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Don’t skimp on the salt or the spice

I don’t want you to mistake my message here, and I certainly don’t want my doctor to read what I’m going to write about salt. And my message isn’t necessarily that processed foods need more salt or that you should use as much salt as possible when cooking. I do think you should be generous enough with salt and pepper to bring out the flavor of your food, though. But what I’m talking about here is the salt on commercially made pretzels, and the spice on packaged food in general.

Let’s take the first part of this, shall we? Have you ever noticed that in the last, maybe, 10, 15 or 20 years, that the salt on pretzels has diminished? First of all, I’m old-school in that I like the white pretzel salt, which has a better texture. But in general, I want my pretzel to be absolutely covered in the stuff. I know how bad it probably is for me, but I seek out the saltiest pretzels in the store. I also tend to shy away from over-processed brands (I’m looking at you Rold Gold) and toward the locally made kind or the ones made in Pennsylvania. But seriously. Who wants a pretzel with little to no salt? Yet, if you go to the store right now, you will find bags and bags of under-salted pretzels. I’m not joking–go make this a fun (or not so fun) exercise in futility. But if you seek out the likes of Tom Sturgis or Utz brands, for instance, you will find nicely salted and in some cases, perfectly over-salted treats.

Chef JimSpice. Now, have you ever noticed that when something is labeled “spicy” or even “extra spicy” it’s usually a 3 or 4 on a scale of 1 to 10? I’ve always wanted my foods, even foods like pickled jalapenos, to be spicier. Other foods like snack foods, dips, bloody mary mix, soups, chili, frozen foods….even “spicy” chicken wings….are just never spicy enough for a guy like me that likes it really hot. But alas, I have found a commercially made food that fills the bill and then some–Claussen pickles Hot & Spicy. I like Claussen pickles–they are somewhat close to the deli pickles I grew up eating in New York. But they still have somewhat of a processed thing going on. However, when I saw their Hot & Spicy variety in a local grocery store, I couldn’t not try them. But I was pleasantly surprised at the level of heat. I mean, I’d say 8 out of 10, which is super hot for a jarred pickle. I bought another jar, wondering if maybe it was a fluke. Dare I say, the second jar was slightly spicier than the first. Damn, Mr. Claussen, you are not messing around with the hot pepper essence. But I freaking love it. Now, if only everyone else would be less wimpy with the heat!

Jenny’s chalkboard: Mexican breakfast for dinner

With an assist from food TV–including a new show on Travel Channel called Feed the Beast, which I’ll be previewing before it premieres on Wednesday; and then an hour of Food Network’s Diners, Drive Ins & Dives yesterday, and after my wife (i.e. Jenny) and I both had this sluggish, head-achy thing going on, we decided we needed to eat something fatty and greasy. We were not hung over, but that’s what it felt like, and we needed a Sunday morning hangover remedy on Sunday evening. Those shows made me crave eggs and fat and salt, and when I saw we had chorizo in the fridge, I knew what had to be done–we had to make Mexican breakfast for dinner. Jenny agreed and put that on her chalkboard.

So what you’re seeing in the photo and that went happily into our bellies last night is this…..first, I took a leftover baked potato and cut that up, and stir fried it in a bit of canola oil. Meanwhile, as the potato was cooking, I took a link of chorizo (by link I mean it was maybe a foot long), removed the meat from the “fake” casing, and fried that up in a pan for about 10 minutes until it was cooked through and crispy, draining on paper towels. I wiped out the pan, and fried four eggs in it. Jenny shredded some cheddar cheese (full fat kickass Wisconsin cheddar), and I cubed an avocado while the eggs were cooking. I also opened up a can of refried black beans, and chopped some cilantro. As the eggs were set, it was time to assemble this creation in a big bowl–

First, the potatoes, which were nice and crispy. Then a dollop of refried beans and the chorizo. We topped that with two eggs in each bowl, followed by the avocado chunks, cheese and cilantro. Oh, and some Mexican hot sauce for good measure. Suffice to say we both felt so much better after eating this dinner. It was one of those food nirvana moments when you feed your body what it’s craving, and then some. And hey, now I know what to make next time we are hung over….and we hope you try it too.

Spicy dogs and chili and mustard and olives

I’ve talked probably more than I’d care to admit that I’m trying to lose a few pounds. Aren’t we all this time of year?

