Thursday, December 31, 2009

Shrill sales circular from Fairway Market

Beef Cuts - Where They Come FromImage via Wikipedia
New York-based Fairway Market has been pushing U.S. prime beef since it opened a store in Paramus this year, but its latest sales circular has a shrill tone and the text is full of exclamation marks. I guess all of this is designed to distract shoppers from knowing how the cattle were raised.

"This is what we're talking about!" and "Great food! Great prices! Only at Fairway!" are two of the large-type sentences displayed around a seasoned USDA prime porterhouse steak with grill marks, on sale Jan. 1-7 for $8.99 a pound. 

Prime is the top grade assigned to beef by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (choice and select are the other grades) and signifies that this meat has the highest fat content.

But that's it. Prime can be raised conventionally, with growth hormones, antibiotics and animal by-products -- bits of dead animals -- in the feed. The circular is silent on how the cattle were raised. 

The ad text says, "This is serious steakhouse steak! This ain't no supermarket steak! Could there be anything more glorious on the face of the Earth! We think not." 

Well, little, old me thinks so. The cattle could be free range, rather than being confined in enormous, manure-filled feed lots (the animals are usually covered in manure when they enter, or are dragged, into the slaughterhouse, and feces often gets into ground beef). They could be grass fed, instead of being pumped full of grain, which can make them sick, and animal byproducts could be banned from their feed.

I'm sure this prime beef tastes good and $8.99 a pound is a great price, but you can find grass-fed beef on sale at Whole Foods Market, also in Paramus, for around $9.99 a pound. What do the arrogant New York owners of Fairway have to say about that?
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Cooking takes a holiday

At La Pola in West New York.

We've taken a vacation from cooking most of our meals at home.

It began last Thursday, when we battled traffic to buy our Cuban roast pork feast at La Pola Restaurant, a Cuban-sandwich shop in West New York, that we served on Christmas Day. The next night, our usual one dinner out, we had soft-tofu and spring-chicken stews at the Soft Tofu Restaurant in Palisades Park. Sunday night, we ate leftovers from Christmas.

Tuesday night, we treated my niece, her boyfriend and her children to a multicourse Chinese feast at Lotus Cafe in Hackensack, before their return to California the next day. That night, we finished the Lotus Cafe leftovers. Wednesday afternoon, four of us shared a large cold antipasto and a large pepperoni/anchovy pizza -- well-done -- at Brooklyn's in Hackensack, a satisfying cheese-filled meal with a single glass of wine for me. Tonight, we were planning to drive to Paterson for Middle Eastern food if the snow doesn't detour us to a restaurant closer to home.

Last New Year's Eve, the weather kept us in and we prepared curry chicken and lamb chops, and drank wine before watching the ball drop on TV.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A great meal any time of the year

Lotus Flower Breaking the Surface, Yun Shoupin...
Who can resist great food at great prices -- the crusty $2 baguette at Balthazar Bakery in Englewood, the $6.99 restaurant-quality Italian takeout dinners at Jerry's Gourmet, just down South Dean Street from the bakery; and $4.49 for a pound of scrumptious organic spring salad mix at Costco.

You'll find the restaurant version at Lotus Cafe, a popular BYO in Hackensack, where the multi-course dinners for four, six or eight are both filling and delicious -- among the best Chinese food in North Jersey. And you'll pay $20 or less per person, including tax and tip.

Last night, our party made a 6 p.m. reservation and ordered food for six from the special price-fix dinner and banquet menu.  We were four adults and three children -- 12, 10 and under 2 years old. With three light eaters, we had plenty of leftovers.

We were served eight courses, with lots of greens: seafood and tofu chowder, three-cup chicken casserole, crispy, aromatic duck; pepper and salty prawns, beef with chili pepper and mustard green, fillet of sole with yellow chive, stir-fried Chinese broccoli with fresh garlic, and ice cream and fruit. Because we are good customers, we also received a warm Chinese rice pudding on the house.

In the past week, I was unsuccessful in finding seven people to join my wife, son and I for a Dutch treat New Year's Eve banquet meal for 10 -- 12 courses for about $27 per person, including Peking duck, prawns, filet mignon, whole fish and braised noodles. 

Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack, in Home Depot-
Pathmark Shopping Center; 201-488-7070; open seven days.
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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The flip side of reusable food shopping bags

ShopRite is the only North Jersey chain that recycles plastic shopping bags, and still gives customers money back for using a reusable bag (5 cents).

