Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If it's made in China, is it safe?

I have started shopping for new cookware and hope to replace all my non-stick pots and pans with good, old-fashioned metal, prompted by reports that some plastic coatings may break down under high heat and contaminate food.

I long ago stopped re-heating food in plastic containers for the same reason. But a dinnerware set I bought in 2007 left a really bad taste in my mouth, raising the suspicion that a lot of products made in China may not be safe. And so much of the cookware I have looked at is made in China.

In 2007, I bought the elaborately painted Villa della Luna pattern from Pfaltzgraff, enough plates, bowls and cups for 12. When I re-heated leftovers -- and we cook at home five days a week and eat a lot of leftovers -- I would plate the food before putting it in the microwave. After about a year, I started to notice that the paint on the dinner plates I used to reheat food was fading in the dishwasher.

I called Pfaltzgraff, only to be told that the dinner plates and other items in my set had been recalled, because tests revealed high levels of lead and cadmium. I had never received a notice of the recall, but, luckily, I still had the original boxes, now filled with my old dinnerware. I packed up the new pattern and returned it, then had to fight with Pfaltzgraff to get a refund.

I used the old plates until I finally found dinnerware that wasn't made in China -- porcelain in a simple white-on-white pattern made in Germany by Rosenthal. I feel much safer re-heating food in the microwave. And I'm searching for pots and pans made anywhere but in China.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Costco Wholesale is slowly coming around

The food court at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.

I shop for food weekly at Costco. I love the quality of most items and the low prices, but when I want drug-free chicken, preservative-free cold cuts or grass-fed beef, I have to go elsewhere.

Costco has slowly-- too slowly, in my opinion -- added organic food and antibiotic-free poultry and meat, but most of the food it sells is grown or raised conventionally.

Today, I bought wild coho salmon fillet from Alaska, Hans' drug- and preservative-free chicken meatballs and sausage, organic salad mix, herbicide-free tomatoes and frozen organic mixed vegetables. 

But there was a deli full of preserved cold cuts and a barnyard full of Perdue and other brands of chicken raised on antibiotics (only the Coleman boneless-and-skinless thighs are organic.)

The Costco rotisserie chicken is dreadful -- a conventional chicken with many added flavors. And except for the drug-free Australian lamb and organic ground beef, the vast expanse of beef and pork should be ignored.

Now, The Costco Connection magazine for October 2009 is heralding the addition of a few more naturally raised or organic meat, poultry and pork items, in stores and at, the mail-order arm.

From mid-November, stores will offer an antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed Kirkland smoked, bone-in ham.  

By mail order, you will be able to buy organic rib roasts and frozen turkeys, and they'll be glatt kosher no less.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Is your sushi fresh or frozen?

Bluefin-tuna sushi, front, and cooked eel at Hiura in Fort Lee (2013).

By Victor E. Sasson

You might be surprised to learn the pristine slice of fish that melts in your mouth at a good sushi parlor had been frozen, along with all the other raw fish you eat.

Consumer Reports On Health urges sushi- and shashimi-lovers to "make sure that the fish was frozen before serving, because that kills the parasites sometimes found in fish. (The Food and Drug Administration requires restaurants to take that step, though enforcement can be lax.)"

It says you should prepare sushi at home only using frozen fish.

In other words, it is illegal for a U.S. restaurant to serve fish raw unless it has been frozen first. The publication echoed an article about sushi I read in 2004 in The New York Times' Dining In/Dining Out section, "Sushi Fresh from the Deep ... the Deep Freeze."

The June 2009 Consumer Reports newsletter also says consumers "should choose pieces made with low-mercury fish, such as salmon or shrimp," though doesn't mention that the vast majority of salmon served as sushi is artificially colored farmed fish. 

Tuna and mercury

Tuna, also a popular fish for sushi, has a high mercury content.

I try to limit my raw tuna consumption to the once-a-year carving of giant (frozen) bluefin tunas at Mitsuwa Marketplace, the Japanese supermarket in Edgewater. 

Last year, I purchased a quarter of a pound of the best belly meat ($60 a pound) and enjoyed seven slices of meltingly beautiful, marbled fish at home.

I like raw fluke and other "white" fish as sushi and sashimi. 

Hiura Restaurant

My favorite Japanese restaurant for sushi is Hiura in Fort Lee, a small, family run BYO. Though expensive, the sushi, sashimi, sea urchin, fish eggs and cooked dishes have never disappointed.

If you are going to buy sushi at the supermarket, H Marts in Englewood, Little Ferry and Ridgefield have their own sushi sections and a fourth market from the Korean chain is slated to take over the space once occupied by Kings in Fort Lee. 

Avoid the stuff sold in ShopRite. The sushi at the new Whole Foods Market in Paramus is excellent, but prices are high, compared with H Mart.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pork has less fat than chicken breast?

In reviewing old issues of Consumer Reports On Health, I came across an item suggesting that pork has less fat than an equivalent amount of skinless chicken breast.

"Evidence suggests pork is 16 percent leaner and has 27 percent less saturated fat than it did 15 years ago," the September 2006 newsletter said.

"A U.S. Department of Agriculture analysis (funded in part by the National Pork Board) found that a 3-ounce serving of pork tenderloin contains 2.98 grams of fat, compared with 3.03 grams in a 3-ounce serving of skinless chicken breast."

There's no mention of how most pork is raised with antibiotics and growth hormones and fed who knows what. In fact, I've read that pork receives more antibiotics than any other animal raised for human consumption. So if you love pork, be sure to buy the drug- and hormone-free variety sold at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods Market and some supermarkets.

Trader Joe's has St. Louis-style ribs from the Niman Ranch and at least two brands of drug- and preservative-free bacon. Whole Foods has the biggest selection of naturally raised pork, beef, lamb and poultry of any market in North Jersey. Super Stop & Shop carries Nature's Promise, a line of organic and naturally raised food, including drug- and hormone-free pork chops. See previous post, "Kudos for Stop & Shop." (This post was revised.)

