Monday, January 30, 2012

Dinner for four comes in under $20

한국어: 2008년 7월 대한민국 제주도 여행. English: Korean foo...
Image via Wikipedia
Live fluke from Jeju Island in Korea are sold in Fort Lee.

Editor's note: Today's bill of fare includes an inexpensive meal at home, good buys in Target's grocery section and a sale on free-range, grass-fed beef at ShopRite.

The cost difference between dining in and dining out is dramatic, and when you eat at home, you have a lot more control over the quality of the ingredients.

This afternoon, I stopped at the H Mart Fresh in Fort Lee and purchased fresh and prepared items that will feed four at dinner for only $17.35. 

The fresh fish at this small Korean market is always displayed on plenty of ice, so the wild-caught porgy at $1.99 a pound caught my eye. The fish monger said they came in earlier in the day. 

I asked him to clean five porgy, leaving the heads and tails on. The total was $7.22. 

A tank held live fluke from Jeju Island in Korea -- at $17.99 a pound. But this flat fish is wonderful raw as sushi or sashimi, allowing you to avoid all the mercury you'd consume with tuna. Maybe next time.

Fresh Chinese broccoli was on sale for 58 cents a pound, so for $1.13 I bought just under 2 pounds to blanch, drain and drizzle with sesame oil and a little soy sauce. 

I also picked up two prepared items -- a seaweed, rice and vegetable roll called kimbap or gimbap ($4.99 for 20 ounces) and a trio of pan-fried kimchi pancakes ($3.99).

Kimbap and Kimchi
Image via Wikipedia
Kimbap and kimchi.

How do you say, "Dinner's ready," in Korean?

H Mart's discount coupon book hasn't been issued for about two months, but there are plenty of in-store sales. Employees say they don't know why the supermarket chain stopped issuing its own coupons.

H Mart Fresh, 1379 16th St.,Fort Lee; 201-944-9009.
Metered spaces in front of store are free after 12 p.m.

Target's stealth discounts

I drove to the Target in Hackensack on Saturday to pick up lactose-free milk and eggs, and they rang up for much less than the shelf price. I didn't see anything about a sale.

A half-gallon of Market Pantry lactose-free milk usually is $3.19 -- about 20 cents less than at ShopRite. I bought two half-gallons of 2% lactose-free milk, and they rang up at $2.89 each.

A dozen large white Nearby Eggs from Pennsylvania were on a shelf with a price of $1.49, but I paid only 79 cents for them. I saved another 5% or 33 cents by charging the items to a Target credit card.

Sale on free-range beef

Nature's Reserve Whole Beef Tenderloin for Filet Mignon is on sale again at ShopRite for $7.99 a pound or $5.99 a pound with a store card through Feb. 4.

This beef, from Australian cattle, is described as grass fed and free range. You usually have to buy 4 to 6 pounds of beef.

When you get it home and trim it, you can cut it into filet mignon steaks or slice it thin for Korean barbecue. 

The same cut of conventionally raised, USDA Select beef is on sale for $9.99 a pound or $7.99 with a store card. 

Two 59-ounce clear-plastic containers of Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice are on sale for $5 with a store card (limit of 4).

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

From 'soup to nuts' in Allendale

English: NJ Transit Main Line train station at...
Image via Wikipedia
Get off the NJ Transit train in Allendale, above, for a good meal at the family friendly Allendale Bar and Grill.

We had an early dinner at the Allendale Bar and Grill on Saturday, then headed over to Northern Highlands Regional High School for an a cappella tournament.

I inadvertently had the "soup" when I ordered a pasta dish that was served in a large bowl with way too much garlic sauce.

"Nuts!" was my reaction at the high school, where we and 30 to 40 others were told we needed tickets to the concert, but it was sold out. 

At least most of us were happy with what we ordered at the noisy, family friendly restaurant, where children can help themselves to bowls of popcorn while waiting for their food.

And they'll wait a long time, if our experience is any guide.

We were hungry when we arrived around 4:45 in the afternoon and sorry we didn't order appetizers as we waited for what seemed like forever for our entrees (30 minutes-plus).

We sipped our soft drinks, and free refills, and watched the upstairs dining room and bar fill up with other customers, including a large number of families with young children. 

