Monday, August 31, 2009

The all-inclusive hotel's food trap

I just returned from six nights at an all-inclusive hotel on the beautiful island of Jamaica and I have a lot to say about the food and service.

All meals, juices, soft drinks, beer and liquor are included in the room rate at the RIU Montego Bay Hotel, but the waiters and bartenders don't pour champagne or cognac, and there is no free-range beef or Caribbean lobster on the menu. Meals are served buffet style in four restaurants, two of which require reservations.

RIU is a Spanish hotel company with three resorts in Jamaica. The Montego Bay hotel has nearly 700 rooms. So what's the problem? If you want to explore the island, you'll invariably miss meals you have paid for. If you want to try some of Jamaica's superb jerk chicken, pork or fish, you'll have to go to a nearby jerk centre, because what passes for jerk at the hotel's beach kiosk makes you feel like a jerk for eating it.

Some of the hotel food is very good: marinated white tuna sashimi was a stand-out in the Asian fusion restaurant; intensely sweet mango showed up a number of times, perfect in the morning on your fruit plate or in the evening with cheese and red wine; breakfast always included several freshly blended fruit juices, a big block of goat cheese and such Jamaican dishes as callaloo, a collard-like green sauteed with onions and tomato. In the Rose Hall Restaurant, the carvery offered Jamaican-raised turkey with juicy dark meat.

But there were lots of poorly executed dishes: ackee and saltfish, the breakfast often called the Jamaican national dish, was too salty because the cod hadn't been boiled long enough; cassava in garlic sauce (yuca con mojo) is best left to the Cubans. One night in the Italian specialty restaurant, Little Italy, I ordered risotto with prawns in a seafood sauce. The rice was undercooked and crunched in my mouth and the plate held shrimp, not prawns, and mussels. Most fish served was farmed and imported; I had local fish at only one meal.

Want an espresso? It comes out of a Nescafe machine and tastes horrible. This from a European hotel company that hosts espresso-loving Spaniards, Italians and other Europeans.

One problem is too much variety. What do they do with leftovers? Serve them at the next meal or the next day? You could never be sure. Invariably, you'd see an item on another guest's plate you didn't know was being offered.

On my last night, I took my wife and mother-in-law for dinner at the nearby Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which is smaller and more expensive. My brother-in-law is a chef there. The a la carte menu in the Horizons Restaurant listed appetizers for up to $18 (crab cakes) and entrees for $28 and up. We chose to have the buffet for $45 each, including wine.

The contrast to the RIU buffets was stark: fewer dishes were offered but they were of higher quality: shrimp salad, steamed asparagus, salad greens, marinated mushrooms, hummus, tapanade, imported prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and more. The entrees were roast lamb in a red-wine sauce and two kinds of fish. Desserts included cheeses, carrot cake and creme brulee, as well as flambeed bananas with ice cream.

We were brought a basket of warm olive rolls and the waiter poured me a generous glass of pinot noir, one of several red wines to choose from; at RIU, you got "white" or "red" wine. My brother-in-law offered to make me pasta with seafood for my entree. The waiter brought me a nice bowl of penne with swordfish, fat sea scallops, shrimp and mussels in garlic and oil. Perfect.

I finished my meal with cheese and fruit and the last few sips of that terrific pinot noir.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The original Fairway Market

After dinner at Tasteatery last night, I drove less than a block to Cafasso's Fairway Market at Anderson Avenue and Route 5 in Fort Lee for a look at one of the best small markets in North Jersey (see previous post, "A healthy meal you can sink your teeth into").

I haven't shopped here for two years or more and I miss it. The produce is beautiful. There is a fishmonger and a butcher, and drug-free Bell & Evans chicken. And few stores can match the prepared food, Italian or otherwise. Last night, I noticed baked Jersey beefsteak tomatoes and fillet of sole francese among platters of pasta, vegetables, chicken and meat.

The store has a healthy selection of wine and has had a delivery service to Fort Lee and nearby communities for years. Best of all, it has been doing all of this since 1927. So there should be no confusion with upstart Fairway Market or the Manhattan store's new branch in Paramus.

I bought a wedge of seedless watermelon (49 cents a pound) and noticed the plastic grocery bags have been redesigned. I was baffled when I noticed Cafasso's old slogan is no longer on the bag: "Where U See the Finest Foods." And, yet, the store is better than ever.

A healthy meal you can sink your teeth in

main street of Fort Lee in NJ

The free-range burger at Tasteatery in Fort Lee is everything you could possibly want: built on a roll that doesn't fall apart, from Balthazar Bakery in Englewood, and too fat to fit into your mouth, with beef juices dribbling on the organic salad greens you substituted for fries. The big bonus: no steroids, hormones or antibiotics.

Tasteatery serves burgers in three sizes -- sliders, one-third pound and one-half pound -- and lists eight styles, plus two vegetarian burgers. I had the half-pound West Coast Burger with basil, organic greens, tomato, avocado and hummus ($11.25, plus $1 for the side salad). Even the ketchup is organic.

The restaurant serves fresh, natural food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and says better ingredients yield better taste. I couldn't agree more. It's bare bones, though. You order and pay at the counter, and if it's not busy, an employee will bring the food to your table. You get a cold drink from a cooler.

