Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Things I Love at Trader Joe's

There are MANY things I love from Trader Joe’s.  It’s really my favorite food place to shop. I have to be careful with my money when I visit since there are so many tempting items. A TJ’s recently opened in Kansas City and my friend Sara asked for recommendations so I compiled this ever-expanding list.  Here are some of my favorite buys. I’ll only mention Trader Joe's brand items since you can find other things elsewhere.  

Mandarin Orange Chicken (orange bag)
Edamame (yellow & blue bag- kids love) 
Wild caught Salmon

Dry goods
Fig & Apple cereal bars (kids love)
Double Roasted salsa
Organic Joe O's pasta (like spagheti o's)
fair trade organic breakfast blend coffee (all the coffees are great)
white-whole wheat flour
pure organic powdered stevia
organic coconut oil
turbinado sugar

Organic yogurt- vanilla or plain (although I usually make my own these days)
cheeses- lots of gourmet varieties
beef nitrate-free hotdogs (for kids)

Tea Tree shampoo, conditioner & body wash
kids vitamins in the bear bottle
fair trade dark or milk chocolate bars (at register)

They say you can sample anything although I’m too shy to ever ask.  The employees are very helpful and I’ve experienced the best customer service I've ever had there.  My kids love shopping there for the samples & they look for Shelly the turtle to get a prize at the checkout. We always have a great time shopping at TJ’s!

What items did I miss?  What are your Trader Joe's favorites?

Raspberry Cheesecake Bites

This is one delicious dessert!  I made it for my recent romantic at-home date & really had to stop myself from eating them all myself.  Joe was fairly surprised I allowed him to have so many!  I adapted this recipe from one I found on that most amazing of websites, Pinterest.  My version is slightly lower in fat & significantly lower in sugar.  I used Neufchatel cheese in place of half of the cream cheese.  Neufchatel cheese is 1/3 lower in fat than cream cheese and available at most grocery stores, even Aldi.  I replaced 2/3 of the sugar in the cheesecake with my favorite natural sweetener, stevia. I buy pure powdered organic stevia in a 1oz container from Trader Joe’s for $9.99.  A little stevia goes a loooooong way as it’s extremely strong stuff.  This recipe is time consuming but so worth it because it tastes SO GOOD!

Raspberry Cheesecake Bites
makes: 32

For the crust:

1½ cups graham cracker crumbs

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

3 tbsp. sugar

For the raspberry swirl:
6 oz. fresh raspberries

2 tbsp. sugar

For the filling:

32oz of cream cheese, at room temperature
(I used 16oz of Neufchatel cheese and 16oz of cream cheese)
½ cup sugar & 1 teaspoon pure stevia OR 1½ cups sugar

Pinch of salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

4 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 325˚ F.  Line muffin pans with paper liners or skip the paper & grease with lots of butter.  I did both as you can see in the photo. In a small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar.  Stir together with a fork until well blended and all the dry ingredients are moistened.  Press 1 tablespoon of the mixture into the bottom of each cupcake liner.  Using a small, round drinking cup works well for pressing the crust down.  Bake until just set about 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack.

To make the raspberry puree, combine the raspberries and sugar in a blender or food processor.  My baby food blender worked great & was the perfect size. Process until smooth then pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds.
To make the cheesecake, beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy.  Blend in the sugar or sugar/stevia and mix until smooth.  Mix in the salt and vanilla.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

To assemble, spoon 3 tablespoons of the cheesecake batter over the crust in each cupcake liner.  Dot a ½ teaspoon of the raspberry puree in a few dots over the cheesecake filling.  Use a toothpick or a wooden skewer to lightly swirl and create a marbled effect.

Bake until the filling is set, about 22 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.   Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool to room temperature.  Transfer to the refrigerator and let chill for at least 4 hours before serving.  I ate one as soon as it cooled and it was tasty but not amazing.  When I tried a cooled one later it was WONDERFUL! Definitely exercise self control and DO NOT eat any until they are cool.

