Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jersey Fresh or fresh deception?

The smaller peach, upper left, is from South Carolina and labeled "Cotton Hope."

At the Paramus ShopRite this morning, I found boxes of South Carolina and New Jersey fruit below a sign for "Jersey Fresh" peaches at $1.49 a pound.

Many of the South Carolina peaches, labeled "Cotton Hope," were in boxes carrying the name of Sunny Slope Farms in Bridgeton.

The other peaches were yellow and carried yellow labels with a number, but no name. Did I get any Jersey Fresh peaches?

My only other purchase was a gallon of Lactaid 1% Lactose-Free Milk, which was on sale for $6.19 (a savings of 60 cents) -- for the second or third week in a row -- or less than the cost of two half-gallons of ShopRite Lactose-Free Milk at $3.39 each.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The powerful lure of familiar foods

Icelandic haddock with Roasted Pineapple & Habanero Sauce from Costco Wholesale.
A pot of Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Fusilli with sardines.

Brown rice. Whole-wheat pasta. Whole-grain bread. Air-conditioned dining.

These were some of the missing elements during our long weekend at Round Hill Hotel and Villas, one of the most expensive resorts on the island of Jamaica.

We ate very well, of course, enjoying lots of organic vegetables and greens, and intensely sweet papaya and mango, as well as fresh seafood.

But the first dish I prepared when I got home was a big pot of Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti with sardines, anchovies and their oil.

I really missed the full, satisfied feeling this comfort food gives me.

And because I've sworn off bread and pizza to lose weight, I eat whole-wheat pasta with eggs in the morning, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

I occasionally have a little bread crust when eating out, but the dinner rolls at Round Hill are nothing to speak about, and white toast is the only kind served in the morning.

This past Sunday morning at our Round Hill cottage, I made a little sandwich of ackee and salt fish with a half-slice of unbuttered white toast.

It wasn't worth the calories.

A frittata of organic eggs, grated cheese and beefsteak tomato.

For breakfast, I added leftover mashed garlic sweet potato.

At Round Hill, we enjoyed eating lunch and dinner under almond trees shading a terrace with a glorious view, but the next day, we got to sit in an open, upper-level dining space that was cooled with ceiling fans.

Best of all would have been an air-conditioned dining room, given the hot and humid August weather.

Since our return, I've prepared simple food -- such as snowy haddock fillets from Iceland topped with Roasted Pineapple & Habanero Sauce, both of which  I found at Costco on Tuesday.

The fresh, wild-caught fish was $7.99 a pound.

To go with the haddock, I whipped up mashed Trader Joe's sweet potatoes with their skins and whole cloves of garlic, moistened with good Spanish extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with a little salt, organic no-salt seasoning and black pepper.

The first wild king salmon I've seen at Costco was $11.99 a pound.
A 37-ounce bottle of Roasted Pineapple & Habanero Sauce was $7.69.

I've been adding Costco's Cello-brand grated Pecorino Romano sheep's milk cheese and low-fat milk to omelets, which fluff up nicely.

This morning, I took six Kirkland Signature Organic Brown Eggs and mixed them with a little milk and several large tablespoons of this terrific grated cheese, which I usually eat over whole-wheat pasta or sprinkle on soup.

I seasoned the cheesy egg mixture before pouring it into a 10-inch non-stick pan that had been heated up with olive oil.

After the crust was set, I added three thick slices of beefsteak tomato from my garden and more grated cheese, then finished the frittata under the broiler.

I ate about a third of the frittata with mashed garlic sweet potato.

A plate of intensely sweet papaya at Round Hill Hotel and Villas.
Round Hill's Ackee and Salt Fish, Callaloo and Fried Dumplings.

We had breakfast in the upper dining room at Round Hill on Saturday and on Sunday, the staff prepared breakfast at our cottage.

I had Ackee and Saltfish both mornings, and both times noted how little salted cod was used compared to the version we make at home.

I also noticed that canned Grace-brand ackee was used on Sunday, even though I had seen an employee carrying two big plastic bags of fresh ackee to the kitchen the day before.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Enjoying lunch under an almond tree on the island of Jamaica

On Friday, I enjoyed a bowl of gazpacho during a late lunch under an almond tree.


MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica -- We spent a long, restorative weekend at Round Hill Hotel and Villas on the lush, green island of Jamaica, enjoying wonderful food and marveling at all of the beautiful trees and plants on the former pineapple plantation.

The dining terrace overlooking Round Hill Bay is shaded by almond and avocado trees, and there were more almond trees and an ackee tree around the pool in front of our three-bedroom cottage, which we had all to ourselves.

I had grilled snapper over arugula and greens from the resort's organic garden.
My wife chose grilled shrimp over Caesar Salad.
We asked for a fruit plate to end lunch.

The view from the upper dining room, which is cooled with ceiling fans.
Our pool after a brief rain shower on Sunday morning.

All inclusive

We ate well -- very well -- and had the run of al la carte menus under an all-inclusive plan I had purchased from United Vacations.

Menus offer organic chicken, greens and vegetables; naturally raised lamb from the Niman Ranch in the United States, wild-caught  fish and a family style Farm-to-Table dinner on Tuesdays.

Menu prices are what you'd find at Manhattan's best restaurants. 

If ordered a la carte, our four lunches and dinners would have cost from about $130 to more than $260 each.

We found a fruit platter and sparkling wine in our cottage refrigerator, along with beer and soft drinks; popped the cork and finished the bottle while sitting in the pool on Saturday, listening to bird chatter and watching the sun set. 

The next day, staff members prepared a wonderful Jamaican breakfast in the cottage kitchen and served us at a large dining table with a view of the pool.

I drank a few cups of robust Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, then switched to black tea.

Ackee and Salt Fish is the national dish, combining bland fruit with salted cod and hot peppers. An ackee tree outside our cottage had fruit ripening inside bright red pods.

A collard-like green called callaloo is another Jamaican staple.

Our breakfast began with juice and fruit, including sweet mango, left.

We ate our breakfast at a large table just beyond the louvers, rear.
The ackee tree outside our cottage.

Limited selection of seafood

We can't fault the food or service at the resort, which draws an international guest list, such as the family from Paris that signed the guest book of our cottage several days before we arrived.

But as someone who doesn't eat meat, I was surprised at the limited selection of seafood and the unavailability of whole fish.

The two fresh, wild-caught fish fillets offered were deep-water red snapper and grouper, and I also had smoked marlin and farmed salmon, some crayfish and a small spoon of chopped, marinated tuna.

On Jamaican Night, I looked and looked, but couldn't find an island specialty -- steamed whole fish stuffed with okra.

Jamaicans love their butter fish and other small, whole fish so much, they often season and fry them up, and pack them in their luggage when they come to the United States.

Grilled Caribbean lobster was offered only at dinner on Saturday night as part of a Surf and Turf plate with steak.

I asked for two lobster tails and no meat, but the crustacean was overcooked. I ordered two more, and they came out OK. 

Two flops were conch fritters and fried conch. The former didn't taste of conch, and the latter was tough and chewy.

All conch needs is what the Bahamians do: Extract the fresh meat from its beautiful shell, then chop it and mix it with hot peppers for a terrific salad.

 Dancing in the dark to steel-band music during Jamaican Night.
A dinner entree of jerk-style snapper fillets.

Steamed snapper with vegetables and oven-roasted sweet potato.
A wonderful Mountain Crayfish Bisque.

Grilled Caribbean Lobster Tails.
My wife's dessert plate.

We overdid it

We had a peaceful weekend, but overindulged our appetite for food and drink -- one of the downsides of buying an all-inclusive plan.

We loved the lushly landscaped garden surrounding the gently climbing stone path to our suite, and the gently overflowing fountain at the top. 

In contrast to the many hundreds who crowd the big resort hotels along the island's coastline, Round Hill played host to fewer than 100 guests this past weekend.

Trees were a visual feat.


Round Hill Hotel and Villas, John Pringle Drive, Montego Bay, Jamaica; 800-972-2159.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

H Mart coupons, kosher food, wine clubs

Seaweed rolls with vegetables, fish and egg from H Mart in Englewood.

I got a thick H Mart Coupon Book in the mail the other day, recalling the discount booklets the Korean supermarket chain issued for about 6 months in 2011.

Don't get your hopes up for the resumption of regular coupon books. This one is to celebrate the chain's 30th year in America.

