Saturday, July 31, 2010

At Chef Ji's Moon Jar in Fort Lee

Upper New York City and the George Washington ...The George Washington Bridge linking Fort Lee and Manhattan.
 (Image via Wikipedia)


There are dozens of barbecue, tofu, cold-noodle and other types of Korean restaurants in North Jersey, but now, a chef trained at The Culinary Institute of America and tested under fire on Gordon Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen" has broken the mold with Chef Ji's Moon Jar in Fort Lee.

Ji Cha, 36, turns out big flavors in this small, strip-mall space on Palisade Avenue, in sight of the George Washington Bridge (former home of Greek To Me, which moved down the street into its own building).

I didn't count them Friday night, but there are probably 25 seats at tables and a bar in the simply decorated but chic room.

The limited menu offers small plates of Asian-inspired food, all under $10, in a bow to the sluggish economy, plus specials, such as my perfectly cooked miso-sake fillet of sea bass served over spicy noodles with seaweed salad ($18.99). 

I also tried one of the small plates, portobello "fries," lightly breaded pieces of mushroom served with an aioli ($6.25).

Other small plates include hoisin duck, dumplings, scallops wrapped in bacon and Korean BBQ sliders with Korean cole slaw. 

A couple at the next table raved about several of the small plates they had sampled, including the sliders, duck and scallops.

Another special Friday night was a cheese-stuffed hamburger, and Chef Ji offers a five-course tasting menu for $36 or $45 with wine.  

The bar turns out specialty drinks, such as the large, sake mojito with fresh mint that cooled me off ($9 or two for $9 during happy hour). Bottles of wine are under $30. 

Service was helpful but not polished. Just when I needed a refill of tap water, Chef Ji was there with a pitcher, and she also cleared my table. All the hard surfaces can make conversation difficult when several tables are occupied.

The bar-restaurant takes its name from a mild, fermented Korean rice wine called makgulli -- Moon Jar. The chef offered me and other diners a small tumbler of it after our meals. 

I was told makgulli was made by Korean farmers, reminding me of their American counterparts in the rural South who gave us moonshine and stock-car racing.

Chef Ji's Moon Jar, 1636 Palisade Ave., Fort Lee; 201 363-0097. Dinner only. Call for hours. See link below:

Chef Ji

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Grand re-opening at Fairway Market?

Picture of Fairway Market - Paramus Location, ...Image via Wikipedia

The Fairway Market sales flier that came with the newspaper today invites shoppers to the "grand re-opening" of the Paramus store, which debuted in March 2009. Aisles have been expanded, better signs are up and organics, grocery and specialty items are grouped together. Who knew?

I last visited the Fashion Center store in the first half of June and didn't notice anything being changed. It was as much a labyrinth then as it was during my first visit ever -- minus the crowds, gridlock and people banging their carts into each other (photo).

The flier promises the store now is "easier to shop and browse." Inside the flier, Fairway lists about 20 grocery items and compares its prices to ShopRite in Paramus and Stop & Shop in Ridgewood. In each case, the Fairway price is lower.

Employees -- or customer-relations specialists, in Fairway speak -- will be wearing red aprons with big black letters, "NEED HELP?" In smaller letters, the aprons say, "I'm friendly and I have answers."
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Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Sockeye SalmonImage via Wikipedia


One pound of smoked, wild sockeye salmon at Costco in Hackensack -- sold under the Kirkland house brand -- is $14.99, not $4.99, as I wrote initially in the previous post. It is available year-round, and is a bargain at that price.

It's pre-sliced, and makes a great breakfast sandwich with pesto, hummus, Dijon mustard or yogurt cheese; tomato, lettuce and Swiss or sharp cheddar cheese.
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Dining, food and shopping notes

Vica faba or broad beans, known in the US as f...Image via Wikipedia

The upscale Greek fish house called Nisi Estiatorio in Englewood offers a $17 lunch that compares favorably with the three $24.07 lunches I enjoyed recently in Manhattan. Nisi's lunch is three courses, like its pricier competition, and the fish is just as fresh. The restaurant serves olives and bread drizzled with olive oil.

