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Jack Links Smoked Sausage Review

I’ve previously puked out a lot of words on the Jack Link company, which went from a teeny tiny country butcher shop in a teeny tiny Wisconsin town to a global powerhouse manufacturers and distributor of meat snacks.   I even stopped by their outlet store, near their original factory in Minong, Wisconsin last year.  It’s about 30 miles south of Duluth-Superior on U.S. 53.

The company has prospered and prospered, and grown despite all the odds against them, their small town origin and the usual family in-fighting and lawsuits that often occur in a closely held company.

Jack Link’s has come out with a line of smoked sausages in different flavors.  They’re pretty good-sized, four to a 12 ounce package and sell for around $4.00.  So they are about a buck apiece, which is also about what I pay for my favorite natural casing wieners.

I picked up the ‘regular flavor’ rolled a couple in the cast iron to heat them up.  (Smoked products are generally full cooked, as are these).

I have an opinion or two about the sausages.  They are made for Jack Link by a contract manufacturer near Green Bay called Salm Partners; the company was started by four brothers and a co-hort in 2004, to take advantage of ultra-new technology in the sausage and wiener business, including ‘spray out’ collagen casings and cooking in the package technology.  In a video on their website, Salm says these processes make a product preferred by customers and that have a longer shelf life.   The factory is located at 70 Woodrow Street, Denmark, WI .

Sidebar:  the package makes a couple of claims:  “no fillers” and “hardwood smoke.”   These are some of the undoubtedly unregulated terms in the food industry,

To me, some of the stated ingredients (corn syrup solids, hydrolyzed corn protein) ARE fillers.   Hydrolyzed corn protein is a kind of MSG, but to my understanding is rarely used in foods, due to its strong fermented flavor. As for “hardwood smoked?”  The manufacturer’s video clearly shows the ‘smoking process’ at their plant is a shower of liquid smoke, which to me, isn’t “hardwood smoked.” There are plenty of manufacturers out there still smoking with wood.

It’s the same problem I have with restaurants who have “Kobe Hamburgers” on their menu, or that call California sparkling wines “Champagne.”  Bullshit.

The collagen casing on this sausage is very light, not much snap, which is why I prefer natural casings.  The flavor?  Kinda weird, to me.  In my opinion, smoked sausages should be ‘smokier’ and have a distinctive flavor from spices.  The biggest flavor I get out of this sausage comes from the soy sauce powder ingredient.  Just doesn’t fit.

There are dozens of choices for smoked sausage buyers;  this one (nor Guy Fieri’s) shouldn’t show up on your shopping list.

Jack Link Sausage Review

Jack Link Sausage Review

 

Jack Links Smoked Sausage Review

McHenry, IL – Vickies Place Review

Few things I enjoy more than a hot summer day on a boat, and docking at a more than adequate waterside joint for cocktails and snacks.  Such was the case I hit Vickies Place, in McHenry, IL.   McHenry is perched on the Fox River, which runs into the Chain of Lakes, on up to outside of Milwaukee, and south to the Illinois River, which rolls into the Mississippi about 25 miles north of St. Louis.

I’m sure most summer days Vickies is a mad house, but in the middle of a weekday after noon when we floated up, it was relatively quiet.

The menu has something for every taste.   I will caution you in advance, this is one of those places you are going to get OVERSERVED in the food realm.  I opted for an order of rings as a starter, which came with three different dipping sauces, very tasty, big mistake, as all of the oversized sandwches are accompanied by BOTH fries and onion straws.

Could be wrong, but had the feeling the rings weren’t made in house, but the onion straws were.  Both were delicious.  The fries?  Those extruded things, I know they are popular with a lot of people, just not my personal favorites –  I like to be able to tell fries came from a potato.

I went with the Black and Blue Lagoon burger, cajun seasoned hand-formed eight ounce patty, blue cheese crumbles, and blue cheese sauce – served on the most incredibly soft butter-topped roll.  Dressed with lettuce and tomato, with a great pickle spear on the side. Real crunch.

The patty was quality beef, and the taste came through loud and clear.  One fine hamburg sandwich. Couldn’t get anywhere near finishing the plate.

They have entrees, sandwiches, baskets, house-made pizza, and the ubiquitous Friday night fish fry.

Our server “K.C.” was affable, knowledgeable, and outgoing.  Attentive without hovering.  She’s wasting her talents there.

If you find yourself boating up the Fox, or driving the back roads of northern Illinois, Vickies is worth a stop.

