Friday, October 28, 2016

Does anyone really spend a whole paycheck at Whole Foods Market?

I try to take advantage of sales at Whole Foods Market, such as the one I saw last Sunday on wild-caught Skate Wing Fillet at the Paramus store, but it's only one of the places I rely on when shopping for food in northern New Jersey.


The opening of a new Whole Foods Market in Closter has renewed competitors' claims the organic supermarket is so expensive you have to blow your "whole paycheck" there.

That's nonsense -- unless you make minimum wage.

I've been shopping at Whole Foods Market in Paramus since it opened in March 2009, and though it's closest to my home, the supermarket is only one of the places I rely on.

Two competitors, ShopRite and Costco Wholesale, have greatly increased the number of organic items they sell, and both offer antibiotic-free meat and poultry.

Prices are among the lowest in the region on an admittedly limited selection.

Best seafood counter

But neither can match Whole Foods' variety of naturally raised meat and poultry nor the Paramus stores' sweeping fresh seafood counter, especially when fish or wild shrimp are on sale.

And Whole Foods' 365 Everday Value line offers Mexican-style salsas, imported organic whole wheat pasta, bottled pasta sauces and other items at competitive prices.

For example, a 1-pound box of Whole Foods' Organic Whole Wheat Shells from Italy is $1.49, a great price considering Trader Joe's and other stores don't offer that organic pasta shape, one of my favorites. 

ShopRite sells several shapes of Luigi Vitelli-brand organic whole wheat pasta in 1-pound packages for $1.29, but doesn't offer shells; Costco doesn't sell whole wheat pasta, organic or otherwise.

I buy organic sweet potatoes not at Whole Foods, but at Trader Joe's in Paramus, where a 3-pound bag is $4.49, compared to $5.99 at the ShopRite in the same town. 

Fresh haddock fillets from Iceland were only $8.99 a pound at Costco Wholesale in Teterboro this week, but the warehouse store offers only a limited selection of wild-caught fish.

At Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood, a 1-pound package of Garofalo Whole Wheat Farfalle ($1.99), also called bow ties or butterflies, are not organic like the whole wheat pasta sold at Whole Foods Market for $1.49 a pound.

Costco Wholesale has finally closed the loophole on cage-free eggs by offering Kirkland Signature Cage-Free Egg Whites, above and below. A 16-ounce carton is about $1.50 when you buy six ($8.99). They can be frozen.

Costco's new Cage-Free 100% Liquid Egg Whites, left. When Costco switched to selling only cage-free whole eggs, the Egg Whites, right, were the only exception.

Also at Costco, Kirkland Signature Chicken Tortilla Soup is now made using poultry raised without antibiotics.

Stop & Shop ad

Stop & Shop has been running a TV ad touting its Nature's Promise line of organic or naturally raised products, and one of the shoppers shown makes the crack that "it doesn't take a whole paycheck," a clear reference to Whole Foods Market.

That upset one Stop & Shop customer, who called the comment "snarky" and "a cheap shot." 

She also pointed out Whole Foods' prices are comparable and occasionally lower than at Stop & Shop, and the selection is "astounding."

The Whole Foods in Paramus also sells wine -- with many bottles under $10 -- unlike the new store in Closter or virtually all of its other competitors in Bergen County.

Costco Wholesale in Teterboro sells organic brown eggs for about $3.50 a dozen when you buy 24 ($7.99).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Warming up to Cuban comfort food and music on a blustery fall day

Pargo Frito or Fried Red Snapper at Casual Habana Cafe in Hackensack, above and below.

The popular Main Street restaurant serves Cuban comfort food at reasonable prices.


Dashing out for an early dinner at a local restaurant turned into a comedy of errors on a rainy, windy afternoon.

On Saturday, we forgot that Art of Spice, a terrific Indian restaurant in Hackensack, closes between lunch and dinner, and we pulled in vain on the back door.

Then, we found a spot a half-block away on Main Street, and walked through wind-driven rain to the front door, where the hours were listed.

We were a half-hour early for the 5 p.m. dinner opening.

Luckily, we had parked in front of Casual Habana Cafe, one of our favorite restaurants in Hackensack, and decided to eat there.

We didn't have a reservation, which is recommended on weekends, and were given a table for four (tables for two pushed together), but during our meal, we had to give up one of them, making it difficult to juggle all the plates and glasses.

