Monday, December 20, 2010

Easy Entertaining with Trader Joe’s

As I mentioned in the previous post, my mother-in-law is an expert at using Trader Joe’s ingredients to make quick and flavorful meals. She says, “The joy of Trader Joe’s is that you can take their ingredients, be creative, and in 15 minutes have a dish cooking that is worthy of being served to company.” Her revised book concept is Dinner Party Dishes with Five Ingredients from Trader Joe’s

During our visit she had an opportunity to cook us one of her delicious creations. With a mix of fresh, canned, and prepared foods she put together a full meal with appetizers, salad, entree, vegetable side, and dessert. The meal preparation was quick and everything was ready in advance of our dinner guests’ arrival.

Our appetizers included assorted olives, hummus and whole wheat crackers, and a spinach pie. The spinach pie can be found in the freezer section. After baking in the oven, my mother-in-law cut the rectangular pie into small squares for serving. Inside the flaky pastry crust was a savory mixture of spinach, feta, and spices.

Main course on top and spinach pie on bottom.

After finishing up with the appetizers we moved on to the main meal. First up, a mixed green salad chock full of cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms, red onions, garbanzo beans, and flavored mixed nuts (with herbs & spices). I contributed a quick salad dressing to top it off. She had picked up an assortment of infused olive oils during our trip to North Market along with a divided serving dish. We sampled four of the oils as part of the salad course. A crusty French baguette was the perfect dipper to try all of the oils.

The meal was straight from the pages of her soon to be written cookbook! The ingredient that inspired this dish was frozen ravioli. My mother-in-law was thinking about a baked ravioli dish that she had growing up in New York. Using Trader Joe’s ingredients, some lemon olive oil we had picked up at North Market and a few things out of the fridge, she put together a layered baked ravioli dish that was hearty, flavorful, and quite impressive! The baked ravioli was full of vegetables, so a simple side dish was all that we needed. She steamed fresh green beans and tossed them in a little lemon olive oil with salt and pepper for the side.

We enjoyed a lively conversation while we devoured dinner. It was hard to stop eating, but we knew that we still had dessert on the way!

My mother-in-law has a go-to dessert that she uses when entertaining. It’s an elegant (and healthy) dish that requires just a little assembly. She fills an ice cream dish with a slice of fat-free pound cake, a dollop of fruit preserves, a generous amount of fresh berries, and tops it off with whipped cream. But no dinner party is complete without multiple desserts. We also enjoyed some rugelach and carrot cake.

Sans whipped cream

This meal was quick to prepare, delicious to eat, and everyone was satisfied (and quite full) at the end of the night. The next time you’re stuck in a cooking rut or short on time and don’t know what to make, just head to Trader Joe’s to put together a great meal! And don’t forget to ask my mother-in-law for her recipe!

Baked Ravioli
2 packages Trader Joe’s frozen ravioli (any flavor, we used one package of asparagus and one package of sundried tomato)
1 jar Trader Joe’s bruschetta mix
1 jar crushed tomatoes
1 can artichokes
1 cup sliced mushrooms (leftover from the salad)
A few tablespoons of lemon olive oil
Shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
In a large oval casserole dish, spread olive oil in the bottom (covering the entire dish)
Pour the jar of bruschetta in the dish and spread evenly
Place raviolis in a single layer on top of the bruschetta
Spread the artichokes on top of the raviolis
Top the artichokes with another layer of ravioli
Add the mushrooms next
Top with a third layer of ravioli
Spread the crushed tomatoes on top, covering all of the ravioli
Bake for 20-25 minutes until heated through
Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella on top and bake for another 5 minutes until the cheese is golden brown
Serve directly from the casserole dish

Prep time: 10 minutes (opening jars & packages)
Cook time: 20-30 minutes
Casserole dish, serving utensils

Quick and Easy Salad Dressing
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
3/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt, pepper

Add all ingredients into a small salad dressing bottle or dish with a lid
Shake vigorously until well combined
Toss with salad

Easy & Healthy Dessert
Slices of fat free pound cake or angel food cake
Fresh blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, washed
Fruit preserves (cherry, strawberry, or raspberry
Whipped cream

Place a slice of cake in the bottom of a dessert dish
Add a spoonful of fruit preserves
Add a generous amount of berries
Top with a swirl of whipped cream


  1. Oh, how I wish we were near a Trader Joe's!! We used to live near one when we were in Baltimore, and I never took advantage of it :( We do have Earth Fare and Fresh Market, though-- they have some of the same things. But you're right, TJ has some amazing entertaining fare!! Everything looks delicious!

  2. I love entertaining with Trader Joe's appetizers! I haven't tried their ravioli yet but this baked ravioli dish sounds delicious. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  3. TJs is pretty excellent for entertaining or throwing something together in a pinch. Last week my boyfriend and I wanted baked ziti and thanks to TJs, four ingredients and a few minutes in the oven, we had dinner on the table.

  4. I completely agree! When I don't feel like "cooking" I definitely look to TJ's! Now, when is this cookbook coming out...

  5. I love that your mother-in-law contributed to this blog! Trader Joe's is a great place to get some of the ingredients for a healthy dinner without spending hours!

  6. Baked ravioli sounds like the perfect wintry meal, and I love how easy this recipe looks! Trader Joe's is seriously the best place for unique, easy ingredients!

  7. I love Trader Joe's...that baked ravioli looks so good!

  8. Trader Joe's is one of my favorite places. They have a lot of good entertaining options.

  9. What a fab idea.... Love that you can get healthy, "real ingredient" foods from TJ and then create a quick meal from it. Great idea here with the Ravioli. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I love that your mother-in-law contributed to this blog! Trader Joe's is a great place to get some of the ingredients for a healthy dinner without spending hours!


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