Thursday, October 30, 2014

Costco is ideal for home cooks, but not so great for takeout

A rainy day at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, where home cooks find many high-quality ingredients at prices that usually beat the competition.


You won't appreciate Costco Wholesale if you spend most of your food dollars on takeout and restaurant meals.

Some of the prepared food at Costco isn't very good, but the warehouse store is filled to the rafters with wild-caught fish, organic poultry, exotic spices and other ingredients at great prices.

Costco is a playground for home cooks, especially those who want to serve more organic and non-GMO foods to their families, including fig bars, spring mix, quinoa and versatile diced tomatoes.

For years, Costco has had the lowest price anywhere for 3 pounds of bananas, only $1.39, but last week, my wife found organically grown bananas next to the conventional ones for only $1.99.

On my home kitchen scale, the bag weighed 3.3 pounds.

Costco's union workers

You can't beat a food store that takes a fixed profit on every item it sells and employs a unionized work force.

Costco could never be confused with greedy Walmart, which peddles low-quality food and fattens its bottom line on the backs of its workers, many of whom earn so little they have to apply for food stamps.

Is the annual Costco membership fee of $55 or $110 a deal breaker?


With a no-fee Costco American Express True Earnings credit card, you earn cash rebates on purchases at Costco and other stores, restaurant meals and gasoline that more than cover the membership fee.

The wine section at the Costco Wholesale in Wayne. You can also find Kirkland Signature's delicious California Cabernet Sauvignon in a 1.5-liter bottle for only $7.99.
You'd do a lot better buying a whole organic chicken at Costco Wholesale and roasting it at home than picking up one of the store's cheap, heavily seasoned and preserved Kirkland Signature Rotisserie Chickens (net weight 3 pounds), which are raised on harmful animal antibiotics. 

Salmon Milano with Basil Pesto Butter is available at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack for $8.99 a pound, but you have to cook the artificially colored farmed salmon at home. Instead, you can buy wild-caught fish fillets at Costco for about the same price and poach them in Mexican green salsa or bottled marinara, avoiding the butter in the prepared dish.

In addition to whole rotisserie chickens, you can pick up chicken salad and chicken noodle soup, both made with rotisserie chicken, for $4.99, the price for a whole bird. But if you read the list of ingredients, above, you'd pass on this takeout meal.

Costco's cabbage kimchi is only $7.99, but comes in a bottle that is 6 ounces shy of the standard 64-ounce bottle found in Korean supermarkets. The kimchi sold at the warehouse store also contains beef bone extract and added sugar you don't find in other brands. 

Food at great prices is not the only draw at Costco Wholesale. If you care anything about how you dress, the warehouse store is filled with high-quality clothing and accessories at low prices, such as these Italian top-grain leather belts for only $17.99 each, the same price Costco charges for button-down and spread-collar shirts made from 100% cotton. 

These Kirkland Signature 100% Italian Silk Ties also were $17.99 each, though I find the patterns too conservative. This week, we picked up a wool-and-cashmere overcoat for our growing teenage son for only $69.99.

One of the great ingredients for home cooks is peeled California garlic, which has been in short supply at the Hackensack warehouse store recently. On Tuesday, the refrigerated 3-pound bags reappeared with a modest price increase of 40 cents, a far better choice than peeled garlic from China, which has a terrible food-safety record.

Fresh wild-caught Atlantic cod, long-line caught in Iceland, is only $7.99 a pound at Costco, and can be poached for dinner in under 10 minutes in Roasted Chipotle Salsa from Whole Foods Market. Mashed sweet potatoes from the 10-pound bag sold at Costco help me prepare filling meals while following a no-bread, no pizza diet.

Egg whites, reduced-fat Swiss cheese and smoked wild salmon -- all from Costco -- were poached in bottled pasta sauce and served over mashed sweet potatoes for breakfast.

These aged, sharp cheddar slices were $6.99 when introduced at the Hackensack warehouse store in March. On Monday, they were $7.99, still a good buy for 2 pounds of cheese.

About a month ago, I picked up this 2.2-pound  bag of organic coffee at the Hackensack warehouse store for only $14.99 after trying a sample of coffee brewed from the beans. I also was able to get it ground to my specification -- Turkish -- which is usually not the case with other beans sold at Costco.

The Ruta Maya Organic Coffee helps me brew two or three strong, smooth cups in the morning.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Screw you, Fairway. Whole Foods will devein my wild shrimp

Wild-caught shrimp are sometimes available at H Mart in Englewood for about the same price Costco Wholesale in Hackensack charges for previously frozen farmed shrimp from Vietnam.


We've stopped buying the previously frozen farmed shrimp from Costco Wholesale, but we're having trouble finding a steady source of affordable wild shrimp.

On a rare visit to New York-based Fairway Market in Paramus recently, I saw large, wild-caught shrimp for $17.99 a pound, but the fishmonger shook his head "no" when I asked if would devein them for me.

Removing the central vein is a tricky job and, even though I have a special serrated knife, I've often cut myself.

It's not as if the Fairway fishmonger was busy; I was the only customer at the seafood counter.

This is just another way Fairway's New York attitude sucks.

I deveined and shelled these farmed Black Tiger shrimp from Costco Wholesale in Hackensack at home -- using a special, serrated knife and sometimes cutting myself in the process. I poached them in Mexican green salsa and fresh lime juice.

