If you have a local Trader Joe's, you know first-hand how enchanting the frozen aisles are—almost every item offers the promise of a delicious meal or dessert. (We're always tempted to open the package and eat the cookie butter cheesecake, stat.)
While cooking from scratch is preferable, using items from the freezer as a base for your lunch or dinner has its own benefits: it takes less time, of course. But it also encourages you to cook creatively, to explore flavor combinations, and to mix ingredients you may not have otherwise thought to.
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We've been cooking with Trader Joe's items heavily for almost a decade, so we'd like to share our favorite ways to enhance these staple frozen items from T-Joe's with even more T-Joe's goodies to make these already-stellar foods even more out of this world.
Trader Joe's mac and cheese is made with cheddar, Swiss, Havarti, and Gouda, and its creamy texture can only be described as mind-blowing. At first glance, you might disregard it as just another bland, frozen mac—but in all seriousness, when it comes out of the oven warm, gooey, and begging to be eaten, it's comparable to restaurant quality.
Wow it up by adding some cooked, chopped applewood smoked bacon on the top before you dive in. A sprinkle of asiago cheese doesn't hurt, either.
TJ's sells a four-cheese pizza that is handmade and imported from Italy; made with unbleached wheat flour and sunflower seed oil, it's our go-to frozen pizza. Our favorite to kick the flavors up to our preferences is to add pepperoni or ham, cubed pineapple, and diced jalapeño on top.
Simply add your toppings of choice, follow the pizza's heating instructions, and, when it's just about done, add a sprinkle of chopped cilantro, pop it back in for a quick minute, and there ya have it: dip in ranch dressing, eat, and repeat.
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These little chocolate-covered bananas have revolutionized our desire for simple indulgences. But they can just as easily be improved upon—with a little bit of peanut butter. Just make a sandwich with two banana pieces and a dollop of peanut butter in the middle.
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Trader Joe's Stir Fry is the quintessential quick and good-for-you weeknight meal.
We've purchased the shrimp stir-fry for years, but more often than not, we were left hungry afterward. To bulk up the serving size, we add more veggies (like TJ's frozen bell peppers and shelled edamame) and, at the end, place the stir fry atop cooked brown rice. If you're feeling adventurous, mix it all with an egg until cooked for a fried rice feel.
It has come to our attention that not everyone has discovered T-Joe's fantastic flaky frozen croissants, made with puff pastry and rolled into the perfect shape right before freezing. Leave them out overnight to thaw at room temperature and they'll be puffed and waiting for you by morning to take you on a temporary trip to France.
Although these croissants are pretty fantastic on their own, it's hard to say no to a chocolate croissant.
Mix cocoa, confectioner's sugar, and a bit of milk to pair your pastry with its natural companion: sweet, heavenly chocolate.
Being able to purchase wild-caught salmon fillets is convenient, but you're often left with the question of what to do with the high-quality protein once it's defrosted.
We recommend pairing this nutrient-dense fish with Ina Garten's simple homemade tartar sauce. She uses good mayo, diced pickles, capers, coarse-grained mustard, a pinch of salt, freshly-ground pepper, and—our favorite trick—a tablespoon of champagne or white wine vinegar for a bit of tang.
If you've ever tried to peel a pearl onion, you know how time-intensive it can be.
Thankfully, these little circular pearls come pre-peeled at Trader Joe's, and can be made epic by sautéing them in a skillet with butter until golden brown and finishing them with about half a cup of heavy cream. If that sounds right up your alley, check out Martha's recipe at A Family Feast.
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These chile lime chicken burgers are made with onions, bell peppers, garlic, cilantro, salt, lime juice, and red pepper flakes; to say that they're full of flavor is a gross understatement.
But even something as mostly perfect as these patties can be improved upon. Add some strawberry guacamole (recipe via Love and Olive Oil) on top with a dash of hot sauce for spice, place in between two pieces of a good bun, and you've got yourself a dinner full of savory-sweet-spicy-creamy goodness.
We love making steel-cut oatmeal from scratch in the morning, but sometimes time doesn't allow for the patience it requires. So, having Trader Joe's frozen steel cut oatmeal in the freezer is a great alternative—and a lifesaver when we're running low on time.
Trader Joe's is home to one of our all-time favorite vanilla bean ice creams; it's a great base to create any flavor that you can dream up.
As for us, we've gotten in the habit of mixing various ingredients into it depending upon what we have on hand. A large drizzle of caramel, mixed with fresh edible lavender, tends to do the trick—the light floral notes of the lavender pair unbelievably well with the rich sweetness the caramel brings to the table.
With this collection of creative eatery now in your back pocket, you're sure to make many-a-breakfast, lunch, or dinner party guest swoon with dancing tastebuds and happy spirits—and it's all thanks to Trader Joe's frozen aisle (as well as your genius additions to their dishes).
Got any other fantastic flavor hacks for frozen food—Trader Joe's or otherwise? Share your favorite ideas in the comments below.