A sale on chicken I won't be shopping

A package of Readington Farms chicken thighs (July 2012).


On Saturday afternoon, I stopped at the ShopRite in Rochelle Park to take a closer look at the Perdue chicken being sold for 50% off today through Oct. 3. 

What I saw convinced me that this is among the worst chicken you can buy.

For example, a Perdue pre-seasoned roaster is "enhanced" with up to 17% seasoned chicken broth. That means you are paying 17% of the price for broth, not poultry. 

This 6-pound bird is going for a mere $4.99, but it likely was raised on antibiotics and there's nothing on the label about a vegetarian diet. So it might have eaten feed with bits of dead chicken.

Yet the label has the meaningless phrase "All natural," and notes the chicken contains no hormones or steroids, which are barred by federal rules anyway, so why is it on the label if not to deceive the consumer?

The unseasoned Perdue roaster was selling for less than half the price of the Readington Farms roaster ($1.89 a pound), which is fed a vegetarian diet and raised without antibiotics. 

ShopRite rarely puts Readington Farms poultry on sale. A Coleman organic roaster was selling for $2.99 a pound on Saturday with a $2 off coupon attached.


In 2014, Consumer Reports magazine investigated antibiotics and arsenic in food.

Here are links to this blog's discussion of the articles:

Snowy Atlantic cod, arsenic in food and more

Consumer Reports: Buy only antibiotic-free chicken

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bountiful meal recalls my roots

When we walked into Aleppo Restaurant in Paterson just past noon today, a long table had been set with the classic Syrian meal of small plates called maza -- 11 appetizers, bread and pickles that would have made a great meal in themselves.

Me and my wife, Marjorie, were joined by seven others: Jason Perlow; his wife, Rachel; and readers of this blog and Jason's Off The Broiler ode to great restaurant food.

The restaurant first opened on the other side of Main Street -- in the Middle Eastern bazaar known as South Paterson -- and now occupies the clean, simply decorated rooms of a failed Turkish restaurant, Kafe Teria. It's named after the city in northern Syria where my Jewish parents were born and my grandfather was a pastry maker.

The food we ate was beautifully seasoned with cumin, allspice, tamarind, mint, lemon and Aleppo pepper. We had hummus, muhammara, labaneh, meat arayes, raw kibbe, sambusak with meat or cheese, fried kibbe, tabbouleh, a soupy dish of fava beans and another of yogurt with diced cucumbers. Wonderful.

But there was more: entrees of eggplant and squash stuffed with meat and rice; an extraordinary kabob and bread soaked with cherry sauce; small dumplings packed with meat in a yogurt sauce; and a mixed grill with shish kebab, kufta kebab and chicken, with hot peppers, tomato and onion.

We walked off the meal by visiting Fattal's and Nouri's, the rival Syrian bakeries and markets. Then we returned to the restaurant for dessert, a honey-soaked cake with walnuts and strong Arabic coffee.

The only sour note were the no-shows, four or five people who failed to keep their word that they would attend. Of course, that meant we took home containers of leftovers, enough food for at least a couple of delicious meals.

On Sunday morning, the fava beans and the dips, with the addition of a couple of ounces of smoked wild salmon (Costco) and olives and warmed pita (Fattal's), made a great breakfast. For dinner, I'll polish off the fried kibbe, kufta kabob and stuffed squash with more pita and a salad.

For vivid pictures of our lunch, please click on the following link to Jason's blog:

Here's a link with more information about Aleppo, Syria, which I visited in the late 1970s.

(This post was revised on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Record turns its back on frugal dining

Eating Out on $50 once was a popular monthly restaurant feature in The Record of Hackensack, because it focused on places where four people could eat well for that amount, including tax and tip. I wrote more than a dozen of those reviews in 2005-06, when I was employed there, and the newspaper paid for the meals.

But this year, in a bid to save money, the reviewer only writes about restaurants where two people can eat for $50. How did the change save money? The reviewer, a former reporter by the name of Jeff Page, was having an increasingly difficult time finding restaurants that could feed four for $50. So the editors, rather than boosting the amount Jeff is reimbursed for a meal to $60 or $70, kept it at $50, but knocked off two diners.

Do we really need The Record's help in finding restaurants that can feed two people for $50? They are a dime a dozen. Today's Eating Out on $50 review is of La Batalla in Bergenfield, a Mexican restaurant where the food sounds pretty unexciting, the usual Americanized mix of loads of melted cheese and tame spicing.

When The Record started the $50 restaurant reviews, it appeared the main goal was service to readers. But the food editor at the time dissuaded me of that notion, explaining the newspaper's prime motive was to cut the cost of buying restaurant meals for its reviewers. Nothing seems to have changed much.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Two terrific spots for Chinese food

I can't tell you how many people feel lukewarm about Lotus Cafe, the Chinese BYO tucked into a corner of the Home Depot-Pathmark Shopping Center in Hackensack. In a way, that's good, because I won't have too much trouble getting a table there again to enjoy its unusual food.

The noodles and soup noodles are terrific, so don't bother schlepping into Chinatown. One of my favorites is zar jiang mein, fat, homemade noodles topped with a robust meat sauce ($6.95). Today, for lunch, I polished off a platter of noodles in abalone sauce ($8.95), with spinach and mushrooms, enough food for two.

But Lotus Cafe has a huge menu, including such intriguing dishes as X.O. beef casserole, squid & pork rendezvous; and chicken, shrimp or vegetarian soong, which is eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves. If you have a special occasion to celebrate or just want to splurge, ask for the extraordinary banquet menu, which lists multi-course meals for four to 10 people.

We once tried the eight-course dinner for six ($95) and were dazzled by the seafood and tofu chowder, three-cup chicken casserole, crispy duck, South Pacific prawns, beef with chili pepper, fillet of sole, Chinese broccoli and Eight Treasure rice pudding (the restaurant granted my request for it, even though ice cream or fruit is the usual ending to that dinner.)

For take-out, we have relied for the past three years or so on Zen & Kitchen in Teaneck.

