Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Organic burgers a la Costco

We made hamburgers from the organic ground beef I bought recently from Costco. I used one pound to fashion three burgers and seasoned them with a homemade spice mixture, put them under the broiler for about 20 minutes and served them inside pizza bread.

These were big burgers (they plumped up under the heat). My burger had a slice of Trader Joe's yogurt cheese (with jalapeno) and red onion, and I added ketchup and mustard as I ate. The rest of the meal was a baked potato with salsa, mixed organic vegetables and blood orange soda from Italy (Target) mixed with plain seltzer.

The burgers were tasty, even though I cooked them through, and came with the assurance of no antibiotics or growth hormones. Cost: $4.33 for the meat, so the entire meal for three probably cost $7 to $8.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

In search of real beef

My 11-year-old son's favorite meal out is cooking Korean barbecue on a grill in the middle of the table. But because my wife and me are trying to eat as little beef as possible, we often go to a Korean tofu house or a Korean restaurant that doesn't require a minimum of two orders of beef.

I read that Prime & Beyond, an expensive Korean butcher shop in Fort Lee, had added tables with grills. We dropped by today, but they said they don't serve the meat with lettuce leaves, as most Korean barbecue places do. We looked at the price list. Boneless steak started at $39.99 a pound. True, this is prime beef, the highest USDA grade, but it has the most fat and there is no indication whether it was raised with antibiotics and growth hormones. The shop also carries what it calls American Kobe-style beef, raised without antibiotics and hormones ($39 for a ribeye dinner).

Fortunately, one of our favorite restaurants is just down the street. So we had dinner at Gam Mee Ok (Koreans say, "gam-Yo"), which allows you to have only one order of barbecue that is grilled in the kitchen. Gam Mee Ok is unique among Korean restaurants in North Jersey to have a kimchi service but to serve no other side dishes. (Another Gam Mee Ok is in Manhattan.)

After you place your order, a member of the wait staff brings out what looks like a small white vase filled with cabbage and radish kimchi. The radish kimchi is already cubed, but the long cabbage kimchi is cut into bite size pieces and placed in a dish with the radish. This kimchi is so good, it is available for takeout. Gam Mee Ok also is different in that it serves hot green peppers along with cabbage leaves for wrapping your barbecue, kimchi, rice or whatever else you can fit into the package before stuffing it into your mouth. It's a fun way to eat.

Another great dish is the stone-bowl bibimbap: steamed rice topped with julienned vegetables and a little ground beef that you mix up after adding a mildly spicy red-pepper sauce. Gam Mee Ok's version is topped with a raw egg yolk that cooks in the hot bowl as you mix the ingredients.

We also had two small vegetable pancakes and Korean beer. We went out searching for beef and found a filling, delicious meal that was mostly rice and vegetables and just a little beef (shared three ways).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What you should know about farmed catfish

I try to avoid farmed fish altogether. For example, farmed salmon is artificially colored, but many people buy it because of the low price. Now, I've read something about farmed catfish that has really opened my eyes.

In the April issue of the whole deal, a monthly publication from Whole Foods Market, the supermarket chain said: "Despite its popularity, typical catfish farming practices across the U.S. don't measure up to our standards. Fortunately, we found a farm that does! Our supplier partner in North Carolina raises catfish the natural way without antibiotics, hormones, algicides or land animal by-products in the feed."

What are animal by-products? They are bits of dead animals such as chickens, cows and pigs, and waste from catering businesses, restaurants and so forth that find their way into fish and animal feed. That's why it's so important to buy poultry and meat raised on a vegetarian diet.

I just Googled farmed tilapia and came across a number of entries reporting unhealthy fats in that popular fish. So stick with wild salmon (fresh or frozen), trout, sardines, anchovies and other fish.They are easy to find because markets are now required to label fresh seafood by country of origin and whether it is wild or farmed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kudos for Stop & Shop

I stopped at the Super Stop & Shop in Teaneck the other day in search of drug-free chicken, but found so much more. The supermarket carries Nature's Promise, a line of organic and naturally raised food that I found throughout the store.