The Record of Woodland Park carried a long article about reusable food shopping bags yesterday. But there was no discussion about stores that recycle those pesky plastic bags that will undoubtedly be blowing around long after all life ends on our planet.

If I carry a dozen reusable bags in my car, why do I have to recycle plastic bags? For one thing, I often forget to bring the reusable bags into the store. For another, I also recycle lots of plastic wrapping and plastic bags that come with the food I buy.

If you shop for food at Costco, for example, you'll find that the two or more items you often have to buy at once are wrapped in plastic (or come in a cardboard box, which I also recycle). 

I also recycle the plastic pouches holding instant mashed potatoes and the smaller ones for Japanese green tea; plastic from shrink-wrapped poultry, fish, cheese or other food; plastic that covers bottle caps, plastic produce bags and other plastic items.

Unfortunately, I know of only supermarket chain -- ShopRite -- that accepts plastic bags for recycling. Hollywood Cleaners on New Bridge Road in Bergenfield had a receptacle for recycling its long plastic bags when I used to patronize it several years ago. Now, my dry-cleaning bags get recycled with my plastic shopping bags.

My recycling philosophy is if you are in doubt about whether something can be recycled, put it into the recycling container and let the sorters who work at recycling plants decide for you.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

For great maza, you don't have to go far

BeirutImage via Wikipedia

The New York Times has a nicely photographed, mouth-watering story about restaurants in Beirut, Lebanon (photo), but you have to go no further than Paterson to sample equally delicious maza and other food.

Aleppo Restaurant at Main and Thomas streets, Paterson, is a reliable choice for Syrian entrees and the small plates called maza or mezze, as The Times spells it. And there are Turkish restaurants, such as Hummus, across Main Street, with attractive menus of salads, meat-and-cheese pizzas, and other tidbits. After you try these two restaurants, I think you'll agree the author of The Times piece is wrong in saying the best Middle Eastern food is found in Lebanese restaurants.

Lebanese restaurants seem to come and go in the South Paterson neighborhood, but a sign on the old Al Assayad Restaurant on Crooks Avenue recently announced the opening soon of a Lebanese place.

Two great meals I had at Aleppo Restaurant are described in the following links:

The zing of Aleppo red pepper

Bountiful meal recalls my roots

 Below is a link to the story on Beirut.
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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Moors and Christians

Left: Moros y cristianos (rice and black beans...Image via Wikipedia

For breakfast this morning, I topped rice cooked with black beans, heated in the microwave, with a plain omelet and Valentina hot sauce, and went to town. The rice-beans combination is called congris, a Cuban term for dirty rice, but it's also known as moros y cristianos or Moors and Christians (at left in photo), a term reflecting the Arab occupation of Spain that ended in 1492.

The moros were left over from our Cuban roast pork feast on Christmas Day -- accompanied by ham croquettes and a Spanish potato omelet -- all from Belarmino Rico, owner of a West New York Cuban sandwich shop called La Pola, the Spanish town where he was born. All that was missing was a salad I forgot to make in the rush of heating up the Cuban food and preparing lamb, a hamburger, a hot dog and mashed potatoes for three guests who don't eat pork. Next year, I'll sautee collard greens with garlic.

The roast pork I sliced and plated was moistened with an addictive garlic sauce or mojito, which also goes into Rico's Cuban sandwiches before they are heated. This morning, I sliced off the roast pork's skin and fat and put them in the oven to crisp up the skin and liquify the fat. I ate entirely too many pieces, but included something healthy in my breakfast -- a small bowl of cabbage kimchi.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Seasoned greetings

I hope you are having a great meal to mark the Christmas holiday. Good eating to all. We have Cuban roast pork and other store-bought dishes warming in the oven and we're waiting for our guests to arrive.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Cubano

Chiffes Plantain Chips by Plantain Products Co...

We fought the holiday traffic today and drove to West New York, but, luckily, there was an empty parking spot waiting for us in the small lot next to La Pola Restaurant, self-described "King of the Cuban Sandwich." To that, I say, Amen.

Inside, proprietor Belarmino Rico, his wife, sons, grandchildren and merry band of helpful employees made and served hot sandwiches, or Cubanos, and packed up Christmas specialties his customers had ordered -- roasted hams, ribs and  whole, butterflied pigs; the rice-and-black beans combination called congris; tamales, Spanish potato omelets, plantain chips (photo) and chicharrones or fried pork rinds.

Rico, who was born in the Asturian village of La Pola in Spain, lived in Cuba and learned to make the sandwiches at his uncle's bodega in Havana.

