Sunday, January 31, 2010

Update for Korean barbecue lovers

Galbi in Korean cuisineImage via Wikipedia

It's happened again. Madangsui Restaurant in Fort Lee, once my favorite Korean barbecue restaurant, was fined $1,033 last week by the borough environmental health specialist "for allowing a rat infestation, with droppings too numerous to count," The Record reported on Friday.

Madangsui was fined $285 on Nov. 10 for defrosting meat on the floor and not covering it.  This was a real surprise, because it  had always boasted of serving fresh beef and was the first Korean barbecue restaurant to offer prime beef, the highest USDA grade, after it opened more than five years ago.
ShopRiteImage via Wikipedia

We love all the vegetables and soy served by Korean restaurants, but I've long been concerned about their "mystery meat" -- sliced extremely thin and marinated to improve flavor and tenderness. So we started buying free-range, grass-fed Australian beef and preparing barbecue at home, with rice, kimchi and other side dishes.

Thankfully, the newspaper Friday also contained a ShopRite circular offering Nature's Reserve free-range, grass-fed whole beef tenderloin for filet mignon from Australia at $3.99 a pound with a store card, $5.99 a pound without (4- to 6-pound average). Make sure you get the Australian beef, because the supermarket chain also has put on sale the same cut of conventionally raised U.S. beef. The sale starts today and ends Feb. 6.

Beef Cuts - Where They Come FromImage via Wikipedia
What I did the last time I bought this Australian beef was to trim it carefully, slice it thin and store it in the freezer in bags with bulgogi marinade, available at H Mart, the Korean supermarket in Little Ferry, Englewood, Fort Lee and Ridgefield. (Illustration shows the tenderloin just below the sirloin.)
There are few meals that can match the fun quotient of Korean barbecue, where you use red-lettuce leaves to wrap up meat, hot pepper paste, rice, garlic, kimchi and whatever else you can manage, then stuff the whole package into your mouth.
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Saturday, January 30, 2010

A delicious lunch at Rosa Mexicano

Rice up close
Image by Rowan Peter via Flickr
A rice field.


We skipped breakfast this morning to attend a free cooking demonstration at Rosa Mexicano Restaurant in Hackensack, then stayed for a wonderful lunch of freshly made guacamole, fish tacos and jumbo shrimp in a roasted-tomato peanut sauce with green-chili rice.

Coffee and juice were available, but the complimentary breakfast we enjoyed in the past has been eliminated. 

With pottery, textiles, sconces and other decorative touches, Rosa Mexicano remains one of the most beautiful restaurants in North Jersey, and virtually all the food is made from scratch -- paying homage to native, Spanish and French culinary influences.

Two chefs, David Suarez and Dennis Lake, showed their audience of more than 30 how to prepare the labor-intensive roasted-tomato peanut sauce, green chile rice, pork picadillo, homemade marshmallows and other dishes. 

At the end of the "Real Men Cook Mexican" demonstration, we were starving.

Me, my wife and 12-year-old son shared the chunky guacamole ($10) a waiter made at our table, spooning some into thin, warm, homemade corn tortillas, some of the best I have ever tasted, and adding red or green salsa. 

A nice hunk of beautifully roasted Chilean sea bass ($12.75) followed,  served with more tortillas to make tacos, plus salsa and three side dishes -- rice, beans with pumpkin seeds and creamed corn.

We also shared an entree of those jumbo shrimp ($19), stacked in a pool of roasted-tomato peanut sauce and served with a mound of rice, made with mustard greens, scallions, spinach and cilantro. 

Unfortunately, the spicy sauce we tasted during the demo was toned down for the restaurant service.

Rosa Mexicano Restaurant, 390 Hackensack Ave., 
in The Shops at Riverside, Hackensack; 201-489-9100.
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Tourists return to Aleppo, Syria

I just came across this travel piece on Aleppo, Syria, at The New York Times' Web site:
Tourists return to Aleppo

Friday, January 29, 2010

Are there bad-produce days?