As the sound system played the Buena Vista Social Club and Cuban salsa, we ordered and then enjoyed:

A whole Fried Red Snapper ($19) with a side of soupy black beans and rice, a salad with avocado and pineapple ($7); a side of Tostones ($4), twice-smashed and fried green plantains; and Basil Lemonade for my wife ($3).

The fish was fried beautifully -- the flesh was moist and there was no greasy taste. It was perfect for two, but could serve three, if you order another entree.

We also ordered takeout, a large Chicken Soup ($7) and more Tostones, but instead of the fried green plantains, we got Arroz Moro, a dirty rice also known as congris ($4).

No Cuban meal is complete without Tostones ($4).

Ensalada Aguacate or Avocado Salad ($7) was difficult to eat because the romaine lettuce was cut into narrow ribbons.

Cubans sometimes call soupy black beans served with white rice Moors and Christians, a reference to the Moorish occupation of Spain from 711 to 1492.

My wife finds the Basil Lemonade ($3) too sweet so she asked for hers with seltzer.

A corner table at Casual Habana Cafe in Hackensack.


Casual Habana Cafe, 125 Main St., Hackensack; 201-880-9844. Open 7 days. BYO, metered street parking and a small lot in the rear. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

As a marketing ploy, Trump Tower of seafood gives me a sinking feeling

I snapped this photo of the Legal Sea Foods dining room at Garden State Plaza in Paramus during a September 2015 lunch for two that set me back $81.


Which genius at Legal Sea Foods decided to exploit the most divisive presidential election in memory to sell more fish?

The fine-dining chain, which serves the freshest seafood at the highest prices, is urging customers to take a "Presidential Election Fishing Poll," starting on Monday and running through Nov. 6 at dozens of its restaurants from Boston to Atlanta.

"Vote with your taste buds for the Secretary of Steak or Trump Tower" of seafood, owner Roger Berkowitz urges in an email to customers, adding "I approve these dishes."

They are the "Blue Plate Special" (Blackened Tuna Steak for $31.95) and the "Red Plate Special" (a tower of Scallop Mango Ceviche, King Crab, Mussels, Shrimp, Oysters and Clams that feeds 4 to 6 people for $55.95). 

The promotion also is being held at Legal Sea Foods in two New Jersey malls (Paramus and Short Hills). 

The light-hearted treatment of the divide between GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump and Democratic White House hopeful Hillary Clinton is leaving a really bad taste in my mouth.

Ignoring racism

Sadly, Legal Sea Foods is making light of an ugly presidential campaign pitting wacko billionaire Donald J. Trump, who is trying to divide the country, against Hillary Clinton, who is seeking to heal our divisions.

This marketing campaign glosses over Trump's appeal to racists, his hatred of Mexicans and Muslims; and his groping of unwilling women.

"With Election Day approaching, it's time to chew on the best that either party can dish out," the moronic Legal Sea Foods promotion says.

"Legal Sea Foods is letting you vote ... with your taste buds. 

"You're allowed to cross party lines, and even reach across the table to enjoy one or both of these delectable dishes.

"We're not playing favorites. Just serving them."

Give me a break.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Spice-coated Cod & Vegetable Medley, Korean-style quinoa and more

Fresh wild-caught Icelandic cod -- coated in a homemade Super Spice Mixture -- fresh spinach, cherry tomatoes and pitted olives is ready to eat after about 15 minutes in a preheated 400-degree oven, below. 


Continuing thanks to The Fish Dock in Closter for supplying the key to preparing a healthy and delicious dinner in under 30 minutes.

On my first visit to the Icelandic fish store, I purchased a pound of ready-to-cook Fish & Vegetable Medley, popped the store-supplied pan into the oven and sat down to dinner in about 15 minutes.

Since then, I've been assembling my own medleys, using fresh, wild-caught Icelandic cod and haddock from Costco Wholesale in Teterboro.

Last week, my wife brought home more than 2 pounds of fresh, long-line caught, skinless-and-boneless cod fillets ($7.99 a pound).

I assembled a medley with fresh spinach, cherry tomatoes and black olives I had on hand, plus extra-virgin olive oil and grated cheese.

