Thursday, November 29, 2012

Only one supermarket sells safe pork

Bone-in pork leg at Whole Foods Market in Paramus.

Consumer Reports says its laboratory tests found antibiotic-resistant bacteria and traces of a veterinary drug in 198 pork-chop and ground-pork samples.

"Some of the bacteria we found ... proved to be resistant to antibiotics used to treat people."

"About one-fifth of the 240 pork products we analyzed in a separate test harbored low levels of the drug ractopamine, which the U.S. approved in 1999 to promote growth and leanness in pigs," the magazine said in its January 2013 issue, which has already been sent to subscribers.

"Our food-safety experts say that no drugs should be used routinely in healthy animals to promote growth." 

One way to avoid drugs is to buy certified organic pork from pigs raised without antibiotics and ractopamine, the magazine says, adding:

"Another option is to buy from Whole Foods [Market], which requires that producers not use either type of drug."

Boneless center-cut pork chops at Whole Foods Market.

Today, at Whole Foods in Paramus, I found bone-in pork leg from an animal raised at Lucki 7 Livestock in Rodman, N.Y., for only $3.99 a pound, and bought 4 pounds-plus for the meat eaters in the family.

A 42-ounce jar of Organic Strawberry Spread at Costco Wholesale is $7.49.

The same issue rates grape jelly and strawberry jam, but omits Kirkland Signature Organic Strawberry Spread, which is sold at Costco Wholesale.

My teenage son has been raving about the taste, and this morning I made him a peanut-butter-and-strawberry-spread sandwich with slices of skin-on cucumber.

The Kirkland Signature spread is made with fresh organic strawberries and sugar, not the high-fructose corn syrup that goes into the cheaper Smucker's Strawberry Preserves, also sold at Costco.

Don't be a smuck. But the Kirkland Signature spread.

An open-face omelet with two cheeses and organic diced tomatoes.

This morning, I made an open-face egg-white omelet with the organic diced tomatoes I wrote about in the previous post.

I used one slice of reduced-fat Swiss cheese, then spooned on the organic diced tomatoes, seasoning them with Kirkland Signature Organic No-Salt Seasoning, made with 21 spices.

I topped that with shredded Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a little Aleppo red pepper, finishing the omelet under the broiler.  

I ate the omelet with Korean-style stewed tofu.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

At Costco, one can yields several meal ideas

Organic Diced Tomatoes, left, are one of the new Kirkland Signature items at Costco.


Costco Wholesale has been offering cans of organic diced tomatoes from Del Monte and other companies for years, and I've been using them in several fish, pasta, rice and egg dishes.

Now, Costco has introduced its own Kirkland Signature-brand Organic Diced Tomatoes, Organic Stewed Tomatoes, Organic Tomato Paste and Organic Tomato Sauce.

Penne in marinara sauce with added diced tomatoes, left. The pasta made a rib-sticking breakfast when eaten with Korean-style stewed tofu and pollock from H Mart.

Comparing the nutrition labels of the Organic Diced Tomatoes from Del Monte and Kirkland Signature, the only difference for a half-cup serving size is calories. 

Del Monte lists 20 calories and the Costco store brand lists 15, none from fat.

Both are made from organic California tomatoes and both are certified organic by Oregon Tilth.

An 8-can pack of Kirkland Signature Organic Diced Tomatoes was $5.99. 

Diced tomatoes are a versatile ingredient in quick, no-recipe, home-cooked meals.

Diced tomatoes with fish

Empty a 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes into a large, non-stick pan and add extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon or lime juice, powdered garlic and other seasonings; cover and warm over medium heat.

When the mixture starts to boil, uncover and place fresh, wild-caught fillets in the pan, season with Costco's Kirkland Signature Organic No-Salt Seasoning and cover.

My Costco in Hackensack usually has wild-caught haddock from Iceland, as well as wild-caught flounder and cod fillets ($7.99 and $8.99 a pound).

This also would work with frozen, wild-caught salmon or cod fillets from Costco.

Depending on the thickness of the fillets and whether the fish is fresh or frozen, cook for 15 to 30 minutes, place a fillet in a plate and cover with diced tomatoes. 

You can do the same with those large Black Tiger shrimp available at Costco, but they would be ready in 5 minutes or less -- when they curl up and turn white.

