Monday, December 31, 2012

Leftovers get lost in the refrigerator

Organic whole-wheat spaghetti with salted cod fish and anchovies.
Canned-fish salad with celery, Dijon mustard, lime juice and ground cumin.



Editor's note: Why do I end up eating all of the leftovers? Also today, a trip to Costco yields two beautiful all-cotton shirts, and I rave over the salads at a Thai restaurant.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

On Christmas Day, I had a canned-fish salad with tuna, salmon and sardines as part of a homemade Feast of the Seven Fishes, relying on what I had on hand.

A few days later, I went looking for the canned-fish salad, and couldn't find it. 

So I made more, this time adding a small dice of sweet apple to cans of pink salmon and sardines with celery, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and ground cumin.

Today, rummaging in the refrigerator for a snack, I found the first version behind several other containers. 

I tried them side by side, and definitely prefer the one with the apple in it. 

Leftovers don't get any respect in our house from anyone but me.

In an effort to cut down the time and work that go into home-cooked meals, I make large batches of mashed sweet potatoes, pasta with sardines, canned-fish salad, 10-grain hot cereal with dried fruit and other dishes.

But I'm the one who usually ends up eating almost all of them, as other members of the family -- the meat eaters -- chase after a fresh taste sensation almost every night.

If something is good, I can eat the same dish a few times a week.

On Sunday afternoon, I made a pound of Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti with bottled Victoria Marinara Sauce, salted cod fish and anchovies. 

Even though I mentioned my intention to do so to my wife that morning, she prepared a big pot of tripe soup, and I was the only one who had spaghetti.

I ate it with leftover flounder no one but me touched after we had it for dinner one night, and my teenage son never had any of the fish.






Multi-tasking at Costco

I went to Costco Wholesale in Hackensack today for Kashi Trail Mix Chewy Granola Bars and raw, sodium-free almonds, and came home with those items and two beautiful, all-cotton shirts for only $17.99 each (photo above).






  

My salad days

I continue to be wowed by the salads at Wondee's, our favorite Thai restaurant (photos above).

On Saturday night, we shared a crunchy, fresh green papaya salad with lemon juice, chili, peanuts, green beans, tomato and dried ground shrimp (Som Thum, $8).

We also shared a second salad, from the vegetarian menu, of crispy tofu tossed with shredded apple, carrot, orange and onion in lime juice and chili paste (Yum Rod Pedt, $10).







Our entree (photo above) was steamed jumbo shrimp topped with sweet and sour chili sauce (Koong Lard Prig, $17).

We also had wonton and seafood soups.
 

Wondee's Fine Thai Food and Noodles, 296 Main St., Hackensack; 201-883-1715. BYO. Free parking in rear off Camden Street. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

AARP lists good and not-so-good foods

A Whole Foods Market shopper, right, sampling crispy, wild-caught flounder.


Editor's note: Today, I report on AARP's "New American Diet," and try some premium free samples at Whole Foods Market in Paramus.


The editors of AARP The Magazine can't resist exaggerating how much weight you'll lose or money you'll save, if you just follow their advice.

When it comes to food safety and nutrition, I've found Consumer Reports magazine and its newsletter, On Health, far more reliable.

Now, the magazine for the 50-plus set is heralding "The New American Diet" from Dr. John Whyte.

In the December 2012/January 2013 edition of the magazine, a double-page photo illustration of fruits, vegetables and fish promises:

"Groundbreaking research shows how the right foods can fight disease. Here's how to lose weight and live longer."

I found a list of good foods and not-so-good foods on Page 41:

Eat this: figs, brown rice, oil and vinegar, sweet potatoes, whole-wheat bread, unbuttered popcorn, whole-wheat pretzels, grilled or roasted chicken, piece of dark chocolate, handful of blueberries, whole-wheat pasta, high-fiber cereal, broiled salmon, steel-cut oats, nuts or seeds, Greek yogurt, olive oil.

Avoid this: cookies; white bread, rice, potatoes or pasta; chips or crackers; fried chicken, sugary cereal, ice cream, butter, prepared salad dressing, fish sticks and instant oatmeal.

Low-fat dairy foods also are recommended.

There is no explanation why pricey Greek yogurt is preferable to other yogurt with active cultures. Or why cream isn't on the no-no list.

But the list of the right foods to eat seems to be on the mark.

On Page 43, here are some of the tips on "How to lose weight fast."

