Sunday, October 31, 2010

At Mama Roxy's Italian-American restaurant in Rochelle Park

Homemade organic whole-wheat spaghetti with grated sheep's milk cheese and chopped fresh herbs.

Mama Roxy's in Rochelle Park serves well-executed Italian food -- in both individual and family portions -- plus thin-crust pizzas, as part of a formula that has proven successful at Roxanne's in Mahwah. The two restaurants have the same ownership and share menus, our waitress said.

We were the first customers when we arrived around 5 Saturday afternoon, parking in the rear and entering through a rear entrance. The two-level Mama Roxy's took over the space of a shuttered Texas barbecue restaurant near the Garden State Parkway.

The large menu doesn't provide much guidance on portion size of salads, pastas and entrees, which are available in "individual" and "family" servings. For an appetizer of shrimp oreganato (one size only), the menu made no mention of the butter used in the lemony sauce.

We were two adults and a 13-year-old, so we ordered a family-size Siciliana salad ($22.95), the shrimp oreganato ($10.95), a small pizza with two toppings ($17), a glass of pinot noir ($7), lemonade ($2.25) and seltzer ($2.25, with free refills). With tax and a $9 tip, we spent nearly $81.

The salad was huge -- enough for five or six people -- and it came heaped up on an oval platter about two feet long, with spring mix, romaine lettuce, pitted olives, anchovies, marinated fresh artichoke hearts with stems, cheese, capers, roasted red peppers, carrot and tomato in a "homemade" Italian dressing.

We managed to finish this superb salad. Then, we were served a half-dozen tender, breaded shrimp in a sauce so good my son reached over to sop it up with pieces of his roll. 

I always order pizza "well-one," but that was a mistake here, because the gas-fired crust came out dark, stiff and dry. My son loved it, but my wife only ate the cheese and toppings, leaving the crust on her plate. I ate two of the four small slices from the half topped with spinach (the equivalent of one slice of regular pizza).

At $13, this 12-inch pie is not a good value. We wanted half-sausage and half-spinach, because I'm not eating meat, but were charged $2 for each topping nonetheless, as a lot of places do. This doesn't make sense -- to charge the full price for half a topping. And there was hardly any spinach used on  my half of the pie.

Next time we go, we'll order a large pie, for only $2 more, and an individual Siciliana salad ($10.50), or try one of the 15 pasta or ravioli dishes ($11.95 to $39.95).

We were told the Greek family that owns Mama Roxy's and Roxanne's also operates Varka, the pricey Greek seafood house in Ramsey, and once ran Patsy's pizzerias in the city.

Mama Roxy's, 352 W. Passaic St., Rochelle Park; 201-845-7600.

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Tough talk on farmed seafood

A farm in Iceland. Whole Foods Market buys salmon from  a fish farm in that country.

Whole Foods Market sells a lot of farmed seafood -- usually not my first choice when I'm looking for a non-meat meal -- but its standards are high, as the store's blog explains:

High standards for farmed seafood

One issue the Whole Story blog doesn't discuss is whether the farmed salmon it sells is artificially colored. That's necessary because farmed salmon are not fed wild salmon's natural diet -- shrimp and krill -- which give them their color.
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Warm, delicious Japanese rice balls

Mitsuwa MarketplaceImage via Wikipedia

The Mitsuwa Marketplace flier translates omusubi as rice balls, but actually, they are triangular in shape. Some are wrapped in seaweed, providing a convenient holder, and others are studded with sesame seeds. But they have one thing in common: When eaten right after they are made, they are warm, comforting and delicious.

Omusubi Gonbei, a Japanese chain known for its handmade rice balls, opened a kiosk at the Edgewater supermarket on Friday, and it will be selling rice balls there from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Nov. 7. They are made with organic white or brown rice, and cost $1.50 to $2.50 each (cash only), depending on the filling. A flier I received Friday listed the price incorrectly as $1.50 each.

When I arrived a little after 1 Friday afternoon, the shelves were bare -- the demand was overwhelming on the first day -- and the kiosk staff was getting ready to make more rice balls. I was told the wait would be at least 30 minutes.

I ordered rice balls with salmon eggs ($2.50 each) and went to have a cup of coffee. When I returned, I was informed the salmon eggs were still frozen and I would have to choose another filling. I asked for five rice balls with cooked salmon. Meanwhile, I bought a warm mixed-rice ball to tide me over and ate it right away. I ate two of the salmon rice balls with the last of my coffee, one in the car and saved the others for my wife.

They are delicious in their simplicity: a few ounces of warm rice formed by hand with a little cooked fish and miso paste inside, wrapped in seaweed. I asked if the Japanese ate them as an appetizer or snack, but was told they are considered a meal.

As a steady stream of customers lined up to place their orders, I watched a man and two women behind the counter making rice balls as fast as possible. 

I have been eating rice balls for years, but none of them approach the warm rice balls turned out by this team. When they return to Japan, you can find rice balls at Mitsuwa, as well as at Parisienne Bakery at Main Street and Center Avenue in Fort Lee.

Mitsuwa Marketplace, 595 River Road, Edgewater; 201-941-9113. 

A buy on Mexican hot sauce 

I found a 34-ounce bottle of Valentine Mexican hot sauce for $1.99 at Hackensack Market on Passaic Street in Hackensack. The shelf sign said two for $4. I bought the bottle with the black label, marked "extra hot."

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vegetarian meals direct from India

DALY CITY, CA - MAY 20:  A row of Target shopp...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

You can find meatless meals in a box at Target's grocery department in Paramus. The Archer Farms-brand dinners come from India, feed two and cost $3.99 each. I called them vegetarian, though they contain milk.

I prepare two at time to feed me, my wife and our 13-year-old son. On Wednesday night, we had the vindaloo and tikka masala dinners -- rice, sauces and side dishes -- but not the chutney, which I find too sweet.

You might notice the word "spicy" on the boxes, but, in fact, everything is mild and delicious.

The vindaloo dinner includes raw basmati rice, an onion-ginger curry sauce and a potato-peas sautee. The tikka masala dinner also comes with rice, accompanied by a creamy tomato sauce and potato curry.