NJ - Bergen County - Ridgefield: Super H-Mart ...Image by wallyg via Flickr

If humans have bad-hair days, do supermarkets have bad-produce days? I certainly thought so yesterday when I stopped at H Mart in Little Ferry to pick up some greens for dinner (photo shows Ridgefield store).

I have purchased collard greens from this large Korean market several times, but yesterday, the leaves were blemished. As I strolled along the aisle, looking at the large selection of leafy greens and Chinese vegetables, nothing looked very appealing -- wilted, shriveled and so forth.

Another shopper, an American woman, came over and asked the produce stocker if there were more eggplants in the back, explaining the ones she saw were soft. Same for the red peppers. He said no. She went back and managed to find some firm eggplant. I spoke to her and she suggested Thursday wasn't a good day to shop there for produce.

Finally, I saw two heads of fresh spinach at $1.29 each that looked as if they had been put out that day, and grabbed them.  I had already picked up a 5-pound box of large Spanish clementines for $6.99, rejecting smaller Spanish clementines nearby that had seen better days and were priced $1 higher. That was odd -- two prices for the same item.

The selection of delicious prepared food was as good as ever: stewed tofu seasoned with a red-pepper sauce ($3.99) and stewed Alaskan pollack with onions and hot peppers ($4.99).

For dinner, I cut, rinsed and blanched the spinach leaves, then sauteed them in a little extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned them with salt, black pepper and mixed organic spices (Costco).

I served them with an imported vegetarian Indian dinner for two of basmati rice, coconut curry sauce and spiced chickpeas ($3.99 at Target in Paramus) and home-made baked crab cakes, using a pound of lump crab meat from Costco.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Endangered species on sale

SwordfishImage via Wikipedia


Fairway Market's latest sales circular for Paramus (Jan. 29-Feb. 4) advertises fresh swordfish steaks for $8.99 a pound, a species that is both endangered and high in harmful mercury. There is no indication where these fish steaks are from, though Fairway is required to post an in-store sign with the country of origin.

Here is the link to the Environmental Protection Agency site on fish and shellfish: Mercury in fish

The Nature Conservancy site can be reached here: Fish close to extinction
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

'I hate to eat healthy'

Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix is an important part of a healthy diet, above and below.


When I recommended this food blog to a lawyer I met yesterday, he immediately came back with: 

"I hate to eat healthy."

From his conversation with others, I guessed that his wife is not much of a cook and that the most he could expect at home that night was a warmed-up meal from a nearby takeout place. 

When he was growing up, did his mother put a delicious, home-cooked meal on the table every night, as my mother did, fostering a life-long appreciation for good food?

I would imagine he has never stepped foot inside a food store or looked carefully at labels on the processed stuff that passes for food these days. 

Does he know that most of the poultry and beef sold in supermarkets was raised in horrible conditions on factory farms, pumped up with antibiotics and stuffed with feed containing bits of dead animals? 

Or that most salmon served in restaurants is artificially colored? 

He doesn't seem to care.

When I looked at this man, who appeared to be in his late 40s and wore a standard-issue, off-the-rack suit and a boring tie, he didn't really look that healthy. 

At one point, I said I had forgotten his last name and he told me he was "Joe Shmoe." That said it all. He probably shoves any old crap into his mouth.

"I hate to eat healthy."  Isn't that a ridiculous statement? That lawyer is out of order. Naturally raised food tastes far better than conventionally raised fare.

A salad of organic greens is so far above what is served in most places these days, it is a thing of beauty. 

(Indeed, we sent out for lunch and I couldn't finish a Greek salad delivered by a local deli: iceberg lettuce, crappy sliced tomatoes, no stuffed grape  leaves.)

Finding healthy food in supermarkets and on restaurant menus is so worth the effort. 

The feeling of well-being when you sit down to a great meal -- dining in or dining out -- cannot be matched by blindly stuffing your face. 

And an added bonus is gathering family or friends around you for a daily celebration of life.
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Can buying food cheer you up?

Sockeye salmonImage via Wikipedia

What a miserable day. No sunlight, rain lashing the house and wind making the half-dozen tall cedars looming over my property twist and sway.

