Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pacing around with no food shopping to do

Despite all the little details you have to attend to before vacation, one thing you don't have to do much of is food shopping. You'll want half-gallons of milk and orange juice with sell-by dates of a week or so after you return and not much else in the way of fresh stuff.

My wife stopped at ShopRite this week for Applegate Farms cold cuts (no antibiotics, hormones or other additives), some salad greens and some fruit, and at Balthazar Bakery for the baguettes we'll use to make sliced ham, chicken and turkey sandwiches for the first day of our road trip. I'll go to Costco tomorrow for bottled water to keep in the car and smoked wild salmon I'll stow away for our return.

What I really miss when we go away are the familiar foods, familiar takeout and familiar restaurants. When we returned from Barnegat Light the other day, I enjoyed a light dinner of the wild Copper River salmon I had cooked several days before, straight from the frig, with some tuna-sardine salad (extra-virgin olive oil, chopped red onion, cumin), kimchi, olives and pita. With the first bite, I knew I was home.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More on Shish! at Whole Foods Market

Here is Jason Perlow's beautifully illustrated post about Shish!, one of the food stands at Whole Foods Market in Paramus, that appears on his Off The Broiler blog. I joined him the day he eat there:

Why I never eat fast food

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, my mother put a great, homemade, kosher meal on the table every night, including a plate of cut and washed lettuce, cucumbers and celery. In 1958, she self-published a cookbook. We rarely ate out and takeout was limited to bagels or an occasional coal-oven cheese pizza from Coney Island, part of our weekly meatless meal. We also ate fresh fish that I picked up at a local market every Friday.

I ate forbidden bacon for the first time at a Key Club convention in upstate New York and non-kosher steak and hamburgers while I was a graduate student in journalism in Missouri in the late 1960s. As a general assignment reporter in Hackensack, I sometimes started my day with an Egg McMuffin. But I am proud to say I have never eaten a McDonald's or Burger King hamburger and the one time I tried a burger at a new Wendy's in Paterson in the early 1980s, I got sick the next day.

Now, the local daily newspaper has published a promotional column and two stories about the opening of a fast-food Sonic Drive-In in Hasbrouck Heights that proved so popular on the first day that employees had to wave off cars. For the record, far more people flocked to Whole Foods and Fairway to buy high-quality food when they opened new markets this year in North Jersey.

There is a growing body of evidence that some ground meat used for fast-food hamburgers contains cow feces -- in other words, customers are literally eating shit. None of the food served in fast-food restaurants could even remotely compare to the Sephardic dishes I grew up eating, dishes I continue to long for.

If I want a burger, I buy organic or grass-fed ground beef and make it myself, adding spices that are used in Middle Eastern kebabs. And I continue to dream of my mother's small meat-and-egg omelets that I used to pop into fresh pita halves. In the summer, this sandwich needed only a thick slice of Jersey beefsteak tomato to make a satisfying meal. (This post was revised.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Blessing of the fishing fleet at Barnegat Light

The Fishery (2015).

On Sunday, we attended the blessing of the commercial and recreational fishing fleets at Barnegat Light, famed for its lighthouse and its fresh seafood, including bluefin tuna exported to Japan and monkfish sold in South Korea. 

You can also find fish and scallops from this old port on the ice at Whole Foods Market in Paramus.

The image of the shore town's lighthouse is found everywhere, from the paving stones in a resi
dent's driveway to the striking blue stained-glass windows of St. Peter's at the Light Episcopal Church, which had an Evensong service by the Valley Forge Choir of Men and Boys. 

Unfortunately, a thunderstorm blew in during the blessing of the fleet at the yacht basin, sending everyone scattering to their cars and cancelling the procession of boats through the inlet.

We did takeout from Viking Fresh Off the Hook, including the delicious sea scallops the port is known for, and ate our food at Minerva's, the B&B where we spent the night. 

On the way home Monday, we stopped at The Fishery on Route 35 in South Amboy for a lunch of lobster bisque, clam chowder, steamed Jersey clams and colossal wild shrimp (six to a pound).