You'll have to boil the rice for 17 minutes, but everything else comes in plastic pouches and can be heated in the microwave.

Corrado's remodeling

Today's paper brought a flier from Corrado's, announcing a newly remodeled Clifton store and grand re-opening specials through Nov. 5 (1578 Main Ave.; 973-340-0628).

I have shopped there infrequently in recent years, because of a decline in quality in the produce section and the sale of expired items.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lobster ravioli, crab cakes and other delights at Costco Wholesale

Current LogoImage via Wikipedia

You don't have to go to a seafood restaurant to dine on premium lobster ravioli, crab cakes, lobster bisque and other briny delights. All are available at Costco Wholesale, along with fresh, wild-caught fish and farmed prawns, and frozen sockeye salmon and mahi-mahi.

The wide selection at the Hackensack, N.J., warehouse store has helped me stick with a non-meat diet for the past eight months.

The lobster ravioli with parmesan and ricotta cheese from Pasta Prima are outstanding ($11.99). They actually taste of lobster, which is the first ingredient listed. 

When thawed, they take only five minutes to prepare and need only a drizzle of olive oil, cracked black pepper and grated cheese. You get two portions, each enough for three people.

The Maryland-style crab cakes from Phillips Seafood Restaurants list crab as the first ingredient and contain no breadcrumbs. You get six crab cakes for $13.69 at Costco, and $11.99 at BJ's Wholesale Club.

Blount Lobster Bisque ($10.89) and Legal Sea Foods Sweet Corn and Crab Chowder ($9.79) are two of the great seafood soups available.

Four pounds of prawns from Vietnam were $37.99 (U-15 or 15 to the pound). 

They have been cleaned, so all you have to do is shell them, marinate them in the juice of two or three lemons, along with dried or powdered garlic, red-pepper flakes and other seasoning, then sautee them in olive oil until they turn pink and curl up.

Between the bread

Besides giving up meat, I am trying to cut down on pizza and bread -- one of my favorite foods -- to lose weight, and it seems to be working. I lost weight in Italy and I've lost more weight since I returned Sept. 20.

So, it isn't unusual for me to have salad with reduced-fat cheese and smoked wild salmon or enjoy leftover ravioli or fried fish for breakfast.

This morning, I ate leftover haddock from Costco that my wife fried for dinner last night, along with cabbage and salted cod, and boiled green banana -- all doused with Valentina hot sauce. 

Yesterday, I had leftover lobster ravioli and spinach and cheese ravioli, both from Costco.

Leftover spaghetti with sardines made a good side dish for the fried haddock we had for dinner the following night.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

64-ounce half-gallon is alive and well

CostcoImage via Wikipedia

When I ran out of Tropicana orange juice, I bought what I thought was a half-gallon of the stuff at a Super Stop & Shop in Hackensack. Not so super was the size -- 59 ounces instead of 64 ounces -- even though it was on sale at two for $6.

Today, I went to Costco in Hackensack, where I usually buy Tropicana, and got a box of four half-gallons, and, yes, they're 64 ounces each. The cost: $2.75 apiece.

I returned a half-empty, one-pound tub of Earthbound Farm organic spring mix -- a delicious, restaurant-quality salad mix that, unfortunately, is prone to rotting before its use-by date, got a $4.49 credit on my credit card and bought another one. The rotting problem could be from improper storage.

I e-mailed Earthbound Farm recently when another pound of spring mix rotted prematurely, and got a form letter and a $10 Costco cash card in the mail.
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stopping at Stop & Shop

Tropicana ProductsImage via Wikipedia

I had an errand today near the Super Stop & Shop in north Hackensack, and stopped in to see what was on sale.

I found a special on Wallaby-brand organic yogurt in 6-ounce cups at four for $3 or 75 cents each -- 4 cents less than at BJ's Wholesale Club in Paramus. I bought eight cups of the flavored yogurt. My wife prefers Wallaby to Stonyfield Farm organic yogurt, and I agree with her.

What looked like a half gallon of Tropicana orange juice (two for $6) was actually only 59 ounces, instead of 64 ounces.

In produce, I had trouble trying to figure out the signs. The only sign for romaine lettuce I saw said $1.99 each and had "Organic" written above it, but when I got to the register, the big head I chose rang up at $1.50 or two for $3, and likely is conventional, not organic. It weighed about two pounds.

On the way home, I stopped at Sahara Fine Foods for 11 cans of Al Shark-brand Moroccan sardines in spicy oil, at 99 cents each (not skinless and boneless). A 16-ounce jar of Beirut-brand tahini sauce was $3.99.

It's a good thing I picked up the romaine lettuce, because when I wanted to make a salad with Earthbound Farm organic spring mix for dinner tonight, I found it had started to rot, and it has a use-by date of Oct. 25. I plan to take it back to Costco in Hackensack for a full refund.

Stop and Shop, 380 W. Pleasantview Ave., Hackensack; 201-342-6030.

Sahara Fine Foods, 242 S. Summit Ave., Hackensack; 201-487-7222.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

New e-mail accounts

I have two new e-mail addresses.

They are and If you've sent me e-mails in the past, please send one to either of the new addresses so I can get your contact information.

Please delete from your contact list, and disregard any messages from that account.


Hotmail account compromised

If you received an e-mail asking you to send money to me, it is fraudulent. My Hotmail e-mail account has been hacked into, and a distress message has been sent out, supposedly from London. Ignore it.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

The best credit card to take overseas

On a farm in Italy, I was served lake fish, roasted potatoes and sauteed greens.
If you travel overseas, most credit cards will charge you an extra 2% or 3% as a foreign-currency conversion fee. That may not sound like much, unless you spend $2,500 on restaurants, hotels, transportation and gifts, as I did in Italy last month.

The one card that doesn't charge such a fee is Capitol One's Visa, which I carried along with an American Express card that charges a conversion fee. The Capitol One card also rebates 1% of everything you charge on it. 

And when both cards were stolen by a pickpocket in the Milan subway, I found Capitol One's customer service far superior to that of American Express. 

The former sent a new credit card to my hotel by overnight mail, while the latter made me make two long visits to an American Express travel office. When I finally got the new card, I couldn't buy American Express traveler's checks with it or get a cash advance.

