Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vegetable stew, guacamole and rising prices

Aguacate / AvocadoImage via Wikipedia
Wholly Guacamole is packed with avocados.

I keep on discovering new items and old favorites at Costco in Hackensack that help me forget I haven't eaten meat or poultry for more than a year.

A new favorite is Stonewall Kitchen Old Farmhouse Vegetable Stew, packed with potato and carrot chunks, and peas and other veggies that are fresh-tasting and firm to the bite. The ingredient label lists 10 vegetables, plus herbs and spices.

The delicious, milky looking broth contains no dairy. Two 20-ounce portions were $7.99, and they can be frozen.

An item I tried a couple of years ago is appearing more frequently at meals after my son fell in love with the guacamole at Rosa Mexicano in Hackensack, where the appetizer is prepared table-side. The restaurant's guacamole is priced at $12, but contains only two avocados.

Costco's Wholly Guacamole claims to have 15 Hass avocados "in every batch" or five in each of the three 16-ounce portions. It's a much better deal.

Check out the ingredient list: Hass avocados, jalapeno puree, dehydrated onion, salt, granulated garlic. That's it. And it's made in Mexico. I paid $8.49, and it's enough for three meals, plus it can be frozen.

I serve the guacamole after adding a liberal amount of Goya's spicy Salsa Taquera, though you can use chunky salsa or any other hot sauce.

Salsas picantesImage by saguayo via Flickr

Rising prices

Costo's prices are trending upward for its own Kirkland Signature brand of smoked wild salmon and 100% whole grain bread.

Now, a pound of Boskovich Farms' organic spinach has jumped to $4.49, from $3.79; and three, long gourmet cucumbers went up 20 cents, to $3.99. 

I've also noticed substantial hikes -- about $2 -- in the price of apples and other fruit sold in 4- or 5-pound packages. 

Other items, such as 2 pounds of salted pollock from China for $6.39, have held the line. Frozen Pacific cod was $14.99 for 2 pounds, just under the price for fresh fillets you sometimes find in the fish case.

Two pounds of Sunset-brand Roma and Campari tomatoes have held steady at $4.99 and $5.49, respectively.  The price is high, but the tomato taste is intense.
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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spicy Syrian food -- and all that jazz

Aleppo Jdeydeh Christian quarterImage via Wikipedia
The Christian Quarter in Aleppo, Syria.

I haven't been to Aleppo Restaurant in Paterson's bustling Middle Eastern bazaar for several months, but our meal late Saturday afternoon couldn't have been better.

We started with pureed lentil soup scented with cumin, served with a lemon wedge and crunchy bits of toasted pocket bread; and muhammara, a dip of sweet red peppers and walnuts, made spicy with dried and ground Aleppo red peppers the owner gets from Syria.

Another appetizer is my son's favorite, meat arayes or seasoned beef inside toasted pocket bread, served in wedges.

Our whole, grilled red snapper was rubbed with more Aleppo red pepper and hot sauce. My son chose the Aleppo kebab, four skewers of ground meat. Both entrees were served with rice.

We cooled down the fire of the muhammara and fish with a refreshing dish of yogurt and cucumbers, and I finished the meal with a cup of thick Arabic coffee. My son couldn't finish his food.

This meal was both delicious and reasonably priced: $2 for a bowl of soup, $4 for the muhammara or yogurt, $6 for the arayes, $10 for the kebabs and $14 for the whole fish.

Baron hotel AleppoImage via Wikipedia
Baron Hotel in Aleppo.

During our meal, a group of nine men and women sat at a table, discussing and debating the meaning of the Koran, as Arabic music played in the background. 

I noticed that a Turkish place called Hummus, just across Main Street, had gone out of business. 

We could have gone food shopping at Fattal's Syrian Bakery, on the next block, or at Brothers Produce in the Paterson Farmers' Market near the Clifton border.

But we had tickets to a concert in The Jazz Room of William Paterson University in neighboring Wayne.

