Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A poultry sale to crow about

Whole Foods MarketImage via Wikipedia


If I thought I had landed a good buy when I paid 99 cents a pound for organic chicken legs at ShopRite in Hackensack today (see previous post), Whole Foods Market in Paramus really surprised me with a sale on free-range turkey drumsticks and wings.

I bought 5 pounds of turkey drumsticks for 49 cents a pound this afternoon -- a total of $2.59 for six drumsticks divided among three trays. They went right into the freezer.

The parts came from turkeys raised on vegetarian feed and without antibiotics.
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Unexpected buy on organic chicken

A meat thermometer with a dial. Notice the mar...Image via Wikipedia



I went to ShopRite in Hackensack this morning to buy Readington Farms chicken for my wife and son, who have resumed eating meat. But I bought Coleman organic chicken instead, because it was nearly half the price.

There was nothing in the sales circular about the organic chicken, and I figured it was a misprint. And there were only skin-on legs available. But at 99 cents a pound, a tray of four legs came to around $1.50 or less, so I bought seven trays, most for the freezer.

Readington Farms legs were selling for the usual $1.89 a pound. And the store was having a 40%-off sale on crappy Perdue chicken. ShopRite rarely has a sale on drug-free chicken.

Both Readington Farms and Coleman raise their chickens on vegetarian feed and without antibiotics. All bets are off on how Perdue chickens are raised, but the parts are much bigger than their naturally raised cousins -- likely as a result of the antibiotics they receive.

My wife likes to rub drug-free chicken legs with Grace-brand jerk sauce (hot), put them in the refrigerator for several hours, then roast them in the oven. We use a meat thermometer, because they take less time to cook than conventional legs.
 
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Monday, November 29, 2010

Brown eggs, oily coffee beans and more

Peanut butter is a semi-solid and can therefor...Image via Wikipedia
Peanut butter, jelly or preserves and sliced cucumbers make a great sandwich.


The woman behind me in the checkout lane today at Fairway Market in Paramus put down a dozen brown eggs, prompting me to say that I prefer them, too, but don't know whether they are nutritionally better than white-shell eggs.


Check out this Egg Facts 101 video on white and brown eggs from the American Egg Board, an industry group: 

Chapter 2: The Hen

We also talked briefly about losing weight by cutting down on bread, but she said life is too short for her to give up her bagel with peanut butter. I suggested she try a peanut butter, jelly or preserves and sliced cucumber sandwich.


I drove to Fairway in search of "dry" coffee beans for my built-in Bosch coffee machine, which has a grinder that has trouble with oily beans. They apparently don't go down the chute as easily as dry beans and can get hung up, prompting a message on the machine to "add beans."


But usually, I don't have to add beans. I do, however, have to pull out the sliding chassis, open the coffee-bean receptacle and stir the beans a bit with my fingers. Inconvenient. For the last few weeks, I have been using Jamaican Blue Mountain beans, which are dry, not oily, that my wife brought back from the island, but I'm running low.

First, I went to Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood for whole beans, but the store is no longer selling them loose. I have never used the Lavazza or Caffe Kimbo bagged espresso beans from Italy and don't know if they're oily.

Beans in open sacks

I went to Fairway for the beans, because they are displayed in open sacks and it's easy to see which ones are glistening with oil and which ones are dry. I chose a pound of dark roast from Brazil for $7.99.


I also picked up two pounds of Colombian Supremo, Turkish grind, for my drip coffee maker ($5.99 a pound); Fairway roasted garlic pasta sauce ($2.99 for a 32-ounce bottle), and fruit.


My wife went shopping at Costco in Hackensack today, and bought fresh, wild-caught flounder fillets for dinner ($8.49 a pound). 

So at Jerry's, I only looked over the complete $6.99, restaurant-quality dinners still available at lunchtime: stuffed flank steak, grouper or roast chicken. Each one comes with pasta, rice or potato  and vegetable side dishes. Great food at a great price.


Fairway Market, 35 E. Ridgewood Ave., Paramus, 
in the Fashion Center mall; 201-444-5455.

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

Costco, 80 S. River St., Hackensack.


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Sunday, November 28, 2010

A North Jersey-style food run

Jack at Alstede's Farm, Chester, NJ 043Image by John Walker via Flickr
We found a well-stocked store on our visit to Alstede Farms in Chester.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

An Israeli cheese maker, a farm store as American as cherry pie and a Lebanese chef were among the elements of a food-filled afternoon on a sunny but blustery day in northern New Jersey.

Our excursion on Saturday took us from Bergen County to two farms and on our return, to a restaurant and bakery in Paterson's Middle Eastern bazaar -- a round-trip of about 100 miles.

I'll have to find a route with more two-lane blacktop on our next visit to Valley Shepherd Creamery, a sheep-and-goat dairy that makes and sells artisan cheese and a lot of other food in Long Valley, a lovely little town with antique stores and restaurants.

We started out on Route 80 west, headed south on Route 206 and drove two-lane roads past horse and produce farms until we reached the dairy.

