Saturday, August 4, 2012

Why you can't trust food labels

This Trader Joe's label lulls you into a false sense of security.

Editor's note: Food labels can be deceiving, even at Trader Joe's. Today, I also discuss  food from Costco Wholesale, and seeking healthy dishes when dining out on Mexican and dining in on Chinese.

For years, I've been relying on Trader Joe's markets in Paramus and elsewhere for naturally raised bacon and hot dogs for family members who eat meat.

Both bacon and hot dogs are free of such harmful preservatives as nitrates and nitrites, which have been linked to cancer.

But the package of Trader Joe's Jumbo Uncured Beef Franks I bought there recently says nothing about how the beef was raised (see photo).

In my freezer, I have a package of W-brand bacon I bought at Trader Joe's that carries the words "pork raised without antibiotics." 

No similar phrase appears on the jumbo franks package, and now, I'm not sure the regular Trader Joe's franks are made with antibiotic-free beef, either.

This ambiguity is why Consumers Union -- the political and action arm of Consumer Reports magazine -- is calling on the California-based Trader Joe's to sell only meat and poultry free of animal antibiotics.

Ancient Grains granola and fruit make a great breakfast.

Highly rated marinara

A couple of days after I read an evaluation of pasta sauces in Consumer Reports' August 2012 issue, I found Victoria Marinara Sauce at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.

The sauce is rated "Excellent," just below the top-rated sauce from Giada De Laurentiis (Target).

The Victoria sauce has fewer calories and less sugar than the one from De Laurentiis, and the 40-ounce jar sold at Costco for $4.25 works out to about 12 cents per ounce.

There is more than enough sauce for a full pound of pasta, and you can boost its already good flavor with a can of anchovies and their oil, red pepper flakes and dried Italian herbs.

My teenage son raved about the Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Penne I served him with the enhanced Victoria Marinara. 

I had penne with Victoria Marinara Sauce for breakfast today.

'Ancient' breakfast

When is the last time you ate spelt, khorasan wheat and amaranth?

Those are some of ingredients in Nature's Path Organic Ancient Grains Granola with Almonds from Costco's Kirkland Signature ($6.99 for a pair of 17.6-ounce bags).

I filled a bowl with the granola, added blueberries and strawberries, and poured on lactose-free milk for a filling breakfast.

The blueberries are from Michigan, and they're sweet. They were $6.49 for a 2-pound package. A pint of blueberries weighs 12 ounces.

A 2-pound package of California strawberries was $3.49 at Costco.

I made a salad from Costco fruit, added mint from the garden and lime juice, and served it with Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese from Italy, also from Costco.
I added banana to the fruit salad this morning, using skin as a cutting board.

Snack time

I bought a 3-pound package of California raw almonds at Costco for $10.99 and roasted them at 275 degrees for 1 hour for a salt-free snack I have several times a day. 

My son prefers Kirkland Signature Trail Mix: peanuts, M&M's Candies, raisins, almonds and cashews (a 4-pound package is $12.59).

Whole fried fish at Las Maravillas de Tulcingo in Englewood.

Can you find the fresh pineapple in these tacos al pastor?

Dining out on Mexican

Last weekend, I took my son out for dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Englewood, and it seems to have slipped just a bit in food preparation (84 W. Palisade Ave., Englewood; 201-568-1980).

For him, I ordered tacos al pastor -- marinated pork with fresh pineapple, cilantro and onion ($7).

For me, I ordered the whole tilapia, which was deep fried and served with yellow rice, beans and corn tortillas ($13).

I also ordered a large Tulcingo Salad -- fresh cactus, cheese, avocado, radish and cilantro -- with a spicy green salsa as a dressing ($7).

Tulcingo Salad comes in small and large sizes.

Fresh carrot juice is served with a wedge of lime.

Ordering the large salad was a waste, because my son refused to try any of it. I took the leftovers home and ate them the next day.

He liked his tacos al pastor, but I thought they should have had more fresh pineapple.

My whole fish was smaller than the last time I ordered it, and tasted as if it had been fried in the same oil used for chicken.

I've been eating a lot of fried fish and calamari lately, and plan to ask restaurants with those items on the menu if they can prepare the seafood on a grill or under the broiler. 

Dining in on Chinese

Last night, we ordered takeout delivered from Zen Kitchen in Teaneck (201-837-7322 and

My son's plate: General Tso's Chicken, House Fried Rice and Shrimp.

My second plate of Jumbo Shrimp with Mixed Vegetables over brown rice.

When I called, I asked the woman taking the order if the cook could put less sugar in my son's General Tso's Chicken, but was told the sauce was pre-mixed ($10.50).

I was able to get my Jumbo Shrimp with Mixed Vegetables prepared in fresh garlic, instead of the ubiquitous brown sauce ($14.75).

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