By GERRY BARKER
North Palm Beach Life
\Who doesn't love Trader Joe's? Besides the great selection and affordable prices, every trip down the aisles promises finding the unique and unexpected.
It's not surprising one of America's best-loved grocery chains, and their legions of fans, have inspired a whole series of "I Love Trader Joe's" cookbooks, the latest of which is "The I Love Trader Joe's Snack Boards Cookbook," by Pamela Ellgen.
It arrived just in time for the holidays, when we are all looking for festive ways to entertain family and friends, or in our case, find new food ideas for the cocktail hour. It offers "50 Delicious Recipes for Charcuterie, Spreads and Platters," all based on items you can find at Trader Joe's.
The eight chapters cover everything from Classic Charcuterie and Epic Tapas to Dinner and Desserts. Our first stop was "Five Ingredients or Fewer Snack Boards," where Pam landed on one of our favorites -- Smoky Deviled Eggs.
When it comes to making deviled eggs, we all know the hardest chore is peeling the shells off the eggs. But it becomes a lot easier with Trader Joe's Cage Free Fresh Hard-Cooked Peeled Eggs. Just prepare the filling and within minutes you have a great snack option that just about everybody enjoys.
Our next stop was "Mixed Gyoza With Dipping Sauce." For the uninitiated, gyoza is a Japanese-style dumpling, very similar to traditional Chinese dumplings. Both encase ingredients -- such as pork, chicken, shrimp or vegetables -- inside a thin layer of dough that has been pressed closed. It's a go-to for us anytime we crave Asian food.
To try a variety of flavors, we went to our local Trader Joe's and bought chicken, pork and Thai vegetables packages of gyoza, along with a bottle of their Gyoza Dipping Sauce. We also freelanced and added a package of their tempura Vegetable Bird's Nests.
For preparation, you have several options: Pan frying, microwaving or steaming. While the author chose pan frying, we opted for steaming in our countertop steamer, which delivers almost perfect results every time. Tempura dishes, usually vegetables or seafood, are prepared in a light batter and cooked to crispy goodness. The "bird's nests" are a creative presentation of tempura vegetables.
Like many frozen foods these days, Trader's includes an air fryer cooking option, which we used for the tempura vegetables. Pre-heat to 360 degrees and cook eight minutes, and these vegetable swirls are so good we vowed to buy more.
Combine the gyoza, tempura vegetables and dipping sauces (the tempura comes with its own), and you have a snack board that will get any party started.
There's lots more to discover in the book, and something tells us we'll be making even more trips than usual to our local Trader Joe's.
"The I Love Trader Joe's Snack Boards Cookbook," by Pamela Ellgen.
Available from Ulysses Press ($19.95).
Exploring what to see and do in North Palm Beach and the South Florida area. Your hosts are Pam and Gerry Barker.
Listen to Chapter One of "Panama Palmer"