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Archive for the ‘Hot off the Grill’ Category

Chicago’s Iconic Sandwich – The Italian Beef

Like most locally-specific foods around the US, whether it’s the first coney island style hot dog, or the first pizzeria in America, the origins of Chicago’s iconic sandwich – the Italian Beef – are difficult to sort out.  One story has it that Italian immigrant workers in Chicago’s stockyards brought home tougher cuts of meat, slow roasted them, and then slow marinated / simmered them in a broth chock-a-block full of herbs and spices.  The roast was then thin sliced and served on a durable Italian roll. According to one purveyor of the product,  Scala meats, the sandwich was originally introduced at weddings and festivals as a way of extending the food supply for larger crowds.

One early vendor, Al’s #1 Beef, opened its first Chicago stand in 1938.  While the sandwiches are widely available in Chicago, Northern Illinois and NW Indiana, relocated Chicagoans have started to open their own versions of Italian beef stands around the country, and some of the larger players, like Al’s, and Portillo’s, are expanding through adding corporate outlets or franchising.  Portillo’s has just been sold to a private equity group which  has national ambitions. Chicago’s Vienna Beef, supplier of hot dogs to the nation, also has a beef product for restaurants and consumers, which is available through its own distributors, Sysco, and shipped directly to consumers.

There are a number of ways to order your beef sandwich:

  • Dry – meat is pulled from the broth and allowed to drip prior to placing it on the roll.
  • Wet – meat is not allowed to drip the juices, and the bread has the meat with some broth soaking in the bread
  • Dipped – meat is placed on the sandwich and the entire roll is dipped in the broth

Sandwiches can be dressed with giardiniera (diced, pickled vegetables) or sport peppers; some outlets offer the “cheesy beef”, a sandwich prepared in one of the above manners with the addition of melted mozzarella or provolone.

Outside of Chicago, there’s a directory that can help you find an Italian beef near you.  One enthusiast has memorialized sandwiches at various locations around Chicagoland.

Here’s a slow cooker version of a Portillo’s style Italian beef recipe.

Here are pix of these delicious sandwiches that I have enjoyed.

Italian Beef Review

Cheesy Beef – Mr. Beefy, Fox River Grove, IL

Italian beef review

Michael’s – Portland, OR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italian Beef

 

Pizza Knot Recipe, Tailgating Favorite

PIZZA KNOTS FOR TAILGATING PARTIES

I got a crazy itch this past weekend to try and make garlic knots for the first time. But I didn’t really feel like spending all weekend at it – when I usually make scratch bread or pizza dough, it’s a two day process.

So I went with the old reliable frozen bread dough. Which isn’t all that impromptu either, as you need a day to thaw it.

Ingredients

1 loaf frozen bread dough or pizza crust

6 cloves garlic, diced

1 T fresh parsley diced

1 T basil

4 oz pepperoni diced

3 oz your preferred “Italian” cheese

2 T butter

2 T olive oil

Method

Frozen bread  loaf, thawed

Frozen bread loaf, thawed

Using a roller, or a 2 liter bottle of soda if you don’t have a rolling pin, make a couple of 8” circles of dough.

Slice lengthwise into ½ inch wide strips. Tie into a loose knot. Set aside.

Roll dough, slice

Roll dough, slice

Place the butter and oil in a cast iron skillet. Saute the garlic, herbs and pepperoni until it has a little crisp going on.

Saute meat and veggies

Saute meat and veggies

Spoon out the garlic, parsley and pepperoni, and leave as much oil/butter in the skillet as you can. Place in a bowl and toss knots in the mixture.

Toss knots with vegs, meats, oil and butter

Toss knots with vegs, meats, oil and butter

Put the knots in the skillet in a single layer, drizzle with more oil and cover tightly, allow to double in size. Probably 3-4 hours.

Knots in the pan

Knots in the pan

Preheat over to 425, put skillet in oven on center rack for 25-30 minutes. Brush with more olive oil when you remove from oven and dust with your Italian cheese. Serve immediately. Or “knot.”

Pizza Knot Recipe

Out of the Oven!

 

You can serve some marinara on the side for dipping if you like.

 

 

pizza knot recipe

Ethnic Gourmet Frozen Entrees Review

“Ironically” –  where I fell in love with Indian food was when I lived in China for six years.  It was available in abundance, and especially on the little island I lived on in the South China Sea.   We had a couple of Indian restaurants there, my regular stop was “Toochtka’s”, run by Malloy, hiding from his Philippine wife, and sidekick Bgosh, trying to save money for some schooling somewhere.

I was particularly fond of their garlic naan and a mess o chicken tikka, boneless pieces of chicken, marintaded in spices and yogurt, and cooked to a turn in an outdoor tandoor oven until it has a nice crispy char on the edges.  I also like saag paneer, the Indian version of creamed spinach with hunks of homemade Indian cheese (recipe).

Wash it down with a Kingfisher beer.

They’d always over serve me  because I was such an incredibly nice guy big tipper and I was a regular.  Except when I was irregular.   (I would sometimes travel for weeks at a time for work, living in hotels in China, across Southeast Asia, Turkey, South Africa.  But I’d always return to Toochtka’s when I’d return to the island).

I  knew I would have to enjoy it while I could, because there was a huge banyan tree growing in the middle of the restaurant that would take out the building at some time, and the Chinese would have thought it would bring terribly bad joss to chop down the tree.  So it would stay, the restaurant wouldn’t.

In any case, this post is about some heat and eat Indian food I saw at the market this week,  the chicken tikka, spinach, rice, and naan.  The packaging and colors were similar, so I thought it was all the same manufacturer, but it wasn’t, two were from the Hain-Celestiral tea people, a brand called Ethnic Gourmet, the other, Tandoor Chef, was from a New Jersey company called Deep Foods.

The only thing “wrong” with these products is there simply wasn’t ENOUGH!   I love this stuff!   I guess this was about $8, which is a little steep for a single meal, but not only will I buy it again, I may just stock the freezer.

Ethnic Gourmet Revue

ethnic gourmet frozen entrees

Ethnic Gourmet Frozen Entrees

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

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