Besides chicken without antibiotics, there was drug-free pork and beef without growth hormones. The pork chops were $4.99 a pound with the store card. A pound of organic spring mix was priced at $6.99. I found many other products under the Nature's Promise label, including uncured beef hot dogs and organic lemon- and lime-ade.

ShopRite carries drug-free beef and lamb from Australia on occasion, but I haven't found anything but conventional pork there. It doesn't have a line of organic and naturally raised food similar to Stop & Shop's. It's good to know I have a local source of pure pork and beef in Stop & Shop.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Flavors I can't live without

For breakfast today, I stuffed some warm pita halves with organic spring mix, hummus, a small sardine or canned red salmon, tomato, sliced yogurt cheese and ajvar, a roasted red pepper and eggplant spread from Macedonia, one of the flavors I can't live without.

Ajvar makes a great sandwich spread or you can just put a couple of tablespoons of the stuff on your plate to eat with a sandwich or entree. I buy the spicy version made by Vava, because it has no added sugar. I've found it at Zeytinia in Englewood, $4.99 for a 19-ounce jar.

Another great flavor is za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice mixture you can sprinkle on sliced tomatoes, roasted chicken, fish and so forth. If you put a pinch in your mouth, it has a wonderful sourness. Some za'atar and extra virgin olive oil on a plate makes a great dip for fresh bread or you can sprinkle the mixture over pita and spreadable yogurt cheese. The mix includes thyme, wild sumac, marjoram, oregano, salt and sesame seeds. I add black sesame seeds to mine.

You can find two kinds of za'atar, green and brown, at Fattal's in Paterson's South Paterson section. The store also carries another great flavor, Aleppo pepper, a coarsely ground and mildly spicy red pepper that is great with hummus, eggs fried in olive oil and roasted chicken, among other dishes.

Along with my pita sandwiches, I had a small bowl of mahk kimchi from Arirang, a kimchi factory in Englewood. I like my kimchi "fresh," meaning it hasn't been fermented too long and the nappa cabbage retains a nice crunch. How much do I like kimchi? It's a morning staple.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Saturday night food notes

Saturday night is the one night we eat out, so we headed to Bergenfield to try one of the Filipino restaurants. First we drove to Wuzz Up! on Bedford Street, formerly Migdalia's Cuban Cafe, but it was setting up for a private party. We walked up Bedford to Cusinera, on South Washington Avenue, where Migdalia Sanchez Morales started out.

We placed our order after the woman behind the counter pointed to what was available and described the dishes. We asked for three egg rolls, three small, whole roasted fish; beef, tripe and green beans in a peanut sauce; pork chunks in shrimp paste, and white rice. We finished with three more egg rolls, but these were stuffed with sweet plantain. The white-fleshed fish were mackerel-like and delicious. And we loved the pork in the salty shrimp paste and the mounds of beautiful rice. The tripe and green beans were good, but the beef was too fatty. The plantain egg roll was a sweet ending to the meal. We spent about $25 for three, including two sodas and a water.

Then we headed to the new Target in Paramus, passing what looked like 75 or so people waiting on line inside and outside Bobby Flay's new hamburger restaurant. Maybe they were giving away the food. I haven't eaten there and don't want to. (See earlier post, "Hear the sizzle, smell the hype.") Give me Fuddruckers any day, if it is still serving a naturally raised ostrich burger or fish sandwich as an alternative to its beef hamburgers.

We had Target coupons that we wanted to use before they expired. I had a free green tea at Starbucks, my 11-year-old son had a free Icee and we got $5 off a purchase of $25 in groceries, which included Italian blood orange soda and fruit bars. While I was shopping, I heard a woman say into a cell phone, "Do you want Hot Pockets for dinner?"