As usual, cheese maker Eran Wajswol was busy in the back of the cozy retail store, dubbed the Sheep Shoppe, "making cheese."

There were only a few other customers in the store as I looked over the sheep's-milk cheese, yogurt, ravioli and other products in the cold case, and my wife and son sampled a semi-soft goat cheese.

Some of the cave-aged cheeses are $24 a pound, so I bought only a quarter-pound of Oldwick Shepherd cheddar and a third-of-a-pound of a parmagian-romano style cheese called Hunterdon. 

We also picked up four plain ewegurts ($2 each), a walnut-raisin baguette ($3.29) and that Crotin goat cheese ($5), which my 13-year-old son loved.

Valley Shepherd Creamery, 50 Fairmount Road, 
Long Valley, N.J.; 908-876-3200, call for hours.

Alstede Farms in Chester 


We've taken hay-wagon rides and visited the pumpkin path at Alstede Farms, but we were happy with shopping in the store on Saturday.

There was more fresh produce than I expected, probably grown in hot houses, including beefsteak tomatoes, red cabbage, arugula, dandelion and other greens. Coffee and hot soup were available, too.

We took home a large tomato, a head of red cabbage and a homemade cherry pie ($13.99). My son asked for a large cone of farm-made rum-raisin ice cream and raved it was the best he's ever had ($5.99). I needed a pick-me-up cup of black coffee ($1).

Alstede Farms, 84 Route 24, Chester; 908-879-7189.

Early dinner in South Paterson

Our first stop in Paterson was Fattal's Bakery, where the Al-Shark Moroccan sardines are only 99 cents a can, in spicy or regular oil. I picked up 14 cans of the spicy, plus yogurt drink ($1.49) and a mixture of olives ($2.99 a pound).

I love Fattal's Syrian bread, but didn't buy any, because I am cutting down on all bread and losing weight as a result.

For dinner, I couldn't decide on whether to go to our favorite, Aleppo Restaurant on Main Street, or La Ziza, a Lebanese place on the Paterson border we've tried several times despite the availability of hookah smoking.

It was early, about 3 in the afternoon, so we chose La Ziza, knowing there would be few other customers and little smoke to contend with.  

But we've probably had our last meal there after we were overcharged, the credit-card machine ran out of paper and the adjusted bill included a 15% tip on the original, inflated total.

That's a shame, because the food was as good as ever: 

Cold grape leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables ($5.95); cumin-flavored hummus ($4.50); lentil soup with fresh lemon ($2.95); a tart, finely chopped Lebanese salad ($6.95); and meat arayes, a toasted pocket-bread sandwich of seasoned meat ($5.50).

Only the overly sweet La Ziza lemonade disappointed ($2.95 each).

 In addition, we ordered one entree, fried, whole whiting with rice ($12.95), and asked the waiter to hold the greasy fried bread usually served with the three fish.

During our meal, customers at only two other tables were smoking water pipes, and they were nowhere near us. 

When I looked over the itemized bill, I noticed we were charged for an appetizer we didn't order. I called the waiter over and pointed that out to him and later, my son and wife said he "smirked," and they thought that meant he overcharged us on purpose.

Although the smoke was hardly noticeable, except for the sweetish smell, the air-conditioning was turned on as the staff, including the female chef, hunted for more paper for the credit-card machine. That took forever, and I had to put on my jacket because it was so cold in the place.

I paid the adjusted bill, but noticed only later the tip hadn't been adjusted downward. 

This morning, I joked with my wife: "Do you know where the restaurant that overcharged us is located?" 

"Crooks Avenue." 


Fattal's Syrian Bakery, 975-77 Main St., Paterson; 973-742-7125.

La Ziza Restaurant, 341 Crooks Ave., Clifton; 973-772-2700.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Inside our Thanksgiving dinner

Using an orange zester to zest an orange.Image via Wikipedia
I had the tool, but zesting two oranges was the hardest part of the recipe.


If I had a larger stock pot, I would have ruined the healthy carrot-fennel soup I prepared for Thanksgiving and been stuck with a lot of watery stuff that I could never serve my guests. The recipe I included in my last post must be in error on the huge amount of water called for.


I started sauteeing sliced onion, garlic and fennel in olive oil Thursday morning. Meanwhile, I sliced the 5 pounds of organic carrots I had peeled the night before, and when the other ingredients were translucent, added the carrots and water.


The recipe, from the Stony Hill Inn in Hackensack, calls for two and a half gallons of water, but I couldn't find a pitcher that was marked with its volume. A Brita pitcher we use for home-purified water was marked in cups, but only two-thirds up the side, ending at "10c." The Brita Web site gave the volume in 8-ounce glasses. (A gallon has 16 cups).

So, I poured nearly a full Brita pitcher of water into the pot, probably a gallon in total, and that was all that would fit. There wasn't even room for the optional two cups of milk, so I saved that step for later.


I boiled the mixture until the carrots were soft, about 40 minutes, and added zest from two oranges. Then, I started transferring the solids and some liquid into a blender to puree them. I should have poured the low-fat milk into the blender, not the pot, because when all the solids were removed, there was still a lot of milky liquid left, and I was forced to discard it.