I started with house-cured salmon in ouzo (the menu didn't say if this was farmed or wild-caught fish). My entree was a red-snapper fillet grilled simply with the skin on and served with an emulsion of extra-virgin olive oil and lemon with capers, and a side dish of sauteed greens, including Swiss chard. Dessert was rich Greek yogurt with berries. A terrific lunch.

Nisi Estiatorio is at 90 Grand Ave., Englewood; 201-567-4700.

Organic spinach at Costco

I stopped at Costco in Hackensack this morning to see if I could find organic spinach. A one-pound package was $3.99, compared with $6.99 at ShopRite.

Summer salads

I made a couple of salads over the weekend to see me through the week. 

I took a half-pound of whole fava beans (photo) I bought frozen at Jerry's in Englewood, boiled them and dressed them in extra-virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice, adding salt and Middle Eastern spices to taste, including cumin and Aleppo red pepper from Fattal's in Paterson.

I did the same with a half-pound of gourmet fingerling potatoes from Costco. Both the fava beans and potatoes taste great stuffed into warm pocket bread.

Skate wing for dinner

After lunch at Nisi in Englewood, I stopped at the Korean supermarket called H Mart to look over the fresh fish. I found skate wing for $2.99 a pound and, although the fishmonger said I don't have to do anything to it before cooking, I suspect the one-pound-plus piece I bought contains a bone.

At the Greek restaurant Anthos in Manhattan, where I had skate wing as part of a three-course lunch for $24.07 last Friday, it is listed on the a la carte menu at $29.

Wild salmon at Costco

There was plenty of fresh, wild sockeye salmon at Costco this morning for $8.99 a pound, its color a vivid contrast with the farmed, artificially colored salmon at the other end of the case. Costco also sells previously frozen, wild sockeye that has been naturally smoked without preservatives for $14.99 a pound, a price that would be hard to match elsewhere. Unlike the fresh sockeye, the smoked version is available year-round.

I originally wrote the smoked salmon was $4.99 a pound. That was incorrect.
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Food editor's days are numbered

University of MiamiImage via Wikipedia

The Record of Woodland Park is looking for a new food editor. The successful candidate would replace Bill Pitcher, who has been in the job for only four years and one month.

The job posting -- on the Web site of the University of Miami School of Communication -- reads almost exactly like the one the newspaper ran after Patricia Mack was forced to retire in 2006.

But the address for cover letters and resumes is now 1 Garret Mountain Plaza in Woodland Park, not 150 River St., Hackensack, former home of the newspaper and North Jersey Media Group. Here is one line from the July 20 posting:

"This editor must have a boundless enthusiasm for and a vast knowledge of food, dining, nutrition, fitness, diet and health issues."
Pitcher, who is being paid more than $71,000 a year, never put his stamp on food coverage. He took over the job in June 2006 -- several months before the Food section was folded by Publisher Stephen A. Borg -- and has been little more than a recipe editor. In the past six months, he has reviewed restaurants while Elisa Ung is on leave.

The brash, young publisher promised "every day" food news in the Better Living features section that Pitcher never was able to deliver, despite the assistance of Ung and other young staffers.

The successful candidate likely will be in their early 30s -- in keeping with Features Director Barbara Jaeger's desire to work with young people who won't challenge her authority.

To read the full posting, go to the university Web site (below) and click on "Career Connection" in the header, then "Jobs": 

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

At Ima Restaurant in Teaneck

Israeli saladImage via Wikipedia

Ima is the Hebrew word for mother, but the food served at the kosher Teaneck restaurant pales in comparison to the dishes turned out by my Sephardic Jewish mother, who was born in Aleppo, Syria.

The cook at this restaurant is the daughter of the woman who opened the original Ima in Israel, featuring recipes from the family kitchen in Mosul, Iraq. Iraq and Syria share a border, but, judging from the food I ate at Teaneck's Ima, not the spices that set Grace Sasson's food apart.

This is also a kosher restaurant, which means it's expensive. I can understand why dishes with kosher meat are more expensive than non-kosher meat dishes at other restaurants. But why are dishes without meat so expensive?

I wanted to try one of Ima's signature items -- kibbeh -- which is a fried bulgur-wheat casing containing vegetables, but only the meat version was available Sunday evening. Instead, I ordered a red pepper stuffed with rice ($6), a bowl of tomato soup with white beans ($6) and an Israeli salad of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers that serves two ($8). Hummus was listed at $9.

