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Archive for the ‘Hot off the Grill’ Category

K Chef Uncured Cooked Sausages Review

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K Chef Uncured Cooked Sausages ReviewI am crazy for “little smokies” but it’s one of the few things I have remained a brand snob about.

A few years ago, I started with Hillshire Farms All Beef Little Smokies and pretty much haven’t looked back. Although they are spending (north of $4 a pack usually) they are occasionally in the $2.50 range at WalMart and I stock up.

I prefer their flavor and texture, and I’ve tried a shitload of brands, John Morrell, Eckrich, Klements,  and Aldi, to name a few.

So prowling an Asian hypermart last week, I spotted “K Chef” brand, which the package touted as “uncured cooked sausages,” and implied they were “Korean style.”

To me they looked like regular old “little smokies” but I liked the ingredient list (below) and was intrigued that they said they were in collagen casings, as most “smokies” type sausage, like skinless wieners, are formed in a casing mold which is stripped off after cooking at the plant.

Giant bonus. They were priced at $1.99. That may have been a mistake. If not, I’m taking the freezer truck back over this weekend!

The K Chef brand is a product of a New Jersey company, Premier Foods, which was started in 2012 only, and states as their mission: “we are developers, producers and distributors of unique and flavorful ready-to-eat, frozen, shelf-stable foods for you home and commercial use.”

Premier contracted with Family Food Products, Bensalem, PA, for the manufacture and packaging of these sausages, according to the USDA establishment number on the wrapper.

Bottom line.  I liked them. They have great flavor, a little smokier than most, and the casings add a texture dimension usually not found in smokies and their ilk.

K Chef Uncured Cooked Sausages Review

Ingredient list

K Chef Uncured Cooked Sausages Review

In the pan (char is intentional on my part)

K Chef Uncured Cooked Sausages Review

Bensalem PA Factory

 

 

 

 

K Chef Uncured Cooked Sausages Review

K Chef Uncured Cooked Sausages Review

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Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review – A WalMart Product

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Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat ReviewI write a lot about ham, it seems.  Because I love it.

I love premium hams and have driven background all over the country in search of small processors, and been very successful in Virginia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and Missouri. I have quite a few reviews of very expensive ham, as well as very cheap “ham.”

Today we’re talking about the latter, Great Value (WalMart brand) Smoked Ham lunchmeat.  I’ve always called this type of meat “pressed, chopped, and formed,” but that’s really the wrong order. Earlier advertisements for this segment label it “chopped pressed and cooked” and that’s more apt, isn’t it?

Bits of pork, seasonings, a saline solution and artificial smoke are combined to make a “loaf” which is thin sliced and packaged.

This product is made for WalMart by an old Chicago area meat processor, Carl Buddig. I have pix of their factory below, and also of their own packaging for similar product, which you will surely recognize. Incidentally, Buddig makes some of the best hot dogs on the planet, in natural casings, the brand is “Old Wisconsin,” which are a pork and beef blend.  Buddig is privately held, and still run by the founder’s family members.

Bottom line, this type of “ham” really has no taste or texture to me. I’ve always thought the only differences in the contents of the Buddig packages below was color. I had a lot of that stuff for school lunches a million years ago. Take a bite, no clue what is was. Lift the bread? Brown, roast beef, pink, ham, white, turkey.

Here’s the thing. The Great Value is $2.50 for 9 ounces. That’s anywhere from $2-$4 less than big brand names for the same amount, and basically the same product, unless you’re getting into the high-end, slice at the deli counter kinda thing. And there aren’t many of those that are worth the additional cost. IMHO.

Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review

Smoked ham slices

Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review

Buddig Brand Packaging

Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review

Old Time Buddig Package

Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review

Buddig Factory, 25 miles south of downtown Chicago

 

 

Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review

Great Value Smoked Ham Lunchmeat Review

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Richards Cajun Foods Review – Heat and Eat Meals

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Richards Cajun Foods ReviewI was suprised to find Richard’s Heat and Eat Cajun foods in a grocer a thousand miles from Louisiana.

It’s not a big company, tho it is on its second private equity owner in a decade, so maybe they have a line on some distribution.

Richard’s is a pretty small company, in a pretty small town in Louisiana, Church Point, population about 5 thou, twenty mile or so NW of Lafayette.  It started in the 80s, so it doesn’t have the longevity of its many competitors (there are over 200 small food companies in Louisiana), not even the legs of Savoie’s – a much larger concern, ten miles east in Opelousas. They’re about twice as old as Richard’s at least.