Interest rates don't concern me, because I always pay off my balance in full each month and collect hundreds of dollars in rebates every year. I received my Capitol One statement recently and got a better idea of how much I spent in Italy for specific meals and other expenses.

The weak dollar was a thorn in my side during my trip to Milan, Venice and Gallarate. When I left the U.S., a dollar was worth only 78 cents in euros. Then, the dollar fell further, to only 70 cents in euros.

The Capitol One card used a conversion rate ranging from 76.2 to 77.7.

All the meals I ate in Italy seemed expensive, though tax, tip, wine, mineral water and bread were included. Portion size varied, so I sometimes over-ate and over-spent. My priciest meal was at Noblesse Oblige, a seafood restaurant in Milan, where two courses were 35.5 euros or $45.65

I spent about  $91 on diesel fuel for the Alfa Romeo 159 sedan I drove from Milan to Venice and back, and that didn't even fill the tank completely. I spent about $50 on highway tolls, too, but public transportation was relatively inexpensive.

So the best strategy is to avoid staying in the big cities, and use the train or ferry for day trips. 

My hotel room in Milan was half the size and twice the price of the one I had in Gallarate, where the food was just as good but cheaper. 

In Venice, I stayed in a new hotel on Lido island for about $125 a night, with a full breakfast and a panoramic view of the enchanted city, and took the small passenger ferries three or four times a day to reach the Jewish Quarter and other attractions. 

From Gallarate, it was easy to make a day trip to Lake Maggiore, where I had a bountiful lunch on a farm.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Checking out the food at BJ's Wholesale Club

The BJ's Wholesale Club in Paramus (September 2013).


I am a big fan of the food sold at Costco Wholesale, but it's not the only game in town. 

On Monday, I started a two-month trial membership at BJ's Wholesale Club at Routes 17 and 4 in Paramus.

I had to bring an invitation I received in the mail to a courtesy counter, and the woman tried to sell me a BJ's membership right then and there, saying, "We're better than Costco." 

She then checked to see if I was a lapsed member; if I was, she was going to charge me $45 for a renewal. I told her I wanted just a trial membership for now.


BJ's is different than Costco in that it takes all major credit cards, not just American Express, and honors manufacturers' coupons, as well as its own. Costco issues its own coupons, but doesn't accept anyone else's. Both give cash rebates.

Both also have snack bars with whole pizzas under $10 and Hebrew National's preservative-laden hot dogs, but neither has coffee. BJ's also is alone in having self-service checkout -- with the usual problems.

The entrance in Paramus.

Food shopping

On this, my first visit, I browsed BJ's food aisles and noticed signs above the refrigerated cases; Costco's cases don't have them. Overall, BJ's seems to have less food, including produce, and less variety. 

BJ's does have more Goya-brand food than Costco, including frozen tostones or fried green plantains, which we love. The package recommends deep frying them, but I plan to heat them up in the oven.

I plan to return several more times to BJ's during my temporary membership.

Meat and poultry

I saw organic spring mix, one pound for $4.99, compared to Costco's $4.49.  BJ's carries a brand of fresh and frozen chicken that is raised without antibiotics; Costco has some organic chicken. 

Both sell meat and pork that  are raised conventionally. I didn't see any Australian lamb for sale at BJ's, and I'm not sure it has fresh fish. You'll find lots of fresh fish and naturally raised lamb at Costco.

I spoke to one woman who is a member of both wholesale clubs. She said prices were pretty much the same in the two stores, but she preferred the staff at the Clifton Costco over the Hackensack store, where I shop.  A friend says Costco employees belong to a union.

Taste test

I made three purchases at BJ's, and used the self-service checkout:

Ten 6-ounce cups of Wallaby organic, low-fat yogurt, $7.99; Michael Angelo's vegetable lasagna, two 40-ounce packages for $11.99; and two 32-ounce tubs of Smart Balance "buttery" spread, $6.99.

I heated up the lasagna for dinner Monday night; it had too much sauce and not enough pasta, but the vegetables were firm and it tasted great. Still, when I saw Michael Angelo's eggplant parmigiana at Costco today, I kept on walking.

My wife went to Whole Foods in Paramus today for a one-day sale on 10 cups of Stonyfield Farm organic, low-fat yogurt, the same size as Wallaby's, but at half the price -- 40 cents each.

By the way, I was told BJ stands for Berkley & Jensen.

BJ's Wholesale Club, 30 Route 17 south, Paramus; 201-909-9800.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mahi-mahi with penne in a tomato-yogurt sauce

54", 34lb Female Dolphin Fish off coast o...Image via Wikipedia
Mahi-mahi is also called dolphin fish. This one was caught off the coast of Jamaica.

Preparing dinner on Sunday night, I was trying for a creamy sauce, like the one I saw on a cooking segment on morning TV, but I also wanted to substitute mahi-mahi for the chicken used and yogurt for light sour cream. This is what you'll need to feed three:

1. Three small mahi-mahi fillets or other wild-caught fish. (I used frozen fish sold at Costco under the Kirkland brand.)

2. A half-pound of penne. (I used leftover spinach penne from Italy I found at Whole Foods Market.)

3. Half a bottle of 32-ounce pasta sauce. (I used leftover Fairway Market sauce with roasted garlic.)

3. About four tablespoons of organic, low-fat yogurt. (I used Stonyfield Farm yogurt from ShopRite.)

The TV chef also added chicken stock to the sauce, but I found that made it too thin, and I won't use it next time.

Preparation is simple. Bring water to a boil and add the penne, which will take about 10 minutes for al dente.

After about three minutes, empty the pasta sauce into a second pan with dried Italian seasonings and dried garlic; add the four tablespoons of yogurt, mix well, cover and bring to a boil over medium heat.

I thawed the meaty fillets, which were less than two inches wide, and sliced them into half inch pieces. I sprinkled them with salt and black pepper. When I put them in the sauce, I turned up the heat. They turned white and firmed up in about five minutes.

Drain the penne and add to the fish and sauce, combining well. I served this with a salad and wine.


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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Breakfast goes swimmingly

Pink salmonImage via Wikipedia
The pink salmon is called the smallest of the true salmon. It has less oil than others.

