What I Buy at Trader Joe’s – Part 1

You knew there would have to be parts to this story. No way you can list all that you get at Trader Joe’s in one sitting. Not only is the list long, but you’re bound to forget something.

Trader Joe’s is not my only go-to shopping food store. Publix is, really. But there are things at Trader Joe’s that you can’t get anywhere else. Well, you can (say, olive oil), but it’s not the same (olive oil).

When I picture myself shopping there I see a fast-moving bee-like dance bouncing from this shelf and that aisle like a fast-moving pinball game. If you see me there you might hear the pings and bells in my wake (watch out– full tilt is possible).

I anticipate my entrance. I know what I’m gonna see first. Bouquets and bouquets of flowers. From $3.99 or $5.99 or somewhere in that price vicinity you can go home with an armful of flowers and beam every time you pass the dining table or the kitchen counter or the bedroom dresser for the rest of the week.

My gotta-go-to areas: produce, cheese, frozen foods, aisle of olives-spices-beans-pasta-rice-oil, nuts & dried fruit (including popcorn, but more on that next time…I’m in a spell of not eating popcorn because so many people I know are breaking teeth on crunchy things and having high dental bills. I’ll wait till the scare passes to buy again Trader Joe’s (popped in) Olive Oil Popcorn…picture to follow eventually).

But here’s a typical $3.99 Trader Joe’s bouquet.

Trader Joe Flowers

Trader Joe Flowers

Why these flowers are in a boot is a long story. Maybe another time…

Here’s a fav frozen food section item: artichoke hearts:

Trader Joe Artichoke Hearts

Trader Joe Artichoke Hearts

These FAR surpass anything you’ll get in a jar or a can. (Except the whole, chargrilled kind you find at counters in Italian supermarkets (in Italy) or sometimes here, too, but usually imported.) These are unflavored (not even that weird acidic taste that canned ones have). So you can do what you will with them. I usually…

RECIPE: Defrost and dry them with paper towels. Dredge them in seasoned flour. Shake off excess. Dip in beaten eggs and fry in a little oil until golden on each side. Try that. You will be FLOORED.

Also in the frozen food aisle: Shrimp Gyoza (Pot Stickers)

Shrimp Pot Stickers

Shrimp Pot Stickers

For the longest time I refused to use the name “pot stickers”…I mean who made that up? Somebody having trouble making dumplings and they stuck to the pot? No reason for these to stick to a pot. Dumplings is a much friendlier (and appetizing) word. (Likewise, if I may mention one of my HUGE pet peeves when it comes to talking about food: “wash it down with____soda, wine, beer” WASH it down? I cannot hear that phrase without imaging the taste of soap. WHO “washes down” their food with a beverage? Extremely ICK.)

If you follow the directions on this package of Trader Joe’s Thai Shrimp Gyoza you will get perfect dumplings and no sticking. I make a dipping sauce of soy sauce and sweet chili sauce mixed together (maybe with a squirt of sriracha). It’s meal in a minute with transport-you-far-away exotic flavor.

These little guys hang on posts here and there throughout the store: sun-dried tomatoes:

Trader Joe's Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Trader Joe’s Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I like these because they are NOT sott’olio which gives them a nice clean taste ready for anything you WANT to add. (You never know what a manufacturer’s oil is gonna taste like, and then they add other flavors you may not want plus some ingredients you can’t pronounce because they have to preserve what they put in the jar.) Ever have sun-dried tomato pesto?

RECIPE: In the bowl of a food processor add a package of sun-dried tomatoes, a garlic clove (peeled & coarsely chopped), a handful of favorite fresh herbs like basil, mint, oregano, and/or sage. Pulse till minced. Add some olive oil (1/4 cup?), salt & pepper. Pulse to smooth. Boil your pasta (capellini, spaghetti, or fettuccine might be nice). Place your pesto in the serving bowl and add a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta water (has pasta starch and salt and is a great “ingredient”) to loosen the pesto and make it more “sauce-y” then add your cooked pasta. Toss to coat. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano. Oh. So. Good.

And when I say olive oil, I mean this: I’ve used Trader Joe’s President’s Reserve Extra Virgin Olive oil for years. I use it for everything: frying, sautéing, salads, even a little deep frying (a little…an inch or two in a small pot to just fry up small things like little arancini, small chocolate mini-pies, sage leaves, impromptu tiny zeppoles…nothing large or long-frying with olive oil). I love this oil. I’ve tried others and come back. And for $6.99 a liter it’s a great buy (plus it’s a product of Italy).

Trader Joe's President's Reserve Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Trader Joe’s President’s Reserve Extra Virgin Olive Oil

That’s just the beginning. There’s oh-so-much more. Stay tuned to future notices about my Trader Joe’s favs.

And in the meantime — let me know YOURS!


Artichokes. Carciofi. Keep it simple. But do indulge.

Carciofi alla Romana

Carciofi alla Romana

I can’t begin to tell you how much I love and admire artichokes. In Italian: carciofi. Also, my favorite Italian word. If I had the opportunity to change my name I would change it to carciofi. First name or last name. Or both. Carciofi Carciofi, pleased to meet you.

I can’t remember the first time I had artichokes. It had to be very young. My family takes the artichoke in stride. Artichokes are as common, and as likely to be part of the table, as a plate or fork. Or possibly bread. Ridiculously easy to prepare. And so tastebud fulfilling, you always feel confident in the meal when artichokes are brought to the table.