Friday, April 17, 2009

Food blast from the past

We went to see the glorious cherry blossoms in Newark's Branch Brook Park on Thursday afternoon, strolling down paths lined with trees. If you're like me, you start thinking about where you are going to eat right after you decide to make the trip.

I've enjoyed Newark's Spanish, Portuguese and Italian restaurants since 1974, when I was a reporter and restaurant reviewer at the Daily Journal newspaper in Elizabeth, but since that night was to be leftovers night at home, our meal had to be small. So right after we left the park, we headed for Dickie Dee's, on Bloomfield Avenue and North 6th Street in Newark, for its specialty -- Italian-style fried sausage and potatoes in pizza bread. Three of us shared two singles with everything on them -- sauteed onions and peppers, mustard and ketchup. The two sandwiches and two drinks cost $9.

I haven't had one of these sandwiches for close to 20 years, and it was just OK. I don't eat like this anymore and I recall that Dickie Dee's never made its own sausage, unlike a place in Elizabeth that did. We almost drove to Elizabeth to try that one, but left it for the next time.

From Dickie Dee's, we strolled across the street to Calandra's Italian & French Bakery for pizza bread, a round loaf about an inch-and-a-half thick with a spongy interior, which I later sliced and put in the freezer for when we make hamburgers from the organic ground beef I bought at Costco on Wednesday. We also got two baguettes with sesame seeds. At home, I had some with my leftover angel-hair pasta and drug-free chicken sausage. The crust crackled and had a sheen, as if Calandra's uses an egg wash on it. The interior was doughy enough to soak up the last of the extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the bottom of my salad bowl. I sliced the rest of the bread for sandwiches and crammed it into the freezer.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Organic ground beef re-appears at Costco

I usally peer into the long, refrigerated case at Costco in search of beef without antibiotics or growth hormones, but rarely find any. Last year, I bought three pounds or organic ground beef there, but when I went back a month or so later, it had been discontinued. Well, I found it again today for $12.99 or $4.33 a pound.

The label has more information about this beef than the local newspaper managed in thousands of words when heralding the hamburgers at Bobby Flay's new restaurant in Paramus (see earlier post, "Hear the sizzle, smell the hype").

The organic beef I bought at Costco has 15% fat content and comes from the U.S., Canada and Australia, where the cattle is pasture-raised; it was processed in the U.S. The label also says it has no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Crazy pricing at Fairway Market

I paid my second visit to the new Fairway Market in Paramus on Monday and re-affirmed my belief that the Fashion Center is my least favorite mall and the layout of the New York-based store is far from user friendly.

But what really caught my eye was the pricing of produce, dried fruit and Murray's free-roaming chicken. As soon as I walked into the store, I noticed that the asparagus that were $1.49 a pound on the frenzied opening day now were $2.49 a pound. I picked up two pounds of herbicide-free Campari tomatoes for $5, the same price as at ShopRite.

We like Murray's drug-free chicken leg quarters, which were priced at $1.69 a pound, as were Murray's leg-and-thigh combo. But Murray's wings were $2.69 a pound, whether you bought a small or large package. I passed on the wings. A worker putting out pork said the leg quarters, drumsticks and thighs might be on sale, but there was no indication of that on the package or shelf.

At the fish counter, I heard an employee telling a customer that fish is delivered seven days a week, including Sunday. But the prices were high compared with the large seafood selection at Korean supermarkets. I looked for smoked wild salmon and found only 4-ounce packages that worked out to nearly $28 and $36 a pound! And to think a pound of the preservative-free smoked wild salmon I buy frequently at Costco is less than $14 a pound. A remarkable difference.

Then I had to backtrack to produce, because I forgot the dried apricots I need for a recipe. I found California apricots for $9.99 a pound and French ones for $6.49 a pound. I went with the French, and they elevated the pot of chicken and rice I made tonight.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

An offer too good to pass over

We just returned from having a free breakfast and lunch at Rosa Mexicano, the gourmet restaurant in the Hackensack mall once known as Riverside Square. This was our third visit for one of the restaurant's cooking demonstrations and later, we were served a three-course lunch of the dishes we saw prepared. As always, the staff gave us a warm welcome, especially nice on a wet, chilly day.

