Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why I love spending money at Costco

Interior of a Costco Wholesale warehouse in So...
Image via Wikipedia
The interior of a Costco in South San Francisco, Calif.

Editor's note: How many food retailers publish their markup or try to sell for as little as they can? That's part of the philosophy behind Costco Wholesale. Today, I also discuss a sour note during an otherwise great Korean dinner at Gammeeok in Palisades Park.


I am spending more and more of my food dollars at Costco Wholesale, lured by high quality and low prices -- plus cash rebates that more than cover the annual membership fee.

Now, an article in in the January 2012 edition of Costco Connection -- called a lifestyle magazine for members -- explains the history and philosophy behind the warehouse store.

The writers say Costco's well-known strategies are "keeping markup to no more than 14 percent over cost (15 percent for Kirkland Signature products); providing a money-back guarantee on products and membership fees; focusing on a narrow selection of products in a wide range of categories; proceeding with steady, but cautious growth; and never selling seconds or other inferior good."

Costco also pays "above-average salaries," and offers health insurance to most employees. 

The history of Costco Wholesale is traced to a new retail concept established by Fed-Mart in 1954 in San Diego, then to the Price Club, which opened its first store in 1976 in San Diego. Costco, which opened its first store in Seattle in 1983, merged with Price Club in 1993.

Today, Costco sells the highest quality food outside of Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's, and its prices are often unbeatable.

We paid for rice

Rice is an integral part of every Korean meal, but when we used a Groupon at Gammeeok in Palisades Park on New Year's Eve, we were charged $3.74 for two small bowls of the starchy staple.

The Groupon was for pork-filled dumplings, a seafood pancake and beef barbecue -- two appetizers and an entree that normally cost $37.85. The Groupon was $18.

But if you ordered that same meal at any other Korean restaurant, you'd get free rice. I suppose the discount coupon we used at Gammeeok made a difference.

My wife and son shared those dishes, and they especially liked the hot, thick, crisp pancake with tender bits of squid and other seafood.

I ordered a stone-bowl bibimbap, and asked the kitchen to hold the ground beef and cook the raw egg that are usually placed over steamed rice and shredded vegetables ($13.95). 

You also get a mildly spicy red paste called gochujang that you add before mixing everything up and eating it with a spoon. It's my favorite Korean comfort food.

Free side dishes

Of course, we got four free side dishes: napa cabbage leaves, hot green peppers, shredded radish kimchi in vinegar and Gammeeok's wonderfully spicy cabbage and cubed radish kimchi, which are sweeter than most.

We had three small plates of cabbage and radish kimchi, and ordered a large container of the cabbage kimchi to go ($6.95). I brought a bottle of French sparkling wine to toast the new year during our meal.

Our meal for three cost $46.41, including the $18 I paid for the Groupon, a $9 tip and tax. 

UPDATE: This restaurant is no longer in business, and the original New Jersey branch in Fort Lee was closed by a fire.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

In hot sauces, don't forget to look for the black label

Valentina's spiciest hot sauce carries this black label. I tried some this morning on a sweet potato frittata and baked sweet potato, below. (Updated on Nov. 18, 2014.)

Editor's note: Today, I discuss a hot sauce that won't hide the taste of food, extra-virgin olive oil from the Middle East and Costco produce that doesn't list a weight. 


Valentina Salsa Picante has been made in Mexico for 50 years and I'm hoping this wonderful hot sauce will be around for another half-century.

We were almost out of Valentina when my wife picked up two 34-ounce bottles, which were $2.49 each as part of a "Manager's Special" at Hackensack Market on Passaic Street.

Four 12-ounce bottles of Valentina were $5, so the larger bottles were a better buy. Once opened, the hot sauce requires no refrigeration.

But my wife brought home the milder of two Valentinas, and I had to exchange the bottles for ones carrying a black label and marked "Extra Hot."

This is a thick, dark-red, spicy sauce that doesn't obliterate the taste of your food. And it's a much better deal than Tabasco, which was selling for $6.79 (12 ounces) and $3.49 (5 ounces) today at ShopRite in Englewood.

Valentina is made by Salsa Tamazula, and the ingredients list is short: water, chili peppers, vinegar, salt, spices and 0.1% sodium benzoate as a preservative.

