Review: Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s

 

Every weekend, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it is incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.

When I received “Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s” by Deana Gunn and Wona Miniati, I had two questions before I even opened the book. First, why would you write a cookbook for a specific grocery store? It seems like you are pushing away thousands, maybe millions, of people who don’t have access to a Trader Joe’s. Second, if you are going to write a grocery store themed cookbook, why would write one centered around a store that revolves its inventory?

About the Authors

Both of these questions were more or less answered after I read the first few pages of the book describing who the authors are and why they wrote this book. The two authors are busy people. They are not trained chefs. They are trained engineers. They both have families, careers, and not a lot of time. At the same time though, they love good food and fresh ingredients. They write:

“If you’re like us, you love to eat natural, delicious, home-cooked foods, but due to career, family, or simply a busy modern lifestyle, you can’t make meals from scratch every night… By using fresh ingredients strategically coupled with prepped items, you can have healthy, home-cooked gourmet meals with typical working times of around 10 minutes.”

Why Trader Joe’s?

Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. They center the book around TJ’s because they shop there and love the store for its quality ingredients and semi-prepped items. Fair enough.

I actually really enjoy shopping at Trader Joe’s. If there was one closer to my house I think I would swing by occasionally for quick meals or ideas for meals. They have a really interesting stock of ready made sauces and mixes that can drastically cut down on your cooking time. One thing I like about TJ’s is that they regularly rotate their inventory. They are always introducing new foods. If you go to a Trader Joe’s today and then again in 6 months, a good number of the things on the shelfs will be completely new to you.

Of course, this also means that they eliminate things from their shelves to make room. It’s possible that your favorite mix could be gone the next time you go in the store – most likely replaced by something equally delicious. As you can imagine, this might cause a problem for a cookbook. If you are using things in your recipes, as they do in this book, that have been eliminated from the shelves, then your readers are kind of screwed.

The Scavenger Hunt

I decided to take a field trip to see if my local Trader Joe’s had the ingredients needed to make some of the recipes in the book. I thought I would try sort of a TJ’s scavenger hunt. After reading through the cookbook, I picked 10 random TJ-specific ingredients and hopped in my car. This was my list:

Trader Joe’s Scavenger Hunt

– Fire roasted papaya mango salsa
– Pear sauce
– Mandarin orange chef sauce
– Trader Ming’s soyaki
– Pineapple salsa
– Chipotle pepper gourmet chicken sausage
– Red mole
– Soft lady fingers
– Swedish style pancake and waffle mix
– Frozen Cioppino seafood stew

After about 30 minutes wondering the isles of TJ’s, I was able to only find 4 out of 10, the soyaki, pineapple salsa, chicken sausage, and lady fingers. I asked a TJ’s employee to help me out as well to make sure I wasn’t missing something. She nicely informed me that out of the 6 I couldn’t find, 2 of them were usually carried, but just not in stock – the waffle mix and the seafood stew.

So if I’m being generous, TJ’s gets a 6/10. Or a D. Unfortunately, this means I wouldn’t be able to make a lot of the recipes in the book which is too bad. It isn’t always detrimental to the recipe. I may be able to figure out papaya mango salsa, and there are other waffle mixes, but Mandarin orange chef sauce? I’m lost on that.

The Good News

The good news for people who think they might want this book is that a lot of the recipes don’t require Trader Joe’s specific ingredients, like the crazy chef sauce. A lot of them are generic and could be found at other stores or made if you have a few extra minutes. But, what is cool about this book, is that if you do shop at Trader Joe’s, almost every ingredient in the book can be found there. So you only have to go to one store.

As someone who, just today, went to 4 — yes 4 — different grocery stores, I appreciate the appeal of the one stop shop.

Ok. The recipes

I’ve said very little about the recipes in this book. I think they are generally good. A lot of them are very basic, but they do a great job of presenting each recipe and every recipe has a great photo accompanying it – which is also helpful.

Some of my favorites include Peanutty Sesame Noodles, Chipotle Turkey Chili, Calamari Brodetto, and the Frozen Tiramisu.

In summary, I think this book would be good for two types of people. First, if you shop at Trader Joe’s regularly. This book isn’t bad to get some inspiration on how to use all of their sauces and mixes (assuming they have them all in stock). Second, if you are just beginning to learn how to cook. A lot of the recipes are very simple and very fast and would be great if you are just starting out.

4 comments on “Review: Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s

  1. Funny – I was at the bookstore just last night, saw this book, looked through it, and put it down. I do have a TJs near me (several, in fact) but the recipes didn't look interesting enough. I thought they could have taken them farther. At least, that was my first impression.

    Now, the Costco cookbook, which I saw briefly at my local warehouse and have regretted not buying – that looked interesting.

  2. As a former Trader Joe's employee (one who did product demonstrations and recipes, no less), I can tell you that one of the reasons you may have struck out as badly as you did on the Scavenger Hunt is the fact that TJ's East Coast and TJ's West Coast do not have identical product inventories.

    Since the authors were writing based on the inventory of their local TJ's in California, some of the items that came up missing may not be carried by Trader Joe's locations east of the Rockies.

    Seems like a recipe for frustrating recipes either way, though.

  3. That seems like a good concept if one didn’t have much time to make meals. I have 2 TJ’s around me, and I enjoy their food, however many of the things I usually go there for are out of stock! So I can relate to your Scavenger Hunt

  4. I got this book for Christmas and I’ve really enjoyed using it. I adore Trader Joe’s! The favorite recipes you named are also some of mine (my kids love those sesame noodles), although the black bean soup and almond pudding are the biggest hits.

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