Anyway, and maybe fortunately or unfortunately, I find loopholes in Weight Watchers’ point system. Maybe they are not loopholes, but they are ideas of healthy deliciousness. In the case of one of my favorite foods, the hot dog, I made this kickass lunch the other day–two fat free white meat turkey franks (thank you Ballpark) on Brownberry white Italian bread, and made two kinds. One had a Kosciusko spicy brown mustard and a small amount of Tony Packo’s Hot Dog Sauce (this stuff is remarkable and by that I mean tasty as hell); and the other had a (literally) kickass Beaver Brand jalapeno mustard and some spicy That Pickle Guy muffalatta style olive salad.

First of all, these hot dogs are fantastic. They do not taste fat free in the least, they are delicious, and they are mild enough to let the other toppings shine. And since I’m eating these dogs like two or three times a week, I’ve become more interested in trying different mustards. Which makes it convenient that we have the National Mustard Museum here in Madison.

And hey, it’s almost lunch time and this post is making me hungry. And I think I know what I want for lunch!

Wing Sauce Wednesday–Wheat Thins Spicy Buffalo

Chef JimI love Buffalo wing sauce. I love it so much that I am starting a new column every so often here called “Wing Sauce Wednesday” in which I will review a product made with Buffalo wing sauce, or tell tales of something related to wing sauce, or bathe in it. Okay, maybe not bathing in it. But man, my mouth waters when you mention this stuff. Anyway, it’s become a mainstream flavor in so many foods now, that I thought we’d start to mention as many as we can–weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, or whatever.

First up, Nabisco Wheat Thins Spicy Buffalo. Wheat Thins are delicious, and have a signature sweetness that offsets the whole grain crunch. So how would a spicy flavoring alter the overall experience? It’s really good–with a very generous dusting of Buffalo wing sauce powder, a bit spicy but not too spicy, and with that nice tang that wing sauce has. And you can tell by the sweetness you are eating Wheat Thins. The only drawback? That sweetness is a bit odd against the salty and spicy tang–odd, but tasty…if that makes sense.

Anyway, if you like Wheat Thins and wing sauce, you should definitely try these crackers.

Product review: Planters Nuts for March Madness

I’ve never seen such hype around March Madness bracket-wise. There are brackets for everything now, but many of them are food-related. What are the top cereals, the top snack foods, the top fast food. Well, here are some snacks that were sent to us to review during March Madness–Planters Five Alarm Chili Dry Roasted Peanuts, and Dry Roasted Pistachios. As the press release said, before mentioning that these are indeed a healthy and tasty snack option, “What’s a party without Mr. Peanut?”

Chef JimDry Roasted Pistachios–these nuts are roasted in the shell with sea salt added. I was expecting these to be without shells as many pistachios now are, but that’s okay. I think part of the charm of pistachios is opening the shells. It takes longer and makes you eat slower. And they were nice and easy to crack open which is always a plus. Oh, and the taste? Delicious, and a good source of fiber and protein to boot! By the way, remember when pistachios had that pinkish-red dye? You ate them and your hands looked like they were smeared with lipstick. Just thought I would throw that in to reminisce.

Chef JimFive Alarm Chili Dry Roasted Peanuts–One of the biggest complaints I have about spicy snack foods is that they are often not spicy enough. Not so with these dry roasted peanuts. They are spicy in a deceptive kind of way–you pop them in your mouth, and enjoy the peppery/spicy taste of the dry rub. Then a boot comes up from behind and kicks you square in the butt. And one of the best parts? They are dry roasted, so you don’t get oily hands afterward. The peanuts also now come in a plastic jar, and there is a little “green” sticker on it that says “84% less packaging.” Hey, more spice, less carbon footprint. But yeah, these are might tasty too.

So the Final Four starts this weekend, which means more time to enjoy March Madness party food like Planter’s nuts.

Product review: Pringles Xtreme Blastin’ Buffalo Wing

Chef JimI’ve said this a million times, but I could live on wing sauce. I could drink it. I could eat it on every food known to man. I use it in recipes, I put it in my chili or in my soup. I douse food with it. I dip wings in it that don’t have wing sauce. And I love foods that use it, commercial foods or otherwise.