I use Valentina on fried eggs, egg-white omelets and Jamaican ackee and saltfish, and the hot sauce can elevate an ordinary veggie burger into something you actually look forward to eating.

But even Valentina can't save Meal Mart Vegan Falafel Balls, one of the few food duds I've found at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack. They are fully cooked, but extremely dry after being warmed up in the oven.

Hackensack Market, 120 Passaic St., Hackensack; 201-996-9177

Oil from Jordan

I picked up a 3-liter bottle of Nablus-brand extra-virgin olive oil at Brothers Produce in Paterson with a label that didn't specify the country of origin, so I called the importer listed, Mediterranean Expo LLC (973-553-2640).

Brothers carries more than a dozen large tins or heavy glass bottles of extra-virgin olive oil, many from Lebanon and Syria. But I was told Nablus oil is 100% Jordanian.

The price was $14.99 or about $5 a liter.

Weighing in

Labels on Costco Wholesale's premium fruits and vegetables don't always list the weight, so you don't really know the price per pound.

Today, I bought six mixed sweet peppers -- yellow, red and orange -- for $6.79, and three large seedless cucumbers for $3.99. Neither package had a weight listed.

On the other hand, 5.5 pounds of large Gala apples from Washington State were $7.99, and 3 pounds of bananas were $1.39.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Changes in the Asian food scene in Fort Lee

Fort Lee, New Jersey
Image by dougtone via Flickr
Visitors to Fort Lee will find Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Asian Indian restaurants. Mo' Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup restaurant, closed.

Editor's note: Since I wrote this in December 2011, there has been a resurgence of Japanese restaurants in Fort Lee, but Korean place still dominate the dining scene.


Fort Lee has long been the place to go for the widest range of Asian food in North Jersey, and it continues to evolve.

Some of the changes have been in response to an influx of Korean-Americans in a community that many Japanese immigrants had called home for decades.

Now, the Korean supermarket chain Han Ah Reum has opened a small market in a neighborhood of high-rises and garden apartments, and dubbed it H Mart Fresh.

The market on 16th Street, across the street from the Fort Lee Community Center, replaced another Korean market, Good Nature Supermarket, and has been open about eight months. 

Nippon Daido, a small Japanese market on the same block, is now a laundromat.

H Mart Fresh is an abbreviated version of the full-size H Mart supermarket a couple of miles away in Fort Lee's Linwood Plaza shopping center. One woman said she shopped at H Mart Fresh because she lives in the neighborhood. 

On Tuesday, I picked up two prepared items at H Mart Fresh: a trio of sleek, 10-inch-long mackerel pike for $3.99 and a Korean pan-fried omelet stuffed with seaweed for $4.99. But I couldn't find any kimbap, those addictive seaweed, vegetable and rice rolls.

The small market had a beautiful, though limited, selection of fresh whole, wild-caught fish on a bed of ice, including red snapper and croaker, and I saw a solitary eel in a seafood tank.

A Korean restaurant, New Bang's Kitchen, is down the block, at 1355 16th St. 

History of Hiura

In the 1980s, on the same block and possibly in the same space as New Bang's Kitchen, the Hiura family operated a BYO Japanese-Chinese restaurant that kept customers' sake bottles. 

A fire in an adjacent business closed the restaurant, and sushi Chef Noboru Hiura eventually relocated to Main Street in Fort Lee, where the family now has a high-end Japanese sushi restaurant called Hiura.

Several blocks away on Main Street, a pizzeria replaced a Vietnamese restaurant, Mo' Pho, which specialized in steaming bowls of anise-flavored noodle soup.

Japanese pub closes

Meanwhile, in neighboring Cliffside Park, the opening of a new Japanese restaurant, Bushido, has been delayed. The address is 671 Palisade Ave.

Bushido is replacing an authentic Japanese pub, Izakaya Don, which replaced another Japanese pub in July 2004. The pubs served food and overflowing glasses of sake.

Bushido is the latest venture of Lebanese restaurateur Charles Hamade and Chef Yoshiharu Suzuki, who operated Wild Ginger, a BYO on Englewood's Palisade Avenue, for more than 16 years.

The high-end Japanese restaurant was renamed Wild Nigiri before it closed this year, replaced by Hamade's Papa Mole Mexican restaurant.

