Over the past five decades, popular niche grocer Trader Joe's has grown into a $2.6-billion chain boasting 234 stores in 19 states. How it got there—from a small chain of California convenience stores bought by Joe Coulombe in 1958—has the makings of corporate legend. Lewis, former editor-in-chief of Progressive Grocer, has an authoritative voice, but he simply cannot overcome an unfortunate dearth of raw material. Apparently, executives at Trader Joe's, 80% of whose goods are sold under the chain's private label, have never seen any point in providing an inside look at the company; Lewis is forced to stretch, and too often, repeat the little information that is publicly available. The result features a lot of filler: a plethora of secondhand opinions from industry experts, generic how-to advice and a chapter on the chain's corporate owner, German grocery giant Aldi, which turns out to be just as publicity shy as Trader Joe's. On the positive side, the major components of the company's success are made crystal clear: carve out a niche that the rest of the industry has ignored, serve it in a way that is difficult for competitors to copy and squeeze every dime to maintain the low-cost position*.
Okay, I admit it, I went on a weight loss journey almost two years ago, now 184 pounds lighter (two people smaller), I've had to lesson the high fat and high end ingredients that go into my recipes. I'm also a publisher now, still miss putting my foot up into the pan, so time is of the essence. That there is a key to why this store is so successful--easy to reach for, not so quick shopping, prices are right, and they often change out seasonal items, which help keep my appetite wet.
When the mood strikes me lately, I've been playing with some of their items, looking for one-pot meals that are quick for me and my schedule, but yet making my family feel I slaved for hours. I found one worthy of revisiting my food blog (I still work part-time for a local family, and her fav meals are made in the crock-pot, so I've developed some ideas for the family, since girls can be picky eaters).
Trader Joe ingredients:
Creamy Polenta with spinach and carrots (frozen package)
1 cup copped fresh spinach
2-4 Mahi-mahi fillets (frozen cryovac packages)
1/4 to 1 cup Lemonade, regular (not sugar free) or orange juice
Salted butter (quarter squares, refrigerator)
teaspoon of orange marmalade
1 T blackening seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
Mise en place:
Thaw fillets; remove from packaging, rinse, and place on paper towels to dry out a few hours before cooking. I've found the same as I do with shrimp and scallops, it helps the meat absorb the ingredients you infuse with juice/lemonade. If you place them on paper towels, press out moisture, but leave them wrapped so they don't totally dry (in case you get stuck on a project, which has happened!)
Place a pat of butter (up to you how much), juice/lemonade, and a teaspoon of orange marmalade in a prep bowl. Let them sit on counter until you're ready to begin cooking.
Large pot with fitted lid (to fit 2-4 fillets with room around them)
Stove, gas or electric, and I've done this one on the grill, to infuse smoke into the dish, no lid, only loosely fitted foil.
Let package of creamy polenta sit out to warm/thaw along side butter/juice, and marmalade.
Anyone asking "Why Mahi mahi?" or "Polenta?" "Why not vegetarian?" (read below)
Well, I'm from the south, I miss grits, so this project dish reminds me of Nawlins, where my Mother grew up. I could easily see shrimp, crayfish, or other seafood used. But remember this fish is a sturdy meat, it won't fall apart if you over cook the dish, like shrimp or crayfish. Talapia would have to be a quickly infused fish--atop, and gently pushed in at the last 10 minutes or so.
Okay, I just got my creative juices out on the table, now I have to go cook this; it's been a staple in my house the past four months. I've become my Mom, Thursday is my Mahi-mahi Jam night, and I don't have to cook Friday, they eat the leftovers (I put it away with polenta on top; in my mind it's still fresh!)
Place pot on stove, or your cooking outlet; place fish in bottom of pot; pour juice/lemonade, butter, and marmalade on top of each fillet. Do a little spread on each. Pour package of creamy polenta over the fillets, covering them, use two packages if you feel the need, I add 1 cup chopped spinach for extra fiber and greens, but we don't eat as much as we once did, small portion sizes for us double-nickle adults. Heat on medium with lid, but watch carefully...lower heat if needed.
Now and then you'll stir the polenta around the fish, layering will actually begin to steam the fish, like an extra blanket in a Texas July. It's done when you lift a fillet up and check; fish goes from pink to opaque, and into center. Remove from heat, and serve once the starving family gather round.
The juice/lemonade infuse a sweetness with the jam, which melds with the polenta and veggie mix. The blackening seasoning I use it extra hot, and no one has said a word, that it's too hot, because of the sweetness and acidity just mix well. But don't go crazy with it, you can always add your own extra hot sauce at the table!
Yes, why not? Treat the tofu or other ingredients like the fish and you've got yourself a tasty vegetarian dish. Thanks for you Theresa, my sister-in-law, and Caitlin!
I was not paid nor solicited by Trader Joes. My son however worked their, so the discount I got when he lived with me helped out, especially since he eats at my house! Photos are crummy, but mine. Lighting sucks, always has in my galley kitchen (rental).
"I experiment with Flavors"...
Elizabeth Stelling, hails from her home state of Texas and has been involved in the food industry via institutional, fast food, B&B's, ethnic eateries and other restaurants since she was fourteen. Now living n New Jersey she has ran her own cafe, teaches culinary classes, runs a small boutique catering and staffing business, restaurant consulting for NJWBO, is a personal chef and shares her love of cooking with local, organic, healthy, and natural ingredients with the community.
Chef E is a member of Slow Food and the American Wine Society, Princeton, New Jersey. She has published written works of poetry and media pieces, as well as ran Open Mics in the Princeton, NJ area.
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