French Onion Soup – Maybe I’ll Shop at Trader Joe’s More Often

Trader Joe's frozen French onion soup

One of the basic premises of Trader Joe’s appeals to me. There are few, if any, national (over-priced) brands at Trader Joe’s. That is cool.

Brands are what distinguish between the privileged and the plebes. You know how you have to stand in line behind the woman flashing her 6.4-because-that-0.4-counts carat diamond ring and pulling Campbell’s, Chiquita, Contadina, Cheetos and Uncle Ben’s out of her cart and doesn’t need the savings of a keychain card, and right behind her on the black rubber conveyor belt of shame and embarassment, behind the plastic cutomers’ grocery divider rod that feels as wide as two sets of train tracks, you, yes you with a stack of coupons and food stamps, start piling up “Condensed Soup,” “Beans,” “Cheese Puffs,” and “Rice,” but not “Tomatoes” because tomatoes are one thing for which you do have standards, and in fact, you never buy canned tomatoes anyway, and the only reason why a women sporting a real 6.4 ct diamond is doing her own grocery shopping is that her housekeeper missed the bus? You know?

At Trader Joe’s, there is none of that “brand” shame. No, at Trader Joe’s, everyone is the same. You and The Donald both buy Trader Joe’s Chimichurri Sauce. Let’s forget the fact that The Donald has a full kitchen staff that will rub that chimichurri on beef from his own 2 million acre ranch in Agentina, and you will be stirring that chimichurri into a styrofoam cup of instant ramen to make it semi-homemade gaucho sopa de noodles.

I also love that there is this feeling of “elite” and “special” by shopping at Trader Joe’s even though it is dirt cheap.

However.

And this is a huge “however” that will get me excommunicated to the blue states for heresy.

There are lots of things about Trader Joe’s that irritate the sh*t out of me, so much so that I very rarely, if ever go there. I don’t see what the BFD about TJ’s is.

*blink blink*

What is the big effin’ deal about TJ’s?

For one thing, Trader Joe’s is pretty far outside the radius of my life. The nearest Trader Joe’s to me is 3.2 miles away, while Ralphs Fresh Fare is 1.1 miles away, and Whole Foods is a mere 0.3 miles, or 51 seconds away (by car, obviously) from my apartment. And yes, I do realize that I have a very tight living radius. It’s as wide as my apartment. Of course, oftentimes, saving money is a key factor here, but when you’re cooking for a family of oh, you know, one, there is no such thing as saving anywhere, even Costco, unless you have a sugar daddy.

Let’s say I for some odd reason, I happen to be outside my living radius, in or around the area intersected by both Pico Boulevard and 32nd Street on the easternmost edge of Santa Monica and coincidentally had to do some grocery shopping. Even if I wanted to go into the store, I couldn’t because it is both logistically and almost statistically impossible to park in the Trader Joes’ parking lot because there are a total of seven spaces and each one is as wide as a Big Wheel. So, if you trundle over to Trader Joe’s in a Big Wheel, you are so totally set (!) to go grocery shopping, otherwise, you will find yourself betting on what is known as the Parking Derby, in which cars circle around those seven spots until someone leaves, at which time the Parking Derby transforms into the Ultimate Fighting Championship and two opposing cars battle it out for the spot in between them.

I think to myself, why? Why is it so difficult to build a parking lot with normal-sized spaces, and why must I take part in the Parking Derby? Why, Joe, Why?!?! This is a fucking grocery store!!! It’s not like this is opening day of the Mervyn’s 72 hour-sale.

Okay, I am okay. Because I could dedicate an entire blog with about 174 posts about parking alone, I will simply leave it at that. Parking at Trader Joe’s no matter which location it is, sucks.

Trader Joe’s stores are small, cramped, crowded, and it should be illegal for them to use regulation size grocery carts in those aisles that require that you have no personal space requirements whatsoever. When they start handing out free samples of grapes, you can forget about trying to maneuver you and your chuckwagon through the store because the entire customer population has Sample-dar and you will be like a very small salmon trying to swim up Niagara Falls if you go in the opposite direction.