H Mart has stores in 9 states.

A marketing employee at H Mart's New Jersey headquarters said another coupon book may be issued at the end of the year.

The coupon book was sent to shoppers like me who have an H Mart 1% cash-rebate card. 

The coupons are good from Aug. 25 through Sept. 7 at stores in Fort Lee, Englewood, Little Ferry, Ridgefield and Edison.

Some but not all of the coupons list the regular price for comparison to the discounted price.

glatt kosher turkey
A Glatt kosher turkey (Wikipedia)

'Kosher' fruit salad

I witnessed the kosher food scam at the Paramus ShopRite this morning.

An African-American woman distracted by her two young sons did a double take when a small container of fruit salad rang up at $3.49.

The African-American clerk explained the fruit salad came from the kosher food section.

When the woman asked how kosher is different than regular food, the clerk explained kosher food is prepared by "kosher people."

I tried to explain some of the rules of kosher food to the woman -- such as the prohibition against mixing meat and dairy -- but said I couldn't understand how fruit salad could be made "kosher."

I said kosher food is just like regular food, but costs more.

The poor woman was a victim of the kosher food scam, whereby conventional food is labeled kosher and the price is hiked accordingly.

Kosher food doesn't guarantee it was raised or grown naturally unless it says so on the package.

With dinner, I drank Italian Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore from a wine club.

Join the club

One of the few ways to get around high wine prices in restaurants and liquor stores is to take advantage of introductory offers from wine clubs.

In recent years, I've bought several cases of award-winning wine from clubs sponsored by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Zagat.

The introductory cases often include a bonus, such as the Rabbit corkscrew and other accessories that came in a beautiful wood case or a Riedel wine carafe.

Now, WSJ Wine is offering 15 bottles of "superb reds" worth $229.99 for only $69.99, plus $19.99 for shipping and tax. 

That's about $6 a bottle, and you're under no obligation to buy any more wine.

I'll drink to that.
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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Spicy fried chicken comes at a high price

A takeout order of 10 Wings of Fire from BBQ Chicken & Beer.
The storefront on busy Anderson Avenue in Cliffside Park.

Editor's note: Korean food usually is of great value, because of the rice and side dishes included in the price. But that's not the case with takeout fried chicken.


BBQ Chicken & Beer in Cliffside Park is another place we stopped patronizing after I gave up poultry and meat.

The Korean fried chicken restaurant was a favorite of my teenage son, who dares chefs to make his food as spicy as possible.

On Saturday night, we had soft-tofu stew in Palisades Park, then drove to Cliffside for a takeout order of Wings of Fire, prepared in extra-virgin olive oil. 

The spice isn't the only great thing about Korean fried chicken. The pieces are extra crispy because they are fried twice.

But Korean fried chicken has never been a great value, and BBQ Chicken & Beer drove home the point by charging about $1 for each of the 10 wings in my son's order.

Our order totaled $9.58.

Earlier, for $10 at So Gong Dong in Palisades Park, each of us had an entire dinner -- soft-tofu stew, a stone bowl of white rice, a fresh egg to cook in the bubbling broth and four great side dishes, including two kimchis and fresh, seasoned bean sprouts (118 Broad Ave., Second Floor; 201-313-5550).

The shabby interior in Cliffside Park includes worn table tops and chipped wall paint.

At BBQ Chicken & Beer, we waited 15-20 minutes for the takeout order, prompting my son to say service had improved over the 30-minute waits when we had dinner at the restaurant.

My son noted the menu now offers non-meat options, such as salad and a Korean fish-cake stew.

But he soaked in the worn table tops, chipped wall paint and the really loud American hip-hop music, and said he wouldn't want to eat there again.

The Cliffside Park restaurant is part of a global chain, but headquarters seems to have lost track of this outpost.

The bored, young Korean man who took our order didn't give us a warm feeling, either. He seemed more interested in the music selection than in anything else.

We recalled one dinner there when water leaked from the ceiling into pails.

I did like the frosty mugs of some of the coldest beer I've had in a restaurant, so maybe this place should market itself as a bar with fried chicken on the side. 

