US Food Safety Recalls and Tips

Steak N Shake Frozen Burgers Review

Steak N Shake Frozen Burger ReviewSeems like every restaurant brand is trying to extend their reach by putting labeled products in the grocery aisles;  if my memory is correct, seems like Taco Bell was first.  Not there is hardly a fast casual brand that you don’t see in the grocery, whether it’s Boston Market, Fridays, Marie Callenders,  Fatburger, Burger King, Nathan’s.

I’ve reviewed a pretty good sampling of heat and eat burgers in the past, including  Fred Meyer Frozen Mini Cheeseburgers, Private Selection Angus Beef Patties, and Trader Joes Kobe Style, White Castle,  to the convenience store types like Big A Angus Charbroil, the 7-Eleven Cheeseburger, Fatburger, Walgreens,  AM/PM Mini Marts, and Ball Park, to mention a few.

Now I see Steak N Shake has entered the fray.  The Illinois founded company now has more than 400 outlets across the country, and I have generally been pretty pleased with their products.  They have a rep for fresh, cooked to order food.

So I wish they wouldn’t have entered this market segment.  I think it does more harm than good, as a frozen heat and eat burger can’t come close to the taste or texture of a burger prepared in the restaurant.

Stea N Shake chose Ohio-based AdvancedPierre as their contract manufacturer / distributor.  The company makes a lot of heat and eat foods for the convenience and vending market, including the “Big A” referenced above.

While this type of product is available throughout the entire price range, from a buck each up to $10 + for a bag of six or eight patties, the Steak N Shake variety was offered at $5 for (2) 5.3 ounce sandwiches.  The sandwich is comprised of two patties, one slice of cheese and bun.  No condiments are included, of course.

Instructions call for puncturing the wrapper (picture 1 below), heating for 75 seconds in the microwave, and letting sit for thirty seconds after that.  Of course it has the disclaimer that “microwaves and heating times may vary” and they were referring to mine, as at 75 seconds the middle of the patties was still frozen.

Removed from the microwave (picture 2 below), they look fairly appealing.

One ‘beef’ I have with all of these products that include buns, is that frequently the bun and meat require different heating times, so you’re going to probably be disappointed with one or the other.  My “cheat” is to disassemble them and heat them separately, works for me, but takes a little trial and error.   That process especially works great with frozen White Castles.

What’s my verdict?  They’re OK.  As I feared, nothing resembling the restaurant product, but most of these heat and eat burgers are pretty similar in my experience, and opinion, no matter the brand or the price point.

I suppose the “hook” is convenience.  Single people who don’t want to cook, harried mom needing a quick snack for the kids.  Burger snobs won’t give them a thought.

Moms might want to reconsider, now that I just read the nutrition info –  490 calories with over half of those from fat.  Probably not good.

Steak N Shake Frozen Burger Review

Steak N Shake Frozen Burger Review





Steak N Shake Frozen Burgers Review

Spoiler Alert: The World’s Worst “Steak”

If you’ve read my posts in the past, you know I seldom write a “bad” review.  While I may be dissatisfied with some aspect of a visit to a restaurant or with a product I try at home, I almost always try and find something redeeming about the experience.  Although many people would dispute what I am about to say, I do try and look for the positives in life.

I am generally not inclined to purchase food products that include on the label some form or fashion of the following words:  “may contain up to (or be enhanced with ) a XX % of ‘solution.’   The solution is usually a combination of brine (salt water) and flavorings, designed for two things: to increase the weight of a product at retail, and to act as a ‘marinade’ both for flavor and breaking down tough muscle meats.

You most frequently see it on processed (raw) chicken, and those ‘pork tenderloins’ that come in various flavors.  While I don’t object, largely, to flavor enhancement, I am not thrilled with what the brines do to the texture of the food.  In my opinion, the experience of chewing proteins that have been treated like this in no way resemble the texture of eating untreated beef, poultry, or pork.

One can easily see the appeal to food manufacturers and retailers , especially if 20 % of the weight you are paying for is salt water (at multiple dollars per pound).

It also allows manufacturers to take ‘grade b’ (my term) product and amp it up to resemble a premium product.  Clever.

