I have two words for you: Shopping spree. That seemed to be last weekend’s theme—Saturday it was clothes and Sunday it was food. Guess which one was my favorite?
As you probably know (and may be tired of hearing by now) I have a slight major obsession with Whole Foods. While I may succumb to every marketing tactic they employ (rustic wood crates piled with squash!) I always leave happy. Never once have I regretted a dollar I spent there. My motto: If they don’t sell it I don’t need it.
Still, since moving to Chicago a year and a half ago, I’ve been trying to love Trader Joe’s. Really, I have. Unfortunately, our relationship hasn’t always gone as smoothly as I had hoped. Yes, my life is tragic.
My biggest gripe is that I almost always need to supplement my purchases with an additional trip to…guess where?!…in order to complete a meal since TJ’s never seems to have all of the ingredients I need. Why shop at two places when I can go to one? But I continue fighting for this relationship, struggling to uncover the secret to a successful TJ’s experience and find out why so many devoted folks swear by it. There must be more to it than their insanely addictive chocolate covered raisins.
Finally, this Sunday I think I found my answer: Shop with absolutely no idea what you need to buy and buy everything you want. Sounds logical, right? This strategy completely erases the possibility of disappointment because you don’t know what you need anyway. Plus, buying whatever the heck tickles your food-loving fancy means you’ll end up trying lots of new things that you wouldn’t otherwise buy. In fact, for lunch yesterday I ate a bowl of gluten-free, vegan minestrone soup I found stashed in the produce aisle that was absolutely delightful and proved you really can throw whatever you want into a pot of soup and call it minestrone—this one had barley, cabbage, broccoli, white beans, and other tasty food items.
Allowing myself to pile my cart with anything and everything I wanted also meant that I probably spent way more than a family of four would drop in a month of shopping there, but I also got tons of food (mostly chicken, fish, and pork) to stock in my freezer. I also tried to engage the same healthy-eating tactics I use when shopping at WF: Primarily buying whole, unprocessed foods and very few products that come in packages. This meant that about 90 percent of the items I bought came from the periphery of the store: Vegetables, fruits, meats, yogurt, and wine. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t a whole food, but it’s still located along the periphery. And it’s so cheap.
In all honesty, while I didn’t have any idea what would become of all of my purchases (and still, for the most part, don’t) I figured I’d at least find the ingredients to make this stir-fry recipe I’ve been eyeing for weeks. I believe that on some level this recipe ignited my desire to give TJ’s one last chance because if nothing else, I knew I could find pre-cut veggies there. Because they seem to have pre-cut everything.
This stir-fry is easily the best I’ve ever made and even helped fill a serious craving I’ve been having for Chinese takeout. While I could make my own stir-fry sauce (and plan to do so the next time around) I wanted to follow the recipe as is simply because it looked so delicious and using the bottled kind definitely gave it that certain restaurant flavor while cutting down prep time. (I used Annie Chun’s.) Being the dork that I am, I prepped this meal in a very Food Network way: Cutting everything—the chicken, veggies, onion, garlic, and ginger—before even heating a pan. Although it dirties lots of dishes, I suggest using this style since once you get cooking it’s a pretty fast process and you may not have time to finish chopping in between steps. It’s worth it, I promise.
If you have any suggestions for a more reasonable way to shop at TJ’s please let me know. This probably isn’t a habit I should maintain week after week.
Check out the incredible chicken stir-fry recipe over at