 

Vickies McHenry Review

Exterior

Vickies McHenry Review

Rings & Sauces

 

Vickies McHenry Review

Black & Blue Burger

Vickies McHenry Review

Build Your Own Burger Option

Vickie's Place Restaurant on Urbanspoon
 

 

 

Vickies Place Review

The Wisdom (?) of Very Young Top Officers at Multinationals

burgerkingSo Burger King has a 32 year old CEO, Daniel Schwartz, who has no previous industry experience. Fresh from his grueling undergrad education, Schwartz went to Wall Street as an M&A analyst, made a couple of other stops before joining 3G (Burger King’s private equity owner) as an analyst in 2005.

A few years later, he’s running a $2 billion dollar a year multinational corporation with more than 13,000 outlets in more than 85 countries.

Not only is the CEO “young,” but he has surrounded himself with similarly aged and relatively inexperienced senior execs, including a 28 year old CFO, a 36 year old president of North American operations, and a 29 year old head of investor relations.

He is the 21st CEO in the company’s history, working under the 6th owner. 3G, the present owner, was founded in 2004, and acquired Burger King in 2010 for $3.8 billion. In February of 2013 they agreed to purchase HJ Heinz, (with Berkshire Hathaway) for $28 or $23 billion, depending on which report you read.

Young execs are a rarity outside of tech and internet start-ups. According to the non-profit Conference Board, a research organization, the average age of an incoming CEO in the S&P 500 is around 53 years old.

The corporation’s revenue has been on a steady decline for the past five years, and that has continued under Schwartz, however, net income has risen slightly. But that’s the goal of any private equity deal, isn’t it? To return value to the shareholders? Despite being publicly traded, 3G is holding 70% of BK shares.

Accomplishments under Schwartz include a corporate commitment to getting out of the corporate owned store business, dropping the less than one year old “Satisfries” product, and this week, an announcement of the intended purchase of Tim Horton’s, Canada’s largest fast food operator. Horton’s has 4,000 locations, with a few in the US and overseas. They account for over 20% of Canadian fast food revenues, and hold 62% of the Canadian coffee market, compared to Starbucks, number two, at 7%. Horton’s was previously held by Wendy’s for a period, but was spun off into a new public entity with an IPO in 2006.

Along with the proposed acquisition, BK would move headquarters from Miami to Canada, the latest US company to  take advantage of lower corporate tax rates outside of the U.S.

Schwartz’s plan to sell off company stores to new or existing franchisees seems counter-productive. The company loses touch with its core customers and becomes nothing more than an intellectual property management company. With most of their revenue coming from franchisee fees, how does a corporation who can’t relate to franchisee operating problems do a good job of serving them? How do they roll out or test new products, other than at the possible expense of franchisees?

I have two problems with people Mr. Schwartz’s age running corporations, regardless of their IQ, academic credentials, or family bloodlines.

  1. It’s not a position to be held by someone for “on the job training.” Having spent the bulk of his career studying spreadsheets for a living, Schwartz (and others his age) have simply not made enough career MISTAKES in order to plan and execute corporate triumphs.
  2. Millenials, having grown up in the technology era, have proven themselves time and time again (as a generation) to be both poor communicators, and self-centered beyond reasonableness.

Like many people his age, Schwartz fails to realize that the number one rule for successful corporations is “if you take care of your people first, they will take care of the business.”  And I believe not operating actual BK outlets is contrary to that philosophy. When the company becomes solely the manager of intellectual property, they lose hands-on contact with their ‘real’ customers.

This is not to say, that in a world driven by private equity, Schwartz isn’t the perfect CEO to do that one thing private equity is supposed to do – put more money in the shareholder’s hands, although generally, individual shareholder’s make up the bulk of a public company’s ownership, unlike BK where the public only holds a 16 % stake.

Am I being an “ageist” with these notions? Nah, more likely an “experience-ist.”

Am I envious? Sure, but I base my opinions on having been hired over and over again during  the past twenty years by private equity and venture capital companies to sit in rapid growth companies as “counsel” to young execs.

For I have made all the mistakes they haven’t.

Do I have a proposal for how old a CEO should be? Not really, and there certainly are exceptions to the norm.

Burger King’s performance has been so dismal over the past years, perhaps 3G’s logic in boosting Schwartz to the top position was “he can’t be any worse than the last 10 guys?”

There are many ways to cut costs and boost profits, and I am sure Schwartz will find them and return a buck or a billion to 3G’s shareholders. Buying cash flow ( like the Tim Horton’s deal) is certainly one way to do that, albeit a no-brainer.

