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A&E >  Food

Dreams of Trader Joe’s closer to reality

With South Hill location set to open, dedicated fans are just days away from bargains aplenty

Bargain prices, natural and organic offerings, unusual food finds and fun have earned Trader Joe’s some seriously loyal customers.

Some scoffed when we suggested in a note to readers last month that fans of the California-based chain were trekking to the other side of state and beyond to stock up on their favorite Trader Joe’s staples. But more than two dozen sent notes with the details of their cross-state runs, the extra bags they stow on trips to see family in a Trader Joe’s ZIP code and the other shenanigans the beloved store has inspired.

“Since the moment Trader Joe’s began construction this spring, it has been the number one topic of conversation and speculation around the workout circuit at Curves Southeast. Being located directly across from the construction site it proved to be a much more interesting topic than trying to guess the precise day the snow piles in the parking lot would disappear,” wrote Faye Finke, on behalf of the women at Curves Southeast.

They’re dreaming of bargain wines, cheeses, crackers, energy bars and flowers while they work out.

Colleen Capwell says she became the Trader Joe’s personal shopper for her friends in Spokane when her daughter moved to Seattle in 2007 to attend the University of Washington.

“The most I have shopped for in one trip is 15,” she wrote in an email message. “I know I can fit 13 cases of Charles Shaw wine in the back of my car if I split one case in half.

“I usually have to make three trips into the store. The first is for wine, the second is for nonperishable items and the last is for the refrigerated and frozen food.”

Capwell wrote the note on the eve of another trip to the Issaquah, Wash., store from her daughter’s house in Seattle. Her personal favorite item is the Italian truffle cheese.

“Considering the quantities I buy, you can imagine some of the questions I get from Trader Joe’s staff. My question for them has always been, ‘When is Trader Joe’s coming to Spokane?’ ”

The wait is almost over. The Spokane store in the Lincoln Heights Shopping Center, 2975 E. 29th Ave., opens with a lei cutting at 8 a.m. Friday. Regular hours will be 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Trader Joe’s carries an array of domestic and imported food and beverages, including more than 1,000 items under its private label, which includes Trader Giotto and Trader Jose products.

The store buys directly from manufacturers, then strips away preservatives, artificial colors and ingredients from the name-brand product and sells it for a discount under its own label.

Company spokeswoman Alison Mochizuki says many of those items are stocked at all of the chain’s stores, with some variation from region to region. Spokane shoppers can expect to see most of the items they’ve come to love, but some items may not be available. About a dozen new offerings are added to stores each week after extensive testing by the company’s tasting panel.

Trader Joe’s started in 1958 in the Los Angeles area and has grown to more than 360 stores in 31 states.

Peggy DiFilippo, of Spokane Valley, started going to Trader Joe’s in the late 1970s when the store was a block from her apartment in Placentia, Calif.

“Back then, they sold mostly wine and cheese. What really got me hooked was their newsletter. Whimsical and funny! Ever since then I have always searched for TJs wherever I have lived,” she wrote.

Cathy Akins of Diamond Lake, Wash., left her wallet at the Trader Joe’s in Issaquah when she stopped with friends on the way home from a concert in Seattle. She called the store and asked them to hold it until her daughter could stop by to pick it up for her.

“When (my daughter) gave it to me, it was accompanied by a card – the manager had written a haiku poem about losing a wallet but saving the day and hoping mine was going well. Just one more little Trader Joe’s ‘yay!’ ”

Molly Hoover is looking forward to Trader Joe’s prosciutto and fresh sage leaves so she can whip together her favorite fast meal. Place three or four sage leaves on a pork chop and wrap it with prosciutto. Grill the chop (she uses her George Foreman grill) for four to six minutes and voila!

“The taste will amaze you,” she writes.

Vicki Wiprud will be dropping in for favorites such as gyoza, dim sum, ethnic condiments and enchiladas. But her must-have product is Trader Joe’s lavender body scrub.

Marcia Goldman’s favorite is the mini cubes of frozen chopped garlic and cilantro. She keeps them in a zip-top bag in the freezer and pops them out as needed.

“No more stinky fingers or rotten cilantro,” she writes. “Oh, and the triple ginger snaps rival homemade.”

Cheryl Simpkins gets an “A” for her effort to satisfy a yen for Trader Joe’s goods. She was on her way to Maui to visit a friend and asked if there was anything that she wanted from the mainland. The friend said she wanted whole coffee beans from Trader Joe’s.

Since Spokane didn’t have a store Simpkins told her friend she was out of luck, but started looking for ways to use her five-hour layover at Sea-Tac airport in Seattle to make a TJ’s run. Burien, Wash., turned out to be the closest store, but Simpkins found out a taxi ride was too expensive. Out of her comfort zone but still wanting to surprise her friend, she tried airport information, where they suggested she try the bus.

“Walked to the bus stop, found where to buy tokens, got on and talked to the bus driver about where to get off and where to get back on, times, etc. Get there and Trader Joe’s has not even opened yet,” Simpkins wrote in her message. “Great, it’s raining, cold and I’m dressed for Maui.”