By this afternoon, the rain had subsided and I drove the two miles to Costco in Hackensack for its wonderful Kirkland-brand smoked wild Alaskan sockeye salmon. That should cheer me up at breakfast for the rest of the week.

But on this Monday, for the second week, there was only smoked farmed salmon. That wasn't good enough. I asked an employee if there was some of the wild fish in back, and he said, as he did last week, whatever is out there. How long will this drought last?

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Food gifts from Jamaica

Three Finger Falls, in Jamaica's Blue Mountains

My wife returned from the island of Jamaica late Friday night, bearing gifts of food.

Most prominent were two bags of 100% Jamaica Blue Mountain roasted coffee beans she bought in the Wallenford Blue shop at the Montego Bay airport. These bags have shrunk to three-quarters of a pound, but at $19 each, they are a great buy when compared to nearly $40 for one pound of Blue Mountain coffee beans at Fairway Market in Paramus. (Photo: Three Finger Falls in the Blue Mountains.)

This morning, my wife served steamed bread fruit she had baked in Jamaica and put in her luggage, along with four or five small fish she bought from the fishermen at Harvey Beach, seasoned, dipped in flour and fried (I visited their shacks during my August vacation on the island). Jamaicans who live in the U.S. say they can't find fish that tastes as good as the ones back home.

Ackee & Saltfish with Fried Dumplings
But the one thing she could not find was fresh ackee, that odd Jamaican fruit that serves as a foil to salted cod and hot peppers in what many call the Jamaican national dish: ackee and saltfish (photo, with fried dumplings). So we had that for breakfast, using canned ackee in brine from Hackensack Market.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sik Gaek BBQ & Seafood Grill

Korean Seafood Hot Pot

 My 12-year-old son's eyes bulged as he watched a waiter pluck a live octopus from a tank, slap it on a plate and serve it to a customer.

We were seated at a table with a skillet of shrimp cooking over a round gas burner last night at Sik Gaek BBQ & Seafood Grill in Flushing, N.Y. -- a few hours before we picked up my wife at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Hey, if we had to go through the hassle of driving to JFK, we might as well reap a food reward on the way there.

Sik Gaek pulses with shouted greetings from the servers and loud Korean rock music. Many customers gather around huge pots of steaming seafood cooking on their tables and wash down shellfish, lobster, shrimp, squid and more with Korean beer, soju or sake.

As my son watched the tanks of live seafood, including lobsters and sea urchins, I faced a line of hungry people that began forming soon after we arrived around 7:30. One of the waiters brought over a platter of Korean dumplings for them.

After we were seated on short stools, a waiter turned on the table burner, put a frying pan with oil over the flame and cracked two fresh eggs into it, cooking them over easy. That was our first side dish. Following that were rice cakes in spicy sauce and some of the best cabbage kimchi we have ever had. We got two more kimchi refills during the meal, plus white rice, which costs $1 a serving.

We couldn't manage one of those big pots of seafood (photo above is generic), which run from $30 and up, so we ordered barbecued shrimp ($19.99) and a whole mackerel in spicy sauce ($14.99) and drank iced water from a bottle on the table.

The shell-on shrimp, with heads and tails, cooked on a bed of coarse salt in a glass-covered pan. They were terrific, head and all, dipped in mild or spicy sauce. The mackerel -- which was butterflied and grilled in the kitchen -- was mild, juicy and fresh, the skin nicely charred. We took home leftovers of both entrees. The meal ended with small cups of refreshing cucumber juice.

I asked a waiter the meaning of the restaurant's name and he replied it would too complicated to explain. In any language, it's a wild scene, with great seafood and service.

Sik Gaek BBQ & Seafood Grill, 161-29 Crocheron Ave.,
Flushing, N.Y.; 718-321-7770; open seven days. 
Web site is in Korean.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

So much food, so little time

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - NOVEMBER 09:  South Korea...Image by Getty Images via Daylife


I only had a hour after I dropped off my son for his piano lesson in Englewood yesterday to pick up some of the terrific food the city has to offer.