Drink water (not diet soda), eat breakfast every day, sleep at least 7 hours a night, eat smaller meals more often, eat fish two or three times weekly (and red meat at most once), spend at least 30 minutes on a meal, count steps (at least 10,000 per day), incorporate heart-healthy nuts and olive oil into your meals; eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, especially berries."

From my own experience, I would add: ditch bread and pizza. 
 
Super samples

At the Whole Foods Market in Paramus today, I had some terrific free samples: 

Breaded and fried wild-caught flounder; an avocado-and-cucumber sushi roll; and sauteed collard greens, sweet corn and broccoli from the Hudson Valley of New York State.

At the butcher counter, where ground-beef sliders were on sale for $4.99 a pound, an employee grilled some and offered them to other customers.

Whole Foods usually offers free samples only on the weekends.

I picked up organic Fuji apples on sale for $1.99 a pound, and about 5 pounds of frozen organic chicken necks and feet for $2.99 and $3.99 a pound, respectively.

My wife makes soup with the chicken parts, which she usually buys at ShopRite.

Whole Foods' parts are naturally raised, but ShopRite's chicken feet and necks aren't.
   

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fish dinners in under 30 minutes

Fresh Canadian flounder in a tomato-white wine sauce.

Fresh Pacific cod with Mexican green salsa and tomatoes over brown rice.




With Costco Wholesale's fresh, wild-caught fillets and a few bottles and cans in your cupboard, you can turn out fish dinners in under 30 minutes.

No need for a recipe. A can opener and a large pan with a glass cover is all the equipment you need.

My Costco in Hackensack usually offers wild-caught fillets of haddock from Iceland and flounder from Canada, as well as meaty cod from the Pacific, all for $6.99 or $7.99 a pound. 

I try to buy fish that is packed the same day, as indicated on the Costco label, and I usually can buy a package with under 2 pounds of fillets for 4 people.



Flounder fillets with leftover brown rice and prepared tofu.


For any fresh fish fillet, you can open cans of Kirkland Signature Organic Tomato Sauce and Organic Diced Tomatoes, empty them into the pan and add white wine, lime or lemon juice, garlic powder, red-pepper flakes and dried Italian seasonings.

Bring to a boil under a partial cover. Meanwhile, season the fillets with Kirkland Signature Organic No-Salt Seasoning. 

Turn down the heat to medium, add the fish fillets and cover.

Through a glass cover, you can watch the fish turn white and firm up. The skinless fillets should be ready in about 20 minutes.

A second preparation uses a bottle of Goya or La Costena Mexican Green Salsa, a can of organic diced tomatoes and lime or lemon juice.

Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium, add the fish fillets and cover. 

I like to make big batches of organic brown rice in an electric cooker -- with or without cooked black beans and organic diced tomatoes -- or mashed sweet potatoes and Kabocha squash with olive oil and seasonings, and keep them in the refrigerator to eat with the fish.

A salad of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix completes the meal. 

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Out-of-towners meet at Trader Joe's

Part of a mural at a Trader Joe's in Manhattan.



Editor's note: Today, I discuss a Trader Joe's in Manhattan, and how recycling doesn't have to stop at plastic shopping bags.
 
A man standing on the long checkout line Friday at a popular Trader Joe's in Manhattan turned to the woman behind him and asked if the store carried wine.

Soon, she mentioned she was from Portland, Maine, and he said he was from Boston, and they compared notes on wine sales at Trader Joe's in those cities.

I chimed in I was from New Jersey.

I praised this Trader Joe's on Sixth Avenue and West 21st Street for having the same prices as the store in Paramus I usually shop in. 

I had stopped there to buy three 1-pound packages of Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti at $1.39 each.

When cooked, the 100% whole-wheat spaghetti is indistinguishable from conventional pasta, and it's sodium-free.



Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti at the Chlesea store.


Recycling wars

The wrappers from Trader Joe's spaghetti, Kashi bars, spicy Korean soup and ice cream, and the plastic bags my daily newspaper comes in all end up in a plastic shopping bag for recycling at ShopRite supermarkets.

I also recycle all of the plastic food wrapping from Costco Wholesale, which often bundles two or three containers of soup, mustard, ketchup, extra-virgin olive oil and other products.

The filmy plastic from the dry cleaners also ends up in the plastic shopping bag.

Even the plastic wrap from Costco's fresh fish fillets go into the bag after they dry out on the counter. 

