Saturday, August 31, 2013

Costco Wholesale's fish buyer is casting a wider net

Costco Wholesale's frozen hake fillet prepared with organic diced tomatoes, sake and fresh lime juice. I served the wild-caught fish with Korean white-fleshed sweet potatoes that I boiled and then mashed with extra-virgin olive oil.
Also at Costco, whole farm-raised branzino from Greece.

Editor's note: Today's buffet includes the wonderful wild-caught fish available at Costco Wholesale, and other products that help you prepare healthy home-cooked meals.


I buy a lot of wild-caught fish at Costco Wholesale, and I'm accustomed to seeing flounder from Canada, cod from the Pacific and fresh Icelandic haddock.

But I did a double-take when whole, farm-raised branzino from Greece appeared in the seafood case at my Hackensack warehouse store a couple of weeks ago.

I passed, not sure the fish was scaled, recalling my surprise at bringing home a whole red snapper from Costco a couple of years ago and having to remove the scales, one of the messiest jobs imaginable.

Hake from Africa

Another surprise was frozen hake fillets sold under the Kirkland Signature label -- joining frozen cod, wild salmon and other fish. 

When I got them home, I looked on the back of the bag and saw "Product of Namibia." Costco calls them "Hake Loins."

I prepared four hake fillets the other night, steaming them in two parchment-paper packages in a 375-dregree oven.

I added the fish, fresh lime juice, sake, a little salt and spooned on organic diced tomatoes before making two packages and baking them in the oven for about 30 minutes.

The fish was good, but didn't approach the fresh hake fillet from Europe I found on sale in March 2012 at Whole Foods Market in Paramus.

I may have overcooked Costco's frozen hake, and next time, I will reduce the cooking time to 20 minutes in the oven.

Above and below, a wild-caught coho salmon fillet from Alaska topped with organic diced tomatoes and pesto, and served with a wild rice blend, all from Costco Wholesale.

Pesto requires no cooking. Add it after you take the fish out of the oven. I cooked the fillets for 13 minutes in a 375-degree oven. The meal ended with a salad of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix dressed simply in extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Coho from Alaska

On Thursday, the fresh wild salmon in the seafood case at my Hackensack Costco were labeled "Coho from Alaska," in contrast to the sockeye salmon from Alaska and elsewhere in the Northwest I have been buying for the last few months.

The skin-on coho fillets were $10.99 a pound. The coho fillets tasted as good as the sockeye.

A 64-ounce carton of Organic Pineapple, Orange and Banana Juice from Whole Foods Market was $1.99 with a coupon I obtained in the Paramus store. I blended it with Costco's non-fat Greek Yogurt and Frozen Strawberries into a thick smoothie (a 6-pound bag of Grade A California strawberries is $8.99 at Costco).

This morning, I made another smoothie with the frozen strawberries, above, and the last of frozen Maine wild blueberries I bought at Costco.

Pesto is going fast

A jar of refrigerated Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto can be used in many ways -- as a sandwich spread, on top of fresh or cooked tofu, as a pasta sauce, and added to cooked fish, frittatas and fried eggs.

A light, fluffy pesto-smoked wild salmon frittata oozing with Jarlsberg reduced-fat Swiss Cheese. The egg mixture included 4 whole organic eggs, liquid egg whites and shredded Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, all sold at Costco under the Kirkland Signature label; shredded sun-dried tomato, and a little low-fat milk. This morning, I ate a wedge with a prepared sweet-potato salad from Costco and mashed Korean sweet potatoes.

The egg mixture is poured into a hot, non-stick, 10-inch pan with oil. Add sliced cheese, smoked wild salmon from Costco, and Aleppo or another ground red pepper as the crust sets, then finish the frittata under the broiler in the oven until the top is brown, above. Add the pesto after you remove the frittata from the oven.
Pesto with two organic brown eggs from Costco.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Frog, The Peach and the overlooked pancetta

Beautifully grilled New Jersey Monkfish with Littleneck Clam Red Sauce, above, was the centerpiece of my 3-course lunch at The Frog and The Peach in New Brunswick.
My friend started her lunch with an Heirloom Tomato Salad topped with House-Smoked Berkshire Bacon. The salad included Organic Bibb, Spiced Pignoli and Aged Cheddar Emulsion.

