Trader Joe’s

Currently: Top Five Food Buys

Instead of listing a day’s worth of eats, let’s talk about the products I’ve been eating a lot of lately. I’ve been loving the following for a variety of reasons — whether it be for my health, because my taste buds jump for joy when I eat them, or because they are the lesser of other evils that could be lurking in my pantry. Regardless, these guys have become staples in the IHABL household.

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Quaker Steel Cut Oats

In what can only be described as the weirdest turn of events, I’ve started craving oatmeal now that the temps are climbing. Didn’t have a single bowl all winter, no, but these days it’s a different story. I’m pretty high-maintenance about my oatmeal, however. I can make an easy single-serving bowl with quick oats, but for the most part, I don’t really like steel cut oats. I haven’t had any luck with them. I typically make my oatmeal in the microwave, and that doesn’t cut it for the steel cut type. At the beginning of the week I decided to give them one last shot and threw them in the slow cooker. What a WORLD of a difference. It tasted like that oatmeal you get from the hotel buffet because god knows what’s actually in those “egg patties.” I made a big batch of it to have on hand all week and I’ve been loving it — I cooked them in water with chia seeds, millet, cinnamon, and some sea salt, so that each day I have a blank canvas to add whatever toppings I feel like having. Today was brown sugar and banana, and I’m not sure if I’ll be switching it up. Why mess with perfection?

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Coconut La Croix

Let me tell you a little story about my water intake — it’s virtually non-existant. I ran seven miles last night before dinner just to walk in the door and realize that I hadn’t had a single drop of water all day. How I manage to run on those fumes is beyond me. So, while I know that pure H2O is what’s best, at the end of the day I rely on La Croix and my good friend Crystal Light to keep me from my inevitable death by dehydration. And none of that phony fruit-flavored stuff. Coconut is where it’s at.

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Trader Joe’s Chile Lime Chicken Burgers

They’re thin, they cook in under ten minutes, and they’re just 150 calories with 19 grams of protein. Paired with a whole wheat burger bun, some classic burger fixins’ (including the high fructose corn syrup-laden Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce — sorry there just isn’t any competition there), and a side of veggies that I pull out of my freezer last minute, this has been my go-to healthy dinner option as of late. And I’m not stopping anytime soon.

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Chobani Greek Yogurt

I usually only eat plain greek yogurt — but while I know that that’s the better choice for 90% of my snacks, sometimes, at the end of the day, you want something more dessert-like. That’s where these guys come in. The vanilla isn’t even my favorite…it’s, you guessed it, coconut, but I don’t have any left right now. Mixed with some slivered almonds or chocolate chips, sweetened yogurt is a perfectly pre-portioned dessert.

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Kodiak Cakes

These hearty little guys are like breakfast gold. They make you feel like you’re indulging in a giant pancake breakfast, when really you’re making a pretty decent choice, as they’re 100% whole grain. The best part is that they’re so easy to make and taste great! I’ve even gotten my family turned on to them, and they usually scoff at my healthy purchases (in their defense, though, I go through phases — so one healthy product can be 75% used up but then the remaining 25% will be left in our pantry for the better half of a decade….) I always add lots of mixins to my pancake batter, usually bananas, cinnamon, millet, nuts, or chia seeds (or all of it!) My brother has made them quite a few times with chocolate chips and I never refuse those either. You really can’t mess this one up: one cup batter, one cup water, mix, cook, done. And they actually keep me full for more than an hour, unlike most pancakes.

Questions:

  • What’s been your favorite food buy lately?
  • Do you go through food phases, or do you have a few stand-bys that you’ve loved forever?
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Whoops I almost missed Monday

So….apparently it’s Monday. I definitely knew that I just couldn’t get it together to write last night. I was up way past my bedtime thanks to the SNL40 Special, which was everything I hoped it would be and more. Did anyone else watch? What’s your favorite SNL skit of all time? I say anything with Kristin Wiig or Stefon. Or whenever Jimmy Fallon was in a sketch and he breaks out laughing (in other words, every skit he’s ever been in). Or when Justin Timberlake, the most talented man on the globe, makes an appearance. Or The Californians. Too many great moments to choose from!