I prepare organic brown rice in an electric cooker, and often mix a can of diced tomatoes with the rice to add moisture, texture and color to the finished dish.

A can of drained diced tomatoes adds texture to bottled marinara or other pasta sauce, which I supplement with extra-virgin olive oil, red-pepper flakes, garlic powder and Italian seasonings, and a can of anchovies in oil.

To cut the sodium content of the dish, I drain the anchovies in a colander and rinse them under water before adding them to the sauce.

The anchovies cook away, but give the sauce a robust flavor it wouldn't normally have.

Good in omelets
You can also drain a can of diced tomatoes, place them in a plastic container and refrigerate them for use with egg dishes.

I make open-face egg-white omelets with buffalo-milk mozzarella or sliced, reduced-fat cheese, all available at Costco. 

Adding a tablespoon of diced tomatoes is a natural -- sort of a pizza without the fattening crust.

On Tuesday, I bought a 1-pound plastic bottle of Kirkland Signature Shredded Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy, where the cheese was aged for 24 months ($13.79).

This flavorful shredded cheese would be perfect in an open-face omelet, supplemented by grated Pecorino Romano and dice tomatoes.

If you use whole eggs to make a frittata -- such as the Organic Brown Eggs from Costco -- you can mix the grated and shredded Italian cheeses, diced tomatoes, sweet peppers and other ingredients with the eggs.

Pour the egg mixture into a heated non-stick pan with oil and cook over medium heat.

When the bottom is set, put the pan under the broiler for about 5 minutes or until the top is browned.  

Organic eggs with grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why do Chinese takeout veggies stay green?

Takeout Chinese-style Jumbo Shrimp with Mixed Vegetables.

Stir-fried vegetables from our favorite Chinese takeout shop arrive a bright green and stay green even after a night or two in the refrigerator.

The vegetables we prepare at home turn bright green when we blanch them in hot water, but they often turn gray if left to steam in a covered pot or after refrigeration.

For many years, I've been blanching collard greens, spinach, broccoli and other vegetables; draining the pot, adding olive oil and seasonings, and allowing them to cook for a few more minutes over a low flame.

But the secret to bright green vegetables appears to be blanching combined with stir-frying.

On Sunday, I bought fresh mustard greens at H Mart in Englewood for 48 cents a pound, brought them home, cut them up and washed them.

I dug out a wok, which I haven't used in many years,  and stir-fried the leafy greens with garlic and a little rice wine and soy sauce.

Mustard greens brighten after being stir-fried in a wok.

However, after a night in the fridge, some of the greens turned an unappetizing gray.

Should I have blanched them briefly in hot water before stir-frying them?

I called New Zen Kitchen in Teaneck, where we have gotten our Chinese takeout for more than five years, and asked how they cook Mixed Vegetables with Fresh Garlic.

I was told the vegetables are blanched in hot water before they are stir-fried with fresh garlic, which is my preferred preparation.

Most of the cooking or softening of the vegetables is done in the hot water. 

Steamed frozen cod with sake, soy sauce and lime juice.

A Sunday dinner of cod and mustard greens.

The Trident-brand frozen cod fillets came from Costco Wholesale in Hackensack. 

Even when frozen, cod is one of the meatiest fish around after it is steamed, breaking into large, tender pieces.

New Zen Kitchen, 1443 Queen Anne Road, 
Teaneck; 201-837-7322. Open 7 days.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

H Mart parking lot repairs drag on

No exit at H Mart, the Korean supermarket in Englewood.

Editor's note: Today, I discuss changes in the local food scene.


How long does it take to repair the exit of the parking lot at H Mart in Englewood?

The pavement covering about one-quarter of the lot was torn up several weeks ago and has stayed that way, forcing customers to use the entrance as an exit or risk damaging their cars' wheels and tires.

For years, a sunken drainage grate and broken pavement made exiting the lot a challenge for customers of the Korean supermarket, even after the interior was renovated in 2011.

Today, I bought spicy stewed tofu and stewed pollock, two prepared dishes, at H Mart. 

On the way out, I caught the delicious scent of Korean yams roasting in the vestibule.

A large yam with sweet, white flesh was $1, and I took it out of the paper bag and started eating it as I drove out the entrance, surprising two customers who were about to enter the lot.