Drummer Roy Haynes, who is 86 years young, led a quartet in a half-dozen standards, bouncing around the stage, attacking his drums and playing just about everything in sight, including the mike stand and the edge of his cymbals. 

Aleppo Restaurant, 939 Main St., Paterson; 973-977-2244. No liquor allowed. 
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Friday, March 25, 2011

A restaurant makes you forget the recession

Banchan, a small dish accompanied with a main ...Image via Wikipedia
A selection of panchan or banchan, side dishes served with every Korean meal.

When I first started going to North Jersey's Korean restaurants nearly 15 years ago, the value was outstanding.

Lunches and dinners often included six or more side dishes or panchan -- small, colorful portions of vegetables, tofu, fish and meat that were arrayed around your main dish.

Yong Su San in Englewood Cliffs served 10 such dishes, including a small broiled mackerel, until it closed.

But as food prices rose and especially after the recession hit, the number of side dishes declined. 

So Gong Dong, our favorite tofu house in Palisades Park, now serves four, which is pretty much the norm nowadays, though I occasionally encounter six or seven. 

Though the value isn't as good as in the past, a belly busting meal of soft tofu with seafood, rice and side dishes is only $10, including tax.

So I was bowled over Thursday night, when we made an unplanned stop at Pine Hill, a Korean restaurant in Paramus, and the waitress brought out 10 side dishes after we placed our order. That wasn't all.

My bibimbap, a rice dish made in a stone bowl, came with miso soup, and a waiter later brought us a stone-bowl egg souffle.

Only two of the side dishes disappointed -- some iceberg lettuce with dressing and a portion of tired-looking corn kernels that was a poor imitation of mixed vegetables. 

I loved the taste of the cabbage kimchi, and the waitress brought a second dish when we finished the first. There also was cooked tofu in batter, shredded radish, greens and, yes, a small, whole mackerel.

Dolsot bibimbap, a Korean traditional dish com...Image via Wikipedia
Sone-bowl bibimbap with a raw egg yolk.

I asked the waitress to hold the ground beef from my rice-and-vegetable dish, which was topped with a fried egg and cost $13.95. I couldn't finish it.

My wife's soft-tofu stew with seafood was $10.95, but she complained there wasn't enough shrimp in it. My son loved his spicy soup of egg, noodles and bone-in short ribs ($13.95). Both of those dishes came with steamed rice.

Pine Hill Restaurant, 123 Paramus Road, Paramus; 201-843-0170. 
Open for lunch and dinner.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

A rare visit to Trader Joe's

Niman RanchImage via Wikipedia

When I stopped eating meat nearly 11 months ago, I pretty much ran out of reasons to shop at Trader Joe's, the California-based specialty food store with staffers in Hawaiian shirts selling lots of organic and naturally raised stuff at good prices.

I once visited the Paramus store every two or three weeks for uncured, preservative-free cold cuts, hot dogs and bacon; and scrumptious, fully cooked St. Louis-style ribs from the Niman Ranch. 

I'd also pick up great juices, soy milk, yogurt and other products.

I drove to the Route 17 north store on Wednesday to shop for my meat-eating wife and son, only to find the Niman Ranch ribs have been discontinued. All I really needed besides that was antibiotic- and hormone-free bacon ($3.99).

pic of Trader Joe's bagImage via Wikipedia

But I decided to try the organic whole wheat spaghetti from Italy that a friend recommended ($1.39) and pick up organic blue agave sweetener ($2.99) and sour cherries ($2.29) for topping plain yogurt.

I also bought sliced yogurt cheese with jalapenos ($4.49); two pounds of frozen edamame or soy beans in the pod ($1.69 each); a 64-ounce bottle of organic lemonade ($2.99) and white cheddar corn puffs ($1.99).

I brought a reusable Whole Foods Market bag with me, but unlike many other stores, Trader Joe's doesn't give you a nickle or dime for doing so.

Trader Joe's, 404 Route 17 north, Paramus; 201-265-9624.