I hope he realizes that one way to boost profits is to dramatically increase revenue, and in order to do that, he’ll have to pay attention to Burger King’s number one problem, in that, like most fast food companies, the product is pretty awful.

Their customer’s tastes in foods and awareness of ingredients and prep methods has, and is, changing rapidly. Until BK’s products reflect these changes, sales will continue to be flat, no matter who is at the helm.

There are certainly other fast food companies succeeding that BK could take some hints from.

Burger King CEO

Skyline Frozen Chili Review

Skyline Chili ReviewI have had a few words to say about the massive coney island or chili dog infatuation that exists in Ohio, particularly between two rival chains, Skyline and Gold Star.  In the past I tried out Skyline’s dry spice packet and found the results ultra satisfactory.   (I think the dry packet is from Skyline, even tho the brand is “Skytime” and the package is labeled “Cincinnati Style Chili.” Some disgruntled family member?)

Today I’m checking out Skyline’s frozen “Original Chili,” which can be microwaved or heated on the stove top.

Ingredients include:  beef, water, tomato paste, yeast, corn starch, spices, salt, onion, garlic, paprika and natural flavors.

The chili is produced at Skyline’s own plant,  (USDA est 1691)  at  4180 Thunderbird Lane, in Fairfield, OH, which according to Google maps, appears to be in the image below.  It’s important to me that a brand has control of its manufacturing, rather than contracting it out to someone else, which is very common today.

You can get the goods at grocers in about a dozen states, or order some of the products direct online.  I’ve ordered the dry mix packages  through Amazon.  24 packages for $37, which includes shipping.  If you want the best results, follow the packet instructions precisely.  The only variation I’ve done is to add more ground beef and simmered longer,  just my preference for a  very meaty, crumbly sauce.

This frozen pack is easy-peasy, five minutes in the microwave and you’re ready for your coney/chili dog.  I love the flavor and the convenience.  The main difference you’ll find between using the dry spice packets and this preparation, is like I previously said, I use more ground beef with the dry mix.  Beef in the frozen version?  Eh, not so much.  Maybe less than 10% by volume?  More reminiscent of the “hot dog sauces” of the deep south than of Detroit style coneys.  In the pic below, of the sauce out of the microwave, but still in the tray, you can see a little oil slick, and to me, that’s ALWAYS a good sign for coney sauce.  I used Old Wisconsin natural casing wieners, my current favorite.

Prepared them in the traditional coney style, with a squirt of yellow mustard, diced onion and sauce. ONLY. The serving instructions, for hot dogs, suggests 4 T of sauce per dog.  Seems like a lot, but it’s up to you.  I went with 2 T.

In any case, I will pick the product up again and keep one in the freezer, for lazy weekends.

Skyline Chili Review

Out of the Microwave

Skyline Chili Review

Coney Style Hot Dog

Skyline Chili Review

Skyline Chili Plant in Ohio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skyline Frozen Chili Review

Matt’s Zion Cookies Review

Matt's Fig BarsUntil the late 19th century, physicians thought most physical maladies were related to digestion, and recommended daily doses of biscuits and fruit.  A Philadelphia baker,  Charles Roser, invented a machine and process that would insert fig filling into a pastry dough.   Kennedy Biscuit Company, out of Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, purchased the recipe and began mass production in 1891.  The name “Newton” was taken from the nearby town of Newton, MA.

Kennedy Biscuit developed a relationship with New York Biscuit Company, and they merged to become Nabisco, and shortly thereafter trademarked the name “Fig Newtons.”   Now stuffed with different fruit fillings, Nabisco recently dropped the word “Fig” from the name; the cookies are now known just as “Newtons” and are sold in 12 oz packages as well as individual snack packs.

Whew.  That’s a lot of words just to tell you I like Fig Newtowns and tried a different brand this week.  Nabisco’s run between $3.50 and $5.00 for the 12 oz packages.  Imagine my delight to find a local Chicago brand, “Matt’s Zion,” selling for about three and a half bucks for a one and three quarter pound package!

Matt’s cranks out 20,000 pounds of different kinds of cookies every day, at their factory in Wheeling, IL.  They’ve been doing it since 1980.

I picked up the raspberry ones, and the ingredients are thus: Figs, corn syrup, unbleached wheat flour, sugar, flaked corn, baking oil (palm, soybean, canola), corn sugar, salt, baking soda, citric acid, vanilla, natural flavor & color.  That’s about as pure a recipe as one can find for shelf-stable baked goods.  They use all natural ingredients, and their cookies are Kosher Pareve.

