Thursday, February 28, 2013

Costco Wholesale's stuffed grape leaves need a little heat

Refrigerated stuffed grape leaves from Costco Wholesale in Hackensack look a lot better on the package, above, than they do on the plate, below. Frankly Fresh Foods, the maker, says they are handmade and "ready to eat," but they're not very good cold.


I was raised in Brooklyn eating grape leaves my mother grew in our garden, and stuffed with a mixture of rice and chopped meat.

She cooked them in a covered pot in water flavored with a thick tamarind sauce.

Aleppo Restaurant in Paterson makes a tasty version of stuffed grape leaves, but the ones I've eaten in Greek restaurants have been just OK.

The other day, my wife brought home Frankly Fresh Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves from Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.

A 2-pound package was $10.59, which seems a little high to me.

The package says they are "handmade with seasoned rice, tomatoes, onions and red peppers," and "ready to eat."

On Wednesday night, I added the stuffed grape leaves to a dinner salad of greens, beans and beets, and was underwhelmed.

They were dense and a little dry, and they reminded me of the bland vegetarian falafel I once bought at Costco.

But this morning, I plated stuffed grape leaves with Korean-style stewed pollock and organic quinoa with tomatoes, and heated the food in the microwave for 2 minutes.

I drizzled extra-virgin olive oil on the quinoa and stuffed grape leaves, as well as fresh lime juice (the stuffed grape leaves package shows a half slice of lemon).

The stuffed grape leaves came alive. They were moist and delicious, and I'm glad my wife brought them home. 

Chewy, whole-grain organic quinoa with tomatoes is a great side dish for a frittata.

Stewed, wild-caught pollock from H Mart in Englewood with collaloo, center; and ackee and salt fish.

Monday, February 25, 2013

No cooking required -- Part II

Fresh, wild-caught sea bass with fish masala, ginger and lime juice. The fish was $5.99 a pound at the Englewood H Mart. I rubbed on packaged spices and stuffed ginger into the cavity. The sea bass was ready in 15 minutes at a roast/convection oven setting of 375 degrees. I made two and may have the other one tonight or Tuesday night.

Have you looked over one of those multi-step recipes that appear in newspapers, and said to yourself, Who has the time for this?

Have you wondered why the paper's food editor promotes a new cookbook every week -- a book he or she gets for free?

Have you watched all those cooking shows and TV chef competitions, and wondered how they are relevant to your desire to put healthy, nutritious meals on the table?

Why do newspapers print recipes with artery clogging butter and cream, bacon and other harmful animal fats, and why do those recipes far outnumber those for healthy dishes?  

Recently, my daily newspaper started printing beloved family recipes every week. Two times in a row, the stories reported the husbands developed heart problems or disease.

Was that supposed to be an endorsement of their wives' handiwork? 

I stopped watching the Food Channel a few years ago, but can't recall ever hearing anything about factory farms that raise animals on antibiotics and growth hormones that are harmful to humans.

Ditto for all those morning TV cooking segments, which pedal obscene quantities of drug-filled beef and poultry.

A mixture of whole eggs, egg whites, shredded cheese, low-fat milk and seasoning go into a preheated non-stick pan with oil. Then, slices of fresh tomato, sun-dried tomato and pesto are added. When the bottom is set, the frittata is finished in the oven, below.

I used a low broiler setting and set the timer on 10 minutes.

I ate a wedge of the frittata with steaming whole-wheat spirals and sardines.

I don't cook. I "assemble." I have learned how to boil water, open cans and bottles, turn on an oven and set the timer.

Most of my effort goes into buying quality ingredients, many of them organic, and plenty of wild-caught fish.

I also prepare large quantities, so I can enjoy the leftovers a day or two later.

I once overheard a young woman tell her companions at a Greek restaurant: "I am happiest when I'm eating."

That says it all.

My leftover whole sea bass. I especially love the tender "cheeks."


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Healthy meals at home -- no cooking required

Two organic eggs from Costco Wholesale with leftovers -- wild-caught Icelandic haddock in Mexican Green Salsa and organic brown rice made in an electric cooker.

A frittata with pesto and sun-dried tomato served with leftover fish and green salsa.

I like to eat healthy, but I don't think of preparing meals at home as cooking.

I try to have good ingredients on hand -- such as bottled sauces and organic diced tomatoes -- so I can "assemble" a main dish and salad with a minimum of fuss.