My Christmas menu now is set:

Alaskan king crab and sweet corn chowder (Costco)
Cuban roast pork
Congris (white rice cooked with black beans)
Tortilla espanola (potato omelet)
Cuban ham croquettes
Organic spring mix salad
Pear and hazelnut galette (Balthazar Bakery)

One of my guests and her children don't eat pork, so I'll prepare Australian leg of lamb for her, and an organic hamburger and uncured hot dog for the kids, with mashed potatoes.

La Pola Restaurant, 5400 Palisade Ave (54th Street), 
West New York;  (201) 867-6028. Call for holiday hours.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Can coffee be subversive?

TrinidadImage via Wikipedia

I just loaded the dispenser in my espresso machine with Cuban-style dark-roasted beans I bought from A kilo (2.2 pounds) of this Ruta Maya organic Cubita coffee cost  $22.99, including shipping. That's about what I would pay for two pounds of coffee beans at Starbucks. lists the Cubita-style coffee for $36.78.

I haven't brewed a cup yet, but you can read this description from the warehouse store's Web site:
Ruta Maya’s Cubita Cuban Style Dark Roasted Coffee is the smoothest of the Cubita roasts, yet has a rich, dark chocolate roast. Cubita Coffee or “Café Sabor de Cuba” embodies the heady aroma and deep-bodied coffee flavor of Cuba. Styled after the national coffee of Cuba, Cubita is a blend of coffee beans from Latin American countries carefully selected and roasted to match the authentic Cuban coffee experience with lots of flavor and bite.
That could use some editing, but doesn't it sound promising? I hope I'll be able to recapture the taste of the coffee I enjoyed on a half-dozen trips to Cuba from 1998 to 2004 (photo is of Trinidad, Cuba). Here's the link to the site, but you'll have to search for "Cubita coffee."|3605&lang=en-US&whse=BC&topnav=

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In Englewood, don't forget the food

Gimchi, a very common side dish in Korea

I headed for Palisade Avenue in Englewood yesterday to buy a Christmas present for my son, but I made sure I didn't leave the city without stopping at three of my favorite food places.

On the way there, I hit the kimchi factory on Englewood Avenue that has been my source for spicy cabbage kimchi (photo) and side dishes for about a decade. I bought a 64-ounce bottle of mahk kimchi ($9.99) and a small package of sesame leaves in a sweet-sour sauce ($3.99).

After I picked up the present, I headed down South Dean Street to Balthazar Bakery for two of their signature baguettes, still $2 each six years after the place opened, but couldn't resist an artful, 7-inch pear and hazelnut galette ($6.50) that I'll save for our Christmas dinner.

Back in the car, I continued on South Dean to Jerry's Gourmet, where the lot overflowed, so I parked on the street. I picked up three $6.99, restaurant-quality dinners for tonight. Mine had three Italian favorites in one container -- chicken francese, eggplant parmigiana and sausage with onions and peppers, plus a little pasta and string beans. What a great meal, and all it needed to make it complete was some of that great baguette and a glass of red wine.

Also yesterday, I stopped at Costco in Hackensack to get more organic spring salad mix ($4.49) and bought a boneless Australian leg of lamb, split in two, for $3.99 a pound. This lamb is free-range and grass-fed. I also picked up two loaves of  Kirkland-brand 100% whole grain bread for $3.99.

Today, I found the small Christmas ham I was looking for at Whole Foods Market in Paramus. This applewood-smoked petite ham from the Niman Ranch is vegetarian-fed and nothing but meat -- no antibiotics, no growth hormones, no preservatives ($7.99 a pound). I also got three types of organic beans ($1.09 each) and a six-pack of Red Stripe, the Jamaican beer, on sale for $6.49.

In the seafood department, wild clams from Sandy Hook Bay cooled their heels on ice, but I didn't wait around for a dozen because the single worker had several people to wait on before me. I would have been happy to select my own, if only there were plastic bags nearby.

Arirang Kimchi (Gaboh Inc.), 191 W. Englewood Ave;
Englewood, 201-503-1314.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

In search of a naturally raised holiday ham

Cuban-Style pork roast

I have been looking for an uncured, naturally raised ham to serve on Christmas Day, a holiday my wife and son celebrate. I have read that hogs receive more antibiotics than any other animal raised for food. I also want an uncured ham to avoid such preservatives as sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite.

Last week, Costco's first antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed half ham showed up at the Hackensack store, but I was disappoinited to see that it had been cured and preserved with sodium nitrite. Next to it was a ham steak with no preservatives, but nothing on the label said it came from a naturally raised animal. You can't win.