I've been eating a breakfast sandwich for many years -- smoked wild salmon, sardines or canned fish salad between toasted, whole-grain bread or stuffed into pocket bread, spread with pesto or hummus and garnished with lettuce and tomato.

Now that  I've been advised to cut down on bread and pizza to lose weight, I continue to eat fish for breakfast with a slice of bread or none at all. A favorite breakfast is a canned fish salad with sweet and hot peppers, onion, Dijon mustard, ground cumin and lemon juice. You'll need:

1. Two 7-ounce cans of Genova-brand Yellowfin light tuna in olive oil (Costco) or other solid light tuna.

2.Two 6-ounce cans of wild-caught Alaskan pink salmon (Costco) or one large can or other pink salmon.

3. Two cans of Al Shark-brand Moroccan sardines in vegetable oil (Fattal's Bakery, Paterson) or other sardines, with or without skin and bones.

4. Sweet and hot peppers, and a medium onion.

5. Dijon mustard and ground cumin (Fattal's Bakery) to taste.

6. Two lemons.

To make less salad, use one can of each fish. I've made this salad with Alaskan red salmon, but I have not seen it on sale at ShopRite, Fairway Market or anywhere else for a long time, so I've switched to the lower-cost pink salmon, the smallest salmon. You could also add a can of anchovies, if you're a fan of them, as I am.

Empty all of the cans into a large bowl, with all of their liquid, to avoid a dry salad. Mash with a fork or large spoon. Add chopped sweet and hot peppers, chopped onion, fresh lemon juice and the other ingredients, and combine well.

For breakfast this morning, I placed a mound of the salad on a plate with red-leaf lettuce, sliced tomato sprinkled with za'atar thyme mixture (Fattal's Bakery), stewed tofu with red pepper sauce (H Mart), kimchi and a toasted slice of Kirkland-brand 100% whole-grain bread (Costco).


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Family hour at Rosa Mexicano Restaurant

Guy Makes Guacamole at Rosa Mexicano Union SquareImage by ChrisGoldNY via Flickr
Making guacamole at Rosa Mexicano Restaurant on Union Square in  Manhattan.

If you've never thought of having a family meal during happy hour, you might want to reconsider and go to Rosa Mexicano in Hackensack, where some drinks and appetizers are half price from 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays.

I've attended cooking demonstrations at this shopping center restaurant, and in the early days, enjoyed the free breakfasts that were served first. I soon learned the cooks make just about everything from scratch, resulting in the best Mexican food in North Jersey, if not the entire state, with prices to match. And it's one of the most beautiful restaurants around.

I've eaten lunch there -- try the fish tacos with a couple of sparkling salsas -- but never dinner. Happy hour gives me a chance to sample more of the food at terrific prices, and my 13-year-old son can participate as long as we sit at one of the tables in the bar area.

Friday night, we got there around 5. My son insisted we order the made-to-order guacamole, which is he addicted to, and I relented, despite it not being one of the discounted appetizers. I love it, too, but at $12 for two avocados ..... We asked for it spicy, and they delivered, along with wonderful, small, warm corn tortillas made in the dining room and red and green salsas.

We also ordered a delicious quesadilla oozing with melted cheese and mushroom-like huitlacoche or corn fungus ($4.40) and an order of two pork street tacos ($3.50) -- both bargains. Each of these appetizers came with its own salsa or salsas, different from the two served with the chunky guacamole.

My wife drank a traditional margarita ($4), I had two bottles of dark Negra Modelo beer ($2.75 each) and our son had two Mango Boing soft drinks ($4 each).

So that's how we turned happy hour into a satisfying family meal.

Rosa Mexicano Restaurant, 390 Hackensack Ave.,
Hackensack (The Shops at Riverside); 201-489-9100.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Whole sea bass in Mexican salsa verde

salsa verde... green vegetables in the fading ...Image by lorises via Flickr
Two ingredients in Mexican green salsa are tomatillos, bottom, and cilantro.

This wonderful main dish couldn't be simpler. All you need is:

1. Fresh fish.

2. A bottle of green salsa.

3. A  lemon. 

Preparation is minimal, two whole fish will cook in under 30 minutes and if you have leftover pasta or rice, all you need to do is make a salad to complete this nutritious meal.

I found fresh, wild-caught sea bass at H Mart, the Korean supermarket in Little Ferry (with branches in Englewood, Fort Lee and Ridgefield). I bought two fish -- to feed three -- that weighed about 2.5 pounds before cleaning at $5.99 a pound. 

Red snapper or other wild-caught whole fish is great, too, and of course, you could use fillets of wild-caught cod, flounder or other fresh or frozen fish.

All I did with the fish is sprinkle it with a little salt inside and out, stuff it with fresh parsley from garden (you can skip this step) and slit the body in three places. 

I used a 16.7-ounce bottle of La Costena Green Mexican Salsa, marked "Medium" spicy, available for $2.99 at Hackensack Market on Passaic Street and many ShopRites. Goya and other companies make a similar product. La Costena's red salsa is good, too.

I poured some of the salsa -- made from tomatillos and jalapeno peppers -- into the bottom of the pan, placed the fish on top and poured the remaining sauce in, plus the juice of one lemon, and covered it with the clear-glass top.

I cooked it over medium heat for about 20 minutes (in boiling salsa), but 30 minutes will ensure that it is cooked thoroughly. No need to turn over the fish. You'll have plenty of sauce for that leftover rice; we had organic brown rice left over.

I ate my meal in courses, as they do in Italy: leftover bow-tie pasta in tomato sauce, the meaty middle section of one of the sea bass and then a big salad with cucumber, tomato and organic spring mix. Easy, filling and delicious.

Quail eggs

Quail eggs showed up in the produce section recently at H Mart in Little Ferry -- 18 for $2.99. I fry four or five of the small eggs at a time, and their taste is similar to other eggs. I used a sharp knife to crack the black-spotted shells near the ends to avoid breaking the yolks and poured the contents into hot olive oil.

I also found Clifford-brand Fusion tomatoes from Canada that are grown without chemical fertilizers. A one-pound package of small tomatoes --red, green, purple and yellow -- was $1.99, and they have been great in my salads.