The owners put most of their effort into sourcing good food: artisanal bread, natural meats, cage-free eggs, organic greens and more. When they opened about two years ago, they were one of the first food places in North Jersey to adopt this healthy approach. Here is the link to their Web site:
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'We're too small, so please throw us back'

Ikea International GroupImage via Wikipedia

As I was plowing my way through 25 or 30 crayfish Friday night at Ikea in Parmaus, I was struck by how, at three to four inches long, they looked just like miniature lobsters. Maybe they refused to grow up, thinking they would be hard to catch or get thrown back. No such luck.

The crayfish party is an end-of-summer ritual in Sweden, where they are washed down with plenty of beer. In the Paramus home-furnishing store, a pamphlet on the dining tables had beer-drinking songs, but the $9.99 all-you-can-eat admission ticket included soft drinks, not beer; Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes, cheese and crackers, and desserts ($2.49 for kids).

Crayfish, also called crawfish, are served hot in New Orleans after cooking and turning red in a spicy, lip-smacking boil. The Swedes boil them and serve them cold -- on ice. Pretty much the only part you eat is the tail, and sucking on the cold bodies returns little flavor. This may explain why there were empty tables.

After two plates of crayfish, I joined the cafeteria line for the free meatballs and mashed potatoes (hold the cream sauce), but I didn't like the texture of the meatballs and started wondering where the meat came from. So I finished my meal with those delicious crayfish tails.
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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Low, low price for wild Alaskan salmon

Fairway Market in Paramus has a sale on wild Alaskan salmon fillet for $6.99 a pound, but this comparatively low price may not be as good as it looks.

Fairway's circular tells you where the fish was caught, but doesn't tell you what kind of salmon is on sale. Is it silverbrite or sockeye, the red-orange fillets Costco has been selling for months at $8.99 a pound? Sockeye has a higher oil content, meaning you get more of those beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. Only king salmon has a higher oil content.

Fairway also is selling USDA prime top round London broil for $2.99 a pound, but this beef doesn't come close in quality to the drug- and hormone-free, free-range, grass-fed Australian beef tenderloin I bought on sale this year with a Price Club Card at ShopRite for the same price. I still have plenty of it in the freezer.

Fairway's sale starts today and ends Aug. 28.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My own seafood festival

I enjoyed fish at every meal on Thursday and I plan to attend an all-you-can-eat crayfish party tonight at Ikea in Paramus. Seafood is often the wisest choice when eating out because there is usually so little information about the origin of poultry and meat on menus.

My breakfast at home Thursday was another fat sandwich of preservative-free smoked wild sockeye salmon from Costco ($13.99 a pound), with hummus, tomato, romaine lettuce and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. This morning, I had the same sandwich, adding homemade pesto and substituting fresh mozzarella.

I was in Morristown on Thursday afternoon and stopped at The Grand Cafe, an elegant place for lunch: moist, flaky baked cod atop garlic mashed potatoes and wild mushrooms, all floating in a broth made from fresh peas ($12.95). Delicious. I soaked up every bit of the broth with crusty rolls. This legendary fish, often salted, feeds many ethnic groups: Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Jamaicans and more.

Back in Hackensack, I visited one of my all-time favorites, Wondee's, for another great Thai dinner: steamed shrimp-and-pork dumplings and steamed whole red snapper, topped with minced red chilies and garlic and swimming in a reddish broth ($16.95). This dish positively glows.

I ate all this wonderful food on a day when the media reported a federal study of mercury pollution in fish taken from nearly 300 streams across the country, but I'm not worried because the wild-caught fish I ate contained little mercury and came from the ocean or in the salmon's case, a river. I looked at the Web site of the U.S. Geological Survey, which released the study, but couldn't find a list of the streams or fish. The link is below.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Now you see it, now you don't

Wouldn't it be great if there was one supermarket with low prices all the time and healthy food, too? Unfortunately, I don't think that will happen in my lifetime, so I have to make the rounds of a half-dozen markets.

Wasn't it only Monday that ShopRite in Rochelle Park had Michigan blueberries for $3.99 a pint and Whole Foods Market in Paramus was selling two pints of Michigan berries for $5 or $2.50 each? (See earlier post, "Which supermarket am I in?")

Today, on the way to the dentist, I returned one and a half pints of the berries to Whole Foods, because they were just too tart to eat, and got a full refund. I walked over to the blueberry display, where the sign now said $3.99 a pint and the fruit was from Nova Scotia (though Michigan still was listed as the origin).

On the way home from the dentist, I stopped at the Rochelle Park ShopRite, where Michigan berries now were $2.50 a pint. I picked up two, telling the woman next to me that they were $3.99 each just two days before, then realized she was a former co-worker whose job was eliminated after 38 years with the company. We did a lot of catching up.

Hunger pangs lead me to free food

Hunger pangs hit me on the way to completing an errand in Englewood around midday yesterday, but I didn't quiet them with a Jamaican patty, a Colombian empanada or a Greek gyro. Instead, I headed over to Jerry's Gourmet & More on South Dean Street to graze on free samples.

The big draws here are full-fat cheeses and spreads, as many as a dozen, the kind I don't buy and bring home because of their high calorie content and impact on my cholesterol. The brie was oozing, there was a big hunk of blue cheese, firm mozzarella (scamorza), several crackers and Jerry's had even put out cornichons (French for gherkins).