What other Chinese take-out place can deliver a whole fish, fried or steamed? This is another big menu, with Thai food, soup noodles, sushi and bento boxes. We usually stick to the Chinese items, including vegetables prepared with fresh garlic instead of the gloppy garlic sauce and terrific ribs. Zen's delivery area includes Hackensack, Paramus, Cresskill and Ridgefield Park.

Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack; 201-488-7070.
Zen & Kitchen, 1443 Queen Anne Road, Teaneck; 201-837-7322.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Follow this diet for sex past 90

The September-October 2009 issue of AARP The Magazine has a remarkable story on the longevity of the people who live on the isolated Greek island of Ikaria.

Of course, some of the reasons revolve around their diet: wild greens, with more antioxidants than red wine; herbal teas, which lower blood pressure; goat's milk, rich in a blood-pressure-lowering hormone as well as antibacterial compounds; a Mediterranean diet high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, olive oil and fish; Greek honey, which has health benefits not found in American honey; and home-baked sourdough bread, which may stave off diabetes.

They also walk everywhere and have strong social connections.

"Over centuries with no outside influences," the article says, "island natives developed a distinctive outlook on life, including relentless optimism and a propensity for partying, both of which reduce stress. Ikarians go to bed well after midnight, sleep late, and take daily naps. Based on our interviews, we have reason to believe that most Ikarians over 90 are sexually active."

Read the whole story on the magazine's Web site:

Still searching for perfect produce

Why is the produce section the first you enter in a supermarket? I've often heard it's the first, because it's the most profitable. So why is it you often get so little good produce for the money?

How many times have I brought home produce, only to find it rotting on the counter the next day? Or it never ripens? Or it's mealy and tasteless? And it doesn't seem to matter how much you pay or where you buy it -- ShopRite, Whole Foods, Fairway.

Lately, I have been relying on Costco, though my wife still buys grapes and strawberries from
the ShopRite in Englewood. At Costco, you have to buy three or four pounds of each, a lot of fruit for three people to consume before it goes bad.

Today, I brought home a dozen large, juicy, sweet peaches from the Northwest. You get a dozen of these beauties for $7.99 at Costco, and they'll be ready to eat tomorrow or the next day. This is my third tray. I also got three large California cantaloupes for $5.99 and another pound of Earthbound Farms organic spring salad mix, $4.49.

Buying fresh fruit has been so frustrating in the past, I have several kinds of dried fruit on hand.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Plenty of good food for not much money

We've had some terrific home-cooked meals recently that cost a total of $15 to $20 for three people, even less when you consider that leftovers made a great sandwich, light lunch or snack.

Last Monday, we roasted a whole organic chicken (Whole Foods) seasoned with cinnamon, allspice and salt and served it with a half-pound of organic rigatoni in tomato sauce. The next night we had fluke poached in sake, okra with tomatoes and rice, all from H-Mart.

We also had drug-free Australian lamb chops, instant mashed potatoes and organic spring mix salad, all from Costco. On Friday night, for house guests, we made drug-free Whole Foods hamburgers (99 cents each on sale), served them on sturdy potato-onion rolls from Balthazar Bakery, and prepared two skin-on potato salads -- Syrian (olive oil, lemon juice, allspice and cumin) and Jamaican (hard-boiled egg, mixed vegetables, mayonnaise, black-pepper and salt).

Yesterday, my son and I both snacked on the last pieces of the organic chicken we roasted a week before. For dinner, we had drug- and preservative-free chicken sausage (sun-dried tomato and provolone) and organic salad mix from Costco and the rest of the Whole Foods organic rigatoni.

Healthy cooking with tuna?

The list of cooking classes in today's Better Living section of The Record of Hackensack ends with one you may want to avoid if you are concerned about mercury in fish.

"FISH COOKERY: Healthy cooking with tuna and other fish ... at the Viking Cooking School in Fairfield."

Fresh tuna is among the fish with the highest levels of mercury, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.

Monday, September 21, 2009

More from Consumer Reports On Health

Consumer Reports On Health reported in December 2007 that organic tomatoes may be better for you, because they contain more of two flavonoids than conventional tomatoes, including higher levels of other healthful antioxidants.

The March 2008 issue cited reports of bagged vegetables being recalled due to contamination with E. coli, urging readers to thoroughly wash even "prewashed" or "triple-washed" bagged fruits or vegetables.

I have been buying Earthbound Farms organic spring mix at Coscto for a couple of years now and never wash it. It used to say it was triple-washed; now it just says it is prewashed. I have been grabbing a handful and stuffing it into pita bread for a sandwich or placing it into a bowl for my dinner salad and have suffered no adverse effects.

Finally, if you wonder why some people insist on grass-fed beef, the November 2007 issue said, in answer to a reader's letter, that beef from grass-fed animals contains about half the saturated fat of corn-fed beef, and higher levels of two potentially beneficial fats: omega-3 fatty acids, also found in fish, and conjugated linoleic acid, which some studies have suggested helps protect against obesity, clogged arteries and possibly diabetes.

In addition, Consumer Reports On Health said, grass-fed beef is usually raised without antibiotics, hormones or rendered animal byproducts, which may harbor mad-cow disease. So be a pain in the grass the next time you go to a steakhouse and insist on a grass-fed steak. The January 2008 issue informed readers that new rules from the U.S. Department of agriculture require that "grass-fed" cows get 100 percent of their daily calories from grass, compared with 80 percent under the old rules.

Whole Foods usually has a good selection of grass-fed beef, including some raised in New Jersey.

See two previous posts, "If you eat a lot of rice, read this" and "Clashing food coverage at Consumer Reports."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The New Jersey Turnpike transports us to authentic Portuguese cuisine

Tony da Caneca, which opened in 1965, is one of the original restaurants in Newark's Ironbound section.


For writer Marcel Proust, the taste of a cookie called petite madeleine flooded him with memories of things past. 

For my Portuguese friend Rick, visiting from California, a meal and a stroll in Newark's Ironbound section gave him a chance to speak Portuguese and revived fond memories of his parents and family fiestas.