My wife ordered lobster bisque, but was told it wasn't ready, so she settled for a cup of chicken-noodle soup ($3.25). I nibbled on a  side salad that came with my pasta dish.

My Tuscan Vegetable Saute was described on the menu as sauteed garden vegetables in a heart-healthy garlic sauce over whole-wheat linguine ($11.95). For another $4, I added shrimp.

When the dish arrived, the pasta and sauce were completely covered by vegetables -- including broccoli florets and small, round Parisian carrots -- and five crunchy jumbo shrimp, but once I started eating, I could see the soupy sauce everything was swimming in.

The linguine was properly al dente, but didn't appear to be 100% whole wheat and was too stiff to twirl around my fork. I didn't finish the dish. My son ate several mouthfuls and said he liked the sauce.

Unfortunately, the side salad was made with iceberg lettuce. I could have ordered a side of sauteed spinach instead of the salad for $3, but when I asked for the spinach in addition to the entree, it cost $5.95.

My son ordered baby back spare ribs with french fries ($12.95 for a half-rack). My wife and mother-in-law both had Chef Pierre's dinner special -- a thick, moist salmon fillet resting on spinach-and-feta-cheese risotto, with asparagus and sliced portobello mushroom ($16.95 each).

The risotto had been formed into a cake and possibly deep fried, leaving a crust around it, so my wife ate only the interior, but loved the dish, as did her mother.

They drank pink lemonade ($2.50) and I had seltzer ($2), plus a glass of cabernet sauvignon ($5.95).

Even with generous portions and fair prices, we spent $107.90 for four, including tax and a $14 tip.

Allendale Bar and Grill, 67 W. Allendale Ave., Allendale;
201-327-3197. Parking lot, free street parking.

Web site: Founded in 1941

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Friday, January 27, 2012

How one diner penalizes dieters

English: Spinach plant, Castelltallat, Catalon...
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If you want extra spinach in your omelet, The Ridge Diner will charge you 50 cents more.

At The Ridge Diner, the Greek Omelet with potatoes and toast is $7.95. 

But if you're on a diet and trying to limit your intake of whole eggs, you'll pay 75 cents more for egg whites. If you want more healthy spinach in the omelet, that will be an extra 50 cents.

If you ask the waitress to hold the potatoes and toast, as I did, nothing will be deducted, so you might as well ask for them to go.

I paid $9.20 for that omelet on Thursday, plus another $1.45 for coffee. If there was extra spinach, I couldn't tell.

So, if you're on a diet, The Ridge Diner may not be for you. 

The restaurant was packed around 1 on Thursday afternoon and I had to wait for a parking space and then a table.

The Ridge Diner, 125 Kinderkamack Road, Park Ridge;
201-391-4242. Small parking lot.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

A tale of two Korean pears

English: Costco Wholesale Corporate Logo
Image via Wikipedia

A friend greeted me at the gym this morning with a complaint: 

Although I said in Monday's report that shoppers can save 20 cents by buying Korean pears at Costco Wholesale instead of at H Mart, I didn't mention the weight of the respective packages.

Did a trio of the large pears from the Korean supermarket weigh more, thus wiping out the price difference? I said pears from the two stores looked to be about the same size.

I was wrong. The lower-cost package of three pears from the Hackensack Costco actually weighs more than the package from H Mart, which is about 2 miles away in Little Ferry, so the former is an even better buy than I thought.

At Costco, Jumbo Shingo Pears from Happy Valley Farms weighed a total of 3 pounds and cost $6.79 or 14.1 cents an ounce. 

I had to fish the H Mart container out of our outdoor recycling can. The package of three "Sweet and Crispy" pears weighed 2.7 pounds and cost $6.99 or 16.2 cents an ounce (not 15.8 cents an ounce, as I wrote earlier).

The pears from Korea come in form-fitting, clear plastic containers, and each pear is wrapped in a padded plastic net. They are also available in boxes that hold up to 10 pears.

They are called pears, but they are apple-shaped.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

'Honey, I forgot the milk'

Pecorino Romano and a glass of wine
Image via Wikipedia
The imported Pecorino Romano sheep's milk cheese sold at Costco has more sodium than the aged Manchego from Spain, but costs less.