She stuck it out, snagged her coffee beans and still made it back to the airport with two hours to kill before her flight.

“It may not sound like such a big deal to most people but it made me feel very brave and I had a gift for my best friend that she didn’t know she would get,” Simpkins says.

Shopper loyalty seems as much a Trader Joe’s tradition as the Hawaiian shirts worn by crew members.

There are books, blogs and websites dedicated to the stores and its products. There are at least two series of cookbooks dedicated to recipes that rely on Trader Joe’s merchandise. The books are available at bookstores.

Cherie Mercer Twohy, author of the “I Trader Joe’s” series of cookbooks, started by offering classes featuring Trader Joe’s products in 2000. She even invited the local store captain (manager) to come talk to students. After nine years and four captains, it was still among her most popular classes.

Twohy’s recipe for Chocolate Pumpkin Tart follows. Her latest book, the “I Trader Joe’s Party Cookbook,” features entertaining ideas just in time for the holidays.

She says the Brie and Pear Galette has earned more raves than any of the others in the book (recipe follows). The books are published by Ulysses Press and sell for $17.95.

For more ideas on how to cook up those Trader Joe’s products, consider the “Cooking With Trader Joe’s” series of cookbooks. The latest offering is “Cooking with Trader Joe’s: Pack a Lunch” by Celine Cossou-Bordes.

Other “Cooking with Trader Joe’s” books include the revised and updated original book “Cooking With All Things Trader Joe’s.” There is also “Skinny Dish,” “Lighten Up” and “Dinner’s Done.” The hardcover books are distributed by Partners Book Publishing and sell for $18.95 to $24.95.

A Facebook page dedicated to convincing the company executives that Spokane would be an ideal location for their store is another testament to the passion the chain inspires.

Glynnis Luu predicts that Friday’s store opening won’t be the end of the fuss.

“I bet the parking lot is too small for all of the customers that will shop there (as are all the parking lots for all the Trader Joe’s I’ve been to as a matter of fact),” Luu writes.

Laura Bohauer agrees: “I just hope when TJ’s sees the mob that descends on the South Side store that they will think about building on the North Side of town, too.”

Smoked Salmon in Herbed Pancakes

From “Cooking With Trader Joe’s: Pack a Lunch.” “The idea of serving salmon with yogurt and pancakes is based on a traditional recipe with tiny Russian pancakes, called blinis, which are usually served with salmon and creme fraiche. Trader Joe’s multigrain pancake mix makes, in my opinion, the best pancakes from a box.”

For the pancakes:

1 cup multigrain pancake mix

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1 tablespoon oil

1/3 cup finely chopped herbs (any combination of parsley, thyme and basil)

For the filling:

1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 small onion, minced

Pinch salt and pepper

5 ounces sliced smoked salmon, shredded

1/3 cup micro greens

Make pancake batter per box instructions. Stir in herbs. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk yogurt, lemon juice, onion, salt and pepper. Refrigerate until used.

Using herbed batter, cook 4 pancakes per instructions on the box. Lay pancakes on a plate. Top with salmon, add yogurt mix and then top with micro greens. Roll pancake. Secure with toothpick or kitchen twine.

Yield: 4 servings

Brie and Pear Galette

From the “I Trader Joe’s Party Cookbook,” by Cherie Mercer Twohy

1 Trader Joe’s Gourmet Pie Crust, thawed and rolled out to 1/4-inch thickness (refreeze the remaining one for another use)

4 ounces brie, rind removed, cubed

1 pear, thinly sliced

1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the pie dough on a baking sheet and scatter half of the brie over the center, leaving the edges clean.

Arrange the sliced pears on top of the brie. Scatter the pecans on top and then add the remaining brie.

Fold the edges of the dough in to create a “picture frame” around the filling and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until crust is golden. Cut into wedges or squares to serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Chocolate Pumpkin Tart

From the “I Trader Joe’s Cookbook,” by Cherie Mercer Twohy. “I have gotten tremendous mileage out of this fast and fabulous holiday dessert. It goes together really quickly and can be dressed up with whipped cream or other frippery.

“I love the look of one of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Stars cookies perched on top of a billow of creme fraiche on top of a slice of this tart. The pumpkin butter and chocolate stars are both seasonal items, so hoard them when you see them.”

1 Trader Joe’s Gourmet Pie Crust, thawed (refreeze the remaining one for another use)

1 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

1 (9-ounce) jar Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter

1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone

1 to 2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)

Whipped cream or crème fraiche (optional)

To blind-bake the tart shell: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out pie dough and fit into an 8- or 9- inch pie pan or tart pan with removable bottom. Cover the pastry with crinkled parchment and weight it down with a layer of pie weights, raw rice or dried beans. Place in oven for 12 minutes. Carefully remove parchment, with weights inside and return pan to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until pastry is dry and golden.

When the pastry is baked, remove it from the oven and scatter chocolate over the surface. Let stand a few minutes, then spread the melted chocolate evenly over the crust. Stir together the pumpkin butter and mascarpone, adding some bourbon, if desired.

Spoon into baked tart shell and chill 1 hour before serving. Garnish with whipped cream or creme fraiche, if desired.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

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