My first stop was the kimchi factory on West Englewood Avenue, where I bought a half-gallon jar of Arirang-brand mahk kimchi ($9.99) from the always helpful Mrs. Oh. She combines crunchy nappa cabbage with red pepper, salted shrimp, anchovy sauce, garlic, scallion and other ingredients. It's a healthy and delicious side dish with a sandwich or a complete meal. (Photo shows woman in South Korea offering kimchi.)

Not far away is Balthazar Bakery on South Dean Street, where for the first time I found a dozen ficelles or miniature baguettes ($6). I also picked up a quarter of the bakery's signature rye, sliced ($3.75), and successfully avoided buying another scrumptious pear-hazelnut galette we tried for Christmas.

I drove down South Dean to Jerry's Gourmet & More, not so much to shop as to graze among the cheese, bread and salami samples. I did pick up two aseptic packages of Pomi marinara sauce and chopped tomatoes from Italy, each about 26.5 ounces for $1.69.

I headed back toward the kimchi factory and made my final stop at H Mart, the Korean supermarket near the Palisade Avenue monument. There, I concentrated on prepared food -- a pound of stewed tofu with red pepper sauce ($2.50), cucumber kimchi ($2.50) and honey rice cakes studded with beans ($3.49).

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

H Mart, 25 Lafayette Ave., Englewood

Balthazar Bakery, 214 S. Dean St., Englewood;
(201) 503-9717.
Jerry's Gourmet & More, 410 S. Dean St., Englewood; 


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Thursday, January 21, 2010

My cup runneth over

Zaatar pita - Kamils Kebabs, Melbourne Central...

I was really fortunate to be invited last night to one of my favorite Middle Eastern restaurants by an acquaintance, who also was nice enough to pick up the bill.

My 12-year-old son tagged along for a great meal at Aleppo Restaurant in Paterson, including one of his favorite appetizers, arayes, seasoned meat sandwiched between two halves of toasted pocket bread. But he also loved the lamb-and-beef kabobs with bread, both soaked in an imported sweet-sour cherry sauce.

The five of us started with a bunch of appetizers besides arayes: pureed lentil soup with cumin and lemon, stuffed grape leaves, raw kibbe, meat pies, spicy muhammara dip, small, donut-shaped falafel with tehina sauce, and salad.

Our entrees were the kabobs with cherry sauce and charcoal-grilled quail, whole red snapper and chicken served over red rice and peas with yogurt. For dessert, we shared a dense honey cake.

I made sure to stop first at Fattal's Bakery to pick up Syrian bread, sardines (99 cents to $1.29), olives ($2.99 a pound) and two kinds of sour-salty thyme mixture, called za'atar. The one from Lebanon  (Salloum Bros., $3.49 a pound) contains thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and salt; the one from Syria (Al-Amin, $3.39 a pound) adds cumin, fennel and anise.

I sprinkle za'atar over sliced tomatoes and eggs or press it onto chicken pieces before roasting. You can also dip bread into olive oil and the thyme mixture (store-bought za'atar bread is in photo above).

Aleppo Restaurant, 939 Main St., Paterson; 
973-977-2244. No alcohol permitted.

Fattal's Bakery, 975 Main St., Paterson; 
(973) 742-7125
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Does dried pasta ever 'expire'?

Long PastaImage via Wikipedia

I returned today to Gourmet Marketplace in Little Ferry, where I found products from Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood on my first visit Dec. 15. 

I wanted to get a few bottles of a great-tasting balsamic vinegar of Modena called Ponti, 99 cents for a 16.9 ounces (look for the word "primus" on the label).

Imported Lensi-brand Italian pasta was on sale for only 50 cents a pound, but when I got home, I saw "Jan. 17, 2010" on one of the packages and wondered if that was an expiration date. 

Does dried pasta "expire"? Do you remember the TV commercial that said dried pasta outlasts most marriages?

I bought a 16-ounce package of spaghetti and another of fettuccine. I also saw ziti, but you have to buy four, 1-pound packages for $2.

Gourmet Marketplace is in the former Valley Fair 
on Bergen Turnpike, near the Little Ferry Circle,
now called Value Fair. Credit-card minimum.