The mall entrance to Whole Foods Market at Bergen Town Center in Paramus,where you will find the best seafood department in North Jersey.

Whole Foods to the rescue

People complain about the prices at Whole Foods Market in Paramus, but I usually go there to shop for sale items and I've always found the employees helpful.

At the seafood counter last week, I saw wild-caught Gulf Shrimp on ice for a little under $20 a pound.

I said to the fishmonger, I wasn't ready to buy any, but when I'm ready, would he devein them.

Sure, he said without hesitation.

So, Fairway, screw you. Go back to New York. You're not wanted or needed in North Jersey.

Click on the links below for previous posts about Fairway, and comments from readers of this blog that back me up:

No answer from Fairway's corporate office

Please be a good neighbor, Fairway

Sticker shock is everywhere on rare visit
to Fairway Market in Paramus

Monday, October 27, 2014

An out-of-state upstart satisfies my hunger for kimchi at home

The long-delayed relocation of Arirang Kimchi to Ridgefield from Englewood remains incomplete.


The jar of kimchi in my refrigerator came all the way from Pennsylvania.

I had hoped to pick up Arirang's handmade cabbage kimchi in Ridgefield on Saturday, but the family owned company hasn't completed its relocation from Englewood.

The storefront in the H&Y Marketplace shopping center looks much the same as it did a couple of months ago.

I  looked under the "COMING SOON" banner covering the plate-glass window, and could see only three or four large refrigerated cases against one wall.

I have been a loyal Arirang customer for more than a decade, and have loved the crunch of its spicy cabbage, cucumber and radish kimchis.

So many kimchis...

But on Saturday, I had to go into H&Y, a Korean supermarket; look over a dozen brands and purchase a 64-ounce bottle of Mukungwha Mac Kimchi from Joo Young Food Inc. in Willow Grove, Pa. ($8.99).

The ingredients list is short: Cabbage, red pepper, ginger, onion, garlic, salt, fish sauce. 

Costco Wholesale in Hackensack is selling a smaller bottle of cabbage kimchi for $7.99, but I haven't bought any because it contains beef-bone extract and added sugar.

One of my favorite items at H&Y Marketplace is a  2-pound package of Jun's Wild Sesame Seed Tofu ($5), made in the store with non-GMO soybeans. A great snack is a thick slice of this tofu with a little sweet-and-spicy gochujang, below.

A 2.2-pound bottle of refrigerated Sinsong Vinegared Red-Pepper Paste or Gochujang was on sale for $4.99, a discount of $1. I bought two. This brand is made with sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup. The bottles were placed on the shelf above an old, incorrect sign for wasabi.

Mukungwha Mac Kimchi from Pennsylvania.

The cabbage kimchi sold at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack is $7.99, but the bottle is smaller, only 58 ounces.

H&Y Marketplace, 1 Remsen Place, Ridgefield; 201-943-7400.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Whole Foods: 10 ways to think outside of bottled pasta sauce

Whole Foods Market suggests poaching two eggs in bottled pasta sauce. I served them over leftover organic quinoa for breakfast, and found using a soup spoon the easiest way to eat the comforting dish.

Instead of grated cheese, I used a vegetable peeler to add shaved Grana Padano from Costco Wholesale. I also used a little extra-virgin olive oil and Italian dried herbs, in addition to the black pepper recommended by Whole Foods.


I stopped at Whole Foods Market in Paramus to pick up naturally raised oxtails for the meat eaters in the family, and grabbed a copy of "The Whole Deal," a store publication with coupons, recipes and other advice.

As I was leafing through it at home, I got a kick out of "10 things to do with pasta sauce (beyond pasta)."

I have lots of bottled sauce around -- 40-ounce bruisers from Victoria and Paesana -- and smaller jars from The Silver Palate and ShopRite.

So on Saturday morning, I tried the first non-pasta suggestion -- Eggs in Purgatory.

I simmered 1 cup of Silver Palate Tomato Basil sauce and a little olive oil in a small pan, cracked open two organic eggs and topped them with shaved Grana Padano Cheese, black pepper and dried Italian herbs.

I found a glass cover for the pan that helped cut the cooking time.

One cup of pasta sauce for two eggs seemed like a lot, but I used an 8-inch, non-stick pan and followed the recipe.

On Saturday morning, I used The Silver Palate Tomato Basil sauce.

Chili, Spanish rice

The next two suggestions are chili -- just add beans and chili powder to pasta sauce -- and Spanish rice.

For the rice dish, Whole Foods suggests cooking 1 cup of rice and substituting 1 cup of pasta sauce for 1 cup of water.

Then, you stir in capers, green olives and chopped green onions.

I might try this with 2 or 3 cups of organic brown rice. I have capers, pitted black olives and scallions in the refrigerator. 

Fish in pasta sauce

Another suggestion I like is poaching fish fillets in pasta sauce, a variation on my own recipe of poaching cod, haddock or wild salmon in Mexican green salsa with added fresh lime juice.

On Thursday, I bought a 24-ounce jar of Whole Foods Roasted Salsa Verde for $3.99, and a 16-ounce jar of Roasted Chipotle Salsa for $2.69.

Both are free of the MSG that is now being added to a onetime favorite, La Costena Mexican Green Salsa.

The frozen Coleman Oxtails were $7.99 a pound, and each of the two packages I bought weighed more than 2 pounds.