My wife brought home a lot of food from Costco Wholesale in Hackensack on Monday, but forgot organic milk and egg whites.

When I returned on Tuesday for the milk and eggs, I  picked up seven other items, and ended up spending nearly $84.

I'm the only one in the family who doesn't eat meat, so I bought fish: fresh, wild-caught haddock fillets from Iceland for dinner tonight and salted Pacific cod, both $7.99 a pound.

A 2-pound package of strawberries from Mexico were $4.99, and 3 pounds of bananas were the usual $1.39. A dozen 6-ounce cups of Stonyfield Organic Low-Fat Yogurt with Fruit on the Bottom were $7.89.

I wanted a sheep's milk cheese to enjoy with fruit and had two choices, Villacenteno Manchego, an aged cheese from Spain, at $8.29 a pound; and aged Kirkland Signature Pecorino Romano from Italy at around $5.50 a pound (I don't remember the exact price).

I looked at the Nutrition Facts labels and chose the Spanish cheese, which has less sodium than the Pecorino Romano, but different serving sizes made figuring that out a challenge.

The  Manchego went perfectly with slices from a wedge of Spanish fig cake with nuts I picked up at Fairway Market in Paramus the other day.

At Costco, I also picked up another 5-pound box of Sunset Beefsteak Tomatoes for $6.99 (10 tomatoes). They are greenhouse grown and vine ripened.

I prefer the superior taste of Sunset's Campari Tomatoes, but refuse to pay $5.49 for a 2-pound package.

Three half-gallons of Kirkland Signature Organic 1% Milk were $8.99, and the price has held steady for many months. Six 16-ounce containers of Kirkland Signature Real Eggs were $9.59.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Fishing for an honest retailer

Smart consumers save money with CONSUMER REPOR...
Image by Newton Free Library via Flickr
You'll save 20 cents by buying three Korean pears at Costco Wholesale instead of at H Mart, a Korean supermarket.

Editor's note: A Consumer Reports investigation questions the honesty of seafood retailers. Today's bill of fare also includes a new tofu restaurant in Palisades Park, and more on Costco produce.

A Consumer Reports investigation on the mislabeling or employee misidentification of fish is based on samples purchased at retail, but Costco Wholesale is conspicuously absent.

Seafood was purchased in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut at Whole Foods Markets, including the Edgewater store; Wegman's, A&P, and Red Lobster Restaurants in Paramus and Scardale, N.Y.

Magazine staffers who served as mystery shoppers bought a wide variety of fish from 55 stores and restaurants in the fall of 2010, including five "big-box stores," but Costco is not named in the article.

Costco is a major seafood retailer of fish fillets, both fresh and frozen, farmed and wild-caught; large farmed shrimp, sea scallops, crab, lobster tails and other items. 

The story is in the December 2011 issue of Consumer Reports magazine. It ran under these headlines:

Mystery fish
The label said red snapper, the lab said baloney

We ordered red snapper at Amici Family Restaurant in Bergenfield, and got a tough, sinewy fillet. We asked the waitress to check with the cook, and she quoted him as saying it was red snapper. We never returned.

The magazine said none of the 22 "red snappers" it bought at 18 markets "could be positively identified as such."

When dining out, I always order seafood and we get whole fish, if it's available. We're always pleased with the choices at Wondee's, a Thai restaurant in Hackensack with relatively low prices on fish and other seafood.

When dining in, we split our seafood purchases between H Mart, a chain of Korean supermarkets in North Jersey, and Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.

At H Mart, we usually buy whole fish, which are labeled with country of origin and whether they are farmed or wild. 

Costco's labeling of fish is better than most other retailers, judging from Consumer Reports, which says cod labels don't have to specify whether the fish is from the Atlantic Ocean, where the cod population is low, or the more abundant and sustainable schools in the Pacific Ocean.

The cod fillets I've purchased at Costco have all been labeled "True Pacific Cod." 

New tofu restaurant

If you put the word "tofu" in the name of your Korean restaurant, make sure you do a good job on your signature dish.