Fresh wild salmon run ends

I believe I've seen the last of the fresh wild salmon fillets in the fish case at Costco in Hackensack -- they were available for about four months. This week, I bought Kirkland-brand frozen sockeye salmon and mahi-mahi fillets, both wild caught. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

From chicken feet to oysters on the half shell

Organic applesImage by Gudlyf via Flickr
Organic apples at Whole Foods Market look a lot better than these do.

I never know what I'll find at Whole Foods Market in Paramus. It's a wonderful store and a great experience to just roam around, especially if you shop carefully and look for sale items, and it's rarely so crowded that you feel rushed.

But as with most other food stores, it's hard to make sense of what goes on sale and when. I was in there one Tuesday, when wild Alaskan coho salmon fillets were on sale for one day at $7.99 a pound -- matching the price at Costco, which is as frenetic as Whole Foods is calm.

When a friend went looking for that salmon a few days later, the price was $10.99 a pound, also called a sale, and her husband complained the fish monger left the pin bones in. Next Tuesday, 6-ounce cups of Stonyfield Farm organic yogurt will be on sale, again for one day, at 10 for $4.

The Monday before last, I had a couple of hours to kill and drove over to the store, which is a little more than a mile from my home. My chief complaint about the store is the lack of free samples.

I bought a cup of black coffee ($1.71) and an 8-ounce container of vegetable soup ($2.99), which needed salt and pepper, and grabbed a bag of oyster crackers, as the woman in front of me did. I was charged 29 cents, but don't recall seeing a price sign; I thought they came with the soup.

I did better with oysters on the half shell. Over at the wonderful fish counter, "local," wild-caught Bluepoint oysters were selling for 99 cents each. I asked for six, and they were shucked and packed on ice in two plastic containers. At home, I squeezed on lemon and ate them right from the containers. (Some stores refuse to shuck oysters.)

One of my wife's specialties is chicken-foot soup, but I always recoil at what I imagine is the awful quality of the chicken feet she has purchased at ShopRite and Hackensack Market. After I nagged her mercilessly, she went to Whole Foods and found out it carries organic chicken feet for $3.49 a pound -- sometimes.

Last week, the Paramus store didn't have any, but the Whole Foods Market in Union Township did. It's called the Millburn-Union store, and we drove down for an unrelated reason. Besides the chicken feet, I bought organic Jona Gold apples for $1.49 a pound.

My other purchases in Paramus, along with the Bluepoint oysters, were organic red grapes, $1.99 a pound; a bottle of white zinfandel, $4.99; and organic green chard, $1.99.
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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

We drove 70 miles for a tepid welcome

Map of Holland Township in Hunterdon County. I...Image via Wikipedia
It's a long drive from Bergen County to the new Bobolink Dairy in Milford.

We visited Bobolink Dairy in Sussex County a few times -- lured by its rustic, wood-fired bread and artisanal, grass-fed cheese. We held on for dear life as the car plunged down a hill to the parking lot in Vernon, and we photographed some of the cows.

I had met B. the baker when he worked at Balthazar Bakery in Englewood (to where he eventually returned), and I wrote about the dairy and its owners, Jonathan and Nina White, for The Record. So after they moved, we were eager to see the new Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse in Milford, Hunterdon County.

The farm is set among rolling, wooded hills in Holland Township, which is on the Delaware River. (We also saw signs for Bethlehem Township, Alexandria Township and Union Township, different from the Union Township near Elizabeth in Union County.)

I used the navigation system in my car on Monday, and it's 70 miles from Hackensack, about a 90-minute drive. But we spent barely 15 minutes there sampling bread and cheese, and making purchases, then jumped back in car for the drive home. What just happened?

The store is bigger than the old one, but there is no coffee or tea available, and nowhere to sit down and chew the duck fat (which you'll find mixed with garlic on a great ciabatta loaf). We wanted to have lunch, perhaps  cave-aged cheese and greens between two slices of crusty bread, but the store doesn't make sandwiches.

When we walked in and asked if there were sandwiches, Nina White said she could slice bread and cheese, but the male employee behind the counter didn't move. Then she left. He also was something of a wise-acre, because when I asked if the dairy made reduced-fat or skim-milk cheese, he was dismissive of the idea. He also tried to impress me with his knowledge of raw-milk cheeses.

(Although I met Nina about two years ago, we didn't recognize each other. After she left, I asked the man behind the counter if that was, in fact, her, and gave him my card to give to her later.)

As you'd expect for artisanal bread and cheese, prices are high, but I didn't see a list displayed in the store. I bought a loaf of that ciabatta with duck fat ($6) and a sourdough ($5.50) and two small chunks of cheese ($12.50), plus a bottle of local honey with walnuts ($9). 

The wise-acre behind the counter used the same board to slice bread and cheese, so my two chunks picked up crumbs.

We had driven 70 miles, but the couple that arrived next announced they were from Queens, N.Y. Just imagine. After coming all that way, no restorative cup of coffee or tea and no place to sit down and contemplate the peaceful surroundings.

Of course, the Whites don't survive on walk-in customers. They sell most of their products at farmers' markets and to restaurants, and that's where they seem to put most of their energy.

Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse, 369 Stamets Road, Milford; 908-996-7891.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

At Campania Restaurant in Fair Lawn

A restaurant menu in Venice, Italy.

We had dinner Saturday night at Campania, the Fair Lawn restaurant whose chef committed suicide Sept. 24. When I heard of his death, I recalled our excellent meal there after Chef Joseph Cerniglia appeared on Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares," and wanted to return as a gesture of support.

This time, we had to leave our car with a valet in the small strip mall, and people without reservations were turned away. Alberto, a tall, thin man with a European accent who greeted us, said the restaurant was fully booked. We also had a $25-off coupon that was in a newspaper ad.

We started with three house salads. We also chose the pasta special, with fava beans, fresh tomatoes and shrimp; a wild salmon fillet topped with a cold vegetable slaw and more fresh fava beans; and a pork chop with a delicious sauce, but too few roasted potatoes (for my son, who has resumed eating meat).