Look for other Korean fried-chicken places, including Boom Boom Chicken in Fort Lee, Bon Chon Chicken in Leonia and Peck Peck Chicken in Teaneck.

However, I don't believe any of these places use naturally raised birds.


BBQ Chicken & Beer, 555 Anderson Ave., Cliffside Park; 201-840-8421. 

More Korean food

A $5.99 lunch box at H Mart in Englewood.

We've had Maine lobsters for $4.49 a pound from H Mart in Little Ferry two Sundays in a row, but after driving my son to Englewood today, I stopped at the H Mart in that town.

A sign said the half-price sale was on through today, but there were no lobsters in the tank.

In another tank, I saw live fluke and farmed tilapia, and on ice, fresh, wild-caught tilapia from Taiwan for only $1.99 a pound.

I decided to buy Sanford-brand frozen green-lipped mussels from New Zealand for dinner tonight (2 pounds for $7.99), and a package of seaweed, vegetable and rice rolls called kimbap with Korean pickles and sliced jalapeno ($4.99).

I also saw 1-pound packages of Campari tomatoes for 99 cents with an H Mart store card, but passed on them so I could eat several big tomatoes from my garden.


H Mart, 25 Lafayette Ave., Englewood; 201-871-8822.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Cuban sandwich for everyone

The classic Cubano at the 32-year-old La Pola in West New York. 

El Nuevo Cubano was made with smoked wild salmon I supplied.

One of the things I've missed since I stopped eating meat is the warm, crusty classic from the Caribbean's biggest island -- the Cuban Sandwich or Cubano.

There's no need to go to Miami. You'll find one of the best at La Pola Restaurant in West New York.

"The King of the Cuban Sandwich" is no idle boast.

La Pola's plate-glass windows are beautifully decorated.
Since he opened in 1980, Belarmino Rico has sold more than 2 million Cuban sandwiches at La Pola, his corner storefront -- and that is a conservative estimate.
All of the sandwiches go into a heated press called la plancha.

We jumped in the car this past Thursday to visit the owner of La Pola, Belarmino Rico, who everyone calls "Rico," which happens to be the Spanish word for "delicious."

Rico was born in a village called La Pola in Spain, but spent formative years in Havana, where he learned how to make the sandwiches at his uncle's bodega.

My teenage son also missed the classic sandwich, and I had found a possible solution to ending my craving: substituting smoked wild Alaskan salmon for two of the main ingredients, roast pork and Virginia ham.

At La Pola, ham and pork are roasted starting at 4 a..m., then hand sliced for sandwiches.

In addition to Cubanos, Rico offers daily Cuban creole specials and such Spanish dishes as tortilla Espanola, a potato omelet, and a meat-filled empanada.

But we went for the sandwiches, and my son grabbed a half of the $6 classic hot from the clam-shell grill, and started eating before I could take a photo.

A glass of fresh sugar-cane juice is $4-- 50 cents more without ice.

Rico was a whirlwind -- heating sandwiches in the press, moistening them with his own dressing, then turning around to his cutting board to slice and wrap up sandwiches to go. 

Here is the link to a short video of him in action:
"Para llevar, Alfredo?" 

Rico was patient with me when I asked him to make my sandwich with slices of the smoked wild Alaskan sockeye salmon I buy at Costco Wholesale.

He "held" the pork and ham, but made the sandwich as he normally would with sliced Swiss cheese, mustard, pickles and his own mojito -- Spanish olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and a little salt.

The Cubano with salmon was everything this great sandwich could be: 

First, your teeth breaks through the toasted crust of Cuban water bread to the melted cheese below, then you taste the salty salmon, mustard, pickles and mojito -- a delicious combination you won't find in any other sandwich.

Next time, I'll order a cafe con leche to wash it down.

Daily specials are listed on the tiled wall.

Cuban sandwiches ready for the heated press.

Cicharrones or pork rinds also are available.

La Pola Restaurant, 5400 Palisade Ave., West New York; 201-867-6028; open 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Closed Sundays. No credit cards.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Going to Costco? Take a calculator

Which Vita Coco Coconut Juice package is a better buy?

My wife and son like pure, unadulterated, unflavored coconut juice, and I had it delivered every month through's Subscribe and Save program.

Then, Costco Wholesale in Hackensack started stocking it at a lower price.