Hamade and Suzuki likely paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for Izakaya Don's liquor license.


H Mart Fresh, 1379 16th St., Fort Lee; 201-944-9009.
Parking on street or in difficult, sloping lot.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Failing a crash course in Italian food

English: Eataly, New York City, September 2010
Image via Wikipedia
If you're looking for a quiet meal, Eataly isn't for you.

Editor's note: Today, I discuss a marketplace for Italian food called Eataly, our early dinner at Lupa in Manhattan, and the apparent extinction of the 99-cents can of sardines.


I'm a dropout from Eataly -- a crash course in Italian food at Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street in Manhattan.

Chef Mario Batali and his partners stage a daily feeding frenzy in this sprawling, all-Italian marketplace, where customers are willing to eat standing up as scores of people rush past just inches away.

We spent less than 30 minutes there on Monday afternoon, but couldn't take the sensory overload or the noise. Think "mob scene" or "zoo" -- one hardly conducive to enjoying a meal.

Eataly has one proper restaurant that takes reservations, Manzo, Italian for "beef," and it has a full menu, including pasta and seafood. But it doesn't open until 5 p.m., we were told.

Fish, vegetables, a rotisserie, cold cuts and more are available elsewhere, at what looks like feeding stations, with seated and stand-up eating.

Searching for the rest rooms, I came upon one aisle lined with bags of flour, where two employees were slicing bread, and saw a flight of stairs, which led to an upstairs dining area for pizza and pasta.

In the market, a six-pack of Italian beer, Birra Moretti, was $9.80. Handmade butternut-squash ravioli were about $14 a pound. An autumn tasting menu in Manzo was more than $90. Wines by the glass are $7 to $19 each.

The Web site says Eataly has a fish market, but we didn't see it. Whole fish are served for $22 and $23, though the ones I saw in front of diners looked small. 

The original Eataly opened in Turin, Italy, in 2007. Eataly New York opened in August 2010.

Eataly, 200 Fifth Ave., New York; 212-229-2560. Open every day.

Low prices, small portions

We still wanted to "Eat Italy," so we jumped into the car and drove downtown to another Batali venture, Lupa Osteria Romana.

Lupa has been a hit since it opened in 1999, and for peak dinner times, a reservation has to be made at least a month ahead, according to a re-review in The New York Times that awarded 1 star to the Roman-style trattoria last week.

Three of us arrived at Lupa around 4:15 Monday afternoon, and were told a table was available immediately, as long as we gave it up by precisely 5:35. We agreed, and were shown to a table in the intimate -- and drafty -- rear dining room.

Lupa employs a big staff, as we learned watching a procession of people going out a rear door and into a room where servers' uniforms hang in dry cleaner bags, and returning ready for work, but every time the ill-fitting door was opened, we got a gust of cold air.

Lupa is inexpensive by Manhattan standards, but portions are small. A nice touch is a glossary of Italian food terms on the back of the menu. 

Service was good and the food was well-prepared, but the kitchen didn't seem able to keep up with orders, and our appetizers were agonizingly slow coming to the table.

Sardines, fluke, striped bass

We decided to share two antipasti -- a special of grilled sardine fillets ($14) and a Fall Vegetable Insalata ($12).

There were four wonderful sardine fillets served with blood orange and wilted greens, and the salad included fruit, greens and roasted fall vegetables, all served at room temperature.

We skipped a pasta course, because I'm watching my weight, but I did have small pieces of bread crust dipped in peppery olive oil.

For entrees, we chose wild-caught fluke with lentils and bitter greens ($19); the Market Fish, striped bass ($22); and a naturally raised half chicken that was roasted alla Diavola or Devil's Style ($19).

My two, thin fluke fillets were disappointingly small, and they were served over a bed of tiny lentils and wilted greens, with little else on the plate. I made quick work of them, then speared morsels from my wife's dinner.

Her delicious striped bass fillet was cut thickly and the skin had been crisped, but I think the waitress was mistaken describing it as wild, not farmed. I tried both a piece of the fish and fatty skin, as well as shaved fennel.

The best value was the moist half chicken, which was served with a crostini spread with chicken liver.

We drank tap water and didn't have wine or dessert, though a cheese plate served to a couple at the next table looked terrific. We spent $108.63, including a $15 tip.