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cashing in on your love for food

Two credit cards from American Express give you cash back when you shop at supermarkets and eat in restaurants. Neither has an annual fee. I have collected thousands of dollars in cash rebates. I once used a Continental Airlines mileage credit card, but found booking the seats difficult or impossible.

The Blue Cash card from American Express gives you 5% back for purchases at supermarkets, gasoline stations and pharmacies once you've spent $6,500 on the card. For purchases at Costco, you get 1.5% back. All other purchases give you 1.5% back, not the usual 1%.

The True Earnings card, which is also a Costco card, gives you 3% back on restaurant meals, 2% on hotels and rental cars, and 1% everywhere else, including Costco. If you are an executive member at Costco ($100 annual fee), you'll get another 2% back from the warehouse store. Yesterday, I received $167.66 from Costco. Bon apetit!

(The original post described the second card incorrectly as the True Value card.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Eat at home after you see this movie

"Food Inc.," a new documentary in limited release, sounds like a real stomach-turner, a "horrifying dissection of the U.S. food industry, where corporate-owned, massed-produced and chemically enhanced edibles can be unhealthy at best and deadly at worst," according to The Associated Press review.

Here's only one of the sickening images mentioned in the review: Chickens "so puffed up with antibiotics, they collapse under the weight of their breasts and die before they can be slaughtered." Food industry behemoths like Tyson and Perdue, which feed their chickens antibiotics, wouldn't speak for the film.

The film review appears today in the entertainment section of the local daily newspaper, a half-dozen pages or so from coverage of restaurant openings and closings, reviews and health inspections. I wonder how many readers will notice that those reports rarely discuss the origin and quality of the food, including the use of antibiotics, growth hormones and other additives in meat and poultry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Does the good stuff go on sale?

The free-range, grass-fed Australian beef I bought the other day for $2.99 a pound at ShopRite is the rare instance where meat or poultry that is raised naturally sells for less than the ordinary stuff (see earlier post, "Fire sale on free-range beef") .

You always see Perdue or Tyson chicken on sale, but except for an occasional, in-store "manager's special," you won't see lower prices for drug-free Readington Farms poultry. Whole Foods puts its drug- and hormone-free steaks on sale for $9.99 a pound (this week, it's rib eye), compared to $12.99 normally. But Fairway's sale price for ordinary rib eye is about half that.

ShopRite does cut prices for free-range Australian beef and lamb, so those producers may feel that's the only way they can get and keep a foothold in the U.S. But most people seem to judge poultry on price alone. Deceptive TV advertising doesn't help. The chicken listed in the local daily newspaper's Marketbasket survey is Perdue. In fact, the newspaper's survey completely omits organic and antibiotic-free foods.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Getting your goat at Fairway Market

Fairway Market's Harlem store has been a reliable source for the meat my wife uses in her curry goat. The pieces have more meat than bone and they are reasonably priced at $2.29 a pound. I went to Fairway's Paramus store yesterday in search of some and was told goat meat was dropped for lack of demand (the store opened at the end of March).

I don't know anything about this meat, where it comes from or how the goats are raised. Goat meat sold by the halal places in Paterson costs a lot more. Food Fair, a new ethnic supermarket that opened in the Silk City, is selling goat meat for $1.79 a pound. I can't imagine where that stuff comes from. Food Fair also sells boneless salted cod for $4.49 a pound, compared to $8.99 at Fairway and $9.99 at ShopRite.

I'll have to visit Food Fair and perhaps add it to the list of stores we rely on for food: ShopRite, H-Mart, Fairway Market, Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's.

Chicken taste test: Murray's v. Readington Farms

Picture of Fairway Market - Paramus Location, ...Opening day at Fairway Market in Paramus. Image via Wikipedia

Since Fairway Market opened in Paramus in March, I have been buying and preparing Murray's free-roaming, drug-free, bone-in chicken at home instead of ShopRite's Readington Farms brand, which is also antibiotic-free and fed an all-vegetable diet. Murray's is priced a bit higher.

