12 Things I Never Leave Trader Joe’s Without!

Trader Joe's marcona almonds

12 Things I Never Leave Trader Joe’s Without ~ TJs sparks foodie passions like no other store, and our favorites list is as unique as our fingerprints. How does my list match up with yours?

trader joes bag

I love Trader Joe’s, but honestly I don’t get there super often because the parking can be hellish, at least where I live. But there are so many unique things you can only get at TJs, so I brave it every once in a while, and try to stock up. Shopping Trader Joe’s is a little bit like a treasure hunt, they’re always adding new innovative products, hidden gems, and unusual finds, but no matter what I discover on any given trip, I always come home with these staples in my bag…

Living Basil Plant

~I pick this up right as I enter the store so I won’t forget, and I put it right up front in my cart so it doesn’t get squished. I’ve talked before about what a great deal living herbs are. Prepackaged herbs last only a few days, but a plant can go on for a month or more! (And Trader Joe’s basil plant is bigger than those in grocery stores.)  It brightens up my kitchen counter and I love being able to snip off perfect basil leaves whenever I need them. My Basil Marinated Mozzarella with Summer Tomatoes and Easy Whitefish with Burst Cherry Tomatoes and Basil wouldn’t be the same without it.

Trader Joe's Fresh basil plant

Frozen Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons

~ these little wontons have fabulous texture and flavor. You can fry them up like potstickers and serve with an easy dip of Tamari sauce and rice wine vinegar, or you can make a super quick soup like I did with my Miso Wonton Soup. They’re a secret weapon in your freezer for quick meals.

Trader Joe's Chicken Cilantro Wontons

Marcona Almonds with Rosemary

~ one of the best things ever invented…if you’ve never tried them, get yourself to a TJs asap. No cheese plate, big or small, is complete without them, and they make the best snack! Marcona almonds are a Spanish variety that have a buttery taste and a softer crunch than regular almonds. Trader Joe’s sells Truffle Marcona Almonds, too, which sound great but I haven’t tried them, I’m too obsessed with the rosemary ones 😉

Trader Joe's Marcona Almonds

Frozen Edamame Beans (in the shell)

~ there’s something about popping open hot salted pods of edamame beans that is so satisfying, I get a rhythm going and pretty much don’t stop till they’re gone. (I can create a mound of empty pods in record time.)  But edamame beans are healthy, so I don’t feel too bad. I actually prefer the un-cooked version of these pods, but they were out the day I shopped. TJs also sells these beans shelled, too, ready to use in salads like my  Tortellini Salad with Artichokes and Edamame.

Trader Joe's Frozen Edamame Beans in the shell

Tart d’Alsace

~ Trader Joes sells a few versions of these French inspired ultra thin tarts and they’re all good. They take just minutes to cook, so there’s never a dinner emergency when I have one of these in the freezer. Add a salad and it’s a feast. (These tarts inspired my Goat Cheese and Summer Squash Tart.)

Trader Joe's Tart d'Alsace

Slab Apricots

~  oh how I love these! Apricots are my favorite dried fruit and slabs are the ultimate. They may not look as pretty but they more than make up for it in flavor and texture. Slab apricots are the sweetest and most intensely flavored of all dried apricots, and also the moistest. What exactly is a slab apricot? These are apricots that are picked fully ripe (i.e. at the peak of flavor) and so soft that they don’t hold their shape when cut and dried. Nirvana!!

I bake them up in my Paleo Fruit and Nut Bread, or stir them into granolas and breakfast bowls. But one of the prettiest ways to show them off is in a jeweled rice or tabbouleh.

Trader Joe's Slab Apricots

Almond Meal

~ Trader Joe’s carries almond and hazelnut meals, which are so useful in so many recipes. I grab a few bags and pop them right in the freezer so they’ll stay fresh. They also sell Almond Flour, and I’ll use them pretty much interchangeably. It’s what makes my Flourless Warm Lemon Pudding Cakes, Flourless Belgian Chocolate Cake, and Flourless Tangerine Cake so deliciously gluten free.