By Victor E. Sasson

The 3-course, $19 lunch was the lure when I asked a friend to meet me on Tuesday at a well-known restaurant in New Brunswick, The Frog and The Peach.

The 30-year-old restaurant turned out to be the perfect place for two former reporters to break bread:

The building once housed printing presses for The Home News, a daily newspaper.

Black Truffle Ricotta Gnocchi with Cremini, Buffalo Mozzarella and Basil Pesto.

For someone who doesn't eat meat or poultry, I should have paid more attention to the menu than to my friend, whom I hadn't seen in a year.

The 3-course menu offers a choice of two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts for $19, plus tax and gratuity, through the end of August. Dinner is $42.

The Third Course at lunch on Tuesday included a Cow/Goat Blue Cheese from Spain, perfect for someone like me who doesn't eat dessert.

The delicious lunch is a great deal, and high-quality  ingredients are prepared in imaginative ways.

Salad with meat

I wanted a salad to start, but saw that the Heirloom Tomato Salad was topped with bacon. 

I selected the other appetizer, Black Truffle Ricotta Gnocchi, which were nicely toasted and served with a summery Basil Pesto.

The two entrees were Griggstown Chicken and New Jersey Monkfish, an ugly fish with a tail that has the texture of lobster when cooked. 

My choice seemed clear, but I didn't read the description of the fish completely: 

Gigante Beans, Fennel, Pancetta, Tuscan Kale, Littleneck Clam Red Sauce.

If I had read it, I could have asked the kitchen to prepare the fish without the cured pork belly. 

As it was, I wondered aloud why chewy bits I couldn't identify were so salty, thinking they were clams.


Pan Roasted Griggstown Chicken with Smoked Pecans, Sweet Potato, Pickled Bell Peppers and Bourbon Pan Sauce.

Top 25

The Frog and The Peach is one of New Jersey Monthly's  "Top 25 Restaurants in 2013."

Adding to its appeal are many local ingredients, including naturally raised poultry and wild-caught fish from New Jersey.

But I encountered a couple of other problems:

It doesn't seem possible in New Jersey, where just about everyone drives, that The Frog and The Peach offers only a half-dozen parking spaces in a small lot.

I overlooked the pancetta, but couldn't miss the fly that landed on the rim of my dish after I finished the entree.

Flies -- among the dirtiest insects around -- have no place in a serious restaurant. Having said that, I've also been repelled by flies I saw in Nobu and Tribeca Grill in Manhattan.

And in view of the chef's heavy reliance on meat, it would be nice if the staff alerted customers who want to avoid animal fats and told them the dish can be prepared without it.

My Third Course of Valdeon Cheese came with Endive Marmalade and Pistachios, but not wrapped in the Oak Leaves listed on the menu.

My friend raved about her dessert:  Coconut Semifreddo with Caramel and Chocolate Croquettes.

She was delighted  the chocolate contained hot pepper.

The restaurant is in a quiet corner of New Brunswick, but has only a small parking lot.

The Frog and The Peach, 29 Dennis St., New Brunswick; 1-732-846-3216.

Web site: Look out for pancetta

From the Web site:


"About our Name


"The restaurant’s unique name comes from the title of a Dudley Moore and Peter Cook comedy routine about a restaurant in the Scottish moors that served only Frogs and Peaches — a culinary concept that was never considered for the restaurant!"

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

ShopRite sales, price breaks and other fine print

ShopRite's newspaper flier stated clearly the "sale starts" on Aug. 25, but there are "price breaks" on other items that don't go into effect until days later.

Nature's Reserve free-range, grass-fed beef from Australia was on "sale" starting last Sunday for $8.99 a pound. But there is a "price break" starting on Wednesday, knocking $2 more off each pound. Other items are covered by an "all-week price break" from last Sunday through Saturday.

By Victor E. Sasson

ShopRite's sales fliers are getting as hard to interpret as Manhattan parking regulations or the Talmud.

