Friday, October 28, 2011

More hassles at H Mart

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

With my H Mart coupons expiring in two days, I wanted to get over to the Korean supermarket to pick up two 1-liter bottles of 100% pomegranate juice for $4 (normally $7.98).

That H Mart coupon offers an unusually good discount -- about 50%. For example, a second unused coupon offered 10% off "oriental sweet potatoes" that sell for 99 cents a pound, reducing the price to 90 cents a pound.

So, this morning, after a workout in the cardiac-rehab unit of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, I stopped first at ShopRite in Englewood before driving a short distance to H Mart.

I picked up what I thought was a sweet potato and brought it over to a cashier with my coupon, and asked her if this was the right item. She said yes, so I bagged four or five small ones.

At checkout with a different cashier, the coupon was rejected -- I had the wrong potatoes -- only one of the problems I encountered today.

I found the pomegranate juice down one of the aisles, and put two bottles, the limit, in my cart. I found some fresh collard greens for 99 cents a pound and two small heads of red-leaf lettuce for 99 cents.

Another coupon offered 10% off green seedless grapes, but they were priced at $1.79 a pound, compared to 99 cents a pound at ShopRite, where I bought red grapes for the lower price. No sale.

Also on sale with a coupon was a table-top electric hot pot for $34.99, compared to the regular price of $49.99, but I'm not sure I would use it more than once or twice. 

I did want to use a coupon for live blue crabs that cut the price of $1.99 to 99 cents, but in the fish department, I found an empty bin. An employee brought out maybe 15 crabs, saying more were due to be delivered around noon.

I was trying to call my wife to find out if she wanted crabs for dinner, when a woman walked over and said she had called about blue crabs, and wanted to buy the ones the man had just put out.

I gave up, and handed her my coupon for the crabs.

The cashier rang up the pomegranate juice for $3.99 each, but scanned the coupon once for $1.99. I pointed out the coupon said 2 for $4.

She took off 20 cents for my reusable bag, the most of any supermarket in North Jersey. Then, I remembered I had a $1.06 credit for spoiled fruit I returned to the store a couple of weeks ago.

She said the checkout "machine" was new and couldn't process the credit. I again asked for the proper discount on the pomegranate juice, and told two people waiting on line behind me to be patient.

Her solution was to give me a second $1.99 discount for the juice, then discount an additional $1.99 for my store credit, while taking back the 20 cents for the reusable bag.

My balance was $4.99.

This is the same H Mart that resisted giving me credit for a 12-inch stainless-steel steamer that rusted after less than a year of use. A cashier lectured me about drying it completely before I put it away.

H Mart, 25 Lafayette Ave., Englewood; 
201-871-8822. Food court is closed.

Applegate Farms

Organic and naturally raised cold cuts are sold under the Applegate Farms label. In addition to being raised without antibiotics and growth hormones, the meats are uncured and free of preservatives.

The ShopRite in Englewood is one of the few to carry Applegate Farms, but rarely puts the sliced ham, beef, turkey and other meat on sale.

Today, I looked over the price labels and saw some were selling for the equivalent of about $18 a pound and others for about $13.70 a pound.

Trader Joe's has Applegate Farms cold cuts at much better prices, but is not as convenient. 

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

How meat can divide a family of four when dining in or dining out

Image by WordRidden via Flickr
Fresh full-fat mozzarella is a good substitute for fatty meat.

Editor's note: I'm holding out on not eating meat, but I'm out of sync with my family. Today, I'll also discuss a new Web site for Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood, a chicken-wing mystery and free stuff at Costco Wholesale.


I can't remember how many times we've argued in restaurants about ordering something to share and whether that dish should contain meat.

If we order takeout, it's shrimp in black-bean sauce or fried fish for me and barbecued ribs or curried goat for everyone else.

And preparing dinner at home is now on two tracks -- a meatless meal for me and a separate meal for my wife, 14-year-old son and mother in law that usually includes poultry, beef or pork.

Last weekend, we had dinner at the Organic Tofu Stew House in Ridgewood, where the broth is vegetarian, but we also ordered Korean barbecue. 

I ate some of the onions that came with the sliced beef short ribs, and found my oyster soft-tofu stew, rice and side dishes filling and satisfying.