The food was good, but bland. I couldn't taste any cumin, allspice or tamarind sauce, just three of the ways my mother seasoned her home-cooked dishes.

The restaurant is simply decorated and seats about 20. During my visit Sunday evening, I saw at least three, large Israeli families with noisy children eating there. 

After I ordered, I received a small bowl of pickled vegetables and a single, doughy, partially burned pocket bread. I asked for a second bread during my meal. I drank water, because there was no seltzer.

Ima is about a mile from my home, and I was hoping it was a place where I could experience the flavors of my mother's kitchen, but I'll have to continue driving to Paterson for the real thing.

Ima Restaurant, 445 Cedar Lane, Teaneck; 201-357-5789. 
Closed Friday at 4 p.m. during the summer, and all day Saturday.
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Go fish for meat substitutes

Sockeye salmonImage via Wikipedia


In a few days, it will be five months since I have eaten meat -- poultry, pork, beef and lamb -- but only the availability of great seafood has seen me through.

In the past two weeks, I had fresh, wild-caught fish in restaurants, as part of takeout and at home. 

Esca, Fig & Olive and Anthos restaurants in Manhattan serve wonderful fish, and Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood usually has a fish selection or two among its restaurant-quality Meals To Go ($6.99). Finally, Costco sells extraordinary seafood at low prices year-round.

At Esca , I had a wonderful  lunch of halibut cheeks and a pair of beautiful yellow-fin tuna medallions with rare centers. Though Fig & Olive didn't serve bread, I really enjoyed a caramelized fillet of snowy cod served in a bowl over vegetables and broth. Anthos won me over with salmon tartare, raw fluke and an incredibly thick and moist skate wing.

At Jerry's, I picked up a dinner with grouper in fresh herbs, which came with breaded artichokes, cauliflower, vegetable dumplings and potatoes. 

This morning, I had the last of six portions of the wild sockeye salmon fillet I bought at Costco and baked until it was medium ($8.99 a pound). I ate most of the fish in sandwiches for breakfast or over salad for a light summer dinner, stuffing salmon and dressed greens into warm halves of pocket bread.

Hope you like the new design I've applied to the blog. It's called Simple.

(Photo: Sockeye salmon.)
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Friday, July 23, 2010

Glorious seafood lunch at Anthos

Skate WingImage by FotoosVanRobin via Flickr

Two men were walking past Anthos on West 52nd Street in Manhattan just before noon today when one said to the other, "She planned the entire trip around food. It's sort of funny." Funny? I'd say it's admirable.

I was cooling my heels outside the restaurant waiting for 11:45 a.m., when I had a reservation for lunch, on the last day of Restaurant Week. (Many restaurants in the city will continue to offer a $24.07 lunch through Labor Day.)

The staff was running a little late, and the bar still held an open newspaper, and an empty glass and bottle. Two women ahead of me were seated at a table near the window. I was by myself and ended up against the rear wall.

After I received a glass of tap water, I waited and then waited some more as other customers were seated nearby. Finally, a waiter apologized and handed me the menu, saying he thought a second person would be joining me.

I ordered, and he offered me one of three rolls: plain, olive or whole wheat. I asked for all three, and he obliged, then brought me some olive oil for dipping to replace the butter I said I don't use.

Anthos offers "new Greek cuisine." First, I received a little salmon tartare, with mint yogurt, dill, and a bit of orange, a gift from the chef.

My appetizer was crudo -- tender, raw fluke with strips of ginger, more bits of orange and dill. For my entree, I chose skate wing (photo) served over couscous and under a little salad. The white-meat skate was lightly breaded and roasted in a pan. It was thick, moist and delicious.

I finished with roasted peaches and shortbread, but asked the waiter not to bring me the accompanying vanilla ice cream. The meal left me feeling full and contented. With a 15% tip, I rounded up the bill to $30. 

This was my third $24.07 lunch in two weeks, so American Express will give me a $15 statement credit, bringing the cost of each of these excellent lunches to $25, including, tax and tip.

Walking back to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, I encountered police closing a portion of Eighth Avenue because of a bomb scare. I stopped at Starbucks for black coffee and sat in the window to watch the fascinating parade of tourists and New Yorkers strutting by.