We were a little disappointed with the soft-tofu stews we were served on Sunday evening at K.J. Tofu House in Palisades Park, but liked the other food we tried and the unusual number of free side dishes.

The restaurant has been open about two months in the space formerly occupied by the Soft Tofu Restaurant. We were told K.J. Tofu House has separate owners.

The modern interior has black-stone table tops, some with electric grills, and there is jazz playing on the sound system. A banner in the window advertises a $6.95 breakfast.

K.J. Tofu House has a traditional, full Korean menu, plus a dozen different soft-tofu stews, including curry, ham and cheese, and "intestines." Most are $8.95 at lunch and $10.95 at dinner.

But along with the soft tofu stew, you get rice, an egg and 10 free side dishes at dinner, including two small, whole fish. So Gong Dong, our favorite tofu house, serves only four side dishes for $9.99.

At K.J. Tofu House, my wife ordered a pork soft-tofu stew ($10.95) and I ordered a combination meal pairing two large, broiled mackerel fillets and a small seafood tofu stew ($21.95).

After we placed our order, a server brought over the 10 side dishes, including spicy and white cabbage kimchis, tiny shrimp, potato salad, greens, and pickled jalapeno slices. Then, the entrees arrived, accompanied by two hot stone bowls of white rice.

Clearly, we had ordered too much food.

The kitchen mixed up our orders, making my wife's tofu stew spicier than mine, and my smaller stone bowl of stew didn't contain any seafood. But the mackerel was some of the best I've had, and the side dishes were terrific, ensuring a return visit.

The staff is eager to please, and we were asked how we liked the food twice. When a server didn't seem to be around to take our order, the woman behind the register ran out to write it down.

Cups of a sweet drink came with the check.

K.J. Tofu House, 268 Broad Ave., Palisades Park; 201-363-0700.
Open 7 days from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. BYO.

Korean pears

My wife picked up a package of three large Korean pears for $6.79 today at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, compared to the $6.99 I paid at H Mart in Little Ferry.

A 10-pound bag of Earthbound Farm Organic Carrots was $6.99; a 1-pound package of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix was $4.79; a 3-pound bag of "thoroughly washed" Eat Smart Broccoli Florets was $4.99; six heads of Andy Boy Romaine lettuce were $3.99, and a 5-pound bag of limes was $5.99.

A 1-pound package of Kirkland Signature Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon was $15.39. 

Though it has more sodium in a 2-ounce serving than Kirkland Signature's Imported Smoked Salmon, it also tastes better and its thicker slices have more body than its farmed cousin.  

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

New tofu house seeks foothold

Sundubu jjigae(순두부찌개), a Korean stew made with...
Image via Wikipedia
You can poach an egg in the bubbling soft-tofu stew.

The banner in the window of a new restaurant in Palisades Park beckoned as we drove down Broad Avenue on Saturday evening toward our favorite soft-tofu house, So Gong Dong.

Actually, the big numbers on the sign at a new soft-tofu restaurant were all I could understand: $6.95. The rest of the sign was in Korean.

Does that mean soft-tofu stew, rice, fresh egg and side dishes cost only $6.95, compared to $9.99 at So Gong Dong and the affiliated So Kong Dong in Fort Lee?

The restaurant opened recently in the same space as Soft Tofu Restaurant, which served a varied Korean menu before it closed last year. Are these the same owners? Have they just remodeled? 

Are they using an introductory low price to gain a foothold just a couple of blocks away from the popular So Gong Dong?

I ate in the Soft Tofu Restaurant a few times, but when I took my family there, they were unhappy with the tofu stew's lack of red pepper, even though my wife and son asked for it extra spicy and sent it back to the kitchen for replacements. I had a comforting stew with a whole spring chicken.

On Saturday, we were very happy with our meal at So Gong Dong, which specializes in soft tofu -- available in 10 varieties -- and offers only a limited number of other dishes.

In addition to four soft-tofu stews, we ordered a seafood pancake ($11.99) for me and sliced, prime-beef bulgogi barbecue for the meat eaters in my family ($14.99).

The soft-tofu stew comes in a stone bowl with a second stone bowl of steamed rice, a fresh egg and four side dishes: spicy cabbage and cucumber kimchis, bean sprouts and raw squid in a really spicy sauce. 