On the Organic Prairie Web site, I saw an uncured, hardwood-smoked, boneless half ham from an heirloom breed that was free of antibiotics, growth hormones and other additives. Best of all, it was about three pounds -- perfect for my family of three. You might recall how we have struggled to eat much bigger hams. But I would have to buy three hams for a total of $81.42 -- about $9.05 a pound -- plus $15 for shipping.

I'll check out Trader Joe's and Whole Foods in Paramus tomorrow to see what kind of hams they carry, but I am also planning to shop for traditional Cuban roast pork (photo) and side dishes. This means I'll have to throw out all concerns about antibiotics and how the animals were raised, but the garlic-rich cooking wins me over time and again.

When I say shop, I mean making the trip to La Pola in West New York, where I have purchased food for several Cuban Christmas meals in the past. On the day before Christmas, most of the tables and chairs of the Cuban sandwich shop will be cleared away to make room for racks holding roasted hams and ribs. Side dishes such as rice cooked with black beans (congris), garlic sauce (mojito) and plaintain chips also will be available.

Belarmino Rico, the proprietor, his sons and wife are usually swamped at this time of the year, but their welcome is warm. In an article I wrote for The Record in 2003, I crowned Rico's Cuban sandwich the best among a dozen I tasted in North Jersey. With a name like Rico (Spanish for delicious), he couldn't lose.

La Pola Restaurant, 5400 Palisade Ave (54th Street), 
West New York;  (201) 867-6028. Call for holiday hours.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Restaurant notes

AleppoImage via Wikipedia

Our meal at Wondee's last night was as good as ever, but I wondered about all the empty tables. Two tables were occupied when we entered the BYO Thai restaurant in Hackensack and a family arrived as we were preparing to leave. The falling snow and forecasts of more, much more, must have discouraged people from venturing out.

Five of us feasted on steamed pork-and-shrimp dumplings, won ton soup, crunchy duck-and-fruit salad, fried chicken wings with a sweet-sour sauce, Cantonese-style pork with vegetables and a whole, steamed red snapper with hot chilies and garlic. Delicious.

I had had my heart set on dinner at Hummus, a Turkish place in South Paterson, because we had to go to a store there for a long, white robe my son needed for his Christmas pageant today. But as the snow fell, I dashed out alone and drove to Nouri's, a Syrian bakery and grocery store with electronics, musical instruments, clothing, cookbooks and more. I found just what I was looking for -- a simple, white, pullover robe made in Aleppo, Syria (photo), for $15. When I left, I briefly thought about ordering takeout from Hummus, then drove home.

On Thursday, I had a big lunch at Aleppo Restaurant,  across the street from Hummus. I ordered pureed lentil soup flavored with cumin and accompanied by half a lemon, fried kibbe, and a spicy dip called muhammara. I like to squeeze lemon onto the ground meat in my kibbe -- also called torpedos -- after biting off the end. I brought home pocket bread and two kibbe, making sandwiches with my homemade hummus and sharing them with my wife.

Aleppo Restaurant, 939 Main St., Paterson; 973-977-2244;
open seven days.

Hummus Restaurant,  942 Main St., Paterson, 

Wondee's Fine Thai Food & Noodles, 296 Main St., 201-883-1700; 
parking in rear
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Friday, December 18, 2009

What are oxymoronic shrimp?

Picture of Fairway Market - Paramus Location, ...Image via Wikipedia

The latest sales circular from Fairway Market in Paramus offers jumbo shrimp for $6.99 a pound. They are described as U.S.A. caught, 16/20 count, "sweet and succulent," "super-fresh" and "oxymoronic."

Oxymoronic? I Googled the word and came across a discussion on line that it's an oxymoron to describe shrimp as jumbo. But not all shrimp are jumbo, as you quickly learn if you order a shrimp dish from a Chinese takeout restaurant and don't specify "jumbo."

So maybe Fairway is trying to distract us from noticing that these shrimp likely are farm-raised, which also may mean habitat destruction and unwholesome additives. It's always best to buy wild-caught shrimp and other seafood.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

When soy meets girl

The headline on this post is taken from the title of an article I found on line at the Organic Valley site. You can read the entire piece -- and others like it -- by clicking on the link below. Here is an excerpt from "When Soy Meets Girl":

 Soybeans have been a staple in the diet of Southeast Asians for several centuries. It is estimated that the protein from soy foods comprises 20%-60% of their daily protein. Several studies suggest that Asian populations have lower incidences of cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis than do those of us living in the West. The high concentration of soy foods present in the diet is one factor thought to explain these findings.

