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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.
• 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.
• 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).
• 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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