Lupa Osteria Romana, 170 Thompson St., Manhattan; 212-982-5089.

Web site: Antipasti, primi, secondi

Canned sardine news

Those 99-cents little wonders -- Al Shark-brand sardines from Morocco -- disappeared from the shelves in Paterson markets for a while, but I found them again on Monday morning at Brothers Produce, 327 E. Railway Ave.

The price went up 1 cent, to $1.00. Skinless-and-boneless sardines are higher.

I bought 20 cans, half of sardines in tomato sauce and half with hot peppers.

I also was looking for yogurt drink, but Brothers only had half-gallons from Merve Ayran at $4.79 each.

At Fattal's Bakery, 975-977 Main St., the half-gallons were $4.49 and the gallon container I bought was $7.79.

I also picked by the wonderful store-made spinach-and-cheese pies at six for $8.99.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A modest Feast of the Three Fishes

English: The Jamaican national dish of ackee a...
Image via Wikipedia
Jamaican ackee and saltfish served with cole slaw.

Surrounded by meat and meat eaters, I wan't able to assemble an Italian-American Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, but managed a more modest three seafood dishes at two meals.

For breakfast on Saturday, my wife prepared ackee and saltfish, a Jamaican dish that combines a soft, bland fruit with meaty codfish and sweet and hot peppers, and a side of boiled green bananas.

Our Christmas Eve meal included six entrees, half of them brought by our guests; organic brown rice cooked with red beans and coconut milk (called rice and peas); two big bowls of salad, based on romaine lettuce and fresh spinach; steamed French green beans, and potato salad.

I'm not eating meat and I'm cutting down on carbs, so I concentrated on large Tiger shrimp, which I marinated in fresh lemon juice and seasonings for a couple of hours before cooking them quickly on the stove; fresh croaker, salad and green beans, eating only a couple of tablespoons of rice and potatoes.

The others had curry goat, chicken in barbecue sauce, jerk pork and a spiral-cut ham in a brown-sugar glaze.

My wife went to H Mart in Little Ferry, then H Mart in Englewood on Saturday before she could find enough whole fresh fish -- a half-dozen small croakers -- but the fishmonger misunderstood her instructions on how she wanted them cleaned, and cut off their heads.

At home, my mother-in-law fried the fish whole, arranged them on a large platter and covered them in onion, green pepper, whole black peppercorns and hot pepper prepared in vinegar.

This preparation is called "escoveitch fish."

We drank sweetened sorrel with ginger and rum, and sparkling apple cider. 

After dinner, I only had room for almonds, chestnuts and dried dates, though our guests had black rum cake with tea or coffee or took some home. 

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Laying in food for the holiday

English: Parmigiano Reggiano festival, Modena,...
Image via Wikipedia
At Costco Wholesale, you can find the same Parmigiano Reggiano displayed at this festival in Modena, Italy. The cheese has been made since before the Renaissance. 

Editor's note: Today, I discuss last-minute food shopping at Costco Wholesale, fresh fish at Whole Foods Market and Australian beef at ShopRite.

I was in and out of Costco Wholesale in about 20 minutes this morning, buying ingredients for a big salad we plan to serve to guests on Saturday.

I picked up a naturally raised, fully cooked Niman Ranch ham and large Tiger shrimp on previous visits to the Hackensack warehouse store, so I only had to nibble around the edges of our holiday menu.

I bought a second package of Andy Boy jumbo romaine hearts (six for $3.99), because that wonderful Earthbound Farms Organic Spring Mix sold at Costco doesn't always stand up well until its expiration date.

I also found pesticide-free Euro Farm Fresh seedless cucumbers (three for $3.99), and in view of tomato prices going through the roof, I picked up another 5 pounds of Sunset beefsteak tomatoes for $6.99 or about $1.20 a pound.

The romaine, tomatoes and cucumbers are going into the salad, along with fresh spinach, organic carrot,  sweet peppers and other ingredients I have on hand. 

We're having a Jamaican-American meal on Christmas Eve this year, in contrast to last year's Cuban-style dinner of roast pork, rice cooked with black beans, and yuca with garlic sauce we picked up at La Pola in West New York.

On Friday, we're planning to visit La Pola, at Palisade Avenue and 54th Street, to bring holiday greetings to owner Belarmino Rico, who named his Cuban sandwich shop after the small Spanish town where he was born.

