Archive for the ‘Hot off the Grill’ Category
“to buy a pickle…” so goes an old ditty my dad used to break into spontaneously on occasion. I love most pickles, really love them. I love kosher dills, half sours, hamburger dills….most anything but sweet relish and bread and butter. IxNay on those. I’m not quite old enough to remember pickle “barrels” but I am old enough to remember pickle “jars” at corner groceries and at the movie theater concession stand. Don’t remember how much they cost – more than a nickle, but certainly less than a quarter.
Today’s version of the ‘pickle barrel’ can be found in C-stores and gas station, with individually wrapped pickles. There’s one brand that has different (ample) sizes, and different heats, and yesterday I ran into a new brand (to me), “Oh, Snap!” Dilly Bites brand, made by GLK Foods, from upstate Wisconsin. They were priced at 75 cents each, you could get a whole pickle or “chips” (slices). Unlike the other brand I referred to, where you have to be careful to negotiate your way around the amount of brine in the package, GLK calls theirs “brineless,” and they aren’t actually, they just have a very small amount of liquid in the package. I opted for the “sliced” variety, and the package boasts that they are “Super Crunchy.”
Got to say I really enjoyed them and will be a regular customer. By the way, GLK claims to be the largest manufacturer of sauerkraut in America.
Arguably at the top of growth chain for the fast casual dining segment, the relatively new “made on demand” concept pizza places appeal to customers on three points: value pricing, quality ingredients, and fast service.
There are quite a few entrants into the category already, including Blaze, MOD, and Pie Five, which was started and isowned by the same group that owns the successful chain, Pizza Inn (I like their buffets). I think that gives them a leg up on the competition.
It works kind of like Chipotle or Subway, you walk through a line, pick one of the specialty pies, or design your own, choosing your crust (including a gluten free option), sauce, cheese, and toppings, all for one price. The pie is popped into a scorching hot oven and one in just a few minutes, as opposed to the quarter hour a conventional pizza deck or conveyor oven take to go through the same process.
I tried out two today, at a pre opening fete. The “Athenian” comes with a thin crust, olive oil, herbs, chicken, garlic, olives, onion, peppers, feta, mozzarella/provolone blend, fresh basil, and sun dried tomato puree.
The “High Five” is their version of an all meat pie, on a pan crust, with marinara, pepperoni, Italian sausage, bacon, ham, and a cheddar, mozz, provolone blend.
The “assembly line” is fast and furious, as is the oven time. At the end, they will ask you “for here or to go” and whether you want additional Parmesan or pepper flakes; if you’re eating in, those add-ons are also on the table. Pie Five has the ‘magic’ coke dispensers, when you can crank out one or a combo of a hundred beverages, and also three kinds of ice tea, as well as some bottled drinks.
The 9 ” pizzas were excellent, I preferred the thin crust, bubbly and charred, to the pan personally. High quality and kudos for the processed pork toppings.
You can find Pie Five locations here, and take a gander at the menu (also below)to see what’s in store for you. (pizza, salads, desserts). The company has about fifty units open, and are aiming for five hundred, coast to coast. Wanna own one? Inquire.
Pie Five people? Great job. Great pizza.
Pie Five Pizza Review
I used to have a couple thousand dollars worth of barbecuing gear. Got disposed of when I wasn’t looking to fuel somebody’s addictions. Oh, well. So I’ve been looking at smokers again, and I spotted these “in oven smoking bags” made by Camerons. They are a couple-three bucks, and come in a wide variety of woods: hickory, mesquite, apple, alder and others. They are widely available online, but I found them at Gander Mountain (locator).
The instructions are somewhat idiot proof. The bags contain wood chips, seasoning, and hardwood syrup. Open the bag, fill the bag with food, place in pre-heated oven, heat for appointed amount of time, remove bag from oven, remove food from bag. I thought I’d try pork chops and salmon.
(There is a caution on the bag to be aware of California Proposition 65. I’m too lazy or disinterested to look that up, however.
