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Archive for the ‘Sausage’ Category

Eckrich Lil Smokies Review

Eckrich Lil SmokiesI’m a fiend for “little smokies” – give me a mess of good quality, fine tasting ones, and I’ll pass on the rest of breakfast.  You never see them on a restaurant menus, not really sure why.

Like all pork (and meat in general) products, they have gotten really spendy lately, pushing over $6 a pound. While I have some very specific favorite brands, determined by taste and texture, I am a sucker for sale priced ones, and that’s why I picked up a pack of Eckrich “Li’l Smokies” yesterday.  They were half the price of the other brands.

Eckrich is part of John Morrell now, and according to the USDA plant number on the package, these babies were made at the Morrell plant in Cincinnati (pictured below).

How were they?  OK, especially at the price.  A pork and chicken product (I prefer all beef), they aren’t as flavorful as some brands I prefer, tasting more like cocktail franks, which should be an entirely different recipe than smokies.  I’d buy them again tho, at the sale price.

Why the ‘char?’  I prefer sausages with natural casings, and you’ll never see little smokies in a casing. Too expensive, troublesome for mass production I imagine.  For me, putting a little char on the baby weenies gives them a texture more again to a casing product. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 Eckrich Lil Smokies

 John Morrell Cincinnati



Lil Smokies Review

Shrimp Gumbo Recipe

Seafood & Sausage Gumbo Recipe


4 ounces vegetable oil

4 ounces all-purpose flour
1 1/2 pounds raw, whole, head-on medium-sized (16-20 count) shrimp
2 quarts water and 2 quarts more
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced green peppers
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomato
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1 pound andouille or smoked sausage sausage, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 tablespoon file powder

I fell in love with gumbo years ago, and my love affair only intensified living in New Orleans for nearly ten years. I feel the same way about gumbo as I do about pizza. There’s no such thing as a bad cup of gumbo.

Shrimp gumbo recipe

Shrimp boats at rest

If you read last week’s posts, you’ll know I was back in the Big Easy, and drove down to where the shrimp fleet parks and bought pounds and pounds of fresh shrimp right off the boat, which I toted home in an ice chest. The shrimp were very good size (about 16-20 to a pound), and very cheap compared to what I am used to paying. Fresh gulf shrimp is so much better than the frozen shrimp imported from Asia found in most supermarkets, tho my favorite of all are shrimp from off Key West, large, pink and sweet.

Arriving at home, I snapped off all the heads of the shrimp, remove shells, and dropped them in two quarters of boiling water to make the liquid base for the gumbo. This gives the ‘soup’ a lot of extra body. If you’re in a hurry or lazy, use chicken stock.

Once the broth has been reduced by half, remove from the stove and set aside.

Shrimp gumbo recipe

Raw, head on shrimp

The next component you have to deal with is the “roux” (roo) which is essentially a thickener. Here again, I vary from conventional wisdom, and take four ounces of quality vegetable oil, combined with four ounces of flour in a dutch oven and put into a 350 oven for 1 ½ hours, stirring two to three times during the cycle. The longer you cook, the darker your roux will become and thus the darker your gumbo. Some people prefer a light roux, but my preference is for a darker end product.

When the roux is done, put on low heat and add the “holy trinity” of vegetables (green pepper, onion, celery), and the garlic, stirring constantly for about ten minutes until the vegetables start to take on a clear state).

Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, thyme, cayenne and bay leaves and stir to mix.


Shrimp gumbo recipe

Broth and roux cooking

Drain the solids out of the shrimp broth and slowly add the liquid to the roux/vegetable mix, whisking non-stop while adding. Add another two cups of water (or stock) and stir in.

Lower the heat to low and cook for 35 minutes. Turn the heat off and add the shrimp and sausage. Add the file powder (another flavor, but also a thickener) and stir constantly while adding. Cover the pot and allow to rest for 5 – 10 minutes.

Serve in a deep bowl over a mound of rice. Enjoy.



Shrimp Gumbo Recipe



Shrimp Gumbo Recipe



Eckrich Lil Smokes Review

Eckrich Lil SmokiesI’m a fiend for “little smokies’ as a breakfast meat.  Give me enough of them of good quality, and I’ll skip the eggs, toast, and potatoes. You never see them on restaurant menus, though I don’t know why.

My personal preference is for the all beef variety, though I am motivated by price point too, and that’s why I grabbed a package of Eckrich’s yesterday, which were on sale for half the price of the other brands. Like all pork products, the price of smokies has skyrocketed lately, and they easily tip the $ scales at $6 a pound, plus.