On Saturday, our guests will be bringing curry goat, rice and peas, roast chicken and Jamaican potato salad to supplement the ham, shrimp, fish stuffed with okra and salad we plan to serve.

We've prepared a Jamaican drink from a herb called sorrel, with ginger and rum; and there are four bottles of non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider in the wine cooler.

For dessert, we'll serve fruit and cheese, including Kirkland Signature Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy I picked up at Costco ($12.69 a pound). The part-skimmed cow's milk cheese, aged for 24 months, has been made in Italy since before the Renaissance, according to the package. 

When I got home, I cut off the thick rind, then cut the wedge into three portions, wrapping them tightly.

I also bought organic carrot juice, organic 1% milk, Tropicana orange juice in 64-ounce cartons, crab and corn chowder, 3 pounds of raw almonds, reduced-fat sliced Swiss cheese and fresh Pacific cod fillet.

Go fish in Paramus

You'll find some of the freshest fish around displayed on ice at Whole Food Market in Paramus, and when the store puts seafood on sale, prices are competitive.

On Tuesday, I saw fillets of wild-caught sockeye salmon from Canada on sale for $9.99 a pound -- not much higher than Costco's frozen sockeye salmon fillets from Alaska. The Canadian fillets had been previously frozen.

I also saw whole sea bass landed at Barnegat Light (on the Jersey Shore), which is 63 miles from the store, according to a sign. The price was $9.99 a pound.

Grass-fed beef price cut

Through Saturday, ShopRite supermarkets have dropped the price of free-range, grass-fed Nature's Reserve Boneless Rib Eye Roast from Australia by $2, to $4.99 a pound with a store card. There is a limit of one.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Fruit flies invite themselves to dinner

Bob's Red Mill
Image via Wikipedia
My favorite cereal from Bob's Red Mill in Oregon is made with 10 grains.

Editor's note: Today, I discuss dinner at a Brazilian restaurant in Newark's Ironbound section; a documentary that questions our over-reliance on animal protein, and a hot cereal that is far better than oatmeal.

The first thing we noticed late Sunday afternoon at the Casa Nova Grill in Newark was how crowded it was on a day when the temperature hovered around freezing.

But we only had to wait inside the door for about 5 minutes before we were shown to a table in one of the first-floor dining rooms of this Brazilian restaurant in the Ironbound section.

The second thing we noticed were two or three of those tiny fruit flies over our table, the ones that seem impossible to kill -- and I tried. They stayed for dinner.

When we asked our waiter, Oswaldo, about the flies, he said the management was aware of them and that after closing the night before, the restaurant was fumigated. A second fumigation was scheduled for that night.

Our last visit to Casa Nova was on an overcast April day, when few of the cherry trees in Branch Brook Park had blossomed. We ordered too much and our bill for three soared over $100.

On Sunday, after a concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, my wife and I ordered two entrees to share, which came with a visit to the salad bar.

Our main dishes were Giant Tiger Shrimp from Mozambique ($20.95) and Cod Fish, Portuguese style ($15.95). My wife drank fruit juice ($4) and I had a generous glass of California merlot ($5). 

Brazilians love meat, as we saw from waiters walking around the dining room with skewers of skirt steak, sausage and other items, and stopping at tables to serve customers who had ordered unlimited barbecue.

But they also love carbohydrates and starch: We found a platter of tasty potato sticks on the salad bar, and we got two small servings of delicious cheese bread, a couple of Portuguese rolls, sliced bread and freshly made potato chips with the shrimp, and boiled potato and a side dish of white rice with the cod stew.

The two head-on shrimp are the biggest I've seen served in a restaurant, and they came in the shell with a dipping sauce of garlicky oil.

Skin-on salted cod fillets were served in a milky broth with a boiled egg, boiled potato and whole garlic cloves, which melted in the mouth, and they were covered with shredded collard green.

The selection on the salad bar didn't seem as varied as on our first visit, but we did find beets, crunchy steamed broccoli, small tomatoes with cheese and those potato sticks.

The restaurant also serves salted cod or bacalhau, Brazilian style, with marinara sauce; and a Brazilian fish stew with coconut milk, as well as whole red snapper, each at around $16. 