It was such a full weekend — I spent almost every minute with friends.

Friday night I went home for my high school’s annual fundraiser. Every year they shut down for about a week and turn the place into a “town.” The hallways are completely decorated, the gym is turned into a casino, and each classroom is booked by local bands or comedy groups (usually parents and alumni).  I’d been in the past when I was in high school (the under 21 crowd goes on Thursday nights every year) but this was my first year going on the weekend. Nothing like seeing your Catholic high school dean drunk in the hallways where she once yelled at you for not having your shirt tucked in. Good times.


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You can’t tell but this picture was taken in front of my Freshman/Senior year locker. It was so funny to be there with a drink in my hand (let’s not even get started on the fact that there was a margarita machine in my old AP Government classroom).

Saturday was about as stereotypical as it gets — no shame.

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Red Robin lunch date with Kari + the above movie. If you need me to explain then you’ve obviously been living on a rock so we can just move past that. All I’ll say is, if you read the books, it was a really good adaptation to the big screen. If you didn’t read them, you probably thought the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

I rushed back home to the city that night just in time for a romantic roommate dinner at Portillo’s, aka the one place that didn’t require a reservation.

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I dove headfirst into the chopped salad because I truly believe it is made of sparkles and rainbows. I almost went for the famous cheese fries but knew I needed room for the real star of the show:

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Love Is: CAKE SHAKE. For any non-Chicagoans out there, it is a chocolate shake with a piece of chocolate cake blended into it. And it is fabulous.

I made grand plans to go out on Saturday night but the windchill was below zero so I spent the night in front of a space heater, eating chocolate from my freezer and watching shitty Netflix movies.

I had to work on Sunday but once I was off I stopped by Trader Joe’s, got the fixins for make-your-own pizzas and headed to Spencer’s for the SNL special. It was a fun group of people and I ate my body weight in pizza, Ranch Wheat Thins (revolutionary!) and red velvet bundt cake.

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My face hurt from laughing so hard during the three and a half hour-long show. I was a little sad that the “confirmed” N*SYNC reunion didn’t happen haha but there was way too much good stuff to even notice.

So all in all, it was the best kind of weekend. Minus the fact that I didn’t work out once…yikes. Back on that train today, I guess!

Other highlights from the weekend:

  • I tried Jimmy John’s for the first time and didn’t hate it
  • Taylor Swift finally put out the “Style” music video
  • I helped Whitney from this season of “The Bachelor” pick out yoga pants at lululemon. Don’t say I never did my part to change the world.

Questions:

  • Pizza: homemade or delivery?
  • Did you watch the SNL special? What’s your favorite sketch of all time?
  • How was your Valentine’s Day?

the wonderful world of unexplored squash: what to do with a delicata

Squash is one of those words you only ever hear from the months September-November. Can you imagine any scenario when you would bring up the vivacious veggie in conversation in, say, June?

Nonetheless, squash becomes a bit of an obsession this time of year.

From butternut to pumpkin, acorn to spaghetti and everything in between, it’s like there’s this tiny window of opportunity to cook such a unique species of vegetable that it makes foodies everywhere dash to their ovens and hike it up to 425 yelling “Let the roasting commence!”

Yesterday I shared with you that I recently cooked a delicata squash. I realized when I woke up this morning how unfair it was to just share that photo with you and not really get into some more detail about the wonderful world of unexplored squash (doesn’t part of you just wish that the plural of squash was “squashes”?)

Delicata squash!!

