Deana Gunn's Blog
November 7, 2014
A panini is a pressed and toasted sandwich, served hot. They are usually made with a panini press, a two-sided grill that you close on top of the sandwich, kind of like a waffle maker. However, you don’t need this special appliance to make a panini. A panini press uses the weight of the lid to press on the sandwich as it toasts, but you can easily create the same end result by placing a heavy cast iron pan or other weight on top of your sandwich as it toasts.
First, gather fillings: chicken, prosciutto or other meat, grilled veggies, basil or other herbs, cheeses, whatever you like. In my panini, I used chicken, Trader Joe’s Genova pesto sauce, sun dried tomato, and shredded mozzarella cheese. When I think of a classic panini, I think of some variation of these Mediterranean ingredients. Click here for my panini recipe.
Once you’ve assembled the sandwich with the fillings distributed inside, place it on a hot olive-oil-coated pan. Then place a heavy cast iron pan on top. Don’t have a cast iron pan? Grab a pie tin and place it on top, weighing it down with a few cans from your pantry. Out of cans? Go outside, grab a brick, wrap it in foil, and place it on top of your sandwich. After a few minutes, your sandwich will be golden and toasted on one side. Flip it and repeat the process for the other side. Enjoy your panini!
July 17, 2014
Remember when we were kids, and summer vacation seemed to last forever? What happened?! Now before I know it, I feel like I’m buying pumpkins and sewing Halloween costumes. After years of enthusiastically packing in summer camps and vacations and being tireless summer warriors, I decided to slow things down and unschedule us a bit. This year we purposely have big chunks of time when… nothing in particular is planned. And it’s great! We’ve still got the camps and friends and activities, but now we read while sitting by a breezy window, hang out in a tree, or have a spontaneous picnic at the beach. And without the school morning rush, breakfast can slow down a bit too. Here are a few easy breakfast ideas that can be enjoyed leisurely.
French Toast Baked Casserole: This casserole version of French toast is easy enough for the kids to make. You can even assemble it the night before, and pop it into the oven in the morning. The whole house will smell delightful. Serve with fresh fruit and/or maple syrup.
Another easy breakfast option is building a pretty parfait – kids of any age can do this. Layer creamy yogurt, crunchy granola, and fresh berries, alternating the ingredients. Drizzle with a bit of honey if using plain yogurt. Use a clear glass so you can admire all the colors and textures. For a dessert version, try the Blueberry Lemon Parfait.
Warm up in the cool hours of early morning with a spiced chai tea sweetened with honey and transformed to a creamy luscious drink with almond milk. Simply make a cup of Trader Joe’s Ruby Red Chai according to package instructions, and then add Vanilla Almond Milk and honey to taste. Trader Joe’s Ruby Red Chai is caffeine free, so you can enjoy it in the evening as well.
If the heat is getting you down, how about a cool smoothie. Our retro Orange Creamsicle Smoothie combines Trader Joe’s frozen mango chunks, vanilla yogurt, and orange juice. It doesn’t taste like mango – it really tastes like an orange creamsicle!
For another easy breakfast idea, try Trader Joe’s frozen croissants. They proof (puff up) overnight, and in the morning you pop them into the oven for croissants that will make a French baker do a happy dance.
July 2, 2014
The 4th of July is the country’s most popular grilling day, so it’s likely that you’ll either be throwing a barbeque or going to a friend’s barbeque this weekend. If you’re looking for something beyond burgers and hot dogs, consider putting some of these on the grill:
Pizza – Trader Joe’s has premade pizza dough for just over $1 a bag. Let everyone assemble their own personal-size pizzas and toss them on the grill. They cook up in just a couple of minutes, and you won’t believe how good the dough tastes when it’s grilled.
Vegetables - Use a grilling basket, or thread veggies on skewers. Lightly toss the vegetables with olive oil, salt, and dried herbs. A few minutes on a hot grill, and these veggies are good to go.
Shrimp – Marinate shrimp in olive oil, lemon, and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes in a grilling basket or on skewers. Sprinkle on heaps of fresh cilantro and serve. Grilled shrimp is a terrific appetizer or main course.