Then I headed to the back of the store for a few samples of bread and extra-virgin olive oils. I had hoped there would be a wine-tasting, but an employee was waiting on a customer who was buying by the case. Satisfied, I headed downtown to finish my errand.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cooking for one is no fun

For the past three days, I have been eating black fettuccine with tomato sauce, wild-caught shrimp and arugula that I prepared Sunday night (recipe follows). It's delicious, of course, but with my wife and son away, I am rediscovering how difficult it is to cook for one.

When I was single, I put aside Sunday evenings to cook that day's dinner and four meals for the week ahead. I might roast a chicken and prepare a pound of pasta, diving them into five meals and supplementing them with salad and bread. Friday nights were for takeout and Saturday nights were for my only restaurant meal of the week.

Now that I am married, we cook our five meals individually (until I'm left alone and resort to my old methods).

Black fettuccine for seafood lovers

1 pound wild-caught shrimp
1 can of anchovies in oil
black squid-ink fettuccine, 12 ounces to 16 ounces
1 32-ounce jar of Fairway Market pasta sauce, any variety
large bunch of arugula or basil
red-pepper flakes
dehydrated garlic chips or chopped fresh garlic to taste
Italian seasoning
extra-virgin olive oil

Boil water for pasta, add extra-virgin olive oil to a sautee pan. In a separate pot with lid, heat sauce, anchovies in oil, garlic and Italian seasoning.
Devein and shell shrimp, and season with red-pepper flakes, salt and ground black pepper. Sautee until shrimp curl up and turn pink, turning once. Don't overcook.
The handmade pasta I bought took three to four minutes to cook al dente.
Add drained pasta, shrimp and roughly chopped arugula or basil to pot with sauce and, using tongs, mix well.
Serve with salad, good bread and red wine. Serves four.

Preparation tip: No matter how well I wash arugula, some grit always seems to stay behind. So the next time, I will use fresh basil and plenty of it. You will not taste the anchovies, which dissolve, but they will give your sauce a new dimension.

Squid Ink PastaImage by nhanusek via Flickr

Full refund for overcharge

The ShopRite in Hackensack refunded me the full price I paid for elephant garlic, $3.49, when I returned to the store today and pointed out the sign in the produce section said $2.99 on the day of purchase. It still said $2.99 today. (See earlier post: "Another fast one at ShopRite.")

I had feared I was going to get only 50 cents back and didn't want to make a sepcial trip. But an errand brought me near the store and I had tucked the receipt in my wallet just in case.

I applaud the store for its full-refund policy. The Englewood ShopRite, owned by a different company, used to give full refunds for overcharges, but abandoned the policy years ago.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Which supermarket am I in?

I stopped today at the ShopRite in Rochelle Park to pick up a couple of free-range, grass-fed Australian steaks, which were on sale for $4.99 a pound with a club card. But when I looked at some of the posted prices for produce, I did a double-take. This certainly didn't look like the supermarket that has the rep of being the low-price leader in North Jersey.

The big shocker was a pint of Michigan blueberries for $3.99. I asked an employee stocking a nearby shelf if that was a mistake and he said no. Later, at Whole Foods Market in Paramus, I bought two pints of these blueberries for $5. The Michigan berries are bigger than their Jersey cousins, which I haven't seen in the market for a month or so.

Cantaloupes at ShopRite were two for $5, compared with two for $3 at Fairway Market in Paramus. Northwest cherries were $2.99 a pound vs. $2.49 at Fairway. So I grabbed two packages of boneless shell steaks, sold under the Nature's Reserve label, and made a quit exit.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I chickened out at Fairway Market

Does anyone understand the pricing of chicken parts from Murray's, the drug-free, free-roaming poultry that fills the cases at Fairway Market in Paramus?

My 12-year-old son loves wings and I planned to pick up some during my visit to the Paramus store yesterday. But the price of the family pack was $2.49 a pound, compared with $1.69 a pound for Murray's leg quarters and $1.49 a pound for skin-on drumsticks or thighs. Smaller quantities of Murray's wings are priced higher and they cost even more at the Harlem store.

Shouldn't wings cost less than other parts? They are mostly bone, so you get less meat pound for pound. And Murray's wings are not especially big.

When I've asked Paramus store employees about the higher price of wings, they've invariably said the other parts must be on sale or part of a special promotion. But there is never any indication on the shelves or packages of a sale or promotion. I didn't buy the wings; I didn't want to feel as if I was taken advantage of, I didn't want to feel cheated.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Shopping the sale at Fairway Market

I drove to Fairway Market in the Fashion Center in Paramus in today's heat and humidity, lured by wild-caught jumbo shrimp at $5.99 a pound and fresh mozzarella at $3.99 a pound. But I brought home other good buys: a big bunch of peppery arugula for 99 cents and a cantaloupe for $1.50. Two heads of romaine lettuce were $1.49.

The white shrimp and arugula will pair well in a pasta dish. And I bought some tomatoes -- Jersey beefsteak and on the vine from Canada, both 99 cents a pound -- to go with the fresh, salted cheese, basil from my garden and extra-virgin olive oil as a light dinner with toasted Balthazar Bakery baguette from the freezer.

Other sale items include rotisserie chicken at $4.99, but not the drug-free or organic chicken; and USDA prime boneless sirloin steak at $3.99, labeled "the good stuff," but that boast isn't backed up with any information on how the animal was raised.

I also took a look at the olive selection in Paramus. A half-dozen signs urge customers to:

I guess New York-based Fairway Market doesn't think much of our manners here in New Jersey. Previously, I wrote Fairway olives sold for $6.99 a pound, but today, the Paramus olives were labeled $5.99 a pound. I'll continue to get my olives at Fattal's in Paterson, where most cost $2.99 a pound.