I was left with a pleasantly thick and grainy carrot soup that tasted neither of fennel nor orange zest, but once I seasoned it with salt and white pepper, it was bursting with flavor. It went over big at dinner.


The rest of the menu was easy to prepare: 

Ravioli with beef for my guests, my son and my wife; lobster ravioli for me, both from Costco and both drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and a shower of black pepper from a mill; seasoned turkey thighs, drumsticks and wings from the Goffle Road Poultry Farm in Wyckoff that took on a beautiful color during simple roasting; baked sweet potatoes and yams; jellied and whole cranberries, and a big salad.


My reward for not eating meat was several glasses of delicious wine from La Familia Bujanda in Spain (made from the tempranillo grape), and a mid-afternoon nap.
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Off to the turkey farm we went

Turkeys everywhere, at Polyface Farms in Virginia.Image via Wikipedia
Turkeys and solar panels at a farm in Virginia.

When I called the Goffle Road Poultry Farm in Wyckoff on Monday morning, I was told it wasn't taking phone orders the week of Thanksgiving, and that I'd have to come in.


The big draw here is chicken, turkey, ducks and other poultry that are raised naturally and sold fresh shortly after they are killed -- not frozen or shrink-wrapped. The turkeys picked up Tuesday were killed the night before, though at less busy times of the year, customers can walk in and ask for a fresh-killed bird.

The farm is hemmed in by homes and businesses, and the short drive along Goffle Road from the highway passes through Hawthorne and a bit of Ridgewood before you enter Wyckoff. 


I arrived Tuesday morning, a couple of hours after the 8 a.m. opening, and found a parking space right away, joining a steady stream of customers heading for the small store, past others emerging with white plastic bags sagging under the weight of turkey.


I walked in and placed my order for turkey parts with a man who had deformed fingers. He typed on a computer keyboard: six thighs, three drumsticks, three wings and four pounds of turkey neck, cut into 2-inch segments. Parts are $1.89 a pound.

As for not being able to call ahead, the man said what else could customers expect when the farm had to fill 1,500 orders.


I grabbed bottles of Uncle Dougie's "world's most dangerous" barbecue sauce and "Chicago-style chicken wing marinade" ($5.25 each) off the shelf and waited for my name to be called.

I looked over the frozen case, with venison, bison, rabbit and other exotic meats, and farm-made turkey products, and the egg case, with chicken and big-yolk duck eggs, which I've enjoyed sunny side up in the past.


In about 20 to 25 minutes, I was back in the car. Backing out of my space, I looked up at the the long building that houses the store and noticed for the first time the roof is covered with solar panels. Way to go.


I imagine that if you've put off visiting the farm until today, the wait will be very long and the small store will be very crowded.

Goffle Road Poultry Farm, 549 Goffle Road, Wyckoff. www.gofflepoultry.com


Search for ingredients


My wife and I had to visit three supermarkets on Tuesday to find all the ingredients we need for the carrot-fennel soup we'll be serving on Thanksgiving.


My wife found bags of Earthbound Farm organic carrots at H Mart in Englewood ($1.99 for two pounds), and bought three. We need five pounds of carrots for the soup.


But she couldn't find fennel or dill for the garnish, and the oranges we need for zest didn't look good. The story was the same at Shop Rite in Englewood.


So, later in the day, I went to Whole Foods Market in Paramus and found a small fennel bulb, a bunch of dill and two navel oranges.


Now, looking over the receipts, I realize I misunderstood my wife when she called from the Korean supermarket. She found dill, but not fennel. What will I do with all that dill?

Carrot-fennel soup


The recipe for this healthy soup comes from the Stony Hill Inn in Hackensack, and I found it in a magazine published by Hackensack University Medical Center.


By Joe Preziosi
Stony Hill Inn, Hackensack

Ingredients

5 lbs. peeled carrots (sliced)
1 small bulb of fennel (sliced)
5 cloves of garlic (sliced)
2 Spanish onions (sliced)
zest of 2 oranges
4 tbsp. olive oil
2½ gallons water
2 cups milk (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
2 sprigs dill (chopped)

Directions

• Put the olive oil, onions,
and garlic in a large stockpot over
medium-high heat. Sweat until onions
are translucent.
• Add fennel and a couple of pinches of
salt. Continue to cook until fennel is
slightly wilted.
• Add carrots and water. Bring to a boil.
• Reduce to a simmer and cook until
the carrots are tender but not mushy
(about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on
the slice of the carrots).
• When carrots are soft, add milk
(optional) and orange zest. Puree in a
blender at medium speed until smooth.
• Add salt and pepper to taste.
• Spoon soup into bowls and add dill
before serving.

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What you buy when meat is off the table

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...Image via Wikipedia
The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930).

On my weekly, pre-Thanksgiving swing through Costco in Hackensack on Monday, I spent $123.77 -- every penny on food.


I plan to eat a homemade carrot-and-fennel soup, and lobster ravioli for my holiday dinner, while serving my wife, son and guests turkey drumsticks and thighs from Goffle Road Poultry Farm in Wyckoff.