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A great way to break a beef fast

Korean traditional cuisine, BulgogiImage via Wikipedia

 I served one of our favorite meals at home last night -- marinated Korean beef barbecue with white rice and side dishes. My 12-year-old son still calls this "cook on the table," a reference to how it is served in restaurants, even though I use a non-stick grill that covers two burners on our stove (photos are generic).

ShopRiteImage via Wikipedia
We started making this meal at home to avoid questions about the quality of the beef served in Korean restaurants in  North Jersey. I used beef I had sliced off of a free-range, grass-fed, whole beef tenderloin from Australia, sold at ShopRite under the Nature's Reserve label. I bought it on sale in December for $4.99 a pound, put the slices in a plastic freezer bag and added bulgogi marinade from H Mart in Little Ferry.

BanchanImage by bobafred via Flickr
Yesterday, I returned to the H Mart for red leaf lettuce, scallions, seasoned bean sprouts and hot pepper paste. I prepared four cups of white rice in our rice cooker and set out the lettuce leaves, three kinds of kimchi and the pepper paste. I grilled the beef, scallions and sliced garlic at the same time.
At the table, we dipped a slice of meat in the hot pepper paste and wrapped it a lettuce leaf along with garlic or scallion, rice and kimchi. The goal is to see who can make the biggest package and still fit it into his or her mouth. The beef, which I cooked just past medium, was really tender. It's a delicious and fun meal. Since the first of the year, this was only our second meal of beef.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Shopping, tasting and recipe notes

Tomato sauce

At ShopRite in Rochelle Park, not one of my favorite stores, I had to buy a half-gallon of Organic Valley lactose-free milk for $4.99 yesterday instead of Horizon organic lactose-free milk for $4.19, because the Horizon half-gallons were setting on a shelf covered in milk and I couldn't tell which one was leaking.

I also bought a pound of Sunset-brand, herbicide-free kumatoes, which are black-purple outside, black-purple and red inside, for $2.50. Today, I opened the package, only to find two of the five tomatoes were slightly bruised and mushy. They originally are from the Galapagos Islands. I tried slices in pocket-bread sandwiches with tuna-red salmon-sardine salad (chopped onions, Dijon mustard, cumin and lime juice, plus all the liquid from cans), salad greens and thin-sliced Swiss cheese.Yum.

Horizon Organic
I counted nearly 20 greens at H Mart in Englewood on Friday, where I stopped after dropping off my son for his piano lesson. I saw Korean mustard greens, collard, a variety of Chinese greens and vegetables, and fresh spinach. I bought a nice bunch of spinach ($1.49), and at home, chopped off the ends, quickly blanched it in boiling water and sauteed it with olive oil, powdered garlic, black pepper and salt. I served it with Murray's antibiotic-free chicken leg quarters, baked Korean yams (bought from an employee tending an oven outside the store) and small salads.

Since the first of the year, we have eaten beef only once. We continue to consume a great deal of seafood for breakfast and dinner, at home and in restaurants, including the canned fish salad I referred to above, wild red snapper, grouper, frozen wild salmon, salmon sashimi, wild-caught shrimp (with orzo in tomato sauce), smoked wild salmon, fresh and canned sardines and Korean-style, pan-fried whiting. All of them are low in mercury.

I even ordered a pizza last night and asked for half with anchovies and hot peppers, from Metro Gourmet Brick Oven Pizza and Restaurant, Hackensack's newest pizzeria (my son got sausage and hot peppers on his half). It was a delicious pie, with a thin, well-baked crust (I asked for it well-done).

1974-2000 ShopRite logo, still in use at some ...
On my weekly trip to Costco last Monday, I picked up three quarts of Bolthouse Farms organic carrot juice and noticed the price had dropped to $5.89, from a high of $7.50 (which was already a great price for 100% juice). That night, I thawed, seasoned and steamed three fillets of Costco's frozen wild sockeye salmon with red wine, a little olive oil and lime juice. In a covered Pyrex dish on top of a pot of boiling water, they cooked in seven minutes (medium rare). Delish.