Not worth the detour

Newspaper fliers have been heralding the "grand re-opening" of the International Food Wine & Liquor Warehouse in Lodi, but a visit on Wednesday showed this store is very much a work in progress.

A large section for meat and fresh produce remains empty, and workers are stocking shelves elsewhere, in what one called a "re-arranging."

The flier boasts of "30,000 feet of foods from around the world," but probably means 30,000 square feet. Even that seems to be an exaggeration, judging from what I saw.

Sign confusion is evident in a few places, such as spices offered for 69 cents without specifying which of three sizes is on sale.

There are some low prices, including pasta for 69 cents a pound, three liters of Lebanese extra-virgin olive oil for $12.99 and Moroccan sardines for 99 cents a can, but most can be matched by other stores.

I bought only one item from among hundreds, a small jar of strawberry preserves from France for $2.77.

International Food Warehouse, 370 Essex St., Lodi; 201-368-9511
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Inside Mexico City's taco al pastor

Lebanese and Mexican traditions produce a great taco.

Three winters ago, we discovered the taco al pastor in Mexico City and lost count of how many we wolfed down at El Califa and other restaurants. On Tuesday, I heard from a Bergen County woman who just returned and has been pining for the delightful treats.

These scrumptious tacos are deceptively simple: First, marinated pork is roasted on a vertical spit, in the Lebanese style brought over by immigrants from that country (see photo above).

Then, the meat goes into two corn tortillas with fresh pineapple (that's it, at the top of the spit), onion, cilantro and a great salsa. Yet, I have not found their equal in North Jersey or the city.

A taco al pastor at Taqueria El Califa in Mexico City.

The taco maker in the photo is actually a blur in person -- slicing off meat with his right hand into small corn tortillas held in his left hand. Then, he swings the knife at the pineapple for the sweet garnish, shown above.

In Mexico City, the taco al pastor is served three at a time, with a couple of small cups holding red or green salsa. We sampled the taco at three places before deciding the best ones were being served at Taqueria El Califa, then returned two more times.

Here, I stopped looking for a good taco al pastor more than a year ago, the last time I ate meat. 

But I'm betting you can find something similar at Rosa Mexicano in Hackensack, even if you have to order a pork dish, bring your own fresh pineapple and make your own with the restaurant's scrumptious corn tortillas, which are prepared in the dining room.

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

Taqueria El Califa, Altata 22, Colonia Condesa, 
Mexico City; 5271.6285, 5273.4943.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Chef Ji says she couldn't handle two jobs

SyscoImage via Wikipedia
Sysco Corp. calls itself a global leader in distributing food to restaurants.

From Chef Ji Cha's Facebook page:
"We are sorry to say, but we are closed! I work for Sysco Foods Metro NY and I cannot handle both. If you need anything let me know. Many hugs to my fans and thank you for your support."
Chef Ji posted that message Feb. 2, 2011.
However, Moon Jar remains open for dinner only, though it is no longer called Chef Ji's Moon Jar and the food is mostly traditional Korean.
Chef Ji held down her day job while managing the Fort Lee restaurant, where she conceived the imaginative Korean-fusion menu and worked in the kitchen. 
In an e-mail, she cited another reason for leaving: She no longer saw eye-to-eye with investors.
She got two stars from Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung on Nov. 5, 2010, in The Record of Woodland Park.
Ung recommended Chef Ji's Korean sliders, bacon-wrapped scallops, spicy crispy dumplings, Asian wings and sake miso-marinated sea bass.
See earlier post, Chef Ji leaves Moon Jar in Fort Lee

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tunaldine and sardunamon -- hold the mayo

A school of Californian anchovies, Engraulis m...Image via Wikipedia
Don't count out anchovies in that tuna salad you're making.

What do you call a salad made from canned sardines, pink salmon and yellow-fin tuna -- tunaldine, salmunadine or sardunamon?

There are lots of other possibilities, but anyway you spell it, this is a far tastier salad than tuna alone. I've even used anchovies.

