Saturday, August 1, 2015

Quinoa with creamy garlic, salsa-simmered cod, salad and more

In an electric rice cooker, I added three 8-ounce cups of organic quinoa, six cups of chicken broth or water, a drained can of low-sodium black beans, a can of organic diced tomatoes, lots of chopped fresh garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and a little sea salt, and mixed them well before I plugged it in. 


Organic quinoa from Costco Wholesale is one of the whole grains I rely on to give me that full feeling on a no-bread, no-pizza diet.

It's a snap to prepare in an electric rice cooker with black beans and organic diced tomatoes, but it's even better when you include lots of chopped garlic cloves, which you can buy peeled at the Hackensack Costco.

The garlic turns creamy, lending moisture to the quinoa, which has fewer carbs than rice or pasta.

You can enjoy leftover quinoa at any meal -- reheated to eat with eggs in the morning or fish in the evening.

You can also use it cold as the foundation for a chopped salad.

The organic quinoa from Costco doesn't require any washing before it goes into the rice cooker.

This week, my wife picked up fresh, wild-caught Atlantic cod fillets from Costco Wholesale in Hackensack ($7.99 a pound). I prepared them in Roasted Chipotle Salsa from Whole Foods Market in Paramus, fresh lime juice, black pepper and other seasonings, above and below.

I cut up the skinless and boneless cod fillets, seasoned them with a little sea salt, added them to the boiling salsa and covered the pan. The cod was done in about 7 minutes, breaking into big flakes when I ate it with mashed and baked sweet potatoes flavored with the poaching liquid.

A chopped salad of tomatoes and cucumbers from our garden, plus celery, in a dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lime juice, balsamic vinegar, dried and fresh mint, parsley and other fresh herbs.
A salad of organic spring mix, fresh Jersey blueberries, and aged Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese from Italy, all from Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, dressed in Spanish extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A pound of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix was $4.49 a pound. Two pounds of blueberries were $5.49, and the cheese was selling for a low $8.49 a pound.

Add a spicy Korean accent at any meal with crunchy cucumber kimchi from Arirang Kimchi at 1 Remsen Place in Ridgefield (1-201-313-7175).

Friday, July 31, 2015

Exploring the Mediterranean at another bargain lunch in Manhattan

A quartet of Truffle Mushroom Croquettes -- crispy outside, creamy inside -- was one of the starters on the $25 lunch menu at Fig & Olive in midtown Manhattan. The dish includes cremini mushrooms, parmesan and bechamel with a Truffle Olive Oil aioli.


I picked the Mediterranean menu at Fig & Olive for my second Summer Restaurant Week lunch in Manhattan.

The $25 prix-fixe lunch, plus tax and tip, is a bargain, and includes bread service with a trio of extra-virgin olive oils.

The server put down two Spanish olive oils and one from California, describing the last as "grassy and herbaceous."

Olive oils from Greece, Spain and other countries also are used in many dishes.

Restaurant Week lunches include an appetizer, main course and dessert, selected from a limited menu, and no substitutions are allowed, not even fruit in place of dessert.

I don't eat dessert, and prefer the prix-fixe lunches I've seen advertised in Montreal -- appetizer, main course and coffee or tea -- usually for $20 or $21.

The Midtown branch, one of three Fig & Olives in Manhattan, has a dining room and bar on the first level and another dining room upstairs, with a total of 180 seats.

I made a noon reservation for me and my son on Thursday, and when we left, the restaurant was nearly full.

Both the food and service were great, and I felt pleasantly full after only two of the three courses.

On Thursday, my appetizer was Cucumber & Pink Peppercorn, a refreshing Chilled Cucumber Soup with mint, lemon, orange and shallot that was poured at the table. The soup is made without milk or cream.

Bread service included three extra-virgin olive oils.

For a main course, my personal Paella del Mar included shrimp, mussels and calamari over creamy rice with a saffron aioli and Hojiblanca Olive Oil.

My son picked Grilled Lamb on rosemary skewers, with Couscous, Greek Yogurt and Honey, and Koroneiki Olive Oil ($5 extra). A grilled caramelized fig, which he gave to me, was wonderful.
My son's dessert, Orange Panna Cotta with cookie crumble. I took home a second dessert, Crostinis with strawberries and mascarpone.

The second-level dining room on East 52nd Street, near Fifth Avenue, above and below.

The first-floor dining room and bar.


Fig & Olive - Midtown, 10 E. 52nd St., near Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y.; 1-212-319-2002.

Summer Restaurant Week Web site:

By using a registered American Express card to pay, you can get a $5 statement credit for up to four lunches or dinners.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Wild sockeye salmon with diced tomatoes, pesto and ripe peaches

Fresh wild sockeye salmon accented with pesto, a reduction of organic diced tomatoes and red wine, and a grilled ripe peach.

Editor's note: You'll need ripe peaches for one of my favorite preparations of grilled fresh wild salmon. Today, I also discuss the end of ShopRite's Summer Can Can Sale, and a few good buys at Whole Foods Market.


After two or three tries, I finally found some peaches that ripened on my kitchen counter for a savory and sweet preparation of fresh wild sockeye salmon.

Wild salmon fillets are widely available at Costco Wholesale, ShopRite and other stores, but I have yet to see them on restaurant menus this summer.

I grilled the fillet -- cut into six serving pieces and seasoned with sea salt and fresh lime juice -- and peach halves on the stove top.

First, in a pan, I reduced a can of organic diced tomatoes and red wine, seasoned with garlic powder, black pepper and a few red-pepper flakes, until the mixture thickened.