Palisades Park and Fort Lee have soft-tofu restaurants where you can get your soybean fix, along with vegetables and rice. H Mart, the Korean supermarket in Ridgefield, Little Ferry, Fort Lee and Englewood, often carries stewed tofu in red-pepper sauce, another good source of soy. Lotus Cafe in Hackensack and Zen Kitchen in Teaneck, a Chinese take-out place, serve several tofu and soy dishes that can substitute for chicken or beef. Friends also recommend Veggie Heaven on Cedar Lane in Teaneck. Search this blog for addresses.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Shopping and tasting notes

Costco continues to be the source of great food, despite the frustrations of shopping there and dealing with the crowds at the Hackensack store near my home. The cash rebates with the Costco American Express card more than pay for my annual membership fee.

On Monday, I picked up Legal Seafoods Alaskan king crab and sweet corn chowder, two containers totaling 40 ounces for $9.99. Two pounds of the reddest strawberries I have ever seen were $6.99. And, of course, I couldn't leave without a one-pound tub of Earthbound Farm organic spring mix for $4.49, the lowest price around. It's prewashed, so you just grab some for sandwiches or a dinner salad.

Tilapia as a food fish.

At H Mart, the Korean supermarket on Bergen Turnpike in Little Ferry, I bought two fresh, wild-caught whole tilapia at $2.99 a pound. The store also sells farmed whole tilapia, but these fish were red (photo), not the dark green of the farmed variety. I poached them Tuesday night in cheap sake, soy and fish sauce, and sweet rice wine for about 20 minutes and served them with yellow rice and leftover canned black beans combined with canned diced tomato.

We had free-range shoulder lamb chops from Australia tonight with potato fritters -- or rosti -- I bought in IKEA, Paramus, and stored in the freezer. Produced in Poland, they made a fine, non-greasy substitute for potato latkes. All we needed was a salad of organic spring mix to complete the meal.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jerry's products sold in Little Ferry

Modena, Piazza GrandeImage via Wikipedia

Today, I visited Gourmet Marketplace, one of the small retailers that have moved into the former Valley Fair building in Little Ferry, next to H Mart, the Korean supermarket. I was surprised to find some of the products came from Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood.

You won't find as much variety here as you will in Englewood, you can't order a sandwich and there are no free samples of cheese, salami and so forth. But you will find some of Jerry's pasta sauces, balsamic vinegar and other items. I saw a sign in the rear, "meats and cheeses," but didn't go over to see what's available.

I bought two bottles of  Ponti balsamic vinegar "of Modena" (photo) for 99 cents each. The ingredients label didn't list caramel color, as others do. Each bottle is 16.9 ounces.

Gourmet Marketplace, Bergen Turnpike, 
near the Little Ferry Circle, Little Ferry;
closed Sundays
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Don't ever ask your wife what's she doing

Staying Out of the KitchenImage by djwudi via Flickr

No. Don't. If your wife (girlfriend, partner, spouse, significant other) is in the kitchen, just don't ask her what she is doing. Go back to reading the paper. Resist the urge to approach the stove and make suggestions. Sure, she leaves most of the food shopping and cooking to you, and you often end up washing the morning pots and pans, but when she gets inspired, leave her alone -- or else.

This morning, my wife started to prepare breakfast for herself after she dropped our son at school. I got up and approached and started asking her questions. She was combining leftover chicken thigh with other leftovers, white rice and Chinese takeout vegetables, to make a quick fried rice. That's when I should have returned to the paper. I didn't.

I suggested some soy sauce and fetched it from the fridge. I poured on a couple of ounces. "It's too salty," she said, her voice rising. That's not all she said. Then, I added some sweet rice wine to dilute the soy sauce, and that really upset her. I said, "What about a scrambled egg in there?"  She grabbed the pot and headed for the garbage can before I stopped her by saying I'll eat it. Then, I went for my power walk.

When I got back, I filled a small bowl with the fried rice and heated it in the microwave. It tasted great. Not salty, as my wife said, but my "review" fell on deaf ears. I plan to offer the rest to our son when he gets back from school. My wife wouldn't even accept half of my breakfast wrap: smoked wild salmon, saluna salad (canned red salmon and tuna), hummus, tomato, salad greens and za'atar thyme mixture rolled up in thin pita.