Fairway's sale prices are good through Aug. 21.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Greek restaurant executes fish

A Greek restaurant in Ramsey appears to be lopping off the heads of fresh fish with a guillotine or maybe lining them up in front of a firing squad.

That's what I understood from The Record's report today on Varka Estiatorio, where, the reviewer writes in the data box, the food is "exceptionally executed." I think she meant to say "well-executed," but her copy editor was probably out to lunch.

It's unclear why The Record's Elisa Ung reviewed this restaurant, which has undergone no major changes since the initial, three-star review in 2005, or why it got a three-and-a-half-star rating, despite some poorly prepared dishes, farmed fish for up to $29 a pound, and one of the waiter's dropping a fresh pompano on the floor and then returning it to the display.

Could it be that the restaurant is a regular advertiser and asked for another review after Ung gave three-and-a-half stars in April to a new, competing, Greek fish house in Englewood, Nisi Estiatorio?

The Englewood restaurant charges up to $38 a pound for whole fish (which I thought was outrageous), but the Ramsey fish house has the chutzpah to ask for up to $50 a pound. You should know fish is a cheap commodity -- routinely flown halfway around the world and retailed for well under $10 a pound at Korean fish markets.

But Ung doesn't question the prices, just says they are "high, though justified given the quality of the food." Farmed seafood isn't quality; wild is. Even the sea scallops are farmed, according to her report. There's no explanation why the Ramsey restaurant doesn't serve wild scallops from the fleet at Barnegat Light, which is famous for that shellfish.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Good deals at Trader Joe's in Paramus

If you're willing to brave the insane drivers slashing through traffic on Route 17, you'll find some good buys at Trader Joe's in Paramus.

I stopped for an item I haven't had in my refrigerator for many weeks, Trader Joe's sliced yogurt cheese with jalapenos ($4.69 for 12 ounces). This is one spicy cheese. But I also picked up Applegate Farms drug- and preservative-free, slow-cooked ham ($3.59 for 7 ounces), one of four Applegate Farms cold cuts priced under $4. They are good buys.

You'll also get a good deal on organic, free-range chicken drumsticks at $1.99 a pound, about the same as you'd pay for drug-free chicken that isn't free range or organic. But Trader Joe's 100% whole-grain, whole-wheat bread, at $2.49 a loaf, is 50 cents more than a similar product sold at Costco under the Kirkland label.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Another fast one at ShopRite

The ShopRite in Hackensack pulled another fast one on me today. I needed sweet peppers, an onion and garlic to prepare arroz con pollo with chicken thighs I defrosted, and also picked up lactose-free organic milk and seltzer while I was there.

I glanced at the receipt in the store, but didn't look at it more carefully until I got home, which is where I saw I was charged $3.49 for a head of elephant garlic, not the $2.99 listed on the sign. Mierda! Don't you hate that?

How likely is it that I will be going back there for 50 cents, since it is my least favorite ShopRite? About the only thing it has going for it is that, out of three ShopRites, it is closest to my home -- the reason I went there in the first place.

You've got to watch that wild salmon

I've said more than once that the fresh wild sockeye salmon from Costco will be ready after only 10 to 12 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Last night, the six pieces I cut from a fillet were done in only 8 minutes (medium to medium rare).

This latest fillet likely was thinner than the ones I bought before. So keep your eye on this fish and adjust the cooking time according to the thickness. I seasoned it with salt, cumin, Aleppo red pepper and chopped fresh oregano.

Eight minutes. Just enough time to grab a fistful of pre-washed organic salad greens and dress them with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, warm some bread and pour myself a glass of wine. Here's to good eating.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hungry for a good taco?

After writing about the Rocking Horse Cafe the other day, I couldn't shake my desire for a good soft taco. (See post, "My kind of Mexican food.") I didn't want to go far, so I drove about a mile to Rosa Mexicano in Hackensack for what turned out to be a terrific lunch in a beautiful setting.

I chose the cochinita pibil taco platter, slow-cooked pork shoulder that is shredded and topped with marinated onions. This is a great plate of food, enough for two people to split as an appetizer, and a good value, too ($11.75 at lunch).

The restaurant could call this the Three-Cup Taco. The plate holds a small cast-iron skillet with the pork and cups of red beans and chorizo, fresh corn kernels in mayonnaise and chili de arbol and a spicy salsa. I also got some salad greens, though it would have been more logical to serve fresh cilantro. (When I mentioned this to the waitress after the meal, she said I should have said something.)

I got five or six small, thin, freshly made corn tortillas, which were still warm, and went to town. I placed a small pile of pork and crunchy onions on a tortilla, followed by salsa (I had two others that came with the free chips). Two big bites and the taco was gone. I repeated this until the tortillas were finished and the waitress brought me more, at no extra charge. I washed down my lunch with one of Mexico's great beers, Negra Modelo.

Rosa Mexicano makes everything from scratch and it shows. It serves food that is clearly head and shoulders above every other Mexican place in North Jersey with the possible exception of Mama Mexico in Englewood Cliffs. But I prefer Rosa Mexicano, which stages cooking demonstrations throughout the year and often serves a free breakfast and lunch to the customers who attend.

Of course, what would make Rosa Mexicano perfect would be if its menu told us a little about the origin of the food and how it was grown or raised.