If the free samples happen to be trail mix, it’s over.

So now you know. I am a slave to convenience and comfort when it comes to grocery shopping. Sure, I love the hustle and bustle of a farmers’ market. I love the charm of a tiny little Mom & Pop, but when it comes to everyday grocery shopping, I cannot handle the so-called “charm” of Trader Joe’s. I am all about Economics, and I have complete faith in the Hotelling Phenomenon.

I won’t even write about shrink-wrapped bell peppers at Trader Joe’s. That makes me so mad I can hardly type, and if I get started, I might explode.

Here comes another “however.” Smaller, though.

trader joe's frozen french onion soup
ice ice, baby

However, despite all the icky things about Trader Joe’s, I just might find myself going there a little more often than before. Now that I have had a taste of Trader Joe’s French Onion Soup, not just a literal tate, but a taste of how effin’ efficiently easy and convenient it is in addition to how tasterrific it is, I just might drive down Sepulveda Boulevard to National Bouevard, to go to Long’s and pick up an aloe gel for my sensitive skin, just so that I can conveniently drop into Trader Joe’s, which shares the same corner with Long’s, just for that French Onion Soup that is frozen into a solid dark brown cylinder that could knock someone out if hurled with the right velocity. I just might do that because when you place that frozen iceberg of beef broth, perfectly shaped as a cylinder, into an oven-proof bowl with frozen cheese, confetti side up, then slide it into a preheated oven for 45 minutes, then remove the burbling bowls from the oven, you will feel like Julia and Jacques maybe didn’t make that soup from scratch for you right there in your kitchen, but you will at least feel like they unwrapped the package for you.

trader joe's frozen french onion soup
beef broth-berg
trader joe's frozen french onion soup
smooze cheeze

The cheese didn’t melt completely into a smooze surface (that’s “smooth” and “ooze” for those uninitiated to The Delicious Life mashcabulary), but it did melt, and it most certainly crusted into a deep dark San Tropez crust around the edges of the uppermost layer. I should have let the soup cool to human-tolerant temperatures, but I couldn’t. Who has patience to cool when faced with melted, crusted cheese?!?! Spoon in a death grip, I sunk it straight into the cheese, which tried bending, heaving, resisting the insistence, before finally breaking to the urgency.

It is no surprise that the 350 degree beef broth burnt every internal surface of my mouth. It was a surprise, though, that there was also a tiny piece of toast in the bottom of the bowl that I had not seen in the broth-bergs’ cryo state. The toast had soaked up the soup for those 45 minutes and had rendered it into a tenuous carbohydrate cloud that would eventually disintegrate with nothing more than a gentle press againt the roof of my mouth with my tongue.

Normally, onions in French onion soup are sliced latitudinally into thin rings, but these had been sliced longitudinally. They were much easier to eat, since the onions didn’t hang in sloppy loops from the spoon, dripping broth onto the table on the way from bowl to mouth, but still, I am not sure how I feel about Trader Joe so brazenly going against tradition. Brazen! Then again, the soup was frozen to begin with, duh.

The soup was good, and if I have it in me to brave the parking lot, I’ll go get more at Trader Joe’s.

But I still can’t bring myself to buy bell peppers protected in vegetable condoms.

** a year ago today, i cashed in a prescription for xanax and decided i’d go to the windy city **

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  • annulla

    I haven’t really been tempted to buy Trader Joe’s frozen onion soup, but that looks wonderful. More important, how did it taste?

  • djjewelz

    My mom and her friends love Trader Joe’s French Onion Soup!!! I need to give it a try one of these days.

  • Kalyn

    I always love to go to Trader Joe’s when I’m visiting my brother (we don’t have it here) and I’d have to say their convenience foods like this are quite consistently good. Your photo makes the soup look great.

  • Stephanie

    I keep my fingers crossed, hoping we’ll get a TJ’s soon!