Anthos, 36 W. 52nd St., New York, N.Y.; 212-582-6900.

Anthos New Greek Cuisine
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cooking for one isn't easy

Parmigiano ReggianoImage via Wikipedia

My wife and son are away, meaning I do less food shopping and much less cooking. In fact, with the heat waves we've been having, I may cook a meal once a week, if that, and my meals are a lot less formal.

The other night, I used organic spinach leaves to cover a Napoletana pizza with fresh mozzarella and red sauce from Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood ($4.99), added a few cherry tomato halves from the garden, seasoned it and drizzled on extra-virgin olive oil. I popped it into a 375-degree oven for less than a half hour.

The chewy dough crisped up a bit and the spinach softened. Half of the 12-inch pizza, a big salad with cucumber from the garden, wine and seltzer made a fine dinner.

Last week, I boiled a half-pound of rigatoni and in a separate pan, heated up half of a 32-ounce bottle of marinara sauce with added seasonings and red-pepper flakes, plenty of fresh spinach and cherry tomato halves. I was out of anchovies, but would have added them to the sauce.

At the table, I was liberal with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, poured myself a glass of red wine and used toasted baguette to sop up the remaining sauce. I also ate that with a big salad. The leftovers made a second meal. 

At Costco in Hackensack, I bought a 1.73-pound, skin-on fillet of fresh wild sockeye salmon ($8.99 a pound, product of USA) on Tuesday, cut it into six portions; added fresh lemon juice, salt, Aleppo pepper and chopped parsley and other herbs; and baked it at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes for medium. I gobbled down one portion down without salad or bread, and it was moist, fatty and delicious.

This morning, I made a sandwich on 100% whole grain toast for breakfast: half a portion of baked wild salmon, a slice of smoked wild sockeye, leftover spinach frittata, tomato from the garden, romaine lettuce and Dijon mustard. It was terrific, though too big to fit in my mouth.

The remaining baked wild salmon will be wonderful right out of the fridge with a big salad or on another sandwich, and should last me through the week.

For snacks, I have plenty of Washington State cherries, Jersey blueberries, roasted almonds and low-fat cheese on hand.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Can Can Sale at ShopRite

1974–2000 ShopRite logo, still in use at some ...Image via Wikipedia

The Can Can Sale at ShopRite isn't what it used to be, but there are still several bargains to be found that allow you to stock up on favorite items.

It's been a couple of years since ShopRite would knock off $2 from the price of canned red salmon from Alaska, selling it for $2.99 during the Can Can Sale. I used to buy 10 cans at a time. Now, the best you can do is a 50-cent discount on Bumble Bee-brand red salmon, or $4.59.

On Monday, at the Hackensack ShopRite, I found five dozen cans of Adirondack seltzer (lemon-lime and mandarin orange) for $1.99 a dozen -- a savings of $1.50. This brand has a lot more fizz and a lot more flavor than the store brand or others in large, plastic bottles, and doesn't go flat as fast.

Extra-virgin olive oil from Italy, sold under the ShopRite name, is $4.99 for the 33.8-ounce bottle -- a discount of $3. This oil isn't a blend from Italy, Greece, Turkey and other countries; the olives were grown in Italy and the oil was produced there, the store says.

I bought three bottles for dressing salads, frying eggs, dipping bread and other every day uses.

I also picked up Goya beans -- black, red kidney and so forth -- at three cans for $2.

If you think deciphering parking signs in Manhattan is difficult, the Can Can sale shelf tags would challenge a Talmudic scholar.

In the produce section, I found a 16-ounce plastic tub of Earthbound Farm organic spinach leaves. I looked over the shelf tags and found one that read something like this,  "EFB baby spinach, $4.99, $1 off." When I got home and looked over my receipt, the spinach had rung up at $6.99.

This morning, I returned to the store and the produce section, and looked at the shelf tag again. I said to the man stocking produce nearby that I had been overcharged, but he said the sign was for the 11-ounce package, not the 16-ounce one I had selected. Indeed, I had missed the the number "11," which appears on the sign in red.

I left the store with two 64-ounce containers of Florida's Natural orange juice (two for $5) and a dozen 4 Grains cage-free brown eggs, which are from chickens that receive no antibiotics or animal byproducts ($1.69).