In other soft-tofu restaurants, we've ordered pork dumplings for the meat eaters in my family and just as often a rice-flour pancake with seafood and vegetables I can share with them.

No meat since 2010

At the suggestion of my son, we stopped eating meat in February 2010, partly to cut down on all the work it took to find naturally raised poultry, beef, lamb and pork that is free of antibiotics, growth hormones and animal byproducts.

But several months later, he resumed eating meat, followed a couple months later by my wife. 

I've continued to restrict myself to seafood, eggs and some full-fat cheeses, especially after I started a successful diet and cut down drastically on bread, pizza, white rice and regular pasta. 

For dinner last night, I picked up four restaurant-quality dinners at Jerry's Gourmet and More in Englewood ($6.99 each) -- the last ones in the refrigerated case.  

Tilapia and haddock

My meal included a lemony tilapia fillet with asparagus, carrot and brussel sprouts; a spinach-and-mozzarella-cheese lasagna; and a stuffed mushroom. 

There was another tilapia dinner and two roast chicken in a balsamic-vinegar glaze with pasta and vegetables -- a perfect family compromise.

Tonight, we're having baked wild-caught, fresh Icelandic haddock fillet I picked up at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack ($7.99 a pound) accompanied by mashed skin-on potatoes with extra-virgin olive oil and an organic spring mix salad.

But this past Tuesday, I had to rummage in the freezer for frozen cod to supplement steamed vegetables and butter beans with smoked mackerel in tomato sauce my mother in law had prepared.

For dinner last Sunday, they ate steaks from Whole Foods Market in Paramus and I ate that day's breakfast -- Jamaican ackee and saltfish -- along with a big salad in an anchovy dressing I prepared. Later, I had fruit and cheese.

Pasta and eggs

One dinner we can agree on is whole-wheat pasta with canned sardines in a red sauce. I usually make a pound at a time, with four cans of sardines, and leftover pasta topped with two eggs fried sunny side up is a great breakfast.

But my son won't stray from white rice, refusing to eat the brown rice I prepare at home, even when I added kimchi and sesame oil to it or turn it into bibimbap with store-bought marinated vegetables.

Goji berriesImage via Wikipedia
Goji Berries.

He also hasn't tried a great eye opener: Bob's Red Mill 10-Grain Hot Cereal -- a 100% whole grain, antioxidant-rich, heart-healthy breakfast that is free of preservatives and chemical additives. A 25-ounce bag costs under $3 at ShopRite.

I usually add dried apricots and blueberries, slivered almonds, raw Chia Seeds and Goji Berries to my hot cereal and sweeten it with organic blue agave syrup. Sometimes, I add a little cold milk to the bowl.

The Chia Seeds and Goji Berries are organic. The former is labeled "Aztec Superfood" and the latter is called "Himalayan Superfruit." Both came from

Another breakfast I've been making is an egg-white omelet stuffed with reduced-fat Swiss cheese, smoked wild salmon and homemade mint-and-basil pesto. On the side, I have kimchi, olives, even a pickled lemon.

New Web site

Jerry's Gourmet and More put up a new Web site about a month ago, allowing customers to order Jerry's pasta sauce, dried pasta, extra-virgin olive oil and other items through the mail.

Web site: Jerry's Homemade

The Web site doesn't mention all the free samples available (cheese, salami, olive oil and wine), and how they attract frugal seniors such as myself. 

That can prove a problem in the small parking lot with seniors who have difficulty backing out of spaces and others who try to enter through the exit.

One item I simply can't find at Jerry's is black, squid-ink pasta.

Winging it

This past Monday, my wife picked up antibiotic-free Readington Farms chicken at ShopRite -- thighs, drumsticks and wings.

Can someone tell my why wings -- which have a lot of skin and hardly any meat, when compared to thighs and drumsticks -- are priced highest by the pound?

I've found the same price discrepancy at Fairway Market in Paramus with Murray's free-roaming chicken, and I've refused to buy into it. 

Free stuff

Attention Costco customers: The warehouse store is giving away eight 14.5-ounce cans of Del Monte Organic Diced Tomatoes with the purchase of eight cans through Nov. 6 ($7.75). You need a Costco coupon.

I drain the can and add the diced tomatoes to pasta sauce for texture. 