The Great American Steak Company is a division of Green Bay based American Food Group, a marketing and distribution company that sells ‘fresh’ meat under a number of different labels.  It is part of Minnesota based Rosen’s Diversified, which claims to be the 5th largest beef processing company in the country, and is the Gopher State’s fifth largest privately held company, with revenues of $2.5 billion annually.  The company’s materials says that they process over four million pounds of beef daily and ship their product to over thirty countries.

Great American Steak Review As to the actual product.  The Great American Steak Company sells “bacon wrapped filet of beef” in single or double packaging (left);  you can find these around town for between $4 – $8, and occasionally some store will have them at $1.99 each.  (Considerably less than the price of hamburger, which should be a clue.)

It’s funny, I actually had these a few months ago and said largely favorable things.   I don’t think I was drunk, but the same package, purchased recently, cannot be the same product I had months ago.

This was inedible.  Period.  I cooked two, using different prep methods, and neither were satisfactory.  Not only are the lacking in any kind of ‘real’ beef taste,  the tactile experience is akin to chewing on a rubber ball.  Really.

These ‘steaks’ are made by a production subsidiary of Great American / Rosen, called Skylark Meats, in Omaha (pictured below).  On Skylark’s website, they claim to be “America’s largest producer of sliced liver.”  I’m not sure that’s much of a distinction, how many people even eat liver anymore (felines excepted).   Their puff piece goes on to say they furnish premium beef cuts to some of “America’s finest restaurants,” but hopefully these beef filets are not included and I haven’t fallen prey to paying restaurant prices for the “filets” in the past.

The content label lists the primary element as “Beef Chuck Tender” and the packaging further says “hand trimmed.”  “Up to a 20% solution” is also on the label, with an asterisk, but there is no further reference to the asterisk on the packaging.

Other ingredients include some of the MSG substitutes food companies are using these days, including “torula yeast.”  You probably don’t want to click on that link and read about that product.

In short, this product is absolutely awful.  I’m pretty confident that some future generations won’t ever get to eat “real food,”  and this kind of manufacturing is the harbinger of those times.

While one can’t be sure, it is implied from the packaging this is a single cut of muscle, as opposed to a pressed, chopped, and form piece of meat. (Have you seen those hundreds of identical steaks on restaurant buffets?  Wow. What technology.).

In searching the internet for news about Great American, Rosen, and Skylark, it appears that Skylark is also a manufacturer of the steaks one might purchase at a tent in a parking lot, or off a door to door truck.  Have you heard those pitches?  What a scream!  “Yes ma’am, I was supposed to deliver this to your neighbor, but they aren’t home, so I’m willing to sell you this 20 pound box of steaks for half price…” LOL.

You get what you pay for.  Even at $1.99 for 5 ounces of “beef,”  I feel like I overpaid.   I’ll be reluctant to try any other products from any of Rosen’s operating companies.

I fully realize that at four million pounds of production a day, this 5 ounce steak represents .0000001 % of  their  production, if my math is correct.  Nevertheless, I wish they’d try and make it more palatable in general.  Or ship it off to one of those 32 countries they export to.


Great American Steak Review

Skylark Meats Plant,  Omaha








great american steak company




Cary, IL – Tracks Bar and Grill Review

Tracks Bar and Grill CarySorry for the delay on this one, misplaced the pix for a couple months.  I was heading out to Woodstock, IL (left) (where they shot “Groundhog Day”) to look at a couple of horses for sale.   A pal said, ‘since you’re headed that way, stop at the Tracks Bar and Grill in Cary, and try the burgers.

It doesn’t take much persuading when somebody I trust makes a suggestion like that.

Apparently, everybody in the world knows about this place, except me – it has been around for more than thirty years and year after year gets voted as the best burger in McHenry County.

Well deserved, I say.

I went with the Black and Blue, Cajun seasoning and AMPLE blue cheese chunks (see second pic below, after I lifted off the house-made onion straws to get a peek at the cheese).  These are monster burgers, ten ounces of CERTIFIED Angus beef (if you just see “we serve Angus beef” on a menu – complete bullshit, as 80% of the cows in America are Angus – but CERTIFIED Angus, that IS a big deal).

Anyway, the beef was great, impressive blue cheese, house-made onion straws and chips (the latter are damned hard to make, so kudos to Chef), and one of the finest pickles ever served anywhere. Truly.   I ordered my “Black and Blue” prepared “bleu” and it came as ordered. Perfection. (3rd pic below).

As with most places in the area, they have a Friday night fish fry which is highly touted, and nightly specials, too.

I lifted a menu so you can see it  —  no, not there, over here.

You could take a date, and split a burger, and not even look cheap, cause these suckers will easily feed two.  BTW?  No take outs.  House policy.

At the end of the post, there’s a little video that peeks into the kitchen and process.

Tracks Bar and Grill Cary

Tracks Bar and Grill Cary

Tracks Bar and Grill Cary

Tracks on Urbanspoon

Tracks Bar and Grill Review

John Morrell Little Smokies Review

John Morrell Little Smokies ReviewI continue my quest for the world’s tastiest Little Smokies.  So far, by a wide margin, Hillshire Farms Beef are my favorite….in the number two slot is the in-house brand at discount grocer Aldi.   It’s not a close second as far as the primary criteria, flavor and texture, no, Aldi places for value… regularly nearly half the price of the big brands.  (Hillshire Farm are usually $4.99, sometimes $4.49, and Aldi clock in at $2.99 always.

Today I tried out John Morrell; a product that the package promises “Plump Meaty Bites.” Morrell is a meat company that traces its roots back to 1827 England.  They sell products under a number of brand names that they have acquired over the years:  Ekrich,  Armour, Kretschmar,  Krakus.   Morrell itself is now owned by Smithfield, which of course, became a Chinese owned company recently.  (Not sure if it’s a good idea for US food companies to sell out to Chinese, just sayin’).

There can be some confusion between “little smokies” and “cocktail franks.”  Cocktail franks taste like mini wieners and are most often found floating in a chafing dish full of barbecue sauce at a party or event you wished you hadn’t attended.  Little smokies are more “sausage-like” in both texture and flavor.

I grabbed the Morrell package because it was substantially discounted compared to Hillshire, maybe $3.49.  Although the package says ‘little smokies,”  these are clearly cocktail franks, an extruded type sausage with the same fine grind and ingredients, and seasonings of one of Morrell’s hot dog products, I am sure.  Not only do they taste and feel like a frank, they are a much lighter color than the Hillshire Farm beef products.

What is an extruded sausage?   A slurry of ingredients is produced, and squirted into a collagen casing, which can be edible or non-edible.  If the latter, it is stripped off in the last state of manufacturing (fascinating to watch).  Newer technologies offer ‘spray on’ collagen casings, the operator can designate different thicknesses, in order to emulate the feel of a natural casing (intestines).

Morrell’s product is pork and mechanically separated chicken.  Hillshire Farms, ain’t.

Does the Morrell product place on my ‘consider regularly’ list?  Nope.  If I wanted little wieners, I’d buy wieners and chop them.  My taste in Little Smokies requires a resemblance in flavor and taste akin to “real sausage”, so I’ll suck up on the purchase price and stay with Hillshire Farms.

The Morrell package does not indicate a USDA plant number.  I don’t understand why some packages must have it, others don’t.  I asked the USDA and got pawned off from one department to another – ultimately not receiving an answer.

I generally don’t care for any ‘sausage’ product that contains chicken or turkey.  Yeah, I know they are supposed to be better for you, but the taste and texture just doesn’t appeal to me.

Speaking of confusing?  The regulators could help me out by coming up with definitions for “franks,”  “wieners,”  and “hot dogs.”

John Morrell Little Smokies Review

In the pan,, unheated



John Morrell Little Smokies Review


Tyson Buffalo Chicken Strips Review

Tyson Buffalo Strips ReviewI have often written on the subject of my bewilderment that after frozen, fried foods being around for over fifty years, they haven’t figured out how to make it truly crispy yet.  Pre-cooked/fried at the factory, no matter how you screw around with it at home (following the manufacturer’s instructions), you can’t get that crisp / crunch there you were expecting.