I will have to look up some “recipes” however, to see if I can figure an appropriate time and temp for these projects. There are some suggestions on the package, but not for what I have in mind. By the way, relevant to nothing? These bags are made in Finland. (The country, not the town in Minnesota).
The packaging is deceptive, the actual foil package is about 2-3x larger than the sleeve it comes in. I wasn’t expecting that. The bag is big enough for a small chicken or roast, for sure.
Very detailed instructions, and some recipes, are included. Basically, it calls for preheat to 475, put bag on lowest shelf, then reduce heat to 375 for balance of cooking time.
I put in four salmon filets, brushed with butter, and some fresh dill sprigs, for about 25 minutes total. This worked out well, and besides, no mess! Just toss the bag when you are done! It’s not a really heavy smoke, but it’s present and flavorful.
Oven smoking recipe
One of my local groceries seems to get more than their share of ‘scratch and dent’ foods. That’s my term for products that aren’t regularly stocked or are on the shelf at a deep discount. They do have a close-out bin, as well, which is odd, because the products in there are rarely products that one regularly sees on the shelves/coolers at thes tore. My favorite is “meat ends,” chunks of chubs from the deli, apparently too small to go through the slicer without the potential for significant loss of limb to the deli workers.
In any case, yesterday they had a pile of these two pound packages of pepperoni from “Vernon Manor,” a brand manufactured by Fresh Mark of Ohio, also the parent of Sugardale meats.
Two pound packs of pepperoni, in and of themselves, are unusual, these more so by the fact they were only $2.99 each. At a buck and a half a pound, that’s about 90% off the big name brands.
I only bought one, for as much processed pork as I consume, I knew I would have to attempt to freeze some of this, not sure if that will work, but I put the pork slices in baggies in 1/3 – 1/2 pound increments. Sort of.
It is a pork and beef product, and there are some ‘cracker jack like surprises’ in the pack – in addition to 95% traditionally thin sliced pieces, there is also an occasional chub end or six, perfect for snack noshing.
I’m picky about my pepperoni, I want a flavorful slice, not all that fatty, as high fat pepp is what causes your charring and cupping on a pizza. There are some that say that’s a good thing, but it doesn’t appeal to me. I like this one, good flavor, a nice little kick.
It’s made at the Canton, OH factory pictured below.
Vernon Manor Pepperoni Review
This is a follow up visit, six months after opening, of the Tavern on the Hill, in a new development near the University in Duluth, MN. It’s the weekend of the annual world-famous “Grandma’s Marathon,” the foot race course that hugs the shore of Lake Superior. Runners from all over the world (and locally) love the race for its relatively flat course and ideal running temps.
Minnesota bureau chief and his posse are no different, and, after finishing their own workout were looking for a little carb replacement therapy away from the race crowds. They headed over the hill to hit the TOTH.
The restaurant has a deep menu, designed to appeal to most every taste; it includes burgers, sandwiches, artisan pizzas and flatbreads, as well as some vegetarian selections, from locally hand-culled produce….. and even sushi!
The group had two orders of wings, BBQ and with Frank’s, the latter which they preferred as use of Frank’s Buffalo sauce is not common with Duluth wings.
A small pizza was shared and enjoyed, by acclimation, the rings received a table full of applause, interestingly, as Duluth has a lot of good o-rings.
The kitchen is open late, which is a rarity in town. Next time you’re in out in the city and desire a nice meal away from the tourist centers, check out the Tavern on the Hill.
The Jucy Lucy (sic) is a burger patty with molten cheese inside. It originated in Minnesota, but the actual birthsite is in dispute, with both Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club in Minneapolis claiming the naming rights. Matt’s uses the spelling of “Jucy,” while the 5-8 adds the “i.” You’ll pay $6.75 at Matt’s, and $9.35 (with fries) at the 5-8.