First, I cut up the cod into serving pieces, and coated them in a mixture from a large container I keep in the refrigerator that combines every spice I have in the house, including curry powder, no-salt seasoning, red-pepper flakes and garlic powder.

The spinach goes into a large foil-lined pan first, then a generous drizzle of olive oil and a little sea salt, then the tomatoes and olives, then the spice-coated cod, then the grated cheese.

The cod was thicker than in the past so I kept the pan in a preheated 400-degree oven for about 16 minutes to 18 minutes.

Korean-style shredded vegetables, available at H Mart, turn organic quinoa into a filling meatless meal. Quinoa, a great bread substitute, has fewer carbs than rice or pasta.

I purchased the Bibimbap Vegetables last Friday at H Mart, 25 Lafayette Ave. in Englewood, and added them to quinoa I had prepared in a rice cooker with organic black beans, organic diced tomatoes and peeled garlic cloves.

Bibimpap is true Korean comfort food -- steamed rice, shredded vegetables, ground beef (or you can ask for it without meat) and a raw or cooked egg prepared in a stone bowl, with a spicy red-pepper paste called gochujang on the side. You mix the ingredients with a spoon, add gochujang and dig in.
Delverde Tagliatelle with Spinach cooks up al dente in about 5 minutes. Here, I dressed the pasta in Trader Joe's Puttanesca Sauce, one of the few bottled sauces with anchovies; three cans of sardines, mashed with a fork; fresh spinach, red wine and extra-virgin olive oil. 

Organic Whole Wheat Shells from Whole Foods Market in Paramus ($1.49) dressed with Victoria Marinara and three cans of sardines, mashed with a fork.

Fresh whole wild-caught red snappers were $6.99 a pound last Sunday at the H Mart, 260 Bergen Turnpike in Little Ferry, below. Here, a whole fish stuffed with callaloo, a leafy green,  took about 30 minutes to cook when wrapped in foil.

After an absence of several weeks, free seafood samples returned to the Little Ferry H Mart. Two of the best are fish eggs over broiled New Zealand mussels, and broiled eel.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Swedish Veggie Balls at IKEA, free coffee and tea at Bed Bath Beyond

At IKEA in Paramus, 8 Veggie Balls are served with stewed lentils and steamed vegetables for $4.49.


You can always eat cheaply in the family restaurant at the IKEA home-furnishings store in Paramus.

Eating well is another matter, as I found out the other day when I ordered an 8-piece Veggie Ball platter for lunch ($4.49). 

Instead of the mashed potatoes and beef gravy that come with the pork-and-beef Swedish Meatballs, the Veggie Ball lunch comes with a tasty lentil stew and steamed vegetables, which retained some crunch,

The Veggie Balls themselves were filling, but hard, dry and not particularly tasty; maybe they were on the steam table too long.

They are supposed to contain carrot, corn and kale.

I did better on my visit to the IKEA Restaurant last month, when I was bowled over by the Smoked Salmon Sandwich.

At the Bed, Bath & Beyond across the parking garage from IKEA, you'll find an entire wall of free Keurig samples and machines for brewing 10-ounce cups of coffee or tea. And there are a couple of tables with high stools for relaxing with your favorite beverage.


IKEA is at 100 Ikea Drive, and Bed Bath & Beyond is at 300 Ikea Drive in Paramus. Both are closed on Sundays.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A great Chinese-style seafood meal with no fish-by-the-pound penalty

A whole Striped Bass, steamed with ginger and scallion, was the centerpiece of a wonderful seafood meal last weekend at Lotus Cafe, the Chinese BYO in Hackensack.


Unlike newer and pricier Chinese competitors, Lotus Cafe doesn't have "seafood" in its name.

But the Hackensack BYO's menu offers plenty of heart-healthy fish and other seafood.

And lovers of fresh whole fish won't be charged by the pound, as they will at Aquarius Seafood Restaurant in Fort Lee and Lan Garden in Ridgefield.

As usual at Lotus Cafe, me and my wife ordered too much food at a late afternoon dinner last weekend, including seafood soup, seafood dumplings and a whole striped bass, one of the tastiest fish around.

Our fish, steamed with ginger and scallion, was arranged artistically on an oval platter, and looked like it weighed 1.5 pounds ($28.95).

Whole flounder also was available, and the kitchen will fry your choice, but we prefer steamed fish with its light sauce.

