Costco: To buy or not to buy…

I thought this was an appropriate follow up article to my previous post from a few months ago, Costco:Love/Hate

It’s a list of things you should and should not buy at Costco.

Items not to buy:

  1. Designer Clothes
  2. Imported Shrimp
  3. Sheets and Towels
  4. 12-Pound crates of navel oranges

Things to buy:

  • Chocolate truffles
  • Eyeglasses
  • Laptops
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In my opinion, they left out the item at Costco which is near and dear to my heart: Prime Grade Beef. The price has gone up a few bucks since that article.  It may be due to the proximity of the Holiday Season with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. But it’s still a steal compared to what you’d get at Safeway or Whole Foods.

Brian’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Update 12/19/2012: I updated the recipe here.  This one still works, but if you want the latest and greatest, check the new post.)

Last weekend when we were at my parent’s place in Sacramento (yeah, they moved from Bakersfield to Sac back in August), my mom introduced me to a recipe for chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, which are my favorite kind of cookies ever! I have no idea why this kind are so hard to come by. People make chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal raisin (yuck!) cookies all the time, but hardly ever will you find a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie.

This particular recipe is called “Jack’s Chocolate Chip Cookies“. Frankly, I don’t know Jack…er…I mean, I have no idea who Jack is.  But the problem is that Jack obviously didn’t have an allergy to walnuts, whereas I do. So with that, I present to you, “Brian’s Chocolate Chip Cookies”.

Ingredients
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a stand mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar and white sugar until smooth. Add the eggs , milk, and vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, stir into the creamed mixture. Stir in the rolled oats and chocolate chips.
  3. Make golf ball sized portions, and place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat silicone baking mat. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Cool cookies on wire racks.

Whole Food’s Palo Alto Butcher Doesn’t Know His Meat

As a follow up to my post on Whole Foods and organic food yesterday as well as my article in the Wall Street Journal, I bring you this anecdote:

After my interview with Katy McLaughlin from the WSJ, I was curious as to whether I could find Prime Beef at other establishments. The first place that came to mind was Whole Foods Market. They’re known for their expensive, locally grown, organic food. I figured if I could find an expensive cut of meet like Prime anywhere, it would be there.

So that Saturday I went to Whole Foods and I talked to the butcher. I don’t know if they keep their “second string” butchers on duty on Saturdays, or what was going on, but this guy and his compatriot did not know their meat.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hello, I was wondering what grade your meat is.

Butcher 1: What grade?

Me: Yeah, like the USDA grade?

Butcher 1: What do you mean?

Me: Like, Select, Choice, Prime?

Butcher 1: Select Choice or Prime? Hmm…not sure. (Notice he thought “Select Choice” was one kind of meat, not two.)

*Calls to other butcher

Butcher 1: Hey, what USDA grade is our beef? Select Choice or Prime?

*Butcher 2 walks over.

Butcher 2: Well, you have to look at it.

Me: You have to look at it?  What do you mean?

Butcher 2: Well, it’s all based on marbling, so you just have to look at it.

*He picks up a piece of Ribeye (my favorite).

Butcher 2: See, this looks like a piece of Choice. Look at all that marbling.

Me: Oh…uh-huh. (What the heck is he talking about?)

*Butcher 2 picks up another piece of meat.

Butcher 2: And see, this piece looks more like Select.

Me: Got it. Do you ever get Prime?

Butcher 2: Yeah, it depends on what is shipped to us.

*Points to another piece of meat.

Butcher 2: But this piece looks like Prime.

Me: Oh really?

Butcher 2: Yeah. See, we usually only carry Select, Choice and Prime.

Me: Ahh…I see. So if it’s not here, can I special order it?

Butcher 2: Yeah, of course!

Me: OK. Thanks for your time. Bye

I walked away shaking my head. In case you don’t know why, I’d suggest reading my prior post from when I found the Prime beef. It details all the differences.  First of all, I can’t believe the first butcher didn’t know what USDA meat grades were. Unless he’s not from here, which I’d say is highly unlikely, he really can’t call himself a butcher if he doesn’t know about USDA grades.

Second, one can’t just “tell” what USDA grade a piece of meat is. It’s professionally graded by official USDA meat graders. Their job is to look at a beef carcass and determine what grade the entire cow is. It’s not on a steak by steak basis. The entire animal is graded.

Third, unless you’re a maker of processed meat, the only grades of meat available to you are Select, Choice and Prime. Below that, you have Utility, Cutter, and Canner. As this USDA page indicates:

Utility, Cutter, and Canner grades are seldom, if ever, sold at retail but are used instead to make ground beef and processed products.

In other words, it’s inane to claim that you usually have Select, Choice, and Prime if you’re a (theoretically) upscale butcher like Whole Foods. That would be like a geometry teacher claiming “We only cover polygons with more than 3 sides in this class.” Of course you do! Because if a “shape” had less than 3 sides, it wouldn’t be a polygon. Ridiculous!

In any case, I hope you get two takeaways from this:

  1. A good laugh. It was pretty funny to me.
  2. A lesson that you need to have a good butcher, and a good relationship with said butcher. Beware of butchers who will sell you a $25 ribeye or a $35 filet mignon and have no idea what grade it is.

Organic Food

All you Whole Paycheck Whole Foods  and organic junkies take note: organic food is no better for you than ordinary food. People are spending $48 billion a year to buy organic food that provides no significant difference in nutritional value from any other food. (I’ll refrain from claiming that they’re wasting $48 billion a year because if they didn’t buy organic, they’d still have to spend money on regular food. But given that organic food can cost double what non-organic would, I think it’s fair to say that at least $24 billion is wasted.)

Anyways, I’ve never been a huge believer in buying organic. I’m a pretty thrifty consumer, so I’ll pretty much buy whatever gives me the best value. Usually, that’s not organic food. Historically, if there was an organic piece of food that was on sale for the same price as regular food, I’d buy the organic because of the perceived health benefits (everyone told me it was better), but with this report, I might not even do that any more but for the fact that I know I’d be getting something on the cheap.

5 Months, or 150 Days

Charlene and I have officially been married for 5 months. Incidentally, that also translates to 150 days. Funny how that works. I guess the 28 days of February combined with a few 31 day months means we’re at an average of 30 day/month exactly.

Anyways, congratulations, Char. We made it this far! Seems like yesterday we were trying to figure out what to have for dinner at the banquet, and dueling it out on the guest list.

Charlene took me out to Red Lobster in celebration of our milestone. It was very delicious. The service was a bit lacking, but I think the server was being overworked and had too many tables to focus on. He seemed like he was running in a thousand different directions at once.

I’m pretty sure I’ve officially decided that I don’t like eating crab from the shell. It’s too messy and time consuming. But I’ll take crab cakes any day. The shrimp, scallops, potatoes, rice, and broccoli were fabulous.

Oh, and those lobster tails they show in the commericals–it’s all marketing–pure and simple–well, maybe not pure but you know what I mean. The ones in the commercial are huge. The ones on the plate were tiny. They made crayfish tails look pretty sizable.

Thanks for dinner!  It was delicious.

Got My Grill!

I finally bought my grill yesterday. It’s a Master Forge, and it has four main burners with a side burner. Now I’m ready to Grill! It! Up!

Summer at the Wong household can finally commence.

Andy and I are going to assemble it this morning, and we’ll cook dinner on it tonight. I already went shopping at Costco and Safeway for our dinner. We’ve got to inaugurate the grill in style, so I’ll be cooking up the following:

The first five items will be on the grill. The last one will be in the oven, but if I get a little crazy and adventurous, I might try some on the grill as well.

Can’t wait!