Trader Joe's Almond Meal

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

~ possibly the best sweet treat ever made. Everything about them is perfect. I stash them in the freezer and eat them cold. The plastic seal on these tubs never makes it home intact 😉   Full disclosure: I don’t actually buy these every time I go to Trader Joe’s or I’d be a thousand pounds. But they’re so good I had to include them 🙂

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Pine Nuts

~ Trader Joes has the best deal on pine nuts, which can be expensive and hard to find. When I do find them in other stores they come in ridiculously tiny bags. I always buy multiples at TJs and keep in the freezer. Whenever I’ve got a Mediterranean recipe that needs a little something, I just toss in some pine nuts, toasted of course. Pine nuts add a special touch to Roasted Asparagus with Crispy Breadcrumbs, Pine Nuts, and Runny Eggs, for instance, and I can’t make on of my favorite pasta dishes, Spaghetti con Pignoli Arrosti (with Roasted Pine Nuts) without a nice big bag like this.

Trader Joe's Pine Nuts

Heavy Cream (not ultra-pastuerized)

~this is one of the few ingredients I’ll make a special trip to TJs for…it’s hard to source heavy cream that has not been heat treated (ultra-pasteurized) and it’s essential for my Homemade Clotted Cream.

Trader Joe's Heavy Cream

Clarified Butter

~ Where else are you going to find clarified butter? Because clarified butter has the milk solids removed, it can be used to cook at higher heats, when regular butter would burn. It’s great to have on hand for authentic Indian recipes like my Lemon Chicken Biryani.

Trader Joe's Clarified Butter

Green Dragon Hot Sauce

~ When I’m not making my own green hot sauce, I make sure to have this one around. It’s hot but not too hot, with lots of jalapeños, tomatillo, vinegar, cilantro, garlic, habaneros, and lime. I love it on eggs.

Trader Joe's Green Dragon Hot Sauce

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Trader Joe's Pin

So that’s my list, but of course there’s so much more, like those peanut butter pretzels ~ fresh tubs of pesto ~ frozen (unbaked) croissants ~ chocolate chip dunkers ~ Hatch chile mac and cheese ~ spanakopita ~ Parmesan pastry pups ~ mini Brie bites ~ sliced rosemary ham ~ I could go on and on…

So now it’s your turn ~ what awesome Trader Joe items have I been missing out on??

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  • Reply
    Priscilla Rochin
    January 27, 2019 at 9:16 am

    I live in southern California and fortunate to have a few TJ not far away, and they are all always busy!
    Always purchase arugula, persian cucumbers, sesame seed oil, bocconcini (baby mozzarella balls), frozen turkey meatballs (quick meatball sandwiches), chicken, vegetable stocks. I’ve been curious about the green dragon sauce so maybe I will give it a try!

    • Reply
      January 27, 2019 at 9:27 am

      The Persian cukes are great, and the arugula is one of the few bagged greens I buy there, it does seem to stay fresher better.

  • Reply
    January 27, 2019 at 9:13 am

    Sweet and Spicy Pecans!

    • Reply
      January 27, 2019 at 9:27 am

      Yup, love ’em 🙂

  • Reply
    January 27, 2019 at 9:04 am

    So, after reading about these items at Trader Joe’s, I’m struck by the fact that you obviously don’t look for organic or non-GMO, as I do. And in meat or poultry, not for no antibiotics, hormones, etc. I also look for humanely raised and pasture raised, etc. and thinking about giving them up. Disappointed.

    • Reply
      January 27, 2019 at 9:20 am

      That might be worth another post about the healthiest foods you can find at Trader Joe’s, and there are many, I agree. I actually don’t buy meat or fish at TJs, I haven’t been pleased with the quality, and I can get good organic/humane animal protein at my regular grocery store, which I love.

  • Reply
    Susan Thompson
    January 27, 2019 at 8:54 am

    My nearest TJs is 130 miles away, in Las Vegas. I couple a visit there with a stop at Total Wine so it’s a two-fer and worth the four hour round trip. I never leave TJs without their salt and pepper grinders, capers, and cedarwood spray cleanser. We are unlikely to get a Trader Joes in St. George Utah because of the liquor laws here but one can dream.

