These Trader Joe's Thanksgiving Hacks Will Change Your Life

Photographed by Davide Luciano; Food Styled by Michelle Gatton; Props Styled by Alex Brannian.
This story was originally published on November 24, 2015.

I'm not at the point in my life yet where I make or host my own Thanksgiving dinner — I still go home for Turkey Day every year. And when I am asked to bring a dish (usually a dessert or a side), I want it to be super easy to make, cheap, and still taste good. That's where frozen food from Trader Joe's comes in. I know this sounds totally kooky, but I wanted to see if Thanksgiving-worthy food could come just from Trader Joe's frozen food section. (You know I'm always up for an impossible-sounding food challenge.)

The Rules:
1. I had to use as much frozen food as possible in every dish.
2. If I was incorporating non-frozen TJ's items, they had to be fully-formed products and not individual ingredients that you wouldn't otherwise eat on their own.
3. I had to at least attempt to make things that tasted good.

The Results:
When I first arrived at Trader Joe's, things looked bleak. First of all, I made the mistake of going to the Union Square Trader Joe's in New York, which according to a staffer there is the busiest supermarket in America. After wandering aimlessly around the freezer section for 20 minutes, I was threatening to call the entire experiment off. But inspiration slowly started to trickle in, and I found myself throwing a bunch of random frozen veggies into my cart.

This challenge is about sides and dessert, so I didn't even think about making a turkey (there isn't any frozen turkey at Trader Joe's, although there might be some closer to the big day), so I moved on and focused on things like mashed potatoes, pies, and casseroles. There also wasn't anything to make a gravy or cranberry sauce out of in the freezer aisle. However, Trader Joe's also has excellent jarred gravy and cranberry sauce that isn't frozen — check!

After a day or two of experimenting (a.k.a. making an enormous mess), and returning to Trader Joe's two more times over two days, I discovered that you really can make some solid holiday sides using frozen foods. In fact, I would even go as far as to serve a few of them at my family's Thanksgiving dinner.

Check out my escapades ahead, and find out which of my dishes got a pass, and which was a total FAIL.
Napkins, drinking glasses, and vase from Canvas Home; dinner plates from Rosenthal; flatware from West Elm.