I add the water or oil to the  bowl with the canned fish, plus lots of diced sweet peppers, onion and celery, though I didn't  have the last one this time. The dressing is Dijon mustard, fresh lemon juice and a generous amount of ground cumin -- all to taste.

A good proportion is one can of yellow fin, one of salmon and two of sardines, plus one of anchovies, if you dare.

This morning, I made my son a fish-salad sandwich on toasted whole-grain bread, adding a slice of cheddar cheese, organic spring mix, sliced tomato and hot sauce.

Later, for my breakfast, I piled four or five ounces of the salad on more organic spring mix, with my own dressing, reduced fat cheese, sun-dried tomato, Campari tomato and a little kimchi.

The one canned tuna to avoid is albacore, which is said to have the most mercury.
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chef Ji leaves Moon Jar in Fort Lee

A bowl of makgeolli, a type of takjuImage via Wikipedia
Fermented Korean rice wine is called makgulli or moon jar.

Chef Ji Cha, who competed on Gordon Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen" a couple of years ago until sidelined by an injury, has left Moon Jar in Fort Lee.

The restaurant remains open under the Moon Jar name, but is serving only dinner and drinks. Without Chef Ji's stylish enhancements, the all-white setting seems even more austere than before.

Chef Ji's fusion menu has been replaced by one that hews closer to traditional Korean food, but the kitchen brought back her BBQ beef sliders.

We had dinner there on Saturday night, served by Rocky, who was one of the bartenders when the place was called Chef Ji's Moon Jar, and it was a filling and satisfying meal.

In addition to menus, Rocky brought an iPad that allowed us to review photos of the food.
The brushed aluminum back of the iPad Wi-FiImage via Wikipedia

What we ate

We ordered fish ball soup ($15), spicy soy chicken ($15), LA kalbi ($19) and seafood vermicelli ($12) -- all suitable for sharing, though I stuck to the meatless dishes, while my wife and son demolished the meat and poultry, plus a couple of bowls of white rice.

We were given a complimentary appetizer -- halves of baked sweet potato dusted with cinnamon. Other dishes on the menu include kimchi soup and a seafood pancake. 

I loved the soup, with its flavorful broth and skewers of fish balls and cakes, and its root vegetable. 

The tender kalbi -- bone-in beef short ribs -- were served on a bed of stones the waiter ignited with a lighter. My wife and son also loved the chicken dish -- chunks of leg and thigh meat in a sweet and spicy sauce perfect for spooning over the rice.

The noodle dish was long on vegetables and short on seafood, but it's made with yummy, translucent, sweet-potato or yam noodles known as japchae. A glass of the house red wine was $7.

Click on the link below for another diner's experience, with photos. Despite the heading of his post, I believe Chef Ji had already left as general manager of the restaurant by the time he ate there.

I recall one of Chef Ji's minimalist appetizers from my previous visit in October: salad covered by an upended martini glass -- with chopped ahi tuna and caviar mounded on the base.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Korean supermarket widens its appeal

NJ - Bergen County - Ridgefield: Super H-Mart ...Image by wallyg via Flickr
The Super H Mart in Ridgefield is the furthest from my home in Hackensack.

The H Mart in Fort Lee is the newest addition to a small chain of Korean supermarkets in North Jersey and, though it's not the closest to my home, it is becoming a favorite place to shop. 

Today, I picked up a box of 14 champagne mangoes from Mexico for $9.99 -- a better buy than the six I bought a week ago for $6.99 at Costco in Hackensack.

Fresh, wild-caught fluke was among more than a dozen kinds of whole fish fanned out on ice, including Spanish mackerel, pompano, red snapper and orata.

I couldn't resist the fluke's low price of $2.99 a pound, and I had my two-and-a-half-pound fish cut into steaks, which I'll cook with sake and other Asian flavors for dinner tonight.