Casa Nova Grill, 264 Ferry St., Newark; 973-817-7272.

'Forks Over Knives'

"Forks Over Knives," a new documentary I got from Netflix, argues animal proteins -- from meat, dairy and eggs -- are slowing killing us.

The doctors and scientists who appear in the film claim they can reverse and cure heart disease, cancer and other major health problems with a whole-food, plant-based diet.

Several people are shown throwing away their medications, and turning to such a diet, as well as to exercise. All lose weight and improve their health tremendously.

Bob's Red Mill Cereal

After my exercise session at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center this morning, I stopped at the ShopRite for more of Bob's Red Mill 10 Grain Hot Cereal.

A 25-ounce package of the whole-grain cereal cost $2.79. 

Preparation takes about 15 minutes on the stove top. I usually add dried blueberries, and cut-up dried apricots, plums and dates to it, as well as slivered almonds or pine nuts, and blue agave syrup as a sweetener.

The cereal comes from Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods Inc., an employee-owned company in Oregon. Here's a link to its Web site: 

Bob says, "To Your Good Health"

I also picked up 5 pounds of clementines from California for $4.99 with a store card, and a half-gallon of ShopRite 2% Lactose-Free Milk for $3.29, 20 cents less than usual.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Petite Soo Chow closed for third time

English: Joe's Shanghai dumplings.
Image via Wikipedia
Shanghai-style soup dumplings.

Editor's note: Today, I report on health inspectors closing a popular Chinese restaurant for the third time in less than three years, a sale on grass-fed beef from Australia and Costco Wholesale produce prices.

Cliffside Park has closed a Chinese restaurant called Petite Soo Chow for the third time, citing "insect infestation."

The restaurant, known for its soup dumplings, apparently continues to struggle with keeping its kitchen clean.

No details were available from the Cliffside Park Health Department, where my call was answered by a recorded message this afternoon.

We ate there in 2007 and 2008, but stopped going after we saw the lone male waiter picking his nose in the dining room one too many times. 

The first closure occurred in May 2009 and the second was in August of this year. No restaurant -- including Petite Soo Chow -- deserves customer loyalty after being closed three times by sanitary inspectors.

Grass-fed roast on sale

ShopRite supermarkets are selling Nature's Reserve Boneless Rib Eye Roast  from Australia for $4.99 a pound with a PricePlus card (limit one).

The sale on this free-range, grass-fed beef starts Saturday and runs through Dec. 24.

This morning, I picked up 6-ounce cups of ShopRite Fruit on the Bottom low-fat yogurt for 45 cents each. They are made with sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup.

Costco produce

At Costco Wholesale in Hackensack today, my wife purchased six Andy Boy jumbo romaine hearts from California for $3.99 or about 66 cents each. I couldn't find the weight on the package.

Two pounds of French green beans were $4.99, and 1 pound of organic spinach was $4.29.

A 5-pound bag of organic mixed vegetables cost $6.49. 

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

A tale of two filet mignons

Beef tenderloin
Image via Wikipedia
Beef tenderloin.

Editor's note: Today, I compare free-range, grass-fed Australian beef to domestic beef; describe another visit to Costco Wholesale, and recommend a meatless rice-and-beans breakfast.

At the Englewood ShopRite on Wednesday, I picked up a Nature's Reserve whole trimmed beef tenderloin for filet mignon from free-range, grass-fed cattle raised in Australia. 

The price was $8.99 a pound or $6.99 a pound with my store card, and my tenderloin weighs 4.32 pounds.

On a shelf in the same refrigerated case, I saw a USDA Select trimmed whole beef tenderloin from cattle raised conventionally for $11.99 a pound. It was being sold under the Excel name, a brand from a conglomerate called Cargill.

I plan to slice my tenderloin thinly and put it into freezer bags with Korean barbecue marinade. The beef will cook quickly on a stove-top grill for wrapping in red-leaf lettuce leaves with rice, kimchi and sliced garlic.

It's a fun family meal, though I won't be taking part. I'll likely prepare shrimp to wrap in lettuce and eat Korean-style.

Holiday frenzy

Costco Wholesale in Hackensack opened at 10 this morning, but the parking lot was already filling up fast. Inside, it was calmer and there was no waiting at checkout.