We had an early dinner at Tony da Caneca, a restaurant I used to visit regularly in the 1970s, when I was a newspaper reporter and restaurant reviewer in neighboring Elizabeth. 

The restaurant is in a quiet neighborhood, combining Old World service and big portions at moderate prices. All five of us took home leftovers.

After we were seated, the waiter brought over a tray with uncooked seafood on ice -- including giant prawns from Africa in deep-green shells, a whole sea bass flown in from Portugal and a Chilean sea bass fillet -- and described how they were prepared.

Me and Rick pigged out -- sharing an appetizer of flaming Portuguese pork sausage ($9.75) and an entree of pork chunks, clams and potatoes ($18) sauteed in plenty of olive oil, a classic, stick-to-your-ribs dish I took an instant liking to the first time I saw it on a menu nearly 40 years ago, because it combines two of my favorite foods, pork and clams. (It's listed on the menu as pork meat Alentejana.)

My wife had the whole sea bass ($21), which was grilled simply with olive oil and lemon; my son chose butterflied shrimp ($19) with hot sauce; and my niece had a beefsteak ($18) that turned out to be more than a foot long, surrounded by the restaurant's own thick-cut potato chips, which I couldn't resist and kept on snatching from her plate. A small bowl of cilantro soup comes with each meal, though I would have preferred a salad.

The restaurant's wine list offers bottles of Portuguese wine for as little as $15. The red we selected, Periquita Fonseca, cost $18.

This was a belly-busting meal all of us enjoyed immensely. 

Then the waiter brought over a tray of desserts. Rick had to try the rice pudding with lemon ($3) his Mom used to make and my son had the sherbet with coconut ($5).

We drove to Ferry Street, the commercial heart of the Ironbound, and tried to walk it off. 

At Texeira Bakery, I bought black coffee and three custard tarts to go, just like the ones you see in Manhattan's Chinatown (remember that one former Portuguese territory is Macau, an enclave on the Chinese mainland).

Tony da Caneca Restaurant, 72 Elm Road, Newark; 1-973-589-6882.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

News flash: Peruvian opens restaurant

The Record of Hackensack ran a news article on Wednesday about the tens of thousands of Peruvians in North Jersey who began migrating here in the 1950s, drawn by textile mill jobs in Paterson.

The newspaper said the Peruvian-American community in the state is the largest in the U.S. and that Peruvians own 45 restaurants in Paterson alone.

Then, on Friday, The Record's restaurant reviewer, Elisa Ung, declared that a Peruvian-Cuban couple who opened a Peruvian restaurant in Clifton "aim to introduce Peruvian culture to the North Jersey dining scene."

Peruvian food may be new to Ung, but not to me and thousands of other non-Peruvians who have enjoyed dining at Peruvian restaurants in the city of Passaic and Clifton for many years. Jaimito's in Clifton and the El Chevere restaurant group in Passaic are my personal favorites.

For example, Pollos El Chevere on Washington Place in Passaic, just steps from Main Avenue, is a busy, clean, well-run restaurant with a liquor license and a full menu of Peruvian specialties, including the signature marinated rotisserie chicken. The restaurant's Japanese-Peruvian business partners have another place nearby that offers anticuchos, the beef heart loved by Peruvians.

One of the great dishes at Jaimito's is tallerin verde, linguine in pesto sauce topped with a large, fried fillet of fish. The chef-owner is Chinese-Peruvian.

Uncle Paulie's Puro Sabor is a new Peruvian restaurant in Maywood that serves large portions of tasty food at reasonable prices.

Friday, September 18, 2009

If you eat a lot of rice, read this

Rice Diversity. Part of the image collection o...
Rice Diversity. Part of the image collection of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Consumer Reports On Health newsletter changed my rice-buying habits a couple of years ago when I read that rice was being grown on former cotton fields in the South and was being contaminated by the arsenic once used to kill boll weevils.

Here is a link to another article that discusses this health issue:

I had been buying Goya, Canilla and Carolina brand rice at ShopRite and after reading about the arsenic-laced fields, tried to find out where the rice was grown. But few of the labels specified the source.

I then switched to buying rice at Korean and Japanese supermarkets, where most of the rice is from California and a lot more expensive. 

I continue to buy that rice. I grew up eating rice, as did my wife and son, and we eat rice three or more times a week.

Update: I went on a diet last year, eliminated bread and pizza, and switched to organic whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, which my body seems to process better (June 3, 2012).

I still try to find rice grown in California, and can usually find it on sale at H Mart, a chain of Korean supermarkets.

Costco Wholesale began selling Della-brand organic brown rice, which is grown in the South.

I called the company to find out whether the rice is grown in old cotton fields, but never could reach anyone who knew.

However, it's unlikely the rice could get an organic designation from the USDA, if it is grown in fields with pesticide residue.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Good deal may not be good for you

The latest sales circular from Fairway Market in Paramus, in today's newspaper, prominently displays "fresh-cut, local" swordfish steaks for $6.99 a pound, a savings of $6 a pound.

Unfortunately, swordfish is one of five species with the most mercury, according to the June 2009 Consumer Reports On Health newsletter, which recommends that pregnant women and children should not consume it. The rest of us "can probably consume very occasionally."

Consumer Reports bases its conclusions on data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. The other four species with the highest level of mercury are king mackerel, shark, tilefish and fresh tuna.

The sunnier side of breakfast

For a change of pace, me and my wife enjoyed a rib-sticking Jamaican breakfast today at Mac West Indian Restaurant on Central Avenue, just a few blocks from Hackensack City Hall. It's now past noon and I'm still pleasantly full.

I had sauteed cabbage and saltfish (salted cod) with boiled green bananas and sweet plantains. My wife had liver in gravy with the same side dishes. My dumpling was boiled (dough, water and salt), hers was fried (dough, water and a little sugar). We also shared a bowl of collaloo and saltfish, which I should have chosen for my entree, because the leafy green contained more fish than the cabbage did.