My recipe has evolved over the years. I used to stuff the leaves with parsley and garlic. Now I simply put parsley and garlic in the cooking water with a heavy douse of olive oil, salt & pepper. First, trim the tops. Cut off about a third. Snip the thorns from the tips of all the leaves. Cut off the stems. Set them up, standing tall, side by side in a heavy sauce pan. Fill with water about halfway up. Drizzle a bunch of olive oil on artichokes and in water. Season with salt & pepper. Let cook for about 30-40 minutes until very tender.

Enjoy by nibbling the leaf tips. And if you’re drinking a glass of wine, with each artichoke bite your sip of wine will taste Odd/Strange. Some chemical reaction. But that never stopped me. Don’t let it stop you.

Zucchini Agrodolce Recipe from Venice

Herbs at the Rialto Market

Herbs at the Rialto Market

Here’s a short video of my cooking segment on Channel 4’s More at Midday WSMV-TV Nashville…includes a brief glimpse of video from the Venice trip…but I will be posting MORE soon!


Zucchini Agrodolce from Venice on WSMV TV Nashville

Easy Peasy Pasta

Orzo pouring in...!

Orzo pouring in…!

It’s the kind of pasta you eat when you’re hungry and you want to eat something fast. You want it to be ready in the time it takes water to boil and pasta to cook…about 20 minutes.

Why not choose orzo? Get it cooking in boiling salted water. Then open the refrigerator.

What’s there?

Maybe: a few grape tomatoes. A small bunch of broccoli. A few mushrooms. On the patio is a patch of arugula growing in a pot.

impromptu sauce ingredients

impromptu sauce ingredients

There’s garlic. Or onion. Or both. Salt & Pepper. Cut up & cook up all in a saute pan with a little olive oil.



When orzo is done, drain it, and keep a bit of pasta water. Add orzo to the saute pan.

Cooking orzo

Cooking orzo

Drizzle some olive oil. Mix to combine. Add some pasta water to moisten if needed. Season. Add grated cheese (parmigiano). Kick off your shoes. Sit down. Watch TV. (Glass of wine?)  Comfy.

You say rapini. I say broccoli rabe.

I wonder why the bitter taste is an Italian favorite. I’m Italian-American and I seem to have the gene: Campari and broccoli rabe are my two bitter favorites.

Sometimes when I open a new bunch of broccoli rabe I can smell the bitterness sailing up from the bunch without even sniffing close. I can open the refrigerator and if there’s a bunch of broccoli rabe in there and I can smell it. And even though most times I’m buying Andy Boy brand, not every bunch is so strong. It’s hard to know what makes the difference from bunch to bunch: sun, rain, soil, month?


The little bud-like clusters are the best parts. I like to include some of the thick stem pieces, too. I cut it all into a little larger than bite-sized pieces, leaving out the really thick stems. (I cut those off from the entire bunch before removing the twist tie.) It’s very easy to make and I’ve adjusted my cooking style for broccoli rabe over the years.

I used to get a saucepan boiling with water and plunge it in. Let it cook until almost tender. Then drain, and saute in a skillet with olive oil, thinly sliced garlic, and red pepper flakes until cooked through and tender/al dente to the bite.


Now I just use a large skillet with a little water in it (about a 1/4-1/2 inch). Get that boiling. Then add the broccolie rabe and cook to tenderish. By then most of the water has evaporated. Then I add some olive oil and the garlic and pepper flakes and season. It skips a step and comes out more delicious!


Eat it straight. Or add it to pasta. Stays nice leftover, too.


When Spaghetti Hangs Around With Eggs. In Rome.



I lived in Rome for a year while completing my third year in college. Actually, school was just an excuse to live there. My parents visited Rome for the first time a couple of years before. They were bowled over and came back booking the next trip to bring my sister and I. On my very first night in Rome I felt the world closing in around my heart and head. It was too much. I wanted out. I felt that crush of culture shock while that tug of “I know this very well” rushed underneath me.

By morning. I was in love. With Rome. I finagled a year there under the guise of going to school. My Roman roommate, Grazia (later to be called Enrica), was a free-spirited Roman, much to the chagrin of her parents. She moved out of her family home at 17 to live on her own. No one moved out of their family home unless they were getting married. Her dad disowned her for a few years but softened later.

Many adventures for me ensued under the wings of Grazia, but also within my college circle. But here I’d like to show you a recipe that made my jaw drop when I first saw Grazia make it. Spaghetti Frittata. Yes, spaghetti fried with eggs. A spaghetti omelet if you will. I loved it at first bite but was supremely skeptical till then.

This works best with leftover spaghetti in its leftover sauce — whatever it is! My favorite has turned out to be leftover spaghetti in a tomato shrimp sauce (yes, including the shrimp).

about 2-3 cups leftover spaghetti in sauce

5 large eggs

1/4 cup grated parmigiano or pecorino

salt & pepper to taste

olive oil for frying

In a mixing bowl, mix together the spaghetti, eggs, and cheese until well combined. Season with salt & pepper (remember, the spaghetti might be already seasoned, but the eggs need some). Heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium oven-proof skillet…enough so the frittata won’t stick, or use a non-stick pan.  Heat until hot. Pour the egg-spaghetti mixture in and gently spread so it covers the width of the pan. Let cook a few minutes until the bottom is set, and then put under a broiler. Broil till top is set and golden. (Be carfeul taking out skillet from oven. When placing it out of the oven be sure to leave a pot holder on the handle so you don’t forget it’s hot!) With a spatula loosen frittata and slide onto a plate. Cut into wedges with a pizza cutter. Serve warm or at room temp.