In related news, Jerry's Gourmet & More on South Dean Street in Englewood recently re-striped its parking lot to provide wider spaces, delighting customers who were taking up two spots to avoid getting dings and dents in their cars.
Casual Habana Catering

Habana Room Catering has opened on Main Street in Hackensack opposite the Johnson Public Library.

The space, near the corner of Camden Street, is available for private parties, but signs in the window don't provide a telephone number.

The phone number for Casual Habana Cafe is 201-880-9844. 

Two new additions to the casual food scene in Teaneck are Teaneck Sushi Buffet at 972 Teaneck Road and Coffeecol Arepa Bar & Grill at 1126 Teaneck Road.

I saw a large "All You Can Eat" sign on the sushi buffet storefront today, and thought that is the one reason I'll never go there.

Couldn't this place be a little more generous?

Spicy Kalbi Tang at Pine Hill Restaurant in Paramus.
The Korean restaurant serves grilled mackerel pike among the free side dishes.

Pine Hill Restaurant is the only Korean restaurant I know in Paramus -- which is the mall capital of North Jersey -- and it's far from the dozens of places that jockey for customers along Broad Avenue in Palisades Park.

Pine Hill also sets itself apart by serving at least 10 of the free side dishes that make a Korean meal so special.

But when four of us had dinner there on Saturday night, I began to wonder if serving more side dishes than most other Korean restaurants is enough.

Pine Hill has seen better days. Though clean, the interior was carried over from another restaurant, and hasn't ever been updated. 

The dinner menu lists a lot of sushi rolls and raw fish, but not that many entrees for non-meat eaters such as myself. 

No grilled fresh fish is available outside the mackerel pike in one of the side dishes.

Translucent Korean noodles are made from yam flour, not wheat.

After a waitress took our order, a tray was brought over and the small side dishes were arrayed on the table -- vegetables, fish and meat.

Pine Hill has some of the best cabbage kimchi around, both spicy and crunchy. The two mackerel pike were delicious.

Greens included fresh spinach. But the salad was iceberg, not the spring mix I've seen elsewhere. And slices of ham came with another cabbage side dish.

One of the complimentary side dishes or panchan.

A good Korean restaurant staff doesn't wait for the customer to ask for more panchan, but at Pine Hill our empty side dishes weren't replaced until I called over the waitress, who was chatting with other servers near the register.

I asked specifically for more kimchi and greens, but was disappointed we didn't get another set of the fatty mackerel pike.

For my entree, I ordered translucent noodles with vegetables called japchae, but asked the kitchen to hold the meat ($11.95).

A side dish of vegetable tempura.

The others had Stone-Bowl Bibimbap ($13.95), a rice, vegetable and ground-beef dish topped with a fried egg. A squeeze bottle of gochuhang, red-pepper paste, allows the diner to vary the spiciness.

The bibimbap came with a small bowl of soup, and an egg souffle in a stone bowl was brought for the table.

My teenage son asked for Spicy Kalbi Tang (also $13.95), a stew with beef short ribs, as hot as the kitchen could make it. It came with a small bowl of steamed white rice.

The food was good, and we had a filling dinner for about $16 each, including tip and tax.

But the relatively new Woochon Restaurant in Palisades Park serves as many side dishes, and they are of higher quality, so we might be going there the next time we want Korean food. 

Pine Hill Restaurant, 123 Paramus Road, 
Paramus; 201-843-0170. Open for lunch and dinner.

Woochon Restaurant, 280 Broad Ave., Palisades Park; 201-242-9999. Open for lunch and dinner.


Friday, November 23, 2012

A guilt-free, turkey-free Thanksgiving

Leftover Thanksgiving vegetables and mashed sweet potatoes at breakfast today.

I smiled when I weighed myself today -- 181.6 pounds, exactly what I weighed on Thursday before our big Thanksgiving meal.

I helped roast turkey parts and heat up a fully cooked Niman Ranch ham for the meat-eaters in the family. 

They also had store-bought corn-and-crab chowder and homemade brown rice and peas.

But I was happy with a meatless meal of salad, vegetables (carrots and green beans), and Black Tiger shrimp.

Another side dish was mashed, skin-on sweet potatoes and garlic cloves with extra-virgin olive oil, butter substitute, maple syrup and cinnamon.

