Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Putting Trader Joe's on the spot

Trader Joe's next to the Hampshire Mall Hadley...
A Trader Joe's in Massachusetts.

Editor's note: Today, I discuss animal antibiotics, a  hearty dish that will make you forget about meat and other ideas for meals at home.

Consumers Union, the political and action arm of Consumer Reports magazine, is calling on Trader Joe's to stop selling meat from animals raised on harmful antibiotics.

I rely on Trader Joe's in Paramus for antibiotic- and preservative-free bacon and hot dogs.

But I've been disappointed when shopping for a holiday ham for the meat eaters in my family to find only those from conventionally raised pigs.

Here's an excerpt from a Consumers Union e-mail I received:

"You know you shouldn't take antibiotics as preventive medicine because it weakens your ability to fight really deadly bacteria later on.
 "Yet factory farms continue to pump antibiotics into healthy chickens, pigs and cows, putting you and your family at greater risk from antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
"We’re trying to get Trader Joe’s, one of the nation’s more progressive grocers, to commit to selling only meat raised without antibiotics. If Trader Joe’s agrees to source only drug-free meat, it will put major pressure on factory farms to stop feeding animals antibiotics – sparking change driven by you, not the government!
"We’re hoping to meet with company execs very soon, and show them how many consumers want meat raised without antibiotics. If we are successful with Trader Joe’s, we expect other grocers to follow suit."

I got an anonymous comment relating one reader's experience buying chicken raised on antibiotics, as you can tell from his or her description of "huge" poultry parts:

I've bought different brands of chicken from several local stores.
The meat was rubbery, translucent after cooking and just strange tasting. 
The legs were huge and when cooked gave off puddles of water rendering the juices useless for gravy. The breasts were massive resembling turkey breasts in size. 
I finally narrowed down one of the offensive brands; Amick Farms, purchased at Pricerite. Yuck. We call it mutant chicken or rubber chicken. 
I now buy only Purdue which may be bad but still tastes like chicken. I've tried some of the local natural chicken but they also look and taste like mutant chicken. I suppose we'll have to raise our own backyard chickens or become vegetarians.

Who needs meat?

Organic whole-wheat spaghetti with sardines and anchovies.
This simple tool makes easy work of opening sardine cans.

A filling dish that will make you forget meat and bread is Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti in bottled pasta sauce that gets added robustness from cans of sardines and anchovies with their oil.

I used 36 ounces of sauce (1 and a half Classico bottles), 16 ounces of spaghetti, 1 can of anchovies and 3 or 4 cans of sardines. 

I also add extra-virgin olive oil, red-pepper flakes and dried Italian herbs to the sauce.

The Trader Joe's package calls for cooking the pasta for 10-11 minutes, but I usually drain it and finish it in the sauce for the last 2 minutes or so.

The whole wheat spaghetti tastes like conventional pasta, but my body processes it better. A 16-ounce package of spaghetti, penne or bowties is $1.39.

H Mart food counter

The new food bar at H Mart in Englewood has counter and table seating.
After the store was renovated last year, the city closed the food counter.

Englewood has allowed H Mart to open a food counter in its renovated store.

The counter opened after the renovation, then was closed by the city. The approval came about three months ago, an employee said.

Korean Potato Salad contains mayonnaise, egg, cucumber and raisins.

Crunchy Cucumber Kimchi is one of my family's favorites.

Shin Ramyun is an instant dried noodle soup with a spicy kick.

I went to the Englewood H Mart last week after dropping my teen-age son off at a friend's house nearby.

I picked up two side dishes, Korean Potato Salad ($3.49) and Cucumber Kimchi (also $3.49), and a 5-pack package of spicy Shin Ramyun ($5.49), his favorite instant soup.

Chicken and spices

Leftover chicken went into a takeout container for storage in the refrigerator.

One of my favorite preparations for chicken and fish is coating them in spices before roasting them in the oven.

I keep a large plastic container filled with bread crumbs and spices in the refrigerator.

The container is large enough to accommodate the fish or poultry pieces, which I coat on all sides.

I use spices from Wick Fowler's 2 Alarm Chili Kit, including red pepper, paprika and dried onion, and combine them with a large can of plain or seasoned bread crumbs.

Salt in the chili kit is optional. I also omit the masa flour, a thickening agent.

Whenever I have other spices, I add them to the container. 

Recently, I added Korean black sesame seeds and a package of Fish Masala, including cumin, black pepper, fenugreek and clove leaves. 

Before that I added a package of Middle Eastern spices for kabobs I wasn't using.

Last week, I used Empire Kosher Leg Quarters, which are from free-roaming chickens raised without antibiotics (see photo above).

Tonight, I thawed and broiled two more leg quarters for my teen-age son, covering them in barbecue sauce and gochujang (Korean red-pepper paste) in the last few minutes of cooking.

I served him one leg quarter with a leftover chili-spice drumstick and organic whole wheat penne pasta in marinara sauce with anchovies.

Salad from a can

Here is what goes into a canned seafood salad.

Canned seafood salad with kimchi, tomato and smoked wild salmon.

I splurged on four cans of Bumble Bee Lump Crabmeat at Costco Wholesale to dress up my usual canned fish salad, but the single can I used got lost among the sardines, tuna and pink salmon.

Into a plastic storage contianer, I emptied one can of Moroccan sardines, one can of yellow-fin tuna, two cans of pink salmon and one can of lump crabmeat -- including all of the liquid for a moist salad.

I added chopped onion and sweet pepper, Dijon mustard, ground cumin and fresh lime juice.

I could see the bits of crab, but couldn't taste them, so next time, I'll use two cans of crabmeat and only one of salmon.

Hospital takeout

I love the salad bar's oil-free sun-dried tomatoes, beans and fresh greens.

I look forward to Wednesdays, when I volunteer at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center and purchase a takeout salad from the hospital's Garden Cafe.

If there is a vegetarian soup, I buy that also for my dinner at home.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ramen battle is on in Fort Lee

Spicy Miso Ramen at Ramen Setagaya in Fort Lee.


The slurping of soup noodles has become especially loud near Main Street and Center Avenue in Fort Lee.

For more than a decade, Batten Ramen has slung authentic Japanese noodle soup, gyoza and other dishes in a no-frills setting on Center Avenue.

About 3 months ago, a branch of Ramen Setagaya, a popular Manhattan ramen spot, opened around the corner on Main Street, though you might have trouble finding it, because there still is no sign on the storefront.

Both Ramen Setagayas are outposts of a well-known chain in Japan.

The new place offers eight flavors of ramen at lunch and dinner, compared to five at Batten Ramen, including a kid's portion with fried chicken.

Ramen is based on a slow-cooked pork broth filled with chewy wheat noodles, topped with seaweed, sliced pork, egg, corn, vegetables or other garnishes.

Ramen Setagaya is a bit more expensive, but claims to serve "100% natural ingredients" with no MSG. The menu boasts of special sea salt and soy sauce imported from Japan.

I had lunch there on Thursday with my teen-age son, and the Asian man next to us made loud slurping noises as he sucked the soup noodles into his mouth -- a sign that he was really enjoying himself.

Ramen Setagaya offers table and counter seating.
The kitchen is behind large glass panels.

The man was having the set $13 menu -- a bowl of Shio or Syo-yu Ramen with Buta-don (sliced pork and rice), Curry Rice or Gyoza (Japanese dumplings).

We were the only non-Asian customers in the restaurant.

Two young, enthusiastic servers did a great job, but the volume on a flat-screen TV was annoyingly high as it repeatedly played a Japanese video on how ramen is made.

My son ordered Spicy Miso Ramen (soybean-paste flavor) with barbecued pork, bean sprouts, bamboo shoot, corn and half of a nearly hard-boiled egg ($10.50).

He said it was seriously spicy, reminding him of the spicy Korean instant ramyun he is addicted to.

I tried some of the noodles from his soup, and found them deliciously firm and chewy, far superior to any instant noodle soup.

Because I don't eat meat and I'm cutting down on carbohydrates, I ordered Seafood Gyoza ($5); Shumai, another dumpling filled with minced shrimp ($5), and Menma-zara, a bamboo-shoot salad ($3).

Gyoza are available with three different fillings.
A crunchy salad of Salt Taste Bamboo Shoots.

I once ate ramen regularly at Batten Ramen, either with my wife and son or with a friend who lived in Japan for three years and taught English at a junior high school.

I also liked other items on the Batten Ramen menu, including rice balls.

Batten Ramen serves only pan-fried pork goyza, but when I ate meat, I loved its version of this popular dumpling.

When Saigon R opened in a small storefront in Englewood, where I lived at the time, we discovered Vietnamese anise-flavored pho with rice noodles, and never looked back.

On Thursday in Fort Lee, I walked around the corner to pick up a takeout menu at Batten Ramen, and noticed it had more customers than the challenger. 

Ramen Setagaya, 243 Main St., Fort Lee; 201-585-0739. BYO, no American Express cards. Metered parking.

Batten Ramen, 2024 Center Ave., on the street side of Oak Tree Center, Fort Lee; 201-461-5465. BYO, cash only. Free parking in small underground garage.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

At a dim sum lunch in Fort Lee, tea is 95 cents per person

Small clams in black bean sauce at Silver Pond Seafood Restaurant in Fort Lee.

Editor's note: Silver Pond Seafood Restaurant closed, but has been replaced by Aquarius Seafood Restaurant, which also serves dim sum.


"Yum cha" is Chinese for "drink tea," another way to describe the meal called dim sum -- where servers circulate with small plates of food and offer them to customers.

I recall dim sum lunches in Honk Kong and in San Francisco's Chinatown where the waiters rolled carts through the dining room and sang out descriptions of the food they were hawking.

At Silver Pond Seafood Restaurant in Fort Lee, the servers emerge from the rear kitchen carrying small plates of food on trays, approach customers at their tables and ask whether they want one or two of them.

Pan-Fried Chive Cakes.

Fried Salt Pepper Shrimp.

I started going to Silver Pond for dim sum lunches more than a decade ago, usually as part of a group of  five or six people. 

But as prices increased, dim sum became a pricey meal, especially for one or two people.

After an absence of several years, I returned on Tuesday, and discovered the restaurant now charges 95 cents a person for tea.

I took my bill and credit card up to the counter and asked the woman at the register how long Silver Pond has been charging for tea, but she didn't answer.

The food is as good as I remembered, but service has suffered. 

I had to ask two waitresses for a second small plate of spicy red chili paste and hot mustard four or five times before I got it.

Shrimp with Bean Curd Roll.

After I inadvertently spilled tea in this small dish, I had to ask repeatedly for another.

On Tuesday, we ordered four small plates: Pan-Fried Chive Cakes ($3.95); Shrimp with Bean Curd Roll ($4.95); Fried Salt Pepper Shrimp ($5.95) and Clams with Black Bean Sauce ($9.45).

The bill for two people was $28.05 before the tip.

My only complaint was the black bean sauce, which had been thickened with too much corn starch.

The dim sum menu lists more than 50 items.

Such other small plates as Turnip Cake and Spring Rolls are $2.95 each, and Chicken Feet and Egg Tart are $3.55 each.

Compare today's prices to the range in 2004: $2.75 to $8.60. 

We saw the owner, Kam Lee, in the dining room on Tuesday. I was told he opened Silver Pond about 22 years ago.

Silver Pond also has tanks filled with live seafood, including fish. 

I remember a wonderful two-course meal made from a grouper that was taken out of the tank and dispatched in the kitchen.

Silver Pond Seafood Restaurant, 230 Main St., Fort Lee; 201-592-8338. Cash and American Express cards only.

Dim sum is served daily from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tea is 95 cents per person.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fresh wild salmon with ripe peaches

Fresh wild salmon with sweet peach slices, tomato and capers.

Fresh wild salmon and ripe peaches are perfect together, so I added the fruit to a Mark Bittman recipe I've tried once or twice before.

His recipe calls for 1 pound of sliced tomatoes with extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons each of capers and chopped red onion and 1 and a half pounds of fish fillets, with chopped parsley and lemon wedges as garnish.

I added crushed Aleppo pepper, fresh lime juice and chopped herbs from the garden. 

But this time, I skipped the herbs and added sweet slices of California peaches sprinkled with the mildly spicy pepper.

The wild sockeye salmon was $8.99 a pound at Costco Wholesale on Saturday.

Red onion, lime, tomato and California peach slices.

The fish and peach slices are ready for the oven.

I used a 400-degree roast/convection oven setting, and the thinner-than-usual fillets were cooked through in 12 to 14 minutes.

The dish is sweet, sour and mildly spicy all at the same time.

Unfortunately, the skin-on wild salmon fillets I bought at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack on Saturday were packed the day before, and they have tasted a little fishy.

This is the first time in years of buying fresh haddock, flounder, wild salmon and other fish at Costco that I encountered this off taste.

Later, I removed the skin from three remaining portions of salmon and the fishy taste has gone away.

World's best salad

Half & Half combines Organic Spring Mix with Baby Spinach.

Earthbound Farm's Organic Spring Mix is the best-tasting salad in the world, but it's even better when it is paired with Baby Spinach. 

Half & Half, as it is called, was $4.99 for a 1-pound container at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.

Cooking ahead

Seasoned vegetables for bibimbap from H Mart in Little Ferry.

I prepared 2 cups of organic brown rice in an electric cooker.

When I was working and single, I would devote Sunday evenings to cooking five meals -- that night's dinner and four others to take to my night job on the copy desk of a daily newspaper.

I had takeout or dined out on the other nights of the week.

I tried that this past Sunday, using an electric rice cooker to prepare a meatless version of the Korean comfort dish called bibimbap that I've been eating for breakfast and dinner this week.

I skipped the labor-intensive part of bibimbap by buying seasoned vegetables from the Little Ferry H Mart for $6.49.

When the brown rice was ready, I added the vegetables and chopped cabbage kimchi, as well as sesame oil and two or three tablespoons of gochujang, a red-pepper paste, and mixed up everything.

Bibimbap with two organic eggs make for a filling breakfast.

The night before, I prepared wild salmon with ripe peaches and a large bunch of baby mustard greens, so I've been eating all three this week.

I washed the cut-up baby mustard greens, blanched them for a few minutes in boiling water with the cover on, drained the pot and added a little soy sauce and sesame oil.

Seedless watermelons were $4.99 at H Mart on Sunday, a savings of $2.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Syrian lunch brings back warm memories

A spicy dip of sweet and hot peppers at Aleppo Restaurant in Paterson.

The Arabic Salad is dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and mint.

We stopped for a tasty lunch of dips, salad and fried fish at my favorite South Paterson restaurant before heading over to see the Great Falls, now part of the National Park system.

Aleppo Restaurant, at Main and Thomas streets, was quiet before the start of Ramadan on Thursday night.

We ordered muhammara, a spicy dip made from sweet red peppers and crushed hot Aleppo pepper ($4); arayes, meat-filled, grilled pocket bread ($6); hummus with tahini ($4), and a large chopped Arabic salad dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and mint ($8).

Four of us also shared an entree of beautifully fried, meaty whiting fillets with fluffy white rice ($10). 

My son's favorite dish is grilled pocket bread stuffed with seasoned meat.

Two meaty whiting fillets came with fluffy white rice.

As I was cutting into the fried fish, I was flooded with memories of my Syrian-born mother's Sephardic Jewish kitchen in Brooklyn, where she fried fish for lunch on Friday afternoons. 

Occasionally, she would ask me to go to the fish market on Kings Highway, a few blocks from our home, and bring back fresh flounder or sole fillets, which were wrapped in white paper and placed in a brown paper bag.

One of my strongest food-shopping memories is going with my mother to buy chicken at a live-poultry market on McDonald Avenue, but I didn't like the strong smell and never returned.