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Monday, July 19, 2010

The restaurant that doesn't serve bread

olive breadImage by stu_spivack via Flickr

If you go to Fig & Olive in the Meat Packing District of Manhattan for a $24.07 lunch today, you'll find a bread plate on your table and a server will bring you some nice, crusty olive bread. If you went Sunday and ordered from the same Restaurant Week lunch menu -- as I did -- your bread plate will remain empty and eventually will be taken away.

Why no bread service at Sunday lunch? It's apparently because the restaurant also serves brunch on Sundays, and its brunch menu offers bread for $3.50 or an assortment for $9, with jams and an olive-oil-and-honey mixture. The waiter actually showed me the brunch menu and asked me if I wanted to order bread.

I'm a bread person, and I briefly considered stiffing him with only a 10% tip, but he was careful to explain it's the restaurant's policy, not his.

I also didn't see any figs, one of my favorite fruits, or any dishes with figs. Dessert was strawberries with mascarpone on shortbread "crostinis," made ahead, the waiter said, so I couldn't get it without the triple-cream cheese. So I ate only six small strawberries with micro-basil in 18-year-old balsamic vinegar.

Well, at least my appetizer and entree were good, but I didn't leave the restaurant with the same  full, contented feeling I had on Friday after a $24.07 lunch at Esca, a seafood restaurant where admittedly I went overboard by eating six pieces of bread. (See post, My $24.07 lunch at Esca.)

The bread incident only highlighted the stark contrast with Esca, a smaller, busier place where the food and service excel. Fig & Olive is cavernous and cold, reflected in the bare metal table I was seated at in the lounge and the waiter coming over in less than a minute after I received food to ask if everything was OK.

My starter at Fig & Olive was a tumbler of gazpacho with two very thin, almost cracker-like pieces of toast. For my entree, I had a bowl of vegetables (carrot, onion, artichoke, pea pods and olives) topped with a moist fillet of caramelized cod, served with the skin on. There was a nice broth with extra-virgin olive oil in the bottom of the bowl -- another reason the lack of bread seemed a crime -- so I had to ask for a soup spoon to finish it.

On the way out, I told the manager it made no sense to serve bread with lunch on weekdays, but not on Sundays. He said he would pass on my comment to the chef.

NYC Restaurant Week Information 

(Photo: Olive bread.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

More on antibiotics in animal feed

Dr. Öz at ServiceNation 2008Image via Wikipedia

It's hard to understand why AARP The Magazine and most other media ignore the  impact on humans from the widespread use of antibiotics in animal feed.

As I've noted, AARP The Magazine has published long articles on saving money at the supermarket and Dr. Mehmet Oz's guidelines for a healthy diet without any reference to the challenges readers face when shopping for poultry and meat, much of which is filled with antibiotics from animal feed or water.

You've seen those huge slabs of beef or pork featured in the cooking segments on morning TV, but have you ever heard the chefs or the host discuss whether the animals were raised on antibiotics or  growth hormones? Nail-biting Chef Bobby Flay's hamburger restaurant in Paramus serves Certified Angus Beef filled with antibiotics, although there is a naturally raised version available.

Here is a small item in the August 2010 issue of On Health from Consumer Reports. Under a "health wire" heading on Page 2, "Antibiotic resistance, from animals to humans," it reads:

"The bacteria that causes urinary-tract infections resistant to antibiotics may have developed first in animals, according to a study in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Medical Microbiology.

"Researchers think it's perhaps because of the widespread use of antibiotic in animal feed."
(Photo: Dr. Oz in 2008.)
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Saturday, July 17, 2010

My $24.07 lunch at Esca

Halibut CheeksImage by amanky via Flickr

If you love fresh, wild-caught seafood prepared in imaginative ways, a Manhattan restaurant called Esca will make you feel right at home. This week and next, three-course lunches cost only $24.07 -- about the price of an entree the rest of the time -- as part of the Restaurant Week promotion, but tables are difficult to reserve.

I was by myself Friday, and when I called to reserve the day before, I was offered a table in the bar area or outdoors, on what was to be a sweltering day. I took the table near the bar. During Winter Restaurant Week, no table was available at Esca, which is partially owned by Chef Mario Batali and was one of the first non-Japanese restaurants to serve raw fish or crudo.