We received handouts listing the ingredients and recipes, and watched the chef, Joseph Preziosi, assemble the dishes, providing cooking tips along the way. Because the restaurant prepares just about everything from scratch, components of the dish were made ahead of time, including the chicken broth. The sauce for the entree has more than two dozen ingredients and requires an hour of cooking.

Today's demonstration was of Mexican Passover dishes, matzo ball soup with jalapeno, a chili pepper stuffed with barbecued veal in a green mole sauce, and a flourless pecan-and-date cake in a butter sauce. About 30 people attended and if you brought a box of matzo, the cooking demo and the meals were free. (Breakfast was orange juice, coffee and scrambled eggs and tortillas.)

Rosa Mexicano opened last August and its generosity is refreshing, especially in view of the struggling economy and declining restaurant patronage. The restaurant is doing this on a large scale, but it reminds me of when Balthazar Bakery opened on South Dean Street in Englewood in 2002. Before its retail store was ready, the wholesale bakery gave away bread to passers-by who noticed its distinctive yellow delivery trucks and the loaves cooling in the open overhead doors.

By the way, the veal-stuffed ancho chili was outstanding and the cake was delicious (I asked the server to give me one without the butter sauce). I liked the Mexican matzo-ball soup, too, but it was a bit salty. We also were served mango margaritas and hand-made corn tortillas.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Keeping peace in the kitchen

A couple of spectacular supermarkets opened recently in North Jersey, but they can't replace Fattal's, the pita bakery and so much more on Main Street in Paterson's South Paterson district.

The pita bread, spinach and meat pies, pastries and prepared food are all terrific at this Syrian emporium, but I also rely on it for the red, coarsely ground Aleppo pepper, canned hummus that is far cheaper than the refrigerated kind and other Middle Eastern food.

Last week, while stocking up on fat Moroccan sardines (99 cents a can), I looked for cans of ful medames (fava beans) from Libano Verde in Lebanon. (Ful is pronounced "fool.") I serve the beans as a salad, with the addition of olive oil, lemon juice, allspice, garlic and scallions or parsley, but you can also heat them up and serve them with a hard-boiled egg. Egyptians use fava beans to make their version of falafel, and it's a lot more interesting than the chickpea falafel you see everywhere.

But as I picked up a can or two of the ready-to-eat fava beans, I noticed subtle differences in the labels. One said "Palestinian Recipe," another read "Lebanese Recipe." There was more, a "Kurdistan Recipe" and an "Egyptian Recipe." I didn't know the humble but flavorful fava bean could be so controversial. So I took home all four.

I tried the Kurdistan Recipe first, finding that the beans were in a tahini sauce. Nice. One morning, I warmed pita halves and stuffed them with hummus, fava beans, organic spring mix, tomato with za'atar (a spice mixture), wild smoked salmon and a portion of a simple omelet. It was a great way to start the day.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hear the sizzle, smell the hype

On Sunday, the local newspaper had another long article, complete with color photos, glorifying a "celebrity chef." On the occasion of Bobby Flay opening a burger restaurant in Paramus, the paper went all out, providing even more detail about the food, cooking methods and service than I have seen for upscale places that get four stars.

We know Flay is wealthy, but even he wouldn't have paid for all this glorious publicity. He didn't have to. The newspaper treats him royally, seemingly grateful that he's taken pity on we poor, food-deprived North Jerseyans and opened a restaurant here. We learn about his actress wife, their children, his TV shows and books, and even that his mom lives in New Jersey. How does this serve you and me?