Our Friday night dinner always included a whole chicken with potatoes, a platter of white rice and a bowl of sour sauce with small meatballs, which were eaten over the rice.

Aleppo Restaurant's creamy hummus is made with plenty of tahini.

The meal starts with fresh, chewy pocket bread, pickles and hot peppers.

At our lunch on Thursday, I broke my no-bread diet to scoop up hummus and muhammara with thin, chewy pocket bread, even to wrap and eat a pickle or two.

I finished the meal with a cup of thick, medium-sweet Turkish coffee (939 Main St., Paterson; 973-977-2244).

Don't forget Fattal's

I don't leave South Paterson without visiting Fattal's Bakery on Main Street.

You'll find string cheese at Fattal's, bottom. I recall seeing my mother braiding fresh cheese near the stove in our Brooklyn kitchen after she softened it in hot water. 

Fattal's Bakery is about 2 blocks away from Aleppo Restaurant, and it has its own parking lot, so we drove over for cans of Moroccan sardines and a pack of crushed Aleppo pepper (975-77 Main St., Paterson; 973-742-7125). 

Fattal's also has a butcher, spices by the pound, a pastry counter and a small lunch area.

Aleppo pepper is $6.99 a pound. 

Al Shark sardines still are 99 cents a can.

Does size matter?

Both of these bottles of extra-virgin olive oil at ShopRite are marked 1 liter.

 On Wednesday, I went to the Englewood ShopRite for more Summer Can Can Sale items, including 1-liter bottles of ShopRite extra-virgin olive oil from Italy for $4.99 each and Classico Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce at two bottles for $4.

I also picked up two pints of Jersey Blueberries for $4 after seeing them for $3.49 a pint earlier in the day at the Paramus ShopRite. 

$5.99 takeout dinner

Red snapper with pasta, vegetables and stuffed mushroom.

I've been pleasantly surprised when stopping at Jerry's Gourmet and More in Englewood in the late afternoon on Wednesdays to find several Meals To Go -- restaurant-quality takeout dinners for $7.99.

After 4 p.m., they are marked down to $5.99. I picked up four dinners -- Red Snapper Marechiaro (2), Shrimp Fra Diavolo and Pork Loin.

You can see the size of the meaty red snapper fillet in the photo above -- about one-third of a dinner plate. Wonderful.

The woman at the register said she believes Jerry's is preparing more Meals To Go than in the past, when they would be gone by early afternoon. Bravo (410 S. Dean St., Englewood; 201-871-7108).

Seeing red

I always try to have a bottle of Arirang Cabbage Kimchi in the fridge.

Korean-style side dishes: H Mart's stewed tofu and seasoned bean sprouts, Arirang kimchi from Englewood and Italian olives, $3.99 a pound at Jerry's Gourmet & More.

Two organic eggs with Aleppo pepper and leftovers from New Zen Kitchen in Teaneck.

Scenes from Costco

The canned fish aisle at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.

$5.99 watermelons as far as you can see.

Her oversized shopping cart runneth over.

I went to Costco Wholesale in Hackensack today for more fresh wild sockeye salmon fillets ($8.99 a pound).

I plan to prepare them with ripe peaches, and will let you know how it turns out.

I also splurged on four 6-ounce cans of Bumble Bee Fancy Lump Crab Meat from Indonesia ($14.69).

The crab meat will go into my canned-fish salad with pink salmon and yellow-fin light tuna, also from Costco, along with Dijon mustard, fresh lime juice, cumin and chopped red onion or celery.

Cereal with sugar

Jersey Blueberries over Trader Joe's Bran Flakes.

I bought a second box of Trader Joe's Raisin Bran, and looked more closely at the label ($2.79 for 20 ounces).

I was surprised to see "sugar" listed as one of the ingredients. Sugar also is used in Trader Joe's Bran Flakes cereal ($1.99 for 17.3 ounces).

At least, they aren't sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

A welcome sight at Trader Joe's in Paramus were small sweet potatoes, which I haven't seen at Costco for several weeks.

I bought two 2-pound net bags of these North Carolina-grown beauties for $1.69 each.