That'll teach me.
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Shout-out for your favorite food blog

The New York Times blog called 'the local' gives a shout out today to "Do You Really Know What You're Eating?" Here's the link:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Frankies 17 Spuntino in Manhattan

The corner of Orchard and Rivington Streets, L...Image via Wikipedia

Frankies 17 Spuntino is one of those places I have wanted to eat in for a few years, but didn't get around to until Saturday. And with only 24 seats, this has to be one of the smallest restaurants in Manhattan.

Getting a table isn't the only potential problem. The Lower East Side (photo) also is a hard place in which to find a legal parking space. In fact, I dropped off my wife and son at the restaurant, searched in vain for a space, then returned to pick them up and was driving away when a space opened up three cars away. (From the casual way some New Yorkers get into their cars and fiddle around for 5 minutes before driving away, you'd think they own the space.)

Our waitress said "spuntinos" are snacks and spuntino is a place to eat snacks, but you'll find soups, sandwiches, salads and entrees on the menu, plus 11 cheeses. Frankies refers to two chefs with the same first name.

We were starving when we got there and fell on the plate of crusty, charred bread and small bowl of unfiltered extra virgin olive oil the waitress gave us after we ordered. Delicious.

We started with a lentil with smoked bacon soup for my son, escarole and cannelini bean soup for my wife and a cold roasted vegetable salad for me. Soups are $7, the salad $10. We loved out starters, but the salad of beets, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables with balsamic vinegar would have tasted even better warmed up.

Our entrees, which we shared, were three meatballs with pine nuts and raisins ($10) and homemade papardelle with braised lamb ragu ($19). There was a lot of good gravy, or tomato sauce, with the meatballs, but the lamb ragu was thin and could have used some tomato. Our half carafe of the house wine -- Montepulciano d'Abruzzo -- was $14 and yielded about three glasses.

We finished with a slice of  aged Sardinian goat cheese ($4) for me and creme brulee ($6) for my son, who raved it tasted of marshmellows. The dense cheese was served with walnuts in honey and two slices of that great bread. With tax and tip, this meal cost $95. Service was casual.

The restaurant is small but came off better than the raucous Casa Mono, Maria Batalli's tapas place, where four people are jammed into tables Frankies uses for two.

Frankies 17 Spuntino, 17 Clinton St., Manhattan;
212-253-2303; open seven days from 11 a.m.
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Saturday, December 12, 2009

This will make you hungry

Chief Rabbi Jacob Saul Dwek, Hakham Bashi of A...Image via Wikipedia

souq, aleppo syria, easter 2004Image by seier+seier+seier via Flickr

With the opening of Aleppo Restaurant at Main and Thomas streets in Paterson, I have  more opportunity than ever to get in touch with my culinary roots. My parents were Sephardic Jews born in the northern Syrian city --  he the son of a pastry maker and she a rabbi's daughter who would go on to self-publish the first cookbook in Brooklyn's Syrian Jewish community.

Now, I have come across a food blog called "Syrian Foodie in London," lovingly written by a doctor, and this video of a falafel stand in Aleppo. If this doesn't make you hungry, I don't know what will. The metal bowls you'll see are filled with sprigs of mint, a nice accent for the yogurt sauce you can have on your falafel. I visited my parents' birthplace briefly in the late 1970s and ate lots of terrific food, but didn't get a chance to try the falafel.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Korean restaurants in the news

dolsot bibimbapImage by churl via Flickr

Korean food is vibrant and a great source of vegetables and soy, but at least two restaurants have been fined for sanitary code violations recently by health inspectors.

The Record today reports a $960 fine for Gam Mee Ok Restaurant in Fort Lee, one of my favorites for its unique kimchi service and its stone-bowl bibimbap. Two issues the inspector noted were "storing beef in stagnant water" and the "staff's failure to wear gloves when handling hazardous foods."

Madangsui Restaurant, also in Fort Lee, was fined $285 on Nov. 10 for defrosting meat on the floor and not covering it.  This was a real surprise, because it  has always boasted of serving fresh beef and is the only Korean barbecue restaurant I've been to that offers prime beef, the highest USDA grade.

I've long been concerned about the "mystery meat" served at many Korean restaurants, so much so that we started buying free-range, grass-fed Australian beef and preparing barbecue at home, with rice, kimchi and other side dishes.

Maybe the lesson of these fines is to avoid eating meat altogether. With soft-tofu stews, spring-chicken soups and other non-beef  selections, that's easy to do at Korean restaurants.

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Yummy faux chicken doesn't cluck

enjoying a chinese takeout dinner c/o john kis...