You also can add the tomatoes and juice to a pan, add a little olive oil and red or white wine, top with a whole fresh fish, cover and cook. You can do the same with chicken pieces.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Breakfast with a soul-food accent

Teaneck Municipal BuildingImage via Wikipedia
Big demographic changes haven't obliterated the flavor of Teaneck. 

Editor's note: The bill of fare today includes an eye-opening breakfast in Teaneck, a strong contender in the battle of Korean soft-tofu houses and a visit to Whole Foods Market that didn't break the bank.

The Golden Grill is one of those places that have been there "forever."

It's a lively spot on a stretch of Queen Anne Road that is filled with glatt kosher food businesses -- a restaurant that reflects an older Teaneck, as does the French patisserie down the block.

When I walked in a little before 10 on Friday morning, the place was nearly full, and the two waitresses were overwhelmed, serving predominately African-American men. 

Looking over the menu, I immediately realized this is my kind of breakfast place, with combinations of two eggs and home fries or grits accompanied by whiting, a homemade fish cake or sardines. Toast and a small glass of juice are  included.

I made the mistake of ordering an egg-white omelet and a fish cake, and I was charged the a la carte price for each, a total of $10.95. Combo breakfasts are about $7.

I loved the tasty fish cake, especially with a splash or two of hot sauce from the bottle on the table, and the potatoes were the best home fries I've ever had. I told the waitress to hold the toast.

Still, the servers couldn't handle the crowd or change gears for the tea me and a friend had ordered; they kept on coming over with a coffee pot to refill our cups instead of a pot of hot water. 

The Golden Grill also serves lunch.

The Golden Grill Family Restaurant, 1379 Queen Anne Road, 
Teaneck; 201-837-1078. Free street parking, credit cards accepted.

More information: The Golden Grill

Organic soft tofu

We found a Korean soft-tofu stew restaurant with a difference -- actually, a few things that set it apart from the places that sling soondooboo jigae in Palisades Park and Fort Lee.

The Organic Tofu House in Ridgewood has an unusually large menu of soft-tofu stews and other Korean specialties, including hot stone-bowl bibimbap, barbecue and stir-fried vermicelli noodles, as well as slightly lower prices.

This is a great place for people who want Korean comfort food and don't eat meat. 

The tofu-stew broth is vegetarian, and the stir-fried, yam-flour noodles are made with vegetables, not meat. Vegetable dumplings and vegetable-and-seafood pancakes also are available.

Unfortunately, service is weak, especially when compared to other Korean restaurants. 

The small restaurant wasn't busy on Saturday evening, but the waitresses were in no rush to refill our tea glasses or to replace the free side dishes we finished before our stews were ready.

Four of us received the standard set of four small side dishes, and the quality was good -- cabbage kimchi, crunchy bean sprouts, fried tofu slices with onion and a small iceberg-lettuce salad. We also got an extra salad.

At our favorite soft-tofu house, So Gong Dong in Palisades Park, the four side dishes are replaced without prompting, and glasses are kept filled. In Ridgewood, I had to ask for more kimchi and more hot tea. Other side dishes weren't replaced.

The Ridgewood menu lists 19 soft-tofu stews, including some you don't see elsewhere, such  as curry, cheese, dumpling, tuna, "real" crab meat and chicken, and they can be made plain to very spicy.

Almost all are priced at $8.99, compared to $9.99 at So Gong Dong, but the latter price includes tax. Portions in Ridgewood are smaller.

In addition to organic soft tofu, the restaurant uses "alkaline water," which has health benefits, according to the menu. 

My wonderful, very spicy oyster stew was bubbling furiously in its stone bowl, so I could crack a fresh egg into it and cook the yolk softly, breaking it deliciously over steamed white rice.

I was pleasantly full from the side dishes, tofu stew and white rice. I split a second white rice with my son at no extra charge.

We also ordered sliced, marinated prime beef short ribs or kalbi, which came with wonderful grilled onions ($14.99). I tried the onions, not the meat.

Organic Tofu Stew House, 88 Godwin Ave., Ridgewood 
(in a strip mall near Whole Foods Market);
 201-251-7734. Closed Sundays.

Whole Foods in Paramus

On Saturday afternoon, we stopped at Whole Foods Market in Paramus to pick up some fruit for me and steaks for the rest of the family's Sunday dinner.