On Tuesday, there were two packages of Vita Coco juice available -- 6 1-liter containers for $14.99, after an instant $5 coupon, and 12 11.1-ounce containers for $15.79.

I pulled out my iPhone and used the calculator to determine the 6 1-liter containers are cheaper by the ounce, even at the full price of $19.99.

After weeks of eating lettuce from our garden, I bought a 1-pound package of Earthbound Farm Half & Half Organic Baby Spinach and Spring Mix, and was pleasantly surprised to see the price had gone down a bit to $4.79.

Two pounds of sliced Jarlsberg Light Swiss Cheese has held the line at $9.99 after a price increase last year. 

Trader Joe's jumbo and regular hot dogs aren't created equal.

At Trader Joe's in Paramus, a calculator comes in handy, but what you really need is a magnifying glass to go over some of the labels.

Both Trader Joe's Jumbo Franks and Trader Joe's All-Beef Hot Dogs are uncured and free of harmful preservatives.

But only the smaller hot dogs are made with beef that is free of animal antibiotics and growth hormones.

At Trader Joe's, heirloom tomatoes from Pennsylvania and corn from the Carolinas.

Trader Joe's in Paramus seems to have forgotten New Jersey is the Garden State, which grows world-famous blueberries, tomatoes and corn, among other crops.

At the Paramus store, I went looking for Jersey corn, but found ears from the Carolinas. Heirloom tomatoes came from Pennsylvania.

So, I picked up 3 16-ounce packages of Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti, Fusilli and Penne at the excellent price of $1.39 each.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

'What's for dinner?' is driving me crazy

Maine lobsters were $4.49 a pound on Sunday at H Mart in Little Ferry.

Green-lipped mussels from New Zealand.

When I was single, I was a dedicated food shopper and I cooked up a storm, ordering takeout or dining out only two days a week.

Now that I'm married, we still cook most of our meals at home, and my wife and teenage son pester me almost every day with "What's for dinner?"

Even though my wife and mother-in-law are away, my son gives me no quarter and continues to expect "dinner" five nights a week.

Canned fish salad with lump crab meat.

This past Monday, I stopped at the Rochelle Park ShopRite and found antibiotic-free Readington Farms boneless and skinless chicken thighs at half price ($1.49 a pound), and Coleman Organic chicken drumsticks ($1.99 a pound).

At home, I rolled the drumsticks in a mixture of bread crumbs and spices I keep in the refrigerator, and prepared his favorite side dish, white rice, in an electric cooker.

Coleman Organic Chicken Drumsticks.

Calamari Stuffed with Crab Meat from Jerry's in Englewood.

He ate leftover drumsticks Tuesday night, and tonight, I picked up a restaurant-quality Italian pork chop dinner from Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood for only $5.99 or $7.99 before 4 p.m.

We're having Trader Joe's whole wheat pasta with sardines on Thursday, and ordering Chinese takeout on Friday. 

On Saturday, we'll have our one weekly meal out, possibly Korean soft-tofu stew in Palisades Park.

On Sunday, I'll look for more inexpensive Maine lobsters at a Korean supermarket. We've had Maine lobsters with either clams or mussels two Sundays in a row.

One of the choices at Jerry's was Lemon Garlic Grouper.

My son no longer eats at dinner time. He might get hungry at 9 or later after many hours playing video games or a visit to the YMCA gym.

Just after 5 this afternoon, I plated my calamari, crab and vegetable dinner from Jerry's, heated it up in the microwave and poured myself a glass of wine.

He ate chicken drumsticks two nights in a row, but he hates leftovers and won't touch mushrooms, even if they are in one of his favorite dishes, such as the Korean vermicelli noodles called japchae.

I made bibimbap at home and after he tried it once, I couldn't get him to have it again.

I made a salad of canned salmon, tuna, sardines and lump crab meat -- with Dijon mustard, lime juice and ground cumin -- but he won't lift a hand to make himself a sandwich.

If he gets hungry during the day, he's more likely to open a package of his favorite instant noodle soup, Nongshim's Shin Ramyun Gourmet Spicy, leaving the bowl and spoon in the sink for me to wash.

I had the last of the bibimbap for breakfast this morning, topped with eggs.

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