When "sale" appears in a ShopRite newspaper flier, it isn't the last word, and other items may be discounted through "price breaks."

But "price breaks" aren't always available during the full sale period, as I found out on Monday, when I went to my Hackensack ShopRite to buy Nature's Reserve Whole Beef Tenderloin for Filet Migon.

The sale started on Sunday, but the price break on the free-range, grass-fed beef from Australia doesn't start until Wednesday, meaning I'll have to return to the store.

Luckily, I also went to pick up 48-ounce containers of Turkey Hill Ice Cream for $1.97, a savings of $1.32; and Eggo Waffles for $1.47, a discount of $1.20.

Those items were discounted under an "all-week price break" (Sunday to Saturday).

A sign at H Mart in Little Ferry said this 15-pound bag of California-grown white rice is  "free" with a coupon.

H Mart is first stop

Of course, when meat-eating members of my family prepare Korean barbecue, they marinate the thin slices of Australian beef in bulgogi sauce, grill the meat, steam white rice and wrap everything in red-leaf lettuce.

We were out of white rice and red-leaf lettuce, so before I went to ShopRite on Monday, I stopped at H Mart in Little Ferry.

H Mart has been heavily discounting 15-pound bags of Kokuho Yellow Label California-grown rice, normally $14.99.

Last Wednesday, I saw it at the Englewood H Mart for $7.99, but the store had sold out.

At the Little Ferry H Mart, the rice was "free" with a coupon or $9.99 without.

I got the coupon from the customer service counter, but didn't read it carefully enough: 

The rice is "free" when you purchase $100 in other items.

I also picked up 2 heads of red-leaf lettuce for 99 cents each, and a bottle of B.B.Q. Bulgogi Beef Marinade for $2.99, because it had the least sodium.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Enjoying meatless meals at Wondee's and at home

Wondee's Som Thom ($8) -- a salad of crunchy, fresh green papaya, peanuts, tomato and green beans in a tart dressing -- is my favorite way of starting a meatless meal at the Thai restaurant on Main Street in Hackensack.

Thome Yum Koong is a spicy soup of shrimp, mushrooms and chili paste ($4).

By Victor E. Sasson

A Vegetarian Menu and a large selection of seafood and other meatless dishes makes it easy for me to eat well at Wondee's Fine Thai Food and Noodles in Hackensack.

And family members who eat pork and poultry have plenty to choose from, too.

On Saturday night, three of us enjoyed salad, soup, a whole fish and a sauteed tofu dish with small bowls of white or brown rice.

A steamed whole fresh red snapper with chili pepper, garlic and lemon juice is called Pla Ma Now ($18). Three of us shared the fish with bowls of white or brown rice.

Kraprow Tofu is made with fresh basil leaves, onions, scallions and fresh chili ($11).
Wondee's is a BYO.

Wondee's Fine Thai Food and Noodles, 296 Main St., Hackensack; 201-883-1700. BYO, parking in rear, serves lunch and dinner, closed Mondays.

Going meatless at home

I continue to co-exist peacefully with members of the family who eat meat and poultry -- from organic chicken feet to grass-fed filet mignon.

We prepare food at home 5 or 6 days a week, using good ingredients from Costco Wholesale, Trader Joe's, ShopRite, Whole Foods Market, H Mart, Fattal's Bakery in Paterson and other stores.

Organic brown eggs with pesto (from Costco), smoked wild salmon and sun-dried tomatoes served over organic quinoa prepared in an electric cooker.

Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix topped with smoked wild salmon and reduced-fat Swiss cheese, and served with prepared sweet-potato salad. All the ingredients came from Costco. The dressing is extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Ackee and salt fish, a Jamaican specialty, served with sauteed collard greens from H Mart and quinoa with organic diced tomatoes.

A gooey frittata with pesto, smoked wild salmon, sliced tomato and reduced-fat Swiss cheese served over organic brown rice.

Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Pasta with Victoria Marinara Sauce and Al-Shark brand Moroccan Sardines in Tomato Sauce, which have dramatically less sodium than the same sardines in spicy oil. I used 1 pound of pasta, a 40-ounce jar of sauce and 2 cans of sardines. I added grated Pecorino Romano, an imported sheep's milk cheese.