Cooked them up this morning and they were ok, especially considering the price.  They aren’t as flavorful as some of the other brands, and taste more like “cocktail franks”, which should, and usually are, a totally different product than little smokies.

Why the ‘burnt’ appearance?  I am predisposed to prefer sausages with a natural casing, and as far as I know, there are no little smokies with casings. Too difficult and expensive for mass production, I imagine.  So the ‘char’, presents a texture that more closely resembles a natural casing sausage.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

I’d buy them again at the same price, but at the same price point as other brands, I’d opt for my usual favorites. According to the USDA plant number, these babies are manufactured at John Morrell’s plant in Cincinnati (pictured below).

 Eckrich Lil Smokies


 John Morrell Cincinnati







Eckrich Lil Smokes Review

Doreens Pizza Review

Doreen's Pizza ReviewChecking out another Chicago area frozen pizza, Doreen’s started as a small pizzeria on the South side of Chicago; several locations later and a new state of the art plant in Calumet City, the pies are now distributed across Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and are also available at the plant store.

Boasting “pizzeria taste” from a home-baked pie, Doreen’s plops a solid half pound of cheese on every pizza; quality Italian sausage is fresh, and not those pre-cooked food service crumbles.  Like so many Upper Midwest pizza success stories, Doreen’s frozen biz began with the company selling pies to local bars.

Instructions call for center shelf, 450, 14-17 minutes, with a three minute rest before slicing (good advice for any frozen pie).  The crust is a good bakery style, a little thicker than ‘traditional Chicago thin crust’, the sauce is mild, the cheese is ample and has nice pull. I liked the pepperoni because it has a nice little bit of kick. The hand pulled sausage could be a little bigger for my taste, and while it is clearly pure pork, it’s mildness will have some wishing for a touch of fennel and/or garlic.

It’s a little higher priced than comparable products, but the hand-made quality makes it a strong value.

Doreen's Frozen Pizza



Doreen's Frozen Pizza

After 15 minutes at 450







doreens pizza review

Italian Beef Sandwich – A Chicago Icon

Luke's Italian Beef ChicagoIf you’ve walked around Manhattan, you’ve surely seen a pizzeria with some variation of the word “Ray’s” on the sign. The first Ray’s Pizza opened in Greenwich Village in the 50s, the owner eventually opened a second location which he later sold. The new owner retained the name, and subsequent sales and openings have created dozens of variations on the name across the city:  Ray’s, Original Ray’s, Original Ray’s Too, Ray’s Original, and so on.  There’s even a pizzeria called “Not Ray’s.”  Most of the stores are not affiliated with each other in any way.

Similar is the case with a group of unaffiliated restaurants in the Chicago area called “Luke’s.”  Luke’s is a purveyor of typical Chicago fare like hot dogs, sausages, and Italian Beef sandwiches.

As with many local iconic foods around the world, many claim to be the originator of the Italian Beef, but the claims are not verifiable. They are thought to have popped up in the 30s and 40s in homes of Italian immigrants; workers at the Chicago stockyards would bring home tough cuts of meat, slow roast them and then slow simmer them for hours in a beef broth heavy with garlic and herbs.  The beef was then sliced very thin to feed as many people as possible, particularly at large family events.  The sandwich is usually served on a long sturdy Italian-style roll, and the seasoned beef, dripping wet from the broth is tonged out onto the bun. Some people prefer to let the juices run off the meat prior to putting it in the bread, some prefer extra juice, and there’s an enthusiastic crowd for ordering the sandwich “wet”, in which after the meat is placed on the bun, the entire sandwich is dipped in the au jus, making a soaking wet mess of deliciousness on the plate.  De rigueur condiments included a combination of pickled, diced vegetables called  giardiniera ;  some people prefer their beef adorned with sweet or hot sport peppers.

Which brings us to the tale of  the original Luke’s, not affillated at all with any place named Ray’s.  Frank Del Principe, Jr. (Luke) opened his first restaurant in the Chicago  area in 1965, using the beef recipe his mother developed in the 1940s. Luke prospered an opened more restaurants, all serving the same Chicago fare. Eventually, like most Midwesterners Frank yearned for a warmer clime, and relocated to Tuscon.  He sold the Chicago restaurants to family members and employees, and opened “Little Luke’s” in Arizona. So today there are Luke’s around Chicagoland, similar logos, menus, but not affiliated. Some relatives of the Del Principes have also opened beef restaurants under different names.