And I try to do it as quickly as possible without recipes, butter, cream, bread, meat or poultry.

Canned fish, organic chicken stock and extra-virgin olive oil from Tuscany are some of the quality ingredients I always have on hand to help me make healthy meals at home.

On Friday, I came home around mid-afternoon and just couldn't get my mind off whole-wheat pasta spirals with sardines in tomato sauce.

This comfort food is one of my favorites, and luckily, I had everything on hand:  

A 1-pound package of Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Fusilli, two cans of Moroccan sardines, a bottle of Silver Palate pasta sauce and a can of Kirkland Signature Organic Diced Tomatoes.

It was ready in 15 minutes.

No need for gallons of water. Use just enough water to cover the pasta. Don't salt the water. There is plenty of salt in the pasta sauce, diced tomatoes and grated cheese.

The finished dish with grated Pecorino Romano cheese from the freezer.

This morning, breakfast was leftover fusilli and pan-fried cod.

How to assemble the dish:

Boil water in one covered pot, and pour the pasta sauce, diced tomatoes, a few ounces of extra-virgin olive oil, herbs and red-pepper flakes in a non-stick pan and heat them up with the cover on.

Meanwhile, open 2 cans of sardines, drain in a plastic collander and rinse under running water to reduce sodium. Add to pan with sauce and chop up the sardines.

Trader Joe's whole-wheat fusilli cooks up al dente in about 9 minutes. Drain, add to other pan, mix to cover all of the pasta with sardine sauce and serve.

I drank a glass of Chianti, and followed with a wooden bowl of pre-washed Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix, dressed simply in oil and vinegar.


Pan-fried cod bought fresh at Costco Wholesale. The side dish is mashed sweet potatoes and Kabocha squash with extra-virgin olive oil, all of which we had, below.

Kirkland Signature Organic No-Salt Seasoning is great for fish and mashed potatoes.

When we make fresh fish fillets with green salsa or organic diced tomatoes, all we do is heat up the sauce in a covered, non-stick pan; season the fish, place the fillets into the pan and cook them covered for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how thick they are.

We usually have fresh limes or lemons, and a bottle of Kirkland Signature Organic No-Salt Seasoning for the fish. That's 21 different spices and herbs.

Kirkland Signature egg whites can be used by themselves in open-face omelets or mixed with whole eggs and shredded cheese for frittatas, which are finished under the broiler.

For a quick frittata, mix liquid egg whites with whole eggs, a little low-fat milk and shredded or grated part skim milk cheese -- such as Pecorino Romano or Reggiano Parmigiano -- and pour into a heated non-stick, 10-inch pan with a little oil.

As the bottom firms up, place sun-dried tomatoes and refrigerated pesto on the surface. 

Place frittata under the broiler for 5 minutes or until the surface starts to brown, then remove from oven, cut into wedges and serve with leftover fish, rice or mashed sweet potatoes.

From a communist country to a Costco near you

Costco Wholesale's Kirkland Signature Ground Saigon Cinnamon label is superimposed on a map of Vietnam, a communist country. A run-on sentence with a typo describes the cinnamon trees and the "unmatched" sweet-hot flavor of the cinnamon. 

I've been using Costco Wholesale's Ground Saigon Cinnamon for years, and love the special flavor it gives to homemade lattes, hot cereal and salt-free roasted almonds.

I also buy Costco's farmed Black Tiger Shrimp from Vietnam, a communist country, and I know that schools of farmed, catfish-like basa fillet land on U.S. shores every year.

I don't really have a problem with Costco selling food from a communist country.

But I wish Costco and other U.S. retailers would sell products from another communist government, the one on the island of Cuba.

The trade embargo imposed on Cuba in the Kennedy administration means any U.S. company that tries to sell island products faces big financial penalties.

And customs officials likely would confiscate and destroy any Cuban products brought home by American tourists returning from the Caribbean's biggest island.

Cuba is known for its wonderful rum, but also produces excellent coffee, and it's the only place I know where you can find 100% mango juice in grocery stores.

Americans buy fresh, wild-caught red snapper from South America, but are denied Cuban pargo, lobster and other seafood.   

