December 12, 2012 · 7:00 am
Finally, some cold weather in Texas! We thought it would never come, but it has been in the mid-20’s for the past couple of evenings, which means my thoughts turn to soups, stews and chili. The creamy corn chowder soup mix I purchased at the State Fair of Texas almost two months ago was finally on the menu. I was cautiously excited about making the soup because I love corn chowder, but my experiences with soup mixes has been hit or miss, and it has been mostly miss lately.
Ellie Hughes and her family are the driving force behind the Twisted Pepper Co. (Don’t you love the company name?) This small food manufacturing company specializes in gourmet dip, spread and soup mixes that are easy to prepare and delicious to eat. Ellie, or “Miss Ellie” as she is known, has loved cooking since she was a small girl. The company’s website has an amazing number of dip mixes, soup mixes, BBQ rubs, bread dipping oil seasonings, Tex-Mex seasonings and pasta seasonings. I browsed the virtual “grocery shelves” for quite some time. The selections run the gamut from a classic brisket BBQ rub to a very intriguing cranberry jalapeño pasta salad seasoning mix. The company focuses on healthy mixes, with lower sodium, gluten-free and MSG-free options.
I think one of the reasons this soup mix really works is that it is basically a seasoning mix to which cream-style corn and fresh or frozen corn kernels are added; the “just add water” type soup mixes always seem to fall short for me. I tweaked the recipe on the package a bit, mainly changing the cooking time. The package calls for the soup to be simmered for 10 minutes, but I knew from previous experience with soup mixes that a longer cooking time really blends and intensifies the flavors. The package suggests several variations and I elected to add diced potato. My revised recipe is below. Fair warning: the mix makes a big pot of soup, so plan accordingly!
Creamy Corn Chowder
- 1 package Twisted Pepper Co. Creamy Corn Chowder soup mix
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups half & half
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 can (15.25 oz) cream-style corn
- 1 (16 oz) package of frozen corn kernels
- 1 medium sized potato, diced
Combine water, half & half, broth, cream-style corn and frozen corn kernels in a large stockpot. Whisk in the soup mix and bring just to a slow boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the diced potato and continue simmering until the potatoes are done and the chowder is thick, about 20-30 minutes.
You will be rewarded with a very well-seasoned, hearty bowl of chowder. Everyone at our family dinner loved it. Miss Ellie also suggests adding chicken or crab to the chowder, and I think it would be fantastic with diced, smoked ham.
Twisted Pepper Co.’s website would be a great place to do some holiday shopping for those on your list who love to cook. Special holiday packaging on some products and free shipping on orders over $50 make it even more fun!
December 11, 2012 · 7:00 am
Wisconsin is home to some really great cheeses, as practically everyone knows. Our latest tasting included Henning’s Natural Chipotle Cheddar Cheese. This visually appealing white cheddar is laced with spicy roasted jalapeño peppers. It looks beautiful on a cheese tray, which is how we enjoyed it recently. Have you ever wondered about the difference between white and yellow cheddar? It simply boils down to color. Cheddar cheese is naturally white, and the familiar yellow color of many cheddar cheeses results from adding a plant-based extract called annatto. Henning’s white cheddar is aged over a month and we thought it fell into the “mild” category, with less tang than an sharp cheddar which has been aged for a longer period. Chipotle peppers are simply smoked jalapeños, but that process yields a very complex flavor that is popular in Texas and the Southwest. White cheddar and chipotle peppers combined? Completely addictive! Henning’s Chipotle Cheddar has won awards in U.S. and world cheese competitions, and it definitely will win over your taste buds.
Our tasting combined Henning’s Natural Chipotle Cheddar with crisp, unflavored crackers and some smoked sausage, and it was superb. The potential uses for it in recipes seems endless. Nachos and Mexican casseroles immediately came to mind, but Allen thought it would be fantastic atop a juicy grilled burger, and everyone agreed. That will be on the menu on the next warm weekend, which in Texas could be at any time!
We introduced you to the Henning Family’s cheese business and Kerry Henning, the “Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker”, when we tasted his award-winning aged peppercorn cheddar. The family is committed to local dairy farmers who pasture-feed their cows and supplement their diets with a balance of natural grains. The Hennings have almost 100 years in the cheese making business, and have won numerous national and international awards. Their website offers easy ordering for their great cheese products.
