When I first stepped foot into a Trader Joe’s, I brought with me a list of goods that the internet, my friends, and my colleagues swore I must try. On the very tip-top of that list sat the all-powerful TJ’s Cauliflower Gnocchi. I was told that it was a low-carb, gluten-free version of regular potato gnocchi and that it was inexpensive AF. In addition to all of the hype, it boasted enough selling points for me to swiftly add it to my cart.
I returned home and read the package instructions, which encouraged pan sautéing, boiling, or microwaving. I opted for the stovetop, waited for them to brown, and heated up some marinara sauce. When they looked done, I popped them in a bowl, added my marinara, and watched helplessly as they deflated under the pressure of the sauce and nearly disappeared before my eyes. On my next two attempts, I tried the microwave followed by boiling but I just couldn’t get it right. It was on my third, mushy attempt that I decided cauliflower gnocchi just wasn’t my thing.
It wasn’t my thing, that is, until I discovered one of my favorite life hacks of all time: air frying my cauliflower gnocchi. As soon as I purchased my air fryer, it was the first food item I whipped up. 400 degrees for 15 minutes and boom. Enter: the crispiest, most sturdy gnocchi I’ve ever laid eyes on. My cauliflower gnocchi success story inspired me to abandon standard cooking instructions and take my own liberties when preparing frozen foods. After months of trial, error, and crispy success, these are my favorite TJ’s frozen finds that I deem better in the air fryer:
1. Cauliflower Gnocchi
As I previously mentioned, I didn’t have the best introduction to this Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi. I didn’t get the hype, found myself disappointedly eating soggy mush for dinner, and, despite multiple attempts, I just couldn’t figure it out. When I realized that—beyond package cooking instructions—you could air fry cauliflower gnocchi, I was all ears. In my humble and honest opinion, this is the only way to prep your cauliflower gnocchi. Once you do it, you’ll never turn back. I cook half a bag at a time, set the timer for around 15 minutes at 400 degrees, shake the basket once halfway through, and top with my favorite Trader Joe’s Vodka Sauce.
2. Hash browns
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: these TJ’s hash browns are just as good, if not better, than McDonald’s hash browns. I’d even argue that the fact that I don’t have to endure the cold, Chicago windchill to get to them makes them—dare I say it—even better. I used to whip up my TJ’s hash browns on the stovetop and, don’t get me wrong, they were good! But cooking them in the air fryer is life-changing. Now, I enjoy hands-free cooking that achieves a perfect crisp even Ronald McDonald himself would envy. Just pop them in for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, flip them over halfway through, and you’re good to go.
3. Mac and Cheese Bites
I saw these TJ’s Mac & Cheese Bites on TikTok towards the end of 2020 and I gasped audibly when they flashed on my screen. Any kind of mac and cheese is phenomenal to me on a good day, but mac and cheese encased in crispy goodness? I had to try it or I would simply perish. To say that my expectations were high was an understatement. I followed package instructions, cooked them in the oven, and quickly realized that this was not the move. I left them in the oven longer than I should have in an attempt to allow them to get crispier, but as the time continued on, the spheres all lost their shape and looked like sad gooey blobs. I vowed that my next encounter with these guys would be in the air fryer and, as a woman of my word, I can confirm: these TJ’s Mac & Cheese Bites are 10 times more magnificent in the air fryer. Air fry them at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, shake the basket halfway through, and prepare for the best late-night snack of all time, ever.
4. Mandarin Orange Chicken
You know it, you adore it, and, get ready, because you’re about to fall in love with this Mandarin Orange Chicken all over again. I will give props to Trader Joe’s on this one… even from my first attempt cooking this sought after TJ’s frozen find, I was blown away by the chicken’s crispiness when I prepared it in the oven. That being said, there are benefits to cooking it in the air fryer with the #1 advantage being a quicker cook time. Package instructions say to cook the chicken in the oven for 18-20 minutes at 400 degrees but, in the air fryer, you can achieve your favorite chicken, a tad bit crisper, eight minutes sooner (plus some if you include traditional oven preheating time). Just set the air fryer at 400 degrees, cook for 12 minutes (shaking the basket halfway through) and get after it.
5. Breaded Chicken Tenderloin Breasts
Speaking of chicken… air frying this frozen, pre-cooked breaded chicken is my absolute favorite, low-effort way to add protein to any meal. Not having to wait for my chicken to unthaw has improved my life exponentially, and the quick cook time makes it an obvious choice whenever I want to add some protein to pasta, wraps, or salads. I like to pop two or three in the air fryer at a time, cook at 400 degrees, and let them crisp up for 10 minutes.
6. Sweet Potato Frites
There was a time in life where I thought my love affair for sweet potato fries was only meant for restaurant dining. To absolutely no ones’ surprise, I couldn’t get the homemade thing down and I couldn’t quite find a frozen option that hit the spot. But, by the grace of the sweet potato Gods and Trader Joe, I fell upon these sweet potato frites that crisp up so nicely in the air fryer. I wildly overcooked the first batch I made (400 degrees for 18 minutes is not it, fam) but after some trial and error, found that air frying at 400 degrees for 10 minutes was the sweet spot.
7. Roasted Peppers with Peppers and Onions
Potatoes and peppers and onions, oh my! These roasted potatoes are the perfect side to just about any dinner (or if you’re a potato stan like me, as a main dish in itself because what are rules). These perfectly seasoned potatoes can be whipped up in the air fryer at 400 degrees for 17 minutes and are one of my favorite frozen finds that TJ’s has to offer.