Metro Gourmet Brick Oven Pizza & Restaurant, 
111 Anderson Ave. (next to the tracks), Hackensack;
201-488-2511; open seven days, free delivery.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Trying to catch a show at Inakaya New York

Inakaya - Bar View

Watching fresh seafood, meat and vegetables grilled in front of you is one of the lures at Inakaya, a Japanese robata-yaki restaurant in Manhattan (a branch of the original in Tokyo).

But, as I found out at lunch today, if you sit at the counter around the grill or grills, a barrier prevents you from actually seeing your food being prepared (photo). 

You will see a display of fresh fish and other items -- on your side of the barrier -- but the grilling is out of sight. (The cooks deliver your food on long paddles they extend over the barrier or low wall.) To improve the view, the restaurant could install mirrors over the grills.

So we ordered bento boxes lunches. I had one with salmon sashimi over salad greens, shrimp and vegetable tempura, a juicy fillet of wild-caught red snapper, grilled mushrooms, okra and potatoes; and some sort of root in sauce with another piece of cooked fish ($18). 

My friend's bento box had pork belly and sashimi ($25). Each lunch came with a bowl of rice and unlimited house green tea.

The menu also lists grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. I left with a colorful brochure that, unfortunately, contains broken English. Here are excerpts:

"'Robata' is the Japanese term that stands for 'around a sunken hearth' and 'yaki' means 'grilling.' Fresh ingredients [are] grilled in proximity of guests' own eyes ...cooked miraculously on open-flame, its ancient but healthy grilling method of dropping excess oil has attained its popularity, and has spread throughout Japan. And now it comes to New York!"

Inakaya New York, 231 W. 40th St., Manhattan
(in The New York Times building),
212-354-2195; open seven days.
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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Find your reward at Spicy & Tasty

Hong Kong Palace/成都小館

If you have to go through the ordeal of driving someone to John F. Kennedy International Airport --  incredibly congested roads, bumper-to-bumper traffic, aggressive truck drivers -- you can reward yourself on the way home with a visit to Spicy & Tasty, a Szechuan restaurant in the Flushing section of Queens.

That's what I did today after dropping my wife at the airport, which seemed to be slumbering, at least from my curbside view in front of the terminal. But I arrived a half-hour before the restaurant's noon opening, and had to visit an ATM machine in the hotel around the corner (Spicy & Tasty doesn't take credit card).

When you arrive in Flushing, you're immediately transported to Hong Kong -- another great place to eat -- by the Chinese lettering on the buildings, the bustling streets and the many Asians on foot and in cars.

I was there for takeout, something for lunch and dinner at home. I ordered one of the cold appetizers displayed in a glass case at the front of the restaurant: shredded bamboo in chili oil ($6.50). My entrees were bean curd with spicy minced pork ($7.95) and fish fillet in fresh hot pepper ($14.95), which is made with cabbage, and I also asked for broccoli with fresh garlic (also $7.95) after I was told the kitchen didn't have Chinese watercress.

The drive home was trouble-free, and I put some of the still-warm white rice in a bowl and topped it with the hot, cubed tofu, which was swimming in a reddish sauce. This is one restaurant that heeds your request for "very spicy." I ate the bean curd and rice with a spoon and found it comforting. It made my lips tingle.

Spicy & Tasty, 39-07 Prince Street (1H), Flushing, New York; 
718-359-1601; open seven days, cash only.
Municipal parking lot is at Prince and 39th streets.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I've solved the mystery of clashing labels on Campari Tomatoes

Sunset-brand Campari Tomatoes in 1-pound packages at Fairway Market in Paramus in 2012. Costco Wholesale sells the same tomatoes in 2-pound packages for a good deal less.


I thought I was seeing things:

Labels with and without the words "no herbicides" or "herbicide-free" on Sunset-brand Campari tomatoes -- those deep-red orbs small enough to pop into your mouth whole for an explosion of wonderful, tomatoey flavor.

I buy them at Costco, and when the words no longer appeared on the label, I thought this must be another kind of Campari tomatoes grown with herbicides, so I went looking for the herbicide-free line elsewhere. I didn't find it. 