I stumbled upon this darling delicata last week at Trader Joe’s. I was swapping stories with one of the employees while sampling their pumpkin spice coffee and delicious spiced apple cider when I asked what her favorite pumpkin products were this year. If anyone else took a glance at the latest Fearless Flyer you know that there are probably a dozen pumpkin-themed products lining the shelves of TJ’s and I really needed an insider’s take on just which ones were worth it. Instead of leading me to the pumpkin pancakes or butternut squash soup she pointed directly at the delicata squash. “You have to try that.” So into my cart it went, what looked like the cross between an over-sized cucumber and a giant peanut. All I was armed with were the instructions to “cut, drizzle with olive oil, season, and roast.”

Ah the risky life of the ever-curious foodie.

Long story short I did exactly what she told me and was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved it! I sliced off the ends of the squash, cut it lengthwise, cleaned out the insides (post-picture), drizzled it with EVOO and salt+pepper, and stuck it in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until the insides were soft when I stabbed it with a fork.

So what does delicata squash taste like? It tasted slightly sweet, like a sweet potato, but the texture was just a bit more firm, kind of like a spaghetti squash. It was smooth but not as creamy as sweet potatoes are. Like most squash, it really took on the flavor of the olive oil, salt and pepper but still tasted fresh and earthy, making it the perfect side to any lean protein. I ate half the squash while waiting for my fish to cook because I just couldn’t stave off my curiosity any longer.

Some quick facts about delicata squash:

  • It goes by many nicknames: the sweet potato squash, the peanut squash, the Bohemian squash
  • A 3/4-cup contains 30 just calories
  • It is fat-free, sodium-free, cholesterol-free, and a great source of Vitamins C and A
  • Throw the peeler aside – you can eat the skin!

Here are a few amazing recipes I came across will be using for inspiration over the next few weeks:

Roasted Squash Blossom

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Delicata Squash Soup

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Roasted Cinnamon-Ginger Delicata Squash delicata-7

Delicata Squash & Chard Penne Pasta

Produce On Parade - Delicata Squash & Chard Penne Pasta - A perfect early autumn penne pasta with roasted delicata squash, sautéed chard and bell pepper, dressed in a fresh, herbed tomato sauce-

So join me in pumpkin rehab and pick up a delicata squash after work today. Because honestly, why the heck not? It’s like $2 and it keeps you from having to turn to those frozen mixed vegetables (again) that I know we’re all guilty of hoarding.

Questions:

  • What’s your favorite fall recipe/food that doesn’t include pumpkin or apple?
  • Do foreign veggies like this one intimidate you, or do you pick one up and experiment just for the heck of it?

things i love friday: kiddie pools and tacos galore

Aaaaand just like that, it’s Friday again. Don’t you love short workweeks?

Even though it was a short week I still ran into a million things I loved and knew I had to share today with everyone, so without further ado, a few things I love this Friday.

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Farmers Markets

Well it’s officially farmers market season and I couldn’t be happier. I love strolling past the dozens of farmers’ stands and checking out the homegrown produce and unique products. From crepe stands to flower stops and some of the freshest fruits and veggies you’ll see in your life, there are few things better than throwing on a casual maxi dress, grabbing all the cash you can find in your house, and walking the sunny streets of a farmers market. I plan on going to the Green City Market in Lincoln Park tomorrow morning, so stay tuned.

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2% Greek Yogurt

Why have you all been holding out on me?? The difference between 2% and 0% greek yogurt is like night and day. It was so rich and creamy, it felt almost indulgent. I’ll never buy 0% again – ain’t nobody got time to be afraid of a little fat!

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Speaking of that, have you ever put mango in your greek yogurt? Life-changing, I tell you.

Tacos

It must be the warm weather but I’ve had fish tacos three times this week – can’t stop, won’t stop. I’m still on the hunt for the best fish tacos in Chicago – as of now the honor goes to Benchmark in Old Town but I have two places on my must-go list: Antique Taco and Big Star. I guess it’s my taco bucket list 🙂

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At-home workouts

When I move to Lincoln Park in a few weeks I plan on signing up for a gym in the area, but until then I’m still using up my Yoga Loft 2-week pass and doing home workouts. If you’re looking for a fast and effective workout that you can do in your living room blasting Kesha, look no further than the Total Body Workout by Body By Jake on Hulu. Because honestly, what’s better than free?