Brown rice also is available at no extra charge. We took home leftover soup, dumplings and fish.

Seafood Soup for 2 is packed with squid, shrimp, scallop and fish cake, plus a few vegetables, and the broth isn't overly salted ($7.95)

You can order eight shrimp-filled Seafood Dumplings boiled or fried ($7.95).

We also ordered Sauteed Chinese Star Squash, a delicious side dish ($10.95).

At exactly 5 p.m. the servers at Lotus Cafe bring out the tablecloths.


Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave., in the Home Depot Shopping Center, Hackensack; 1-201-488-7070. BYO, large parking lot. Free delivery within 3 miles ($12 minimum).

Reservations recommended on weekends.

Ask for a separate menu listing multi-course, price-fixed dinners for 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 people (6 to 12 courses for $79 to $358, plus tax and tip).

Thursday, October 13, 2016

You can salsa with wild shrimp at Whole Foods Market, Rosa Mexicano

Wild-caught shrimp from Whole Foods Market in Paramus cook in minutes in Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value Thick & Chunky Salsa, below.

Editor's note: Amid a flood of low-quality farmed shrimp from Vietnam and other countries, two reliable sources for wild-caught shrimp are Whole Foods Market in Paramus and Rosa Mexicano, a fine-dining restaurant in Hackensack.


When you feel like treating yourself to jumbo wild shrimp for Sunday dinner, they may not always be on sale.

We buy wild-caught Gulf Shrimp (16 to 20 per pound) from Whole Foods Market in Paramus, only a few miles from our home.

When on sale, they usually are $14.99, but on Sunday, I had to pay full price, $19.99 a pound.

They were worth it, though. For one thing, the fish counter workers will devein the shrimp for you.

About 1.5 pounds of shelled and deveined shrimp -- turned once -- cooked in minutes in Whole Foods' Thick & Chunky Salsa ($2.69 for a 16-ounce jar).

There were enough crunchy shrimp to feed three with leftovers (for about $10 a person). 

The medium-spicy salsa also served as a sauce for our side dish, yellow rice prepared with organic mixed vegetables.

Behind the biggest fresh seafood counter in North Jersey, a Whole Foods employee deveined my wild-caught shrimp.

Another worker said she adds fresh ice to the display every 30 minutes to replace melted ice. Whole Foods Market is in Bergen Town Center off of Forest Avenue in Paramus (201-226-1244).

At Rosa Mexicano in Hackensack, Veracruz-style Alambre de Camarones are grilled wild jumbo shrimp, marinated in garlic vinaigrette, with grilled onions and serrano chiles served with achiote rice and salsa verde picante ($22).

Wild shrimp at Rosa Mexicano

I immediately said yes when a friend invited me to lunch at Rosa Mexicano, the Hackensack restaurant where authentic dishes are made from scratch.

The kitchen turns out its own salsas and mole sauces, and wonderful, thick corn tortillas are made in one of the nicest dining rooms in Bergen County, decorated with Mexican pottery, textiles, sconces and other items.

The first Rosa Mexicano opened in Manhattan in 1984, and today, the menu in Hackensack offers a $23 lunch to celebrate the restaurant's 30-plus years at that location.

The fixed-price lunch includes sharing one of three starters, including Rosa Mexicano's signature guacamole, prepared at your table; a choice of any entree (normally $16 to $23), and a shared dessert, Churros or a cake called Tres Leches.

Neither of us had room for dessert.

Warm corn tortillas are perfect for wrapping guacamole, refried beans and other food. Extras are available for the asking.

Guacamole en Molcajete (avocado, jalapeno, tomato, onion and cilantro) is served with warm tortilla chips and salsa ($14.50).

I had the Alambre de Camarones, and my friend ordered Chicken Enchiladas smothered in a rich Mole Poblano ($17).

Side dishes included achiote rice, above, and refried black beans, below.

Rosa Mexicano is in the Shops at Riverside, 390 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack (201-489-0151).

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Enjoying homemade pesto, pan-fried fish, pasta with sardines and more

Homemade pesto -- basil from my garden, garlic, grated cheese, pine nuts, salt and extra-virgin olive oil -- is a savory accent on a wedge of sweet-potato frittata.


Fragrant basil leaves growing abundantly in my garden are just a distance memory, but I still have one decent portion of homemade pesto in the freezer.