I was happy to find conventional Macoun apples and a 5.33-pound tote bag of Bosc pears, the latter from Red Apple Orchards in Geneva, N.Y. Both were a reasonable 99 cents a pound.

My wife picked up three naturally raised beef chuck shoulder steaks for $10.14 ($6.99 a pound), and the store brand of uncured, preservative-free and antibiotic-free sliced bacon ($3.99 for 12 ounces).

Sardine crisis

Ten cans of those plump Moroccan sardines (99 cents a can) lasted only about 10 days.

I know I used four cans to make a pound of whole-wheat spaghetti with sardines in a red sauce last week, but I'm not sure what happened to the rest. 

All I know is I wanted to make canned fish salad the other night and could find only yellow-fin tuna and pink salmon in the cupboard.

So, I dashed out to Paterson today and picked up another two dozen cans of Sultan-brand sardines at Brothers Produce, 327 E. Railway Ave., in the Farmers' Market.

While I was there, I bought yellow, red and green peppers (99 cents a pound) and three romaine hearts, also 99 cents.

At Fattal's Syrian Bakery, 975-77 Main St., I picked up a package of fresh Syrian bread ($1.50); a half-dozen store-made, 6-inch meat pies ($8.99) and a 15.8-ounce jar of fig marmalade with anise from Lebanon ($2.39).

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's time to celebrate a healthy lifestyle

Salad with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt a...Image via Wikipedia
One of the joys of dinner is a simple salad with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Today -- a month after I left Englewood Hospital and Medical Center -- I saw the cardiac surgeon who sawed open my breastbone and replaced one of my heart valves.

My next stop was Jerry's Gourmet and More, a couple of miles away, to pick up a prepared fish dinner and a bottle of red wine from Italy to toast my good health.

At Jerry's, I passed up the salami samples, but tried several pieces of cheese. 

In the back of the store, where I sipped two wine samples, I ran into a couple I had seen in the hospital's cardiac-surgery department, and recommended an inexpensive balsamic vinegar to them.

Before I saw Dr. Adam G. Arnofsky, who listened to my heart and commented favorably on the healing of my 9-inch scar, I got a brief physical from another staff member.

Frances Vela-Cantos, a nurse practitioner, reaffirmed my cardiac arteries were in good condition and required no bypasses during the Sept. 16 operation to repair my heart murmur.

I told her I stopped eating meat in February 2010 and ate a lot of seafood, salads, whole grains and vegetables -- such as a recent dinner of whole-wheat spaghetti and sardines in red sauce with an organic spring mix salad and wine.

She cautioned me about high-cholesterol shellfish, but said I could have meat or poultry once a month.

At Jerry's, I sampled a few cheeses, then went over to the refrigerated case for one of the store's Meals To Go -- 12 ounces of beautifully balanced, restaurant-quality food for only $6.99.

According to the label, my dinner has tilapia al pesto, shells al pomodoro, brussels sprouts, escarole salad and a stuffed mushroom. My mouth is watering. 

My other purchases were:

Two 16.9-ounce bottles of Ponti-brand Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, made without artificial color, for $1.99 each. This was the brand I was served everywhere I went in northern Italy last year.

Lavazza-brand Crema e Aroma coffee beans from Italy for my espresso machine were $19.99 for 2.2 pounds. And my bottle of Montepulciano D'Abruzzo wine cost under $6.

Since I left the hospital on Sept. 20, I've been chafing under the guidelines for my recovery, feeling one set of rules shouldn't be applied equally to an active senior like me and other, more sedentary surgery patients in their 70s and 80s.

For example, I was told not to drive for a month, but found that impractical and lasted less than two weeks in the back seat of my wife's car, with a folded pillow under my seat belt to protect my healing femur.

Today, Vela-Cantos said I shouldn't lift more than 5 pounds with one arm for another few weeks. That would rule out any food shopping, especially at Costco Wholesale. 

I've cut down but haven't completely eliminated food shopping, and always try to use two arms to lift items into and out of my basket.

In a few hours, I'll plate my tilapia dinner and heat it in the microwave, uncork the wine and prepare a simply green salad with extra-virgin olive oil and Primo balsamic vinegar.

Every bite, every sip will remind this survivor of how important good food and drink is to health and to life.