I drank sparkling 100% Apple Cider from Spain mixed with lemon-lime seltzer to cut the sweetness, and a glass or two of Bordeaux.

This red wine tasted great with Black Tiger shrimp.

Later, with my teenage son, I watched a football game on TV. I also watched a Robert De Niro movie, "Being Flynn."

For dessert, I had Spanish clementines and a ripe Bartlett pear with a couple of slices of reduced-fat cheese.

For breakfast this morning, I fried two organic eggs sunny side up with sun-dried tomatoes and Aleppo red pepper, and slid them over leftover vegetables and sweet potatoes, which I reheated in the microwave.

Delicious, especially the yolks broken over and eaten with the mashed sweet potatoes.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The early bird gets the turkey

A festive display at Whole Foods Market in Paramus.

Boxes of  Spanish clementines were piled high at the Paramus ShopRite.

This morning, on the way home from the gym, I finished the food shopping for our Thanksgiving dinner.

As we've been doing all week, I went to stores early to beat the crowds.

I stopped at the ShopRite in Paramus for another Golden Pineapple ($1.99), a 5-pound box of clementines from Spain ($4.99) and four bottles of 100% sparkling Apple Cider, also from Spain, at the lowest price I've ever seen, 2 for $3.

I also picked up half-gallons of ShopRite lactose-free milk ($3.39 each) and 1.5 quarts of Breyers ice cream ($1.99). 

At the Paramus ShopRite, Lactaid milk was on sale, but not the store brand. What appear to be gallons of Lactaid (bottom shelf) are only 96 ounces, not a full 128 ounces.

My next stop was Whole Foods Market, less than a half-mile from the ShopRite.

The store had a festive air, and I saw chestnuts from Italy, Brussels sprouts and other fall items in the produce section.

I headed for cold cases opposite the butcher counter to buy a Niman Ranch Petite Ham, which is boneless and smoked, to supplement the antibiotic-free turkey parts we picked up last week at the Goffle Road Poultry Farm in Wyckoff.

The ham ($7.99 a pound) is uncured and contains no preservatives, and comes from an animal that was raised on vegetarian feed and never received antibiotics and growth hormones.

At checkout, a woman ahead of me told Whole Foods employees she was going to the poultry farm for her turkey, but would have to wait on line for 2 hours.

I mentioned Goffle Road Poultry Farm is selling duck eggs for $1 each, and the workers said Whole Foods charges 99 cents for a duck egg. 

The front label of a Niman Ranch ham at Whole Foods Market.

On Monday, my wife stopped at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack and I returned on Tuesday for farm-raised U-15 Black Tiger Shrimp (4 pounds for $41.99); 3 pounds of sodium-free raw Mexican almonds to roast at home ($12.99); corn and crab chowder, lobster bisque, seedless red grapes, Bartlett pears, organic brown eggs, multi-grain bread, and organic salad mix.

Sunset Gourmet cucumbers at Costco are shorter, but the price is higher ($3.99).

H&Y Marketplace

About 10 days ago, I stopped at H&Y Marketplace, a Korean supermarket on South Washington Avenue in Bergenfield, and noticed all of the price signs had the words "Healthy & Young" on them.

That's a stretch.

The floor of the store was worn and torn up in places. Live lobsters were displayed on ice, not in a tank of water.

Produce, prepared foods and other items didn't look as fresh and appetizing as they do at H Mart, the supermarket chain once known as Han Ah Reum.

And the prices for everything at H&Y Marketplace appeared to be slightly higher than at H Mart, and the quantities smaller.

The H Mart in Little Ferry has seen better days, but it's a more pleasant shopping experience than the Bergenfield H&Y Marketplace, as is the freshened Englewood H Mart.

24 Hour Fitness

I've been going to 24 Hour Fitness in Paramus since January, because I get a free gym membership as part of my AARP Part B Medicare health insurance.

And on the way home, I can stop at ShopRite and Whole Food Market.

The gym is a huge, impersonal place, where early morning employees seem more intent on getting large cups of coffee than on doing their jobs.

After my usual 30 minutes on a recumbent bicycle on the upper level of gym, I went over to a paper-towel dispenser so I could wipe down the equipment with a disinfectant spray the gym provides.