Such a food is Pringles Xtreme Blastin’ Buffalo Wing potato crisps (don’t call them chips, I think it’s illegal or something). I bought a stack of these today and they are true to the original flavor–that tangy, peppery, spicy, salty deliciousness. But it’s not doused–instead it’s kind of sprinkled and/or caked on each crisp. And so you get the flavor blast in addition to the subtle Pringle’s potato taste. This is good snack food–not necessarily good for you, but good tasting, good-with-beer, good-with-sandwich, good-with-late-night-anything snack food.

If you like Pringles and you like wings, why are you still reading this? Go buy a can/stack now and watch them disappear!

Product review: Slim Jim Dare

Chef JimSeems like products are getting spicier these days. Last year, Doritos came out with those 1st, 2nd and 3rd Degree Burn flavors. We also recently reviewed some spicy Planter’s peanuts. Now, in Walgreens, of all places, I came across Slim Jim “Dare”–a new line of spicy meat snacks, featuring two flavors–”Freakin’ Hot Jalapeno” and “Really Freakin’ Hot Habanero.”

I grew up on beef sticks like these–at least as I sort of out-grew candy, I remember my grandfather taking me to the deli and buying me beef sticks, and how I came to love the flavor. Well, the texture of these Slim Jim’s is similar to those that I remember from my childhood–though let’s face it, who knows what kind of mystery meat I’m eating.

Anyway, the “Freakin’ Hot” is very hot, and takes 5-10 seconds to creep up on you. It is also tasty with a nice, slightly lingering burn. Meanwhile, the “Really Freakin’ Hot” were slightly more tender, but that could be the lot of Slim Jims and not the flavor. These took a good 10 seconds for the heat to kick in, and it was a much stronger burn. Well, duh. But it was really nice for someone that likes spicy food as I do.

So if you do like spicy food and if you like Slim Jim’s or meat snacks, go grab some of these and as the late “Macho Man” Randy Savage used to say, “Snap into a Slim Jim!”

Chipotle Mac & Cheese and Tex-Mex Meatballs

This is another great dish (or two dishes) to try during cold weather months, and is especially great for football-watching-food. I posted this on Grub for Guys a couple years ago. Enjoy and let me know what you think….

Two Spicy Dishes That Explode With Flavor:Chipotle Mac & Cheese and Tex-Mex Meatballs w/Spicy Tomatillo Sauce

Guys, if you like spicy food the way I do, I’ve created two dishes that you’re going to love. Skill level is easy to moderate on the mac & cheese, and a bit more complex for the meatballs, but worth it. I’ve tried to give you a classic mac & cheese with a twist, and a summery, fiery meatball dish that is different and made for the bold taste buds of the common dude. Enjoy!

Chipotle Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:
8 oz. macaroni
4 small to medium chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1 cup whole milk
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese
¼ cup flour
½ stick butter

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook macaroni, drain and set aside. Melt butter in large skillet, then add flour and stir for about 20-30 seconds. Add milk and whisk to break up chunks of flour mixture. When mixture is warm and starts to thicken, add cheese. Stir until cheese melts, and then add chipotle peppers. Put cooked macaroni in a large bowl, and pour cheese mixture over it. Stir to combine and then pour into a greased casserole dish. Bake for about 20 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Serves four, or like previous recipes I’ve posted here, two very hungry guys.

Tex-Mex Meatballs w/Spicy Tomatillo Sauce

Ingredients:
For Meatballs
1 lb. ground beef
2 medium ears cooked corn on the cob
2 jalapeno peppers
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 slice white bread, cut into cubes and soaked in ½ cup milk

For Sauce
3-4 tomatillos, papery skin removed and rinsed
1 jalapeno pepper
¼ of a large red onion
¼ cup chopped cilantro
½ medium avocado
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. black pepper
juice of one lime

Directions:
For the sauce, spray the tomatillos, two jalapenos (one for sauce, one for meatballs) and red onion with cooking spray and grill over medium heat until the skins on tomatillos and pepper turn brown and begin to blister and onion lightly browns. Cut off tough core of tomatillos and remove the stem and seeds of jalapenos. Throw the vegetables in a blender, saving one jalapeno for the meatballs, and add remaining sauce ingredients. Blend for a few seconds until smooth.