Fruit – Grilled fruit is a fabulous dessert for a barbecue. The intense heat caramelizes the natural sugars in the fruit, intensifying the sweetness. Try grilling pineapple slices, halved peaches, or even whole strawberries! Serve on their own, or with vanilla ice cream
Quick to Go – Or if you’re just looking for something quick to pick up and contribute to a barbeque, consider picking up mini hamburger buns and mini hamburger patties (8 buns and 8 patties – why can’t other brands match the number of buns to patties?), any of a long list of ready-made hummus containers, or even a fresh basil plant to give the host (just $2.99 for a large, fresh plant!).
May 8, 2014
A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people,
promptly announces she never did care for pie.” — T. Jordan
Or if she has a sweet tooth and is awesome at fractions, she’ll make everyone happy. Either way, I love that quote. Here is a quick roundup of some favorite recipes perfect for a Mother’s Day brunch:
French Toast Baked Casserole is an easy pop-into-the-oven version of French toast made with yummy Challah bread. Drizzle with maple syrup and serve with fresh fruit.
For something savory, try a quiche or its crustless cousin, the frittata. Either work great served with a fresh green salad. The quiche and frittata fillings are pretty flexible – follow the suggested ingredients or substitute with the cheese, meats, mushrooms, and veggies of your choice.
For something sweet, try the Decadent Chocolate Caramel Tart recipe made with Trader Joe’s delicious Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce or the popular Lemon Basil Cake recipe. And the aforementioned pie? The Chocolate Truffle Pie made with a Joe-Joe’s crust is one of our favorites.
April 25, 2014
Wishing dinner was ready for you upon your arrival home? Let your slow cooker do the work, and you can have dinner hot and waiting as you walk in the door. Slow cookers are great for stews, meats, and veggies, especially when the recipes don’t require any prep work. I love recipes when all the ingredients go directly into the slow cooker, like this Crockpot Salsa Chicken recipe, and you go out the door. Some slow cooker recipes require lots of searing and sauteing and dirtying of various pans and pots before it all goes in to the slow cooker – I’m not sure I see the point of that! For me, the slow cooker is all about not cooking.
This slow cooker recipe requires just two ingredients: chicken and salsa. You return home to juicy, tender, flavorful chicken that you can pair with fresh ingredients like guacamole, sour cream, tomato, lettuce, cheese, cilantro, and tortillas. Yum! Dinner is ready in a snap. Here’s the full recipe for Crockpot Salsa Chicken. Enjoy! Share your own favorite slow cooker recipes on our website.
February 11, 2014
Any plans for Valentine’s Day? This year you may want to skip the crowds and reservations and tables of tense couples. Nothing is more romantic than a quiet homemade meal with just the two of you — maybe even something you cook together. Here are a few easy recipes that you can make together leisurely while enjoying a glass of wine or bubbles.
The first is risotto, a creamy rice dish — simple, delicious, and one of the classics that tops the list of most romantic meals. Our Shiitake Mushroom Risotto is flavorful with mushrooms, Parmesan, and onion. Serve risotto as a stand-alone dish paired with a salad, or use as a side to chicken or shrimp. Our Apricot-Glazed Stuffed Chicken is a nice headliner because it can be prepared ahead of time and popped into the oven once you start making the risotto.
Another favorite dish that is simple but elegant is (the quite highly rated and popular) Gnutmeg Gnocchi. It’s easy to prepare, made especially low-fuss with Trader Joe’s ready-to-use dried gnocchi (potato dumplings). All you have to do is boil gnocchi like you would boil pasta. When they’re done, they float to the surface so you don’t even have to watch the clock. Just watch the gnocchi (if you can bear to look away from your sweetheart for just a moment or two).
How about an over-the-top yummy chocolate dessert to finish the meal? Warm and oozing Chocolate Lava Cake is love on a plate. This recipe is easy and takes well under 20 minutes including cooking time. If you want to skip the recipe but still enjoy this dessert, Trader Joe’s has a ready-made frozen version. (Although we’ll tell you straight up that the homemade version doesn’t take much longer and will score you way more points). For something equally romantic that you can make ahead of time, check out these Chocolate-Covered Strawberries. Yum!
