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Category Archives: Cooking

Favorite things at Trader Joes

I love Trader Joes. The following is a list of my love love loves there: (in no particular order…just as they come to me)
Sliced fresh mozzarella cheese
Banana yogurt
Bacon end and pieces
Baby broccolini
Cranberry walnut gorgonzola dressing
Teeny tiny potatoes
Guacamole kit
Corn and wheat tortillas
Par baked bread
Roasted red pepper tapenade
Soyaki sauce
Yellow curry sauce
Salsa style refried beans
Canned peach and pear halves
Low sugar apricot preserves
Fleur de Sel caramel sauce
Vanilla bean cake mix
Truffle brownie mix
Cinnamon pear cider
Mango black tea
Gnocchi alla sorentina
Frozen gyoza (pork or chicken)
Frozen crushed garlic cubes
Frozen vegetable melange
Tarte de alsace
Caramelized onion and feta pastry bites
Frozen cooked shrimp
Balsamic glazed onions
Sweet potato fries
Cheese and garlic croutons
Social snacker crackers
Petite cocoa batons
Dutch caramel wafer cookies
Mini peanut butter cups
High brow chocolate chip cookies
Ice cream sandwiches
Chocolate croissants
Caramel chocolate swirl ice cream
Well…chocolate, vanilla, caramel, and all other varieties of Joe Joe ice cream
Kettle corn
Salsa verde
Everything bagel chips
Cheese puffs
Kettle style potato chips
Joseph Handler Sweet Red Wine

I’m sure I’m missing things here….but here’s a pretty comprehensive list of the best things at TJ’s.


Pantry/Freezer Meal….a lesson in creative staple cooking

Last week I was in a cooking rut.  My CSA delivery was not due for another day and the Costco coupons did not start until Friday…so I was trying to hold off on grocery shopping until then.  It was 5 o’clock and I needed to figure out something that was quick-cooking and not pasta or chicken.  Here’s where I got creative:

Hamburger Steaks with Sherry-Onion Gravy, MashedPotatoes, and Raisin-Nut Green Beans

Ingredients (in other words, things we keep on hand in our house):

  • frozen hamburger patties (note: Costco now carries lean, organic frozen patties…perfect for the P90X-er in your life)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper (feel free to use Montreal Steak seasoning, or any other combo)
  • 1 large onion, sliced into 1/4 in rings
  • 1-2 T flour
  • 1/4 c sherry (or any other dry booze you have lying around)
  • 1-1 1/2 c beef broth/chicken broth/water (I had chicken, but beef would’ve been best)
  • frozen mashed potatoes (or homemade/boxed….however you like it, I always pick up a few packs at Costco when I’m there)
  • green Beans (fresh or frozen taste best)
  • 2 T raisins
  • 2 T sliced almonds
  • a drizzle of olive oil
  • a “dash” of Mrs. Dash (or other all-purpose seasoning)
  1. On a sheet pan, lay out your hamburger patties and douse them with the Worcestershire sauce and dry seasonings.  Let that soak into the meat a little before cooking.  Once the puddles of sauce have mostly absorbed, cook the meat in a skillet over medium heat about 5-6 minutes per side (cooked through, nicely browned…almost caramelized).  Remove from pan and set aside.
  2. To the same pan, add the onions and let them brown and get soft.  Sprinkle the flour over the onions to absorb any oil, making a medium brown-colored roux.  Turn the heat up to med-hi/hi and quickly de-glaze the pan with the sherry, loosening up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Once the heavy alcohol smell  has cooked off, whisk in the broth and reduce heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally, allowing the gravy to thicken.
  3. Meanwhile, heat up the mashed potatoes, adding a little milk if they seem dry.
  4. Once the potatoes are hot and the gravy is thickened, add the meat back to the gravy to re-warm.
  5. For the green beans: steam/boil/microwave the beans until they are bright green and not too soft.  Toss with the raisins, almonds, olive oil, and seasoning.
And there you have it…..creative cooking on the fly.  This meal takes about 20 minutes start-to-finish.

Breaded Zucchini


The hubs loved this one!

Breaded Zucchini (not fried)


  • 2-3 zucchini (depending on size), sliced into 1/4 inch-thick rounds
  • 1/4 c grated parmesan (about a palmful)
  • 1/4 c breadcrumbs (about a palmful)
  • 2-3 T olive oil or melted butter
  • a few good shakes of all-purpose seasoning/spice blend (e.g. Mrs. Dash, Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, etc.)
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Toss all ingredients together, so that the zucchini rounds are sufficiently coated.  Spread out on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake for 20-30 mins, or until toasty and delicious!

Sour Cream Noodle Bake


Here’s a picture (thanks iPhone) of the dinner we had tonight that inspired the kids to sing my praises.

It is straight from PW’s site….it’s her recipe, almost verbatim (alas, I had no egg noodles or enough beef).