I usually get leg quarters and roast them with cinnamon and allspice, serving the pieces with rice or pasta cooked in the chicken fat and chicken broth. 

Or I bread the pieces in chili spices before baking them. My wife prepares jerk chicken wings or legs or chicken in a brown sauce. 

The other day, she said she doesn't like Murray's chicken as much as the Readington Farms poultry.

So now I'm buying Readington Farms again and will conduct a side-by-side-comparison sometime in the future. 

Last night, we had Readington Farms wings and leg quarters coated in chili spices (you take breadcrumbs, combine them with the spices and salt in Wick Fowler's 2-Alarm Chili Kit, except for the masa flour, and add sesame seeds and any other spices you might want, then wet the chicken before breading). 

I make a lot of the spicy breading at one time and keep it in the fridge.

Besides tasting better and being better for you than ordinary supermarket chicken like Perdue, drug-free chicken cooks faster.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fire sale on free-range beef

I rushed out at 8 this morning, without a shower or breakfast, to the ShopRite in Rochelle Park for the sale on free-range, grass-fed beef from Australia for only $2.99 a pound with a Price Plus Card or $4.99 a pound without. This beef is raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and sold under the Nature's Reserve label.

This actually was a fire sale on surf and turf, because live lobsters were going for $4.99 a pound with the Price Plus Card. I picked up three for dinner tonight, all just under 2 pounds each. Sale prices are good until June 20.

The whole beef tenderloin I bought weighs 4.57 pounds and is irregularly shaped, so I'll be able to get some filet mignon steaks from the thick end. I'll cut the rest as thin as possible, place the meat in freezer bags with Korean bulgogi marinade and use it over the next few months to prepare a barbecue meal at home, wrapping the cooked meat in red-leaf lettuce leaves and serving it with rice, kimchi, sliced garlic and an egg souffle.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Podcast on the North Jersey food scene

After sampling the Middle Eastern fare at Whole Foods' Paramus store on Friday, I discussed additive-free food, food shopping, favorite Korean and Middle Eastern restaurants and other topics with Jason Perlow, the food lover behind the Off The Broiler blog. Click on the following link, or if that doesn't work paste and cut it into your browser:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sampling Middle Eastern food at Whole Foods

I sampled the Middle Eastern food at Whole Foods in Parmaus today with Jason and Rachel Perlow, and we all came away disappointed. The food served at the stand called Shish! looked a lot better than it was.

We tried the turkey, beef and lamb shawarma, but the meats were dry. Whole Foods gets points for using good ingredients, raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, but loses points in the execution. Items that should be spicy, such as the muhammara dip, were mild. We couldn't taste garlic, lemon or cumin in most of the food.

Jason, the food lover behind the Off The Broiler blog, also didn't care for the falafel. I had one falafel a few days ago and the tahini sauce I asked for helped a great deal.

Although the Paramus store is convenient, Shish! can't compete with Joeyness Cafe in Fort Lee or any of the storefronts slinging falafel in Paterson and declaring theirs the world's best.

North Jersey's pita bread wars

I have been eating pita bread all my life and can recall the enterprising salesman who hawked bread baked in Brooklyn from a baby carriage he pushed through the sun-splashed streets when we summered in Bradley Beach, part of the annual migration of Sephardic Jews. We called it Syrian bread back then and the loaves were a foot across.

When I moved to North Jersey three decades ago, I naturally gravitated to the Middle Eastern food bazaar in the South Paterson section of Paterson that straddles the Clifton border. As the years passed, great pita bread bakeries came and went, including Amir's, which formed the bread by hand and turned out a deliciously chewy loaf that stood up to stuffing with meat, salad, hummus and whatever else you could cram into it. In those days, no preservatives were used -- just flour, yeast, water and salt.

Today, only a few bakeries in Paterson sell the bread, including Fattal's and Nouri's. But for a decade or more, I have noticed a preference at some restaurants for the thinner, Lebanese-style pita over the slightly thicker Syrian-style loaf. No big deal you would think, but some Lebanese restaurants refused to buy freshly baked local pita and served thinner bread imported from Canada that often was cardboardy and didn't stand up to stuffing with food.