Happy Valentine’s! Enjoy each other every day.
January 10, 2014
It’s been chilly (even here in San Diego) and the darker nights and cooler temps are making me think about cozier dinners. Cold winter months are the perfect time to warm up with comforting homemade soups. Homemade doesn’t have to mean time-consuming, though. In fact, most soups are easy and a great way to use up leftover veggies and grains.Soups also freeze well, so you can make a double batch and freeze containers for future use.
Below are some of our favorite easy soups, ranging from broccoli to butternut squash, and even a cold summer soup for sunny days. You can prepare them in minutes, using clever shortcuts from Trader Joe’s. Soup’s on!
Black Bean Soup – With a touch of smoky flavor from cumin and the zing of fresh lime, this is a healthy and low-fat meal that’s easy enough to make on a busy school night. It’s featured in our “Cooking with Trader Joe’s: Gluten-Free” Cookbook and is so easy to make. Don’t believe me? You can watch me throw it together in just a few minutes here on this TV segment.
Beef Stew – All you do is throw ingredients into a pot or slow cooker, and your family will “oooh” over this stew. Additionally, stews are affordable since you can use inexpensive cuts of meat.
Cream of Broccoli - This is a lean version of creamy broccoli soup. We make it with plenty of fresh or frozen broccoli, and it’s so thick and chunky, you won’t miss the fat.
Butternut Squash Soup – Yes, you can get boxes of soup at the store, but it’s almost as easy to make your own. Make classic butternut squash soup, or try a yummy curried version. I made this one just last night. Trader Joe’s has butternut squash right now at a great price, so I picked up two and roasted them for this soup.
Turkey Soup – We always make this after Thanksgiving dinner, but you can make it any time you have leftover turkey (or chicken) on hand. Toss in leftover veggies and stuffing too!
Miso Noodle Soup- We start with instant miso soup and pile on fresh vegetables and noodles. Miso soup is prized in Asia for its anti-aging and digestive health benefits. Fresh shittake mushrooms turn up the volume of the umami-rich flavor of miso soup. The layering of these flavors is what really hits the spot. Add fresh vegetables, tofu, or dumplings for a complete Asian meal.
Split Pea Soup – A classic after spiral ham dinner at Christmas or Easter, but wonderful any time of year. Leave out the ham for a vegetarian version.
Cock-a-leekie Soup – We love the Scots for coming up with such a great name for a soup! This traditional Scottish soup is made of chicken and leeks, with a garnish of parsley and prunes.
Bountiful Bean Soup – This colorful soup uses the 17 Bean & Barley Mix at Trader Joe’s. Our kids have a ball trying to pick out all the different types of beans.
Harvest Grains Vegetable Soup – This soup uses Harvest Grains, Trader Joe’s bagged combination of Israeli couscous, red quinoa, baby garbanzo beans, and orzo. They cook up quickly in this kid-friendly soup. For extra protein, add frozen shrimp or leftover chicken. Add in extra veggies if you’d like.
Gazpacho – This cold soup is popular at summertime in Spain. It’s a gloriously thick soup, with chunks of vegetables throughout. Serve it anytime it’s warm out. For a variation, try Jen Reilly’s version from “Cooking with Trader Joe’s Skinny Dish” (vegan) cookbook
Taco Soup – All the things you love about tacos, in a big satisfying soup. This is a great one-pot meal for parties. Simply serve buffet style with all the fixings, and let everyone assemble their own bowl to their liking.
Quinoa Mulligatawny – Hey Seinfeld fans, remember the Soup Nazi? This was Kramer’s favorite soup. No wonder people were willing to wait in line for this fantastic blend of vegetables, sweet apples, mild curry, and creamy yogurt. Try our lightning-fast version using Trader Joe’s tasty Masala Simmer Sauce.