Unfortunately, the restaurant didn't have ackee (a bland fruit) for the breakfast often called Jamaica's national dish, ackee and saltfish. It also was out of breadfruit, which is baked and then steamed or fried.

Each breakfast was $7, plus $1 for a small pot of coffee or herbal mint tea. The bowl of collaloo was $4.50. Even though I visited Jamaica in August, the all-inclusive RIU Montego Bay Hotel's limited menu of native dishes left me yearning for more. Today's breakfast really hit the spot.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Great fish section

H Mart in Little Ferry had more than 20 different kinds of whole fish on ice when I visited last night, casting my net for a wholesome dinner.

I picked a two and a half pound fluke ($4.99 a pound) covered in ice and asked the fish monger to clean it and cut it into steaks. Fluke is delicious raw as well as cooked. I've enjoyed fluke shashimi many times as an alternative to tuna, which can have a lot of mercury in it.

I poached my fluke steaks, head and tail in sake, fish sauce, sesame oil, mirin, soy sauce and garlic for 15 to 20 minutes, and served it with steamed rice and okra with diced tomatoes, onion and garlic.

H Mart in Little Ferry also offers fillets from six or seven kinds of fish and although I have usually found them to be fresh, ocean perch fillets I bought last week had seen better days. They cooked up OK, but I will be sticking with whole fish from now on, and if I want fillets, ask the fish monger to cut them from a whole fish.

Oddities in the produce aisle

I never know what I will find at the big Korean supermarket in Little Ferry known as H Mart.

I went shopping for fish and okra for last night's dinner and saw three items I've never heard of in the produce section: banana flowers, Chinese okra and nagaimo.

The first two were from Mexico, and the Chinese okra was more than two feet long. Nagaimo, which appears to be a large root, comes from Japan packed in sawdust. I have no idea what you do with them.

There are two other H Marts nearby, in Englewood and Ridgefield. They formerly were called Han Ah Reum.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Middle Eastern fare in Hackensack

Sahara is a small Middle Eastern market in Hackensack crammed with fresh and packaged foods, including hundreds of imported items. You'll also find homemade meat pies, fried kibbe and stuffed grape leaves, plus pita bread from bakeries as near as Paterson and as far away as Montreal.

The store also stocks pickled lemons from Egypt, like the ones I used in my tuna-sardine salad last week. See earlier post, "Cleopatra's tuna-sardine salad." Sahara is at 242 S. Summit Ave., Hackensack; 201-487-7222.

Meanwhile, based on two visits in August, a new Middle Eastern restaurant in Hackensack called Cafe Arabica is a disappointment. It opened in the large space on Main Street once occupied by The Stealth nightclub and before that Lowits clothing store.

I had lunch there soon after it opened, but me and a friend were the only customers and the falafel sandwich was pretty standard fare. I returned around 6 on the evening of Aug. 22, the first day of Ramadan, because the owner said there would be music, yet the place was empty. I walked in, calling hello, but there were no employees in sight. I left, never to return.

I can't believe I ate the whole thing

A few days after my wife and son left for an extended stay on the beautiful island of Jamaica in mid-July, I received an e-mail from Heritage Foods USA about a special ham from the only certified natural hog farm in New York State.

In a decision that still confuses me, I ordered it, even though it would be weeks before they returned. Maybe I wanted to have comfort food on hand for the lonely days and nights ahead.

Do you know how big a 9-to-10-pound ham is? Neither did I. And when it arrived, still cold to the touch, it weighed more than 12 pounds. It sat in the fridge for a few days before I did the only thing I could: find room for it in the freezer. Finally, at the end of August, we were a family again, and the ham went into the defroster.

Then, in a miscommunication between my wife and me the Sunday before last, I put the ham into the oven at a low 250 degrees to complete the cooking. (The farm that prepared it with only salt and brown sugar told me it wasn't fully cooked and had to be brought up to an internal temperature of 170 degrees.) The middle was really cold, maybe still frozen, so I cranked up the heat and after four hours, I could slice some juicy meat for my dinner. My wife and son, it turned out, had other dinner plans.

What to do with the leftovers? For seven days ending this past Monday, I ate ham sandwiches, made with meat right from the fridge -- sliced thin. I noticed a slightly rosy hue and veins of fat that gave it a silken feel in my mouth. I made lunch sandwiches on a bagel, whole grain toast and pita. I even had one for breakfast, and I made sandwiches for my wife and son, too. We also diced this beautiful ham to put in scrambled eggs, sauteed cabbage and yellow rice. In short, we went ham crazy. Now, finally, it's all gone.

This ham looked and tasted as if it had come from a contented hog raised on the Lucki 7 family farm in Rodman, N.Y. Its Web site pledges:

"We never-ever use antibiotics, drugs, hormones, or animal proteins. Only a vegetarian diet! Our delicious pork is created using carefully selected old fashion genetics. The pigs have plenty of space to roam on green grass and sunshine. The barns are heavily bedded with straw and hay, creating a stress-free environment."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Do these chickens have a prostate problem?

Have you looked closely at the label of the fresh chicken you bring home from the supermarket? Does the phrase "retained water" appear on the label? Doesn't this sound like these birds have swollen prostates?

Don't worry. You won't find these chickens getting up during the night to use the bathroom.

For several years now, chicken farmers have been injecting their birds with a salt-water solution during processing to improve the flavor. The organic, free-range chicken I brought home from Whole Foods Market in Paramus this evening contains 5% of this salt-water solution. Readington Farms, the ShopRite brand of drug-free chicken, also contains retained water. I don't have any Murray's free-roaming chicken in my freezer, but the next time I go to Fairway Market, I'll check the label.

I can understand injecting lousy chicken, such as Perdue and Tyson, with salt water for better flavor. But drug-free, free-roaming and organic chickens already taste good. Do they need the extra seasoning, and do we have to pay 5% or more of the price for salted water?

Korean restaurant falls off list of favorites

We love Korean restaurants for their outstanding service, abundant side dishes and good value, but we were disappointed during a visit last night to one of our favorite barbecue places, So Moon Nan Jib in Palisades Park.