If you’re the adventurous DIY type, Richard’s has some recipes on YouTube.

I picked up their Etoufee and their Gumbo.  Both are in microwave proof bowls with a cello covering, and should be ready from the microwave in about 5-6 minutes.

Given a choice of microwave, oven or stove top for products like this, I’ll usually opt for non-microwave, but I wanted to see how this worked.  Spoiler alert? It didn’t work.

Instructions were to nuke for 3 minutes, stir, nuke for another 2-3 minutes, let sit a minute before consuming. After the first 3 minutes, still hard as a rock. After the second 3, no improvement.  No, it’s not the microwave, it’s brand new.

So I plopped them into a sauce pan and for the first time, could see the contents. 90% by weight has to be the rice, which cost them about a nickel. A minimum amount of the required “holy trinity” of Cajun vegetables.  A 2-3 shrimps in each dish. Small shrimps, maybe 60-90 size. The gumbo could pass for etoufee or jambalaya, as there was no liquid in it. WTF?

OK, you’re asking, where are the pics of the finished product, plated?  I didn’t plate them. I had a spoonful of each and passed. Rare for me, I’ll eat anything.

You should pass to. Anytime you see private equity move into an industry, you can count on two things. Cutting costs, raising prices. I say that from experience, because not only have I had Richard’s product before and found it perfectly acceptable, but I’ve been in their factory and watched it being made (some years back).

So if you want frozen eat and eat Cajun meals, I have two suggestions. Go with Savoie’s if your grocer carries it, or ask them to get it or buy it online direct.  I also like Chef John Folse’s products, which are available from CajunGrocer.com, a company I’ve used many times with great satisfaction.

There ya having it.  No “mukbang” of Cajun tv dinners for you today!

P.S. I am a big fan, YUGE, of Savoie’s various smoked meats. Especially their andouille, tasso and venison.  The pic below of their facility is deceiving. They started selling out of the little roadside market that you see there, and kept adding on and on and on, so out of sight there is a very modern USDA inspecting processing plant.  Yo, Freddie!

 

Richards Cajun Foods Review

Out of the box, prior to heating

Richards Cajun Foods Review

Richard’s Plant

Richards Cajun Foods Review

Savoie’s

 

 

 

 

 

Richards Cajun Foods Review

Richards Cajun Foods Review

 

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Dominicks Pizza and Ristorante Review – West Dundee, IL

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Dominicks Pizza and Ristorante Review Dominicks Pizza and Restaurante in a 20+ year old dual-purpose establishment in the Chicago suburb of West Dundee, IL

I say “dual-purpose” as it has two adjacent storefronts in the strip mall on the east side of Illinois 31, just north of I-94. On the right side, you’ll find the entrance to the dine-in restaurant, a smallish eatery serving traditional Italian appetizers and entrees.

There are three rows of tables, maybe 15 in all. Maybe more.  The ambiance is nice. Subdued lighting, tablecloths, linen napkins, abundant cutlery.

A friend suggested it, offered to take me, it was a “special menu” night, but apparently, the regulars knew that they could order from the regular menu, as well, and some did.  I have no complaints about what I ate, but I might have made a different choice from the larger, regular menu. Just sayin’.

I don’t usually go out for pasta. Just not dazzling enough, and I’m at the age where I think everything is expensive, and restaurant pasta would surely fall on that list. I can think of three outstanding, memorable restaurant pasta. The Cafe DeNapoli in downtown Minneapolis, which was open for 65-70 years, now gone. A restaurant in Soho in London. And some no-name place in Bratislava.  Oh. One more. Hong Kong.  Oh, and the Italian Village downtown Chicago is “OK” but getting kinda tired.

But that’s it. I’ve been to Olive Garden once, over thirty years ago, wouldn’t think of going again, chain restaurants are just heating up the equivalent of TV dinners these days, made in some commissary a thousand miles away.

Anyway. Dinners at Dominick’s include soup or salad and fresh bread. Entrees run from $15 – $22 more or less. If you’re going for a tomato sauce, you can choose plain marinara or a red meat sauce.  Both are thick and on the sweet side.  (Tomato sweet, not sugar sweet).

I went with simple, spaghetti with meat sauce. I inquired about meatballs (I like to try them everywhere) and yes, they could add them. At the conclusion of the meal, I found they were $5 for two (in sauce), so I’m at $22 for (generously)  $3 worth of food ingredients.