Monday, August 10, 2009

'Why is it so red?'

On my weekly trip to Costco in Hackensack today, I was fishing for another fillet of the fresh, wild sockeye salmon I have been enjoying for a couple of months ($8.99 a pound). "This is really good," I said to the woman next to me, referring to the salmon. "Why is it so red?" she replied.

I pointed to the word "wild" on the sign and tried to explain deep orange-red is the natural color. I don't think I got through to her. Not far away were shrink-wrapped packages of farmed Atlantic salmon whose artificial color is pale by comparison. This is the color people have become used to associating with salmon.

I've read that salmon farmers are shown a color palette and that the feed is then tailored with chemicals to produce the desired color. Wild salmon, on the other hand, get their color from a natural diet of shrimp and krill, which contain beta carotene.

I'll cut my wild salmon fillet into five or six portions; season it with salt, Aleppo red pepper and fresh, chopped oregano; and bake it for 10 to 12 minutes at 350 degrees for medium rare. I can't wait for dinner.

A scary new book on processed food

A friend forwarded this book review in June and I forgot to pass it along. The book is from David Kessler, former head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The review appeared in the New York Post.

More on industrial farms' use of antibiotics

Check out the following link to The Pew Charitable Trusts' Web site on the use of antibiotics in industrial farm animals:

One point it makes is that "70 percent of U.S. antibiotics go to animals raised on industrial farms that aren't sick, to offset crowding and poor sanitation. This practice promotes the development of deadly strains of drug-resistant bacteria that can spread to humans."

Something to keep in mind the next time you are shopping for chicken, pork or any other meat in your favorite supermarket and are drawn by the low prices on products from Perdue and Tyson, and meat producers you can't identify because of a store-labeled package.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Going to the farm for a nice lunch

I visited Abma's Farm & Market on Saturday afternoon for Taste of the Farm Day, when all the food served was grown on the farm in Wyckoff. I was especially interested in the pig roast, because the animals are raised naturally. Prices were reasonable.

For lunch, which I ate at a picnic table under a tent, I bought a small pulled-pork sandwich ($1), a vegetable kabob ($1), an ear of bi-color corn in its charred husk ($1) and farm-made lemonade ($2). After I finished and walked around looking at the animals and rows of vegetables, I purchased six pork ribs to go ($1 each) and two more ears of corn (the first ear was the first corn I have had this summer that was sweet), placing them in a free Abma's Farm re-usable bag. Suggestion to Abma's: season the vegetables.

At the farm store, I bought salad greens and an herb garden, an oval pot with five herbs. There was more than enough basil to make a batch of pesto when I got home (see recipe, "Spread that pesto nice and thick").

Thumbs up to Abma's for the quality of the food at such reasonable prices and free samples of roasted beets and vegetables. Thumbs down to Abma's for having two pigs roasting in plain view, with the sun glinting off the crackling skin, and not selling the skin to the public. When I asked what happened to the skin, an employee told me it was reserved for the staff. When I asked if I could buy some, she said no.

Abma's obviously knows some people love the crunchy skin as much as the other parts. Please, share the wealth.

Wine-tastings at Jerry's Gourmet

In a previous post about free food samples at Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood, I forgot to mention that the store often has wine-tastings from the extensive selection it has added in recent years (see post, "Slap in the face for Jerry's Gourmet & More").

So you can wash down your samples of cheese, bread, cold cuts and olive oil with a nice red or white wine from Italy or elsewhere. All the more reason Jerry's should have been included by The Record of Hackensack in an article Saturday about free food samples.

Jerry's Gourmet and More, 410 S. Dean St., Englewood; 201-871-7108.
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Saturday, August 8, 2009

What's on sale at ShopRite, Fairway Market

When I open supermarket sale circulars, I notice what's not on sale. Usually, antibiotic- and hormone-free foods are never discounted by ShopRite and Fairway Market, although Whole Foods Markets do a much better job in this regard.

The ShopRite circular for Aug. 9-15 prominently features that lousy Perdue chicken, for as little as 59 cents a pound. This is a case of getting what you pay for: flaccid chicken pumped full of antibiotics to make it grow faster and fatten the wallets of the owners. Packages are invariably marked "All Natural," a cruel joke on consumers. I'm still waiting for a sale on drug-free Readington Farms chicken, which is raised on a vegetarian diet.

At Fairway, USDA Prime shell steak, also known as New York strip, is on sale for $8.99 a pound from Aug. 8-14. Prime is the USDA's top grade, assigned that distinction because it has more fat than Choice or Select ("abundant marbling" is the way the USDA puts it). But the producer is not identified in the circular, so it's safe to assume the animals were confined in a feed-lot and pumped full of grain and hormones to get them to grow faster and get them to market faster. How appetizing is that?

Whole Foods often sells its drug- and hormone-free steaks for a discounted price of $9.99 a pound. And it stocks beef from New Jersey that is 100% grass-fed, considered the most natural way to raise the animals. Naturally raised chicken, pork, lamb -- all of it is on sale regularly -- and Whole Foods has the biggest selection, too.