The prepared pesto doesn't need heating. All of the ingredients (except the wine) came from Costco Wholesale.

I started to grill halves from three peaches before I put the salmon on a preheated stove-top grill, skin-side down. Peaches take a total of 20 minutes on both sides; the salmon is cooked through in 8 minutes over medium-high heat.

Fresh wild sockeye salmon fillets were $9.99 a pound at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack. I plated the salmon before adding the organic diced tomatoes and refrigerated pesto.
The Eastern Peaches I bought at Costco Wholesale (6 pounds for $8.49) are distributed by a Glassboro, N.J., company. They came in 100% recycled box made in North Carolina, but there is no indication where the fruit is grown. They ripened on the counter in two days.

The next day, I used the leftover reduction of organic diced tomatoes and red wine to stuff an egg-white omelet, along with smoked wild salmon, fresh spinach and reduced-fat Swiss cheese slices, above.

The omelet, made in a 10-inch pan, is enough for two. You can serve it for breakfast with leftover pasta, a baked sweet potato or organic brown rice, all good bread substitutes.

Adirondack Seltzer

ShopRite's Summer Can Can Sale ended unexpectedly on Saturday, but the store continues to offer 1-liter bottles of Adirondack Seltzer for 40 cents each or $4.80 for a case of 12.

I found two cases of Lemon-Lime at the Paramus ShopRite and three more at the Englewood ShopRite.

Salsa, coffee, wine

I don't eat chips, but love the 365 Everyday Value salsas from Whole Foods Market in Paramus.

Last week, I picked up jars of Roasted Salsa Verde and Roasted Chipotle Salsa ($2.69 each for 16 ounces).

They can be heated up with fresh lime juice and used to poach fresh fish. You can then use the salsa over rice or another side dish you serve with the fish.

Leftover salsa also can be used in omelets.

A pound of organic Pacific Rim Coffee Beans were $8.99 (you can grind them in the store), and a bottle of sparkling wine from Spain (Brut) was $5.99.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Enjoying a bargain lunch at a 1-star Michelin restaurant in Manhattan

Two of the starters available on the $25 lunch menu at Ai Fiori, a seafood restaurant in Manhattan, are Chilled Corn Soup, above, and a Salad with Manchego Cheese, below.


I picked Ai Fiori for lunch in Manhattan on the strength of a memorable four-course birthday dinner I enjoyed a few years ago at an affiliated restaurant, Marea.

And what better time to try Ai Fiori than during Summer Restaurant Week, when hundreds of city restaurants offer $25 three-course lunches and $38 three-course dinners?

Normally, Ai Fiori offers a two-course lunch for $45, plus $18 for an additional course.

Both of us chose the Pan-Roasted Skate Wing for our entree, but we had to ask for slices of lemon.

Ai Fiori has 1 Michelin star

When we walked into a Fifth Avenue hotel in the 30s, where Ai Fiori is located, we saw a sign noting the restaurant has been awarded 1 Michelin star in the 2015 guide (out of 3).

That's great, I thought, and while we loved the food and attentive service, I now wonder how a fine-dining restaurant kitchen could send out a seafood dish without a slice of lemon.

I started with a Salad of crisp Baby Lollo Rossa Lettuce, other greens and Manchego Cheese, with a dressing that included aged sherry.

My wife had the refreshing Chilled Corn Soup with charred corn, Calabrian chili and basil, and a waiter poured it out of a pitcher at the table.

The soup tasted creamy even though it had a milk base, according to the maitre d'.

Skate, hold the thin ice

Both of us chose the Pan-Roasted Skate Wing with Couscous, which was made with olives, broccoli and tomato aioli.

At my request, the skate was prepared with olive oil instead of butter. It was crisp outside and moist inside, and it benefited from a little fresh lemon juice from slices we asked for. 

For our third course, we wanted berries, but weren't allowed substitutions for the Chocolate Tort or a second dessert listed as Meringue.

So, we asked for the desserts to go for another family member who has no dietary restrictions.

Our two lunches totaled $50 before tax and a 20% tip, and by using a registered American Express Card t0 charge them, I'll get a $5 statement credit.

Ai Fiori serves butter with bread, but I asked for extra-virgin olive oil into which to dip the crusts, and used some of it over my salad.

The restaurant's dining room, above and below, is on the second floor of the Langham Place Fifth Avenue Hotel, accessible via a winding marble staircase.

We had a comfortable corner banquette, and were able to get seated before our 12:15 p.m. reservation.

Ai Fiori has 1 Michelin star, and Marea, which heads the Altamarea Group of restaurants, now has 2 Michelin stars.

We walked to the restaurant from the midtown bus terminal, pausing to look at Seward Johnson sculptures displayed in a pedestrian mall that runs for several blocks along Broadway. Above, one of the two figures in "Los Mariachis."

Table and chairs are set up on Broadway for people having an al fresco lunch, including a man who said he paid a bargain $2.75 for two slices of pizza and a soft drink at a nearby pizzeria.

"Monet, Our Visiting Artist" is the title of this Seward Johnson sculpture.
Instead of driving into the city and blowing a small fortune on gasoline, the Hudson River toll and parking, we took the bus from our home in North Jersey. Round-trip for two was $12.30.


Ai Fiori, 400 Fifth Ave., Second Level, in Langham Place Fifth Avenue Hotel, Manhattan; 1-212-613-8660.

Restaurant Web site: 

NYC Summer Restaurant Week continues through Aug. 14, except Saturdays. Web site: