Thursday, April 28, 2011

Produce prices rise, quality slips at Costco

Tomato slices.Image via Wikipedia

I dashed into Costco in Hackensack today for a few things, including organic spring mix and tomatoes. 

I also wanted a pound of Boskovich Farms organic spinach, but I could see many brown leaves in the two or three packages I picked up in the cold room. I passed.

The Earthbound Farm organic spring mix had a use-by date of May 4, so I took a one-pound package for $4.79.

The sign over the Sunset-brand Camapari tomatoes said the 2-pound package had jumped by 50 cents, to $5.99, but the first two packages I picked up showed rotting or a split skin. 

At checkout, the package of flawless orbs I chose rang up at the old price.

Recently, I bought two 1-pound packages of the same tomatoes at Fairway Market in Paramus for $5, saving a half-dollar. My wife complained they weren't as sweet as the ones from Costco.

I still haven't finished the three, large hothouse cucumbers I bought at Costco early last week. 

Parts were bitter or discolored, but I didn't have the energy to take them back and wait in line for a refund.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A salty fish tale from Sweden by way of IKEA in Paramus

IKEA flags at the store in Pittsburgh, Pennsyl...Image via Wikipedia
I wish IKEA would flag the high salt content in its jars of marinated herring.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

I was delighted to find jars of raw, marinated herring in IKEA's Swedish Food Market in Paramus, but when I looked at the nutrition labels at home, I was horrified by all the salt I would be consuming.

I bought four kinds: in garlic sauce, in mustard sauce, in dill sauce and with onion and carrot. The jars are 8.8 ounces each, not 5.1 ounces, as I wrote in a previous post, and four were on sale for $6.

A serving size is five small pieces of herring, but the sodium content ranges from 29% to 62% of the recommended daily intake -- or 700 milligrams to 1,500 milligrams of salt.

The herring in mustard sauce has the lowest salt content: 19% of the recommended daily intake.

I just finished the herring in garlic sauce, and wonder if I can return the others and exchange them for mustard sauce or get a refund.

IKEA, 100 IKEA Drive, Paramus. Closed Sundays. Free garage parking.
  
H Mart renewal

The H Mart in Englewood -- smallest of the Korean chain's four supermarkets in Bergen County -- has received a much-needed makeover.

After I moved to Hackensack from Englewood, I stopped going there and started shopping at H Marts in Little Ferry and Fort Lee, the newest.

My eyes popped when I walked into the Englewood store today: New coats of paint, bright lights and the word "Fresh" spelled out several times in big letters on the walls, next to colorful illustrations of food.

The selling area was expanded by pushing checkout counters closer to the front of the store.

H Mart's produce quality had dipped, but now it is back to being among the best selections in North Jersey. And prices are very competitive.

I picked up fresh collard greens for 99 cents a pound. At the fish counter, I chose fresh, whole porgy ($2.99 a pound) from among more than two dozen whole fish on ice.

Three pounds of Earthbound Farm organic gala apples were $3.49.

It would be terrific if the dowdy Little Ferry store got the same makeover.

H Mart, 25 Lafayette Ave., Englewood; 201-871-8822.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Our Easter meal was a comparative breeze

Niman RanchImage via Wikipedia


After my wife and son mutinied and refused to order from the Passover menu at Rosa Mexicano, assembling an Easter dinner the next day was easy.

When I ate meat, we'd buy a ham as the centerpiece of the meal, but my 13-year-old son wanted lobster, so my wife went to ShopRite after church. 

But live lobster, usually on sale for $4.99 or $5.99 a pound, was selling for $8.99 a pound on Sunday. My wife called, and when she told me the price, I said I was leaving to buy a ham at Whole Foods Market, a couple of miles away in Paramus.

I found just what I was looking for: A boneless, fully cooked Applewood Smoked Uncured Petite Ham from the Niman Ranch -- pork raised with "no antibiotics ever, no added hormones ever and all vegetarian feeds." It was $7.99 a pound, and weighed about a pound and a half.

I heated up the ham in the oven and found the rest of the ingredients at home -- hand-trimmed French green beans from Costco that needed only steaming and seasoning, and white rice, which I prepared in a rice cooker with Badia-brand Sazon Tropical to make it yellow (no MSG).

My Easter dinner? Old Farmhouse Vegetable Stew, also from Costco, and a big salad with beets, tomato, and some of those steamed green beans. 

I wanted a light meal after over-indulging the night before at the Mexican restaurant.
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Passover meal with tortillas -- not matzo

Cover of "Rosa Mexicano"Cover of Rosa Mexicano
Rosa Mexicano Restaurant usually delivers delicious food prepared from scratch, as reflected in the cover photo of Chef -Founder Joseifna Howard's cookbook.


My best-laid plans for our one dinner out each week often go awry when my wife and son refuse to cooperate with my vision for the meal.

And on Saturday night, at my favorite Mexican restaurant in North Jersey, the kitchen let me down for the first time with an entree I chose from the "Passover a La Mexicana" menu.


They pass over menu

Although I told my wife and 13-year-old son I wanted to have a Passover meal at Rosa Mexicano in Hackensack and made a reservation, they didn't want to order anything from the special menu, which is available through Monday, April 25.

I couldn't get them interested in the crispy corned-beef tacos or the soft ones stuffed with beef tongue; the roasted brisket in a banana leaf; or the tropical haroset and spring noodle kugel.

No. My son insisted on ordering the restaurant's guacamole, which is made at the table from a single avocado for an exorbitant $12 (with handmade corn tortillas and two salsas). And he ate so much of it, he couldn't finish his entree from the regular menu; nor could my wife finish hers.


Only two non-meat dishes


For me, there was one non-meat appetizer and one non-meat entree on the Passover menu, but it would have been folly to order both at this expensive restaurant, where portions are large and everything is made from scratch.

So, I asked for Salmon-Stuffed Cabbage Veracruzana ($19) -- a twist on stuffed cabbage that my Sephardic Jewish mother made with rice and ground meat, and baked in a tamarind sauce until the cabbage was soft and could be cut with a fork. 

The menu promised a "sweet-and-sour tomato sauce with olives, capers, sweet peppers and raisins," but when my entree came, I found the sauce on the plate, around the two stuffed cabbage, not over or inside them.

And I guess by ordering only one entree from the special Passover menu, we didn't get two side dishes listed as "for the table" -- spicy, pickled cucumber, carrot and cabbage -- and a spicy salsa made with cilantro and garlic.


Undercooked cabbage


I was looking forward to salmon fillet wrapped in cabbage, but the fish was ground up and combined with rice -- a too-literal interpretation of traditional stuffed cabbage, and the cabbage was still crisp, so I need a knife to cut it. It was so bland, too, so I asked the waiter for some chili sauce to pour over it.

My wife ordered Alambra de Camarones ($24) -- shrimp over rice -- and  my son tried the Tablones ($25.75) -- 18 ounces of boneless short ribs in a sauce with onion, carrot and peppers. Two small bowls of herbed rice and refried beans came with their food.

The bill -- $117 with a 15% tip -- included a glass of kosher red wine for me ($9). I guess I'll drink to compromise and family harmony.

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

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Swedish sushi, gefilte fish and a catfish fillet for breakfast

Passover Seder 5771 - Gefilte FishImage by Edsel L via Flickr
Gefillte fish balls plated for Passover.


If you count the carp, whitefish and mullet in Mrs. Adler's gefilte fish, I racked up five different piscatorial delights for breakfast this morning.


I started with two of the poached, chilled fish balls from the jar of gefilte fish, which I bought at a 70%-off sale at a supermarket, and added three pieces of raw herring in garlic sauce from IKEA -- Swedish sushi.

I didn't have horseradish, but found a tube of wasabi in the refrigerator and managed to squeeze the last bit or two out on the gefilte fish. 

I added a small salad of organic spring mix and sliced beets, dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. That was my cold plate.

We fried up Costco farmed catfish fillets dipped in egg and milk, and corn meal for dinner at home on Friday night, so I warmed up one fillet in the microwave while I made a simple egg-white omelet in olive and sesame oils. That was my hot plate.

A great breakfast, and while I'm on a low-carb diet and not eating bread, another way to deconstruct the breakfast fish sandwich I ate almost every morning (with lox, sardines, canned fish salad or almost any other fish that could fit between two slices of bread).

Gefilte means "stuffed," which is how I felt after finishing my meal.
-- VICTOR E. SASSON

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Herring from Sweden swim my way

Klanten bij een haringkar / Eating herring in ...Image by Nationaal Archief via Flickr
Eating herring in the traditional Dutch way.