They are brought to the table after you order your main dishes and usually are replenished without prompting.

Poach an egg

I cracked two small eggs into my bubbling oyster stew, and a few minutes later, broke a perfectly poached yolk over my steamed rice and ate them together with a spoon -- a terrific taste combination.

For the first time, I asked for my "more spicy" stew to be made with hot water instead of beef broth, and I couldn't tell the difference.

This is a family restaurant, with mostly Korean customers and a scattering of Japanese, Chinese and American loyalists sitting around a great comfort food.

 At the next table, a dozen adults and children speaking Chinese placed their order in English, ordering their stews "little spicy" or "not spicy."

All the prices on the place-mat menu are rounded up one cent on the bill: $10 for a complete soft-tofu meal, $12 for the pancake and $15 for the prime beef slices, but tax is included.

So Gong Dong, 118 Broad Ave., Second Floor, Palisades Park; 
201-313-5550. BYO. Credit cards accepted.
Free parking on side streets.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

A 'better chicken' from Perdue?

Editor's note: Today, I discuss Perdue chicken, Korean pears and Fairway Market in Paramus.

I came across a coupon for a Perdue Oven Ready Chicken or Turkey Roast that shows a smiling Jim Perdue, chairman of Perdue Farms, under a slogan: "We believe in a better chicken."

Perdue Farms
Image via Wikipedia
Who doesn't? But believing in a better chicken and actually raising one are miles apart, and Perdue isn't ready to make the journey.

The coupon page also has a photo of an enormous cooked breast that looks dry. What you can't see are all the antibiotics used to raise the bird.

The "roast" comes in its own cooking bag, which is likely made of plastic. I wonder if there is any transfer of chemicals from the plastic bag to the all-white-meat poultry during the cooking.

Don't waste your money.

Asian Pears
Image by FotoosVanRobin via Flickr

Korean pears

H Mart in Little Ferry had a display of large Korean pears near the entrance on Friday -- in a package of three for $6.99 or a box of nine or 10 for about $22.50.

The crisp, juicy Korean-grown pears are a cross between an apple and a pear, and they are carefully wrapped inside the package (see photo).

I also found Kabocha or Kabucha squash for 99 cents a pound, and a 2-pound box of blanched Greenshell Mussels from New Zealand for $6.99.

Bok choy tips were on sale for 88 cents a pound, and plantains were two for a dollar.

'Shock prices'

Fairway Market in Paramus continues its "shock prices" promotion through Jan. 26.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Paramus ShopRite hit with $470 fine

Progresso Chicken Soup
Image by dklimke via Flickr
It took some doing to buy a can of Progresso Soup for $1.09 during the ShopRite Can Can Sale.

Editor's note: Bergen County consumer affairs officials have stepped into a dispute over Can Can Sale prices at ShopRite. Today, I also discuss Restaurant Week in Manhattan, the difference between farmed and wild salmon, and rising prices at Costco.

The ShopRite supermarket in Paramus has been fined $470 for misrepresenting the price of Progresso Soup during the Can Can Sale.

On Wednesday, an official at the Bergen County Weights and Measures Office in Hackensack said "corporate" sent the word out to other ShopRites to honor the lowest price, even if the customer doesn't buy the 10 cans listed on a Super Coupon in the sales flier -- "10 for $10.88."

There is nothing in the coupon or the flier indicating the customers "Must Buy 10," as in the past. However, there is a $10 minimum purchase. The Can Can Sale price is $1.25 per can and the Super Coupon price is $1.09.

The consumer official said when he tried to buy nine cans at the Paramus ShopRite, they rang up at $1.25 each. He cited the store for nine counts of misrepresenting the price of the soup.

Today, at the Hackensack ShopRite, it took a bit of doing to buy eight cans of Progresso Soup for $1.09 per can.

An employee at Customer Service wasn't aware of any change, but I asked to speak to the manager, who said the "front end" had been notified. At checkout, my cashier was clueless and she called over an assistant manager.