I did like the meatballs (pix below).  They are large and very dense.  In the cross-section you’ll note some herbs, I’m going to guess these are beef and pork, not highly seasoned, but because of their density, I’m going to guess very little bread crumbs or egg for binders.

In all menu choices, the servings are large and most everybody I noticed took something home (me included, that’s why you have the pic of the meatball). I didn’t take pix in the restaurant, the tables are close, didn’t want to disturb anybody who might be trying to get laid, or telling their spouses they wanted a divorce or were going to jail or whatever couples talk about in quiet restaurants these days.

I didn’t try the pizza, and I’d like to. Prices for that looked competitive with other joints in the area, about $25 for a 16 incher. And I’d buy some ala carte meatballs if they offered them. The takeout menu is fairly large and includes many of the dinners from the dine-in side, but at a considerably lower price. They do not include salad, and perhaps the portions are smaller. Pretty sure everything there is made in-house.

And that’s what I know about Dominick’s. Dine-in menuTake-out menuOrder online for pick up or delivery (limited area, of course)

Dominicks Pizza and Ristorante Review

Meatball, as big as a tennis ball.

 

Dominicks Pizza and Ristorante Review

Meatball dissected

Dominick's Italian Ristorante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Dominicks Pizza and Ristorante Review

Dominicks Pizza and Ristorante Review

 

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Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza Review

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Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza ReviewPapa Murphys is the result of the consolidation of two mini-chains in the early 1980s. Papa Aldos in suburban Portland, OR, and Murphy’s in Petaluma, CA.

The unique hook for the now global, 1500+ store chain is (as far as I know) the only national chain offering strictly “take and bake” pies.  They make them to your specification at the store, you tote ’em home and bake them.  There was some discussion of them starting to bake in-house, and delivery, too, but as far as I can see, neither has happened.

Sidebar: There was a take and bake operation in my hometown, independent, (don’t remember the name)  long before Papa Murphys started sprouting up everywhere. For some reason, my mom loved the place and the concept. Add to that, it was on top of a generic ‘take and bake’ (kidding) soda store, the “Pop Shoppe” which had a ton of flavors of soda, value priced, under their own name. Wonder what happened to them?  (OK, just found out, they were born, had explosive growth, died, now on the comeback trail)  (Backspace to the link, if you’re interested).

Anyway, Papa Murphys has a fairly large menu choice of toppings, types, and sizes.  I went with the five meat “stuffed”, which is crust, cheese, toppings, another crust, more toppings, more cheese.  This one packs Red Sauce, Canadian Bacon, Pepperoni, Italian Sausage, and Bacon topped with Ground Beef. They are big and they are heavy. There is a 14 and 16 inch size, and either one is priced at about half a comparable pie at local shops around me.

Takes awhile to bake, of course, but it’s satisfying and filling. No skimping on the toppings or cheese. Slightly sweet sauce. “Bread like” crust.  Overall appealing.  Easily feed your family.  Better (IMHO) than the big three, for sure.  They offer a couple sides, salads, and desserts.

Papa Murphys are everywhere. Check the website to find a store near you.  Menu below. Postscript. I went to the store in Woodstock IL (you’d recognize the town, where they filmed “Groundhog Day.”)   I had a coupon, and the owner said he couldn’t accept it, but he’d give me the same deal.  OK.  And he did.

 

Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza Review

Right from the store

Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza Review

Out of the oven at home

 

Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza Review

Menu – click to enlarge

Papa Murphy's Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza Review
Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza Review

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Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review – An Aldi Product

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Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review“Mama Cozzi” is Aldi’s brand name for pizzas and related products. They come in a very wide variety of styles, both frozen and take and bake, and are value-priced like most all of Aldi’s products.  I’ve reviewed quite a few of them in the past, read some of them here.

I’m a pizza snob, but I find most of them a tick above “satisfactory.” They are certainly better than Dominos, Caesars, Pizza Hut and 755 of the frozen pizzas on the market.

They had a new one this week, “Tavern Inn” – in the frozen counter, and it appealed to me right away because the package bragged about “one half pound of real Wisconsin cheese,” and you could see the cheese was cut in thick shreds instead of the finely diced method most frozen pies use.  In my personal experience, I have found the former method of chees-ing on frozen pizzas makes for a better, and more even melt.

I thought this pie looked awfully familiar, and since Aldi employs a lot of brand name manufacturers to make their private label products, I would have been willing to bet this was made by Palermo’s in Milwaukee.  It resembles their “P’Mo’s” brand pizza.

