Is Trader Joe’s Worth the Buzz?

Last month, the first Trader Joe’s in Florida opened within biking distance from my house. With a parent from New York who can’t stop raving about the chain, you can be sure that my interest was peaked.

The store’s opening was in the newspaper more times than I could count, and for a while, it seemed like everyone I met was talking about Trader Joe’s this and Trader Joe’s that.

After waiting a few weeks for the crowds to die down and the parking lot of clear out, I took a chance and browsed the aisles in search of hidden treasure. Since then, I have been back three times to try the various offerings.

Trader Joe’s in Brief

Trader Joe’s originated on the West Coast in the 50’s and is one of the most unusual supermarkets around.

Think of them as a curator of unusual, unique and hard-to-find food items. Other people have described it as a cheaper Whole Foods. They are, in fact, very competitive on their pricing. A very large chunk of their stock carries the Trader Joe’s brand label.

There are no weekly sales, membership cards, or any of the other typical things you would expect from a grocery store. If you go to the store looking for item X, you might be disappointed–Trader Joe’s does not carry everything, and what they do carry changes frequently.

Cool Stuff

Here are some of my favorites from the store so far:

  • Two Buck Chuck: Trader Joe’s started to sell Charles Shaw wine in 2002, and it’s become a sensation. The more-than-decent wine retails for $2.99 in Florida and even less in other states and comes in 5 or 6 different varieties that are sure to satisfy any casual wine drinker.
  • Olive Oil Popcorn: Organic, olive-oiled popcorn that’s simple, tasty, and sort-of good for you.
  • Seaweed Snacks: I admit, they’re definitely on the far end of unusual, but if you give them a try, they might just become your favorite snack.
  • PoundPlus Bars: The store sells pound-plus-sized bars of chocolate in a variety of flavors. They are big, tasty, and go well on their own or used for just about any type of cooking.
  • Raw Nuts: A huge selection of raw, unprocessed nuts like almonds and walnuts is available.
  • Chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds. While it’s not the only chocolate-covered thing they offer, it’s one of the most unusual things I’ve tasted.

My Overall Impression

Some of the things I wish I could buy at the local store are fresh meats and fish. I think Trader Joe’s would be awesome at sourcing and selecting good, local stuff.

Other than that, I’ve been really impressed with the selection. They have a good produce and pre-cut meats section, great wine, and lots of unusual and fun things to eat that make for great treats and snacks.

(Photo credit)

Our Favorite Spots in Raleigh

Raleigh north Carolina eat spots

It’s hard to pick all the places we enjoyed, but I figured if anyone is in Raleigh, they should definitely check out these places. It’s not a complete list, but just a few to go spots we pick when family and friends come over. Raleigh north Carolina eat spots

  • Vic’s: Tons of wonderfully delicious Italian food at great prices. I love, love, LOVE their pizzas. My hardest decision with this place is choosing what to eat. This is the spot we go to when there are free concerts in the area.
  • 518 West: We’ve taken family and friends here for anniversary dinners (upstairs is a bit more private). They have great dishes (the crab is fantastic) and a nice drink menu.
  • Los Tres Magueyes: Our Mexican lunch spot- it’s quick and it’s delicious. We get our Speedy and chimichanga combos and we’re happy.
  • Jibarra: It’s not a typical Mexican restaurant, which I like. It’s more urban in style and the dishes are fantastic. It’s hard to describe the flavor of the food beside saying it’s spicy and incredible.
  • Sawasdee: Several friends had mentioned to us that this is the place to go for some good Thai food. They have two locations now in Raleigh, which makes it more convenient (and tempting).
  • Mura: If you’re looking for great sushi and a wonderful atmosphere, Mura is  the spot. We’ve gone there and had great service and a wonderful time. If you’re in the area, on Sundays they have the buy one sushi roll, get one roll 1/2 special that we take advantage of. We also grab a glass of house wine for 1/2 off too. My personal favorites are the Screaming O, Surf & Turf, and Piano roll.
  • Asuka: This Japanese restaurant is a favorite lunch date spot and they have a great buy one, get one roll free special (including dinners). It’s a bit out, but it’s definitely worth the drive.

Your Picks on Raleigh Spots

What are some of your favorites places to grab a bite in the Raleigh area?
Photo Credit:  Dougtone

3 Cookbooks To Get You to Master Your Cooking Skills

jamie oliver cooking

I know a few of my friends love to cook – it’s beyond just preparing their next meal, they’re having fun in the kitchen and it comes out with every dish they create. They make it look so easy to create meals that bring people closer together.

For many people though, cooking can seem to be a difficult skill to learn. I completely understand that view. If you met me a couple of years ago I would’ve told you that cooking was a necessary chore. I wasn’t looking to make anything fancy, I just wanted to make something I could eat that tasted pretty good.

After a bit, though, I started discovering different chefs and styles and became more interested in what I was making. I’m no expert, but I do enjoy making meals for when friends and family come over. My husband has also discovered that he can prepare and cook food without considering it work. jamie oliver cooking

3 Cookbooks that Teach and Inspire

If you’re looking at taking your cooking skills up a notch and you want to learn to create delicious dishes that are healthy, affordable, and easy to make, here are my top 5 picks.

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

If you’re not already familiar with Bittman, he writes the immensely popular column The Minimalist in the New York Times. He specializes in preparing meals with less fuss, but more flavor. If you had to pick one book to get you started I’d say get this one. It looks large, but that’s because he not only covers recipes, but basic cooking skills. His writing style reminds me of a highly skilled friend guiding you with helpful tips.

Those looking at a completely plant based diet would probably love How to Cook Everything Vegetarian Edition.

