Frugal Fancy (casual) Cooking

*Disclaimer: I originally wrote this post in 2014 when my culinary skills were severely lacking. This one is really for the young professionals just getting started.

Cooking on a budget? Eat out too much? Hate spending time cooking? Want dinner in 5-15 minutes with no effort? Hit up Trader Joes. This is not an ad for the company, I just really like their selection and prices. Don’t believe me? Walk into the magic trick that is Whole Foods, find what’s on your list, then have a panic attack at the checkout. Once they rang up 3 tomatoes for $8, so I told them never mind. Do not get me wrong it is a beautiful supermarket, but I am not on that financial level yet. For now…Trader Joes.


If you want to shop local, but on a budget, there’s a truly wonderful grocery store in Watertown, MA called Russo’s Market. It has everything and the prices are great. Amazing produce selection, huge outdoor and indoor flower section, bread, prepared food, delicious little snack mixes, blueberry yogurt covered pretzels, everything chocolate covered you could ever want! Plus a huge selection of interesting products from around the world that you would not find at your average grocery store. Last time I got kumquats which were excellent. Fun fact about kumquats, you can eat the skin, unlike any other citrus fruit.

After you go shopping, here are a few quick and easy dinner ideas that will taste great and won’t break the bank.

1. Stir Fry

Well obviously this isn’t a groundbreaking meal, however, there are a few ingredients that can make it really fantastic.

  • Protein: Tofu, pork dumplings, vegetable gyoza
  • Carbs: Noodles, rice, pasta
  • Vegetables: snap peas, peppers, onions, bean sprouts, zucchini, Brussel sprouts, mushrooms, asparagus
  • Sauce: peanut, yellow curry, green curry, soy, gochujang paste.

Mix & match, throw it in the pan with the oil of your choice, add a few tablespoons of water if it gets to dry and dinner is served!

2. Bake/Roast

Set the oven to 425 and call it a night.

  • Pork loin (make sure to pan sear first) with potatoes, carrots, and onions.
  • Brussel sprouts/Asparagus/Potatoes in olive oil, salt, and pepper
  • Cauliflower with olive oil, red pepper and just a touch of grated parmesan cheese

3. Defrosted

My personal favorite due to prep time.

  • Chicken sausage-my favorite flavors are jalapeño or apple. These actually come refrigerated, not frozen, however, if you are not going to eat them right away, definitely store in the freezer. Pop in the microwave for 30 seconds to a few minutes and voila! Mix with pasta and sauce or toss in the pan with veggies.
  • Black Bean Burgers-pop in a pan for a few minutes to heat up. These are excellent with an egg on top or dipped in some hummus.
  • Tomato and Basil Pizza Burgers-these go well with pasta, plus a bit of fresh mozzarella.
  • Carrot and Pea patties-surprisingly so delicious. These are a bit smaller, so I usually cook two with an egg on top.
  • Vegetarian Buffalo Chicken patties-these are amazing. They taste like buffalo chicken, but contain no chicken! Pair well with an egg on top.
  • Pizza-yum.
  • Pork or Vegetable Gyoza (Dumplings)-Pan fry for one minute, put a little water in the pan cover and keep the heat low until they are nice and steamed. Dip in the TJ’s soyaki sauce and enjoy!
  • Sweet potato fries-to complement your black bean burgers.

Updates as of July 2018:

Here’s a link to another blog who’s done much more extensive work on preparing and reviewing Trader Joe’s food-What’s Good at Trader Joe’s

Now that I live in Austin, I’ll have to check out their local grocery stores and find some new favorites. Luckily they have a TJ’s for me to fall back on.