But when I looked up the factory number, I found they are actually made by Minnesota pizza company Bernatellos, who labels include Bellatoria, Roma, Orv’s,  Real ‘Za, and “Brew Pub” and that’s the pie that Aldi’s Tavern Inn most closely resembles in appearance. Bernatellos plant is located in a distant northwestern exurb of Minneapolis, Maple Lake, pic below.

So popped this one in the oven, had picked out a combo sausage and pepperoni style, don’t know if there are others, didn’t look. It was done sooner than the package predicted for cook time, and I gotta say, I liked it.  Really.

It’s a cracker thin crust, in fact if you look at the bottom, there are bumps and docking marks that almost makes it look like a matzoh. About the same crunch as well. Ths sausage chunks are good-sized, important to me, and either the sausage or pepperoni had some nice heat to it, which I also like. The sauce leans a little sweet for my personal taste, but tolerable, and the “half pound of real Wisconsin mozzarella?”  Magnificent. Truly.

Aldi has been known to have some pizza styles that have come and gone, hope this isn’t one of them.

Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review

Out of the box

Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review

Out of the oven!

Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review

Bernatellos Minnesota Factory

 

Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review

Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review

 

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Buona Beef Grocery Review

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Buona Beef Grocery ReviewI’ve written a lot about Chicago’s Italian Beef sandwich. The easiest way to explain it to those not familiar is to say it’s a highly seasoned French Dip, but the “Dip” part is not on the side but involves dunking the entire sandwich in au jus (only if desired).  You can read my explanation of the origin if you like.

There are myriad restaurants that sell these marvels, many supplied by Chicago’s Vienna Beef Company, some shops that make their own. Used to be another big supplier, Scala, but I don’t see their product anymore, so don’t know if they are around or not. Devanco is another one, each of these probably does private label as well, and there are undoubtedly a number I don’t know about.

Many of these companies package for retail sale, you can find them at Chicago area grocery stores. I’ve tried and written about a lot of them, including Vienna and Mike Ditka’s for instance.

Enter Buona Beef, a mini-chain of Chicagoland restaurants specializing in Chicago foods – Beef, hot dogs, burgers, pizza.  I visited one for the first time a few weeks ago, and it’s quality, good food, efficient (counter) service.  They are supplied by a commissary/factory that they own, and they are also in the private label business, but lately, I’m seeing product in the stores under their own label. Italian Beef, Meatballs, and a couple other things in their line.

The product comes frozen solid in different weights. It is priced competitively, (but I think they are all too high, actually, I’d buy more if it cost less). I can tell you from experience (and the instructions on the package)  THAW FIRST. On an analog basis!  (Meaning in the frig overnight or on the counter for a few hours – not in the microwave!).  Then eat on a very gentle basis in a saucepan, select your bun/rol (in Chicago, Turano’s seems to be the preference).

Tong the meat into the bun if you want it “dry,”  add some jus to the bun if you want it “wet” or dunk the entire bun in jus for “wet.” Chicagoans often have the sandwich dressed with “giardiniera” a mixture of finely diced pickled vegetables, which can be hot or mild.  Melted mozzarella on top? That’s called a “cheezy beef.”  Wanna feel like a real insider?  Ask for a “Combo” which is an Italian Beef sandwich with an Italian sausage nestled in the beef (pictured).

Buona’s grocery product is good, very flavorful, nice slices of pure muscle beef, not a chopped, pressed, formed product like some companies. The ingredients list (pictured below) is straightforward and free of additives.  Up to this point in my life, as far as grocery store Italian Beef goes, Ditka’s was my favorite.  But now it’s a tie. So I’ll buy by price from here on out.

Haven’t tried Buona’s meatballs, will get around to that soon, I hope.  Buona does ship product, if you have a craving.

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Buona Ingredient List

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Into the pan, prior to heating

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Italian Beef “Combo” “Dry”

 

 

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Buona Beef Grocery Review

 

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Odoms Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage Review

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Odoms Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage ReviewI usually “make my own” breakfast sausage, and by that I mean I purchase ground pork, season it to my liking and fry it up.

After eggs, ground pork is usually the second least expensive protein in the store.

But I keep trying commercial preparations, and have reviewed a host of them, found here, including Bob Evans, Dollar Tree, Usingers, Grandma Pearl’s, Farmer John’s, Parkview (Aldi) and others.