Friday, February 22, 2013

It's time to boycott bluefin tuna stunt

Tuna fisherman Yukinobu Shibata(柴田幸信)
Giant bluefin tuna fisherman Yukinobu Shibata. (Wikipedia)

Mitsuwa Marketplace, the large Japanese supermarket in Edgewater, is staging its "Giant Fresh Bluefin Tuna Festival" this weekend, but anyone with a conscience will stay away, as I have for two years.

I admit that I attended the carving of these beautiful, fast-swimming fish into sashimi by a small army of store workers, as customers pressed against counters on all sides.

And I paid $60 a pound for the prized belly meat -- wrapped in plastic on foam trays -- but that is all in the past.

Japan's voracious appetite for the giant bluefin tuna has driven the fish onto the endangered list, and consuming its mercury-rich flesh is unhealthy.

It's puzzling that Mitsuwa claims the bluefin tuna it will sell this weekend is "fresh."

I have seen only frozen whole bluefin tunas that thawed out and were beheaded before they were carved up.  

The bluefin tuna festival was delayed by Superstorm Sandy, which hit New Jersey on Oct. 29.

Maybe God, Mother Nature or another great force was trying to tell us something.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

'Fresh corn' in February's bitter cold?

I didn't expect to find "fresh corn" when I made a rare visit to the International Food, Wine & Liquor Warehouse in Lodi this afternoon. I did purchase 12 cans of California Garden Moroccan Sardines for 99 cents a can, below, saving me a trip to South Paterson.

Editor's note: Today, I report on sale items at the International Food, Wine & Liquor Warehouse in Lodi, and at Starbucks coffee shops.

Every visit to the International Food, Wine & Liquor Warehouse in Lodi turns up fewer bargains.

Today, I purchased Isle of Cyprus Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil and California Garden Moroccan Sardines in Soya Oil.

I bought two 3-liter tins of the Greek olive oil for $14.99 each or about $5 a liter (on sale through Feb. 26).

The sardines were 99 cents a can, and the cans are the same size as the 99-cents sardines I usually drive to South Paterson to buy.

I bought 12 cans to add to pasta sauce and salads or to heat up with sweet peppers and onions, and eat over organic brown rice.

The food warehouse is at 370 Essex St.; 201-368-9511. Open 7 days.

The Starbucks shop on Essex Street in Hackensack.

The purchase of 1 pound of whole-bean coffee at Starbucks comes with a bonus: a $5 Starbucks Card (through Feb. 24).

Today, I purchased 1 pound of the Veranda Blend, one of the lighter Blonde Roast Coffees, and asked for a Turkish grind -- basically a powder -- for my drip coffee maker.

That exposes more of the coffee to hot water and produces a more robust brew.

The premium coffee was $11.95, but the $5 gift card brought it down to $6.95, a bargain.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why does my SOYJOY bar contain butter?

Ingredients are listed on the wrapper, but they are under a flap.

Editor's note: Today, I discuss SOYJOY bars, and two items at Costco Wholesale, frozen acai pulp and the wonderful, preservative-free smoked wild salmon.

SOYJOY -- baked whole soy with dried fruit and other ingredients -- is one of the snack bars I rely on to still hunger pains when I skip lunch.

But recently, when I looked at the ingredients on the wrapper, hidden under a flap, I was surprised to learn that butter is used to make the Mango Coconut and other SOYJOY bars.

That explains why they taste like cake to me. The wrapper declares the bar is now "moister and fruitier."

Butter is listed after ground whole soy beans and raisins, meaning its in the third highest proportion in the bar.

Two others bars I always carry with me are from Kashi and Kirkland Signature, the house brand at Costco Wholesale, and neither contains butter.

I've been trying to avoid artery clogging butter for decades, and that's why I favor ethnic restaurants, most of which don't use it.

Asian Indian restaurants are the exception.

I'll probably stop ordering SOYJOY from when my supply runs out.

And why is the name written in capital letters? Maybe "butter" should also be in capitals instead of hidden under a flap.

Among the frozen fruit at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack are Grade A California strawberries, bottom left, perfect for making smoothies.

I'm still looking for the frozen acai pulp I read about in The Costco Connection magazine a few weeks ago, but my Costco Wholesale in Hackensack doesn't seem to have any.

The article specifically said customers would find frozen acai (AH-SIGH-EE), a super food from the Brazilian Amazon, next to the frozen wild blueberries.