One thing the article is silent on is the quality of the meat in his burgers. The headline and article use words such as "high-quality cooking," "fresh" ingredients, and meat of "chef's quality." These are meaningless. However, we're told the meat hasn't been frozen and that it's chuck, with a 20% fat content. But there is nothing about the grade of beef used, where it came from, and whether the animals were raised with growth hormones and antibiotics, what they were fed and whether they were confined in feed lots before slaughter.

The article ends by mentioning that Flay hasn't yet eaten at White Manna in Hackensack, but "wants to visit soon." I happened to drive by Sunday afternoon and saw a line out the door of this tiny burger restaurant, probably the smallest eatery in the city. Those customers likely have one thing in common with people going to Flay's new place: They don't really know what they are eating.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Trout everywhere, but not a one to eat

We attended the open house Saturday at the Pequest Trout Hatchery in Oxford, where the state of New Jersey raises more than 750,000 trout a year to stock lakes and rivers. My son caught a beautiful rainbow trout (and released it), I fired a shotgun for the very first time in my life (at a target), and we bought a small trout made out of wood (in of all places, Chile).

But we were disappointed that state and hatchery officials didn't know of a restaurant in New Jersey that serve these trout, which are raised in pure water from the Pequest aquifer, the reason the hatchery was built there. Many years ago, I recall eating lunch at restaurant in New York State that served trout more than a dozen ways and had a pond out back where you could try your luck at catching one.

Here's another fish story: The other night, we bought whole, cleaned whiting from a Korean supermarket, seasoned them and baked them for 15 to 20 minutes. The flesh was firm and sweet.

Some Korean restaurants in northern New Jersey used to serve small whiting among their side dishes. Yong Su San, a restaurant in Englewood Cliffs that was replaced by the glitzy Mama Mexico, served as many as 10 complimentary side dishes with every meal, something you never see these days. One of them was a small, whole whiting that you would gnaw right down to the bones.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thanks for dinner, Jerry

The cheese section at Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewoood.


We are always wowed when we purchase Meals to Go from Jerry's on South Dean Street in Englewood, and last night was no exception.

We tried three chicken entrees -- chicken francese, a drumstick stuffed with prosciutto and radicchio, and chicken parmigiana

The side dishes are always terrific and you'll find your whole meal in the container.

My wife's lemony chicken francese came with a snap pea salad, zucchini stuffed with vegetables and cheese, roasted potatoes and sauteed escarole with pecans and pine nuts. 

My drumstick was accompanied by risotto primavera, brussel sprouts, three-bean salad, and shrimp dumplings. My son's chicken parmigiana included a fat spinach lasagna, risotto primavera and carrots.

The portions are sensible (total weight is 12 ounces).

We don't reheat in plastic containers so we plate all the food before popping it into the microwave.

"How much did this cost?" my son asked as he looked over his plate. "$6.99, " I told him. "Wow! That's cheap; it would cost $20 in a restaurant." Smart kid.

I poured a glass of red wine, grabbed a roll from Balthazar (a few blocks from Jerry's) and thoroughly enjoyed my dinner.

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

To all you bacon freaks

Here is a comment I sent today to the Web site Relish magazine comes with my local newspaper once a month (this allows the newspaper to do less food writing, not more):

I went to, mentioned on Page 4 of your April 2009 Relish magazine, and it seems the vast majority of bacon sold there is cured and filled with antibiotics and preservatives such as nitrates. To call it natural, as you do, is a real stretch. It may be lower in fat, but I have read that pigs receive more antibiotics than any other animal raised for food. What's wrong with antibiotics? People who eat lots of poultry and meat raised with antibiotics are becoming resistant to antibiotics they get from doctors. There is no discussion On the Web site of cured vs. uncured, antibiotics or growth hormones and whether the bacon sold there has them.

The Web site refers to people who want to avoid nitrates as "health nuts." It does offer a small selection of bacon without nitrates, but there is no mention whether this bacon contains antibiotics and growth hormones.

There is lots of uncured bacon without antibiotics, growth hormones or nitrates sold at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Markets. This is the bacon you should feature in Relish magazine.