I picked up two packages of Vita Pure Coconut Water from Brazil -- 12 containers of 11.1 ounces each -- for $15.79. 

I have been buying coconut water from, where a 12-pack costs $17.60. Buying it at Costco eliminates the packaging and energy used to ship it to me.

The fish case held fresh fillets of wild-caught haddock, flounder and Pacific cod, each for $7.99 a pound. I bought the wonderful cod, a meaty fish that breaks apart into big flakes when cooked.

I also found a 17.6-ounce package of Galil-brand organic shelled chestnuts for $3.89, a product of China. Preservative-free pitted dates from California were $5.75 for 2.5 pounds.

Meatless breakfast

Today's rib-sticking breakfast relied on leftover organic brown rice with lentils, and black beans with diced tomato and mussels -- all topped by two eggs prepared sunny side up.

There's nothing like breaking the yolks over the rice and beans, and eating them together.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Wild salmon still swimming our way

English: Sockeye salmon jumping over beaver da...
Image via Wikipedia
An amazing sockeye salmon. 

Editor's note: Today, I discuss the continued availability of wild Alaskan sockeye salmon at Costco Wholesale; brown rice that requires no soaking, and visits to H Mart and ShopRite.

The taste of fresh wild-caught salmon from Costco Wholesale is just a memory, but you can still find frozen fillets and smoked sockeye salmon from Alaska at the warehouse store.

After checking out on Monday at the Hackensack store, I asked one of the managers about a comment I received from another customer, saying Kirkland Signature's preservative-free Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon had been discontinued as of Dec. 1.

I had found a couple dozen packages on the shelf, and the manager punched in the code from the one I purchased ($15.39 for 1 pound).

He said his computer still listed it as an "active" item, not as discontinued, and that he had 600 1-pound packages in the store.

The previously frozen smoked salmon is sliced, so it's easy to use over a salad or rolled up with a slice of cheese, if you're avoiding bread to lose weight, as I am. I also put pieces of the salmon in cheese omelets.

I also picked up a 3-pound bag of Kirkland Signature frozen Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon fillets for $28.99 or about $9.65 a pound. That's more than the fresh sold for this year, and it's a dollar a pound or so more than the frozen fillets cost last year.

I've tried cooking these fillets a couple of ways, but get best results when I put them on a clear-glass plate, add lemon juice, a little soy sauce, white wine or sake, and put the plate inside a covered, 12-inch steamer I found at H Mart, the Korean supermarket.

Whether I make them rare for me or cooked through for the rest of the family, the fillets stay moist, and the sauce is great over white or brown rice.

Talking about brown rice, the Della-brand organic long-grain brown rice I found at Costco last week requires no soaking, a real time saver.

We've made this delicious brown rice twice in our electric cooker, and it was ready and perfectly al dente in about 30 minutes. 

The key is the recommended use of two and a half cups of water for each cup of rice, more water than other brown rices call for and more water than the rice cooker calls for. For a softer rice, the package says to use even more water per cup of rice.


Monday was a busy food-shopping day for me and my wife as we prepare for the holidays. Separately, we visited five food stores.

After an hour in the cardiac-rehab gym at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, I stopped at the Englewood ShopRite with a Lipitor $4 Co-Pay card.

While there, I picked up 4 pounds of naval oranges for $2.49 with a store card.

I went to the H Mart in Little Ferry later for prepared stewed tofu and stewed pollock, but found none on the refrigerated shelf.

To avoid a total loss, I bought a large jar of beef barbecue marinade for $3.99 or $1.50 off -- to use with the Australian grass-fed beef that's on sale at ShopRite this week.

H Mart gave me 10 cents back for my re-usable bag.

At Costco, besides the frozen and smoked salmon, I bought 5 pounds of tangerines from Florida for $3.99 and 5 pounds of lemons from Chile for $6.99. Three pounds of bananas were $1.39 and 5 pounds of crisp Jona Gold apples were $5.99.

My wife stopped at the Englewood ShopRite, Hackensack Market and Happy Fruit Market, a Korean grocer in Teaneck.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thai favorite needs a makeover

wondee siam panang curry
Image by scaredy_kat via Flickr
Spicy Panang curry is typical of Wondee's fare, though this dish was photographed elsewhere.