Jamie’s Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals by Jamie Oliver

While Jamie has many good cookbooks published, I really liked how he shared easy to follow recipes and included stories from people who had no background in cooking. They became empowered through cooking and now have a bit more control with their health and well being. I like a little inspiration with my food.

Comfort Food: Rachael Ray Top 30 30-Minute Meals

Rachael has reigned for many years with her quick and easy comfort foods and for good reason. I received this handy cookbook when I first got married. Not really into hanging around the kitchen, I ignored it at first. However, I found that there were several recipes that I could make in 30 minutes that would be great meals for a few days (with just two of us, we didn’t need big meals).

I’d recommend giving this as a graduation gift for those finishing high school or college.

Thoughts on Cookbooks for Beginners

I’m not saying that they aren’t more great cookbooks, but I think if you at least have those 3 books on your shelf in your kitchen, you’re good to go. I shared a few of my favorites, I’d love to hear your take on it now. Which cookbooks inspired you to cook more? Which ones do you like to give as gifts?

Photo Credit: FotoosVanRobin

Lemongrass: Delicious Thai Food at a Great Price

If you haven’t tried out Lemongrass in Raleigh, you should make plans to check it out this week. We just went out this weekend with family and friends over there, so I thought I’d review some of my favorite dishes from the place while it’s still fresh in my mind.

lemongrass thai restaurant in raleigh

Favorite Dishes at Lemongrass

We’ve been to the restaurant quite a few times so times I’m happy to say that many of their dishes are flavorful and generous. My personal favorite, which I got again this weekend was the grilled salmon with the Thai chili sauce. The steamed broccolis, carrots and green beans on the side were perfectly cooked and my summer rolls were delicious.

My husband loves the Beef Panang and the Beef Green Curry. Right now the he chooses the panang more often than not. He loves spicy food so he tends to go with the 3 stars, while I’m more of a 2 star fan. My mother in law was in town and she loved her Pad Thai.

The kids’ menu was a good mix of choices for picky and more adventurous eaters.

As far as the best bargains for eating, I like their $9 lunch specials which include your entree, appetizer or salad, and a soft drink. Lemongrass also seems to have plenty of deals through restaurant.com.

Their Serving Hours 

If you want to visit Lemongrass, here are the hours for their service:

Monday-Friday

  • Lunch 11:00am-2:00pm
  • Dinner 5:00pm-9:30pm

Saturday-Sunday

  • Lunch 12:00pm-4:00pm
  • Dinner 4:00pm-9:30pm

I’d try to get there during off peak hours because it’s a cozy kind of space and it tends to fill up quickly. Here’s their address if you need to get directions from Google Maps or your GPS:

8320 Litchford Rd Suite 142
Raleigh, NC 27615
(919) 954-0377

Thoughts on Lemongrass

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the resturants. If you’ve been over to Lemongrass, what are some of your favorite dishes and drinks?

Photo Credit: Lemongrass

Aviator Brewing Company

Aviator Brewing Company review

I love the social aspect of food – it’s not just about eating a meal with someone, it can be discovering how your food (and drinks) go from farm to your table. That what happened this past month when some friends invited me to go on a brewery tour. They had gotten Groupon deals and wanted to redeem them so they recruited some friends (who happily volunteered!) to join them.

We car pooled and traveled around the Triangle area to see the breweries. The first stop on our list was Aviator Brewing Company.

Aviator BeersAviator Brewing Company review

Since I didn’t get to try all the beers, I’m including some descriptions given by Aviator themselves. My favorite pick is the HotRod Red – it was smooth and I loved it.

HotRod Red

A somewhat classic Irish Red Ale.  This ale is feisty and a bit hoppy.  There is a malty sweetness and a somewhat dry finish.  Traditional East Kent Goldings but with a nice touch of Cascade and dash of roasted barley give this ale a great taste. Plenty of crystal malt with some roasted barley.

Steamhead

California Common beer…This is a beer fermented with a lager yeast at ale temperatures.  We use lots of Northern Brewer hops and rich Crystal malt to create this easy drinking ale.  A great American beer style.

FrostNipper

Our interpretation of a fall seasonal beer.  This beer will curl your toes and put goosebumps on your arms.  A fine collection of traditional fall spices make this a great addition to the holiday season…it will make all humbugs cheery.  The beer is dark in color…a bit darker than brown ale.  There is a combination of Perle and Willamette hops to provide a contrasting intensity with the fall spices.  The beer contains a generous amount of smoked malt.

Visits and Tours

If you’re looking to take a tour of the brewery or to visit their tap house, here are the addresses so you can find them:

  • Brewery: 209 Technology Park Ln, Fuquay Varina, NC 27526

Tours are held Thursdays and Fridays at 6pm and the brewery is open between 5pm-8pm. There are several tours on Saturdays starting at 4pm and the brewery is open between 3pm-8pm. If you’re driving a bit to get there, I’d call to confirm the tour times. The tours are about 30 minutes.

  • TapHouse: 600 E. Broad St, Fuquay Varina, NC 27526

There is more information on their site if you have any additional questions. I should mention that kids eat free Monday, so you can enjoy some great brews while saving money as a family.

Thoughts on Aviator Brewery

If you have a chance, I recommend checking out Aviator Brewing Company and taking the tour yourself. They’re in the middle of renovating and adding on, so it’s a nice inside look at how a small micro-brewer expands their business. Plus the beer is fantastic 😉 Just a note, for the Groupon deal, you don’t get the beer included. So bring some cash if you want to fill up your grawler. Taking the brewery tour was asn entertaining way to spend Saturday night with friends.