We really enjoyed the food, but the mood in the dining room was subdued. Our waitress was glum, and seemed to be having a bad night, and it was only 5:30 p.m. But the waiter who brought our salads and ground fresh black pepper over them couldn't have been more animated.

My wife was looking for a photo of Cerniglia, 39, but we didn't see one in the room.

There was a long wait between our salads and the other dishes, prompting my son to complain, but it just reminded me of my recent restaurant experiences in Italy, where most food is made to order.

I wanted to ask the waitress why she seemed so glum. I wanted to ask Alberto, who coincidentally showed us to the same table we occupied on our first visit, if he was related to Cerniglia. I wanted to ask whether the restaurant needed customers' support after his death. But I didn't ask any of these questions.

With the $25 discount and a $15 tip, our meal came to $86.69. The BYO restaurant is named after Italy's Campania region, which includes Naples and the island of Capri. 

Campania Restaurant, 17-15 Broadway, Fair Lawn; 201-797-8222.

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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Osteria at Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods MarketImage via Wikipedia

What's this? One Whole Foods Market has a family restaurant where four can eat two or three courses of Italian food, plus bread, for only $25. There's a full menu, plus wine and beer, and counter service. Yes. It's in New Jersey, but not at the Paramus store.

Here is Whole Foods' own description:

"The Whole Foods Market Osteria is a great destination for the entire family. Our Italian eatery has affordable prices and the quality is all natural, free from preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, and hydrogenated oils. Most of the ingredients are local, fresh and some of the herbs are even grown in our hydroponic greenhouse."

This osteria (eatery) is in the Whole Foods Market in the Vauxhall section of Union Township, near Elizabeth. The store celebrates its two-year anniversary Oct. 30.

(I drove down to the shopping center on Friday to see a prototype of the 2012 Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, but members of the public weren't allowed to drive it. The car only has a range of 14-15 miles in electric mode, and it was driven over from a hotel farther away than that, so would operate only on the small gasoline engine.)

Signs in the osteria boast of serving bread from Balthazar Bakery in Englewood, canned Jersey tomatoes and herbs "from our garden." The menu lists pizzas and a number of vegan dishes. Unfortunately, I ate a big breakfast and couldn't try any of the food. But it's a great value, considering the quality.

This store also serves prepared and buffet food that you can eat at tables near the register, just like in the Paramus store.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

If you're going to Italy, stay here

Keys turned in to the central lost and found office for the Milan subway system.
Eight days after my passport, driver's license, cash, and credit and ATM cards were stolen on the subway in Milan, I reluctantly left Venice and drove to Gallarate, a bustling commercial center near the international airport. 

I picked Gallarate for my last three nights in Italy because I didn't want to spend any more time in Milan.

Gallarate was perfect for day trips to Italy's lake country, where I had a bountiful lunch of antipasti and fish from Lake Maggiore in a town called Angera. 

I also had great dinners at the Galaxy Grill in Gallarate, where I was served a wood-roasted whole branzino, and Compagnia delle Cozze or The Mussel Company, which offered an unusual lasagna in a fish sauce, warm fish salad with potatoes and olives, and coal-oven vegetable pizza. (See earlier posts.)

My room at the Hotel Astoria was twice the size and half the price of the postage stamp I occupied at Best Western Hotel Galles on Piazza Lima in Milan. Best of all, the desk staff in Gallarate was everything the Hotel Galles staff wasn't.

I parked my Alfa Romeo 159 turbo-diesel in front of the hotel, rolled my suitcase inside and gave my name and passport to Massimiliano, who confirmed my reservation. Then, I asked him to call the lost and found in Milan to see if any of my valuables had been found. I also gave him the number of the Fiat Center in Milan, where I had to return the car. He said he would call the lost and found right away.

About an hour later, I pulled up to the Fiat Center and learned that the desk clerk from the hotel in Gallarate was on the phone with a Fiat employee, telling him that my small, black-leather bag, my passport, my credit cards and everything else had been turned in to lost and found.

But when I took the phone, Massimiliano said I had to get to the office in about 35 minutes, before it closed at 4 p.m. for the weekend, or I would have to wait until Monday to retrieve everything. (I was supposed to catch an early flight home that Monday.) He gave me the address and Fiat called me a cab.

The driver didn't speak that much English, but I gave him the address and used his cellphone to call Massimiliano, who explained the urgency of the situation to him. He plunged into rush-hour traffic and took advantage of the tram-taxi-bus lanes in Milan to gain time. 

Meanwhile, Massimiliano called lost and found employees to tell them we were trying to get there before closing time. We made it. I had to wait 15 minutes while forms were filled out for me to sign, I paid a small fee and my small, leather bag and its contents were handed to me. The thief took $300 in cash and discarded the rest.

Then the tax driver took me to a train station for the return trip to Gallarate, where I checked into the hotel, showered and changed for my fish-and-roasted-vegetable dinner and a celebratory glass of wine.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

'It's only a five-minute walk. Don't worry.'

The Milan subway. Is there a pickpocket in the crowd?

On me trip to Italy last month, I discovered that as wonderful as Italians are with food, many of them are terrible at giving directions.

If you fly overnight from Newark to Milan, as I did, you can take a train from Malpensa International Airport to the city and a rail station called Cadorna. From there, you should take a taxi to your hotel -- advice I wish the staff of my hotel had given me.

Instead, a desk clerk at the Best Western Hotel Galles assured me in an e-mail I received before I left New Jersey that the hotel was "only a 10-minute walk" from the station or I could take a bus (this with a heavy suitcase, a tote bag and a folding chair I brought for the Formula 1 race on Sept. 12, the main reason I went to Italy).

When I couldn't find a bus outside Cadorna station, I asked a young man handing out fliers if he knew of one. He said he didn't know of a bus that would take me to my hotel in Piazza Lima, so he suggested I take the subway, and pointed to the flight of stairs in front of him.

Having flown all night and not wanting to carry my suitcase up and down stairs, I initially resisted. I went back into the rail station, but couldn't find an information window. Few people spoke English. I reluctantly carried my stuff down the stairs into the subway.