Slap in the face for Jerry's Gourmet & More

The Record's report today on free samples at food stores omitted any mention of Jerry's Gourmet & More, but included several stores that are far less generous than the Italian specialty store in Englewood, where you can eat free cheese, bread, olive oil and even imported prosciutto to your heart's content.
The newspaper also ran a photo of the olive selection at Fairway Market in Paramus, under a bold headline: "HERE, TRY SOME!" Unfortunately, the olives are the one item in Fairway you can't sample; at least that has been my experience at the Harlem store, which posts stern warnings to that effect. I called the Parmaus store and left my number to find out if the policy is the same in New Jersey. (In any case, I buy my olives at Fattal's in Paterson, where most of them cost $2.99 a pound v. Fairway's $6.99 a pound.)
The Record listed several stores that give out far fewer samples than Jerry's, including Trader Joe's, Whole Foods Markets, Williams-Sonoma and Chef Central, an expensive cookware store. The article also didn't mention Balthazar Bakery in Englewood, where I sampled three items on a visit last Saturday.
Jerry's give-aways are out every day and usually include salami, sweets, bread, toast, olive oil and a dozen cheeses or cheese spreads. One Friday, I was surprised and pleased to see a tangle of expensive prosciutto di Parma near two of the cheese samples. Delizioso!
I don't think The Record spurned Jerry's because it may not advertise much in the newspaper (the market is well-known among food lovers). No. This is just another example of how little The Record's staff knows about the food scene in North Jersey. (See earlier post, "A poor job of food journalism.") 
Jerry's Gourmet and More, 410 S. Dean St., Englewood; 201-871-7108.

Friday, August 7, 2009

U.S. seeks ban on antibiotics in farm animals

Check out this Organic Valley Web site (above), which reviews news about organic food, the use of antibiotics in farm animals and related subjects.

One item, taken from The Washington Post on July 13, 2009, reports that the Obama administration wants to ban antibiotics given to farm animals to make them grow rapidly, in a bid to reduce the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans. The bacteria are resistant to many treatments. Hooray for the Obama administration!

If antibiotics are banned, chicken producers such as Perdue will no longer be lying when they put the words "All Natural" on their product. (Revised Saturday, Aug. 8.)

My kind of Mexican food

Don't remind me of some of the places where I've eaten Mexican food, especially soft tacos, both here and in Mexico. For a rico taquito, I have ignored questionable sanitation and cauldrons of mystery meat slow-cooking in lard. Lengua (tongue), cabeza (head) and other unusual parts make great tacos, I'm told.

So it was a pleasant surprise to take an online glimpse at the menu from Rocking Horse Cafe in Manhattan, an upscale Mexican restaurant that advertises on my food blog. What jumps out is not so much the dishes served, but how the origin of the food is listed, in contrast to most restaurants in North Jersey.

The restaurant serves KNK Farms free-range chicken, hand-made organic tortillas, Niman Ranch natural pork, Hudson Valley duck and Cedar River Farms natural hanger steak. I can't wait to eat there.

If you want great tacos and are willing to overlook a few things, head for one of the Brenda Lee taquerias in the city of Passaic.

Decoration is minimal and it's cash only. You order at the counter from a list of meats. The tacos are served with onions and cilantro -- no fillers like cabbage -- and the cooler has bottles of Mexican soda, which contains sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup. I usually order the carnitas, made with pork. Two salsas are served on the side and the green one is a blend of avocado and jalapeno peppers. A great salsa, a great taco.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

So many fish in the sea

This week, I've been eating a lot of wild-caught fish and enjoying it immensely. I'm thinking I could be very happy on a diet of seafood and hardly touch poultry or meat.

I started off the week with the smoked wild salmon I get from Costco as the main ingredient in my breakfast sandwich, with pesto, sliced tomatoes in za'atar, Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings and fresh arugula.

When that ran out, I tweaked my canned fish salad. Last time, I combined red salmon, sardines and yellowfin tuna. This time, it's albacore tuna, Moroccan sardines from Fattal's (one tin of boneless and skinless and another in spicy oil), smoked herring from Trader Joe's and Japanese-style mackerel. This salad got lots of chopped red onion, some olive oil and teaspoons of powdered cumin, and it's great stuffed into pita halves with organic salad greens and fresh arugula and basil.

Dinner on Tuesday night were those New Zealand Greenshell Mussels with sun-dried tomatoes and pesto (see post, "Here's a natural for dinner"). Last night, I had a fillet of fresh wild halibut from Costco ($10.99 a pound), seasoned with fresh oregano and parsley, cumin and Aleppo pepper. I bought the halibut because there was no wild salmon to be had that day.

Tonight, I'll have leftover mussels and halibut and two freshly baked whiting I picked up today at H Mart in Little Ferry ($2.99 a pound). I'll also have a chunk or two of Korean-style Alaskan pollack ($5.99), stewed in a sweet and spicy sauce with carrots and hot and sweet peppers that I found in the long refrigerated case of side dishes, or panchan.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A new restaurant in South Paterson

Restaurants come and go in South Paterson, the Middle Eastern section of Paterson, and I had a terrific meal at one of them, Aleppo, named for the city in the north of Syria dominated by an old fortress. Two friends joined me for a filling lunch Tuesday before we shopped for pita bread, sardines and za'atar, the spice mixture of thyme and wild sumac. (This restaurant replaces Kafe Teria, one of my favorite Turkish places.)

We started with three appetizers: hummus, muhammara and fried kibbe (filled with ground meat and pine nuts), plus a small salad of diced cucumbers and tomatoes. We also shared an entree, the Aleppo mixed grill: chicken and lamb kabobs and ground-lamb skewers, plus rice, tomato, onion and a hot pepper. The appetizers were great, especially the kibbe, also known as torpedoes, and the poultry and meat in the entree were moist. Muhammara is a hot pepper-and-nut dip that originated in Aleppo, and this version was excellent.