I love Italian Beef sandwiches, and since I live by the credo of “excess is not enough”, I order the combo, which includes a spicy grilled Italian sausage plopped in the middle of the gravy-laden beef.

Winging my way to O’Hare last night to evacuate to my own warmer climes, I zipped past a Luke’s and stopped in for a light repast. Daring to be boldly different, I went to the Italian meatball sandwich, with a side of fries.  It was over the top in ample.  I was only able to eat about a third of the sandwich before putting the rest of it away to take out later and annoy somebody on the plane. The shoestring fries were hot, crispy, and nicely seasoned.   A bite of a burger proved that to be a winner too, a nice sized hand-formed patty cooked on a charco-grill. Not sure the guy at the next table appreciated my helping myself to taste his burger, but hey, that’s how I roll.

That was my recent experience at a Luke’s.  Since they are all independently owned, your results may vary.  Below is a pic of the meatball sub, and a fake Italian Beef I had in Portland, OR a couple years ago.

Luke's Beef, Chicago Review

Michael's Italian Beef Portland

Michael’s Italian Beef Portland




Italian beef sandwich

Chicago, IL – Taylor Street Pizza Review

Taylor Street Pizza ReviewWith a name that is synonymous with Chicago’s “Little Italy” neighborhood, the seven location Taylor Street Pizza in Chicago’s NW suburbs has a rep to live up to.

Primarily a delivery and carry-out operation (with dine in available at the Elgin location), Taylor Street offers thin, double dough, and deep dish pies, as well as standard Chicago fare like calzones, Italian beef, hot dogs, ribs, fried chicken, and a host of appetizers/sides.

I was motivated to try it today as I had a $10 coupon from, and I’m usually ready to try a new pie purveyor, especially when I am passing through Chicago, a city that has so many great pizza places.

My usual order is a thin crust, Italian sausage, green olive, and extra cheese, which was the choice today, as well.  A 16″ pie with the three toppings came to  $12.30  after the coupon.  Spoiler alert:  Taylor Street carries Pepsi products.

It took less than 25 minutes to be ready, and came out of the oven piping hot just as I arrived.  Aesthetically, it was a work of art. Taste wise, for my pizza palate, it was perfect.  Flavorful sausage, mild sauce, a sprinkling of herbs (such a small thing always makes a pizza special to me).  The crust was crispy on the outside, and chewy as you worked your way in, as it should be. Excellent “pull” on the cheese, and best of all, cheese, toppings, sauce all adhered to the crust nicely.

Taylor Street will be one of my “go-to” places when I’m in Chicagoland, for sure.

Coupons,  Store Menu.  Catering Menu

Taylor Street Pizza Review

Taylor Street Pizza on Urbanspoon

Taylor Street Pizza Review

Mystic Pizza Frozen Review

Mystic Pizza Frozen ReviewFrom the oven of a small town pie shop in Mystic, Connecticut, comes this frozen version which their publicity states is made from the same ingredients and in the same manner as the restaurant pizzas.  Many people became aware of this pizzeria from the Julia Roberts vehicle, “Mystic Pizza.”

The pies have been available in the Northeast for some time, and are now working their way across the country, making it as far as Minnesota (Whole Foods) and Wisconsin (Woodmans). Locator here.

I picked up the Italian Sausage variety, 22 oz for about seven bucks.  15-20 minutes at 400 are the baking specs.  Mine came out at 16 minutes.

I am a bit conflicted as to how to describe this pizza, other than to say it’s “ok.”   When I took it out of the box, frozen, it had a definite pizzeria aroma to it, but unfortunately, that didn’t come through after baking.

The crust is good, doughy, thicker than I like but enjoyable.  The illustration on the box shows a smidgen more cheese than the actual product.  The sauce is very mild, as is the Italian sausage, which surprised me.  It’s a pure pork product, with seasonings and spices added, but it could actually pass for a beef sausage, almost.  Needs more fennel and garlic.

Would I buy it again?  If it was on sale, probably.  I remain convinced the frozen pie that I have had that most closely resembles one that comes out of the oven in a shop, is Chicago’s Vito and Nicks II.

Postscript:  I started ‘picking’ at the pie in the end, and when I peeled the toppings (cheese, herbs, and sausage) off the crust, and consumed it that way, I quite liked it.  So if they came out with an ultra thin/crispy crust, I would probably be a regular.