The Milan subway

A unformed subway employee helped me buy a 10-ride ticket from a machine, but first I had to go to an underground deli to get change of a 50-euro bill, which the machine rejected. I schlepped my stuff down more stairs to the platform. The train was packed. "Lima," the stop for my hotel, was five or six stops away -- hardly a "10-minute walk," as the clerk had assured me.

Finally, I arrived at the front desk and gave my name. The female employee asked for my passport. I went for a small, black-leather bag I carried in my open tote bag -- and it was gone. Inside the bag, which I have used on trips for decades, were my passport, credit cards, ATM card, driver's license, about $300 in dollars and euros, and the key to the lock on my suitcase.

Thus began an ordeal of walking around Milan for much of the day -- sleep deprived -- looking for the police station, the American Consulate and the American Express Travel Office.

 'Don't worry'

Many Italians give directions and state distances in minutes. In Milan, I heard, "It's only a five-minute walk. Don't worry." Variations included the "10-minute walk" and the "15-minute walk," but they all had one thing in common. They were wildly optimistic, but they were delivered with such authority and certainty, I often was disarmed. 

That day taught me that when an Italian tells you not to worry, that is when you should start worrying.

I was told I had to report the robbery to the police (and the U.S. Consulate would want to see a police report before issuing me a new passport).

A clerk at my hotel gave me a map, marked the location of the police and walked me to the door of the hotel. He began gesturing to something in the distance, and said I had to take a tram with a certain number. (Why couldn't he put me in a taxi, give me the address and some cash and tell me he would put it on the bill?) I went to the stop, but that number tram never arrived. 

I started asking and walking. Few people spoke English. My goal, according to the hotel, was a police office inside a hospital. When I finally found it an hour later, no one responded to my knocks. 

I asked a tall man in his 50s walking out of an inner hospital office for help. Luckily, he spoke English. He said his parents moved to Italy from Denmark after World War II. 

Instead of giving me directions, he walked with me almost the entire way to the national police on Via Moscova, where I waited for about 20 minutes until an officer came out, led me inside and had me fill out a form in English. But neither he nor any other officer on duty spoke much English.

Where is the consulate?
I asked for directions to the consulate. The cop insisted it was only two blocks away, and he managed a few words in English to say he's certain because he sees the American flag as he walks past every day. I guess he was just trying to be helpful, because it was more like six or seven blocks away and I again was lucky, this time to get directions from an African-American man who I learned later was a consular official.

The consulate was closed, but guards made a copy of my police report and an official who I spoke to by phone said I needed $135 for a new passport. I also was given a sheet listing the addresses of a dozen places, including the national police, the American Express Travel Office and McDonald's.

From there, I took the subway to the magnificent square called Duomo, site of a cathedral that is said to seat 40,000 people, and set out to find Via Larga, where the American Express office is located. A man inside the office had me speak with American Express employees in the United States to confirm my identity.

I was talking to them on a phone with a timer, and after about 45 minutes and questions from three different employees in three different departments, they were convinced I was who I said I was. One even asked me the square footage of my house in Hackensack. Thankfully, I bought the house only three years ago and could recall the listing.
But even after all of that, I couldn't pick up my new American Express card until the next day. Meanwhile, Visa was sending a new credit card to my hotel overnight after I called to report the theft.

No cash advance

American Express said it was trying to arrange a money transfer, but couldn't find a place that would give me euros if I didn't have identification.

Back at the hotel, I was exhausted and without a credit card. I went to my room for the first time to discover a "single" at the Hotel Galles is barely 9 feet by 15 feet, and the bathroom isn't big enough for a bidet. I ate granola bars and nuts, snacks I brought from home, and went to sleep around 7 p.m. 

The next morning, I  picked up my new American Express card, but the office wouldn't sell me traveler's checks or give me a cash advance, because the card wasn't  "issued in the United States." This capped the worse credit-card customer service I had ever experienced.

Still, the credit card allowed me to go back to the consulate and buy a new passport for $135, plus four euros for photos, but I was told in no uncertain terms, the consulate doesn't give emergency cash to American citizens. 

This tall building -- guarded by Italian paramilitary police with sub-machine guns and U.S. Marines -- was open only in the mornings. On the floor where I got my new passport, and where I again encountered the African-American man I had asked for directions the day before, there were only two other "customers" for consular services.

 Formula 1 -- finally

Now I had a credit card and a passport, so I took the train to the city of Monza and then a free shuttle bus to the autodromo to see the Friday afternoon practice session of the Formula 1 cars. (I had to walk three kilometers or 1.8 miles to reach the track, which is in a beautiful national park.)

As I sat in a stand on the main straight and watched in awe as the single-seat cars roared past me at more than 200 m.p.h., the sun warmed my face -- the first bit of comfort I felt since arriving in Italy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

99 cents sardines are alive and well

Sardines as seen at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.Image via Wikipedia
Sardines at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

Seafood is a crucial part of my non-meat diet and those plump, little sardines are one of my favorites -- as part of a breakfast sandwich with hummus, cheese, lettuce and tomato, or with spaghetti and red sauce.

For the past two or three years, I have been buying Moroccan sardines at Fattal's Syrian Bakery in Paterson, where the price of 99 cents a can is lower than at Corrado's, Costco, ShopRite or any other North Jersey store I know. Of course, if you insist on skinless and boneless, you'll pay more.

Today, I drove to Paterson to replenish my supply and found that while the price remains at 99 cents, Fattal's now carries both Moroccan and Thai sardines. I bought 15 cans -- 10 from Morocco and five from Thailand. I also picked up Fattal's small spinach pies, canned hummus from Lebanon, canned large fava beans, string cheese and a yogurt drink.

For dinner, I emptied four cans of Thai sardines, including their spicy oil or hot tomato sauce, into a covered pan large enough to hold a pound of spaghetti, and broke up the fish with a wooden spoon. I added about half of a bottle of arrabbiata sauce from Modena, Italy (red like a Ferrari), dried Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, black pepper and dried and powdered garlic, and heated it over a medium flame.

Meanwhile, I heated water for thick spaghetti, and when it started to boil, I blanched two heads of fresh spinach in two batches, transferring it into another pan with hot olive oil. Then the pasta went into the same water, while I seasoned the spinach, covered it and turned off the heat.