After lunch, we stopped at Fattal's Bakery for pita bread, canned hummus and Moroccan sardines, and at Corrado's Family Affair supermarket for fettuccine with squid ink, ground cheeses and wine. Does any other supermarket have a bread aisle like the one at Corrado's, which carries Italian, Syrian, Turkish and other ethnic breads from two dozen or more bakeries? Our last stop was Taskin, the Turkish bakery, where I picked up two kinds of borek filled with cheese or spinach and cheese.

We couldn't find any place that served small cups of strong Turkish coffee, but noticed a new pastry shop called Sham (Damascus) that looked promising for our next visit.

Here is why Julia Child is irrelevant

A new movie partly inspired by her life is bringing renewed attention to Julia Child, the late and, to some, lamented French television chef and cookbook author. But to me and thousands of others who watch what they eat, her kitchen techniques and her recipes have long been passe.

I am sure there are many people who still eat this way: three courses of cholesterol-laden food, including gooey desserts, all made with large quantities of butter and heavy cream. I not only gave up cooking with butter or cream 15 to 20 years ago, but devote most of my time and energy to finding pure ingredients and then cooking them as quickly and simply as possible. How many people spend an hour or two preparing dinner? How many use recipes with a dozen or more steps and a list of ingredients as long as your arm?

Mine is the Mediterranean diet: heavy on fish, fruit, vegetables and olive oil. I drink a glass of wine with dinner two or three days a week. A salad and great bread must be part of my meal. My idea of dessert is low-fat organic yogurt with honey.

Who needs Julia Child?

I only have to look at my mother, who spent hours in the kitchen every day and put a great meal on the table every night, while withstanding my father's third-degree on the whereabouts of leftovers. A meatless meal and another of fish were weekly occurrences. She didn't mix meat and milk because we observed the kosher laws.

A plate of cut lettuce, cucumbers and celery was placed on the table every day or we had a big salad. She made her own string cheese and baklava. And starting in 1958, she self-published a cookbook of her Sephardic recipes, following up with two new editions. In short, I only have to look at the life of Grace Sasson if I need to be inspired about food.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Here's a natural for dinner

Have you tried mussels from New Zealand, the ones with the green shells? I unearthed a box from my freezer the other night and prepared them for dinner Monday. I remember buying them at H-Mart in Little Ferry.

I searched and searched the copy on the box, but could not find anything that said they were fully cooked. Yet, the instructions said they would need only 5 minutes under the broiler. So I added chopped sun-dried tomatoes to some, pesto to others and both to the rest, about two dozen in all. They were delicious and needed only a big salad to make a satisfying dinner.

These mussels are farmed and I usually try to avoid farmed seafood. But when I looked at the Web site of the New Zealand Greenshell Mussel, it said no additives are used. "In respect to the environment, New Zealand Greenshell Mussel farming is cleaner and greener than organic gardening."

I've always loved this shellfish, from the days I hopped from one tapas bar to another in Spain, where the mussels are enormous. I first encountered the New Zealand green-lip mussel in the 1970s, in a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. I liked them so much, I went back the next night for more.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Comparing supermarkets

If you want to shop right at ShopRite, you'll have to pick the right store. With three ShopRites within 6 miles of my home, that hasn't always been easy.

The ShopRite in Englewood, where I lived for more than 25 years, is the smallest of the three, but carries more of the products I look for when food shopping. The ShopRite in Rochelle Park, though larger, often disappoints when I'm looking for Readington Farms drug-free chicken and doesn't carry the Certified Angus Beef Natural line. The ShopRite in Hackensack, which is closest to me, doesn't seem well-run and doesn't run a sale as often as the Englewood store. Rather than go there, I'd keep driving to the H-Mart, the Korean supermarket at the Little Ferry Circle.

The Englewood store is the only one of the three to carry the Applegate Farms line of preservative-free cold cuts and Certified Angus Beef Natural, which is antibiotic- and hormone-free. On Saturday, I saw London broil and ground beef. It also has the largest selection of Readington Farms vegetarian-fed chicken.

Rochelle Park's strong suit is produce -- large bunches of arugula for 98 cents each and Jersey peaches for 99 cents a pound. But it had a 1-pound container of Campari tomatoes for $4.99, twice the price as elsewhere, and a pound of Olivia's organic spring mix for $6.99 v. Costco's price, $4.49 for Earthbound Farm. On Sunday, a sign said two bunches of arugula or watercress were $4, which seemed high, but the two arugula bunches rang up for $1.99. Basil was $1.49 a bunch, but a few days before, it was $1.69. Go figure.

Still, all the ShopRite stores have sold me more produce that never ripened or rotted overnight, because of poor storage, than I care to remember.

All three stores often fail me when I'm in search of Australian free-range lamb, especially the moderately priced shoulder chops. And the availability of Nature's Reserve free-range steaks from Australia is spotty. I stopped buying fish at ShopRite after an employee in Rochelle Park told me he sprayed it with a preservative. I do buy live lobsters there. (Revised Tuesday, Aug. 4.)
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Another good seasonal salad

I don't plan to work my way through all 101 salads from The Times (see previous posts). But I went out Sunday and bought fresh arugula to try salad No. 7:

"Cook whole grape tomatoes in olive oil over high heat until they brown slightly, sprinkling with curry powder. Cool a bit, then toss with chopped arugula, loads of chopped mint and lime juice."