This week, Odoms Tennessee Pride brand “Hot” (they also make “mild”)  was on sale, so I grabbed a chub.  Odom’s makes fresh sausage, pre-cooked sausage, breakfast sandwiches and sausage gravy. I’ve tried the frozen sausage gravy in the past. The company was started in 1943 in Tennessee and today is part of food giant Conagra. Conagra has a ton of food brands which you probably use regularly.

This particular chub of sausage was manufactured for Conagra at Abbyland Pork Pack in Curtiss, WI.

As to this sausage. I was quite pleased with it. Not a terribly fine grind, which gives it some texture. Handsome, authentic pork flavor, and just the right amount of heat for me. I can be a  wimp about hot foods sometimes. Not a whole lot of residual fat in the skillet after cooking, so that’s good too, it’s lean.

I’d buy it again, especially if was on sale, but even on sale, it’s still 30-40% more than fresh ground pork.

Odoms Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage Review

Pan fried

 

Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage Review

Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage Review

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Lunch Mate Cooked Ham Review – An Aldi Branded Product

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Lunch Mate Cooked Ham ReviewI have reviewed quite a few products found at Aldi, a global grocery retailer that focuses on value-priced items.

They are able to achieve lower costs by largely staying away from big brand names, and instead, creating their own brands and contracting the manufacture and packaging of them to quality co-packers and producers.

This product is typically used for sandwiches and similar purposes and is thin-sliced in equally sized rectangles. It achieves this quality being sliced off a “loaf” of ham, which is created from mechanically separated pork parts, water and spices. An image of the ingredients appears below.

For this time, Aldi has turned to the ham manufacturing expertise of Plumrose, USA, a division of Europe’s largest pork processor, Denmark’s Danish Crown Company. In the U.S., both for it’s own label and other outlets, Plumrose produces bacon, ham, deli counter and canned meat items.

Last year, Plumrose USA was purchased by Brazilian food giant, JBS, the largest meat processor in the world, with 150 plants and 200,000 employees.  JBS owns several brands you are familiar with, including Swift & Company, which in turn has a couple dozen pork and beef brands,  and Pilgrim’s Pride Chickens. These hams are made at the Plumrose plant in Booneville, MS, 100 miles southeast of Memphis, TN.

Back to the subject.  This type of ham is created on a basis similar as to seen in this video:  trimmed pork is marinated, further chopped, pressed in to a shape for market, and then smoked.

The result is a flavorful ham product, and Aldi’s is as good as any lunch meat style ham, and of course, priced much less than big brands.  Structural integrity of texture is important to me, that it closely resembles the mastication experience of whole muscle meat, and this comes close enough.

 

Lunch Mate Cooked Ham Review

 

Lunch Mate Cooked Ham Review

 

Lunch Mate Cooked Ham Review

Plumrose Mississippi Plant

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Mama Cozzi’s French Bread Pizza Review – An Aldi Product

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Mama Cozzi's French Bread Pizza ReviewAnother Aldi product this week, actually did this one some time back, didn’t write it up. Mama Cozzi’s is the brand name the Aldi grocery chain has cooked up for their frozen and fresh (take and bake) pizzas.

I’ve tried a lot of them, including the one I wrote about directly below, and a “Mega Meat” thin crust previously. All of these are a terrific value, price wise and are mostly pretty good product.

Aldi contracts out all of their manufacturing, and this product is made by Better Baked Foods, out of North East, Pennsylvania, a burg parked between Cleveland and Buffalo.  They started in 1970 and have since built a large operation, which in addition to private label manufacturing, also has some of their own brands which was recently acquired by Minnesota pizza giant Schwans (Red Baron, Freschetta, Tonys). (Better Baked plant pictures below).

The French bread pizza comes in a two pack, different varieties, I chose pepperoni this time, and it’s not a microwave product. Given a choice with junk that gives you either option, I’m gonna pick a conventional oven every time, anyway.

The bread was crispy, the sauce benign, I liked the pepperoni, wished for more cheese, but overall, I was happy with it compared to “national brands.” It holds its own.

Like all Aldi products, it is value priced.  Aldi is currently on a tear in the US to have more fresh products in the store, remove product from cartons, and nicer lighting. The German chain currently has 10,000 stores worldwide.  There’s probably one or more near you.

Mama Cozzi's French Bread Pizza Review

Out of the box

Mama Cozzi's French Bread Pizza Review

Out of the oven

Mama Cozzi's French Bread Pizza Review

Pennsylvania Factory

 

 

Mama Cozzi’s French Bread Pizza Review

Mama Cozzi’s French Bread Pizza Review

 

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