When the pasta was cooked, I drained it and dumped it into the pan with the sauce and sardines, mixed it well and served it with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Italian red table wine and the spinach. Mangia bene.

Fattal's Bakery, 975-77 Main St., Paterson; 973-742-7125. 
Open seven days, free parking in lot.
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How to serve salad in a martini glass

Cocktail Glass (Martini): The traditional cock...Image via Wikipedia

Chef Ji's Moon Jar in Fort Lee doesn't actually serve salad in a martini glass -- it's in the center of a plate with the martini glass upended and covering it. And on the base of the glass is a pile of chopped ahi tuna with caviar.

That appetizer is one of seven small plates or Crescent Moon Plates on a revised menu at the Korean fusion restaurant from Ji Cha, who once competed on Gordon Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen." There are six entree-size Full Moon Plates on the menu, as well, and such specials as a brie-stuffed burger.

The restaurant, which has been open only for dinner starting at 5:30, will begin serving bento-box lunches on Oct. 15.

On Saturday night, I ordered the martini-glass enhanced ahi tuna parfait with Tobiko caviar (flying-fish roe) and mesclun salad in a wasabi vinaigrette ($10.25) and what are described as shrimp scampi dumplings ($14.25). Delicious.

Equally good was Chef Ji's version of vegetable fried rice ($2) and a glass of pinot noir ($7).

Crescent Moon Plates are $6.25 to $10.25 and Full Moon Plates are $12.25 to $15.25.

Chef Ji's Moon Jar, 1636 Palisade Ave., Fort Lee; 201-363-0097. 
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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Shopping, cooking and dining notes

Staff at Willowbrook Whole Foods Fish CounterImage by skeggy via Flickr
Fish counter at a Whole Foods Market (not Paramus).

It's been fairly easy to keep eating at the level I did in Italy. There is plenty of fresh seafood available in North Jersey -- at Costco, Whole Foods Market and Fairway Market -- organic salad mix and decent produce.

Last week, I picked up two pounds of what was labeled Pacific true cod at Costco in Hackensack for $5.99 a pound. I cut the fillet into pieces, coated them in bread crumbs and chili spices and baked them at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, until they gave up their liquid and started to flake.

Two days later, I bought two dozen farmed prawns from Vietnam at Costco for $9.99 a pound (vein removed). I shelled them, marinated them in the juice of three lemons and seasoned them with red-pepper flakes, garlic powder, black pepper and a little salt. Meanwhile, I cut up sweet peppers and garlic, opened a can of diced tomatoes and boiled a half pound of organic pasta bowties from Whole Foods in Paramus.

I sauteed the peppers and garlic in olive oil, added the diced tomatoes and then the shrimp with all its marinade. When they were cooked, the pasta went in. I mixed it well and put the pot on the table with a slotted spoon. Next time, I'll drain the diced tomatoes. 

When Italians eat pasta, the sauce coats the spaghetti, tagliatelle or whatever they use, and doesn't pool in the bottom of the plate. Of course, there is always just a little sauce left over to be wiped up with bread.

Some of the large sizes at Costco make me wonder if the store expects customers to do clam bakes at this time of the year. Little Neck clams and mussels were in the fish case, but only in 5-pound packages.

Having recently returned from Italy, I couldn't pass up a wedge of Kirkland's imported Grana Padano at $8.99 a pound, a grainy, skim-milk cheese from cows that are grazing on the same grass their predecessors did in Roman times, according to the package. 

There is a great fish counter at Whole Foods in Paramus, with fresh seafood arriving seven days a week. I usually buy what's on sale, such as large, whole whiting for $4.99 a pound. My wife cut these in half to fit in the pan, coated them in flour and fried them.

My wife found farmed whole branzino for $5.99 a pound (usually $9.99 a pound). Two branzini that  weighed just under two pounds made a great dinner for three, seasoned, stuffed with herbs and lemon slices and baked in the oven.

I also love the fish counter at Fairway Market in Paramus, but I'm often put off by high prices, as I was on a visit to the store Saturday morning. I did buy four, one-pound packages of salted cod fish ($8.99) and one of salted pollack ($5.99) to compare with the cod.

I needed tomatoes, but one-pound packages of small, round Campari tomatoes were $2.99 -- too high even if they're herbicide free. Sometimes, Fairway sells three packages for $5. Why not on my visit? 

I wanted to try Polar lemon-flavored seltzer at 12 cans for $1.99, but inadvertently purchased Polar Dry Orange, which contains 6% orange juice, according to big lettering on the package. To my horror, I read the small lettering of the ingredient list when I got home, only to discover it also contains high fructose corn syrup, the first time I've seen a seltzer with it.

I picked up Marco Polo red-pepper spread (spicy) from Turkey for $2.99, compared with a similar product from Macedonia on the shelf above for $4.99.

 Australian beef

The ShopRite sales circular that came with the paper is offering Nature's Reserve, grass-fed, free-range beef from Australia for $3.99 a pound with a store card, through Saturday, Oct. 9. You have to buy several pounds of it -- the whole beef tenderloin for filet mignon -- and trim it before cutting it into small steaks or thin slices for Korean barbecue.

Here is a link to the U.S. federal trademark registration of Nature's Reserve beef in 2003. The producers say the cattle are never confined and no additives are used: Nature's Reserve Australian Beef

Last month, the Coles supermarket chain in Australia announced it would not sell beef containing hormone growth promotants. That has upset beef industry groups, including the Australian Beef Association and the Cattle Council of Australia, because smaller cattle will sell for less. 

At lunch one day in Italy, I met two Australian women who were traveling without their husbands and children. I asked them about Australian beef. They were not familiar with the Nature's Reserve brand, which apparently is sold only in the United States.

But one said beef producers are now confining cattle in feed lots and feeding them grain for the kosher and halal markets in the U.S.

Chef Ji's Moon Jar in Fort Lee

Chef Ji Cha, who competed on Gordon Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen" TV reality show a few years ago, has revised the menu of her Korean fusion restaurant and is preparing to open for lunch starting Oct. 15. I had dinner there Saturday night, and will report on the meal in my next post.