Leftover frittata and pasta with sardines made for a filling breakfast today.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

From a great lunch at Hiura to rude shoppers at Whole Foods

Thursday's lunch special at Hiura was listed on a board at the family run Japanese restaurant in Fort Lee, above. A main dish of assorted fried pork and fish came with soup, rice, cooked burdock and potato salad, below.

By Victor E. Sasson

On Thursday, I had another great lunch at Hiura, the family owned Japanese restaurant in Fort Lee, catching up with a former colleague I hadn't seen in a couple of years.

He had the 5-item lunch special of fried pork and fish ($12), and I enjoyed the Sashimi Lunch, a plate of beautiful raw and cooked seafood ($18) that came with miso soup and a small bowl of white rice.

The centerpiece of the $12 lunch special.

After we finished and paid the bill, we stood under a  shelter at the rear entrance, chatting some more as a steady drizzle fell.

I needed a lift on this sun-less day. 

So, after we said our good-byes, I got in my car and drove to the Whole Foods Market in Paramus, heading straight for the coffee counter. 

Hiura's Sashimi Lunch featured wonderful squid, octopus and fish, including mackerel and tuna, plus soup and rice ($18).

The counter was being monopolized by two women. 

One had placed her shopping cart directly in front of a cash register and the pad where you swipe your credit card. 

The other woman had a stroller carrying a little boy in front of the second register, with several shopping bags hanging from the handles.

They turned out to be mother and daughter, talking in a mix of English and Hebrew. 

Great, I thought. Israelis think the world revolves around them, and no one else matters, especially me.

An employee behind the counter shouted, "Next customer," and I asked for a 16-ounce Daily Brew with no room for milk.

But mother, daughter, shopping cart and stroller were still in the way, so I complained out loud:

"You're blocking the entire counter," and moved the stroller a couple of inches so I could lean in and swipe my credit card.

The older woman told me I should more patient, but I ignored her, grabbed my coffee and walked the 50 feet or so to a table, as the little boy started to wail -- loud enough to be heard in Hackensack.

Hiura, 400B Main St., Fort Lee; 201-346-0110. Closed Wednesday. 

Whole Foods Market, 300 Bergen town Center, Paramus; 201-226-1244. Open 7 days.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

They're soft, chewy and can stain your clothing

New at my Costco Wholesale in Hackensack: Whole, farm-raised branzino from Greece for $8.99 a pound. The fish, also known as European sea bass, is widely served in restaurants in North Jersey and New York. 

Editor's note: A new Kirkland Signature item at Costco Wholesale isn't an improvement over a competitor's product. Today, I also discuss IKEA Paramus' expanded food section, and a couple of sale items at the Paramus ShopRite.

By Victor E. Sasson

I knew something was up when I couldn't find my favorite Kashi Trail Mix Chewy Granola Bars on two visits to Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.

I'd carry a few with me as part of my weight-loss strategy: 

Eating a good breakfast and dinner, and skipping lunch.

Then, I saw the reason: 

Costco began offering its own Kirkland Signature Soft & Chewy Granola Bars.

But the Costco bar is smaller and has chocolate chips, not the whole almonds that were my favorite part of the Kashi bar.

Chocolate isn't part of my diet, but I bought a box of 60 Kirkland Signature bars for $8.69 anyway.

Even though the Costco chewy granola bar is cheaper than Kashi's, it has cost me far more in other ways.

The chocolate chips in the Kirkland Signature Soft & Chewy Granola Bars can fall off while you are eating one and stain your clothing, especially if you are sitting down.

I commend Costco Wholesale's effort to develop "a more ethical and sustainable cocoa supply," according to the label of its Soft & Chewy Granola Bars. But the company should go back to the drawing board with this product.

The chocolate chips and other ingredients can fall off as you are eating, and if you are in the car, they can stick to and stain your clothing, as I discovered on 3 occasions.

This is another, fairly rare instance where a Kirkland Signature product isn't an improvement over a competitor's.