Editor's note: Today, I report on Wondee's, my favorite Thai restaurant; the inspirational story of a young food blogger who was born without a functioning digestive system; and continued confusion over whether growth hormones are used to raise grass-fed Australian beef.

Wondee's Fine Thai Food and Noodles in Hackensack is one of our fallback restaurants -- the place we go when the four of us can't decide where to eat or don't want to risk disappointment at a new venture. 

The food served at our last few meals there has been as good as ever -- crunchy, green-papaya salad; Thai fried rice, and whole, fried fish or jumbo shrimp in a sweet chili sauce -- and prices are reasonable, even after a recent increase. 

But when I looked around at the plain decor and worn carpeting, I was let down, even though I'm one of those people who feel you can't eat the wallpaper, so what difference does it make what the place looks like? 

I thought, Here's a great, reasonably priced restaurant that is in need of a makeover to showcase the talents of the chef-owner, Wandee Suwangbutra, who was hired to open several Thai restaurants in Manhattan before venturing out on her own.

On Saturday, we used the rear parking lot, across Camden Street from the public library, and sent our 14-year-old son in to get a table, while I parked.

We usually sit near the big plate-glass window on Main Street, but found our son at a  table next to the kitchen doors, opposite a serving station. The back of my seat was near an uneven, sloping part of the floor covered in worn carpeting.

When you use the rear entrance, you have to step up, something I don't always remember. To get to the small, plain restrooms, you have to step down. The walls are painted or covered in mirrors, with just the bare minimum of Thai-themed decoration.

It was between 5:30 and 6. We could hear a noisy group in a section of the L-shaped dining room we couldn't see, and tables were arranged for a party of eight, or so it seemed.

The only place for my car coat was the back of my chair and it dragged on the floor. My wife put my wool baseball cap in her lap after it fell to the floor twice. 

In view of my son's insistence on ordering won ton soup with pork and complaining that I order whole fish "all the time," we shared salads and a jumbo-shrimp entree, but I could eat only a little of the fried rice with vegetables, avoiding the pork, because I'm not eating meat.

I felt uncomfortable in my seat, but got through the meal and didn't kill myself on the uneven floor surfaces getting up to use the bathroom.

I brought one bottle of beer to the BYO. Service was good, as usual, but for the first time, we had to send back our entree, because the big shrimp were under-cooked.

Wandee herself came out of the kitchen, mopped up a puddle of sauce on the table and placed the replacement dish in front of us, explaining some customers ask for their shrimp just barely cooked. 

Not far away on Main Street is Bangkok Garden, a relatively expensive Thai place with a liquor license. I recall from a visit more than five years ago that it is nicely decorated.

Whole fish at Wondee's is $18; at Bangkok Garden, it is listed at $24.95 on the online menu.

Wondee's could do with a renovation. 

It's no kitchen nightmare, but wouldn't it be nice if Chef Gordon Ramsay stumbled in, embraced the warm and welcoming Suwangbutra family, and gave it a free makeover?

Wondee's, 296 Main St., Hackensack; 201-883-1700.

Kitchen artist

Her parents named her Matisse, but she was born without a functioning digestive system, according to today's Parade magazine.

Then, in December 2010, the Reid family moved to the United States from New Zealand so Matisse could receive a new small and large intestine. Her first meal? Squid.

Now, the 10-year-old seafood lover is writing a cooking blog, Matisse's Kitchen, which I have added to my Blog List at the right.

Beef confusion

I relied on information from Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd. (MLA)  in writing a recent post about Nature's Reserve grass-fed beef, which is sold at ShopRite.

After I published the post, O say can you taste the grass?, I was contacted and told MLA had given me the wrong information: growth hormones are used in raising the cattle in Australia.

Last week, I received an e-mail from MLA, saying the Nature's Reserve Web site has been re-launched. I took a look and it says, "Raised without added hormones."

Well, at least Nature's Reserve beef is 100% grass fed from start to finish, and doesn't contain antibiotics or animal by-products -- kitchen scraps and bits of dead animals fed to cattle raised on feed lots in the U.S.

ShopRite is having a sale through Dec. 17 on Nature's Reserve Whole Beef Tenderloin for Filet Mignon at $8.99 a pound or $6.99 a pound with a store card.

Here is a link to the Nature's Reserve Web site: 

Nature's Reserve Beef from Australia

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