Most of the dispensers were empty.

Downstairs, I called over to an employee carrying a large cup of takeout coffee and said most of the "paper dispensers" were empty.

"What's empty?" she replied.

Your head, I thought.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why all of us are confused about nutrition

This idealized farm house on the side of Perdue chicken trucks is part of a campaign by that processor and many other companies to trick the public into thinking they are buying food that has been raised or grown naturally on small family farms.

I received a comment from a reader, Emily Wesley, who said:

"You have written a nice blog, and I have learned a lot from you after reading this. 

"Still, you can add some more information about these organic foods sold in markets by discussing their benefits. 

"I am a concerned person on what I eat and in everything I do."

It's no surprise that, like many of us, Emily wants more information about the nutritional value of organic and other food.

I don't hold myself out as an expert, but I do know where she and others can go for unbiased information about food.

It's not the mainstream media, which depend so heavily on advertising from food processors, supermarkets and restaurants.

Forget the papers

It certainly isn't my local daily newspaper, which employs a restaurant reviewer who is so addicted to sugar she occasionally rates the desserts higher than the entrees, and rarely eats salad.

And don't bother with the Food Channel, which is also beholden to advertisers.

Recall recent news reports on a study that supposedly exposed the "empty calories" in alcoholic drinks and compared them unfavorably with such sugary drinks as Coke and Pepsi.  

Red wine may have "few nutrients," but it has proven health benefits, doesn't rot your teeth and isn't linked to the obesity epidemic, as sugary drinks are.

So, does the issue of "empty calories" really matter or is this just another clueless wire-service reporter trying to hype the latest study?

Winking at Twinkies

After Hostess, the company that makes some of the worst processed food known to man, looked like it was going out of business, National Public Radio actually called Twinkies and Ding Dongs "iconic foods."

I feel bad for all the workers who might be joining the unemployment lines.

But if Twinkies can by any stretch of the imagination be called "iconic," then they are another symbol of the obesity epidemic and all that is wrong with the marketing of junk food.  

In fact, "Ding Dong" sounds like a character in a porn movie.


What you could look like, if you eat Twinkies and other junk food.

Road to ruin 

On the New Jersey Turnpike, travelers pay for the privilege of stopping for fried chicken, low-quality fast-food hamburgers and other unhealthy food.

They fill the tables in the food courts of rest areas, gorging on greasy french fries and ignoring the few healthy choices, such as salads at an Italian-American concession or the fruit-and-cheese plate at Starbucks.

Watching them eat is almost enough to turn my stomach.

On Monday, I stopped for a cup of coffee on the turnpike, and noticed that the Asian Indian man at the next table was eating a salad he had brought with him.

He said he runs the sunglass concession, and always brings his own lunch. As a Hindu, he doesn't eat meat.

And if he did, he certainly wouldn't be eating any of the garbage served at Nathan's or Burger King.

Cholesterol, he said, clogs coronary arteries and weakens vision.

Most of the food choices on the New Jersey Turnpike are unhealthy.

Honest food reporting 

If you want honest, unbiased reporting on food, nutrition, supermarkets and related issues, Consumer Reports is one of the few places to find it.

Consumer Reports magazine and a newsletter, Consumer Reports on Health, are filled with information you will have a hard time finding anywhere else.

They are published by the non-profit Consumers Union, and they don't accept advertising.

Consumers Union recently launched a campaign to get a big food retailer, Trader Joe's, to carry only antibiotic-free meat and poultry.

Have you seen anything on the campaign in the mainstream media? Of course not.  

Jumbo shrimp and mixed vegetables in fresh garlic from Zen Kitchen in Teaneck.

Leftover vegetables made a great side dish at breakfast the next day.


Personal tips

You can go a long way toward improving your health by giving up meat and poultry altogether.

Eat as much fruit and vegetables as possible, even non-organic; choose the kind of whole grains you find in brown rice and whole-wheat pasta; buy wild-caught, low-mercury fish, and low-fat milk and cheese; and favor ethnic restaurants that serve tofu and lots of vegetables.

I gave up bread, pizza, meat and poultry, and lost more than 40 pounds. I go to the gym, and walk as much as possible. 

And I have a glass of red wine with dinner two or three nights a week.

I feel great, and look forward to every meal.