I was looking over the menu from our favorite Chinese take-out place last night and was surprised to find soy beef and soy chicken among six dishes listed under "vegetarian cuisine."

I called Zen Kitchen in Teaneck, but was told it only had the soy chicken. So I ordered tangerine soy chicken ($11.75) to be delivered with our usual chicken wings, dumplings, pineapple fried rice and mixed vegetables with fresh garlic. The soy chicken would replace our normal order of  pork spare ribs.

Me and my wife  loved the juicy, chewy textured soy product, which appeared to be battered before it was stir-fried with broccoli in a light sauce, complete with delicious tangerine peel. We will definitely order it again and now we're eager to try soy beef.

The take-out restaurant also prepares Thai and Japanese food, including sushi, and can deliver a whole fish, steamed or fried, to your door.

Zen Kitchen,1443 Queen Anne Road, Teaneck; 
201-837-7322; open seven days

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Famished Frog in Morristown

Cucurbita moschata 'Butternut'.Image via Wikipedia

If you're famished in Morristown, head for The Famished Frog for a quick, tasty and healthy meal.

My lunch, which I ate in about 20 minutes, started with a thick, cream-less soup of butternut squash with a surprising apple finish ($4.99). I followed that with salad Bouchard -- organic greens topped with whole walnuts and a poached, sliced pear in a balsamic dressing ($8.99).  The waiter ground fresh pepper over both soup and salad.

The only negative was a roll on my salad plate that seemed only half-baked, but was good enough to soak up the last bit of dressing.

I wasn't charged for two seltzers with lime wedges. I was in such a rush I didn't notice the restaurant offers $6 lunches.

The Famished Frog, 18 Washington Ave., 
Morristown; 973-540-9601
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Shopping and cooking notes

{{en|Marinated Korean BBQ == Licensing: == Cat...

Besides the free-range, grass-fed Australian beef I went for, I had hoped to pick up a few other things on my trip to the ShopRite in Rochelle Park yesterday, but prices were all over the place.

As I walked into the store, I saw a stack of boxes with clementines, not from Spain but from Morocco, for a low $4.99 with a store card. But not far away, a 2-pound package of the elusive herbicide-free Campari tomatoes were priced at  $7.99 -- $4 a pound. I just stared at the price sign in disbelief. I did pick up two pointy cantaloupes from Guatemala for $3.

The Australian whole tenderloin for filet mignon was on sale for $4.99 a pound with a store card, but I couldn't find any that weighed more than 4.6 pounds, even though the sales circular said average weight was 6 pounds to 8 pounds. It's sold under the Nature's Reserve label. Next to it, the same cut of beef marked USDA Select -- the lowest of three U.S. government grades -- was on sale for $6.99 a pound. Why is free-range, grass-fed beef selling for $2 a pound less than conventionally raised beef? The sale ends Saturday.

When I got home, I trimmed as much fat as possible from the tenderloin, sliced it thin and divided it among three freezer bags, pouring on Korean bulgogi marinade (it looked similar to what is shown in photo above). They went into the freezer, enough for three meals of Korean barbecue at home with rice, red-leaf lettuce for wrapping and store-bought side dishes.

Then I prepared dinner -- spaghetti with sardines. This is not the classic Italian recipe of  pasta con sarde, which uses a tomato-less sauce . This is a thrown together recipe that takes only the time needed to boil the pasta.

I used three cans of Moroccan sardines in tomato sauce I bought at Fattal's Bakery in Paterson for 89 cents a can (Fattal's has the best sardine prices around). The sardines have no oil, so I poured three or four ounces of extra-virgin oilive oil over the fish in the pan, then added about a cup and a half of  leftover marinara sauce, dried Italian seasoning, basil and oregano, and red pepper flakes. Meanwhile, I boiled a half-pound of thick spaghetti.

With a big salad of organic salad greens, bread and Italian red wine, it was a satisfying, meatless meal, but I should have made more spaghetti, my 12-year-old son said.

ShopRite of Rochelle Park, 220 W. Passaic St.;
(201) 843-1424; open 24 hours.

Fattal's Bakery, 975 Main St.; (973) 742-7125;
Paterson; open seven days.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Two more meatless meals

Canned sardines in salt waterImage via Wikipedia

Tonight, I plan to serve my wife and son spaghetti with sardines in tomato sauce as a follow-up to last night's meal -- one of Jerry's Neapolitan pizzas with a big salad and Italian red wine.