    • Reply
      January 27, 2019 at 9:00 am

      I think in New Hampshire we had liquor laws and did finally get a Trader Joe’s. The cedarwood cleaning spray sounds great, I have to look for it.

      • Reply
        January 27, 2019 at 9:19 am

        We have a couple in New Hampshire now and the parking is never a problem but a new one is opening soon right next door to Whole Foods and the parking lot is super tiny!
        We love the organic baguettes and ciabatta rolls!

        • Reply
          January 27, 2019 at 9:29 am

          Oh wow, a food shopping dream/nightmare! I’ve always passed by the breads, I’ll have to give them another look.

  • Reply
    Barbara Hill
    January 27, 2019 at 8:46 am

    Your TJ list is similar to mine. Living near DC I have easy access to two stores in the suburbs two different parking lots both difficult. Thanks for information about cream. I used to buy baby spinach and arugula but after romaine scare I stopped because I assumed TJ used CA and AZ suppliers. Have a good farmer market nearby which can supply both.

    • Reply
      January 27, 2019 at 8:53 am

      I don’t love their bagged produce, I’ve had bad luck with it, it never seems super fresh.

  • Reply
    January 27, 2019 at 8:34 am

    I’m lucky enough to have TJ’s close by. My standard purchases include coconut milk, coconut cream (for dairy-free diet), dried fruit, nuts, flaky salt, beef sticks, cruciferous crunch bag salad, uncured bacon, coffee, wine, AND their awesome shopping bags.

    • Reply
      January 27, 2019 at 8:37 am

      Their shopping bags are the best 🙂

  • Reply
    Renate Kasper
    January 27, 2019 at 8:22 am

    No trip to Trader Joe’s is complete without dolmas! They come ten to a can, and aren’t very expensive. It’s nice to have them on hand for adding to a cheese plate, or light meal, or when you get a surprise guest. They’re inexpensive and keep in the pantry until you need them.

    • Reply
      January 27, 2019 at 8:25 am

      Wait what? I’ve never seen them, I’ll check next time!

      • Reply
        Priscilla Rochin
        January 27, 2019 at 9:05 am

        Sue, I believe dolmas are stuffed grape leaves? I used to make stuffed grape leaves with lamb and rice, traditional Lebonese dish.

        • Reply
          January 27, 2019 at 9:20 am

          They are so nice on a cheese plate, agreed!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2019 at 8:13 am

    It’s funny that you should mention how hellish the parking is at your Trader Joe’s store. It’s the same here – I live in south Florida. You can get a parking space only if you go early In The morning, or right before they close. I didn’t know they had heavy cream that is not ultra pasteurized. I will be on the look out for it next time I’m there. I like to make cream brûlée, and would prefer to not use ultra pasteurized. I also want to make clotted cream.
    The things I always get are fresh pizza crusts, and I like to check out their wine section. Their nuts are the best, especially macadamia.

    • Reply
      January 27, 2019 at 8:18 am

      I’ve actually heard, but it’s probably not true, that the bad parking is part of their business model! I don’t see how that could be, but it does seem to be a universal problem for them. I used to buy the pizza crusts but got tired of them…I’ll try again!

  • Reply
    Tricia | Saving Room for Dessert
    January 27, 2019 at 8:09 am

    This makes me want to drive 50 miles to shop at the closest Trader Joe’s! Great variety and will look for these products next time I’m near one. Thanks

    • Reply
      January 27, 2019 at 8:19 am

      Not sure if it’s worth the 50 mile trek Tricia, maybe they’ll move into your neighborhood soon 🙂

  • Reply
    January 27, 2019 at 8:05 am

    I only get to Trader Joe’s about once a month because it’s about 30 minutes from my house and parking is definitely a pain. I’ve tried some of these but not all. Glad to hear your reviews so I can try some more new items!

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