Sashimi Platter, Fluke, Kampachi, Medai, ShimaajiImage by Sifu Renka via Flickr

Fluke is a flat fish that is also favored by sashimi lovers, and it provides welcome relief from the waves of artificially colored farmed salmon and high-mercury tuna served at sushi bars.

I met a Japanese woman who also was buying fluke, and she said her relatives back home were safe after the earthquake and tsunami.

To go with the fish, I bought stir-fried, translucent yam noodles called japchae ($4.49 for 16 ounces) and kimbap, a vegetable, fish and seaweed roll ($4.99 for 22 ounces).

A pound of Jinga-brand  firm tofu was 88 cents. 

The store also was selling fresh mozzarella for $5.99 a pound -- an item intended to lure American shoppers as well as first- and second-generation Koreans whose tastes go beyond their traditional diet.
Image representing Stonyfield Farms as depicte...Image via CrunchBase

I get coupons

Chipotle Mexican Grill sent me two gift cards, each of which will get me a free burrito and other food.

I had e-mailed the company with "reviews" from the yelp! site, most of which were critical and none of which acknowledged it is one of the few fast-food restaurants that serves antibiotic-free poultry, hormone-free beef and pork, and organic vegetables.

I also sent the company a post from this blog describing my own experience.

I also received coupons from Stonyfield Farms after I e-mailed the company about separation of solids and liquid in organic yogurt I bought at Costco.
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Does this sign make any sense?

Using a drive-through ATM in TexasImage via Wikipedia
Should the visually impaired be driving in the first place?

From your car, you can read a small sign on the drive-up ATM at Main Street and Euclid Avenue in Hackensack:

"This ATM offers audio assistance
for the visually impaired."

Chew on that.
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How far would you drive for $1.99 clementines?

House in the IronboundImage via Wikipedia
Newark's Ironbound section got the name from the surrounding railroad tracks.

I blinked a couple of times and made sure the $1.99 sign was for the 5 pounds of clementines from Spain piled up this afternoon at the entrance to the produce department of A. Seabra Foods, a Portuguese supermarket in Newark's Ironbound neighborhood.

The lowest price I've seen previously was $4.99. I grabbed two of the small crates and went looking for other bargains.

I found Jona Gold apples at 89 cents a pound and collard greens for $1.29 a pound. Mineola tangelos were four for $1.99 or about $1 a pound, compared to $2.49 a pound at Whole Foods Market (those may have been organic).

I looked over the fresh, wild-caught fish -- from sardines to Chilean sea bass -- and was tugged by the strong smell from all the dried codfish piled up in a corner.

When I drew near, I also could smell the blood sausage piled high on the meat counter. 

I bought four codfish fritters in the prepared-food section, as well as two shrimp fritters, at 99 cents each. (After tasting them, I'd stick with the cod fritters next time.)

Clementines citrus are very sweet, easy to pee...Image via Wikipedia

The store carries other Spanish products, including small wheels of goat-milk's cheese called Rocinante from Toledo at $11.99 a pound. 

I was in Newark for a court hearing today, and couldn't leave without visiting the Ironbound, the busy Spanish-Portuguese-Brazilian neighborhood filled with restaurants and markets.

A. Seabra Foods is one of the few stores with its own parking lot, a good thing because street parking was impossible to find before noon, when alternate-side rules were lifted.   

It's also the first supermarket I've seen with small shopping carts for children and small plastic shopping baskets with long handles that you pull behind you like luggage.

A. Seabra Foods, 260 Lafayette St., Newark; 973-589-8606.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

A bad day at Whole Foods Market

I took this photo of a tangerine from the tree...Image via Wikipedia
A tangerine. Whole Foods Market mixed a sign for oranges with apples.

The employees of Whole Foods Market in Paramus weren't have a good day on Sunday, and I suffered the consequences.

When I walked into the store in Bergen Town Center, I saw a big bin full of apples with two signs -- one offering navel oranges on sale and the other offering apples.

I pointed out the sign for the oranges to an employee, but she merely gestured, saying the oranges had been moved. And, anyway, there also was a sign for the apples, she said, making no move to remove the sign for the oranges.