We're trying to cut down on our consumption of beef, but we're not giving it up altogether. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm heading to the ShopRite in Rochelle Park today to buy an Australian whole beef tenderloin for filet mignon -- on sale for $4.99 a pound with a store card. The cattle are free range and grass fed, and raised without antibiotics and growth hormones.

I'll trim the fat, slice this beef  thin and store it in freezer bags with Korean bulgogi marinade from H Mart. Then, we'll be able to enjoy Korean barbecue at home without having to fret over the mystery meat most restaurants serve for cooking on the table.

And Sunday night at home, we did enjoy Australian shoulder lamb chops I bought at Pathmark for under $3 a pound. I served them with mashed potatoes and sauteed broccoli.
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Sunday, December 6, 2009

With food like this, who needs meat?

Kimchi Soft-Tofu Soup (김치순두부)

The crunch of spicy cabbage and cucumber slices. The bubbling broth cooking a freshly cracked egg. The simply steamed rice, a foil for a stew of soft tofu and red pepper.

These are the elements in a meal of Korean comfort  food that is loved by people of all ages. It's also one of my favorite alternatives to meat. Last night, we enjoyed soft-tofu stews and kimchi side dishes at So Gong Dong in Palisades Park after realizing a Korean fried chicken place we had our hearts set on was takeout only.

"It's good for you and it tastes so good," my 12-year-old son Roshane says. "I wouldn't mind eating tofu every day."

We had set out for another North Jersey branch of BBQ Chicken after getting fed up with the slow service the last time we visited BBQ Chicken & Beer in Cliffside Park, where we love the spicy, twice-fried  chicken wings and drumsticks, and the broiled roasted-pepper thighs. But when we saw that it was takeout, we immediately drove over to the second-floor tofu restaurant.

I ordered the oyster tofu stew "more spicy" from the scale listed on the place-mat menu. One of the things I love about the meal is breaking the soft-boiled egg yolk over the steamed rice and eating them together. The complete meal is $10, including tax. When I started eating it a decade ago, it cost $7.

Before we left, my wife ordered another meal to go, so she can take it for lunch next week.

Restaurant So Gong Dong, 118 Broad Ave.,
Palisades Park; 201-313-5550.

BBQ Chicken (takeout), 10 E. Edsall Blvd.,
Palisades Park; 201-461-0201.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Strategies for avoiding beef

For the past month, we haven't knowingly eaten beef in a restaurant or at home, as we try to boost our already large intake of fish, pasta, vegetables and fruit.

We haven't been able to give up poultry, though, and rely on antibiotic-free chicken or turkey for home-cooked meals at least once a week. And we have had a couple of meals of naturally raised Australian lamb. But we also have had dinners of falafel and cheese-and-spinach ravioli, and try to eat a salad with every meal. We don't eat dessert, preferring fresh and dried fruit and nuts, though we occasionally eat sweet rice cakes or other cakes stuffed with red bean paste (Korean or Japanese).

Only my wife's and son's complaints prevent me from preparing pasta two times a week. And I usually have to serve it with drug-free chicken meatballs or sausage I get at Costco.

Having said all this, I did notice today that ShopRite will be putting on sale free-range, grass-fed whole beef tenderloin from Australia, for $4.99 a pound with a store card, from Dec. 6-12 at  the Rochelle Park, Paramus and Englewood stores. Average weight is 6 to 8 pounds. We have bought this beef in the past to prepare Korean barbecue, which used to be one of my son's favorite meals.

Daifuku filled with red bean pasteImage via Wikipedia
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Friday, December 4, 2009

A healthy, filling seafood meal

Red Snapper on cutting board

In one visit to H Mart in Little Ferry yesterday, I picked up fresh red snapper and blue crabs and two prepared fish dishes to make a bountiful meal for my family.

The seafood meal helped us to avoid beef  for another day. Both my wife and son say they want to eat less meat, including goat, oxtail and pork.

I had the fishmonger clean and cut up the wild-caught red snapper into small steaks, with the head and tail, and cooked them in a soup of cheap sake, soy and fish sauces, rice wine and vinegar. I poured the excess sauce over Hong Kong-style spinach noodles I boiled. The crabs, which snapped at my tongs in the store, were boiled separately in seasoned water with hot pepper. I also blanched and sauteed fresh collard greens left over from Thanksgiving.

Our appetizers were prepared whiting two ways: Korean-style pancakes and chunks of the small fish stewed with hot and sweet peppers. It was a great meal.

H Mart, 260 Bergen Turnpike, Little Ferry; 201-814-0400;
open seven days.

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