The last time we had tried to eat there, more than a year ago, we found it closed for renovations. Looking around Saturday night, we couldn't tell what had changed in the dining room, but service was sluggish and I had to keep asking -- for more kimchi, for sliced garlic, for more napkins, for steamed rice.

Other Korean restaurants often replenish your side dishes without asking, at times even before you finish them.

So Moon Nan Jib is one of the few places in North Jersey that still uses charcoal in the table-top grills, and there is often a line out the door. Me, my wife and my son went early, between 5 and 6 p.m., got a table easily and were brought two menus. But no one came over to take our order until I gestured to one of the managers.

We chose marinated raw shrimp and bulgogi, thin-sliced raw beef, both for cooking on the table, and a platter of japchae, translucent noodles with bits of meat and vegetables. I don't know of any other barbecue restaurant serving these butterflied shrimp, which cook in only a few minutes and are bursting with flavor.

Most Korean meals come with an array of side dishes, and So Moon Nan Jib is now serving six: kimchi, steamed broccoli, stewed fish, mushrooms, American-style salad and radish. We also got a salad of shredded scallions, spicy red bean paste and red-leaf lettuce leaves for the barbecue, which you wrap in the lettuce along with as many of the other items as you can manage before stuffing the whole package into your mouth. Near the end, we got an egg souffle in a stone bowl.

It was a messy meal in a noisy dining room, and a lot more expensive than in the past. Our three entrees totaled $75.94, including tax. Ouch. I added a tip of $8.

We won't be returning to So Moon Nan Jib. Better choices are two restaurants where we had barbecue while it was closed: Woo Jung in Palisades Park and Madangsui in Fort Lee, where the beef is fresh and the charcoal comes out after 6 p.m.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Clashing food coverage at Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports magazine likes to rate supermarkets and chain restaurants, but the food is rarely evaluated on how it was raised or grown. Value is most important. Yet food is treated far differently in Consumer Reports' On Health newsletter, which exposes the dirty details of antibiotics, additives, contaminants and other horror stories.

The magazine's October 2009 issue evaluates store brands under the headlines: "It pays to buy store brands. They often cost less but taste as good." Among other items, two pizzas are evaluated, from DiGiorno and Archer Farms (Target). "Meat lovers might prefer Archer Farms, chock full of pepperoni chunks and slices," the magazine says, without saying whether either pizza uses uncured, preservative-free meat.

The cover article in the magazine's May 2009 issue is on supermarkets: "Shop smart & save big. Our best tips, plus exclusive ratings of 59 supermarkets." A national survey ranks stores on service, perishables, price and cleanliness, but not on the availability of organic products, wild fish, and drug-, hormone, and preservative-free poultry and meat.

The magazine's July 2009 and July 2006 issues rate chain restaurants. The latest report appears under the headlines: "Where to dine well for less. Readers rate food, value & service at 101 chains." But "trained tasters" evaluate steaks on taste and value, not on how the the animals were raised and whether they were given antibiotics, growth hormones and animal by-products.

For example, the $53, 20-ounce strip steak at Morton's The Steakhouse was judged "excellent" in a comparison to three others, including the $22, 14-ounce strip steak at Outback Steakhouse ("very good"). Is the beef grass-fed or grain-fed? Is it free range or was the animal confined in a feedlot and given drugs and growth hormones? We are never told. We don't even find out whether Outback serves Australian beef, which is often grass-fed and free-range.

The magazine's food articles leave many of us hungry for more information. Why do we have to rely on the pricey Consumer Reports On Health newsletter to find out the truth about what is in our food? I'll be passing along some of the On Health reports in future posts.

Web sites

Angus beef, schmangus beef

It was impossible recently to escape McDonald's TV commercials for its new Angus beef burger. How many times was the word Angus repeated? Did we really learn anything about the quality of the beef used? Burger King and other fast food franchises also have introduced Angus burgers.

The ShopRite circular I found in today's newspaper trumpets: "Don't settle for just any Angus beef." It urges customers to buy the Certified Angus Beef brand of steaks, roasts and ground meat for $2.49 to $4.99 a pound with the Price Club Card. ShopRite says "less than 8% of beef earns the distinctive" Certified Angus Beef brand. This is the same beef that wealthy celebrity chef Bobby Flay uses at his so-called Burger Palace restaurant in Paramus (see earlier posts, "Hear the sizzle, smell the hype" and "The Bobby Flay hamburger mystery").

What Bobby Flay, McDonald's, Burger King, ShopRite and others don't tell you is how their Angus beef is raised -- confined to feeding pens and given antibiotics, growth hormones and animal by-products (feed with bits of kitchen scraps and dead animals in it). And if you believe The New York Times and other sources, a lot of ground beef contains feces. How appetizing.

If you want to eat healthy beef from the Angus breed of cattle, you should look for the word "natural" in the brand name, as in Certified Angus Beef Natural. That one word signifies the cattle never received drugs, hormones or animal by-products. In fact, each animal can be traced back to the ranch where it was raised on vegetarian feed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cleopatra's tuna-sardine salad

English: Bastion of the Citadel of Aleppo, Syr...
The Citadel in Aleppo, Syria, which has given us a spicy red pepper.

My tuna salad with a twist took a new turn today when I added pickled lemon, diced, in addition to the usual olive oil, cumin and chopped red onion.

I started with two cans of Kirkland-brand albacore tuna in water from Costco and three cans of skinless and boneless Moroccan Al-Shark sardines in oil from Fattal's in Paterson, all undrained. 

Then I added extra-virgin olive oil, cumin and chopped red onion to taste. Aleppo pepper, a coarse, mildly spicy red pepper you'll also find at Fattal's, wouldn't be out of place here.

The Cleopatra-brand pickled lemons from Egypt (Fattal's) are small and salty. So I diced three and added them and lemon juice to the canned fish, again to taste. 

I put hummus and organic spring mix in warm pita halves (Fattal's), spooned in the fish salad and added sliced plum tomato sprinkled with thyme-based za'atar mix. 