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

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Ingredients label has a sweet spot

Blue Agave (Agave tequilana)Image via Wikipedia
"Agave tequilana," or blue agave plant, in Jalisco, Mexico.

I started using Organic Blue Agave Sweetener a few years ago after seeing it on the shelf at Trader Joe's in Paramus. 

But the ingredients label on the Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave I found at Costco Wholesale recently contains a lot of information I seemed to have missed.

The natural nectar, extracted from the heart of the agave plant, "is a low-glycemic index sweetener, so it is slowly absorbed into the body, preventing spikes in blood sugar," according to the label.

"It is 25% sweeter than sugar, so you need less, and it has been consumed by ancient civilizations for over 5,000 years."

There's no mention of whether the nectar comes from the same part of the blue agave plant used to distill some of the best tequilas.

The label recommends using the sweetener whenever you use table sugar, such as for sweetening beverages and in baking. I use it in espresso and pour it over yogurt and hot, 10-grain cereal. 

The single ingredient listed is "organic light agave nectar." It's also gluten free.

The label identifies the sweetener as a product of Mexico, distributed by a company in Sugar Land, Texas.

Staying close to home

We've been wanting to try the Organic Tofu House in Ridgewood -- as we search for the best Korean soft-tofu stew in North Jersey -- but I just didn't feel up to getting on Route 17 and driving there.

So, on Saturday evening, we had dinner at one of our favorite places, Wondee's in Hackesnack, which is about a mile from our home.

I made a wonderful, meatless dinner of spicy soup with fresh shrimp, button mushrooms, chili oil and cilantro; crunchy green papaya salad with fish sauce; a whole, fried red-snapper covered in a sweet-and-sour red chili sauce; and a  bowl of brown rice.

My wife and son also had part of the fish, in addition to Thai wonton soup, with sliced pork; and fried pork, shrimp and crab dumplings, which were a bit dry. I mistakenly ordered them instead of the juicy steamed dumplings they prefer.

Wondee's menu also has a page of vegetarian appetizers and entrees, including a terrific mock-duck salad made with fried tofu and fruit.

The chef-owner, Wandee Suwangbutra, held the line on prices for a couple of years, but recently redid the menu. Her new price for a whole, wild-caught fish ($18) is still among the lowest around.

Wondee's Fine Thai Food & Noodles, 296 Main St., Hackensack; 
201-883-1700. Free parking in rear, BYO, no delivery.

The fatted goat

My wife defrosted a 3-pound package of Coleman's organic goat meat we bought at Whole Foods Market in Paramus ($7.99 a pound), only to discover an unusual amount of fat.

It's not the first time we've bought goat meat on the bone from Whole Foods, but it has never had so much fat, which my wife trims for her curry goat dish. We're looking for the receipt to return it.

In the past, we bought our goat meat in New York, at Fairway Market in Harlem, where we'd stop anytime we were on the way home from doing something in the city.

When Fairway opened its store at the Fashion Center in Paramus, I thought I'd have a reliable source for goat meat closer to home, but I was wrong. The store didn't stock any.

The butcher there said I could call and he'd have some sent over from Manhattan, but Fairway's frozen goat meat wasn't organic and there was no package information on how the animals were raised.

Coleman's label specifies the meat is halal and comes from animals raised without antibiotics, growth hormones and animal byproducts.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Lousy fruit is just waiting for you

Autumn Red peach.Image via Wikipedia

After buying lousy produce two weeks in a row, I'm not feeling too charitable toward H Mart in Englewood, one of four Bergen County supermarkets owned by the Hanahreum Group.

I've been shopping at H Marts for close to 15 years, and have come to love their wide variety of fresh seafood, prepared Korean food and a great selection of Asian and southern greens.

I remember the lift I got this year when the store in Englewood was renovated. But this week and last, I brought home plums and nectarines from there, only to cut them open and find black interiors.

If I didn't have to go to Englewood for another reason today, I wouldn't have bothered to return the nectarines for a store credit of $1.06. But it was the principle.

Still, the cashier gave me a hard time, pointing out I made the purchase a week ago. So what? They were hard, and I left them on the counter to ripen, which they never did. 

The Englewood store seems to be marching to a different drummer than other H Marts in Fort Lee and Little Ferry, and the Super H Mart in Ridgefield.