November 7, 2012 · 7:00 am
People sometimes begin a new business venture because they want a better way of life, and that is Ditran Saliovski’s story. He grew up in his family’s restaurant business and became a restaurateur himself. Although he loved many things about the hospitality business, he and his wife wanted more quality family time. A February 2012 article profiling the family in Frisco Style recounts Ditran’s “eureka” moment when he realized the family’s signature vinaigrette dressing probably had commercial appeal. After all, it was the top-selling dressing in all of the family restaurants and customers carried it out in plastic containers. With his family’s blessings, he began tweaking the recipe, removing corn syrup and preservatives and achieving an all-natural product. The resulting vinaigrette is very bold and tangy. It has a lot of body — much more than many vinaigrettes. It definitely elevated my everyday “house” salad to super. Moni’s website has some yummy-sounding recipes using their tomato and oil vinaigrette. Ditran’s wife, Sanida, created a baked chicken recipe that I’ve bookmarked to try very soon.
Ditran and Sanida called on extended family members to develop more products for the Moni’s line, including a spicy marinara and a garlic and basil marinara. According to the Frisco Style article, Saliovski siblings and cousins are actively involved in the business. That seems to be very much a family tradition since Saliovski family members own more than 200 restaurants across Texas!
You can order directly from Moni’s website or check for a retailer near you. Moni’s products are also now available in many Costco stores.
October 26, 2012 · 7:00 am
I had planned a special birthday dinner for Allen this week, but things started going south when he came down with a very bad cold at the end of last week. The downward spiral continued when I got sick a couple of days ago. Between sneezing, coughing, and getting very little sleep, neither of us has been in a celebratory mood. Although I promised Allen his birthday dinner when we are feeling better, including his favorite chocolate meringue pie, I couldn’t let the day pass without having something special.
Dr. Pete had the perfect prescription for a quick and delicious birthday treat. Dr. T. A. Peterson, known as “Dr. Pete” to his patients, made house calls in his Savannah, Georgia medical practice. Although he loved medicine, he was also passionate about cooking. He really enjoyed creating special sauces to serve to friends and family. His daughter and son-in-law, Jan and Joel Coffee, began commercial production of some of Dr. Pete’s recipes in 1985.
Dr. Pete’s Praline Mustard Glaze is a rich blend of brown sugar, mustard, spices and pecans. The aroma alone will make you want it eat it straight from the jar, but control that urge and spoon it over ham, chicken or fish instead. We’ve enjoyed Dr. Pete’s Praline Mustard Glaze with smoked gouda wrapped in puff pastry. So yummy! This 2008 Flavor of Georgia award-winner will be a hit in your kitchen.
One of the things we love about keeping ready-to-eat artisan or gourmet foods handy is they are often the catalyst for an easy, yet elegant, dish. I had a small wheel of baby brie in the refrigerator, so Allen’s birthday treat was quickly underway. The result? In less than 20 minutes, we were enjoying creamy, melted brie with a most delicious pecan praline mustard sauce.
Baked Brie with Dr. Pete’s Praline Mustard Glaze
Preheat oven to 350°.
Unwrap brie and place on a greased cookie sheet. (Do not remove the rind from the brie.) Top with 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pecans. Place brie in oven and bake until the cheese is very soft (probably about 15-20 minutes). Remove brie from the oven and spoon 4 tablespoons of Dr. Pete’s Praline Mustard Glaze over the brie. (I warmed the glaze slightly in the microwave first.) Serve with crackers or toasted bread slices.
Doesn’t it look good?
Dr. Pete’s has an impressive retail distribution network listed on the company’s website, so you may be lucky enough to find it in a store near you. If not, you can order directly from the website.
October 24, 2012 · 7:00 am
We picked up a jar of Sweet Onion and Peach Salsa at the State Fair of Texas two weekends ago, before we knew anything about the Smokin’ Texas Gourmet label. Chef Peter Mollett is the creative force behind Smokin’ Texas Gourmet, and we are very much in tune with his mission to “make homemade happen”. Finding specialty foods that spice up home cooking is our goal, and we have a winner with Smokin’ Texas Gourmet. Chef Mollett’s recipes are free of MSG and high fructose corn syrup, they are prepared with reduced sugar and salt, and have no additives or preservatives. The entire Smokin’ Texas Gourmet line is gluten-free, as well as vegan and vegetarian-friendly. Whether you cook for someone with dietary concerns or just want try some new spices and sauces, Smokin’ Texas Gourmet has options for you!
I adapted one of Chef Mollett’s recipes to make some delicious pulled pork sandwiches. The end result was probably not quite as healthy as he would have prepared in his kitchen, but we thought it was tasty! The peach flavor complimented the pork without overpowering it.
Peachy Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Pork shoulder roast – about 4 pounds
1-16 oz jar Smokin’ Texas Gourmet Sweet Onion and Peach Salsa
1-12 oz can Coca-Cola
Salt & pepper to taste
Dry BBQ seasoning to taste (Note: Try Smokin’ Texas Gourmet’s BBQ Rub)
Season roast with salt, pepper and dry BBQ seasoning and place in crockpot. Combine Smokin’ Texas Gourmet Sweet Onion and Peach Salsa and Coca-Cola, and pour over roast. Cook on high for about 6 hours, basting the roast with sauce about every two hours. Remove roast from crockpot, and shred meat with forks, discarding fat. Skim fat from sauce and set aside.