I ate kimchi and olives on the side, and washed it all down with my own mint iced tea.
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The bagel that ate North Jersey

I had an errand in Clifton on Wednesday and needed change for a $20 bill. I drove up and down Van Houten Avenue, in what I believe was the Athenia section, looking for a Polish bakery I last patronized seven or so years ago. It was closed and so were two other small bakeries nearby.

Finally, I stumbled on Hot Bagels Abroad in a strip mall on Clifton Avenue ( What does that name mean? Baffling. It was around noon and the place was jumping, so I got on line and eventually ordered a baker's dozen ($9.25). Bagels are 80 cents each, and they're so big, my order was packed in a large paper grocery sack.

I used to toast a bagel every morning for my open-face sandwiches of smoked salmon, canned red salmon and so forth, but it was just too much dough (my spreads were homemade, low-fat yogurt cheese or pesto). I switched to smaller, sliced whole-grain bread several years ago. I liked the bagels from Ronnie's in Hillsdale or the bagel places in Englewood, Leonia and Fort Lee. I especially liked the pumpernickle-rye bagel.

Years ago, I saw a coupon for H&H Bagels in Manhattan and stopped for a dozen at the plant on the West Side. They have the nerve to charge a dollar or more for a puny bagel that didn't taste any better than the ones in North Jersey. What a waste of time.

I bought the Clifton bagels to offer to out-of-town guests. But I tried to toast one and had to cram it into my so-called wide-mouth toaster, which soon burnt the garlic bits on the bagel's exterior.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A fresh look at South Paterson

My insatiable fellow food blogger, Jason Perlow, has been exploring the Middle Eastern bakeries, restaurants and food shops in the South Paterson section of Paterson, and I've been remiss in not supplying the link to his reports.

Here it is, finally:

If his photos don't make you salivate, there is just no hope for you. Main Street in South Paterson is one of North Jersey's great food streets, so get out there and explore it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Jamaican fish story

I know Jamaicans who smuggle cooked fresh fish, fruit and other items into the U.S. when they return from visiting their beautiful island, and who can blame them? You'd be hard-pressed to find decent breadfruit or custard-like sweet sop or the small, sweet fish they enjoy there in New Jersey or New York markets.

During my visit to Jamaica at the end of August, I stopped at some shacks at the side of the road less than a mile from my hotel, RIU Montego Bay, to see what fishermen were selling. The fish hung from wood slats on the table where they were gutted and cleaned. I was told that around noon, two of the shacks would open to steam fresh fish for customers.

The biggest fish was a barracuda, which I have enjoyed in Cuba at the home of a spear fisherman who rents a room to tourists. Also displayed was king mackerel, a favorite of many Jamaicans that, unfortunately, contains a lot of mercury.

I was told the others, which were much smaller, were jack, doctor fish ("see the needle"), parrot fish and goat fish. All the fish was selling for $200 Jamaican dollars per pound, or about $2.35 U.S. At the hotel, I was served what sounded like banga Mary. One of the fishermen at the side of the road said it was an ocean fish.

I didn't see any ice to keep the fish fresh. The fishermen said they can hang the fish in the August heat and humidity for two to three hours. I have my doubts, and probably would not buy fish there unless I saw it being hauled out of the water minutes before.

Focus on Middle Eastern food

It's not too often I can recommend a food article in The Record of Hackensack, where the 30-year-olds demonstrate their limited knowledge of northern New Jersey every day.

But today, restaurant reviewer Elisa Ung does a decent job on what she now calls the "Middle Eastern market" on and off Main Street in Paterson's South Paterson section -- the bakeries, restaurants and other shops I have been patronizing for decades. She stops at Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian and Turkish businesses, including a couple of newish ones I'd like to explore. This article comes only a couple of months after she incorrectly described the same area as a "Turkish enclave" and "Little Istanbul."

Unfortunately, she ignores Corrado's Family Affair, the ethnic supermarket with an incredible bread aisle, just over the Paterson border on Main Avenue in Clifton.

Here is the link to the article:

It's one in a series called "Progressive Dining," a phrase that has never been defined by the reporter. As usual, she manages to eat a lot of food in just a couple of hours.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Peruvian fish story

We tried a new restaurant close to home last night -- Uncle Paulie's Puro Sabor in Maywood, a Peruvian rotisserie chicken place with a full menu of beef, fish, rice, beans and root vegetables.

What Uncle Paulie's lacks is wild fish. When I learned the ceviche de pescado was made with farmed tilapia, I ordered another appetizer, boiled potatoes with cheese sauce. Other dishes were made with fillets; no whole fish, such as red snapper, was offered. Portions are generous and prices reasonable.

Don't miss the milky Peruvian hot sauce for the chicken or the homemade chicha morada, a traditional purple-corn punch, garnished here with finely diced apple ($2).

My wife and son both ordered chicken soup ($4) and couldn't finish the two pieces of chicken in the broth. Entrees also were too large to finish. We had the marinated one-quarter rotisserie chicken (dark meat) with rice and beans ($3); lomo saltado, pepper steak strips served over french fries with rice ($12); and tallarin verde con apanado, linguine with pesto and topped with "breaded top brasciole" ($11.50). I have had this dish in other restaurants and it was invariably served with fried fish. It would be great without the beef and topped with a fried egg "a la pobre."

Before we left, I spoke to the owner about the farmed fish. He said he wanted to keep prices low, but if I called ahead, he would get red snapper from the fish market down the street (Seafood Gourmet), make a ceviche for me and charge me accordingly.

My favorite Peruvian restaurants -- Pollos El Chevere in Passaic and Jaimito's in Clifton -- are a lot further from home. So if I get a hankering for an Asian- or Italian-inspired Peruvian dish, Uncle Paulie's is just a few minutes away. Though Uncle Paulie's is good, it can't replace those two winners. (Revised.)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fairway Market's latest sales circular

Picture of Fairway Market - Paramus Location, ...
Fairway Market in Paramus, grand opening (Wikipedia)

There isn't much of interest to me in the Fairway Market sales circular I got with today's Record. Prices are good from today through Sept. 11 in Paramus.