Fattal's loaf, although it is no longer baked in Paterson, has been my preferred bread since Amir's handmade, preservative-free, Lebanese-stlye pita disappeared. Despite the addition of calcium propionate to retard spoilage, Fattal's pita is pliable and stands up well to heating in the toaster. (Calcium propionate is an organic salt that inhibits the growth of mold and is considered one of the safest food additives, according to

This week, I purchased a bag of Nouri's pita and found it is thinner and doesn't heat as well or stand up as well to stuffing. And since any meal can be eaten stuffed into pita, a pita you can't stuff is a pita you don't want.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bitten hard by the food-shopping bug

In trying to cut down on our food shopping, I went without pita and hummus for more than a week and kept my vow to visit Costco only once a week. But on my trip to the warehouse store this afternoon, there was no Copper River wild salmon under the sign, meaning I will have to return tomorrow or go elsewhere for fresh fish.

I finally broke down and drove to Paterson yesterday, buying bread and other items at Fattal's, Nouri's and Taskin, a Turkish bakery. I haven't been to Nouri's for more than 10 years and found that prices at this longtime rival of Fattal's seem to be lower. When I got home and looked closely at the pita I purchased at both bakeries, I saw that a dozen medium-size pitas from Nouri's ($1.35) weighed 2 ounces less than a dozen from Fattal's ($1.50). Indeed, Nouri's bread is thinner.

At Fattal's, I picked up fragrant meat pies; small, pickled eggplants I had first mistaken for large olives, Moroccan sardines in spicy oil (99 cents a can); and canned hummus from Lebanon ($1.09). At Nouri's, I found fresh za'atar bread, olive oil soap ($1.19), apricots that I roast with chicken ($3.29 a pound) and a pound of sumac to sprinkle on salads (at home, I asked myself, why do you need a pound of sumac?).

At Taskin, the bread is large, thick and fluffy, so I picked up a regular loaf and one of whole wheat. I also bought borek, a thick tube of bread dough filled with seasoned potato. Taskin was out of cheese borek and cheese and spinach, so I was told to call next time and have some put aside.

No end to the New York attitude

The local daily newspaper brings word that an employee of New York-based Fairway Market has written a book about "the Glickberg family's market empire." (Since when do five stores make an empire?) I have been shopping at the new Fairway in Paramus, which is more convenient than the Harlem store I used to visit periodically, but do the owners really expect me to have any interest at all in reading a book about them?

And just a few days ago, a Fairway flier announced its 76th anniversary sale and showed Howie and Dan Glickberg, the 3rd- and 4th-generation owners, respectively. (I find it curious they are pictured with their arms folded across their chests. Isn't that a little defensive?)

"WE'RE GIVING IT ALL AWAY," the flier declares in capital letters. Who are they trying to kid? An example of the sale prices, good until June 12, is $6.99 a pound for USDA prime rib steak or roast. Now that's a good price, but do you really want to eat beef that is probably filled with antibiotics and growth hormones and was raised on feed containing animal by-products (bits of dead animals), when for a few dollars more you can get drug- and hormone-free steak raised on vegetarian feed at Whole Foods?

Kind words from another food lover

I've been a loyal fan of Jason Perlow's food observations for many years, first at the eGullet Society and later at his own blog, Off The Broiler ( Now Jason's written a review of my blog that I'd like to share. Don't forget to take a thorough look at his site. Jason travels a lot and seems to find the greatest places to eat all over the U.S. I regularly print out his reviews and take them with me. Here's Jason's review:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Learning a thing or two at Whole Foods

I went to Whole Foods in Paramus to shop the meat sale today and discovered it stocks 100% grass-fed beef from New Jersey and it is a great alternative to South Paterson for a quick Middle Eastern lunch.

After I picked up drug- and hormone-free sirloin steak ($7.99 a pound) and bone-in pork chops ($4.99 a pound), I looked over the other items in the butcher's case, likely the widest selection in North Jersey of meat from animals raised on vegetarian feed and without antibiotics and growth hormones. I was surprised to see 100% grass-fed sirloin from Skillman, N.J., for only a couple of dollars more than the sale steak.