Moving on, I saw tangerines on sale for $1.49 a pound and picked up two, and organic Bartlett pears, also on sale for $1.49 a pound. 

But I picked large, expensive tangerines that were mistakenly mixed with the sale tangerines, and at the register, I was charged for the more expensive Bosc pears. 

Whole Foods MarketImage via Wikipedia

I returned to the store this morning, and got back the $4.21 I was overcharged. Unlike some ShopRites when you are overcharged, Whole Foods doesn't refund all your money and give you the item for free. 

While there, I put that $4.21 toward the purchase of thick, meaty hake fillets, on sale for $5.99 a pound or 25% off. This cod-like fish is discounted through Tuesday, a fishmonger said.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

A meal in a Japanese pub lifts my spirits

Akachōchin lantern outside an izakaya; the cha...Image via Wikipedia
Two lanterns like this one are in the window of Izakaya Don in Cliffside Park.

I'm not sure what prompted me to have dinner on Saturday at a Japanese pub in Cliffside Park. 

I had visited a Japanese friend who described herself as sad and depressed, even though she believes her relatives and friends weren't injured in the devastating earthquake and tsunami, and I had spent an hour or two watching the gut-wrenching television images from the island nation.

It's been years since I ate at the pub now called Izakaya Don. I had dinner at its Japanese-owned predecessor with Michael Thaler, a friend and co-worker who had spent three, transformational years in Japan, teaching English at a junior high. He died in early 2008.

I was the first customer late Saturday afternoon, and the owner was sitting at the sushi bar watching Japanese TV when I walked in. He directed me to a table with a specials menu written in English.
The pub has been operated by Don since July 2004, as you can tell from the colorful, framed 1st anniversary poster on the wall. The owner is an older man with a head of full, dark hair.

I didn't count the seats at tables and the bar, but I would be surprised if the place could hold more than two dozen customers. Tables are bare and the napkins are paper.

The waitress said Don is a Japanese name, and she wasn't aware that in English, a don is the head of a Mafia family.

Freshwater Eel Sushi at Yen SushiImage by Muy Yum via Flickr
Cooked eel sushi.

I order two small plates and a bowl of buckwheat noodles in a delicious fish broth (hold the pork). To drink, I asked for a glass of sake, which was served overflowing into a small dish. And I finished my meal with green tea.

I started with three plump oysters that were beautifully fried and served with a lemon wedge, hot mustard and tartar sauce ($6.50).

Don-Udon, my noodle soup, included seaweed, finely minced white yam and wasabi ($9.50). I then had three pieces of cooked eel sushi ($2.75 each).

My overflowing glass of sake was $10.75. Next time, I might have a mug of cold beer, which I saw two Japanese customers drinking.

According to Wikipedia, the name "izakaya" is a compound word consisting of "i" (to sit) and "sakaya" (sake shop), showing that izakaya originates from sake shops that allowed customers to sit at the premises to drink.
Izakaya are sometimes called akachōchin (red lantern) in daily conversation, because these paper lanterns are traditionally found in front of an izakaya.

During my visit to Izakaya Don, I recalled how similar this form of eating and drinking is to the ouzeries in Greece, where you also get an overflowing glass of strong, clear liquor -- ouzo -- to go with your small plates of food, or the Middle Eastern mazza, which features appetizers accompanied by anise-flavored arak.

Izakaya Don, 671 Palisade Ave., Cliffside Park; 201-941-3400.
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Friday, March 11, 2011

On a scale of 1 to 10, this fish was a 5

Rajesh Dangi,Bangalore, Rohu Fish Scales, HAL ...Image via Wikipedia
Cleaning fish scales at home isn't easy or neat.

You can imagine my surprise as I prepared dinner Thursday night when I unwrapped a whole fish I had brought home from Costco and found out the scales had never been removed.

The fresh, wild-caught snapper from Brazil was only $6.99 a pound. It had been gutted, but not scaled, then placed on a tray under plastic wrap. The label said nothing about the scales.

