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  • Writer's pictureGara

A Mostly Trader Joe's December

Is it Christmas yet? I don't know about you, but no matter how prepared I try to be for the madness of the holiday season, December 1st always takes my breath away a bit. The calendar suddenly looks like a rorschach image, we get approximately four hours of daylight and my kids are competing over who can break the most ornaments each day. So, as we are inside more (translation - my children are trashing my house more) and also regularly find ourselves at some event where we're eating cured meats and pounds of sugar, one thing I do to keep myself sane (as well as under 200 lbs) is make a strategic trip to Trader Joe's and stock up on a bunch a easy dinners that are reasonably healthy, quick, use mostly freezer and pantry ingredients (or produce that keeps for a while) and require very few pans. I thought I'd share in case anyone else is feeling the heat of the holidays. These aren't full-on recipes, but if you need specifics on preparation, feel free to shoot me a message.

I know there's an argument that bagged salads are overpriced, but I'm not exactly saving money when I buy a whole cabbage and let half of it wither in my refrigerator when I get tired of getting creative with ways to use it up. This Trader Joe's southwestern salad is great on its own as a side salad, but I like to add a few things to make it the main course. First I saute a package of chicken thighs and season them with salt, pepper, garlic salt and cumin while they're cooking. Once they're cooked through, I take two out of the pan for my kids, chop up the other three or four thighs and put those back in the pan. I then add about half a can of black beans, a few tablespoons of water and another pinch of salt and cumin and heat through. Then I just top everything in the bagged salad with the chicken and bean mixture. I also mix about three tablespoons of salsa in with the provided dressing for an extra kick and then toss everything with the dressing. The salad is enough for dinner for two adults and one lunch the next day. My kids eat the chicken alone with beans and corn on the side.

This recipe kind of looks like a joke (and I forgot to include the lemon in the picture) but this salad turns many a carb-heavy meal into a more balanced one. The trick to making the kale edible is to marinate about half a bag in the juice of half a lemon, a sprinkle of sugar, a healthy pinch of salt and about 1/4 cup of olive oil for as long as possible (you could do it before work in the morning, or before you start making the rest of dinner in the evening). I use about half a bag of this kale for two big side salads (one for me, one for Boris). Once your kale is marinated, when you're ready to eat, shred about 1/3 cup of parmesan or pecorino over it. That's it! (Though a splash of apple cider vinegar, a minced garlic clove or a handful of chopped almonds is a nice addition).

Next up, potato leek soup. Trim and slice up the leeks and saute in a couple tablespoons of butter. Once leeks are soft, add two cloves of minced garlic, saute for one more minute, add about 10 gold cubed potatoes and salt and pepper to taste, then add quart of vegetable stock and two cups water. Cover and simmer on stove for about 45 minutes or cook in crock pot all day on low. Blend with immersion blender. Turn off heat and stir in about half a cup of half & half. Enjoy. (The kids love this soup as well). This recipe makes A LOT of soup, at least twelve servings, so be prepared to freeze quite a bit or eat leftovers for a few days.

I realize you could just buy the chicken fried rice at Trader Joe's but, no offense to Joe, I find it kind of dry and not very substantial. Plus, my kids won't eat the fried rice but they do like chicken. So I prepare it like this: I saute the chicken thighs whole and season them in the pan with a little garlic powder, soy sauce and curry powder. Once the thighs are cooked through, I pull them out of the pan and add the fried rice and another half cup of frozen peas. I also add another teaspoon or so of curry powder to the pan. Once the rice is cooked through, push to side of pan, add a little oil and scramble two eggs. Once eggs are scrambled, mix with rice. As for the chicken thighs, I set two aside for the kids and chop up the rest and add to the fried rice. This recipe is generally enough for two adult dinners and some leftovers for one of us the next day. (The kids get their chicken with a side of peas and wheat bread and butter. I also usually give them each a little cup of fried rice to sample in the hopes of someday eating the same dinner every night.)

This is a lazy woman's thai chicken curry. I wouldn't make the fried rice and this curry back to back, as the flavors are similar. Prep is similar as well. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and a little curry powder and brown in pan. If you're kids won't eat curry like mine, then pull out two of the thighs. Add one cup of peas, half a cup of frozen spinach and the bottle of curry sauce. (I find some of TJ's sauces too salty so adding frozen vegetables is a nice way to dilute some of that salt and at the same time up your veggie intake). Simmer for about 15 minutes. While the curry is finishing cooking, heat up the rice and you're done. A nice way to finish this curry is to top with a dollop of plain yogurt and sprinkle of cilantro, but sometimes that's just not in the cards.

I hope this helps somebody besides me stay just a touch more sane through the month of December.

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