Continuing my quest to find such a product, I tried out Tyson’s Buffalo Chicken Strips.  Since they are fully cooked, they truly are a “heat and eat” product, which you can opt to “cook” in the oven or in the microwave.  You know me, it’s a personal quirk that I always opt for oven heating. (The package notes that “conventional oven” is the “preferred method”).

These strips are made with chicken breast and “rib meat” and a whole host of other ingredients (see ingredient  list and nutrition info below) (thankful it doesn’t include the phrase “mechanically separated).   They are supposed to come out of a 400 degree oven after 18-20 minutes.

How were they?   They’ve made some progress on the crispiness.  At least now, it’s “intermittent.”  The buffalo flavor is present, but not very strong.  Appeal for the mass market, one supposes.  Where these strips fall down is in their attempt to resemble actual protein muscle.  Since these strips are made from combinations of meat, one can only assume the protein is ground or pureed and made into a slurry, in order to be reformed. At least that’s how McDonald’s does it, according to this “official video” from McDonald’s of Canada.  (McDonald’s Canada gets their nuggets from Cargill). The primary ingredient differential seems to be that McDonald’s adds chicken skin for flavor, and Tyson uses chicken broth.


In any case, for my taste, while I was OK with the breading and flavor, the protein muscle is a little limp (see pic below).  Would I purchase again?  Despite their convenience, that aspect isn’t enough of a value proposition for me to be a regular purchaser.  At $7.00 (Wal Mart) for a package, it comes out to $4.48 per pound, whereas whole chickens are pretty stable at a buck a pound.  So I’d buy the Tyson strips again if they were on sale.  I think my comfortable price point would be around $3.00 per pound, at the outside.

My strips were accompanied on the plate by  chunky Bleu Cheese dressing, made by what I believe is the best salad dressing manufacturer in the country, Litehouse Foods of Sand Point, ID.  They offer a number of varieties of blue cheese dressing, and I like them all. My favorite is their “Big Bleu,” which is even chunkier than chunky!

Tyson Buffalo Strips Review

Before or after “cooking,” they look the same

Tyson Buffalo Strip Review

Cooked, halved strip

Tyson is the world’s second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork only behind BrazilianJBS S.A., with 2011 sales of US$32 billion. They got even bigger this year with their acquisition of Hillshire Foods (formerly Sara Lee).

Ingredients:  Boneless, skinless chicken breast strips with rib meat, chicken broth, bleached wheat flour, vinegar, aged cayenne peppers, wheat flour, salt, less than 2 percent of the following: modified corn starch, spices, maltodextrin, yellow corn flour, sodium phosphates,modified tapioca starch, vinegar powder (maltodextrin, modified food starch, and vinegar), sodium diacetate, dextrose, sugar, dehydrated onion, dehydrated garlic, xanthan gum, yeast, guar gum, spice extractives, caramel color, oleoresin paprika, carob bean gum,natural flavor, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate), onion powder, polysorbate 80, extractives of paprika and granulated garlic. Breading set in vegetable oil.

Nutritional Information:

tyson nutrition







Tyson Buffalo Chicken Strips Review

Bridgford Thick Sliced Pepperoni

Bridgford Thick Pepperoni

Anaheim HQ

Bridgford Thick Sliced Pepperoni was on sale this week, and I try and stock up when those little delightful discs of processed pork are discounted.

Bridgford started about 80 years ago in Southern California; its still a family business and headquartered in Anaheim.  They were primarily in the bread dough for consumers business (dough, heat and serve) until diversifying through the acquisition of a meat snack plant in Chicago.  In addition to those two facilities, the company has plants in Dallas and North Carolina.

In addition to the pepperoni, the meat portion of the company makes jerky, beef sticks, and salami.   Products are available nationwide.

But back to the subject.  I’m always sampling pepperoni, as I make pizza at home often.  I look at the ingredients, flavor, and texture.  I  most want to avoid pepperoni that cups and chars on top of a pie, tho some people find that a positive attribute.

At our house, the flavor has to be raw, as Mrs. Burgerdogboy prefers her pepperoni right out of the package as a snack – she doesn’t go for it “cooked.”