One of the things I really like about IKEA is that if you don't find the right pillow, water pitcher or house plant in the huge Paramus store, you can always fill up a bag with food imported from Sweden.

Today, I was looking for a small plant, but went home with jars of herring (for me) and packages of cookies and chocolate (for my wife and son).

In a refrigerated case, I found herring in mustard sauce, herring in garlic sauce, herring in dill sauce and herring with onion and carrot -- four, 5.1-ounce jars for $6. The regular price is $1.99 each.

I also bought a small jar of seaweed topping for $1.99, presumably for the herring.

Three bars of milk or hazelnut chocolate were $2.49, a savings of 48 cents; and three packages of cookies were $4, a savings of $1.07. 

Woodcut depicting herring fishing in ScaniaImage via Wikipedia

The small food store also offers frozen fish, Swedish meatballs, Swedish pancakes, carbonated peach drink, jam and many other items. A snack bar adjoins the food store and there is a restaurant on another floor.

IKEA, 100 Ikea Drive, Paramus; 201-843-1881. 
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

'The World's Greatest Food Store'?

Picture of Fairway Market - Paramus Location, ...Image via Wikipedia
Sales fliers from Fairway Market seem to be filled with half-truths and hyperbole.

Another Fairway Market sales flier showed up in my newspaper this morning, and at the top of the first page I read:

"It's with GOOD reason we are THE WORLD'S GREATEST FOOD STORE. Experience it."

Not only are the words "THE WORLD'S GREATEST FOOD STORE" in capital letters, but they're followed by a registration mark, an "R" in a circle.

The Paramus outlet of the small New York-based chain always had a lot of chutzpah, but can it really live up to that description?

Where's the beef?

Inside the flier, almost an entire page is given over to Fairway's hard-sell for USDA Prime boneless rib eye steaks and roasts -- at $11.99 a pound. 

The store calls it "the very best your money can buy," which is a ridiculous thing to say about conventional, grain-fed beef that probably was raised on antibiotics, growth hormones and animal byproducts (kitchen scraps and bits of dead animals added to the feed).

But you won't find anything in the flier about the origins of the beef or how it was raised. USDA Prime is the government's top grade, but means only this is the fattiest beef, and the fat or marbling makes it taste great.

But a USDA Prime designation tells you nothing about quality.

Over at ShopRite, the same boneless steaks and roasts are on sale for $4.99 a pound with a store card, $6.99 without, but this Nature's Reserve-brand beef is imported -- it's from free-range, grass-fed cattle raised in Australia without harmful additives.

Fairway isn't alone in leaving out crucial information about the food it is selling.

I saw a new Perdue TV ad on Wednesday night, showing a bunch of reporters running around like chickens with their heads cut off, making a big fuss over the producer's pledge to raise its poultry without animal by-products.

Of course, no mention was made of harmful antibiotics, which the birds get to keep them from getting sick in the packed chicken houses.

The biggest H Mart

I drove to Ridgefield on Wednesday to shop at a Super H Mart, the biggest of the Korean chain's four supermarkets in Bergen County.

There's more of just about everything at this store, compared to Little Ferry, where I usually shop; Englewood and Fort Lee.

I did find a 20-pound bag of Kokuho Yellow Label, California-grown white rice for $11.99 -- a price cut of $5. 

I wasn't shopping for fish, but saw whole, small tuna and wild-caught catfish on ice for less than $3 a pound.

For a light, non-meat dinner, I also took home two new-for-me prepared items from Jinga of Maspeth, N.Y. The pan-fried "egg roll" actually was an omelet with seaweed that was rolled up and sliced into sections ($4.99).

Another container held seasoned spinach, mushrooms, bean sprouts, cucumbers and two other side dishes usually served with a Korean restaurant meal. It was labeled "Seasoned Wildweed" and I got 22 ounces for $5.99. 

Unlike Fairway Market or Trader Joe's, which give you nothing but attitude, H Mart gives you 10 cents for each reusable bag you use.

Fish in a can

One of the items I bought at the 70%-off sale at a Pathmark store that closed this week was a 15-ounce can of Bar Harbor-brand New England-Style Fish Chowder.

The soup looked creamy (from wheat flour) and contained chunks of Alaskan pollock and potato, and a little butter. Although this is a condensed soup, I didn't add any milk or water. It was delicious with a glass of red wine.
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Free-range beef, a 140-pound fish and other tales

Moonfisch Lampris guttatusImage via Wikipedia
When told the opah fish is from Hawaii, shoppers asked to see its birth certificate.

