Wednesday, January 05, 2005

In Praise of Trader Joe's

I was so excited a couple of months ago when I read that Cincinnati was going to be home to a new Trader Joe's--our area's very first. I'd been reading about this foodie heaven for months as I'd scoured food blogs and message boards for an evening's entertainment. The produce section, while somewhat limited in its scope, also seemed to fill in the blanks, so to speak, when it came to hard-to-find ingredients. What pleased me the most, though, was that the quality was so high, while the prices were relatively low. Nowhere else could I find whole radicchio (weighing approximately 9 ounces when I weighed it at home) for only $1.69 each, and selling at my local grocer for $6.99 a pound! And here was a 2 pound bag of blood oranges for $1.99; and pre-packaged mâche (also known as lamb's lettuce) and beautiful asparagus...

Not to mention my beloved pains au chocolat, wild rice by the pound, lots of delicious free food samples, and the famous house wine label, Charles Shaw, AKA Two Buck Chuck. Due to Ohio's antiquated liquor laws, however, what qualifies as Two Buck Chuck in California, costs more like $3.39 in Ohio--but, hey! It's true. The Merlot is a really good value.

And here's a really easy salad to help add some sunshine to your grey winter day:

Blood Orange-Asparagus Salad with Mâche

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
1 4-ounce package mâche or 1 6-ounce package baby lettuce mix
2 blood oranges
1/4 cup shelled natural walnuts, toasted* (optional)
1/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)

Blood Orange Vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons fresh blood orange juice or regular orange juice
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons walnut oil
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Whisk orange juice, vinegar, and oils in small bowl till blended well. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Steam asparagus for 4 to 6 minutes or until crisp-tender. Rinse in cool water; drain well and set aside.

Using small sharp knife, cut off peel and white pith from oranges. Working over small bowl, cut between membranes to release orange segments. Divide mâche or lettuce blend among 4-6 plates. Arrange asparagus spears and orange segments on each. Sprinkle with walnuts and/or pomegranate seeds, if desired. Drizzle dressing over salad and serve.

*Note: To toast walnuts, spread them in a shallow baking pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown, watching carefully and stirring once or twice to prevent burning.