Prices are all over the place. At Costco, they are $4.99, $5.29 or $5.49 for a 2-pound package; ShopRite in Rochelle Park actually had the nerve to put them out for $7.99.

Today, I looked at the Web site and could find no mention of herbicides, though there was an indication that "good bugs" in the greenhouse eat "bad bugs." 

Then, I called Mastronardi Produce in Canada, the greenhouse growers of the Sunset brand, and was assured the company still uses no herbicides or pesticides, but has been prohibited from saying so on the Web site or product labels by a new Canadian law that went into effect at the end of last year.

The woman I spoke to suggested the Canadian government, being unable to verify such claims, decided to ban the use of those words on produce labels to eliminate misrepresentation by unscrupulous growers.

That puts my mind at rest. I'm just finishing up a package of Campari tomatoes I bought for $4.99, and I'll be sure to get more, if they are available at that price.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Oh! Calamares Peruvian Restaurant

peruvian food mosaic

My wife and son weren't interested in the black mint sauce, ceviche, squid or rabbit. Before I could order the braised tripe, she asked for a small sample. We were looking over the adventurous menu at Oh! Calamares, a Peruvian restaurant in Kearny, and trying to put together a meal on Saturday night, our one dinner out last week.

The menu listed dishes I had never seen at our favorite Peruvian restaurants, including Pollos El Chevere in the city of Passaic and Jaimito's in Clifton. The former is owned by Japanese-Peruvians, the latter by Chinese-Peruvians. Italians also influenced the cooking of Peru.

My wife and son insisted on ordering chicken soup ($8.50), and the bowl was so big, they not only couldn't finish it, but they had room for little else. Each bowl contained a quarter of a big, boiled chicken in one piece and fat, Chinese-style noodles that were falling apart.

I ordered chicharron de pescado ($10.50) as an appetizer -- fried chunks of breaded grouper fillet, fried yuca and tartar sauce. We ignored the tartar sauce and doused the fish and yuca with the pale-green hot sauce we got when we sat down with a separate dish of addictive, popped and salted corn kernels. The fish-yuca appetizer was great.

Our entrees were cau-cau ($9) -- braised tripe and potatoes with peas, served with white rice -- and tallarin saltado ($15) -- thick, Chinese-style spaghetti with shrimp. I did my best, but we took about half of each home. We drizzled hot sauce on the mild, toothsome tripe and potatoes. The shrimp snapped.

So there are lots of dishes left to try, probably when I go alone for lunch: grilled, marinated veal-heart kebabs; sliced, boiled potatoes in a black mint sauce; oven-roasted rabbit; spicy, braised duck, black-conch ceviche, and more.

The articulate, young man who showed us to our table said the restaurant, once located in North Bergen, was named after his father's onetime favorite place in Peru. He is a second-generation restaurateur. The building looks modern outside and traditional on the three levels inside. Tables are bare. The atmosphere was marred by a poor quality DVD of a concert that was playing at high volume on flat-screen TVs in the two-level dining room.

Kearny Avenue, once solely a destination for Scottish fish and chips, now is home to several ethnic restaurants besides Oh! Calamares (that's "Oh! Squid" in English).

Oh! Calamares Restaurant, 102 Kearny Ave., Kearny;
201-998-4111. Peruvian beer and wine available.
Municipal parking lot across the street.
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why you can't shop in one food store

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13:  People shop inside of...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

If, like me, you do most of the food shopping in your family, you dream of that one store where you can be assured of getting fresh, healthy food at great prices. Don't hold your breath.

Even a random sampling of how food prices are all over the place will discourage you. At Fairway Market in Paramus on Friday, a 3.5-pound bag of Spanish clementines was $5.99, compared to $3.49 at H Mart in Little Ferry. Fairway's price for one pound of Earthbound Farm organic spring mix was $6.99; at Costco in Hackensack, it's $4.49.

Costco sells three cans of wild sockeye red salmon from Alaska, but you get better value buying one can of Bumble Bee wild sockeye salmon at Fairway or ShopRite for $4.99 (just under 15 ounces). ShopRite no longer discounts this red salmon during its Can-Can Sale, when it has been as low as $2.99.