He made sure I had $10 in other items. Then, the soup rang up at $1.57 a can, a savings of $1.02, with another 32 cents deducted automatically, bringing the price to $1.25 a can. Another $1.28 -- or 16 cents a can -- was deducted manually, giving me a final price of $1.09.

Weights and Measures took action after two consumers complained about the stores' refusal to honor the lowest price for less than 10 cans.

I also purchased a half-gallon of Smart Balance Fat-Free Lactose-Free Omega-3 Milk for $3.99, then doubled a 75 cents coupon for a final price of $2.49. Last week, the same milk was on sale for $1.99.

I put 2 liters of Goya Extra-Virgin Olive Oil from Spain in my basket, thinking it was on sale for $4.99 a liter, but when I went back for a third bottle, I looked carefully at the shelf sign and realized the sale was on half-liter bottles or the equivalent of $9.98 a liter. 

I didn't buy any.

$24.07 lunch

It's Winter Restaurant Week in Manhattan, so we had a three-course, $24.07 lunch at Blue Fin Seafood and Sushi Restaurant on Wednesday before catching "Jersey Boys" on Broadway.

I started with a tasty Winter Vegetable Minestrone and my wife had the Blood Orange and Endive Salad. We both enjoyed the cheesy bread crisps with sesame seeds served in a basket with a couple of rolls, but my wife said the butter was too salty.

For an entree, we both had the Sustainable Scottish Salmon served on a bed of wonderful lentils and pureed winter squash with a blood-orange vinaigrette, and it was a  valuable lesson in the difference between farmed and wild-caught fish.

The Blue Fin salmon fillet tasted fine, but it was paler in color than its wild cousins and didn't have the same robust flavor. In farmed fish, the color is artificial, added through the feed.

However, the restaurant cooked the skin until it was crisp and presented the fillets skin up. I ate mine in one bite and gulp. Extraordinary. 

For dessert, I had a trio of sorbets and my wife enjoyed a trio of ice creams. We paid a total of $62.04, including $4.27 in tax and a $9.63 tip (20%).

We had coffee at Starbucks, 1585 Broadway, the first I've seen with large touch-screen computers that allow you to take your own photo and send it to your e-mail address.

Winter Restaurant Week ends Feb. 10 (Monday to Friday). 

Web site :

Three Courses for $24.07

Blue Fin Seafood and Sushi Restaurant, Broadway and 47th Street, 
in the W Times Square Hotel; 212-918-1400.

Salt in smoked salmon

Almost every item I bought at Costco Wholesale on Tuesday cost more than a couple of weeks ago.

Earthbound Farm's Half and Half organic salad went up 20 cents, to $4.99; 5 pounds of Sunset Beefsteak Tomatoes were $6.99, up $1; Salted Alaskan Pollock was $7.29 for 2 pounds; and Jarlsberg Thin-Sliced Reduced-Fat Swiss Cheese was $9.49 for 2 pounds, up 50 cents.

And for the first time, I bought Kirkland Signature Imported Smoked Salmon, an artificially colored farmed Atlantic salmon, because the Hackensack warehouse store was out of smoked wild salmon.

The 1.5-pound package, divided between two pouches, was $18.99, a better buy than a 1-pound package of Blue Hill Bay Smoked Salmon for $14.59, also farmed and artificially colored.

I tried the Kirkland Signature salmon in an omelet this morning and found it paler in color and less flavorful than the smoked wild sockeye salmon from Alaska that is also sold under the Kirkland Signature label.

But the Kirkland salmon is far less salty than the fish from Blue Hill Bay -- with sodium listed at 19% for a 2-ounce serving of the former compared to 33% for the same serving size of the latter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Many food claims don't hold water

Tropicana Products
Image via Wikipedia
If you want pure juice, don't buy Trop50.

Have you seen the TV ad for Trop50, which Tropicana calls "fabulously refreshing with 50% less sugar and calories"?

How do they do that, I wondered as I watched the ad from the maker of 100% pure orange juice on Monday night.

I found out when I looked at Trop50 labels at the Hackensack ShopRite this morning.

It is only 10% to 43% juice, depending on the variety (not 30% as I wrote earlier ). It is labeled a "fruit-juice beverage" and sweetened by PureVia -- called an all-natural plant extract.