ShopRite supermarkets are running a sale on two cuts of free-range, grass-fed beef from Australia for $4.99 a pound with a a store card, $6.99 a pound without.

Boneless steaks or boneless rib-eye roasts are available, sold under the Nature's Reserve label and free of antibiotics and growth hormones. There is a limit of one package, and the sale ends Saturday.

Wowing shoppers

At Whole Foods Market in Paramus today, shoppers enjoyed samples of pineapple, cheese, matzo and opah, a fish from Hawaiian waters.

A 140-pound opah rested on ice at the fish counter, and a woman who took a photo with her cellphone camera asked an employee if it was real.

Here is what About.com says about the fish, pronounced oh-pah:
"A rich, creamy moonfish, it is served both as a raw appetizer as well as baked. Hawaiians consider opah to be a good-luck fish, and often used to give it away as a gesture of goodwill, rather than sell it."
As I purchased two pounds of mussels at the Whole Foods fish counter, other employees were removing the fish, presumably to fillet it. I didn't catch the price.

The farmed mussels from Canada, harvested on April 11, are for my dinner tonight.

Dinners from Costco

My wife and son are having Cuisine Solutions lamb shanks in a mint and rosemary sauce from Costco Wholesale in Hackensack ($6.29 a pound, fully cooked). 

Also at Costco on Saturday, I bought nearly 2 pounds of fresh, wild-caught Pacific cod fillets for Monday's dinner ($6.99 a pound), a pound of organic spinach ($4.29) and two pounds of trimmed French green beans ($5.79).

Four, 64-ounce containers of Tropicana orange juice were $10.99 and three half-gallons of Kirkland Signature organic 1% milk were $8.99.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Searching for Moroccan fish balls

For Passover, traditional gefilte fish is being challenged by Moroccan fish bites.

This sounds intriguing, I thought as I read a newspaper interview with the new co-chief executive of Manischewitz, a Sephardic Jew like me who said one of his favorite company products is "Moroccan Fish Meatballs."

The story said Alain Bankier, who was born in Morocco to French parents, recalled his mother making something similar from scratch. That was in March. This week, I went looking for the product, which I remembered as Moroccan Fish Balls.

I called Manischewitz, which gave me the phone numbers of three distributors. The first said it distributed the product to only one store, a Pathmark on Route 17 south in Hackensack. 

I knew another store, Pathmark of North Hackensack on Hackensack Avenue, was going out of business, so started my search there on Friday.

The supermarket, in the Home Depot Shopping Center, looked as if it had been looted. Shelves in only one aisle held any food products, and other items were scattered around the front of the store in bins and on shelves. The store was to close today.

I found a Passover corner with bottles of gefilte fish and small boxes of matzo, but no Moroccan Fish Balls. Everything was 70% off.

I bought six jars of gefilte fish, pasta sauce made from Jersey tomatoes, two boxes of matzo; several cans of fish broth for pasta with anchovies and spinach, which I usually make with chicken broth; canned tomatoes and a bottle of spicy salsa -- paying $25.78 for items that sold for $85.74 at retail.

I then drove over to the Pathmark on Route 17, but couldn't find any fish balls. This morning, I looked at the Manischewitz online store site, and found the product, which is called "Moroccan Fish Bites, Original," not "Fish Meatballs" or Fish Balls.

An 18-ounce jar is shown with a price of $4.39 (or $4.17 each if you buy 12), and it looks like the fish bites are in a red sauce. One great Moroccan culinary contribution is harissa, a spicy chili sauce, though I'm not sure that's what in the jar, which is sold under the Season brand.

I called a second distributor and was told the Stop & Shop in Hackensack carries the product, so that's my next stop.


CampariImage by boskizzi via Flickr

Hard sell at Fairway

The Fairway Market sales flier is filled with superlatives: Only the highest quality food is sold at the Paramus store, many items are "exclusive," the butcher is a master, there's are "directors" of imports, produce and seafood; and prices are fantastic.

What did North Jersey residents do before this supermarket of superlatives opened?

After visiting two Pathmarks on Friday, I drove to Fairway to replenish my supply of coffee. The Paramus store once sold a pound of beans on special for $5.99 and before that, $4.99. Those days are over. 

I bought two pounds of "Fairway to Heaven" beans at $7.99 a pound, the lowest price I saw, and asked for a Turkish grind.