For the meatballs, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the corn off the cob, and chop the remaining grilled jalapeno. Combine in a large mixing bowl along with beef, cilantro, chili powder, salt and pepper. Then take the soaked bread and add to the bowl, discarding the milk. Mix thoroughly with your hands and shape into 1 ½ inch meatballs. Brown meatballs in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for about 3-4 minutes. Then move meatballs to a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about ten more minutes, or until cooked through.

Pour some sauce on a plate and top with a few meatballs. You should have about 20 meatballs in all, which will serve between two and four people. Serve with a frosty Mexican beer, and trust me, you’ll need it to wash down both of these dishes!

He-Man fiery sausage and peppers

Hey guys. If you are like me, and like spicy food to the point that you sometimes crave it, I’ve got a great dish for you to try. This is probably not the kind of thing women will like, so it’s a good dish to make for your buddies for an NFL Sunday or other get-together. And the cool thing is you can make it extra spicy just by making a few adjustments. And hey, there’s beer in it! Are you ready? Oh, by the way, this was originally published on Bullz-Eye.com’s Grub for Guys.

Here is what you’ll need:

2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 links pre-cooked smoked bratwurst (or 4-6 hot dogs)
2-3 poblano peppers (the dark green, oblong ones)
3-4 jalapeno peppers (fresh, not from a jar)
½ cup beer
¾ cup diced tomatoes
½ cup barbecue sauce
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low-medium heat. While that is heating, cut the peppers—slice off the top stem of the poblano, remove the seeds and membrane and slice thinly. Then slice the jalapeno carefully—first cut off the stem, and then cut into rounds. I like to do this and leave the seeds in for two reasons. One, it won’t burn your hands (though you still might consider plastic gloves), and two, the dish will be spicier with the seeds intact. Throw the peppers into the skillet and stir fry until lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes.

Then cut up the bratwurst into slices about ¼ inch thick, and add those to the skillet. Let them start to brown just a bit, maybe 2-3 minutes. Then pour in the beer slowly, which should loosen all the brown stuff at the bottom of the pan (if you use cold beer, you can drink the rest of the bottle). Add the tomatoes, barbecue sauce and hot sauce, then sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and let simmer on low to medium heat for about 30 minutes or until the sauce starts to reduce and thicken.

If you want the dish to be really hot, try any combination of these tips….use a hotter hot sauce, use Ro-Tel extra spicy tomatoes (trust me, the stuff is nasty hot), leave the seeds in the jalapenos, and maybe buy a sausage that’s already spicy—I’ve seen some habanero chicken sausage that would work well for this.

That’s it…you might want to serve this with bread or crackers to help soak up the heat, or just let it burn your mouth and cool off those taste buds with a frosty, refreshing beverage of your choice.

A Can A Week: Hormel Hot Chili with Beans

A few weeks ago, I posted my Grub for Guys chili recipes. But if I have to eat chili from the can, it’s almost always going to be Hormel Chili. I mean, right on the can, it says, “Since 1891.” Holy crap, they’ve been making chili for 120 years and in three differet centuries.

And being that they make several different kinds of chili, I thought we’d review a few of them on our “A Can A Week” feature. This week it’s Hormel Hot Chili with Beans. Hot as in spicy, and when the word “HOT” is almost as big as the “Hormel Chili,” you sure expect at least three chili peppers on a scale of 1 to 5. I’m going to give it about a 3.5 there–I love spicy food, and this chili is maybe one of the spicier canned foods you’ll find, but it’s not like I was reaching for a glass of milk after each spoonful, or even water. I’d say, though, that it’s just the right amount of heat, so as not to overpower the chili.
The heat also creeps up on you a bit, like a swift kick in the back of your throat.

Flavorwise, you really can’t beat Hormel Chili, and this one is no exception. There is a real depth of chili flavor, with tomatoes being there but more in the background. The bean to beef ratio is about 50/50, and pretty decent for a can of chili.

If you eat the whole can (and just like with last week’s Chef Boyardee review, why wouldn’t you?), you’re ingesting 520 calories…but you’re also talking 32 grams of protein and 14 grams of fiber. So no, Hormel Chili may not be classified as health food, but it’s got some nice nutritional value too. And as I write this, I’m FULL and may not eat until dinner time.

So if it’s been a while since you’ve tried Hormel, or if you haven’t tasted the Hot Chili with Beans, go check it out and see if you agree with this assessment. And now, time for a nap (well, not literally).

Next for the Hormel line, we’ll review their Turkey Chili.

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