Sure, I love to make everything from scratch as much as the next food-lover, but sometimes that’s just not going to happen. That’s why I keep a keen eye out for great French-food convenience products and readymades. (And if you’ve spent any time in a French supermarket, you’ll know that the French have no trouble at all with readymades—as long as they’re truly worth bringing to the table).
That said, here are some of the best French-inspired foods I’ve found at Trader Joe’s.
• Trader Joe’s Macarons à la Parisienne ($4.99)
Qu’est-ce que c’est: The quintessential French cookie, these are sandwich cookies made from airy disks of egg white/almond flour meringues with a buttercream filling.
The verdict: I’m not going to say that these are as good as Ladurée or those from your favorite French pastry shop. But seriously, they do, for the most part, what great French macarons do: They have that lightly crisp exterior, that somewhat chewy interior, and they’re so ethereal they practically float off the plate. Let’s just say that I’m so impressed with these, I’d serve them to my most discerning guests. And I have. When they asked me where I got them, I just smiled.
What? You want to make your own French macarons? Here’s help: David Lebovitz has written this really great French macaron resource page on where to find the information you need.
• Trader Joe’s Original Savory Thins ($1.69)
Qu’est-ce que c’est: Are they French? No, but they’re great. These shiny, crunchy crackers are made from rice meal, sesame seeds and flour, safflower oil, and a few spices.
The Verdict: Stock up! I use them all the time to make French-inspired canapes. Top them with a little hummus and tapenade for a go-to appetizer with wine. Or, top them with a semisoft cheese (Brie, Camembert, Taleggio, etc.); run them under the broiler just until the cheese oozes a bit, then top with chopped olives and a few herbs or Piment d’Espelette(as pictured).
Qu’est-ce que c’est: This is a version of Alsace’s “tarte flambée”–a traditional pizza-like dish that tops a cracker-like crust with crème fraîche, onions, and lardons (thick French bacon strips).
The Verdict: Go for it. Ah, the crisp-thin crust! The salty bacon! The sweet onions! The creamy lusciousness of it all! I found it amazing that a frozen product could truly approximate this time-honored dish so well. Or, put it this way: If a true tarte flambée in Strasbourg rates a “10,” and your own homemade-in-American version might score a “9,” this is easily an 8.5. And that’s pretty darn good for something this convenient and inexpensive.
• Trader Joe’s Frozen French Green Beans ($1.99)
Qu’est-ce que c’est: These are those chic, slender haricot verts that go so well with …. well, just about everything, but specifically, roast chicken and steak-frites.
The Verdict: Get yourself some. Sure, if you can find fresh French green beans picked that very day at your farmers market, those will be better. But these are mighty good, and they’re loose-packed in a way that makes it easy to pull out a handful here and there. Just be sure to cook them the French way (that is, boil or steam them until just tender, and then saute them in….wait for it….butter).
• Trader Jacques Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce ($3.49)
Qu’est-ce que c’est: It’s a real caramel sauce—and remember, a great caramel sauce is more than caramelized sugar—it has to have butter or cream, and this one has both.
The Verdict: Let’s start by saying that I love making my own caramel sauce, so any purchased product had better be pretty amazing. But if my homemade caramel sauce is a 10, this is about a 9.7—and again, that’s high marks for something so convenient.
So, have you found some pretty-good readymades at Trader Joe’s? If so, I’m all ears. Merci.