We like this one for the ingredients:  pork, beef, salt, paprika and just the usual sodium based preservatives.  No corn syrup, powdered milk or other fillers.  Plus it’s got a little “kick.”

It’s made in the Chicago plant, pictured below, which is just a few blocks west of the loop, on Green, right below the Green/Pink lines.

Buy recommendation:  Hell, yes! 


Bridgford Thick Pepperoni


Bridgford Thick Pepperoni Review

Chicago Factory






Bridgford Thick Sliced Pepperoni

The Best Food Festivals of the Fall

Fall Food Fests 2014Hitting the road or need an excuse to?   There are plenty of food events across the US this fall.  Here’a rundown of some of the best, in calendar order:

Feast Portland, September 18-21 at various venues in the city, this is an opportunity to truly sample the best of Portland, quickly becoming one of America’s great food cities. Only three years old, a number of food magazines and critics call it “the best food festival in the country.” It’s presented (sponsored) by Bon Appetit magazine.

Hob nob with top chefs and stars of country music at the Music City Food & Wine Fest, September 20, 21.  Tickets available here.

If you’re thirsty after all that food, best head to the Great American Beer Fest in Denver, October 2-4.  Do you think the mile high city will be hosting “Weedfest” in the future?

If beer ain’t all that important, but getting sauced is, head to Kansas City for the World Series of Barbecue, over 500 teams from all over the world competing to be awarded the ‘best of the best.’  October 2-5 are the dates, and in addition to the competitions, there will be demonstrations,  a trade expo, and the world’ s largest barbecue sauce store.  (Bet there won’t be any Texans in there!)

Downtown Keene, NH, presents Pumpkin Fest, Saturday, October 14.  Expect food, crafts, music and a carnival at this annual tradition that is rapidly becoming of the major events in the Northeast.

Sail or drive in to the Wellfleet Oyster Fest on Cape Cod,  October 18, and 19th.  Expect a whole mess of seafood, including several raw bars.  I’ll be at one, they’re behind the town hall.











food events calendar 2014

Mutti Pizza Sauce Review

Imported from Italy from a company that for the last hundred years has focused on processing tomato products and only tomato products, you can’t get much more straightforward than these ingredients:  tomatoes (99%), salt, basil, oregano, onion.

Mutti is located in Parma.  In addition to pizza sauce, they make peeled tomatoes, puree,  pulp and concentrate.

I have no earthly idea how they get their sauce this thick, no matter how long I cook tomatoes down, the result is usually somewhat watery.

In any regards, this is the real deal for pizza sauce.  You can buy it at Italian / Euro food shops in the US, or order online at Amazon.

Why is it European food companies make products superior to those in the US?  Tighter regulations? Looser?  Small batches?  Puzzlement.

Mutti Pizza Sauce Review








Mutti Pizza Sauce



Geneva, IL – Old Towne Pub & Eatery Review

In my recent final Midwest swing of the year, before the snow flies and I head back south to the farm, I was meeting various friends around the city and burbs for fellowship and food.   One of my stops took me to Geneva, IL, a far western burb – you’d recognize the quaint downtown if you saw the Tom Hank’s movie “Road to Perdition.”

Geneva’s downtown is vibrant with cute boutiques, specialty shops, antiques and eateries.  I stopped in for a beer only (Stella on draft) at the Old Towne Pub & Eatery, and got suckered in to having the Sunday special, a $5 burger, by the smooth talking and oh so cute waitress, “Nikki.”

Old Towne has a great bar food menu, with some good innovations, and aesthetically pleasing preparation.  They also have beer taps on some of the tables, pour yourself, if you’re inclined – the flow is metered and you’re charged by the ounce.  Wouldn’t be able to take Mrs. Burgerdogboy in there, she’s pull a Barney (the Simpsons) stunt, lie on the floor with the tap and her mouth wide open!

Burgers are 1/2 pound Angus, dressed with tomato, lettuce, onion, pickle;  a whole raft of additional toppings  and cheeses are available with an up charge.  Sandwiches and such are served with a choice of sides from a long list:  fries, tots, chips, or chips and salsa.  Always one to appreciate the small things in life, I can tell you Old Towne has a great pickle spear.

