Archive for the ‘Observations’ Category

El Norteño Mexican Meat Snacks

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

20160909_152630I usually keep snacks such as almonds and beef jerky–instead of chips and candy–in my office. When snack foods company El Norteño invited me to try its Mexican-recipe meat snacks, I accepted happily.

El Norteño launched on Jan. 1, 2016 right here in Madison after spending 12 months crafting its recipe. According to a spokesperson, it’s the only company selling authentic recipe cecina (meat that has been salted and dried) as a packaged snack in the country.

The product line features the aforementioned cecina ($45 for 12 bags), tira de carne (meat sticks; $25 for 24) in both habanero and habenero-lime flavors.

You’ll hopefully like that the meat sticks have a strong, beefy flavor, and the heat from the habanero peppers actually comes through. Even better, there’s a good snap to each bite, and you don’t have to worry about the casing getting stuck in your teeth like with other meat sticks.

20160911_085354Interestingly, the dried meat comes with a packet of hot sauce (I didn’t use it). The cecina is well-seasoned, to the point I would call it spicy (NOT spicy-hot). Compared to Jacks Link’s beef jerky, the cecina’s texture is slightly softer, and it carries more protein (16 grams vs. 12 grams) and has fewer carbs (1 gram vs. 5 grams).

Overall, El Norteño’s introductory products make for satisfying snacks, worthy of adding to your lineup.

You can order all the products online or buy them at stores such as Woodman’s and Kelley’s Market. A good place to try them in person would be at the Sept. 29 Bodega at Breese Stevens Field.

The ramen craze

Saturday, April 4th, 2015


I grew up eating ramen (real ramen, not instant noodles) without realizing it was considered by many as a poor college student’s staple (e.g. you can get a 24-pack of Maruchan ramen for less than $10, or less than 50 cents per bowl).

Today, ramen seems to be a trendy meal item as well as restaurant theme. Nationwide, check out places such as Bassanova Ramen in New York, Slurping Turtle in Chicago (and Ann Arbor) and  Johnny Noodle King in Detroit.

Here in Madison, you can get your fix at places like Hong Kong Station, Umami and Sujeo. We even had a Ramen Smackdown last summer. My guess is there will be more places serving ramen–either as the main focus or as a part of the menu–in the near future because Madison always goes all-in with trends/fads (see: gastropubs, cupcakeries, frozen yogurt shops, etc.).

My opinion on why ramen is “in” is because chefs can take the simple premise of noodles in broth and take it 10 levels higher. For example, Sujeo’s Shio Ramen is made with double stock, grilled pork belly, duck fat and pork fat. In a similar vein, look what Dlux has done with burgers and Salvatore’s with pizzas (I mean, tomato pies).

Just remember, when in Rome … slurp your noodles. There’s no cutting your noodles or twirling them into a ball. In addition, eat your noodles as quickly as possible. The longer they sit in the broth, the more overcooked they become.

Next time you’re about to fix a bowl of instant noodles, try this easy recipe (it uses cheese!):

Want to learn more? Read this guide to ramen on Serious Eats.

Banned Foods

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

About a week ago, a federal judge overturned a two-year ban of the sale of foie gras in California. I remember thinking when the law first took effect in 2012–it actually passed the state legislature in 2004–isn’t this a minor issue? Aren’t there much more important animal rights issues to tackle?

(For a great perspective, read this NY Times column, “Let Them Eat Foie Gras.”)

I also thought, it’s odd that we can live in a society in which certain foods are banned, both here and abroad. So, let’s take a look at some of those items:

  • Ketchup: In 2011, France installed a semi-ban on ketchup in elementary schools. Students have french fries once per week, and only then are they allowed to have ketchup. The condiment is thought to mask the flavor of French dishes, hence the ban.
  • Unpasteurized milk: Despite the benefits of raw milk, and the fact that people in many countries worldwide drink it, its sale is banned in several states, including Iowa and Indiana. In Wisconsin, you can buy unpasteurized milk legally from licensed farmers.
  • Margarine. The dairy lobby is very, very powerful. This ban takes place in–where else–Wisconsin. Here are parts of the law: “The serving of colored oleomargarine or margarine at a public eating place as a substitute for table butter is prohibited unless it is ordered by the customer” and “The serving of oleomargarine or margarine to students, patients or inmates of any state institutions as a substitute for table butter is prohibited.”
  • Bottled water. It is illegal to sell bottled water of 1 liter size or smaller in Concord, Mass. Retailers can get fined up to $50!
  • Four Loko. The original version was banned in several states for its combination of alcohol and caffeine. At the time I had wondered, have people ever heard of a rum-and-coke or vodka-Red Bull? The new formula doesn’t include caffeine.

Lastly, in researching for this blog post, I learned that Mississippi passed a law in 2013 that bans food bans. I find that amusing, especially for a state that ranks No. 1 for obesity. At the time, Mississippi Poultry Association President Mark Leggett said, “Don’t mess with the buffet.”

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