On Monday, I returned a half-empty box of the Costco granola bars for a full refund, and bought a new, more expensive Kashi product: 

Berry Lemonade Chewy Granola Bars (with chia), which contain no high-fructose corn syrup (35 1.2-ounce bars for $12.79).

I ate one standing up at the kitchen counter, and nothing fell off. It tasted good, but there are no whole almonds in it.

Another item I picked up at Costco was Ready Pac Gourmet Fruit Bowl -- 4 pounds of preservative-free melon, strawberries, blueberries, mango and pineapple from Mexico and Costa Rica for $12.99.

IKEA in Paramus has expanded its selection of prepared and frozen foods, above and below.

Salty herring

On my annual visit to IKEA in Paramus today, I discovered an expanded food section filled with unusual items you don't see elsewhere.

I picked up bottles of Rosehip Drink and Blueberry Drink at $1.99 each; carbonated Pear Drink for $1.99, and Blueberry Jam for $3.99.

IKEA has a wide selection of refrigerated, bottled herring, but many contain prohibitive amounts of sodium.

To confuse matter, different serving sizes are listed (3 or 5 pieces).

I bought Herring in Mustard Sauce for $2.49, because it had the least sodium per serving, and  small jars of Seaweed Topping and Herring Roe at $1.99 each.

And I was delighted to find frozen Salmon Lasagna with Spinach for $9.99.


On Monday, I picked up 2 pints of blueberries at ShopRite in Paramus, on sale for $1.49 each, but these are from Michigan and Canada, not New Jersey.

Arm & Hammer toothpaste was on sale for $1.99, reduced from $3.34, and I had a $1-off coupon on 2 of the 3 tubes I bought.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Kimchi service makes this Fort Lee Korean restaurant a standout

At Gammeeok in Fort Lee, servers bring a tall bowl of cabbage and radish kimchi to your table, cut it, plate it and pour on extra sauce, which is both spicy and sweet, above and below.

The kimchi service -- unique to Gammeeok -- isn't the only reason to go there. The restaurant turns out terrific versions of such Korean classics as bibimbap and seafood pancakes.


The good news is that the kimchi at Gammeeok in Fort Lee is as good as ever -- an appealing combination of sweet, spicy and crunchy.

We had dinner there on Saturday night after an absence of more than a year, and Gammeeok is still our favorite place for bibimbap, a non-spicy dish that is true Korean comfort food.

I ordered another non-spicy dish, Seafood Joen, a  pancake with tender squid and shrimp that is fluffier than other versions I've tried ($14.95).

My teenage son ordered two entrees that could have fed three to four people, and finished everything, including a small bowl of white rice.

He loved the stone-bowl bibimbap ($13.95), as well as the grilled beef short ribs or Galbi ($22.95). 

The kimchi served here is so good it is available to go.

OB, a Korean beer, is $4.50.

Korean short ribs (galbi or kalbi) will delight meat-eaters ($22.95).

The seafood pancake is thick and fluffy, and includes tender squid, small whole shrimp and scallions, and comes with a dipping sauce ($14.95).

Stone-bowl bibimbap comes with a mildly spicy red-pepper paste (gochujang) that you spoon on top before your stir up ground meat, vegetables and rice ($13.95). We asked the kitchen to cook the egg, and you can have a bibimbap without meat.

A vinegary tangle of shredded radish is one of the complimentary side dishes.

Every table gets large, crunchy leaves of Nappa cabbage and fresh hot peppers, rear.

Valet parking is available at dinner, but you also can park on the street. No need to feed the meters after 6 p.m.


Gammeeok, 485 Main St., Fort Lee; 201-242-1333. Open for lunch and dinner. No American Express  Cards. 

I used a coupon I found in The Record giving $10 off a $30 order, $15 off a $50 order and $20 off an $80 meal.

Web site: Good food, good service

The next night, I had three Korean specialties at home, all purchased from H Mart, 25 Lafayette Ave., Englewood: Jinga-brand translucent, yam-flour noodles called japchae, with vegetables and tofu, front (19 ounces for $5.99); stewed wild-caught Alaskan pollock, left rear (16 ounces for $16.99); and stewed tofu, right rear (11 ounces for $3.99).

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