The store was fairly empty so I also was able to look more closely at the lunch fare offered by the food stands, including Shish! My mouth started to water. The falafel platter, with bread and two side dishes, was only $7.99. The man behind the counter offered me a freshly fried falafel with tahini. It was terrific. The stand has shawarma, salads and dips (today, I saw vegan hummus).

Now that I've sworn off the all-you-can-eat lunch at Angelina's in Hackensack -- even if I have a two-for-one coupon -- a lunch of falafel or turkey shawarma is very appealing.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Smoked wild salmon comparison

English: Illustration of various salmon
Image via Wikipedia

If you're looking for an alternative to Costco's 1-pound package of smoked wild salmon, you might not find it at Trader Joe's. 

I bought a 4-ounce package of smoked wild coho salmon from Trader Joe's and found I didn't like its pale color and smoky taste. Neither has preservatives.

Costco uses sockeye salmon to Trader Joe's coho ($3.99 for 4 ounces). That obviously makes a difference in color if nothing else. You can also taste Costco's salmon, not just smoke. 

You'll pay $13.99 a pound for Costco's Alaskan salmon or the equivalent of nearly $16 a pound for Trader Joe's Pacific salmon.

Last year, I tried Trader Joe's smoked wild king salmon, which comes from much bigger fish, and found it way too salty.

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Last wild salmon of the week

After our first dinner of Copper River wild salmon on Tuesday, I put the five leftover cooked pieces in the refrigerator. My son had one in a sandwich the next day. I finished the last one today.

In late morning, I put a fistful of pre-washed organic spring mix on a dinner plate, the bed for the last fillet and some tuna fish salad (extra virgin olive oil, scallions and cumin). I added slices of tomato and cucumber, showered the plate in fresh lemon juice and added more cumin and some za'atar, a spice mixture containing thyme, wild sumac, oregano, marjoram, salt and sesame seeds. 

Two slices of toast and hot tea completed the meal.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Delicious but controversial

You wouldn't think something as delicious as fresh wild Alaskan salmon would be controversial, but when it comes to Copper River salmon, there seems to be as many opinions as there are fish trying to swim upstream to spawn.

When the Seattle (Wash.) Times speculated May 14 that prices for Copper River salmon were expected to be $15 to $35 a pound this year, compared to a maximum of $50 a pound last year, readers let loose. One, who said he is a native Alaskan, claimed there is absolutely no difference between salmon from the Copper River and other rivers. Others say Copper River fish have superior fat content, referring to beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids.

Costco's price of $9.99 a pound for Copper River sockeye salmon is even more amazing when you look at mail order prices -- $20.95 to $24.95 a pound, plus shipping, higher for fillets from the much larger king salmon. SeaBear, one of the mail order places, says the "raging, 300-mile" river is fed by Copper Glacier and is "one of the most pristine places on earth." 

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Copper River salmon and Costco: Perfect together

On my weekly visit to Costco in Hackensack today, I found fresh wild sockeye salmon from the Copper River in Alaska for an unbeatable price, $9.99 a pound. I read that a seafood restaurant in Bergen County is charging $36 for a portion of this glorious fish.

My wife was wowed by the color -- a deep pink-orange that makes artificially colored farmed salmon seem even paler than it is. And all of us were bowled over by the taste. I cooked mine for barely nine minutes in a 350-degree oven and the rare fish just melted in my mouth. The portions for my wife and son were baked for about 12-13 minutes and they were moist and delicious.

I bought a 2.3 pound fillet and cut it into eight portions. I did three with a herbed seafood  rub (Costco) and the rest with salt, Aleppo red pepper and chopped parsley from the garden. The five portions left will go into my daily breakfast fish sandwich -- with homemade low-fat yogurt cheese, organic spring mix, tomato with za'atar and a slice or two of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Now that's good eating.

Last year, Costco kept the fresh wild salmon coming right into September, so I plan to prepare it through the summer.