Then, I went looking for Rocal Beets from France, called "the most amazing thing we sell in the whole shooting match" by Steven Jenkins, identified in the flier as director of imports. They are fully cooked and peeled, certified both kosher and organic.

But they're not in cans; I found them in the produce section in plastic pouches. Here's Jenkins again, using capital letters to get his message across: "They taste PERFECT! CHEAP AS THE DIRT THEY GREW IN!"

Well, I have news for you: Dirt has gone up, along with everything else. I paid $3.89 for a 500-gram package.

The pouches are filled with beets and liquid, so I opened one over a colander in the sink. They taste great.

I also bought two1-pound containers of Campari tomatoes for $5 -- about 50 cents cheaper than the 2-pounder at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack. 

When I asked a Fairway employee if I could get a cup of coffee or a bite to eat -- as in Whole Foods Market in Paramus -- I was told the store has been barred from serving food, because that would unfairly compete with a Blimpie sandwich shop next door that I had never noticed.

"They serve our coffee," the Fairway employee said of Blimpie. That's nice, but no thanks. 

Jersey Boys Grill

I joined four other members of my gym for a nice lunch Wednesday at Jersey Boys Grill, a New Milford restaurant built a few years ago by the owners of Sanducci's Trattoria in River Edge.

The cream of asparagus soup ($4.95) was filled with vegetables and potatoes, and the Cranberry Bleu Salad had delicious mesclun greens, dried cranberries, crumbled cheese and candied walnuts, all in a honey mustard dressing ($9.95)

Pat had the Asian-style fried calamari and Jimmy had a turkey burger, but didn't eat the bun.

The menu offers wood-fired pizza, ribs, pasta, steak, and fish and chips. For meat-eaters, the star is a naturally raised Berkshire Pork Chop with mashed potatoes and vegetables ($18.95). 

Jersey Boys Grill, 704 River Road, New Milford; 201-262-5600. 
Open seven days.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

What Australians say about their lamb

Climate map of Australia, based on Köppen clas...Image via Wikipedia
Australia exports beef, lamb and goat meat.

Here is some material from the Web site of Australian lamb producers. Nothing specific is said about raising sheep without antibiotics and growth hormones, though that's suggested:
Australian Lamb: Five Things to Know
1. Australian lamb is a high quality and convenient protein.
  • From free-range/naturally fed lambs
  • Free of artificial additives
  • Naturally lean and tender, trimmed of excess fat and bone
  • Delicious, mild flavor
2. Australian lamb is good, and good for you!
  • Australian lamb is an all-natural product. Australian lambs are raised naturally on lush green pastureland.
  • Lamb is a valuable source of protein, minerals and B-group vitamins including niacin, thiamin and riboflavin.
* Data Source; USDA, 1999 Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Supplementary Data on Australian Lamb.
3. Australian lamb is available at retailers across the country.
Look for the Product of Australia stamp, as Australian lamb is marketed under a number of different brands in the United States including: Southern Cross, Aussie Lamb Brand, Country Meadow, Opal Valley and Mt. Grambie.
4. Australian lamb recipes for every night of the week are available for free from www.australian-lamb.com.
5. Many of America’s finest chefs use Australian lamb in their restaurants, including Anita Lo of Annisa in New York City.
In addition to lamb and beef, Australia is now exporting goat meat. See: Australian goat meat

American producers say Australia can sell its beef and lamb here for less than U.S. products, because costs are lower in that country.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Confusing information on Australian lamb

based on :Image:Lamb-Cuts-Brit.png also used s...Image via Wikipedia
All lamb isn't created equal, but it is getting harder to find naturally raised meat.

I found a sales flier from Fairway Market in my newspaper today and on the front, the Paramus store offers whole Austral-American semi-boneless leg of lamb for $6.99 a pound.

I thought: This is the first time Fairway is offering Australian lamb, which traditionally is grass-fed and raised without antibiotics and growth hormones, but then I turned to the second page of the flier and read this from Ray Venezia, Fariway's master butcher:
"This [Austral-American lamb] is the finest example ... on the planet -- an Aussie breed mated with an American sheep, and the lamb born and raised here in America, in Utah. Enormously delicious, but not gamey like Aussie or Kiwi lamb."
Gee. I've eaten a lot of both Australian and New Zealand lamb in the past, because it is grass-fed and drug- and hormone-free, and never found it "gamey."