USDA Choice beef brisket is selling for $2.99 a pound -- no extra charge for the antibiotics, growth hormones and animal by-products that were probably used to raise the animal. Yummy. 

If you want kosher brisket, the price is $9.99 a pound, but there is no mention of whether the animal is raised the same way as for the cheap stuff..

Want some kosher, artificially colored farmed salmon? Only $6.99 a pound, compared with $8.99 for fresh wild sockeye salmon at Costco. Artificially colored, smoked farmed salmon is selling for $16.99 a pound, compared with $13.99 for a pound of Costco's smoked wild salmon.

Refrigerated Sabra hummus is $1.99 for 7 ounces and $3.99 for 17 ounces. I'll stick with the canned Libano Verde brand hummus I get at Fattal's in Paterson, $1.09 for 15 ounces. (You add olive oil, powdered garlic and lemon juice.)

Fairway does have good prices for organic milk: $2.99 for a half-gallon of kosher, grass-fed milk and $5.99 for a gallon of Organic Valley milk.

You'll also get a deal on a Murray's rotisserie chicken for $5.99 (weight not specified). Whole Foods Market in Paramus charges $7.49 for a similar rotisserie chicken, though it is probably larger.

Murray's poultry is hormone- and antibiotic-free and is raised on a vegetarian diet, and takes less time to cook than ordinary chicken. Let's hope the Paramus store doesn't overcook them, as the Harlem store did when I first tried a Murray's rotisserie chicken years ago.
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Friday, September 4, 2009

Two thumbs down on Bahama Breeze

If you're looking for an authentic taste of the islands, steer clear of Bahama Breeze, a chain restaurant that was awarded two stars today by The Record of Hackensack.

The dishes described in the review barely resemble the real thing and some of the signature dishes of The Bahamas, Jamaica and other islands don't seem to be served at all.

Where, for example, is the incredible conch salad served at open-air restaurants and everywhere else in Nassau, where the mollusk is chopped finely and served with lime juice and hot peppers that will leave your lips tingling? Where is the wonderful steamed fish with okra you find in Jamaica (and this okra is cooked beautifully, with no slime)? Where is the smoked and chopped jerk chicken and pork?

Bahama Breeze serves beef patties with a fruit salsa (yech). Ribs are bathed in a guava barbecue sauce, not rubbed with a mixture of lip-smacking spices. And there is dulce de leche cheesecake, just what all us weight-watchers need.

If you're looking for good Caribbean food, there are several ethnic places in North Jersey that are far more satisfying. Try Mac West Indian Restaurant on Central Avenue or Casual Habana Cafe on Main Street, both Hackensack; and Ashanti's International Cuisine on Englewood Avenue in Englewood. Ashanti, which is mainly take-out, prepares steamed fish with okra and jerk chicken and pork on some days.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Exploiting the memory of Bob Marley

Update: We weren't exploited during a tour of Montego Bay, Jamaica, in August 2014, above and below, unlike the 2009 Bob Marley tour I wrote about here.


During our visit last week to the island of Jamaica, we wanted to learn more about the Rastaman and reggae superstar Bob Marley, whose music has long inspired us. 

So one day, we drove to Ocho Rios (Jamaicans say "Ochee"), on the island's north coast, to have lunch at Mama Marley's Bar & Grill, one of the businesses his family has established since his death.

We had a pleasant lunch of bean-and-chicken soup, and steamed red snapper with rice and sauteed cabbage, plus a beer, juice, bottled water and coffee. 
The check, which wasn't itemized, seemed high at $53.17 U.S., because the food we ordered totaled just under $30. After I had paid and was arranging a tour of Bob Marley's boyhood home and tomb, I asked for an itemized bill.

10% service charge

The waitress didn't hesitate to show it to me. In addition to the food and drink we had ordered, there was a 16.5% General Consumption Tax added and a 10% service charge, which the waitress quickly explained went to the restaurant, not to her. 

I had given her an $8 tip on the $53.17, about 15%, so the lunch cost me $61 or so. Seemed high. And why is the restaurant hitting up customers for a 10% service charge?

I paid the Asian Indian restaurant manager $150 for a tour and lunch the next day: a driver would pick up me and my wife at our Montego Bay hotel, about 65 miles from Ochee, drive back to Runaway Bay and then take us on a tortuous, 45-minute trip up into the hills of Saint Ann's Parish to a place known as Nine Mile.

Country roads from hell

The road is narrow and filled with potholes, blind curves, frightening drop-offs, and there were numerous close calls. The driver was rushing and almost always blowing his van's horn to warn other, unseen vehicles around the next curve. But we made it alive.

The hilltop complex we visited included a restaurant serving the same dishes as Mama Marley's in Ochee, a full bar, a gift shop, Bob Marley's small, two-room, boyhood home; a chapel containing an elaborate tomb of Italian marble and Rastafari's Star of David in a stained-glass window through which the rising sun shines.

As a guide showed us around, I realized that Bob Marley is as much a revolutionary figure to Jamaicans as Che Guevara is to Cubans.
Our included lunch was jerk-chicken and mahi-mahi sandwiches, fruit juice and Red Stripe beer. 

$70 DVD

On the way up in the van, we had watched "Rebel Music: The Bob Marley Story," an extraordinary, 89-minute DVD made in 2000 that documented how the guitar player and singer fought against injustice on the island until his death in 1981. 

In the gift shop, I asked the Asian Indian manager for the DVD and the price was $70 U.S., which seemed like a lot, but I bought it anyway. (This DVD also plays non-stop on a flat-screen TV at Mama Marley's in Ochee.)

Three days later, as we were leaving Jamaica, I stopped at an airport shop, which was selling the same DVD For $42 U.S. When I got home, I called the restaurant, but the manager was unmoved.
Below is the link to the Web sites of the Bob Marley Foundation and Mama Marley's (she died in 2008). You can decide whether the family and its Asian Indian managers have added a third "R" to the singer's Rastafari and reggae legend -- rip-off.