Cherie (pronounced shuh-ree) Twohy has earned a cult-like following for her two cookbooks, the I Love Trader Joe’s Cookbook and the new I Love Trader Joe’s Party Cookbook, both available at Vroman’s and pretty much everywhere. A trained chef, she teaches classes and does corporate bonding events at Chez Cherie, a cooking demonstration space on Foothill Boulevard in La Canada. You may have seen her on TV or at some recent book signings (Mayfield, Women’s City Club of Pasadena, a couple of Borders stores.) Personally, we want to accompany her on a barge tour of Provence—we don’t believe we would ever tire of her witty repartee, not to mention her food and wine—especially wine!—expertise. (And pay no attention to the ad on the right—she just happens to be a longtime advertiser, but we’d interview this funny, food-savvy local regardless.)
Are you associated with Trader Joe’s in any way?
I am associated with them, if you call visiting nearly every day, sometimes twice a day, and sometimes several stores per day, “associated.” I have no contractual affiliation with the company. Just a deep and abiding love and respect.
Will you ever ride on their Rose Parade float?
In a hot second!
If you did, what would you make for a post-parade New Year’s breakfast from TJ’s?
I would make the amazing Frencher than French Toast from the I Love Trader Joe’s Party Cookbook. The Mojito Fruit Salad would go well with that. Both recipes are in the Mother’s Day Brunch menu of the book, along with Candied Bacon.
That Paula Dean better not horn in on your float, that’s all I have to say!
I would share with Paula…. and don’t you think she’d love her some candied bacon?
Absolutely. One of the many beauties of Joe is that he does so much of the mise en place (that’s an all-kinds-of-certified chef term) for us. Sliced mushrooms, shredded carrots, the glorious frozen garlic cubes—they all make getting dinner on the table without weeping a weeknight possibility.
Have you been asked to create substitutes for their discontinued items? (The ones we mourn most are the ginger granola in the bag and the original peach salsa… sigh.)
Just like you can’t create a substitute for a former boyfriend (or girlfriend), instead of trying to imitate what’s gone from your life, I recommend getting out there and finding a new love. While the sting of abandonment can linger for months, I think it’s healthy and smart to look around at what else is out there. Maybe an item with similar flavors, or maybe you’ll want to go in an entirely new direction. I’m very sorry for your loss—granola and salsa, I mean. I know how you feel—but things do sometimes resurface. My beloved frozen puff pastry did. But it’s seasonal, so you must hoard it like there’s no tomorrow. Hot Sweet Mustard was another of my mourned losses, but it has recently made an appearance on shelves again. Not exactly the same, but quite tasty.
How do you like spending Valentine’s Day doing a cooking class?
I’ve been married practically since before there was a TJ’s, so my husband and I know that Valentine’s Day at a restaurant can be grim. We really enjoy spending the evening in the kitchen with other couples who have been there and done that. We have extraordinarily nice couples who participate in our lively, hands-on Valentine’s events—some return year after year. So I really enjoy it.
Any marriages/engagements to report from those classes?
I’m not aware of any engagements, but I like to think we’ve saved a marriage or two from inflated prices, boring menus and perfunctory service on February 14th.
Do you have a favorite TJ store?
Why? Are you trying to get me in trouble? I shop most frequently at the La Canada store, where the staff is amazing—so supportive of the books and our cooking classes, and so eager to point out a new product or share a recipe. I think I know most of them by name, even without a nametag peek. But I have friends at lots of TJ’s. The South Lake store is so big and shiny, and parking is great, once you get over the “parking structure” stigma. Hastings Ranch is also a great store with good parking, which, as most of us know, is the Achilles’ heel of TJ’s.
What’s your favorite non-edible TJ’s product?
Do you consider wine edible? If that doesn’t count, I’ll go with the flowers. I love the way they place lots of them at the entrances to the stores. Always cheers up a dreary day for me to be met with that bower of blossoms.
What are the TJ essentials no kitchen should be without for a quick dinner?
Did I mention the wine? Ahem… let’s see. Frozen garlic, great TJ olive oil (I use several, but I’m a big fan of the California olive oil), some of their terrific cheese, pasta and a bag of salad greens or a frozen vegetable. If you come home from work too tired to even decide what takeout to order, with those staples at hand, once you open the wine and start the water boiling, dinner practically throws itself together.
Sex up the frozen chicken breasts for us, please?
Sure. Do they have to be frozen? I’m a fan of fresh protein, for the most part, but the TJ frozen chicken is definitely good. The trick with chicken, in my opinion, is to cook it with the bone. No boneless, skinless stuff, unless it’s for stir-fry. The bone keeps the meat moist and helps prevent it from drying out and toughening. So heat a little of that great olive oil in a sauté pan and season up the pieces with salt and pepper (or the 21 Seasoning Salute, or one of the other newly stocked spices). Brown the skin-side first, and then give them a flip to brown the other side. At this point, add some chicken stock or wine (a recurring theme in this interview…) and pop them in a hot oven, or slap a lid on them and let them simmer on the stovetop for 15 or 20 minutes. If you want to add a TJ’s sauce, do that in the last 5 to 10 minutes of simmering or roasting. If not, how about some of my beloved Corn and Chile Tomato-less Salsa atop the chicken? Once the meat is cooked through, set it next to some brown rice (nuked from frozen packets) and something green, and you’re golden!
What’s your most requested recipe?
Wow, that’s a toughie. I think I’ve been asked to e-mail the Brie and Pear Galette from the I Love Trader Joe’s Cookbook to the most students who have made that so often the recipe page has disintegrated, or they are traveling and want to wow the in-laws. It’s foolproof and utterly delish. I serve it at our book signings and open houses at Chez Cherie, and it is devoured while dangerously hot. I fear a lot of mouths have been burned by that one! Patience is a virtue, people.
Which is the best simmer sauce?
Another difficult choice—you’re asking which child is the favorite here. I really love the General Tsao sauce, and I use that as a simmer sauce on occasion. Doesn’t say “simmer” on the label, but I’m in charge, not the bottle! The curry simmer sauces and the masala will perk that frozen chicken right up, too!
Finally… Why DO we love Trader Joe’s so much?
It sure ain’t the parking! I’ll answer in four words: golden oldies and stickers. The ’60s muzak has everyone bobbing their heads without even realizing it, and the stickers really work as kiddie bribes.