 

Left to right, plastic bags from the newspaper, ice cream and dried coconut milk.

Heading to the Paramus ShopRite to recycle bags and food wrappers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Feast of the Seven Fishes -- just barely

Black Tiger shrimp, above, and a frittata with salted cod fish, below, were two of the courses in a hastily improvised Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Day.




With the meat eaters in the family preparing a Christmas dinner of Cuban roast pork and lamb, I tried to reproduce a Feast of the Seven Fishes with what I had on hand.

A few days earlier, my wife made a canned fish salad with yellowfin tuna, pink salmon and sardines, so I decided to start my seafood meal with that, knocking off three of the seven fish.



My first course: Canned fish salad with Dijon mustard, lime juice and ground cumin.




We had plenty of salted cod fish for a fluffy frittata with whole organic eggs, low-fat milk and shredded Italian cheese, topped with fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, and pesto, and finished under the broiler.

In the freezer, I also had a box of New Zealand Green Lip mussels, which I popped into the oven for about 15 minutes (under the broiler).



Mussels with brown rice, black beans and organic diced tomatoes, and vegetables.


A slice of the cod-fish frittata was my second course, followed by a big plate of mussels, vegetables and organic brown rice with black beans and organic diced tomatoes prepared in an electric cooker.



Rice, beans and diced tomatoes went into an electric cooker at the same time.


I should have stopped there, but to get to seven fishes, I had to have a few jumbo shrimp and a piece of salted mackerel fillet with plum concentrate I found at H Mart, a Korean supermarket, and put in the freezer.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes, which originates in Italy, is usually eaten on Christmas Eve.

I threw together my seafood mini-feast after our plans for a multi-course Christmas dinner for 8 at Lotus Cafe in Hackensack fell through when our guests cancelled.

When I mentioned that plan to another friend, he said it reminded him of "A Christmas Story," a movie about a family that had their Christmas dinner in a Chinese restaurant.

I had never seen the film, so I recorded and watched it, discovering a couple of disturbing scenes (see photos below). 



"A Christmas Story" is a 1983 film based on a Jean Shepherd screenplay. In this scene at a Chinese restaurant, the waiters' inability to pronounce the letter "r" is mocked.

Here, the restaurant owner has just hacked off the neck and head of the duck the family would be having for Christmas dinner after their turkey was eaten by stray dogs.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Putting a Chinese accent on breakfast

A breakfast frittata with fresh tomato slices and pesto, above, went well with leftover Chinese food and homemade sweet potato and squash, a good bread substitute, below.





Giving up bread and pizza to maintain my weight loss is a continuing challenge, but it's easier when I have leftover Chinese vegetables and brown rice available to prepare a filling breakfast.




A simple omelet with shredded cheese caps leftover Chinese vegetables and brown rice. Our takeout is from Zen Kitchen, 1443 Queen Anne Road, Teaneck, 201-837-7322.




Monday, December 24, 2012

'Feliz Navidad' from a Cuban sandwich master

Cuban sandwich master Belarmino Rico of La Pola in West New York.



Editor's note: The original post said "On Saturday afternoon" and "Saturday" in places, but it was written today, the day before Christmas, and I've corrected it.

This afternoon, Belarmino Rico, wife Maria, their children, grandchildren and the employees of the Cuban sandwich shop known as La Pola were in the final lap of their annual holiday marathon.

"Rico," as everyone calls him, had taken orders for hundreds of hams, ribs, whole pigs and all the tradtional Cuban side dishes, and customers were coming by to say hello and pick up their Christmas dinners.
  
Rico had a big smile on his face as he wished everyone, "Feliz Navidad."

When the shop closes late this afternoon or evening, the entire Rico family and their employees will collapse into bed after nearly a week of frantic preparations.



The small shop at Palisade Avenue and 54th Street echoes with holiday greetings.

Hams were prepared on the bone, above, and glazed, below.


Whole butterflied pigs.
Cuban tamales, front, are among holiday side dishes.

Joe Rico made the Cuban sandwiches today.
The regular breakfast special.


A Cuban sandwich or Cubano at La Pola.

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Costco's Kirkland Signature brand is sending mixed quality signals

Chicken wings for under $2.30 a pound at Costco Wholesale.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Kirkland Signature is the premium house brand at Costco Wholesale, but members are discovering the quality of products carrying that name isn't always the highest.