Peach BBQ Sauce
Sauté in 1 tablespoon of olive oil:
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced onion
Pour garlic and onion mixture into blender and combine with:
1 1/2 cups fresh, frozen or canned peach slices
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup pickled jalapeno pepper slices
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
Pepper to taste
Blend until smooth, pour into saucepan, and simmer for 20 minutes. (Slightly adapted from http://www.allrecipes.com)
Place shredded pork , reserved sauce, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup peach sauce in crockpot and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours on high.
Spoon pulled on toasted buns and garnish with dill pickle slices. Serve with additional Peach BBQ Sauce.
October 23, 2012 · 7:00 am
I’m really excited to share this treat with you. Perhaps ridiculously so. First and foremost, the product is awesome! The kettle corn is crispy and light. The tagline on the bag claims “the perfect balance of sweetness & salt” and it is absolutely true. Angie’s product has four perfectly simple ingredients: popcorn, corn oil, sugar and sea salt. This is seriously the kind of treat that you might not be able to stop eating, and at less than 150 calories for a two-cup serving, you can enjoy it without having to schedule an extra workout at the gym! One of the small things we love about Angie’s Authentic Kettle Corn is the resealable packaging which means we never have to search for a “chip clip” when we are through snacking. Genius!
Angie and her husband, Dan, have a great story. They started selling their kettle corn on a part-time basis to build college funds for their two small children. Their decision to gift members of the Minnesota Vikings with bags of kettle corn changed the company’s course. Very soon, Angie’s was the official kettle corn of the Minnesota Vikings and fans were clamoring for the snack outside of the stadium. Angie and Dan saw an opportunity to take their part-time operation to a full-time business, and they now employ more than 150 people and sell their product in retail outlets in all 50 states. Angie and Dan have appeared on Martha Stewart’s television program and their kettle corn was featured in an issue of Food and Wine.
Giving back to the community is an important part of Angie’s business culture. They are active in charitable ventures, as are many artisans. They focus much of their effort on organizations that support education and the needs of children. In addition to their business and charitable commitments, they consider their responsibility as parents to their two children as their most important role.
You can order Angie’s kettle corn in several flavors directly from their website, and orders over $49 currently are shipped free. If you don’t want to wait on delivery, check the website for a retailer near you!
October 18, 2012 · 7:00 am
Credit goes to my sister-in-law for this great find. Essie’s South American Style Sauce originated in her home state of North Dakota, so she grew up enjoying it. She easily converted the Texas family into true believers! Essie’s Sauce is a blend of soy sauce, vinegar, tomato paste and spices that makes a tasty marinade for beef, pork, seafood and poultry. It is a complex sauce that might be described as an Asian, Mexican, Cajun fusion. It isn’t overly spicy, nor is it sweet; call it unique! Marinating almost any protein in Essie’s for a couple of hours before grilling will bring rave reviews, but it is exceptional with pork. My dinner “crunch-time” trick is to brush boneless chops with Essie’s and pan-fry, while simmering about a cup of Essie’s in a separate pan until it is thick. Top the cooked chops with the reduced sauce, and dinner is done! Essie’s is a gluten-free product that is shelf-stable without refrigeration and the ingredients list includes no preservatives.
There really is an “Essie”, Esther Davis. The Davis family opened a restaurant in Dickinson, North Dakota in the mid-1960’s. Their top-selling menu item was a South American steak seasoned with a product purchased from a company in California. When their supplier went out of business, the family was faced with their customers’ favorite entrée disappearing from the menu. Essie and crew went into high gear, experimenting with ingredients until they perfected the sauce themselves. The family says customers soon began bringing in their own “to-go” jars to be filled with the savory sauce, so the next logical step was to sell Essie’s commercially. Although the restaurant has closed, Essie’s South American Style Sauce is still a staple in the region and is now distributed from Seattle.
Essie’s website isn’t fully operational at the time of this post, but it does provide a link to order from Amazon.
October 10, 2012 · 7:00 am
Before I knew the story behind Mary’s Gone Crackers, I was impressed with the clever product name. We brought a box home from the market, sampled a few crackers au naturel, and loved the crunch and complex flavors of brown rice, quinoa, flax seed and sesame seed. The slightly irregular sizes and shapes of the crackers gave them a rustic, homemade look. They are super crisp and hold their own with toppings, making them a great choice for appetizer buffets.