Three appetizers, three entrees and a single dessert are offered for $24.07. I chose halibut cheeks for my appetizer and local yellow-fin tuna for an entree. The final course was panna cotta (cooked cream) with fruit, nuts and honey.

To me, this is something of a game. I try to avoid extra charges, leave a 15% tip and round off the bill -- with tip and tax -- to $30. That means tap water during the meal and declining the flight of wines for an extra $10 or so. No coffee at the end, either. After more than a decade of these bargain lunches at some of the city's best restaurants, maybe it's time to loosen up.

When these meals were first offered in the late 1990s, they were priced to mimic the year: $19.97, $19.98 and so forth. In the early 2000s, however, the price jumped inexplicably from $20-something to $24-something, so the old format is no longer being followed.

I loved the food and service at Esca, though I could do without the French tourists sitting next to me, a young man and two women who seemed disinclined to speak to their neighbor. I wanted to ask them whether Paris had a Restaurant Week.

The halibut cheeks were bigger than I expected -- about 1 by 2 inches. They were nicely fried, served on a bed of fragrant, baby arugula and topped with a few thin onion rings. When they were brought to me, I had already eaten a half-dozen olives and a small piece of toast topped with white beans, compliments of the chef, plus two pieces of wonderful bread. I kept on asking for bread during the meal -- one was crusty with a doughy center, the other a thick, whole-wheat focaccia.

I expected a small, yellow-fin tuna steak for the entree, but was bowled over by two medallions -- an inch to an inch and a half thick -- with grill marks outside and cooked medium rare inside, as requested.  A cold, heirloom squash salad topped with some pesto was served with the fish, which was tender and delicious and needed only a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. I sopped up the juices and pesto with bread.

I usually don't eat dessert, so the panna cotta was a treat, and reminded me of Spanish flan without caramel. Service was excellent, with crumbs from all the bread I ate cleared away between courses.

On the way to the rest room, I nearly bumped into a man, and the waiter said, "Watch out for the fish monger." Feeling full and contented with this cool meal on a hot day, I walked briskly the couple of blocks to the Port Authority Bus Terminal for the trip home.

NYC Restaurant Week Information

(Photo: Halibut cheeks, similar to the appetizer at Esca.)
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Friday, July 16, 2010

AARP The Magazine bars dissent from readers

A promotion for Dr. Mehmet Oz's TV show.


"Get Healthy With Dr. Oz" 

Under this upbeat headline on the cover of AARP The Magazine's May-June 2010 issue, readers are urged: "Eat better, live longer -- a new you starting right now."

But when I sent in a letter noting Dr. Oz could be even more helpful, the magazine rejected it, noting it receives far more letters than it has room to print. 

Here is my letter:
       "We'd get a lot healthier with Dr. Oz if we avoided antibiotics in poultry and farmed fish, and growth hormones in beef and pork. 

           "I respectfully suggest Dr. Oz spend some time in supermarkets, and help guide food shoppers through all the confusing choices we face."

Victor Sasson
Hackensack, N.J.

I also included the web address of my blog:
This is the second time in about a year AARP The Magazine has rejected my letter asking the editors to discuss the use of antibiotics and growth hormones to raise animals for human consumption.
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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The tomatoes are coming!

Small tomatoes in KoreaImage via Wikipedia

We haven't had much luck growing produce in our back yard since we moved to Hackensack in August 2007.

We planted peach and black-fig trees a couple of years ago. We got some figs, but squirrels ate all the peaches before they ripened. In the spring, I put a net over the peach tree, and now the unripened peaches are falling off.

We bought a greenhouse from Costco last year, but we had trouble assembling it, and then a nor'easter blew it down. (Costco gave us a full refund after I returned all the pieces to the Hackensack store.)

But we're doing much better with cucumbers -- long, curly ones a foot or more long -- and now tomatoes. I've been enjoying three or four dozen small, ripe cherry tomatoes this week, dusted with za'atar thyme mixture for breakfast, added to leftover Thai fried rice from Wondee's in Hackensack and cut up to supplement bottled pasta sauce for tonight's dinner.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Apples in summer?

BraeburnImage via Wikipedia

With all the hot, muggy weather we've been having, I did a double-take when I came upon a display of apples on Monday at Whole Foods in Paramus.