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@HiddenCash

Have your heard about this? A millionaire is leaving cash taped all over spots in California, from fire hydrants to park benches. He’s tweeting clues from @HiddenCash and hoping people will “pay it forward”. How heartwarming is that? I love little moments of humanity like that – everyone’s coming together and helping each other find the hidden cash, and then either taking their friends out for dinner/drinks or donating to their favorite charity. It’s such a cool idea and brings a little excitement and unity to the world! Fingers crossed he stops by the Windy City 🙂

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Movies and Music in the Park

I promise that one day I’ll stop talking about how great Chicago is in the summer. Today is not that day.  Starting next week the city puts on free events multiple times a week such as concerts in the park and outdoor movies. For all the time I’m planning on spending on the grass it’s probably a good idea to invest in some outdoor furniture. How about this?

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Is that perfect or is it perfect?

Have a great weekend! Check back tomorrow for a fresh new summer recipe!

Questions:

 

  • What are your favorite outdoor activities in the summer?
  • What’s your favorite kind of taco?
  • What are your plans this weekend?

 

white cheddar tequila trout (it’s not what you think)

Oooo how gross is that title? But it got you to click, right? Bwahaha my master plan is working – shock and awe will keep you all coming back for more! In all seriousness, though, isn’t it funny how you can churn out content almost daily for entire blog posts and then it’s time to come up with a title and you’re like “Uhhh….”. Oh the irony….

I promise I’ll have a recap soon of my juice cleanse attempt (emphasis on the word attempt) but I really feel like I’ve committed a major blogger sin by skipping out on “What I Ate Wednesday”. When I first started reading food blogs (Kath Eats Real Food was my gateway drug) that was my favorite part! Scrolling through photo after photo of snacks, sandwiches, skillets, and everything in between got me through the day when I was working at my first summer internship. One of the first realities I faced when I started blogging was no, you can’t just upload iPhone photos of fish and veggies every single day and call it a healthy living blog. These types of outlets require covering a vast number of topics, and food is just the tip of the iceberg. But hey, we all love a good photo dump every once in awhile, right? So in homage to my blog-obsession roots, I’m going to share some of the best things I’ve eaten in the past week or so.

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Lentil soup – it never sounds good but 9 out of 10 times it knocks my socks off

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Trader Joe’s chicken and verde salsa burritos (an incredibly easy frozen food option) alongside some tortilla chips, salsa and peas. I’m a pea freak lately!

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Tequila and good conversation mix very well 🙂

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Why has no one told me about this white cheddar mac and cheese before? I about died and went to heaven

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Deep dish from the Art of Pizza in Lakeview – my new favorite (the two pounds of cheese per slice helped)

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Overnight oats – never pretty, always delicious

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Easily the best sandwich I’ve had in awhile: chicken, roasted tomatoes, pesto, arugula and provolone.

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Food Ease hot bar inside Water Tower place: Joe’s Crab Shack Roasted Tomatoes, Herb Roasted Trout, and Roasted Potatoes. Talk about a high-class lunch!

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I will never turn down a Chipotle date with Zman 🙂

Let’s end the post with something I’m grateful for today: I’m grateful for the ability to read! Can you imagine never learning that basic skill? I love reading about other people’s life experiences and creative writing pieces so I’m very appreciative that I grew up in a place that values education.

Okay…now let’s hear from you!

  • What’s the best thing you’ve eaten in the past week?
  • What’s one thing you’re grateful for today?

Trader Joe’s Love

Who doesn’t love Trader Joe’s?  If you’re reading blogs like mine, I’m sure you’ve not only heard of Trader Joe’s but you probably have a dysfunctional love and obsession with it.