Although pesto is most commonly used as a dressing for pasta, it's versatile enough to spread on a sandwich or to accent a fish fillet just off the grill.

I also use it in omelets and on frittatas. 

Until Costco Wholesale unveiled Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto in 2013, I always made my own pesto in large batches using a blender recipe that could be frozen before the addition of grated cheese.

You'll find the recipe here: 

How to enjoy pesto without pasta

Now that my plants stand withered from the summer heat, I'll return to enjoying Costco's refrigerated pesto, which uses basil leaves from Italy.

Season one carton or 16 ounces of liquid egg whites mixed with grated cheese before adding the mixture to a 10-inch preheated pan with olive oil. As the crust sets, you can add sweet potato slices, boiled separately until you can pierce them with a fork. Then, move the non-stick pan into the broiler until the crust browns (about 15 minutes at a low broiler setting).

Pesto, which requires no heating, can be added to a frittata after it is removed from the oven. I also added crushed Aleppo pepper.

I used homemade pesto and organic pignoli nuts to dress an 8.8-ounce package of Delverde-brand Tagliatelle Nests with Spinach from Italy. These mouth-filling noodles take only about 5 minutes to reach al-dente perfection. I use unsalted water because there is plenty of sodium in homemade or Costco pesto.

A 10-inch egg-white omelet can be stuffed with Costco's smoked wild salmon, pesto and Mexican-style salsa, all sold under the Kirkland Signature house label. I made this omelet with my own pesto.

I had my omelet for breakfast with a baked sweet potato and grilled Chinese eggplant.

I thought I had found a good buy on wild-caught Gulf Shrimp at H Mart, 260 Bergen Turnpike in Little Ferry, above and below, but when I turned over the bag, the ingredients included salt and sodium bisulfite, a preservative. I passed.

An unusual item at the Little Ferry H Mart is jackfruit, sold in large pieces for around $5 to $6. If you buy one, make sure you refrigerate it when you get home.
I rely on the Korean supermarket for fresh whole fish at low prices, such as this porgy my wife seasoned and pan fried in olive oil ($2.99 a pound). Three porgies came in under $10. I also picked up baby mustard greens, which were on sale for 78 cents a pound.

Luigi Vitelli-brand Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti from ShopRite in Paramus dressed in Victoria Marinara, Moroccan sardines and fresh cherry tomatoes. I added a little extra-virgin olive oil and a few ounces of red wine to the sauce, plus dried Italian herbs and red-pepper flakes.

A heart-healthy dinner for four with leftovers: A 1-pound box of whole-wheat pasta, a 40-ounce jar of marinara and three or four cans of sardines, mashed with a fork before you add them to the sauce. I left a few ounces of sauce in the bottle and used them to poach two organic eggs for breakfast the next day.

Leftover whole-wheat pasta is a great bread substitute at breakfast.

Dozens of free samples, including the full-fat cheeses I rarely buy, are available at Jerry's Gourmet & More, 410 S. Dean St. in Englewood, above and below.

I had a hard time resisting marinated cherry size fresh mozzarella, left, and sampled three with a toothpick.

On Friday, I hit the jackpot with one of Jerry's restaurant-quality take-out dinners made with a soft-shell crab. The complete dinner included string beans, pasta, a stuffed mushroom and a cucumber salad, marked down to $5.99 after 4 p.m.

Other Meals To Go were built around a grouper fillet, chicken picata or sausage. 

At ShopRite, 224 Route 4 east at Forest Avenue in Paramus, the store-brand of Greek Non-fat Yogurt with Fruit was on sale this week (75 cents each), and seemed a better buy than other brands, including Oikos, Chobani and Fage. At home, I opened one of the ShopRite cups, below, but found it wasn't full. The cup holds 8 ounces, but contains only 5.3 ounces of thick yogurt and fruit, the net weight listed on the side.

Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice carries a badge from the Non-GMO Project, telling consumers the oranges weren't grown using genetically modified seed. 
At the Costco Wholesale Business Center, 80 South River St. in Hackensack, a 2-pound bag of triple-washed kale was $3.89 on Thursday. A week earlier, I saw the same bag of kale being sold at Costco Wholesale in Teterboro for $5.39 -- a dramatic example of how prices can vary at the two warehouses.