Sour Cream Noodle Bake



  • 3/4 lb. ground beef
  • 1 15 oz can plain tomato sauce
  • 8 oz. short-cut pasta (1/2 package)
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1 1/2 c cottage cheese
  • 1/4 green onions, sliced
  • salt and fresh pepper
  • 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Bring pot of salted water to a boil, cook pasta, drain and reserve.
  3. Brown meat, drain the fat, add tomato sauce, 1/4 tsp salt, fresh pepper and simmer.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix sour cream, cottage cheese, green onions, and 1/4 tsp pepper (more if you like).  Fold in the pasta until combined.
  5. In a baking dish, add half the noodle mixture, spread out half the meat, and sprinkle half the cheese.  Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until bubbly.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos

I know my latest post is overdue.  It’s been hectic in my house for the last 14 days and my posts have been put off.  We went out of town, my dad went into emergency surgery, we started a construction project in our living room (the mess is scattered around the house), my workload is unusually heavy, my kids are out of summer school and in VBS, and all the regular tasks (laundry, cleaning, cooking, etc.) are still required of me.

Tonight, we are having dinner over at a friend’s house and I am bringing the tacos.  My friend and I share the same dilemma: figuring out something to make for dinner (every night) that the kids won’t complain about too much, that the fits in the husband’s P90X diet, that’s not so bland for our foodie palates, and that is not on some predictable meal rotation.  The solution for me was to make impossibly easy shredded chicken in the slow cooker (since it’s 95 outside) and bring all the toppings for the kids (and healthy hubs) to pick and choose what they want.

Oh, and thanks to Tami for sharing this recipe with me last fall…it’s a family favorite!

Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken Tacos


  • 1 lb frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast/tenders/thighs
  • 1/4 c taco seasoning (or 1 packet)
  • 1 c water


  1. Combine all ingredients and cook on high for 3 hours or low for 6.
  2. Serve in soft tortillas or shells with sour cream, cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, etc.

Easy-on-the-Wheat Banana Nut Muffins


Today I found our bananas severely affected by the warm July weather. I specifically bought two Costco-size bunches because the last several times I’ve bought bananas, they were gone before any of the adults in the house had any! Last weekend, I bought more than enough to get us through the week…and, of course, the kids ate only 3! What do you do with very spotty bananas? Smoothies or banana bread. Since we have been juicing for the last week, I’m kind of over smoothies, so banana muffins it is! I had some almond flour that I’ve been wanting to try and this was the perfect application (that’s the easy-on-the-wheat part).


  • 1 c All purpose flour
  • 1 c Almond Flour (use another cup of AP flour as substitute)
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 3/4 c Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 c Unsalted Butter, softened
  • 2 Large Eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3-4 Ripe Bananas, mashed
  • 1/3-1/2 c Walnut Pieces (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Combine flour, almond flour, baking soda, salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Mix in eggs and bananas.
  4. Stir the wet mixture into the dry mixture until the flour is moistened….do NOT over mix. Gently fold in the walnuts, if desired.
  5. Pour batter into a prepared muffin tin and bake for 30-40 mins (or until a toothpick comes out clean).

Caramel iced coffee


I love coffee. However, I’m kind of a sissy when it comes to its cream and sugar. When I drink it hot, it must have half n’ half and sugar, or some other reasonable substitute. When it’s cold, I can do 2% milk and simple syrup. I can’t do black and I can’t do low fat milk and I like it mildly sweet.

I can think of at least 4 Starbucks stores within 2 miles of my house, so there is a temptation to pick up coffee whenever my heart desires….but a Starbucks habit is an expensive one.

I’ve figured out how to do Starbucks-on-a-budget by ordering “tall in a venti” or substituting brewed coffee for espresso, etc.  But, I think I’ve finally nailed down how to make “fancy” coffee at home just the way I like it.

 Caramel Iced Coffee

For the iced coffee:

  • 2 cups or 1/4 lb coffee (I use Jose’s Vanilla Nut from Costco and freshly grind the beans each time)
  •  2 qts (8 c) water

For the simple syrup:

  •  2 c sugar
  •  1 c water

Caramel sauce:

  • Make your own or buy some. I use Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce, but any other REAL caramel sauce will work (corn syrup-based ice cream topping will NOT cut it, sorry).

Milk (optional *for some people*)


  1. Grind the beans (if using whole bean coffee) and combine with the water in a large container or pitcher. Cover and let sit at room temperature 8-10 hours or overnight.
  2.  Meanwhile, make simple syrup by bringing the water to a boil, then stir in the sugar until it is just dissolved and remove from heat. Allow it to cool and then transfer it to a container for storage. (I use a bottle with a cork.)
  3.  After the coffee has cold-brewed, strain the grounds with cheese cloth or a towel or a fine mesh strainer lined with double coffee filters (<– my preferred method). Store covered in a pitcher, jar, etc. The iced coffee can be kept at room temperature for about two days or refrigerated even longer.

To serve, drizzle caramel on the insides of a very dry glass, add enough ice to adequately chill the coffee, pour the coffee over the ice, sweeten with simple syrup and add milk to your liking.