Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pan-Sautéed Zucchini with Beans and Corn

I love Trader Joe’s.

I am embarrassed to admit that, for the first year it was open in the Pittsburgh area, I didn’t go there. Friends told me how crowded it was, and the store is located a good 50-minute drive from my house, so I avoided it until last summer when Jenni and I met for a shopping afternoon. I was already familiar with Whole Foods and a locally-owned food co-op which were also in the area, and I enjoyed shopping there (unlike at the local Giant Eagle), but I was totally unprepared for the experience that is Trader Joe’s.

Yesterday, Jack and I took 2 large coolers and ice packs and journeyed to visit Joe. We were not disappointed and now, while it is all fresh in my mind, here’s why I adore this place:

First of all, greeting cards. Nice graphics, no long, syrupy verse inside, and 99 cents. A no-brainer—I stock up on cards at TJ’s. Heck, even their sympathy cards are nicer that I can buy at Hallmark.

Then, packaged nuts. I used to buy raw nuts in bulk, but TJ’s sells their toasted nuts for just pennies more. I figure that, if I had any idea how to calculate this sort of thing, the toasted nuts from TJ’s would probably save money from my oven being on and this would also conserve natural gas. I'm being environmentally conscious by buying the toasted nuts!

Next, the dairy case. Fat-free feta that tastes just as good as the lowfat which I buy in the grocery store. Skim milk mozzarella. Freshly-prepared salsa and hummus. Lowfat Greek yogurt. All better quality that I find at the grocery store and in many instances, less expensive.

But the frozen section, to me, literally glows with an aura of light. A halo, if you will, around the best stuff in the store. Frozen fish. If I lived near a coastline and was accustomed to fresh fish, this may not be something that excites me. But I live inland and, for the first twenty or so years of my life my only experience with fish was in shrimp cocktails, Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, and McDonald’s filet-o-fish sandwiches. I don’t mind frozen fish. In fact, for the price difference between it and fresh, I embrace frozen fish. The prices for these items at TJ’s are lower than at grocery stores, lower than at Sam’s Club. I now have a drawer in my deep freeze full of tuna, salmon, shrimp, crab cakes, salmon burgers, and mahi-mahi.

Also in the frozen section are some of the best things I’ve bought at any store—potstickers. We bought several shrimp & vegetable, and chicken. Long ago, before I got into so many different things that kept my days full, I would often make potstickers, egg rolls, shao-mai dumplings, etc. The potstickers at TJ’s are just as good as what I make, just as good as those I order at Chinese restaurants, and much less expensive. In the condiments section is a bottled Asian dipping sauce which is perfect with these.

But it is here also, in the freezer section, that resides my single reason for shopping at Trader Joe’s. Tandoori Naan. These frozen bread rounds come four in a bag for $2 and, after a short 2 minutes of heating, they turn into the puffy, crispy, delectable flatbread that both Jack and I adore. I can make roti, which is grilled in an iron skillet, but it is near impossible to get the texture of restaurant-made naan at home (since ovens rarely get up to the 1400F that tandoor ovens are). I do not waste the energy by heating my oven to 400F to heat the naan, though. The grill outside, with a baking stone on the grate, heated to 400 (takes about 8 minutes) does just fine. As will the toaster oven once winter forces me to cover the grill until spring. We bought 6 packages.

In the packaged-foods section my favorite things are the Indian simmer sauces (korma, curry, masala, Punjabi), the southwestern salsa, the tomatillo sauce (salsa verde), and bruschetta topping. Also rice sticks and whole wheat pastas. And a wonderful marinade called Island Soyaki which is a pineapple-teriyaki marinade which is perfect with grilled chicken and seafood. These items are TJ’s own brand and priced below comparable products in the grocery store (if I could even locate these in our local grocery store).

When we went to Massachusetts in June, I was thrilled to find a Trader Joe’s 7 miles away. When we go on our annual September vacation to the Delaware coast, I will have to do without. Wah.

For years, and I do mean years, I shunned most processed foods. I didn’t care if I was hanging upside-down from a ladder stripping paint off of windowframes all day, when dinnertime came I would make the entire meal from scratch. And if we ate dinner at 9pm, so be it. No bottled sauces and salsas for us. Since I have “discovered” the wonderfulness which is TJ’s and their foods, there is no turning back. I will probably never again make potstickers or shao-mai or salsa verde (unless I remember to grow tomatillos—buying them and making the salsa costs more than buying TJ’s). When I have a busy day, I will now happily steam some rice, sauté chicken, open a jar of Korma sauce, and have dinner on the table in a half hour. And I, price conscious as always, will serve more fish because it is now almost as inexpensive as chicken.