The burger style is now widely available across the US, and while the original is stuffed with “American cheese,” there are all sorts of variations available, with different cheeses (feta, blue, pepperjack, cheddar) and other ingredients (mushrooms, peppers, olives, bacon) as stuffing supplements.
There are a couple of ‘tricks’ to making these burgers at home, but if you follow the tips, you’ll have a fun burger to serve your family and friends, and you can customize them (as suggested above) to suit your guest’s personal palate. Merkt’s sharp cheddar cheese spread is a popular choice in the Chicago area.
Start with 80/20 ground beef, and make two thin patties, one an inch larger in diameter than the other. Place the larger patty on a piece of wax paper, and place 1 slice of American cheese, quartered, in the middle of the patty. Place the other patty on top, and fold the edges of the larger patty up over the edge of the smaller patty, crimping the edges.
One downside of the Jucy Lucy is no one has figured out how to cook them to any different stage than “well,” because that is how the molten cheese effect happens. So you’re looking at a good 6 minutes plus per side on the griddle or grill.
Garnish to your own taste, and be CAREFUL biting in. “Molten” cheese means just that, and it can be HOT!
I made two this time around, on the left, “traditional style,” on the right, “black & blue,” blue cheese, olives, cajun seasoning.
Jucy Lucy Recipe
White Castle has been trying on a lot of different dishes for size lately. Jalapeno and siracha everything, for example. Tonight I went for the “Chicken & Waffle Slider,” a take off on the current chicken and waffle craze sweeping the country. Used to be you could only get that dish in about three restaurants in the US, and traditionally it was a steaming hot, crisp waffle, a piece of fried chicken, and maple survey to splash.
White Castle has taken some liberties, used “Imported from Belgium” waffles, a fried chicken patty, a schmear of “country” gravy and some bacon bits. It had potential (at least in my head) but the execution (at least at this outlet) was awful. The waffles had the limp consistency of sitting on a steam table, the dollop of gravy was undetectable and the bacon had (or waffle) had a heavy maple flavor that was kind of cloying.
I like most everything on White Castle’s menu and am more than an occasional customer, and no, I don’t drink. But this one? Pass. I did get a tasty order of o-rings, tho, second best in the fast food industry behind Arby’s terrific rings. So sez I.
White Castle Chicken Waffle Review
One of Milwaukee’s largest and oldest sausage companies, Klement’s is often my ‘go-to’ purveyor when I’m looking for processed meats. When I’m not in their distribution area, I even order care packages online. The company has a wide variety of fresh and cooked sausages, as well as deli and sandwich meats. I am fond of their summer sausage, corned beef, cocktail sausages, and liver sausage.
Today I’m cooking up some of their Polish for breakfast. This is a natural casing sausage (YAY), and the company website lists the following ingredients: Pork, water, Beef, Salt, Contains less than 2% of Flavorings, Corn Syrup, Potassium Lactate, Isolated Oat Product, Dextrose,
Sodium Phosphate, Paprika, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Erythorbate, and Sodium Nitrite.
I’m not one of those consumers that gets all bent out of shape about certain ingredients, too late in my life cycle to worry about any of the alledged effects at this point in time.
Anyway, these are great, for a breakfast side, or any meal, on a bun, or on the grill. I’d be careful on the grill to watch the direct heat, if the casings split, you’re gonna lose a lot of flavor. My preferred method is to simmer in a cast-iron skillet until the water is gone, and then put a slight char on the sausages.
These beauties come out of the Klement’s plant at 207 E Lincoln Ave in Milwaukee, according to the USDA establishment number on the package.
Klements Polish Sausage Review
Every time I think I have covered every single availability in the ‘heat and eat’ burger category, I run across a new one. This week it’s the “Pretzel Cheeseburger” from Advance Pierre, arguably the largest manufacturer of heat and eat burgers, and I’ve tried a gaggle of them. While the Ohio company puts out a lot of product under its own brand names – to C stores, vending, institutions, it is also a contract manufacturer and makes products for others, like the new Steak N Shake frozen burgers.