They were organic and they had traveled long distances: Pink Lady from Chile, Braeburn from New Zealand (photo) and other varieties, all $2.49 a pound. I selected two from Chile and the New Zealand Braeburn, and the trio worked out to about $1 each.

Of course, it's winter down under, so apples make perfect sense there. And, I have to admit, one of the Chilean apples tasted pretty good with a couple of slices of Swiss cheese as a mid-afternoon snack.
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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Eating around New Jersey

pink victorian house with gingerbread in Cape ...Image via Wikipedia

Food fuels vacation road trips, and we found good things to eat wherever we went in North and South Jersey.

The one special restaurant we wanted to visit -- Eno Terra in Kingston -- was closed for lunch on the Sunday we drove from Newton in Sussex County to Cape May. On Friday, when we drove 165 miles to reach home, we bought Italian-style hoagies for the trip to avoid having to eat fast food (they're called hero sandwiches in North Jersey and grinders in Connecticut).

The highlight of dining out near The Wooden Duck, our B&B off a country lane in Newton, was Salt, a gastro pub. I loved my appetizer portion of seafood risotto with mako shark, farmed salmon and mussels, plus sides of roasted asparagus and sauteed greens. (109 Route 206, Byram; 973-347-7258.)

The next evening, at Dominick's Pizza, I enjoyed a large portion of pleasantly bitter broccoli rabe and linguine with garlic and oil, but found the fried calamari monotonous. (210 E. Clinton St., Newton;  973-383-9330.)

Sumptuous breakfasts at The Wooden Duck included juice, fruit, eggs, French toast, and homemade peach cobbler and crumb cake.

On the drive to Cape May on July Fourth, we got lost and ended up on the Atlantic City Expressway, where service areas offer only fast food. A Starbucks did have a lone sandwich. but I didn't want to eat ham, so settled for a frozen, non-fat vanilla yogurt and black coffee, while my wife and son had a Burger King fish sandwich, milk shake and french fries. My wife hated the sandwich.

Dining improved a great deal in Cape May (Exit Zero on the Garden State Parkway), especially after we found a comfortable seaside hotel, The Marquis De Lafayette on Beach Avenue (I attended Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, and originally this was the Hotel Lafayette). 

Our first two nights were spent at The Chalfonte, a restored Victorian hotel with small, uncomfortable and very expensive rooms that are undergoing renovation. I referred to our room as "The Icebox," because the air-conditioning blasted, and could not be regulated. Even with doors open to the hallway and our balcony, we were freezing. The bathroom was so small, I could not open the heavy glass shower door without leaving the bathroom, and the window had no curtain or shade.

We ate the buffet breakfast at both The Chalfonte and the Lafayette. The former cost $10 a person, plus a gratuity tacked onto your bill without your knowledge; the latter was included in the rate, but we were asked to leave a gratuity. I basically ate lots of fruit, egg whites and hash browns, plus coffee and juice, at both hotels, but the Lafayette had an omelet maker who made me one with everything green: fresh spinach, broccoli, scallions and green pepper.

Our first dinner was at Freda's Cafe, where I fell on a big bowl of linguine with fresh sea scallops and shrimp in pesto sauce. (210 Ocean St., Cape May.) At Lucky Bones, I ordered a big arugula salad with roasted vegetables, focaccia and a glass of pinot noir. (1200 Route 109, Cape May.)

For lunch one day at Key West Tacos, my son and I had fish tacos (tasty grouper) and my wife ordered crab tacos, which disappointed her, because she couldn't taste any crab. A platter with two tacos, rice and corn chips cost $12, but the woman behind the counter refused to give me salad instead of corn chips. The tacos were made with two flour tortillas, but the fish was buried under a mound of chopped cabbage, rather than traditional onion and cilantro. (479 West Perry St., West Cape May; closed Wednesday.)

We ate a series of good but pricey seafood meals at The Lobster House, an incredibly popular restaurant, raw bar and fish market on Fisherman's Wharf, where a commercial fishing fleet ties up (I guess San Francisco can't claim to have the only Fisherman's Wharf). I saw boats named Mariner and Mekong H. You can't miss the restaurant's sign at the entrance to Cape May.