The burger was prepared as ordered, and the beef had great flavor.  It was one of those times I felt condiments did a disservice, and that was the second time in a week, following my visit to Vickies Place, up river from Geneva.

Take a look at the menu for Old Towne, and spend a pleasant afternoon or evening in Geneva.

Old Towne Pub Geneva Review



Old Towne Pub & Eatery on Urbanspoon

Old Towne Pub Geneva review

Duluth, MN – Carmody Irish Pub & Brewing

Carmody Irish Pub Duluth Review

Owner Ed & Brewmaster Mike

Comes a time in many men’s lives when they hears the call of the old home town, and feel the passion of his ancestors start to well up inside him. Thus began the latest chapter in the life of Ed Gleeson, born in Duluth,  world traveler, grandson of some  former scions of the early hospitality industry in Duluth.   Ed’s Irish immigrant grandparents built a mini-empire in Duluth in the late 1800s, starting a restaurant, acquiring hotels, and being a part of People’s Brewing Co. a rather long-lived post prohibition beer company that lasted until 1957.

Ed’s genetic ambitions led him to create Carmody Irish Pub in Duluth, five years ago, add a Northshore branch, Carmody 61, and finally to add micro-brewing capability on site.

Carmody’s, at 308 East Superior Street in the heart of the “new” old downtown, opens daily at 3PM,  has live music six nights a week, with 32 beers and 21 Irish whiskeys on hand in addition to his own micro-brews.  Demand for the latter is causing him to double brewing output capacity this year.

A believer in supporting local businesses as well as the locavore movement, Ed sources as much product locally as he is able to, and estimates that over 80% of the food products come from establishments within an hour of the Twin Ports.

Carmody’s food offerings include their takes on traditional bar food, with the addition of some Chicago favorites (one of Ed’s major life stopping points),  as well as an homage or two to  Irish / UK specialties.

Chicago style dishes include the “Maxwell Street Chicago Dog,”  dressed as one would find at  hundreds of Chicago eateries, with mustard, cucumber, relish, peppers, tomato,  and a dash of  celery salt.  Another Chicago legend on the  menu is the Italian Beef sandwich, thin sliced roast beef slowly marinaded in a flavorful au jus, served on a fresh bakery roll and topped with mild or spicy giardiniera.  Beef for the sandwich is sourced from Fraboni’s on the range,  and cooked at Carmody 61, which enjoys a larger kitchen and prep area than the Duluth outlet. 

A tribute to the cuisine of  the UK and Ireland can be found in the bangers and mash,  and his version of the Cornish pasty.  If you’re not familiar with the pasty, it’s a crimped, baked meat and vegetable pie, popularized by miners from the British Isles and Eastern Europe, who settled in the mining communities of Northern Michigan and Minnesota.  The hand-held pie provided hearty fare for miner lunches. Ed says his version of the pasty has “Slavic” influences, rather than Cornish or Finnish.  The pasty has become widely associated with the Finnish culture in Minnesota.

Sausages at Carmody’s are made from Ed’s secret family recipes, built to the pub’s specifications at Wrazidlo’s Old World Meats in Duluth. Bread and rolls are an exclusive Carmody recipe baked by Duluth’s Johnson’s Bakery.  In the friendly West End. Or West Duluth.  I could never tell what the difference was.

Additional menu items include starters, sandwiches, wraps, pizza with some vegetarian friendly choices.  The menu at the Two Harbors branch has different menu choices, including entrees and burgers.

Taste experiences  this visit included the pretzel appetizer with house made mustard, Italian Beef sandwich, and bangers with garlic mash. All were excellent. We look forward to grazing our way through the rest of the menu in the near future.

Here’s the complete Duluth menu.

Carmody Irish Pub Duluth Review


Carmody Irish Pub Duluth Review

Bar Back – 21 Irish Whiskeys!


Carmody Irish Pub Duluth Review

Bangers and Mash


Carmody Irish Pub Duluth Review

Italian Beef

Carmody Irish Pub on Urbanspoon
Carmody Irish Pub



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