In the past two weeks, I couldn't find any 20-pound bags of California-grown white rice on sale in Englewood, though other H Marts have discounted it frequently.

In addition, the Englewood store doesn't seem to have as many prepared items as Fort Lee, for example, the newest of the four supermarkets.

I haven't had any problems with apples bought at H Mart, but on Thursday, apples were going for a high $2.49 a pound in Fort Lee.

I called Hanahreum headquarters in Lyndhurst today, and spoke to a marketing manager who told me the New Jersey stores issue new sales fliers on Fridays and the promotions run through the following Thursday.

In addition, some sales items are manager's specials, and vary from store to store.

Today, I met a chef who was buying what looked like $100 worth of  live lobsters, sea scallops and other seafood in Englewood. We agreed the store is great for seafood and vegetables, but weak on fruit.

On Thursday, I was out of white rice and combined a trip to the Metropolitan Plant Exchange in Fort Lee with a visit to the nearby H Mart store, but the only California-grown rice on sale was the pricey Tamaki Gold -- a 15-pound bag that normally sells for $31.99.

I reluctantly paid $21.99 for the rice. Next time, I'll wait for Friday to buy rice.

But I did pick up some superb prepared food -- stewed, peppery Alaskan pollock ($5.99), a pan-fried omelet with laver or dry seaweed ($2.99) and a quintet of seasoned raw vegetables for bibimbap ($6.49).

I prepared three cups of organic brown rice in a rice cooker, then added about half of the seasoned vegetables, chopped scallion, shredded cabbage kimchi and red-pepper paste called gochujang, mixing it up for a meatless bibimbap, normally one of the most labor-intensive Korean dishes.

In restaurants, bibimbap usually is served in a hot stone bowl topped with a raw or cooked egg, but at home I ate it with the seaweed omelet from H Mart.

Costco produce

We're re-learning there is nothing like summer fruit. 

Today, we get fruit year-round from the far corners of the world, and it's not always as terrific as the stuff bought in season.

I can't think of a food store I patronize that hasn't disappointed me with fruit that never ripens or rots prematurely.

Even Costco Wholesale's premium fruit isn't immune from improper storage and spoilage, though most of it comes from the United States and Canada. 

On Wednesday, my wife brought home a box of large, white California peaches ($6.99) and a net bag holding three, large cantaloups (also $6.99). 

We waited a day to cut open the cantaloups, but one of three was past its prime, and tasted mealy. The peaches are still ripening.

My wife also picked up a new item, two 23.5-ounce plastic squeeze bottles of Organic Blue Agave Nectar, a sweetener made from the same plant that gives us tequila ($7.75).

The bottles are twice the size of Trader Joe's organic agave nectar, but Costco's nectar is classified as "light." Still, they taste alike. I use the nectar in espresso and pour it over Greek yogurt or hot, 10-grain cereal with dried berries.

The price of a pound of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix dropped 20 cents, to $4.79, and three, large hothouse cucumbers were $3.29.

The fresh wild salmon from Alaska hasn't appeared in the seafood case of the Hackensack Costco for about two weeks, but my wife picked up fresh haddock from Iceland for $7.99 a pound.

We cut the large fillet into eight portions, seasoned them, dipped them in a beaten egg and panko breadcrumbs, and baked them for under 15 minutes, until they puffed up and got juicy.

We added baked yams and a big salad for a great dinner.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Foods that cry out for each other

Eggs, sunny-side up, frying in a pan.Image via Wikipedia
Break those yolks over rice or pasta -- and go to town.

If you listen carefully enough, you'll hear some of the foods in your refrigerator and cupboard pleading with you to eat them together and elevate every day into the sublime.