I saw a 6-pound bag of frozen strawberries, and I bought one for $9.39 or a bit more than $1.55 a pound.

This morning, I made a smoothie with the strawberries, a little orange juice, vanilla soy milk and mango juice.

Disregard recipes that call for ice cubes, which only water down the smoothie. 


A snack of reduced-fat Swiss cheese, smoked wild salmon, Dijon mustard and Earthbound Farm organic spring mix. Roll it up and pop it into your mouth as a deconstructed sandwich.

One of my favorite items at Costco Wholesale is the Kirkland Signature Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon, which comes sliced and sealed in plastic in two separate half-pound servings.

Once, the sliced salmon was sold by weight, but someone figured out how to package exactly 1 pound of this rich, delicious wild-caught fish.

It's $15.39, the lowest price around, and free of preservatives.

But the system isn't perfect. The other day, I found myself tearing at the salmon, trying in vain to find where it had been sliced. 

Then, I turned over the slab, and the slices came away easily.

The slab had been placed on the black cardboard backing upside down.

I use the salmon in frittatas, in salads, and as a snack rolled up with sliced, reduced-fat Swiss cheese.

In about three months, fresh sockeye salmon fillets will be appearing at my Hackensack Costco. 

Can't wait, but I'll really enjoy the smoked sockeye until then.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Good food that's also good for you

Kitchen-sink hot cereal contains oatmeal, chia seeds, pine nuts and dried and frozen fruit, and I add fresh fruit and low-fat milk. As with many dishes, I make a large batch to last a few days.
Jamaican ackee and salt fish (cod) served with boiled sweet potato and a whole-wheat dumpling. The dish gets a lift from Valentina Mexican Hot Sauce.
Two organic eggs served with stir-fried collard greens and Chinese broccoli, plus light potato gnocchi from a Meal To Go purchased at Jerry's Gourmet and More in Englewood.
Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Fusilli with canned sardines in tomato sauce. For this lower-sodium version, I drain and rinse the sardines under running water.

The pasta spirals stand in for bread at breakfast the next day, when I serve them with an egg-white omelet containing pesto and reduced-fat sliced cheese.

A 5-pound box of Clementine Hybrids from Israel were on sale for $6.99 at the Englewood H Mart. They are harder to peel than Spanish Clementines, but taste better.
Two organic eggs with sun-dried tomatoes -- served with king whiting steak, upper right, and mashed Korean yams, sweet potatoes and Kabocha squash.

From the vegetarian menu at Wondee's Fine Thai Food and Noodles in Hackensack: Crispy tofu tossed with fruit and carrots in lime juice and chili paste ($10).

Wondee's shrimp soup with mushrooms, lemon juice and chili paste ($4).

Wondee's fried rice with fresh basil leaves, another vegetarian dish ($10).

Steam softens the bright colors of large shrimp topped with sweet and sour chili sauce ($17). We took a no meat and poultry pledge at Wondee's three years ago, and I'm the only family member who still sticks to it, relying on great seafood dishes like this one. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Costco dress shirt is a recycling challenge

Costco Wholesale sells cotton shirts in button-down and open-color styles, but you'll have to remove soft and hard plastic, cardboard, paper, pins and string before you wear one, below.

If you're in a rush, you might want to leave your new Costco Wholesale dress shirt for another occasion.

You'll need several minutes to remove all the plastic, cardboard, paper, string and pins apparently needed to keep the shirt folded and in shape during its long journey from Indonesia.

Without using a small scissor, I still haven't figured out how to remove a string attached to a folded, black cardboard tag that hides two spare collar stays.

The string is wrapped so tightly around a button, it can't be removed by hand.

The price can't be beat: only $17.99. 

But if I thought Costco's packaging of 2, 3 or 4 items -- such as milk, juice and catsup -- produced a lot of recycling, this dress shirt holds its own. 

Once you have the shirt on, what do you do with all the packing material?

One shirt produces a lot of waste.

The light cardboard and tissue paper goes into the recycling can with junk mail, paper bags and so forth.

The flexible, printed plastic and pliable plastic under the collar goes with recyclable plastic grocery bags, which likely will be blowing around after our civilization has been wiped out.

I keep the pins and add them to a divided container with safety pins and collar stays.

The Kirkland Signature fabric band around the shirt? The string? Beats me.

The black fabric band seems over the top.