At Costco, I picked up more Pasta Prima lobster ravioli ($11.99), enough for two dinners, and a two-pound bag of kale ($2.99) that I plan to sautee with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic as a Thanksgiving side dish.

My other purchases:

  • Kirkland-brand smoked and sliced, wild-caught sockeye salmon ($14.99 for 16  ounces).
  • Kirkland-brand frozen, wild-caught Pacific mahi-mahi fillets ($15.99 for 48 ounces).
  • Kirkland-brand frozen, wild-caught Pacific cod fillets ($14.99 for 32 ounces).
  • Earthbound Farm organic spring mix salad ($4.49 for 16 ounces).
  • Jarlsberg sliced, reduced fat cheese ($8.99 for 32 ounces).
  • Bartlett pears ($6.49 for 12).
  • Newman's Own 100% grape juice ($6.99 for two, three-quart bottles).

I also bought cans of Le Sueur sweet peas, and Kirkland-brand sweet corn kernels and fancy green beans to donate to the Center for Food Action in Englewood, which said it was seeking canned vegetables and potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner baskets.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Where everything on the menu is good

Dried Thai Dragon PeppersImage via Wikipedia
Wondee's can vary the heat of its dishes, but don't ask for "extremely spicy."


We've been going to Wondee's in Hackensack for years, but we haven't made a dent in its extensive Thai menu. We always seem to order our favorite dishes, but recently we've started to explore the many wonderful listings on the regular and vegetarian menus.


In the past, a typical meal for me, my son and my wife would be dumplings, soup, salad and steamed whole fish with chili peppers.


On Saturday night, however, we went shrimp crazy.


For the first time, we ordered Pad Suki-Yaki with shrimp ($9.95) from the section of the menu called stir-fry noodles, and Keang Panang -- large shrimp with Panang curry and coconut milk ($14.95) -- which we found under Thai curry.


The fine, bean-thread noodles in the former were red, and the dish included preserved bean curd, greens and crunchy vegetables. The large shrimp were served in an oval platter, swimming in a generous puddle of Panang curry, which I ate with a large spoon.


On our previous visit, we had a special of soft-shell crabs in this spicy curry sauce, only one of the many curries at Wondee's Fine Thai Food & Noodles. And we tried Salted Fish Fried Rice ($9.95), which was moist and full of tender seafood.


My wife and I also had our favorite soup, Thome Yum Koong, shrimp and mushroom soup with lime and chili paste ($3.75 for small). 


A word about the shrimp at Wondee's. They invariably are fresh-tasting and tender, some of the best I've had.  


My son ordered Geu Nam (won-ton soup, $3.75) and Karnom Jib (steamed shrimp and pork dumplings, $5.95), and we all shared a Yum Rod Pedt ($8.95), a mock-duck salad listed under the vegetarian menu that is made with iceberg lettuce, crispy tofu and fruit.




Wondee's Fine Thai Food & Noodles, 296 Main St., Hackensack; 
201-883-1700. Free parking in rear, BYO.
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Special Korean food

NJ - Bergen County - Ridgefield: Super H-Mart ...Image by wallyg via Flickr
The H Mart in Ridgefield is the biggest of four in Bergen County.

The four H Mart supermarkets in Bergen County are a great source of fresh fish and Asian greens, but they also stock some of my favorite prepared Korean dishes.

Three items I buy all the time are stewed tofu and stewed Alaskan pollock, both in a spicy red-pepper sauce, and japchae, translucent noodles with mushrooms, scallions and other vegetables.

What's great about them is a short ingredient list and no preservatives. The tofu, for example, is made with soy sauce, scallion, garlic, red-pepper paste and sesame oil.

Jinga, a company in Maspeth, N.Y., prepares the tofu and fish I bought in the Fort Lee store, though you can find store-made tofu in Little Ferry and Englewood. 

You get a pound of the small tofu slabs for $3.49. The pollock, which comes with onion, carrot and hot, green pepper, is $5.99 for 12 ounces. These chewy chunks of fish include the bone.

Sweet-potato flour is used for the noodles, $4.49 for 14 ounces. They are made by another company, Pinocchio Catering of Little Neck, N.Y.


The noodles are best when they are heated in the microwave, but the tofu and fish can be eaten right out of the fridge.


Here is the H Mart Web site:

Where to find H Mart stores 



2-day sale on Australian beef

ShopRite supermarkets in Rochelle Park, Paramus, Englewood and Hackensack will be selling free-range Australian beef for a low $2.99 a pound with a store card and $10 purchase -- two days only, Nov. 26 and 27. (I gave the wrong sale dates previously.)

The whole beef tenderloin for filet mignon, sold under the Nature's Reserve label, is said to be grass-fed and raised without antibiotics and growth hormones.

When I was eating beef, I would trim this tenderloin, slice it thin and place it in freezer bags with Korean bulgogi marinade.

If we were in the mood for Korean barbecue, we'd grill the beef on top of the stove and wrap it in red-lettuce leaves with spicy bean paste, garlic, scallion salad, kimchi and rice for a fun meal.