McDonald's beef

Another TV ad from McDonald's seems to suggest the fast-food giant is using naturally raised beef in its hamburgers.

The ad shows a rancher, who says he supplies McDonald's, in a field where cattle are grazing -- what you'd see if the animals are grass fed 
English: The official logo.
Image via Wikipedia
and free range.

But the ad tells you nothing about whether the cattle are raised on antibiotics and growth hormones, and whether they spend most of their lives eating grain in the confines of a feed lot with hundreds of other animals.

Shrinking boxes

I've been buying mostly 100% whole wheat pasta, but many brands come in a box that is less than a full pound.

ShopRite, Barilla and other brands offer whole wheat or whole grain pasta in boxes that are about 13 to 14 ounces. Dreamfields Pasta boxes also hold less than 16 ounces.

Even on sale, they are not a good buy.

Last week, Jerry's Gourmet in Englewood had 100% whole wheat capellini from Italy in a 16-ounce package for $1.49. Trader Joe's sells a 16-ounce package of organic 100% whole wheat spaghetti for $1.39.

Coupon madness

The ShopRite in Hackensack today refused to honor a Progresso Soup Super Coupon from its sales flier that said "10 for $10.88" unless I bought the full number of cans.

Nowhere on the flier or coupon does it say "Must Buy 10" to get the price of about $1.09 per can compared to the Can Can Sale price of $1.25.

I left a message at Bergen County Weights and Measures in Hackensack.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

'Meat glue' exposed in Australia

English: Beef Cuts - Where They Come From
Image via Wikipedia
An Australian TV station has exposed  "meat glue," which is used to make two or more pieces of beef, chicken and lamb appear to be one. 

The reporter notes the use of meat glue is barred outside of Australia. Here is a link to the report:

Meat Secrets Exposed

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

How much do you spend on food?

English: Costco in Moncton, New Brunswick
Image via Wikipedia
I spent $8,700 at Costco Wholesale in 2011.

Editor's note: A year-end summary for one of my credit cards tells me something I already know. We spend a lot of money on food. Today, I also discuss another great meal at Simply Vietnamese in Tenafly.

I spent about $100 a week on dining out in 2011, but went through about $12,000 at supermarkets and warehouse stores -- most of that for food.

My restaurant spending totaled just over $5,000, including take-out. That doesn't include meals charged on another credit card I had to use at places that don't accept American Express.

The $12,000 I spent at supermarkets and warehouse stores includes non-food purchases -- everything from paper goods to batteries to flannel sheets -- and online purchases of food from

About $8,700 of that was spent at Costco Wholesale, which I rely on for most of my food purchases. We usually dine out once a week and do takeout on another night.

My year-end summary for the American Express Costco True Earnings Card doesn't include cash rebates of 3% for gasoline; 2% for restaurants, cut from 3%; and 1% at Costco and everywhere else.

And in the last two months or so of 2011, I started to use another American Express card, called Blue Cash Everyday, to get 3% back at ShopRite and other supermarkets.

Now, besides ShopRite, I use the Blue Cash card at Whole Foods Market, Fairway Market, Trader Joe's and Brothers Produce in Paterson. 

A well-balanced meal

On Saturday night, I ordered the same well-balanced dinner at Simply Vietnamese in Tenafly as I did in October: pan-broiled Basa fillet, a farmed catfish from Vietnam, served over bok choy with a bowl of brown rice ($19).

The fillet was so big it was served in two pieces, and covered with carmelized onion and sweet pepper. This is a healthy, one-dish meal.

My wife and mother-in-law had filling bowls of boneless Roast Duck Soup ($12) with rice noodles, and my son had the House Noodle Soup with thicker noodles and ribs ($13).

We shared two appetizers, Goi, a crunchy Vietnamese salad topped with crushed peanuts ($7); and delicious Broiled New Zealand (Green-Lipped) Mussels in a wasabi ginger sauce ($8.50). Service is attentive.

Another great meal at Simply Vietnamese in a beautiful, deep-red dining room. 

It would have been perfect if there was a hook near our table where I could have hung my hat and long winter coat instead of doubling the coat and putting it over the back of my chair.