Venezia and Fairway say nothing about antibiotics and growth hormones.

Lamb chopsImage via Wikipedia


Searching the Internet, I came across a Web site that discusses Austral-American lamb and states -- contrary to what Fairway says -- the cross-bred sheep are raised in Australia "without unnecessary hormones or antibiotics."

From a Web site called Alibaba.com:
Country Meadow Austral-American Lamb is truly the next generation of lamb. By applying the best of both American and Australian lamb industries, Country Meadow Lamb sets a new standard of value. Their lambs are raised on the unspoiled pastureland of Australia, without unnecessary hormones or antibiotics. The cross of Australian and American genetics results in a lean, flavorful, all-natural product.
Costco also sells Australian lamb under its Kirkland Signature store brand, but there is no information on the packages about how the sheep are raised. 
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How much pasta can you eat?

Maggiano'sImage by Thomas Hawk via Flickr
The Italian-American chain restaurant is offering two pasta dishes for $12.95.

Maggiano's Little Italy is making an offer that isn't too good to refuse, especially if you're on a low-carb diet or think a balanced meal includes more than one dish.

The Italian-American chain restaurant in Hackensack, Bridgewater and Cherry Hill will give you a free "classic pasta" to take home with every one you order to eat at the restaurant. 

If you bring a coupon e-mailed to you from its Web site, you'll also get a free order of Vera's Lemon Cookies to go.

There are nine classic pastas to choose from, at $12.95 each. An e-mail I received April 19, 2011, said the price is now $13.95: 

Mom's Lasagna, Taylor Street Baked Ziti, Four-Cheese Ravioli, Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Gnocchi in Tomato Vodka Sauce, Spaghetti and Meatball, Fettuccine Alfredo, Coach Joey Z's Angel Hair Pasta and Eggplant Parmesan with Spaghetti.


SpaghettiImage via Wikipedia

The last one combines a vegetable with pasta, but with the others, consuming two large portions of pasta might not be too appetizing, if you are on a low-carb diet.

A friend who told me about this promotion said he and his wife couldn't even finish the portion they were served at the restaurant.

And, of course, if you want a salad and a glass of chianti with your pasta entree, they're extra. 

I can vouch for the quality of the food. 

When Maggiano's Little Italy first opened next to Bloomingdale's in Hackensack, you could order a whole roasted chicken with potatoes at lunch for about $10 and enjoy at least two meals from it.

Maggiano's Little Italy, 390 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack, 
in The Shops at Riverside; 201-221-2030. 
Reservations recommended on weekends.
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trying to share the wealth in Newark's Ironbound

English: Cherry blossoms in Branch Brook Park,...
Image via Wikipedia
Cherry blossoms in Branch Brook Park.

If there is any place where sharing food makes perfect sense, it's Newark's Ironbound, a neighborhood of Spanish, Portuguese and Brazilian restaurants that serve large portions at reasonable prices.

But without the cooperation of family members or friends, any plan to eat well without spending a lot of money can quickly fall apart, as it did on Saturday during our first visit to Casa Nova Grill, a Brazilian restaurant on Ferry Street.

We left in mid-afternoon to view the cherry blossom trees in Branch Brook Park, but could find only a half-dozen or so that were showing petals. We didn't even get out of the car.

The plan was to eat an early dinner at one of the places offering a "Go Newark" Restaurant Week discount. From the park, I called a Spanish restaurant on Market Street, Catas, that had a three-course, $30 dinner, but no one answered the phone and there was no recorded message.

At Adega Grill, a Portuguese restaurant we like, the fixed-price dinner menu is $40 for only two courses, according to its Web site. That's no bargain.

Newark has a long way to go on making its Restaurant Week appealing, with varying 10% and 15% discounts or fixed-price meals, compared to uniform prices for three-course lunches and dinners during New York City's Restaurant Weeks.

So we headed over to Casa Nova (New House) to try our luck with the a la carte menu of the Brazilian restaurant, which has a brick-and-wood interior and all-you-can-eat barbecue. 

I am not eating meat or poultry and my wife is eating  them only once a week or so, but our 13-year-old son is a dedicated carnivore. I had hoped to order an appetizer and two entrees to share.

But my son would not be dissuaded from ordering penne with small shrimp in vodka sauce -- a dish I wouldn't try in a Brazilian place -- and he wanted an appetizer of clams with white wine and garlic. My wife wasn't sure what she wanted.

