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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