With the closing of Mo' Pho in Fort Lee, Simply Vietnamese is the only North Jersey outpost of Chef K.T. Tran, who is at the top of her form.

Simply Vietnamese, 1 Highwood Ave., Tenafly; 
201-568-7770. BYO, free street parking. Reservations
recommended on weekends.
Web site: Simply Delicious

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Can you imagine worse service?

Chit Chat
Image by the justified sinner via Flickr
A cup of coffee at the shiny Chit Chat Diner in Hackensack was my first and last there. It might as well as look like this.

Editor's note: We had two vastly different restaurant experiences on Friday. Today, I also discuss continued confusion caused by ShopRite's Can Can Sale, which enters a second week on Sunday.

I had a cup of coffee at the glitzy Chit Chat Diner in Hackensack on Friday and learned a valuable lesson on where not to meet for a bite to eat.

Here is a little history from the diner's Web site:

"The Chit-Chat Diner was opened on January of 2009.  Our recent renovation has yielded us a Classic American joint in a more chic setting.  Our goal is to provide an upscale meal and setting with an affordable price in a comfortable atmosphere."

Conspicuous by its absence is any mention of service.

I'm on diet and ordered only black coffee after the waiter said the diner didn't have 2% milk, only skim. My friend wanted a slice of pie with ice cream, and tea.

Another server poured cold water for us, and then he and the waiter seemed to disappear. A heavyset waitress with a bored expression took their place and was serving people in the next booth.

My friend asked her to refill his small tea cup (with its used tea bag). She returned with his cup only half-full, and ignored my empty coffee cup.

I tried to get her attention as she walked past a few minutes later, but she apparently didn't hear me or didn't want to hear me.

The bill was just under $10, including $1.75 each for the beverages. My friend was upset and left only a $1 tip (a standard 15% tip would have been $1.50), and we complained to the hostess, who was at the register as we left.

I've driven past the Chit Chat on Essex Street since it was renovated three years ago, and have wondered whether I should take my family there for dinner there. Now, forget about it.

I've been meeting a friend at the Suburban Diner on Route 17 in Paramus, and even when it is packed, the service is far superior to what we experienced at the Chit Chat, which was mostly empty during our visit.

Filling Japanese meal

On Friday night, we met friends at Yuki Japanese Restaurant, a popular BYO in Montvale, for a delicious meal.

The other couple brought a bottle of wine and we also drank hot green tea with our appetizers of shrimp and vegetable tempura ($6.95), and a California roll ($4.95). Service was excellent.

Our entree was nabe (the word for "pot") -- lobster, fish and clams; tofu, vegetables; and slippery, translucent noodles in a tasty broth, served in a pot placed on a table burner, with bowls of white and brown rice ($24). 

The menu wasn't clear on whether the entree was for one or two, so I asked for nabe for two, and we were charged $48. Next time, I'll order one nabe and another entree, such as the cooked yellow tail fish that was available on Friday night.

The shrimp and vegetable tempura was beautifully fried and grease-less, good down to the crunchy shrimp tail. We also enjoyed the California roll, which is the only roll my wife will eat, because she doesn't like raw fish.

The other couple had large platters of tuna sushi and rolls, including broiled eel. We split the bill, which totaled $50 a couple, plus tax and tip. 

Though the family running the restaurant don't appear to be Japanese, we were happy with our first meal there and plan to return.

Yuki Japanese Restaurant, 208 Kinderkamack Road 
(at Grand Avenue), Montvale; 201-391-9877. 
BYO. Entrance off rear parking lot.

Can Can confusion

The Can Can Sale at ShopRite starts a second week on Sunday, but confusion remains on minimum purchases needed to get the lowest sale price.

The flier that came with the newspaper today contains a Super Coupon for Progresso Soup at 10 for $10.88. Nowhere on the coupon or the flier does it say the customer must purchase 10 to get the price of about $1.09 each, compared to the sale price of $1.25.

This week, a Bergen County woman said the Paramus ShopRite refused to sell her fewer than 10 cans of Progresso Soup for the lower price. The store was fined. A new Super Coupon was supposed to reflect the "Must Buy 10" rule.

Customers must use their Price Plus Club store card to qualify for Can Can sale prices.

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