December 11, 2013
Who would like a Trader Joe’s gift basket or care package? Someone you know, of course! Trader Joe’s has an incredible number of holiday items right now and it’s so much fun to put together a gift basket. There are even cute gift sets of chocolate bars, coffees, and salt scrubs. Put together a basket of chocolates, a basket of teas, a basket of gluten-free products, or simply gather your favorites.
At the Del Mar Harvest Festival this year, a lady bought a stack of a dozen of our Trader Joe’s cookbooks – she said she was making gift baskets with them. Each gift basket would contain the ingredients for one of her favorite recipes in the book. And for about $20 you can really fill a gift basket with lots of Trader Joe’s ingredients–pasta, sauces, baking mixes. The cookbooks also pair well with TJ’s colorful shopping bags (fold one in half and place the book on top, tying together with a ribbon). They’re a natural with cool kitchen gadgets (check out our Amazon favorites here). And they magically turn a TJ gift certificate into a more personal gift (just wrap a festive ribbon around the cookbook and tie on the gift certificate. Voila! By pairing with a larger item, the tiny gift certificate also becomes much harder to lose).
For a quick visual how-to, check out Wona’s TV spot on making great gift baskets.
November 25, 2013
Do you love Thanksgiving, but cringe at the stress leading up to it? The turkey can be relatively effortless – simply stuff with lemon, garlic & herbs, rub the outside with olive oil, and roast to perfection while enjoying a glass of wine and good music. If you’re in charge of cooking the bird, Trader Joe’s has kosher turkeys and the larger brined turkeys. I’ve tried both and they’re both good! Then pair with any of these EASY Thanksgiving sides, and leave the stress behind. You can even cheat with Trader Joe’s frozen Mashed Potatoes, stuffing mix, canned/jarred cranberry sauce, frozen pumpkin pie, and other heat-and-eat sides (we won’t tell anyone. We like all that stuff too). Below is a list of sides we love to make, mostly veggie dishes, that go great with the Thanksgiving meal. Enjoy!
Butternut Squash Soup
Sweet Potatoes w/Balsamic Maple Glaze
Oven Roasted Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Harvest Glazed Carrots
Brussels Sprouts Roasted on the Stalk
Balsamic Roasted Fennel
Cranberry, Cherry & Walnut Sauce
Cranberry Pomegranate Relish
Arugula Salad w/Pine Nuts & Parmesan
Pumpkin Spice Turnovers
Sweet Potato Pie
No Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake
Chocolate Truffle Pie with Joe-Joe’s Crust
And for those of you getting a head start on your holiday shopping, don’t forget our Trader Joe’s cookbooks for the Trader Joe’s fan on your list. They make great stocking stuffers, office gifts, and hostess gifts. Pair them with Trader Joe’s goodies to make a fabulous (and inexpensive) gift basket.
November 23, 2013
My 11-year-old son thinks this Nugget in a Biscuit youtube video is hilarious. If you don’t, it’s probably because you’re not an 11-year-old boy. So when we were in Trader Joe’s together this week, he asked if we could please make it. Why not. I told him to go ahead and round up the ingredients. He did a circuit around Trader Joe’s (yep, my kids are there often enough that they know their way around quite well) and he came back with the four required ingredients. The ingredients and the eating technique are described eloquently in the lyrics:
Chicken Nugget, biscuit, nugget in a biscuit
Dip it all in mashed potatoes…
Dip the mashed potato covered chicken nugget biscuit in a BBQ
So there you go! We used Trader Joe’s canned Buttermilk Biscuits and baked them flawlessly on my favorite, Silpat baking mat. Instead of nuggets we used Trader Joe’s frozen Breaded Chicken (tenderloins) which were sized well to the biscuits and baked up nice and crispy. The recipe was rounded out with Trader Joe’s frozen Mashed Potatoes and Trader Joe’s All Natural Barbecue sauce. That’s it! I won’t claim it’s the healthiest meal…it’s not…but it was a lot of fun for the kids. My son and my 9-year-old daughter both loved it and said, “Mom, you have GOT to blog about this.” And so I did. Enjoy!