These are damned good, and a great value.  Nice consistency on the fig paste, and great natural raspberry flavor.  Find some if you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt’s Zion Cookies Review

Has the Pretzel Bun Jumped the Shark?

Has the phrase “jumped the shark”  jumped the shark?

The origin of the “Pretzel Roll” in American restaurants seems to be traced back to the German “lye roll” or  Laugengebäck.  Using a process similar (and the same dough)  to making pretzels, the rolls are dipped in lye before baking.  The lye (washing or baking solution if you don’t want to handle lye) produces the unique browning effect.  Out of the oven,  the rolls (like pretzels) are dotted with large grains of salt.

My first introduction to these buns going mainstream was the seasonal Oktoberfest burger at Red Robin.   Steak N Shake has offered one as well.

Now they are widespread, available full time at Wendy’s, Sonic, and Smashburger, to name a few.

Most grocery stores carry some variation of them, and there is even an upstart national brand out of Milwaukee, called Pretzilla.

The best ones, IMHO, are the ones found in authentic German bakeries.  I pick them up at the Original Bavarian Sausage Shop in Tigard, OR, just down the street from one of Mrs. Burgerdogboy’s boyfriend’s house.  She should be mindful to bring some home when she’s over there!

The German recipes are more appealing to me than the US fast food ones that seem to have added some sweetener to their recipes, honey? Brown sugar?  Anyway, I don’t like “sweet” buns for burgers.  Just a personal thing.

So how long do you think pretzel buns will be around in fast food outlets?  And what’s next?  How about onion rolls?

Original Bavarian Sausage

Original Bavarian Sausage’s Pretzel Bun

 

 

 

pretzel bun review

Dollar Tree Frozen Sliders Review

Frozen Sliders ReviewI have previously wowed you with my reviews of other products from AdvancePierre, like the Big Az cheeseburger.  We’ve also taken a look at “Dollar store”  (generically using the name) foods like cheeseburgers, fish sandwiches, and empanadas.  I actually preferred the fish sandwich to any of the fast food outlet offerings.

AdvancePierre, based in Cincinnati, is a leader is providing products to food service, vending, and c-marts. They have eleven factories across the U.S.

So these are  a buck for two sandwiches, which ends up being about 25 – 33 % less than White Castle six packs.  Instructions call for wrapping in a paper towel, heating for 60-70 seconds, and letting sit for 30 seconds prior to consuming.

The only curiosity (to me) was that in the manufacturing process, the two burgers share a single slice of cheese. (see pic).

Verdict?  If you like frozen White Castles, you’ll find these OK. They have a “grill flavor” in place of W.C.’s “onion flavor.”  They taste beefy  and are parked on ultra soft-buns.  Load them up with condiments however you like, and enjoy.

I have to admire AdvancePierre, frozen heat and eat foods has got to be one of the toughest segments in the industry, and they do a bang-up job.

Frozen Slider Review

Frozen, Out of Carton

 

Frozen Slider Review

After 70 seconds in microwave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frozen Sliders Review

Chicago Fire Mexican Casserole Recipe

A Chicago fireman taught me this, he used to make it for his station mates when it was his turn to cook.  There’s really nothing “Mexican” about it, it’s just what he called it.   It’s fast, filling, and covers the food groups.

Ingredients

  • 2 tubes Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (don’t try generic, trust me)
  • 2 Cups cooked chicken, chopped in bite-sized pieces
  • 1 Can Cream of Chicken Soup (do not dilute)
  • 1/2 C sliced jalapenos
  • 2 C your choice cheese (if you use ‘taco-seasoned’ cheese, it is “kinda” Mexican).

Prep

  • Pre heat oven to 350
  • Spray non-stick in a 13X9 baking pan
  • Unroll the crescent rolls, place flat on work surface.
  • On each piece of roll, put a dollop of soup, some jalapenos, chicken and cheese
  • Roll them up and place them symmetrically in the baking pan
  • Drop teaspoons of the soup between the crescent rolls
  • Cover with cheese and decorate with more jalapeno slices
  • Sprinkle paprika on cheese for browning if desired
  • 45 minutes in the oven will do
  • Place under broiler last couple minutes if you are so inclined

Will make 6-8 servings. Easy peasy!