Good food close to home


What's for dinner? 

We were out of ideas for a home-cooked meal late Friday afternoon, and weren't in the mood for Chinese takeout, which we had the week before. The Korean tofu restaurant we love is in Palisades Park -- not the end of the world, but I just didn't feel like driving there.


Luckily, we live in Hackensack, less than two miles from Lotus Cafe, our favorite sit-down Chinese restaurant. As we walked toward the door, I noticed a full moon illuminating the parking lot.


Mr. Su, the owner, greeted us warmly, and in a few minutes we were enjoying a great meal:


We started wit won ton soup for my son ($2.10) and creamy tofu-and-spinach soup for me and my wife to share ($4.95).


Our entrees were prawns in chili sauce and fillet of sole in black-bean sauce ($15.95 each). We also enjoyed water spinach sauteed with fresh garlic ($9.95) and three bowls of white rice.


Lotus Cafe has wonderful seafood. The prawns were fresh-tasting and soft, and thick chunks of fish had been breaded and sauteed with carrot, onion and sweet pepper.

Along with our chocolate fortune cookies, the waiter gave us a small plate of canned pineapple and lychee speared with toothpicks.


Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack,
in the Pathmark Shopping Center; 
open seven days, free parking, BYO.


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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wal-Mart food flier doesn't impress

A protest in Utah against Wal-MartImage via Wikipedia
A Wal-Mart protest from 2005.

I received a Wal-Mart sales flier with my newspaper today and the first six pages are devoted to food. 

Even if Wal-Mart's offerings were of higher quality, I wouldn't shop there, because of the way this Arkansas company treats its workers.


Low prices aren't enough. I'm happy with the food quality and discount prices at Costco, where the workers belong to a union.


The Wal-Mart flier has page after page of processed food, mystery ham and poultry, pies and cake mixes, and cookies. 

Conventionally grown green beans, celery and clementines are the only produce shown, and the country of origin for the citrus is not given.

Thanks, but no thanks.
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Restaurant, shopping and cooking notes

El Califa in Mexico City serves a wonderful taco al pastor. The ingredients include spit-roasted pork, fresh pineapple and a soft corn tortilla. They're served three to an order.




In Mexico, tacos are street food. Even in restaurants, such as El Califa in Mexico City, they are served simply -- your choice of meat or poultry in a soft corn tortilla with chopped onion and cilantro, and great hot sauces on the side.

At Rosa Mexicano in Hackensack, fish, chicken or steak tacos are transformed into a meal. I joined two friends for lunch there Friday, and we ordered chicken and fish tacos, and enchiladas Suizas. (I didn't pay the bill, but recall each dish was around $11 or $12.)

My tender white fish had been marinated in achiote, orange and garlic and came with onions in a small skillet. I also got a wedge of lime, a small serving of creamed corn, another of smoky beans and a little red salsa. 

Larger bowls of herbed rice and refried beans, and a covered basket of warm tortillas were meant to be shared. We asked for a green salsa and some sour cream. 

I assembled my own tacos with the soft corn tortillas made in the dining room -- smearing some refried beans and sour cream on one, adding a little fish and onion, pouring on a salsa or two. One of my friends added rice to her chicken tacos. It was a satisfying lunch in a restaurant that makes just about everything from scratch.

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

Gammiok in Fort Lee

On Saturday night, we stopped for dinner at Gammiok, the stylish Korean restaurant in Fort Lee.

Most Korean restaurants serve four or more complimentary side dishes with every meal, but Gammiok is different. 

It highlights its kimchi service -- cabbage and radish kimchi are brought to the table in a small vase and sauce comes in a separate container. The cabbage kimchi is cut with a scissors and placed on a plate with the radish kimchi, then the sauce is poured on top.

Gammiok also is alone in serving a basket of fresh, crunchy cabbage leaves and twisted, hot green peppers that aren't for the faint of heart.

Our appetizer was a thick, seafood and scallion pancake ($9.95) -- one of the non-spicy dishes on the menu -- that the waitress cut like a pizza.

Our entrees were comforting stone-bowl bibimbap ($13.95) -- steamed rice topped with vegetables, ground beef and a raw egg. I asked the waiter to hold the meat on mine, and fry all the eggs. 

You get a mildly spicy red sauce and a second sauce to pour on top before mixing all the ingredients together, making sure to scrape up bits from the bottom of the hot bowl. A wonderful meal.

For takeout, we ordered a container of Gammiok's cabbage kimchi ($7).

Gammiok Restaurant, 485 Main St., 
Fort Lee; 201-242-1333.

Littlenecks in Hackensack

Littlenecks, those well-known, wild-caught clams, were available on Sunday at the Costco in Hackensack, and they made a great appetizer for a dinner of crab cakes and baked potatoes.

The clams were $2.99 a pound, but came in a bag that weighed just over 5 pounds. That's a lot of shells, but a manageable amount of clams for two (my wife doesn't eat them).