So I ordered the clams ($11.95), a grilled whole red snapper ($17.95), enormous Tiger Shrimp ($20.95) and the penne ($15.95). I was in trouble already on assembling a meal that wouldn't bust the bank.

This was way too much, even before the waiter told us the food is made to order and asked us to serve ourselves from the salad bar, which is free with an entree.

There were more than a dozen cooked or raw vegetables, plus cheese and an odd cabbage salad with raw octopus. We went back two or three times for crunchy string beans, beets, shredded collard greens, raw broccoli and cauliflower, and other items.

The dozen briny clams were plump and the salty broth was so good, I scooped it up with one of the shells.

The Tiger Shrimp are from Mozambique, a onetime Portuguese colony, and you get only two to an order. They are grilled and served in the shell, with the head on, and uncurled, they are about 10 inches long. Extraordinary.

We eat a lot of whole fish, but the red snapper was unusually good. It came with sides of rice and black beans, plus vegetables and potatoes on the plate. The shrimp came on a large metal platter accompanied by addictive, freshly made potato chips.

We couldn't finish our food and took home leftovers.

True brazilian barbecue - Day 45Image by carlaarena via Flickr



With three glasses of juice or lemonade ($4 each), a big glass of Portuguese red wine ($5), a bottle of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., water ($6) and an espresso ($1.50), the bill came to $91.30. A 15% tip of $13.69 and tax were added, sending the total soaring to $111.

We liked Casa Nova, but next time, I'll cut that by at least $30 to $40.

My son wants to return for the all-you-can-eat barbecue. He counted more than 20 skewered items in the open kitchen.


Casa Nova Grill, 262 Ferry St., Newark, 1-973-817-7272. 
Web site: Casa Nova Grill
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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Whatever you do, don't swallow it

Costco WholesaleImage by maxkalehhoff via Flickr

The Web site of Costco Wholesale, the warehouse store I rely on for wild-caught fish, grass-fed lamb and a wide range of organic and naturally grown food, is offering a diamond ring for $1 million.

6.77 ct
IF Clarity, D Color
Diamond Solitaire Ring

  • IGI Value: $ 1,601,875
  • GIA #: 5121745439
  • Metal:  950 Platinum 
  • Diamond Shape:  Round Brilliant  
  • Minimum Diamond Weight:  6.77 ct
  • Diamond Clarity:  Internally Flawless ( IF )
  • Diamond Color: Colorless ( D )
  • Diamond Cut: Excellent
  • Ring Size:  7 - Sizeable to any size  (Costco does not provide this service) 
  • Click on the following link for a photo and contact information: $1 million ring
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Friday, April 8, 2011

Dining out on four courses for only $10

Habanero chile - flower with fruit (aka)Image via Wikipedia
The Habanero pepper is one of the hottest in the world.


You won't find this fine-dining restaurant in one of North Jersey's recession-ravaged downtowns or in a mall sandwiched between P.F. Chang's and Maggiano's Little Italy.

The service could be snappier, but all of the food we had at dinner on Thursday night was well-prepared and delicious -- from a sweet roasted-corn soup to a Boston lettuce salad to a terrific fish fillet in a coconut-Habanero sauce.

When we asked for the check, I saw $19 written on it for two meals, with no tax added, and left a $20 bill.

Welcome to The Bergen Room Restaurant on the campus of Bergen Community College in Paramus, where students in the restaurant, hotel and culinary program welcome the public, cook, wait on tables, and wash pots and pans -- all under the supervision of a restaurant veteran.

Thursday's meal was a "Taste of Latin Cuisine," and the food was a sophisticated version of the many Hispanic dishes I've enjoyed here and in the Caribbean.

My wife started with the thick corn soup and I chose an appetizer described on the menu as an "open empanada" -- a large green-plantain disc topped with pureed spinach and manchego cheese. Both were wonderful.
 
Donald Del Nero, an associate professor who stopped by our table a few time, said the broth for the soup came from cooking the cobs.

Refreshing salads of Boston leaf lettuce and frisee in a mango dressing followed. Rolls were studded with pumpkin seeds.

We both chose the same entree -- a farmed basa fillet in a mild coconut-Habanero sauce, served over yuca fries. A spicy, fresh mango salsa was served on the side. The tasty fillet is in the plant-eating catfish family.