Date Night Asparagus

We had the wonderful opportunity to spend a Valentine’s date night at home while the kids were elsewhere.  This meant Joe & I could make a meal together like we used to back in our dating days.  I thought all week about what the perfect, yet easy romantic menu would be.  I settled on beef tenderloin, asparagus & raspberry cheesecake bites- plus a giant baked potato for Joe.

Asparagus is one of those veggies that I was scared of for a long time. I finally figured out how to get the right degree of flavor & crispness.  My kids even like asparagus now! OK they really only like it cooked in olive oil instead of the full recipe, but hey that’s progress.

1 lb asparagus
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed

Preheat the oven to 450. Trim the ends off the asparagus & place in a single row in a baking dish.   Mix together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar & pressed garlic.  Drizzle the mixture over the asparagus. Bake for 12 minutes until the asparagus is tender.  Don’t overbake it or it will get mushy.

That’s it, now you’re ready to make some delicious asparagus!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Honey Walnut Granola

Last week I offered to make granola for a church thing. I think my homemade granola is PRETTY amazing & so does my husband but I'd never made it for other people.  It was a hit & was quickly eaten up. I make a few different varieties and this version is my latest creation.  It's easy to adapt for allergies- make it gluten free by omiting the wheat germ or nut free by leaving out the walnuts & substitute a seed like pumpkin instead.  This is great as breakfast cereal with milk or mixed into plain yogurt- so frugal & healthy!

Honey Walnut Granola
3 cups oats (slow cooking kind)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup oil (melted coconut oil is yummy)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg white (optional)
Mix-ins I like to add:
2 Tablespoons flax meal
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
1 Tablespoon wheat germ
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325. Mix the oats, brown sugar, honey & oil together.  Add the vanilla, and if you prefer clumpy granola, the egg white.  Add whatever mix-ins you like: nuts, seeds, etc. Pour onto a cookie sheet & spread over the entire pan.  Pop in the oven for 12 minutes.  Remove the cookie sheet and with a spatula, break up the granola, flipping the pieces over to let the sides brown. Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Let the granola cool for 10-15 minutes, then gently break it up using the back of a spoon. Store in a jar or ziploc bag and it will last more than 2 weeks.  It never gets the chance to last that long around here.

I found this jar at IKEA and it stores my granola & looks pretty

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chicken Noodle Yummyness

A few years ago I discovered the amazing taste of homemade chicken noodle soup.  So much better than from a can, there's really no comparision.

These days I've got the process down to a science... Or at least as scientific as my brain will allow.

I will often roast a small chicken in the oven for dinner & when we're done eating Joe will put all the leftover meat in a tupperware in the fridge.  I will then put the carcass in a large pot on the stove, cover it in water, throw in some carrots, celery & chopped onions & let it simmer for a few hours.  Sometimes I'll put it all in the crockpot & let it simmer on low overnight.  When the simmering is done I let it cool & then strain off & throw away everything but the liguid.  This results in some yummy broth.  Sometimes I'll measure it into 1 cup increments & stick it the freezer & sometimes I'll use it all up w/in a day or so in my homemade chicken noodle soup.

Here's my recipe

1/2 lb (or so) leftover chicken cut in small pieces
5 cups broth (add water if you don't have enough broth or even do all water)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
2 T chopped fresh Parsley
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup wide egg noodles, uncooked

Place broth in a large (6 quart) pan & add onions, garlic, carrots, celery, parsley, Italian Seasoning, salt, & pepper.  Cover & heat to boiling over medium heat.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Add the noodles & simmer for 15 more minutes or until noodles & carrots are tender.  This recipe is easily doubled if you've got more chicken & broth on hand.

This method also works great at Thanksgiving for using up leftover turkey & making Turkey Noodle Soup.
I'm linking up to Freaky Friday at Real Food Freaks, Pennywise Platter at The Nourishing Gourmet and Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.


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