I confess, the owner is a buddy. Seth spends half his life in Thailand, and his love of the culture and cuisine is tasteable. Many urban Thais use ready-made curry pastes to save hours on the mortar and pestle. I’ve found Thai Kitchen’s bottled curry pastes safer and more consistent than the various canned Thai pastes I’ve tried from Vien Dong market — look, Mom, no sawdust!
This line has recently added bottled “simmer sauces.” Local stores that carry some Thai Kitchen products include Albertsons, Bristol Farms, Henry’s, Vons, and (especially) Cost Plus, Ralphs, and Whole Foods. I’m not mad for dried insta-Thai products (Pad Thai mix, soup mixes, etc.) in this or any other brand — they sit on Ralphs’ shelves whimpering “Please buy me!” until they go stale. Thai Kitchen’s coconut milk is excellent (but Chao Kuo is equal but cheaper), while the “light” milk is blah. My favorite combo: Asian baby eggplants and shrimp in green curry. The website, thaikitchen.com, has loads of recipes, including this one. Trader Joe’s now sells its own Thai simmer sauces, too. Haven’t tried them yet. You do it, let me know how they turn out. If they’re great, they’ll be discontinued next week.
The Trader Joe’s motto must be Robert Frost’s “Nothing gold can stay.” Or maybe “The good die young.” Two websites are worth a visit: a hilarious fake TV ad for TJ’s, sung to a bouncy Brazilian Bossa Nova melody, and — easiest route there — the Trader Joe’s fan site, with product ratings, user recipes, and a direct link to the ad-with-song: traderjoesfan.com. I won’t try to compete with the wide-reaching product ratings, some stretching back years, but as you’ll learn, most five-star products are soon discontinued. That great sauce you adore that you found in the store — it’s not there any more. Why? Who knows? Trader Joe’s!
Still, the spacious new location in Liberty Station (Point Loma) sent me cavorting through the wide aisles, trilling, “Ooh, this is half the price of Vons!” TJ Gold that stays (longtime regulars): Organic Thompson raisins (“winy” flavor); lime-chile cashews (chopped, they’re killer subs for peanuts in garnishing Thai dishes; store in freezer); strained plain Greek yogurt (thick and creamy), for anything Greek or Indian. The bottled green-olive tapenade that the fans love (see fan site for recipe ideas) has expanded into a refrigerated version with goat feta. The package suggests using it on chicken or fish, but the taste calls to mind the olive salad on a N’awlins muffaletta cold-cuts sandwich. (I loved it mixed with a handful of grape tomatoes roasted in the pan with a half-rack of lamb.)
For “healthy starches,” TJ fans embrace frozen microwaveable brown rice (three minutes, done!). Wild rice can be hard to find, but TJ’s has it, pre-cooked, shelf-stable, and swiftly microwaveable. They’re also still carrying brown basmati rice, brown Thai jasmine rice, Israeli couscous, and Peruvian quinoa — those “good for you” low-glycemic whole grains you’re supposed to adopt as dietary staples (healthier, and they taste great, too!)
The high-rated plain frozen gnocchi are gone, replaced with frozen gnocchi dressed in gorgonzola sauce, or tomato sauce, plus shelf-stable packaged gnocchi from Italy. TJ’s must have changed the frozen-dumpling recipe: The gorgonzola version, nuked per package directions, went, in two minutes on the table, from tender to chewy to yesterday’s used bubblegum. The cold-smoked Coho salmon proved coarser-textured, saltier, and less silky than the lox I buy on the internet, but beats the supermarket’s godawful Lasco. A new “aioli mustard” is still just mustard, with garlic. Nice slathered on the lamb rack, but no culinary miracle. Lots of good cheeses here, too, for that omelet.
Ethnic “simmer sauces” are quick routes to half-hour decent meals. TJ’s has discontinued its rave-winning Moroccan Tagine sauce, keeping three bottled curries (Masala, Korma, and “Curry”), plus those Thai curry simmer sauces. My last stop: A bottle of $10 Reposado tequila for cooking that easy Reagan Era fave, “tequila shrimp.” Regular unaged tequilas that work perfectly in margaritas are too raw-tasting for the dish — you need a slightly aged brew, even if it’s a cheap one. And yes, you can drink it, too. Oh, and in the produce section, guess what? Fresh shiitakes!
You can get everything the world offers on the internet, but shipping prices are killer. Amazon offers whatever your hungry heart desires — mostly coming from individual vendors, each with individual shipping costs. Hence, since I live in a neighborhood with, read my lips, NO GOOD FOOD (not even a supermarket), I buy huge Care packages every four or five months from comprehensive foodie-sites that offer a vast variety of goodies at lower prices than, say, fancy-dancy Dean & DeLuca or Williams-Sonoma.
Igourmet.com specializes in fabulous international cheeses delivered at peak condition (even precious Chaource, sometimes!), but also carries a tremendous range of foodstuffs — although, like Trader Joe’s, their items seem to come and go. (Unlike TJ’s, however, they usually come back.) The merchandise includes many items you’ve eaten at top restaurants, e.g., artisan butters like beurre d’Isigny and truffled butter, plus pâtés, smoked fish, Devon clotted cream, artisan Indian “simmer sauces,” ready-made hollandaise (a bit shrill, due to the inclusion of blood-orange juice), and béarnaise, and — if you’re a banker who got a bonus — fresh foie gras, Muscovy ducks, rabbits, Spanish hams, prime beef, caviars, Atlantic shellfish, etc. My most recent purchase included lotsa lox, dried salted capers, salted anchovies, olive-oil canned tuna, a refrigerated jar of mussel-meats, and shelf-stable British bottled seafood mix (cockles and mussels, etc., with a touch of balsamic) to use in a pasta or as a salad. I’ll add some canned cannellini beans and fresh herbs, and — zap — instant summer dinner!
Recently, igourmet introduced a membership “deal” — order $75 or more every 90 days and shipping is free or, if it includes perishable overnight-delivery items, reduced to $7.95, regardless of package weight. You can choose the date you want delivery, and they obey! In addition, another website, an internet coupon-clearing house, dealtaker.com (or google “igourmet” and follow the links from there) offers other discount coupons for this site.