After a 40-minute wait, I had blackened red fish for dinner one night, while my son ordered a small lobster and my wife chose soft-shell crabs. At other meals, I had raw or steamed Jersey clams, meaty Chesapeake Bay oysters on the half shell and cream-based seafood soups ; my wife and son shared six large steamed crabs from Texas.

The best pizza of the trip was at Tony's, a restaurant that looks like a dump. I asked for fresh spinach and broccoli on a regular pie, baked well-done. The five jumbo shrimp that came with the linguine crunched nicely, but the pasta was in a bland, watery sauce, as if the cook forgot to drain it completely. (1208 Route 109, Cape May.)

We overdid it this past Friday morning, when we left for home, ordering nearly $39 worth of sandwiches and sides at Primo Hoagies (605 Lafayette St., Cape May; 609-884-1177).  I ate the last portion today.

Nonna's Veggie sounded better than it tasted: eggplant, broccoli rabe, sharp provolone and roasted red peppers on a long, sesame-seeded Italian loaf. The middle of three sizes is called primo ($7.99), but it was more than a foot long and I couldn't finish it. 

But the Pescara was terrific, especially heated up at home. Italian tuna straight from three cans was the main component, plus sharp provolone and roasted red peppers ($19.09, twice the size of the primo). Of the three side dshes we tried, the winner was a cheese tortellini salad with hot peppers and crunchy diced carrots.

We ate the sandwiches at a parkway service area, surrounded by other families attacking big plates of fast-food hamburgers, fried chicken and french fries.

(Photo: Cape May gingerbread.)
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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Comfort food says you're home

Ackee fruit
Ripe ackee fruit. The edible portion is inside.
Image via Wikipedia

After a week or so of  hotel breakfast buffets and unfamiliar restaurants, the simple food I had at home today and at one of our favorite spots was even more enjoyable than usual.

This morning, my wife prepared a special breakfast: ackee and saltfish with boiled green bananas. Ackee is a soft, bland Jamaican fruit we buy in cans, and it serves as a foil to the salty cod fish, hot and sweet peppers, and tomato. The soft bananas are a familiar and filling side dish.

I usually warm some Syrian pocket bread and stuff it with ackee, saltfish and banana -- a decidedly un-Jamaican way of eating it.

Tonight, we drove to Palisades Park for a filling dinner of soft-tofu stew with white rice and side dishes of kimchi, bean sprouts and peppery raw squid at So Gong Dong, a second-floor restaurant overlooking Broad Avenue. The tab, including tax and tip, was $36 for three.

I ordered my tofu stew with mushrooms, my wife asked for shrimp and my son rebelled by ordering pork. We asked for all of them to be prepared "more spicy," the spiciest of three choices.

When the stew is brought to the table in a stone bowl, it is bubbling furiously -- just the right time to break a fresh egg or two into the hot broth. I eat around the egg until a soft yolk forms, then break it over the rice in a separate bowl. Delicious, warm and comforting.

I knew I was home.

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Taking a break

I need a little time to refresh my taste buds, but will be resuming my commentary in about a week. All the best to my loyal readers.
-- Victor E. Sasson

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wild salmon price eases further

Fresh Copper River Sockeye SalmonImage by swanksalot via Flickr

I picked up some fresh wild-caught haddock from Iceland (not Canada, as I wrote previously) at Costco in Hackensack on Wednesday, and noticed that the price for fresh, wild sockeye salmon fillets has eased further -- to $9.99 a pound. The salmon is from the U.S., but the label doesn't specify which state.

In June, Costco offered wild sockeye from the famed Copper River in Alaska for $14.99 a pound and then $11.99 a pound. It also offered wild king salmon from Alaska for $14.99 a pound.

As I shopped in Costco, my doctor's comment that I eat too much came to mind, and I'm wondering if the large quantities I have to buy at the warehouse store contribute to my overeating. The smallest package of wild-caught haddock I could find was 1.36 pounds, when I would have preferred a pound. Most fruit at Costco is sold in three-pound, four-pound and larger sizes.

I'm planning to bread the fish in chili spices, bake it and serve it with bowtie pasta in tomato sauce and steamed French green beans. Of course, any leftover fish would make good fish tacos or sandwiches.

(Photo: Fish market display of Copper River salmon)
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