I had already cut into three pieces before I realized I had to clean it. I used a chef's knife, and the scales flew everywhere. Later, my son complained I didn't do a very good job, and left scales on his tail section.

Uncooked bulgur wheatImage via Wikipedia
Uncooked bulgur wheat.

I cooked the fish with stewed tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, Meyer lemon and Italian seasonings, and served it with bulgur wheat and a salad. Under the skin, it was meaty and delicious.

This morning, I returned to Costco's Hackensack store with the label and got a refund of my $11.11. I also suggested in writing that in the future, the label tell customers they have to scale whole fish.

What's the logic of gutting the whole fish and trimming the tail, but leaving the scales intact?

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Some produce prices are actually falling

Carmel ValleyImage by JasonUnbound via Flickr
Don't expect to see one of these in North Jersey anytime soon.

Costco Wholesale has some of the best produce prices around -- if you insist on high quality -- but the warehouse store hasn't been immune from price hikes. Now, some items are actually selling for less than before.

Today, at the Hackensack store, I bought a pound of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix -- one of the most delicious bunches of leafy greens around -- for $4.39. That's 20 cents less than I paid on March 1, and 60 cents below the high of $4.99.

This is a pre-washed mixture that you can layer in a sandwich or put in a bowl, dress and eat.

Another favorite, pre-washed Boskovich Farms' U.S.-grown organic spinach, was $3.79 for a one-pound package -- 20 cents less than before. I use this spinach directly from the package, adding it to just-cooked pasta and sauce, and mixing them together until the spinach is wilted.

But they were the exceptions. Gala apples were $5.99 for 5.5 pounds, but today, they were $7.49. Bananas were $1.47 for three pounds -- about a dime higher than before.

Other items have held the line, including Sunset-brand large Gourmet cucumbers, three for $3.79, and Campari tomatoes, two pounds for $5.49.

Nothing fishy

The fish case at Costco in Hackensack yielded fresh, whole, cleaned, wild snapper from Brazil for $6.99 a pound and fresh, wild-caught flounder fillets from Canada for $7.99 a pound. Both were packed today.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How to keep the almonds and lose the salt

Shelled almonds (Prunus dulcis)Image via Wikipedia
Shelled almonds, like the raw, unsalted ones available at Costco.

I've cut down almost completely on bread and pizza to lose weight,  but find myself snacking frequently on crunchy roasted or blanched almonds from Costco in Hackensack.

But as I wrote in a previous post, salt in the almonds became a concern after I looked at the labels and discovered the more expensive Kirkland Signature Marcona blanched almonds from Spain have twice as much salt as the Kirkland dry-roasted almonds from California. 

Comparing salt

A 28-gram or 1-ounce serving of the Spanish almond contains 9% sodium, compared with 4% for the same serving size of the California almond (on the daily value scale). The former costs $7.99 for 17.63 ounces, while you'll pay $8.89 for 40 ounces of the latter. They are both delicious.

So I bought a three-pound bag of Kirkland Signature raw, unsalted almonds and added some of them to the jar of the Kirkland dry-roasted almonds, but I found the raw almonds weren't my cup of tea.

I fished them out, and put them in the oven for an hour at a low 250 degrees, and they took on a nice crunch. I then roasted the rest of the raw, unsalted almonds. When the salted almonds are finished, I'll just buy the unsalted ones, roast them and put them in the empty jar.

By roasting the raw almonds, I've eliminated salt from a favorite snack, which is delicious when paired with fruit and cheese, and saved money, too. Three pounds  of raw almonds cost only $9.99.

The label notes almonds are a heart-healthy food. They are described as U.S. #1, "supreme whole." 

Breakfast from Costco

My breakfast organic spring mix salad with wild lox, sheep's milk and reduced-fat Swiss cheeses, sun-dried and fresh Campari tomatoes, and sliced cucumber -- all of it came from Costco in Hackensack.