Mary’s story is compelling. She was a psychotherapist, dedicated to helping people improve their lives. At the age of 43, she was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder marked by an inability to digest gluten found in wheat, rye, barley, and some oats. Mary began baking her own gluten-free crackers to have something to eat while friends and family enjoyed bread products. As so often happens in an food artisan’s world, she began sharing her crackers with friends and soon found herself bringing crackers to practically every gathering of friends and family. Mary estimates that before she officially began manufacturing crackers, she made over 30,000 crackers by hand!
In 1999, Mary and her husband decided to “go crackers”, and enter into full-time cracker manufacturing. They didn’t jump into the business without careful planning; in fact, it was five years later when they both gave up their careers to pursue their dream. They began by contracting with a manufacturing facility, but decided that they wanted more control over the product and process. Today, Mary’s crackers are manufactured in their own gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free facility.
Mary’s passion for helping people lead better lives took a very different path from her role as a psychotherapist, but her website states that her motivation remains the same – to heal people. Gluten-free diets have been front-page news for some time, but Mary’s Gone Crackers offers delicious options for anyone’s diet. Not only do they have several cracker flavors, they also make gluten-free cookies and pretzels. Find a location near you and try some soon!
October 1, 2012 · 7:00 am
Karen and I met a new friend, Gabriel, on our recent trip to Central Market. He is a chef in the market’s demonstration kitchen, and he introducedus to a number of very interesting new products to try. Given our love for all things Tex-Mex, Canyon Foods Tortilla Soup was the first thing we tasted. The soup is fully prepared and ready to heat with organic chicken stock, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and cilantro. It is simmered with corn tortillas, which makes it a thick, hearty soup. Of course, we weren’t simply content with the “heat and eat” approach, but used the soup as a base for our own, quick adaptation. It was definitely a winner!
Chicken Tortilla Soup
- 1 jar Canyon Foods Tortilla Soup
- 1 8-oz chicken breast, finely diced and sautéed
- 2 oz tortilla chips, crushed
- 1 oz shredded pepper jack cheese
Simmer the soup and cooked chicken breast for about 15 minutes. Divide crushed tortilla chips between 4 soup bowls. Pour soup over tortilla chips and top with shredded pepper jack cheese.
Canyon Foods is the brainchild of Dallasite Anne Connally, who believed that there had to be a better way to enjoy soup than from a can. She set about to make a shelf-stable ready-to-eat soup and grew her business from a 3,000 square foot space with one employee to a 26,000 square foot facility with her husband, brother, sister and niece making the business a family affair. Her products include soups, starters, relishes, marinades and vinaigrettes, and are available from her website, All Canyon Foods are processed in small batches to assure great tastes.
Stay tuned for more on the delicious pepper jack cheese we used to top our chicken tortilla soup!
September 24, 2012 · 7:00 am
Peaches, pecans, amaretto. Do I have your attention? Fredericksburg Farms hits the ball out of the park with these delicious, all natural, gluten-free preserves. They are full of large peach slices, crunchy pecans, and a generous splash of amaretto. They would take toast or biscuits to a whole new level, but honestly, mere bread might be unworthy of these amazing preserves. As soon as I opened the jar and smelled the amaretto, my thoughts immediately went to dessert!
One of my co-workers gave me a recipe for cream cheese ice cream, and we often enjoy it with fresh fruit or pound cake. It seemed like a natural with the Peach Pecan Amaretto Preserves. Once the ice cream was made, it was a cinch to assemble these mini ice cream parfaits.
Peach Pecan Amaretto Cheesecake Shooters
Cream Cheese Ice Cream
- 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
Thoroughly blend the first five ingredients. Gently stir in heavy cream. Freeze following the directions for your ice cream freezer. Remove from the ice cream freezer, and store in an airtight container in the freezer for at least 2 hours, or until firm.
For each dessert shooter, you will also need
- A small dessert glass
- 1/2 graham cracker sheet
- 1/4 tsp sugar
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
Crush the graham cracker sheet and mix with sugar and cinnamon. Layer graham cracker crumbs, Fredericksburg Farms Peach Pecan Amaretto Preserves, and small scoops of ice cream, ending with a dollop of preserves and a sprinkle of graham cracker crumbs.
Fredericksburg Farms operates on a real farm in the Texas Hill Country. They are locally known for their seasonal flowers, particularly poinsettias and Easter lilies. But their food steals the show — grilling & barbecue sauces, salsas & queso, jellies & preserves, syrups, condiments, hot sauces, chili mixes, bread mixes, and dip & rub mixes. Their website has dozens of taste-tempting recipes. You can order products directly from Fredericksburg Farms, and their products are available in some major retailers, including Central Market.