Here are some terrific flavor combinations:

  • An Italian-Korean salad of small, soft balls of marinated mozzarella cheese from Costco Wholesale and spicy, crunchy Arirang-brand cabbage kimchi from Gaboh Inc. in Englewood.
  • Peanut butter, preserves and sliced, skin-on cucumber for crunch -- laid on thick on 100% whole grain toast from Costco.
  • A yolk -- from an egg fried sunny side up or softly boiled in a Korean tofu stew -- eaten over steamed rice.
  • A variation: Two eggs fried sunny side up and eaten over any kind of pasta or kimchi friend rice.
  • The bland Jamaican fruit called ackee with salted cod or pollock, and sweet and hot peppers -- considered the Caribbean island's national dish.
  • Boiled potatoes, mixed vegetables and hard-boiled eggs, bound together by mayonnaise -- Jamaican potato salad.
  • White pizza, made with ricotta cheese, then layered with arugula and prosciutto. If you don't eat meat, any pizza topped with large quantities of fresh, wilted spinach.
  • Bibimbap, a one-dish wonder, is a Korean entree in a hot stone bowl with steamed rice, several marinated raw vegetables and greens, a little ground beef, a raw or cooked egg on top, and spicy red-pepper paste. It's just as good without  meat. You stir everything up and eat it with a spoon.
  • Wild salmon baked or grilled with fresh herbs and ripe mango or peach slices.
  • Fried eggs, fish or hummus sprinkled with mildly spicy Aleppo red pepper.
  • Anything eaten in fresh Syrian pocket bread, such as the soupy fava-bean stew and salad I enjoyed today at Aleppo Restaurant in Paterson.
  •  Please fill in your favorite food pairings.

Chasing sardines

The 99-cent cans of sardines from Morocco have been hard to find recently.

Last week, I dropped into Sahara Fine Foods on South Summit Avenue in Hackensack, only to find Al Shark-brand skinless-and-boneless sardines, at $1.49 a can. The merchant said he couldn't get the cheaper ones in spicy or regular oil.

At Fattal's Syrian Bakery on Main Street in Paterson today, there was a large empty space on the canned-fish shelf, and the cashier said the distributor promised the 99-cents sardines would return in a couple of weeks.

At Brothers Produce on East Railway Avenue in the Paterson Farmers' Market, I finally found another brand of Moroccan sardines, Sultan, in vegetable oil with chili pepper for 99 cents a can or with spicy olive oil for $1.29.

I bought 10 cans of the former, and I'm looking forward to pasta with sardines in red sauce or eating these mighty little fish over a salad.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Simply delicious Vietnamese food

A plate of cooked bok choyImage via Wikipedia
Fish, bok choy (above) and rice make a great one-dish meal.

It's been more than a year since we had our first meal at Simply Vietnamese in Tenafly, and on Saturday evening, we discovered three one-dish dinners that will keep us coming back for more.

When we walked up to the entrance, we found Chef/Owner K.T. Tran having an early dinner with friends at an outdoor table. And inside, we learned the restaurant has expanded and doubled in size.

The new room has the same red walls as the original, with Vietnamese accents here and there.

I chose the broiled basa fillet, which is a member of the catfish family farmed in Vietnam and Thailand ($19). I asked for the spicy version with a ginger-scallion sauce.

The generous fillet was served on a bed of leafy bok choy, and topped with carmelized onions and sweet pepper, as well as crisped onion, with a big bowl of white rice on the side. Beautiful.

What more could you ask for in one dish: tasty fish, greens and a starch. Brown rice ($2) and scallion rice with fried eggs ($4) also are available.

Joe The Waiter recommended his favorite, the House Noodle Soup with ribs ($12), to my 14-year-old son, who was wowed by the sweet, pork-infused chicken broth and how the meat fell off the bones of the slow-roasted pork ribs. He also enjoyed gnawing the soft bones and marrow.

My wife ordered the specialty of the house, pho soup, with its heady anise-scented broth, and asked for the shrimp version ($14). We've been eating Tran's pho since 2001, when she opened opened Saigon R in Englewood (closed in the summer of 2010) and Mo' Pho in Fort Lee.

The soups came with a garnish plate of crunchy bean sprouts, sliced jalapeno peppers, fresh cilantro and fresh lime, and there were hot, chili and oyster sauces on the table.

My family yells at me when I tell them what to order or suggest we share dishes, so I remained silent when my mother-in-law picked a Vietnamese Salad with shrimp ($11), expecting a Western salad with tomatoes. 

The dressing was made with fish sauce and peanuts were added to the cabbage, cucumber and carrot salad. She took most of the salad home.

We also shared an appetizer, translucent rice-paper summer rolls stuffed with vegetables and shrimp, with an unusual peanut-fish sauce for dipping ($8).