Mexican Casserole Recipe

“Mexican” Chicken Casserole Recipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexican Casserole Recipe

Des Plaines, IL – Kuhns Delicatessen Review

Kuhns German Deli ReviewThe other day, a Los Angeles area newspaper had me write an article about the recent closing of an iconic traditional delicatessen. They do seem to be vanishing at a rapid rate, but I never gave much thought as to why, until the owner of this one that was giving it up set me straight. It’s kind of a result of several things happening at once in America’s dining habits – the infatuation with ‘fast casual’, the number of people following special diet regimens, like vegetarian and gluten free.

The traditional deli is mostly meat and baked goods. RIP.  There are very few left; one of my all time favorites is still around, Cecil’s in St. Paul.

So as I was thinking about that, I was on my way out of Chicago for the winter, and had a deli craving. I was in Des Plaines, not far from Ray Kroc’s first McDonalds, and some locals suggested “Kuhn’s”, a German deli. So I rolled into the parking lot.

You walk into the door into the market portion of the deli, a counter ringing the interior room full of sausages, smoked meat specialties and salads; the outer walls are lined with shelves chock-a-block full of European groceries.

At the rear of the market, you can step through a door into the cafe section table seating for maybe 24 people. The menu offers a variety of German traditional dishes, including schnitzels, rouladen, sauerbraten, and of course, sausages. They also have a good selection of ‘traditional’ hot and cold sandwiches.

I went with the sausage assortment plate, which came with one each of knackwurst, thuringer, and veal bratwurst. A choice of sides had me opt for “German fries.” Now I have a question about that dish. They looked suspiciously like “American fries.” Now if they would have looked like “French fries,” I would have assumed the recipe was just one more thing the Germans pilfered from the French during WW2, but how the heck did they purloin our American fries? In any case, they were very tasty. As were the sausages, which were actually more than I could eat at a serving. (Yeah, I know, shut up).  The plate was accompanied by three slices of fresh bread and a ramekin of coarse mustard.

Chicago’s ethnic pockets and restaurants, German, Czech, Polish have some real gems, unfortunately, most visitors to the city don’t realize instead of Chicago being one big city, its really a collection of very unique neighborhoods.

Being as I’m on the road, I couldn’t load up on sausages from the deli case. Damn.

Kuhns Deli Review Des Plaines

 

 

 

Kuhn's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Kuhns Delicatessen Review

Elgin, IL – Elgin Public House Reviews

Geez I love to be surprised at a restaurant, especially one that has got a rep for burgers – you know, that’s what I write about. Like I was supposed to be amazed at Los Angeles’ Umami Burger, but wasn’t. Across town in West L.A., tho, I was blown away by the burger at Golden State Cafe. Go figure.

Elgin Public House Review

Bleu Horse Burger

I am delighted to say I was surprised  at the Elgin Public House, a massive bar in downtown Elgin, IL.  They’ve been open eight years, and have an incredibly deep menu for hand prepped items.  They have a big selection of burger choices, including two Wagyu, two veggie options, a turkey, and bison.  The beef burgers come in a lot of pre-determined configurations, or you can start from scratch, pick your protein, bun and toppings.  All burgers are served with a choice of a side from a very long list of options.

Mrs BurgerDogBoy went straight for the “The Bleu Horse,” a burger crusted with blue cheese and horseradish, onion straws, and she added pickles and a tomato slice to the brioche bun. She chose Cajun fries as her side. I didn’t try one, but she reported they had a little more heat than she expected.

I went with something way off the usual path for me, their “Saltimbocca Burger,”  topped with prosciutto, fresh Mozzarella and bruschetta.  It was served on a ciabatta roll slathered with red pepper aioli.  I went with their regular fries, which they call “pub fries,”  and they are somewhere between a shoestring and a steak fry in size and texture.

We both ordered our burgers medium rare, and they came……medium rare!  The hand-formed patties had a nice little char on them and a smash treatment.  Tough to get a smashed burger medium rare, kudos to chef.

Anyway, I was blown away by my burger.  These elements come together so perfectly I am at a loss to describe it.  The mozz and bruschetta were chilled, and the aioli brought it all together.  Hot protein, chilled vegetable, great bread durable enough for a heavily topped burger, and a little spice with the aioli.  Magnificent.

Add over the top service from Molly to the experience.  Two burgers, two soft drinks, $24.95.

If there’s a ‘next time,’  I’d give the Wagyu with garlic  Boursin a shot.  I’ve no doubt it would be superb.

Here’s their lengthy menu.

Elgin Public House Review

Burger Saltimbocca

 

Elgin Public House on Urbanspoon

Elgin Public House Reviews

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