(Recipe 1/2) Making Fish (Basa) dinner - pix 6/7Image by k-ideas via Flickr
Basa is a type of catfish native to Vietnam.
Also offered was a roasted chicken breast with "charred pineapple and red-chile sauce over cilantro-lime rice and black beans."

We're not dessert eaters, but my wife sampled two -- an ice cream parfait and a "flourless chocolate with saffron custard." I was stuffed without dessert, having left some of my fries on the plate.

At these prices, why complain? But we had some minor problems -- weak lemonade and coffee,  tasteless tomatoes with the salad, and yuca fries that could have been hotter. 

The surroundings couldn't be any drabber or more institutional, and a short in the speakers deprived us of music in the dining room, which is next to a large, professional kitchen.

Getting a reservation wasn't easy and seating is limited. I had to leave a few messages with my phone number before anyone called me back. There were about 30 to 35 diners on Thursday night, but I was told up to 60 people can be accommodated.

A friend who told me about The Bergen Room had dinner there on March 17, when a four-course Japanese meal was served. He was told to pay $10 a person, with no tip required.


I made a reservation the next day, but that call and others were never returned, and when we showed up on March 24, the restaurant was closed for spring break.

The Bergen Room Restaurant, in the Pitkin Education Center at Bergen Community College, 400 Paramus Road, Paramus; for reservations, call 201-447-7222.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

'All you ever cook are fish and pasta'

Potato chipsImage via Wikipedia
What's for dinner? Potato chips or mackerel in red-wine sauce?

My 13-year-old son came home around dinner time and lugged his book bag into his room.

While he was at the YMCA gym, I was shopping for fish to prepare for dinner. But when I went into his room to call him to the table, he was finishing off a large bag of potato chips.

"You're eating chips? What about dinner? I cooked mackerel (one of his favorites)."

"I don't want any," he said between bites of the chips. "All you ever cook are fish and pasta."

Even if that were true, he was the one who suggested more than 13 months ago that we stop eating meat and poultry, and he was the one who went back to being a carnivore when a hamburger was put in front of him on a flight several months after all of us took the pledge.

My wife also has returned to eating meat and poultry, but I've been happy eating only seafood, even as I cut down drastically on bread and pizza starting about six months ago to lose weight. I've shed 25 pounds.

I've added cheese to my diet, including the full-fat kind I used to avoid, pairing it with fruit or adding it to salads.

My son isn't being deprived of meat and poultry. This week, my wife prepared his favorite soup with chicken feet, and even added beef and ribs to it. I bought him uncured, preservative-free bacon from Trader Joe's.


Olives in olive oil.Image via Wikipedia

He raved about the macaroni with a sauce of olive oil, chicken broth, garlic and anchovies the first couple of times I made it, garnished with lots of fresh, wilted spinach and grated cheese, but now it's taken its place among the hated "pasta" dishes he avoids.

I bought organic ground beef at Costco in Hackensack for him, while stocking up on canned fish, vegetable stew, four-bean chili and other non-meat items for me, but once I took him to Smashburger, he refuses to eat a burger anyplace else.

I told my son that if he continued eating chips instead of the dinners I prepare, I won't return his PlayStation 3, which I hid because his school work suffered.

My wife didn't back me up. She said eating chips was no reason to deny him the video-game console. 


Fresh PastaImage via Wikipedia


I've had to be inventive without meat, poultry, bread and pizza as part of the dining equation, both at home and eating out. 

My breakfasts often are salads with the same ingredients I once stuffed into sandwiches -- smoked fish, sardines, cheese, tomato and so forth. 

This morning, I fried four quail eggs -- sunny side up -- from the Korean supermarket, and ate them with leftover baby bok choy, Korean stewed tofu  and a cooked cabbage-and-sweet-pepper dish my wife made. 

I just prepared a canned fish salad -- tuna, pink salmon, sardines and anchovies -- with Dijon mustard, lemon juice, cumin and other Middle Eastern spices, and diced celery and onion, and wonder if my son will have a sandwich of it for breakfast tomorrow.

I love pasta and rice, but can't eat them to my heart's content while cutting down on carbohydrates.

Eating out, there are several meatless Korean dishes I like and others that can be prepared without meat, and they always come with vegetable, fish and tofu side dishes that are perfect for me.

Everywhere else, I choose fish or shrimp for my entree, such as the fried whole tilapia I shared the other night with my wife at a Colombian restaurant.
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