Preparation couldn't be easier. Keeping them in the bag, I rinsed them briefly, then carefully emptied the live clams into a pot. I poured inexpensive Japanese sake over them, just to cover the bottom of the pot, turned up the heat and covered it. Wine white is just as good.

When the clams open, they release salty water to mix with the sake, and they're done. I eat mine with a spritz of fresh lemon juice, my son with hot sauce. Then, I drink a cup or two of the delicious sake broth. 

Also at Costco, I found salted Alaskan pollock, two pounds for $6.39, an inexpensive stand-in for salted cod. I hesitated to buy the pollock last week, because it is from China, which has a poor food-safety record, but I picked up some Sunday to try it.

King whiting

My wife found whole king whiting at the H Mart in Englewood last week for $3.99 a pound and asked the fish monger to clean and gut them and cut off the heads.

At home, she rolled the whole fish in flour and fried them. In a separate pot, she cooked sliced carrot, onion and hot peppers in vinegar and water, and poured the vegetables over the cooked fish.

That's called "escoveitch [of] fish" in the Caribbean.





Friday, November 12, 2010

Boycott bluefin-tuna cutting

Southern bluefin tunaImage via Wikipedia
Last year, the giant bluefin tuna I saw cut up originally weighed about 1,000 pounds.


In the past two years, I joined hundreds of others jostling for space at the Japanese supermarket in Edgewater to watch workers reduce a giant bluefin tuna to sushi and small blocks of sashimi. 

I bought a half-pound of the well-marbled belly meat, called oh-toro, for $62.99 a pound in 2009 -- up from $60 a pound in 2008.

However, since last year's "cutting performance" at Mitsuwa Marketplace, the news about bluefin tuna has been all bad, and I'm planning to boycott the performance and sale on Nov. 20 and 21. 

I'm urging you to do the same. Click on the link below to read how these magnificent creatures are being driven toward extinction. The Japanese eat most of the world catch.

Although bluefin tuna contains beneficial Omega-7 fatty acids and literally melts in your mouth when raw, it also has a great deal of harmful mercury.

Dark side of bluefin tuna harvest


Greenpeace and Costco

Greenpeace has launched a campaign against Costo for selling what it calls "red-listed fish," such as orange roughy and Chilean sea bass. 


I buy a lot of seafood at the Costco store in Hackensack, and have never seen either of them -- fresh or frozen. 

My repeat buys include wild sockeye salmon, fresh, frozen or smoked; wild-caught haddock and flounder; frozen, wild-caught  mahi-mahi; and farmed shrimp and prawns from Vietnam.

I e-mailed Costco last week to ask about the Greenpeace campaign, but haven't received a response. Click on the link below for more information:

Greenpeace goes after Costco 



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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dinner and jazz in Newark

The New Jersey Performing Arts Center, in Newa...Image via Wikipedia
WBGO-FM fans who paid $500 each enjoyed a cocktail party and dinner at NJPAC.


We had a good dinner and saw a great jazz concert Wednesday night at Newark's world-class performing arts center.

We went from nail-biting, rush-hour congestion on the New Jersey Turnpike to quiet city streets, where I drove past NJPAC's parking lot ($13 with a prepaid voucher), but encountered a police officer who was nice enough to hold up traffic so I could make a U-turn.

For dinner, we chose the Theater Square Bistro, the less-expensive alternative inside the arts center. My wife and I shared two salads and two entrees, and we drank ginger ale, red zinfandel wine, tea and coffee. With a $12 tip, our meal cost $93.32.

Our salads were imaginative -- one with beets, endive, frisee and goat cheese ($9), the other a lobster salad with fingerling potato discs and cornichon garnish ($10). 

We loved our branzino entree ($24) -- two large, skin-on fillets served on top of a bed of fresh spinach with orange sections. 

But our pasta with "creamy pesto," tomato and pitted olives ($16) was a disappointment. 

Basil-based pesto with olive oil and grated cheese is so flavorful and fragrant as a pasta sauce that diluting it with cream or whatever robs it of its punch and adds unnecessary calories and cholesterol. 

And if you didn't get one of the small, salty olives on your fork, the pasta and creamy sauce were under-seasoned.


Our dessert was the annual "Champions of Jazz" benefit for WBGO-FM (Jazz 88), the 24-hour jazz radio station in Newark, honoring Phoebe Jacobs of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation and trumpeter Herb Alpert, who cracked that he "dyed his hair gray" for the occasion.


Although our $88 tickets landed us in cramped balcony seats, we enjoyed 10 great singers -- 16 to 89 years old -- including John Hendricks, Ernie Andrews, Leny Andrade, Gary U.S. Bonds, Maysa, Darmon Meader, Kim Nazarian and Dee Dee Bridgewater.


Nine of them, backed by a trio and acoustic guitar, ended the concert with an incredible performance of "All Blues," singing, scatting and improvising the Miles Davis classic and bringing the audience to its feet.


Check out the You Tube video of Miles Davis playing "All Blues" on the Steve Allen Show in 1964:

Miles Davis Quintet

I got a kick of how the show band's musicians were applauding Miles and his group with the same enthusiasm as the studio audience. 