I don’t live very close to one.  Construction has started in my suburb that “promises” it’ll be here in a year, but they’ve been saying that for awhile so I’m not getting my hopes up.  Hopefully I’ll have moved to Chicago permanently at that point and then I’ll be able to walk to one all the time.  The closest Trader Joe’s is about 30 minutes away so it’s sometimes hard to justify driving there when I have 4 decent grocery stores right by me.

On Friday, however, I had the entire afternoon to myself, so I finally decided to make the trek.  I made my list and pumped myself up; to say I was excited was an understatement.

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I strolled the aisles for over an hour by myself, eyeing all the cool new products that TJ’s has to offer.  Yes, I know a lot of their products are just normal, everyday things with creative labels, but whatever. Boo to the naysayers.

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In honor of this momentous occasion, I thought I’d show you the things that I purchased.  I got some standbys (things I know are delicious), new things that looked delicious, and a hell of a lot of chocolate.

If you make your way to TJ’s definitely grab some of these picks!

ImageCilantro salad dressing–perfect for Mexican stir frys or salads

Spicy peanut vinaigrette–I’ve actually never had this before but other bloggers seem to love it. It seems like it would make a great addition to a Thai-inspired salad or cold peanut noodle dish.

Parmesan ranch dressing–great dipping sauce for chicken. Also the perfect salad dressing when you’re in the mood for something a little more decadent-tasting.

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Eggplant cutlets–absolutely delicious and makes a much healthier eggplant parmesan.

White cheddar corn puffs–Pirate’s Booty, but cheaper 🙂

Ginger cat cookies–Dad’s favorite!

Aioli Garlic Mustard Sauce–we used this sauce when I was in DC to make a homemade salad dressing. Paired with balsamic vinegar and olive oil it was simple but so flavorful.  It reminded me a lot of the standard salad dressing in Paris.  We all loved it!

Basil Pesto–because you can never go wrong having pesto in your pantry.

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Mango chunks–I’ve already added these to plain greek yogurt and they’re so yummy.  Plus they’re relatively inexpensive and will last a long time in the freezer.

Spinach and Kale Greek Yogurt Dip–this caught my eye in the store and (confession) 24 hours later it’s already halfway gone. SO GOOD. If you go to TJ’s you MUST buy this stuff!

Just Almond Meal–I’ve been looking to make some new recipes with almond meal instead of flour. My brother has a wheat sensitivity so I figured it couldn’t hurt to try a few new dessert recipes with this stuff, especially since other people have had a lot of success with it.

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Roasted gorgonzola crackers–already tried them with the spinach dip. They’re great!

Cowboy caviar–I can’t wait to give this a try. It seems like it would be a great addition to a taco salad or simply as a snack with tortilla chips. It looks much more filling than regular salsa.

TJ’s bold and smoky bbq sauce–I love Sweet Baby Ray’s to the ends of the earth, but I just can’t get the thought of all its high fructose corn syrup out of my head. I’ve been trying to find a nearly identical replacement, so I decided to give this one a try.

TJ’s cold brewed coffee–Well right off the bat I can’t tell you how much money I’ll be saving with this stuff. It’s smooth, bold, and makes perfect iced coffee. The bottle alone was only around $3 and it’ll make me a week’s worth of iced coffee. Starbucks eat your heart out!

And last but certainly not least: the CHOCOLATE! 🙂

ImageYes I agree I went a little overboard but I promise I’ll try to maintain portion control with these bad boys.

Milk chocolate covered toffee popcorn–NO WORDS. indescribably amazing.

Sea salt butterscotch caramels–I haven’t opened these yet but I’m hoping they taste as good as they sound! Lovvvvve me some sea salt caramel.

Yogurt and chocolate covered raisins–pretty standard, but I love these kinds of raisins so I figured why not! Also I’m planning on making my own trail mix this week so these will make a great addition.

Well that’s the list! As usual I came home with a diverse bunch of groceries from Trader Joe’s to try, as well as my regular purchases. And as usual, TJ didn’t charge me an arm and a leg.  Successful Friday to say the least!

Questions: Do you have a TJ’s near you? What’s your favorite thing from there?