You might think of Trader Joe’s as the small grocery store where you’re sure to run into at least one of your organic food-loving neighbors or a friendly staff member who will ask you how you’re planning to put that new spice blend to good use. But did you know that many all-star chefs make a special stop to shop at Trader Joe’s too? It’s true!
In fact Chelsea Knight, chef at Fable Lounge in Nashville says, “I absolutely love Trader Joe’s. I’m there every week to buy my groceries.”
Read on to get a sneak peek at what chefs add to their carts and proudly cook with when they’re off the clock.
Related: 9 Staples Dietitians Buy From Trader Joe’s for Easy Weeknight Dinners
Stuffed with soy sauce-scented cabbage, carrots, onion, radish, ginger, chives, and more, these quick-cooking dumplings can be microwaved, pan-fried, steamed, or even air-fried.
Brandon Boudet, executive chef and co-owner of Little Dom’s in Los Angeles and Little Dom’s Seafood in Carpinteria, California, who ranks these gyoza among his top Trader Joe’s finds, likes to prepare them simply to allow their well-balanced Asian-inspired flavors to shine.
“I use a nonstick pan and place them in with a few tablespoons of water to steam with the lid on. Once the water has evaporated, I toss in a little cooking oil to sear the gyoza until they’re nice and browned on one side with a crisp,” Boudet says. They’re a treat served alongside soy sauce and chili paste, he adds.
While it’s not exclusively a butcher, Trader Joe’s offers many top-notch meat section options. The cuts that come pre-marinated make especially terrific meal-starters, says Ryan Devereaux, chef instructor at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Denver.
“They offer wonderful flavor and in a pinch, and if you don’t want to come up with your own seasoning profile, Trader Joe’s offers some that are amazing. My personal favorites are the Carne Asada Autentico, and the Pollo Asado Autentico,” he says. But even the plain rack of lamb is absolutely dinner party-worthy. “I like Trader Joe’s meats because they are never too fatty and they have great free-range flavor.”
Bulgogi Beef Fried Rice
After a crazy-busy day, Donald Young, the executive chef and partner of Venteux in Chicago says that frozen meals, like this takeout-style option, can be a lifesaver.
“I love to pick up a few of their frozen meals, as they make my life so much easier when I have a long day and don’t get a chance to eat much. Sometimes being able to take a break from cooking really helps mentally. Fortunately, Trader Joe’s prepared meals are tasty, especially the Bulgogi fried rice that always hits the spot,” he says.
Related: 10 Takeout Favorites You Can Make in Your Instant Pot
Speaking of rice, you can save yourself a lot of stress, mess and carbs with this Boudet fave. “I steam this with finely-cut green onion, crushed red pepper, and salt, then cook until the moisture evaporates. Finish with Parmesan cheese to taste for a killer side dish,” Boudet suggests.
And in other cauliflower carb swap ideas, this cult favorite (it’s been known to sell out so quickly that some stores had to set a maximum bag purchase limit) also earns top marks from Knight.
“I make Cauliflower Gnocchi as my ‘pasta’ and toss with cooked and sliced Italian chicken sausages for protein,” she says. “Sometimes, I add pre-sliced Brussels sprouts as a side dish.” (Psst…here are some scrumptious ways to dress up those sprouts!)
Shortcut veggies don’t just stop at sprouts. “My favorite product at Trader Joe’s is their fresh veggie mirepoix that comes already cleaned and diced,” says Mee McCormick, chef and founder of Pinewood Kitchen & Mercantile in Nunnelly, Tennessee, and author of cookbook My Pinewood Kitchen, A Southern Culinary Cure. (By the way, mirepoix, for the uninitiated, is a common culinary mixture used to start many French recipes. It features equal parts celery, carrots, and onion.) “The pre-chopped mirepoix allows me to add broth and chicken and I’ve got the best chicken soup in 30 minutes, start to finish.”
McCormick also swears by this freezer find — a garlic- and parsley-seasoned blend of four different mushroom varieties — for soups and so much more.
“I always have a bag of mushroom medley in my freezer. Being a major mushroom fan, this is key to my weekly menu,” she says. “These are already clean and work well as part of a quick plant-based meal or in soups, stews or on top of steaks.”
For a first course, final course or as part of a meal, you can never go wrong by stocking up on cheese, Devereaux says.
“Cheese is the first stop I make when I walk into the store. Trader Joe’s has a wonderful selection! I love their Harbison cave-aged cheese, blue cheeses, and cheddars, all of which are very reasonably-priced. I also love all of their goat cheeses: the honey goat’s milk, the fine herb-crusted goat cheese, and their blueberry goat cheese,” he says.
You’re sure to find a flavor to cure your craving in the amply-stocked ice cream section at Trader Joe’s. Young and Devereaux especially recommend the ice cream sandwiches, mochi ice cream, pistachio ice cream, and the ultra chocolate ice cream.
Related: Believe It or Not, Trader Joe’s Pancake Mix Is the Secret To the BEST Shortcut Biscuits
Wine and Whiskey
To pair with all of the above, don’t skip the drink aisle.
“Who can ever turn down decent wine for super-cheap?! I always load up on a couple — or several — bottles of Trader Joe’s wine whenever I can make it there on my day off,” Young says.
Devereaux is fond of the Trader Joe’s house brand whiskey that’s sold in select states, noting that “it is a great value and quality.”
This story originally appeared on AllRecipes.com.