My wife just called to report the pomegranate she bought for 99 cents at H Mart in Englewood is $2 at ShopRite in Rochelle Park, where she is shopping today.

I'm not sure what you can conclude from these examples and others I am sure you have seen yourself. All I know is that a food shopper's work is never done.
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Passing along a guide to some healthy foods

After reading my previous post on sardines, a  friend sent me a link to a New York Times blog on those mighty little fish and 10 other "best foods you aren't eating." Here is the link:

11 best foods you aren't eating
Image representing New York Times as depicted ...Image via CrunchBase


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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Why don't sardines get more respect?

Baked W.A. Sardines with Crunchy Breadcrumbs w...

Among the fish we eat regularly, only the much-maligned anchovy is smaller. But that doesn't explain why the mighty little sardine is misunderstood or completely ignored. Last night, our dinner of fresh sardines flown in from Portugal was a revelation.

I started noticing something was amiss when I read an article on healthy-to-eat fish in the January/February 2010 AARP The Magazine, which claims to have the world's largest circulation for a magazine. Yet, the piece completely omitted any mention of sardines. In the same issue, an article about how to save at the supermarket ignored canned sardines, inexpensive when compared to red salmon and better for you than albacore tuna, which is high in mercury.

Then, this week, The Record of Woodland Park  ran a Chicago Tribune article on nutritious foods that contained misinformation on omega-6 fatty acids in the vegetable oil sardines are often packed in. The oil is good for you, according to the American Heart Association.

I've long been aware fresh Portuguese sardines are flown into Newark airport weekly, but I've only eaten them occasionally in a restaurant, and that was years ago. So I went looking for them Friday during a trip to Fairway Market in Paramus, my main source for salted codfish. My backup was Whole Foods Market, also in Paramus.

But there they were at Fairway, their slim, silvery bodies resting on ice, at $7.99 a pound. I asked for two pounds --cleaned with the heads on -- and got an unlucky 13 sardines, but we ate all but two for dinner, with spaghetti in tomato sauce and a big salad of organic greens. I cooked them in two frying pans with extra-virgin olive oil, seasoned with salt, garnished them with fresh, chopped cilantro and squeezed lime over the fish. The flesh was mild, tender and sweet.

The fishmonger said they would take only two minutes or so per side, but they need to be cooked longer. I could also see baking them or charring them on a grill pan, but the skin is delicate and pulls off easily.

Mostly, I'll continue to eat canned sardines -- in breakfast sandwiches with hummus, cheese, greens and tomatoes or in spaghetti with a sardine-tomato sauce (about two cans of chopped fish for one pound of spaghetti or other pasta). And I'll continue to buy them at Fattal's Bakery in Paterson, where Moroccan sardines are a low 89 or 99 cents per can.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

How to spend $58 in 20 minutes

Kathy at Trader Joe's in Modesto - Day 94

After our great lunch at Fuddruckers in Paramus yesterday, I decided to drive a few miles across the borough to Trader Joe's, which stocks bacon, hot dogs and other items without antibiotics, growth hormones or preservatives. We hadn't been there in more than a month to avoid having to fight holiday traffic on Route 17.

It didn't take long -- about 20 minutes -- to spend nearly $60. (Photo shows a Trader Joe's in California.)

I picked up one of my all-time favorite -- a nearly three-pound rack of St. Louis-style pork ribs from the Niman Ranch for $5.99 a pound. They come fully cooked with sauce. What could be easier to prepare?

I also grabbed two 12-ounce packages of Trader Joe's natural bacon ($3.99 each) and one package of uncured, fully cooked  beef hot dogs (also $3.99).

Niman Ranch, Inc.Image via Wikipedia
The rest of our purchases were sliced yogurt cheese with jalapenos ($4.69), three kinds of tortillas, including habanero-lime ($2.69); organic and Greek-style yogurt ($2.99 each), two 100% juices ($3.49 and $3.99) and organic blue agave sweetener ($2.99) that I drizzle over the yogurt. The tortillas can be frozen.

The total with tax: $58.59.

Trader Joe's, 404 Route 17 north, Paramus; 201-265-9624;
open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
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