I thought I'd end my meal with a cup of Vietnamese drip coffee, which is served with sweet condensed milk (on the house). The small pot with a powder of coffee and hot water is placed directly over the cup.

I love strong coffee -- and this was one had bulging muscles -- but it kept me up, tossing and turning long after midnight.

Simply Vietnamese, 1 Highwood Plaza, Tenafly;
201-568-7770. BYO. Free street parking.

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

What the media don't tell you about Costco

CostcoImage via Wikipedia

The poor economy has been generating media stories about Costco Wholesale and other warehouse stores, where shoppers can save a lot of money on electronics, food, toilet paper and a wide variety of other essentials.

"Bargain Bonanza!" declared the July/ August 2011 cover of AARP The Magazine. "Save up to $1,000 a year on groceries, gas, meds and more."   

But when you turn to the story on Page 26, AARP's focus shifts to how warehouse shopping clubs can "drain your wallet."

"Then there's the so-called Costco effect," the story reports on Page 28, "familiar to every warehouse clubber who pulls up for a few essentials and drives home with a new flat-screen TV and enough prime rib for a football team."

Does AARP The Magazine really expect readers to believe shoppers make such purchases on impulse? Are we mere robots or under the influence of an all-powerful shopping elixir?

I've been a Costco Wholesale member since 1996, and in January 2005, I researched and wrote a story for a daily newspaper about all the great food available at the Hackensack store. The food offerings have only gotten better.

I would never make a major purchase there unless I needed it. And when I was eating meat, Costco's prime beef was never on my list, because it is raised conventionally with antibiotics and growth hormones.

The AARP story mentions Costco and Sam's Club "do not accept manufacturers' coupons," but doesn't tell readers that Costco sends members its own discount coupons every three weeks or so.

AARP readers also are told that if they spend more than $2,500 a year, "consider springing for a more expensive membership level -- you'll get money back in perks such as 2 percent rewards program offered at Costco and BJ's."

However, the story fails to mention the no-fee credit card from Costco and American Express available with a basic membership ($50, going up to $55 on Nov. 1) gives you a cash rebate of 1% on all purchases, including Costco, plus 3% back on gasoline, and 2% back on restaurants and travel.

Kirkland Signature pepperoni pizzaImage via Wikipedia
Costco's 18-inch baked pizzas are only $9.95.

I've also seen stories about Costco recently on CBS 2 News. The reporters interviewed customers pushing shopping carts piled high with goods, but didn't seem to take the time to walk through the store and see the high quality of the food and the low prices.

And the TV reporters never mentioned Costco shoppers' cash rebates more than cover the annual membership fee.

The AARP story claims "product turnover is so fast that selection varies from week to week, which can be irksome if you're devoted to certain brands."

That's nonsense, and certainly doesn't apply to the Hackensack Costco, where I've been buying the same brands for years, including Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix ($3.99 a pound in 2005 and $4.99 a pound now -- at least $2 cheaper than most supermarkets).

Kirkland Signature, the Costco brand, has introduced many products that are as good as national, regional or store brands and cheaper, such as three 32-ounce bottles of Marinara sauce at $2.09 each.

And like the pasta sauce, many food items come in quantities that are manageable for a couple or small family.

Examples are four half-gallons of Tropicana orange juice, two dozen Eggland's Best Eggs, 2 pounds of Jarlsberg sliced reduced-fat Swiss cheese and three half-gallons of Kirkland Signature organic low-fat milk.

I do agree with one suggestion in the AARP story: "Don't swear off your local supermarket."

Starting Sunday, ShopRite supermarkets in northern New Jersey will be selling 59-ounce plastic containers of Tropicana for $1.88 each, a better buy per ounce than the four 64-ounce containers from Costco.

Also, Eggland's Best large white eggs will be $1.87 a dozen -- 12 cents cheaper than at Costco.

But Costco is closer to my home than the ShopRite in Hackensack. And the ShopRite often can't match Costco's quality, with the exception of Nature's Reserve free-range, grass-fed beef from Australia.

Costco doesn't sell Australian beef, but it does offer naturally raised lamb from Down Under at its usually low prices.

Still, you won't find free samples at ShopRite, such as the 7-cheese tortellini I sampled the other day at Costco, along with broccoli kugel, lobster spread and Greek yogurt with fruit.
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