I don’t go to Whole Foods any more because it’s just too pricey. I did stop at the food co-op to buy bulk items (brown basmati rice, oat bran, etc.), and I felt badly that I didn’t spend more there but comes down to a matter of money. I don’t like to spend more than I have to because I really enjoy feeling that there is as much as possible in our bank accounts. I just love the feeling of financial security! Maybe someday I will expand on this and reveal just how much I will go through to save a couple of bucks. I do it on a regular basis, and it does add up, but I’m afraid that I may get a reputation of being a miser… ;)

When we returned home from TJ’s (2 packed coolers, 4 stuffed reusable bags), it took quite some time to unpack and put everything away. I found a bag containing 3 tilapia loins in the freezer and took them out to thaw since I had so much more other stuff to go in.

Tilapia wasn’t really a fish that I paid much attention to until the past couple of years. Suddenly it was everywhere, and inexpensive. We enjoy the taste, but I never did get the hang of grilling the fillets because they would almost disintegrate when I flipped them over, no matter how well-oiled the grill was, and the fillets as well. I found the answer in tilapia loins. They are thicker and take to grilling much, much better than the fillets. For dinner, I grilled them and served with corn tortillas, TJ’s salsa verde, chopped avocado and onion, and wedges of lime. An excellent quick meal.

With the fish tacos, I made a veggie to go alongside. Zucchini seems to pop up in almost every meal, and this was no exception. I had some pink beans in the freezer which I had cooked last weekend, and a couple of mild chili peppers to use. What I came up with was not only very good, but with 1g saturated fat per serving, almost half of the fiber one needs in a day and over a third of the protein, it would be expanded into a vegetarian meal by adding steamed corn tortillas. In fact, that may be a menu item sometime in the next few days, tortillas stuffed with the veggie-and-bean mixture (I will increase the amount of cheese, though)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pan-Sautéed Zucchini with Beans and Corn

Recipe by: Vicci

Servings: 2

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

2 teaspoons canola oil -- divided

3 large garlic cloves -- very thinly sliced

8 ounces chopped zucchini -- 1/2" dice

2 large Anaheim chili peppers -- halved lengthwise and seeded, cut into 1/2" pieces

1/3 cup corn kernels

4 ounces pink beans -- (about 1 cup; can also use pinto or black beans, or black-eyed peas

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 ounce queso fresco -- crumbled

2 teaspoons chopped cilantro

Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat and drizzle one teaspoon of the canola oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Drizzle the other teaspoon of canola oil into the skillet and add the zucchini. Turn the heat a bit higher and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Add the toasted garlic, then the corn and beans and stir until warmed. Remove from heat.

Add the lime juice and sprinkle the sugar over the zucchini mixture. Stir to mix. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool for several minutes. Sprinkle with crumbled cheese and chopped cilantro. Serve warm or at room-temperature.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 333 Calories (kcal); 7g Total Fat; (17% calories from fat); 17g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; 5mg Cholesterol; 33mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 3 Grain(Starch); 1 Lean Meat; 2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 14 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

And as I sat here typing this on the patio, Spooky played Curious Cat.


foodfly said...

Thanks for posting that laundry list of your TJ faves. I just started at TJs and it's good that you have done some of the homework for me. I already love the nuts -- much fresher than elsewhere; the fish I've heard good things about & wanted to try the Salmon Burgers (now I absolutely will bec. you like them); the dairy case...OMG...has things not found elsewhere; Just sampled their chicken siew mai last week & very good.

Here's something for you. Their dried packaged fruit is very good -- I use it when making Rugelach.

And my neighbor rants about the TJs Raspberry Creme Brulee in the freezer section with the other frozen desserts. :)

Kitchen Queen Victoria said...

Well, FF, it's about time you join in here! :) Welcome.

Of course there are items, which I bought at TJ's, that I totally forgot to post about. Their cat cookies are great for snacking (I like the chocolate, Jack prefers vanilla), their 17-ounce bars of Belgium milk chocolate for a ridiculously low price like $4 (ostentatiously bought for baking, but...), chocolate meringues, among others. I am trying to remember and I just cannot recall seeing any frozen desserts! Well, it looks like that the raspberry creme brulee will go on the list for my next TJ's run. Thanks (for the info about dried fruit, too-- baking season is almost upon us!)


foodfly said...

The brulees are skimpy in amount; but there are 2 in a box (~$3.99). There is a smattering of fresh raspberries on top of the brulee. They supply sugar and you are supposed to broil to carmelize. foodfly never takes the time...when hungry she has a no-waiting rule. Therefore, nuking on medium for 30 secs makes the brulee eatable immediately. A sprinkling of the packeted sugar goes on top - no broiling involved. The curious part is the shallow ceramic heat-proof dishes that the brulee comes in. If you purchase enough boxes of brulee, you will wind up with a collection of new cat dishes to serve up Spoo's food. Seems a shame to toss the heavy ceramics in the trash. I already have a small collection myself. The shallow dishes also make excellent cantaloupe holders or saucers for under small plant pots. :)

P.S. I checked in here because I knew that's where I could find the Queen when she is not in her kitchen.

Blogger said...

I have just downloaded iStripper, so I can have the best virtual strippers on my taskbar.