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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Good buys on imported food

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





ShopRite in Hackensack is having a four-day "price break" and there are deals on a couple of imported items, including extra-virgin olive oil from Italy and sparkling 100% juice from Spain. The sale at this and other ShopRites ends Saturday.


The sparkling juice from Spain comes in 750 milliliter bottles for $1.79 each with the store card, compared to the regular price of $2.29. There is a limit of four. Flavors include red grape, white grape, peach and apple -- all 100% juice -- and pomegranate-apple, which is not all juice.


The sparkling red grape is so thick and robust, I sometimes dilute it with plain seltzer or the white grape juice.


The ShopRite extra-virgin olive oil is exclusively from Italian olives, unlike others that blend oil from Italy and other countries, including Spain and Tunisia. A 1-liter bottle is $4.99, compared to the regular price of $7.99.


This is a great everyday oil, especially for salads and to moisten leftover pasta, but I also fry eggs in it.

Not all of ShopRite's imported items are on sale. Two that are being sold at full price are bread sticks and oversize, bronze-cut pasta, both from Italy.


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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Some of the worst Chinese food ever

Dim sumImage by Kent Wang via Flickr
Maybe we should have stuck with dim sum at Dim Sum Dynasty (generic photo).


As I paid the bill at Dim Sum Dynasty in Ridgewood, I asked myself what I had done to deserve the lousy lunch I had just been served.


I had agreed to meet two friends on Monday at Sakura Bana, a reliable Japanese restaurant on Franklin Avenue, but when I got there, I saw that it opens only for dinner on Mondays. So one of my friends suggested Dim Sum Dynasty, which is just down the block.


On the way in, I noticed a December 2009 article from The New York Times about Drew Nieporent, the Manhattan restaurateur who lives in Ridgewood. In it, he mentions that when he eats out on Sundays, he goes to Dim Sum Dynasty for Chinese food.


Maybe, he doesn't know anything about Chinese food or the place has deteriorated since the piece was published. In fact, I ate at Dim Sum Dynasty a few years ago, and don't remember any problems.


But on Monday, the waiter seemed bored and tried to rush one of my friends into deciding which  of the complimentary soups she wanted with her lunch special, but she resisted. The place was less than half full. 


Instead of having carts of dim sum circulating in the dining room, they are listed on the menu. Maybe I should have ordered some.


Instead, I chose the "sea bass fillet casserole with tofu" ($9.99 with soup and rice), which sounded like a great, non-meat dish. But it was dreadful, an example of some of the worst Chinese food I have ever had from a restaurant that is cutting corners at the customer's expense.


First, there was no "fillet," just heavily battered pieces and I had a hard time actually tasting the sea bass. It could have been any fish, if there was, in fact, fish in there. The tofu cubes also were heavily battered. And what were roast pork slices doing in the casserole? They weren't mentioned on the menu.


The hot-and-sour soup was terrible -- too thick from an excessive amount of corn starch -- and the bowl of brown rice I got with the casserole seemed smaller than other restaurant's rice bowls. 


One of my friends ordered General Tso's Chicken ($7.99), but left most of it uneaten, complaining the poultry was tough. My second friend ordered sliced beef with choy sum ($7.99), and she was happy with it, though she had to ask for a knife to cut the green's tough stems.


When you have a terrible Chinese meal, it only makes you appreciate even more how great Lotus Cafe in Hackensack has been year after year and how honestly it deals with customers in terms of the quality of its ingredients, its prices and its service.


And few other places have a Chinese banquet menu that offers wonderful multi-course meals for four or more people at about $20 and up per person.


Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack; 
open seven days, free parking, BYO.


Dim Sum Dynasty, 75 Franklin Ave., Ridgewood;  
open seven days, metered street parking.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Shopping, cooking and tasting notes

Tofu HouseImage by pkingDesign via Flickr
The red-pepper color of this soft-tofu stew tells you it is very spicy.


I spent more than an hour at Whole Foods Market in Paramus today and it was filled with customers, in contrast to the usually uncrowded weekdays.


Another difference were the free food samples near the entrance -- a delicious squash soup, crisps with non-meat toppings, cheese cubes and pear slices, and real apple cider (with alcohol).

I bought organic and conventional apples and pears, and pasta -- all on sale. The farfalle made with organic durum wheat in Italy is our favorite ($1.29 for a one-pound box). I also picked up 16 ounces of spinach penne for $1.69.

The store is open until 10 p.m. on Sundays.

Pasta with wild-caught shrimp

For dinner last night, I prepared a full box of the farfalle with about a pound and a half of wild-caught Mexican Pacific brown shrimp I bought at Costco in Hackensack. I deveined the shrimp, shelled them and cut them in half to more or less match the size of the bow-tie pasta. 


The sauce was extra-virgin olive oil with chopped fresh garlic and the marinade -- the juice of one and a half lemons, plus dried garlic, red-pepper flakes, salt and black pepper. I added a can of organic diced tomatoes, drained, to a half-cup of oil with garlic, then when it was hot, threw in the shrimp and marinade. 