So did the Dijon mustard in my dressing of Greek extra-virgin olive oil and Italian balsamic vinegar. If you have to give up bread, a filling salad is one way to compensate. 

Dinner from H Mart

I found fresh, wild-caught whole whiting at H Mart in Fort Lee for $3.49 a pound on Monday, as well as bunches of fresh spinach for $1.79 each. 

I cut the two fish into two or three pieces and cooked them in Chinese cooking wine, sesame oil, fish sauce, soy sauce (with ponzu) and chopped fresh ginger.

I washed and then blanched the spinach in hot water, put it into a second pan with a little olive oil and seasoned it. 

I served the fish and spinach with organic brown rice cooked in organic chicken broth, both from Costco. (I let the rice soak in the broth in a rice cooker for several hours.)

We started off with kimbap -- seaweed-wrapped rolls of rice, vegetables and imitation crab meat. I found a 22-ounce package for $4.99 in the prepared-food section of H Mart.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

When package information lets you down

Blue Hill Bay, sold at Costco Wholesale, is distributed by Acme Smoked Fish Corp.

Once in awhile, I am disappointed in a product I buy from Costco in Hackensack, and that's the case with smoked steelhead trout sold under the Ruby Bay label. 

In this case, though, it's the Acme Smoked Fish Corp. that is to blame -- for leaving out important information on the origin of the fish and distracting me and other shoppers with meaningless claims.

At Costco on March 1, I bought a 12-ounce package for $9.49 -- or about 80 cents an ounce. That compares to 96 cents an ounce for Kirkland Signature smoked wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, which contains no preservatives.

English: Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) f...
Wild sockeye salmon. (Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, the Ruby Bay package doesn't tell you this is farmed fish, as I learned by calling Acme Smoked Fish. However, I didn't ask where the fish was farmed. 

On Friday, I looked into Costco's fresh-fish case, and saw farmed steelhead trout. The label said it was from Chile and that it was colored artificially by chemicals in the feed. 

So, is Acme's steelhead also colored artificially? The label says it's "All Natural" and contains "No Preservatives."

Anyway, although the steelhead tastes good, it pales when compared with the smoked wild sockeye salmon. I have a few ounces of the former left, but once it's gone, I'll never buy it or any other Acme Smoked Fish Corp. product.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

My cheese of the month club

El Trigal ManchegoImage via Wikipedia
Manchego is a sheep milk's cheese from Spain.

From among the more than 50 cheeses at Costco in Hackensack, I brought home a big chunk of Manchego from Spain today. Last month, I tried a buffalo-milk mozzarella from Italy -- a container with four soft, delicious orbs in water.

Manchego is a buttery, sheep's milk cheese. I just tried a few small slices with an apple, and they pair beautifully. The Villacenteno-brand cheese is aged 3 months and costs $8.29 a pound. I found a wedge that weighs just under 1 and three-quarters of a pound.

I remember visiting Spain in the mid-1980s, and enjoying a dessert of Manchego and membrillo or quince at a restaurant in Madrid, where my entree was rabo de toro (tail of the bull). Author James Michener wrote about the dessert in his book "Iberia."

The inedible rind of the cheese I bought today is stamped with the word "Baquero."

I also picked up Old Farmhouse Vegetable Stew, which I tried recently and loved. Two 20-ounce portions were $7.99. Kirkland Signature frozen Alaskan wild sockeye salmon fillets were $27.89 for 3 pounds.

Mozzarella, Italian food.Image via Wikipedia

H Mart puts fish on sale

The Korean supermarket chain is featuring whole pollock, a cod-like fish, for $2.49 a pound and Spanish mackerel for $1.49 a pound. The sale dates are today through March 10, 2011.

Unfortunately, fresh tuna steaks also are on sale -- for $12.99 a pound. Tuna is a fish high in harmful mercury. However, the sales circular doesn't specify what kind of tuna is being sold.

There are H Marts in Ridgefield, Fort Lee, Little Ferry and Englewood.

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