  • Maure

    What compelled you to return to Trader Joe’s? I thought that ranked
    near Arby’s on the Sarah no-go list.
    Bet it was a man. oh how easily you
    cave.

    btw, i’d skip the Trader Joe’s Bulgogi – unless you’ve got a big
    bottle o’ manischevitz to go with it.

  • dospeak

    it takes a good microwave to get it even from my experience. great blog. love it

  • joanh

    i like the TJ brie and hummus and grape tomatoes.. their frozen mushroom risotto and fettucine will do in a pinch. and their meatballs- the OG, not the turkey kind.

    haven’t tried their french onion soup but it looks good..

  • Acme Instant Food

    You can’t help but drop an orchid or two into your cart as well. It helps your home look as if you wear a 6.4 carat diamond in your belly button.

  • Acme Instant Food

    You can’t help but drop an orchid or two into your cart as well. It helps your home look as if you wear a 6.4 carat diamond in your belly button.

  • Anonymous

    I like Trader Joe’s, but what I don’t like about it, you nailed perfectly. My big gripe is that shoppers there gaze starstruck at items, pick something off the shelf and then meditate on it for 5 minutes before tossing it in their cart. Everyone moves so darn slow there.

    And I don’t understand why it is at Ralph’s the person at the register can scan your groceries and then put the item in a bag. That is a totally foreign concept at TJ’s. The checkers scan every item and then place the item back down, when it could have gone in a bag. That boils me to no end.

    Anna

  • nosh

    You think the parking at TJ’s is inconvenient NOW? I remember back but a few years when the only TJ’s on the westside was at Westwood and National. I witnessed more than a couple of screaming matches that almost escalated when someone from the far side would take a place as someone backed out, nabbing it from the patiently waiting vehicle on the other side.

    It is an interesting psychological phenomenon. At the TJ’s next to the Long’s on Sepulveda at Palms, cars will wait for a spot in the row next to the store and let traffic back up behind them rather than progress on to the available spots a row or two back. At the multi-columned Ralph’s lot, people don’t expect front row spots and park a bit away and walk, usually a greater distance than those neglected slots at TJ’s. And my goodness I’ve been on cross-country airline flights that took less hassle than parking at Costco or Home Despot.

  • nosh

    You think the parking at TJ’s is inconvenient NOW? I remember back but a few years when the only TJ’s on the westside was at Westwood and National. I witnessed more than a couple of screaming matches that almost escalated when someone from the far side would take a place as someone backed out, nabbing it from the patiently waiting vehicle on the other side.

    It is an interesting psychological phenomenon. At the TJ’s next to the Long’s on Sepulveda at Palms, cars will wait for a spot in the row next to the store and let traffic back up behind them rather than progress on to the available spots a row or two back. At the multi-columned Ralph’s lot, people don’t expect front row spots and park a bit away and walk, usually a greater distance than those neglected slots at TJ’s. And my goodness I’ve been on cross-country airline flights that took less hassle than parking at Costco or Home Despot.

  • Teresa

    I, too, have a problem with TJ’s veggies “in prison” (as one friend calls them). They do have a few convenience items that I think are worth going in for, like their tarte d’alsace. But I’ll definitely be buying my produce elsewhere.

  • sarah

    annulla: not too shabby for coming from frozen!

    djjewelz: your mom and her BFFs have excellent taste.

    kalyn: but when does melted, toasted cheese ever not look great? :)

    stephanie: the way the vegetables are wrapped, i bet i could mail them to you.

    maure: it was a man. a man who brought the soup over to my house so i actually didn’t have to go get it in the first place ;0

    l.a.c.: soups are probably one of the best foods that can be frozen with integrity.

    dospeak: microwave before or after the regular oven?

    joan: frozen mushroom risotto! i am skeptical, but at this point, i’d be willing to try it.

    acme: no, that tiny little 6.4ct diamond would get lost in the folds if it went anywhere near my belly. gotta hang that baby from my nose.

    anna: funny you say that. their entire register line experience gives me stress hives with the basket on the shelf thing.