Whereas many of these type of sandwiches call for nuking in their cello wrapper, this one reverts to the way that White Castle used to tout, namely remove wrapper, wrap in paper towel, heat 90 seconds, let sit 90 seconds.
Like many of the beef products in this category, the Advance Pierre patty has the smell and taste of the artificial smoke flavoring, added to simulate ‘grilled flavor.’ The meat patty also has corn starch and corn syrup solids added.
Curiously, even though this was at WalMart, it was priced quite a big higher than the company’s similar offerings at dollar stores and other outlets. The most I have ever paid for an Advance Pierre burger is nearly $3.00, tho, maybe more, for their C-store “Big AZ” burger.
The Pretzel Cheeseburger is relatively OK, tho the bun heated unevenly, as often happens with products in this segment. My hack solution has always been to heat the burger patty and bun separately, but the first time, I always follow the instructions. The pretzel bun was soft in places and unchewably hard in other. I don’t know what that happens. (Oh, go ahead, blame it on my microwave). (But props for jumping on the pretzel bun fad).
Would I buy this again, hunt it out? No, not when there is comparable product available for substantially less money.
For other heat and eat burgers I have tried, check out 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.
I think my favorite is Ball Park, but they are awfully spendy.
Advance Pierre Pretzel Cheeseburger Review
So some folks decided it would be a good idea to build massive hotels, centered around indoor water and amusement parks, with a couple of adult perks (bar, spa) thrown in for good measure. A wide variety of accommodations are available, including very large (all suite) rooms that you can fit your whole family (and in laws) (sleeping up to 16!) in, as well as some theme rooms.
This location, Wisconsin Dells, was their first inn, and it opened in 1997. The chain’s hotels are generally in the 500,000 square foot range, up to 500 rooms, with 15-20% of that square footage comprised of the water park/play area. There are outdoor pools as well, and an expansive game arcade.
The hotel has a restaurant, bar, pizza, ice cream, coffee and gift shops, and special activities for the kids.
Here is the amazing thing to me. This place runs like CLOCKWORK, and is staffed with friendly, helpful employees who have truly been educated on the concept of being part of the “hospitality” industry.
And lest you wonder if your children are going to be safe in the water park area, it is chock-a-block full of supervisor/life guards, both in and out of the water. Their presence is felt everywhere.
Drawbacks? Check in time is 4 PM and exit is 11AM, but offsetting that, you may use the facilities for the entire day you check in and check out. So even if you have to check out on, say a Sunday, at 11AM, you’re welcome to use the water park until closing. (Of course, they will ship you off to a room as soon as one is available, we actually got in ours at 1:15).
Admission to the park, and doubling as a room key are bracelets. This technology just blows me away, as I’ve checked into a lot of hotels with swipe cards for room keys, where I’ve gone from reception to my room (especially painful in the giant Las Vegas hotels) and had the key not work. Or have it crap out in the middle of the night during your stay. Yet these bracelets take a beating multiple times a day, in and out of water, and work like a charm. Amazing.
Wisconsin Dells deserves an explanation on its own, but I won’t go into that here, other that to say it is a family entertainment mecca / destination, full of hotels, restaurants, attractions, both man made and from nature. Unique in the US.
Finally, about the hotel, food, beverages, services – expect to pay “resort prices,” which can significantly add to your vacation budget, and the activities for kids are a little steep as well. The good news is, there are plenty of eateries throughout the Dells, the majority of which you will find a very pleasing “value pricing” attitude.
(Sidebar, relevant to nothing. I met the former marketing director of this resort, some years ago, in a crappy Portland bar on Thanksgiving. He got me interested in checking one of these out. Interesting guy. Choking through a horrible turkey dinner at the insistence of a mutual friend, our conversation wandered all over Wisconsin, from the House on the Rock to George Webb’s.
Photos are from the web. I didn’t want to impose on anybody’s privacy by randomly taking snaps.
Great Wolf Lodge Review