Questions and answers
Local grammar writer Tracey Korsen talks about her newly released cookbook, as well as what’s still in her grocery store.
Philadelphia-based food influencer Tracey Korsen best known by her Instagram handle @tracyjoes has shared her Trader Joe’s inspired meals over the past two years. In that short span of time, she’s amassed nearly 60,000 followers who adore her sweet and savory creations that exclusively use ingredients from the popular grocery chain – so much so that she decided to write a cookbook. .
Released today, Cooking with 5 Trader Joe’s Ingredients: Simple Weekday Meals Using Your Favorite Store Products is Korsen’s collection of nearly 50 comfort foods and healthy dinners, take-out with a touch of TJ, raised frozen dinners, and super delicious desserts that, yes, only involve five ingredients and require minimal effort.
Below, Korsen explains how she became obsessed with Trader Joe’s (hello, tangerine chicken and cauliflower gnocchi!), What it was like to write a cookbook as a self-taught recipe developer. , and what’s in the typical TJ purpose. Bonus content: One of his recipes from the book!
How did you get started cooking, especially with Trader Joe’s products?
I actually didn’t start cooking until after I started graduate school in 2015, but I was just making spaghetti, roasted vegetables, or Trader Joe’s frozen chicken tikka masala. As a Ph.D. student, I didn’t really have time to create more extravagant meals. But in the summer of 2019 I went to New York on a research trip and there I rented a room in a family’s house (so they lived there as well). The parents both worked in restaurants and made these really delicious meals every night. I found out that they mostly used products and ingredients from Trader Joe’s and was amazed that they could make anything so good out of simple groceries. I’ve always loved shopping at TJ’s, but the time I spent in this family’s house made me realize that you could cook a consistent and delicious meal with Trader Joe’s products, instead. single or separate dishes. (For example, I would always eat the Orange Chicken on its own, not with another product.)
Two years is short enough to put together a whole cookbook, especially for someone who might not have qualified as a home cook in the beginning. Where did the idea to create a cookbook come from?
I started my Instagram for fun in September 2019 and soon after gained a lot of followers. However, I didn’t see myself as a recipe developer – just someone who shared meals they had prepared from a Trader Joe’s grocery store. As the page grew, people started asking me if I was going to make a book from my feed. After I got my doctorate. and had the bandwidth, one of my disciples – who works for my book publishing house, Page Street Publishing Co. – got interested, so I moved on.
How did the preparation of a complete book of nearly 50 recipes go?
It was a little intimidating and forced me to think outside the box, especially since each recipe only has five ingredients. I am also very inspired by the dishes I have eaten at the restaurant or seen on Diners, drive-in and dives and think about how I can relate them to Trader Joe. But I had to keep the recipes easy because most of my Instagram followers are busy or working moms who want to whip up something tasty and simple for their family that doesn’t take a lot of time. Some recipes are a bit more complicated, like the harissa meatballs, but others are simpler, like the shrimp fiocchetti, which basically involves cooking the bags of frozen shrimp and pasta in a pan. This helps alleviate the amount of prep work, counter space, and kitchen appliances you have to use!
In your Instagram bio it says that you are not affiliated with Trader Joe’s but just wrote an entire cookbook using their products. You must be on their radar!
So, I’ve never worked with them, mainly because it seems Trader Joe’s doesn’t interact with influencers. I don’t know if it’s a legal issue or what, but you’ll notice a lot of us [influencers who use Trader Joeâs products] make it clear in our bio that we are not affiliated with the grocery chain. But I will say that while shopping for groceries you can tell that Trader Joe’s is highlighting some Instagram based products. Sometimes you’ll see signs in stores that say âAs Seen on Instagramâ, so I know they pay attention to trends on social media.
This is crazy to me, especially because by promoting their products, you are essentially giving them free publicity – or at least exposure.
For sure. It can be frustrating at times, especially because the influencer community is so positive, and we all really love Trader Joe’s, and because it all takes a lot of creative energy and time. Regarding my book, we had to change the title a bit as the original would have suggested or hinted that I was affiliated with Trader Joe’s as a brand partner. My editor handled all legal / copyright issues when it came to including the Trader Joe brand and products.
Other than that, what makes Trader Joe’s ingredients so popular? There is basically some kind of cult around them.
Well, I think for me it’s because most of the items in the store are from the Trader Joe’s brand, so I feel like the chain has everything available and ready for you. The whole experience seems so much easier to navigate and more organized for shopping, prep, and cooking – from their frozen meals and cheeses to their bread and snacks. Plus, the prices are more affordable than, say, a chain like Whole Foods. I started shopping at Trader Joe’s when I was in my undergrad, and I had this misconception that it was an expensive store. But when I went there, I realized it wasn’t. This is what, in addition to the quality of their products, makes me a loyal customer.
Okay, back to your book. What are some of your favorite recipes that you have included?
Chicken thighs in a pan, of course. This is my favorite way to cook chicken thighs because you just put them with the vegetables in a pan and cook it all gently and slowly in the oven, resulting in meat that falls off the bones. The seasoning is also easily customizable. Sometimes I just use salt and pepper, and other times I change it and use curry. I also like the pot stickers with the simmered curry sauce because it becomes a really nourishing soup, but it’s super easy to make.
Your book isn’t entirely meat-centric – there are so many vegetarian recipes out there, like veggie gyoza dumplings and soy and chorizo ââhash.
Many of my Instagram followers don’t eat meat, and on posts where meat is used in the dish, they or I will mention how you can easily swap the meat for a meatless substitute. I eat meat, but tofu is one of my favorite proteins in general. I’ve always really loved it, so I knew I had to have vegetarian recipes in the book. And this soy chorizo ââis actually one of the first Trader Joe’s products I cooked with!
What are some of your favorite buys for Trader Joe’s?
I always get frozen jasmine rice. You microwave it for three minutes and it’s perfectly cooked. Plus, a package can last three to four days if you don’t share it with someone else. I think their condiments are super underrated, and a condiment can spruce up any meal in my opinion. Their sriracha is excellent, as is their hot jalapeÃ±o sauce. (It’s not as spicy as they claim!) I always get their cheeses and meats because I make personal charcuterie boards all the time. And their snacks are amazing! I love their Joe-Joe’s, which is their take on the Oreos.
Last question, and perhaps the most important: if you could eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Sushi. Fingers in the nose. I love Tuna Bar’s King Ghidorah roll and order two every time I go – I could eat spicy tuna every day of my life.
Recipe: Orzo in a pan with sausage
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 12-ounce pkg. Trader Joe’s Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken Sausage, sliced
- 1 12-ounce package of fresh asparagus, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, sliced
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced
- 1 cup of authentic Italian orzo pasta imported from Trader Joe’s
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat and coat it with olive oil.
- Add the sausage and brown on both sides, about 3 minutes.
- Add the asparagus, pepper and onion and sautÃ© for about 5 minutes.
- Add the orzo and 2 cups of water to the pot.
- Stir the mixture continuously until the orzo is cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes. Add more liquid if you need it.
- When ready, add salt and pepper to taste before serving.
Yields: 4 servings
Total time: 25 minutes