Mystic Pizza Frozen Review

Out of the box


Mystic Pizza Frozen Review

Out of the oven








Mystic Pizza Frozen Review

Bellatoria Ultra Thin Pizza Review

One of the brands from Minnesota pizza manufacturer Bernatellos, the Bellatoria Ultra Thin Sausage Italia promises  ”Italian sausage  is piled on top of  Mozzarella, Asiago, and Parmesan cheese with a rich Italian sauce on a crispy Ultra Thin Crust.”  A friend of mine had tried this and described the sauce has being “slightly off.”  That wasn’t my experience, but nor did I find it to be a “rich Italian sauce,”  but rather plain.  I also couldn’t distinguish between the Italian sausage and the regular sausage, and the chunks were smaller than I prefer.

The crust lives up to its billing, and is thin, crispy and falls into the ‘cracker-like’ category, a favorite with most Minnesotans.

I’d buy it again, if it were on sale.

Bellatoria Pizza Review

Bellatoria Pizza Review








Bellatoria Ultra Thin Pizza Review


Johnsonville Polish Kielbasa Review

A derivative of a Polish word, “kielbasa” refers in certain parts of Europe as a particular type of sausage, while in the U.S., it has come to be indicative of what most Americans refer to as “Polish Sausage,” a pork and garlic concoction generally in a natural casing.

Johnsonville’s version is pure pork, with flavorings, and the label attests to no fillers(1). The casing is collagen; collagen casings are often used in mass-production for consistency and ease in manufacturing.  Collagen casings, made from the collagen and bones of beef or hogs, are considerably less expensive in the manufacturing process, as well.

The product comes six to a 14 oz package, and is manufactured at Johnsonville’s plant (USDA est. 34224) in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

As with most products in this segment, the sausages are fully cooked right out of the package, and consumers merely need heat them to their preferred level of  ’doneness’. I pan fry  to put a little char on them, as for me, that gives them a texture more closely resembling a natural casing.

This is a very mild sausage, with flavor more reminiscent of hot dogs, than any sausage served in Poland or in Polish owned emporiums in America.

The mild flavor and fine grind are not strikes against Johnsonville’s product, but more indicative of a sausage that will be widely accepted by most of the population.

Served on a egg roll with yellow mustard and sauerkraut.

Johnsonville Polish Kielbasa Review

 Johnsonville Polish Kielbasa Review


(1) Ingredients:

Pork, water, salt and less than 2% of
the following: corn syrup, potassium lactate,
dextrose, spices, monosodium glutamate,
paprika, natural flavors, sodium diacetate,
dehydrated garlic, sodium erythorbate,
sodium nitrite, collagen casing.

Johnsonville Polish Kielbasa Review

Parkview Cocktail Sausages Review

I love cocktail sausages;  not if they are swimming in barbecue sausage in a chafing dish mind you, but as a breakfast meat, or an anytime, low carb snack.  Most brands are generally smoked, so if you’re inclined, you could eat them right out of the package.  For me, I prefer them a little crispy, a little char,  fried up in a cast iron skillet. “Overcooking” this treat for me makes them have a sensation (to me) of having a natural casing, gives them a little “snap.”

I’m choosy about my brands and their composition, preferring all beef, and usually latching on to Hillshire Farms (Sara Lee).  Lately, tho, the texture of them seems to have changed a bit, at least to me, and I  have been looking for an alternative selection.

I might have found a successor.  The discount grocer Aldi uses a number of co-packers around the country to manufacture products to their specifications; in the sausage realm, Aldi’s brand is Parkview.  Their cocktail sausages are made by a small company in Nebraska, an old family concern named Wimmer’s, which distributes several different brands of smoked sausages and meats in the Upper Midwest. Wimmer’s was purchased a couple of years ago by a larger Midwestern family concern from Illinois called “Land O’ Frost.

The USDA plant number that cranks out these little gems is Est. 5600, in West Point, Nebraska, a burg of 3500 about 40 miles NW of Omaha.   They have about 130 employees, so they are an important part of the community.

The Parkview cocktail sausages vary in composition from my usual preferences, in that they are made up of pork, beef, with some poultry.  Usually that third ingredient would be a deal killer for me, but in this case, I believe it provides a smoother texture.  I like the flavor and texture both of these sausages.  Not to mention since they are an Aldi product, they are value-priced.  If you’re shopping at a major chain for brand name cocktail sausages, like all meat and especially pork products, the prices of sausages and bacon have skyrocketed lately, and you can count on Aldi to come in at a good 25-33% less than the national brands.

Good deal. Good food.

Parkview Cocktail Sausages











Parkview Cocktail Sausages Review

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