I washed the tomatoes in their container, drained them and added them to the skillet, but there was a good deal of splattering from water droplets. I also was impatient and added them to the arugula and mint when they were still fairly warm, drizzling all with some oil-lemon blend and fresh lemon juice. So what I got was a wilted salad in a pool of curry.

I ate the salad with my dinner of four leftover free-range, lollipop-like Australian lamb chops, straight from the fridge, and soaked up the curry pool with thick, Turkish pide bread I had warmed in the oven. Yummy.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A poor job of food journalism

The Record of Hackensack carried a column today by its restaurant reviewer, Elisa Ung, who criticizes "silly cliches" on menus. In a previous column, Ung highlighted typos, misspellings and other language problems on the menus of the places she has reviewed.

Unfortunately, her supervising editor and copy editors do a poor job of catching and fixing the typos, errors and wordy prose in her own columns and stories. In a restaurant review data box this past Friday, she listed $21.95 as the top price for entrees, but panned a paella for two at $41.95. On June 5, she noted "a casual relaxation from an easy dinner out." Once, she said a room in a restaurant was "chandelier-clad." In a story about Bobby Flay's hamburger restaurant in Paramus, she was just plain wrong on the type of ground beef used.

Ung is a woman in her 30s who demonstrates her limited knowledge of food and language with every column she writes. Rarely does she discuss how menus omit the origin of food and whether poultry and meat were raised with antibiotics and growth hormones. It is no longer enough to say a steak tastes good and was cooked to a customer's order. What I and many others want to know is whether the animal was 100% grass fed or confined in a feed lot and given grain, animal by-products and hormones to speed up its growth. And we also want to know whether the seafood we are ordering is wild-caught.

The $24.07 lunch menu Friday at Del Posto in Manhattan said the tomatoes were heirloom and the pork loin came from a breed of black pigs that are vegetarian-fed and raised without antibiotics and growth hormones. Other items were described similarly, as in the free-range chicken listed. Ung should start writing about whether the menus she sees in New Jersey show the same sensibility. (Revised Monday, Aug. 3, and Tuesday, Aug. 4.)

I promise I'm not shilling for Jerry's

Here's another enthusiastic report on Jerry's Meals To Go, the complete, restaurant-quality dinners sold for only $6.99 at the Italian specialty store in Englewood. I promise that I pay for these dinners and Jerry doesn't know me from Adam.

The portions are sensible (12 ounces total), the food is delicious and healthy and the price is right for our uncertain economic times. When you finish one of these meals, you're left with a sense of well-being. The selections Saturday afternoon included fish, chicken and pork.

I plated my food, then heated it in a microwave: cod Livornese, topped with tomato sauce and black and green olives; roasted potatoes, crisp-tender carrots, broccoli and brussels sprouts, and a zucchini half stuffed with spinach and ricotta. I drizzled the food with a Colavita oil-lemon blend ($3.99 for a quart) that was available for tasting at Jerry's.

I split and toasted a Balthazar Bakery roll, poured some red wine and sparkling peach juice from Spain (in separate glasses) and dug in. What a great dinner.

Preparation tip: Don't heat this food or any other in plastic takeout or storage containers, which might transfer chemicals during the heating process; plate the food before heating and cover with a paper towel, not plastic wrap.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Spread that pesto nice and thick

Wild salmon and whole-wheat pasta go better with pesto.

This has been an uneven summer for Jersey produce: the tomatoes have been either earthy or woolly; the four ears of corn I have tried so far weren't sweet at all; and I didn't see much in the way of basil until I came across a big bunch this week at the ShopRite in Rochelle Park.

I needed the basil for one of the 101 salads from The Times (see previous posts), but there was so much left, I decided to make my first batch of blender pesto this summer (see recipe below). 

For breakfast, I spread the pesto on my toasted 100% whole grain bread from Costco, stuck some fresh basil leaves and cilantro to it, laid on a nice portion of smoked wild salmon, also from Costco, added shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and topped that with sliced tomato and za'atar thyme mixture. 

The garlicky pesto really elevates that sandwich.

Blender pesto
  (courtesy of Marcella Hazan)

Place ingredients in the blender in this order:

2 heaping tablespoons of pine nuts (pignoli)
2 large cloves of garlic smashed and peeled, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups basil leaves and stems packed (don't skimp on the basil)
3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Start the blender with the top off and push down the basil with a rubber spatula. Stop the blender and push down the leaves on top under the liquid below. Continue blending and pushing until the blades suck down and liquify everything into a thick, flowing mixture. Empty into a bowl. At this point, you can freeze the pesto in a plastic container for later use. When thawed, add:

3/4 to 1 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or more to taste, and blend in with a fork or spoon.

You can use another cheese, such as pecorino romano. Pesto does not require heating. Use as a sandwich spread, put a big spoonful on top of cooked fish or meat, or add to 1 pound of pasta, preferably penne, medium shells or other small pasta, cooked al dente. You can garnish the pasta with more pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes or not.

Pesto originated in Genoa, Italy, where they add sliced, boiled potatoes to their pasta pesto. I was introduced to it in the early 1970s and I have never tired of it. My first taste each summer, and every taste, is a delight.