Every time I visit Trader Joe's, I groan at the packed parking lot, sigh as I squeeze around the aisles, and try to grin and bear it at the checkout line that stretches all the way back to the dairy case. But I keep coming back, because their stuff is so good and convenient that it's worth the hassle. Especially in December, when TJ's brings out their best pre-made holiday apps that make it so easy to entertain.
We love making the season special for family and friends, and for many of us, it's one of the few times of the year when we really go to town in the kitchen. The cookbooks get dusted off, the cookie cutters come out, the fridge and pantry fill up with items like filo dough, coconut, fresh sage, and confectioner's sugar, and the aromas in the house become far more pleasant than the usual scents of wet dog and sweaty sneakers. Still, there are times when we just can't have a totally homemade holiday. Schedules get busy. Kids get sick. And we just get downright tired. That's when Trader Joe's becomes a lifesaver, and a delightful one, at that. Not only do their frozen and pre-packaged items save on meal prep, they're also so delicious that you don't mind not being the actual chef.
Here are my picks for best appetizers to keep in mind on your next Joe's run. Whether you're having a quiet dinner at home, entertaining a houseful, or need something to heat up fast for an open house, they're all time-savers that will make your life easier. (Don't count on having leftovers.)
Crispy Vegetable Pouches
Packed with fresh veggies including jicama, cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, and carrots, all tossed in a tasty Asian-inspired sauce and wrapped in a light homemade pastry dough, these bundles of joy are sure to be the hit of any party. And if I'm on the guest list, you'd better buy two packages, because the first batch won't make it past my plate.
Mini Brie En Croute
Baking soft Brie cheese in a pastry crust has to rank as one of the genius appetizer hacks of all time. The only drawback is that it can get awkward and messy trying to dip crackers or toast points into the mix, much less eat it and balance a plate simultaneously. To the rescue: These single-serve pouches, which offer all the flavor with none of the inconvenience. Serve them with a good jam (apricot or raspberry are especially nice), and watch them disappear.
Scallops Wrapped In Bacon
Just the word "bacon-wrapped" should say it all. But if you need more convincing, then consider that the uncured bacon is coated with a brown-sugar glaze and draped around plump scallops. They'd be a welcome guest both at an elegant New Year's Eve party and at home watching the bowl games the next day.
Creamy Roasted Cauliflower And Onion Dip
Sure, you could do the sour-cream-and-soup-mix thing. Or you could kick it up a notch and serve this warm, cheesy, garlic-tinged dip with raw veggies or pita wedges, and spend the rest of the night having people ask you for the recipe. Your call.
Vegetable Tray With Vegan Ranch Dip
Just having a tray of pre-cut fresh veggies is nice enough, but Trader Joe's goes it one better: Knowing that traditional ranch dip contains milk and egg ingredients, they've switched out the dairy for tasty coconut milk — ensuring that your vegan guests can dip along with everyone else.
Soup You Can Pick Up
French Onion Soup Bites
Is there anything Joe can't put inside a bite-sized crust? Apparently not. This savory nibble brings you everything you love about French onion soup — caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, and a veggie broth base — in pastry-wrapped form so you can serve it on a plate instead of in a bowl.
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