Last week, my wife came home with a 10-pound bag of Kirkland Signature Chicken Wings for $22.99 or less than $2.30 a pound, an unusually low price when compared to supermarket wings.

For a reason that eludes me, supermarkets charge more for chicken wings than for other, meatier parts, including drumsticks and thighs.

But with the Kirkland Signature wings, only the price is special

The wings are from chickens raised on antibiotics that have proven harmful to humans.

The same can be said of Costco's wildly popular, fully cooked Kirkland Signature Rotisserie Chicken, which is raised on antibiotics and non-vegetarian feed.


The ingredients label of Costco's rotisserie chicken should give you pause.
 

It doesn't make sense for Costco to sell inferior chicken wings and rotisserie chicken under the Kirkland Signature label side by side with other, high-quality products, including:

Preservative-free, smoked wild sockeye salmon from Alaska; a spread made from organic fresh strawberries, and organic diced tomatoes and tomato sauce.

Kirkland Signature also offers premium Green Tea Matcha Blend from Ito En, made with 100% Japanese tea leaves; organic low-fat milk and other items. 

When my wife wanted to buy more chicken wings from Costco, I told her to get antibiotic-free Empire kosher chicken.

But she couldn't find any Empire wings, and I couldn't find antibiotic-free or organic wings at the Paramus ShopRite.

The first time my wife brought home the Kirkland Signature wings she said she has assumed all along that Costco sells only naturally raised food at low prices.

Sadly, she is mistaken. Costco is not above trying to hide low quality under its Kirkland Signature label.


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Friday, December 21, 2012

On champagne, coffee, cocoa and more

Champagne and other holiday bubbly at Western Beverages in Hackensack.


Looking over the price for Veuve Clicquot champagne in a sales flier from Total Wine, I wondered if I could beat it at Western Beverages in Hackensack.

Western Beverages is a small liquor store with a limited selection inside the Costco Wholesale warehouse on South River Street, but you don't need to be a Costco member to shop there.

I usually buy a bottle of non-vintage French champagne once a year, and Veuve Clicquot Brut (Yellow Label) is my preferred sparkling wine.

Total Wine in River Edge lists Veuve Clicquot at  $41.17 through Dec. 30, 2012, but I was surprised the same 750ml bottle cost more -- $43.99 -- at Western Beverages.



My bottle of Spanish sparkling wine in the cooler.


Then, I decided I really didn't need a bottle of authentic champagne. 

So I purchased a 750ml bottle of Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut for $8.09 at Western Beverages, compared to $8.17 at Total Wine.

It's a good thing I look at my credit-card receipt before I leave a store, because the Cordon Negro rang up at $8.69, but Western Beverages was happy to refund the overcharge, plus four cents tax.

Still, that's sloppy, and I wonder how many customers before me had overpaid for Freixenet, and didn't realize it.



A pound of Starbucks Christmas Blend was on sale for $9.95.

Hot coffee and warm milk are a great way to start the day.
 

I found a pound of Starbucks Christmas Blend coffee beans on sale for $9.95 -- a discount of $5 -- and asked the woman behind the counter for a Turkish grind.

With a Turkish grind, I get a powder that exposes more of the coffee to hot water in my small, drip coffeemaker and produces a robust brew.

Starbucks Christmas Blend tastes good black -- not a trace of bitterness -- but I usually add warm, foamy non-fat milk to it.



A 2.5 pound canister of Starbucks Hot Cocoa is $13.89.
  

Another Starbucks product -- Hot Cocoa Classic -- is $13.89 at Costco Wholesale.

The canister contains 56 servings for just under 25 cents per serving, not counting the cost of milk.



Salads, fruit and other healthy food on the New Jersey Turnpike.


I didn't think there was much healthy food at the Thomas A. Edison Service Area of the New Jersey Turnpike until Monday, when I discovered a refrigerated case with salads, fruit and other nutritious food.

The case is between Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits and Sbarro, which sells pizza and other pricey Italian-American fare.

Only the food court in the northbound lanes is open (between Exits 11 and 12). 
 



How many ways can you say, "Thank you"?
 

If you want to learn how to say "Thank you!" and "How are you?" in different languages, you'll find a lesson above the entrance to H&Y Marketplace in a shopping center on Washington Avenue in Bergenfield.

In almost every way, this Korean supermarket is inferior to any of the H Marts, so the lesson is just about the only reason to go there.



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