini Moranville

Wini Moranville is the author of The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day. For quirky insights on French food and lifestyle, follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @winimoranville.

  • http://twitter.com/clintonk Clinton Kabler

    Man, I’d trade the secrets to making social medicine work to the U.S. for a Trader Joe’s in Canada. Going in two weeks! The Tarte d’Alsace looks especially yummy!

    • Wini Moranville

      Too funny! I’d take that trade in a heartbeat!

  • baedeker_baby

    It isn’t French, but my 8 year old daughter LOVES the Gorgonzola gnocchi in Trader Joe’s freezer section. When I heat it up in the pan, I let the sauce caramelize a little bit. She even counts the gnocchi on our plates to make sure she has at least one more than everybody else!

    • Wini Moranville

      I’v never had that Gorgonzola gnocchi, but I’ve heard again and again that it’s fabulous.

  • Bob Bires

    The bags of frozen, sliced leeks are one of the most useful bargains I’ve found there.

  • S. Zainab Williams

    I’m so getting the tarte the next time I’m at TJ’s.

  • Anne – Music and Markets

    Ditto to all of these, and add the French- inspired Chocolate Lava cake for dessert!

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