    nosh: costco is a whole different story. i cannot go there, i don’t care how good their saturday afternoon samples of mini pizzas and chimichangas are.

    teresa: and that is part of the Tjs problem for me. it is out of the way already, but i always end up having to go to another market for other things that i can’t buy there. then i have to go somewhere else for other stuff. makes grocery shopping into a cross country flight on southwest. stops everywhere.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not brave enough to try such things at trader joe’s, simply because at times I can be seen as elitist or snobbish…or maybe it’s the fact the closest trader joes to my house is in cleveland and I live a good fourty minutes away. I did however cave and spend about fifty dollars on desert-type items, cheesecake, and cheese. The cheese was great…It also adds to the incentive that there is a sur la table, and two other beautiful cooking stores nearby to offer incentive.

    Whole Foods however is a whopping hour and a half away, so I would kill for your convenience.

  • Chubbypanda

    Trader Joe’s is awesome, but I’ve only ever been to the ones in Orange County or Silicon Valley. Those are already fairly small, so I imagine the ones in big cities are downright cramped. Still, I like Trader Joe’s for three simple reasons; it’s cheap, it’s healthy (don’t have to be on guard against processed Frankenfood products cooked up in a lab), and it’s a five minute stroll from my house. However, I don’t live in a big city, so it’s a lot more convenient for me and parking is easy to find.

    - Chubbypanda

  • TaraMetBlog

    I’ll have to try it thanks. I usually go to TJs not for their food but for their makeup removing cloths, they are a lot gentlier than any others that I have tried.

  • Oakland Rezident

    Holy Cow this blog cracked me up so hard. I totally agree with you when it comes to TJ’s shrink wrapped veggies..ewww. However, a few of thier frozen offerings make for a quick, just palatable enough, meal when your hungry and on the go. Thank’s for the laugh.

  • Emily

    frozen steel cut oatmeal is handy & I like the easy precut/washed veggies and salads

    not all TJ’s are tiny and crowded, you just gotta know where to go ;-)

  • Saghi

    Hi Sarah! I too love th TJ’s onion soup but I don’t have bowls that fit it as nicely as yours did. Do you mind telling me where you got those bowls/ramekins? Thanks!

  • sarah

    overworked barista: well, there is a whole foods about two minutes from my house (and that’s walking), but for some reason, i am not ever compelled to go there. i think i just find it too overpriced, even for organics. tj’s is very inexpensive, but i hate the traffic over there. guess i have to compromise :)

    chubbypanda: you’re lucky! but the again, you are in oc…*ducks*

    tarametblog: oh! what a great recommendation! i will have to look for those. i have some crazy mascara that just wants to become a permanent fixture on my face.

    oakland rezident: aw, glad i made you laugh! (and long time no comment! glad to read you again!)

    emily: well, most of the ones near me are pretty crowded, and i think that it just matched the overpopulation of the westside.

    saghi: my friend brought the ramekins, but you can find them in all sizes just about anywhere. the ones i have are 4 oz from bed bath and beyond, and 8 oz from williams-sonoma.

  • dk

    Not only does the soup taste good, it is vegetarian! (which is unheard of for a french onion soup).
    Great blog.

  • jk

    Costco sells the same thing but in an 8-pack size.

  • Joy

    This is the best premade french onion soup I’ve ever had. It even trumps some of the restaurant soups I’ve had. So easy and yummy!!!!

  • Pingback: Holly's Savings » Blog Archive » Menu Planning

  • Rita

    You do know that there’s no beef in this, right? It’s vegetarian. :O

    • Willoughby

      I can’t seem to locate it at the Louisville KY Costco Store.  Has anyone else seen it there?

  • Krystal

    Get the french onion soup at Costco!!! Cheaper AND bigger parking spaces!!

  • Diane

    I love this soup. I particularly love it when it is in Costco becuase there are more soup portion in the package. I also love that this is a non-beef onion soup. Yup, vegetable base.

  • Runnergirl101

    Vegetarian f.o. soup is a rare and beautiful thing

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