I started cooking the shrimp about four or five minutes before the pasta was ready, then added the drained bow ties and combined everything thoroughly. I made sure to add grated cheese at the  table for even more flavor.  

A salad of organic spring mix and a glass of red wine completed the meal.


A simple birthday meal


I invited two good friends to join my family Friday for a birthday meal at So Gong Dong, the soft-tofu restaurant in Palisades Park. 

(For my birthday, my wife and son joined me for dinner at Spanish Pavillion in Harrison, where "Kitchen Nightmares" was being taped. See previous post, Our dinner with Chef Gordon Ramsay.)

So Gong Dong serves filling, nutritious Korean comfort food -- soft-tofu stew, steamed rice and side dishes -- for $10, including tax.

We also ordered pork-filled dumplings, a pancake with scallions and seafood, and thin-sliced prime beef, which my son and guests loved. There were five of us, and we couldn't finish the food.

So Gong Dong, 118 Broad Ave., Second Floor, 
Palisades Park; open seven days for lunch and dinner.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Our dinner with Chef Gordon Ramsay

Gordon RamsayImage via Wikipedia
Chef Gordon Ramsay in 2006. He is all-blond now.


We went inside "Kitchen Nightmares," the TV reality show where foul-mouthed Chef Gordon Ramsay tears down, then rebuilds a restaurant that has lost its way to customers' hearts.

We didn't actually have dinner with the chef, though he greeted us after we were seated Thursday night at one of two tables in the bar room of the Spanish Pavillion, a 34-year-old Harrison restaurant that was getting a makeover, including an overnight renovation of its dated interior. (One thing the chef missed is the misspelling of "pavilion.")

If we had made our e-mail reservation earlier, we might have gotten a table in the dining room, where Ramsay and two camera crews spent most of their time. But we never heard the chef raise his voice, curse or throw a tantrum during the restaurant's relaunch.

In fact, he seemed to have a lot on his mind the few times he passed our table on the way out, presumably for exterior shots or to take a break in his trailer at the back of the parking lot.

I stopped him on his way in on one occasion, and mentioned that Chef Ji Cha, one of his "Hell's Kitchen" alumna, had opened a Korean fusion restaurant in Fort Lee, and he reacted positively.

"That's good news," he said softly.

It rained all day and into the night Thursday, and traffic to Harrison was awful. But we got there for our 6 p.m. reservation, then had to stand around in a chilly tent while production staff checked us in, had us sign release forms and photographed us holding numbers and a sheet of paper with our family name on it. 

Inside, production crew in jeans and sweaters constantly checked their paperwork, whispered into microphones, and moved around with cameras and sound booms, focusing on groups waiting at the bar for their tables.

We pumped the woman checking coats and the man who came out from behind the bar to serve us for information, but didn't find out much. 


Kitchen NightmaresImage via Wikipedia


The woman, a former employee who was helping out on this special night, said the show's producers approached the restaurant, and that it was a long process, possibly two years. She said we couldn't go to a downstairs bathroom, because of all the recording equipment there.

The bartender said the restaurant was doing business, but was serving the same menu as most of the other Spanish places across the river in Newark's Ironbound -- huge portions and acres of yellow rice and addictive, thin-sliced fried potatoes.

Meanwhile, the dining scene had changed, with the addition of tapas bars, updated  Portuguese restaurants and an influx of Brazilian places.  At the old Portuguese places, you can gorge on unlimited quantities of roasted meat and poultry presented at your table on spits.

Ramsay updated the menu at Spanish Pavillion, adding tapas (small plates) and light entrees accompanied by vegetables, plus soup or salad. He also made a special, coffee-flavored flan for the relaunch. You can still get paella for two.

We started with three small plates -- potato-and-cheese croquettes ($6), patatas brava ($4) and an assortment of olives with bits of manchego cheese ($4). We loved the croquettes, but the patatas brava were just fried potatoes by another name.  

The soup wasn't the standard potato-and-greens soup called caldo gallego, but a delicious puree of potato and garlic with a little cream and possibly sherry. The salad wasn't just a little iceberg lettuce with a few olives, but spring mix in a champagne dressing.

Our entrees were short ribs with carrots ($19); monk fish with sweet red peppers, artichokes and onions ($19); and fillet of sole with a lemon-butter sauce ($20), accompanied by spinach and zucchini.

My son complained his block of meat didn't have any actual ribs and was "bland," to boot. I loved my monk fish, which has the texture of lobster, and its simple sauce, and my wife couldn't finish the sole, though she liked it.

I drank a full-bodied red wine from Rioja (only $5.25 a glass). Soft-drink or juice refills were free. 

We shared the flan ($5), and the coffee flavor gave new life to this old standard. 

As you might imagine with a new menu after so many years of preparing and serving standards, we had to wait for each course, but it wasn't intolerable.

When we left, our last glimpse of the chef in his white jacket and black pants was as he ducked into his trailer.

Spanish Pavillion Restaurant, 31 Harrison Ave., Harrison; 973-485-7750.

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