A Sauce Only a Mother Could Love! Just Kidding! Everyone Will Love Tia Lupita!
When Hector Saldivar asked about sending me his brand new sauce to try, I have to admit I was busy and told him I only had time for a cursory review on Facebook or Instagram. But I was honest with him and he sent it anyway. And as you might have concluded, the impression it made was enough that here I am with a full on review! The box came quickly with 2 bottles of sauce, some stickers, and a purple hair roller! “Well that’s all kinds of random”, I thought when looking at the roller. Then I looked closer at the Tia Lupita label, then back at the roller, back at the stickers, then at the roller, then back to the sauce, then to the…..okay, enough! Turns out Hector named his sauce after his momma, Tia Lupita. And Lupita always had a purple roller in her hair! What a loving memory of his mom, and what a lasting tribute. So….it made me curious to learn more…Score a point for marketing! Then I went to the website and my heart was touched at the Tia Lupita backstory. Turns out that everyone calls Hector’s mom Tia (Spanish for Aunt) Lupita! And she would give Hector her old school, Old Mexico hot sauce to remind him of home after he moved to the states. And fast forward to everyone begging Hector to make them that sauce! And fast forward to Hector’s entrepreneurial spirit, and just like that, Tia Lupita was born! Born from a mother’s love for her son! (Can you tell I’m writing this around Mother’s Day?)
So, now for the quickie review – this sauce has instantly become one of my all time favorite Mexican style sauces! Holy Majolie is this stuff good! But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’re super busy, then the review is over. Go forth and buy and enjoy! But if you want a little more detail, read on!
The labeling is smart with a caricature of Hector’s mom on the label bearing her name, complete with signature roller. Nice graphics, easy to read, and the bottle is a short, 8oz squatty bottle, so plenty of product to enjoy in attractive packaging. Good descriptors on the side (non-GMO, Gluten Free, No Sugar, all natural, only 7 ingredients) and the website’s URL, www.tialupitahotsauce.com. The write-up on the label is fun, but a little long for a label and kinda hard to read with less than young eyes! I also enjoyed the hashtag lines, #makehotsaucegreatagain and #curlpower. Very catchy, but be careful making claims like “make hot sauce great again”! There’s lots of really great small batch, artisan hot sauces out there!
With only 7 ingredients, Tia Lupita tastes clean and authentic. Here’s the lucky 7: Red Chili Peppers, Distilled Vinegar, Garlic, Salt, Black Pepper, Oregano, and Cumin. A simple list of ingredients but it provides a full depth of flavor. The type of peppers aren’t specified, but I asked and my suspicions were confirmed: Tia Lupita uses fully ripened jalapeno’s. The flavor, combined with the black pepper and toasted spices like cumin, reminds me of a nice, earthy Arbol Chile, and that’s a very good thing!
Now for the good part! This sauce just tastes old school Mexico! Deep, rich, earthy, full-bodied with a nice texture. It’s a smooth sauce, but not watery. In fact, it’s a thick sauce, with a consistency similar to ketchup. I enjoyed the thickness, as it didn’t run everywhere, stayed where I put it, and coated very nicely. I am very sodium conscious these days and the low sodium content allowed me to hit the shaker and dial in just how salty or not I wanted the sauce, which I thoroughly appreciated. Tia Lupita says it toasts its spices, and the earthy, smoky flavor profile was testimony to that, since they aren’t using a chipotle pepper. The black pepper shined through and makes a great statement, and the oregano and cumin paired really well and provided a nice brightness that screamed, “Viva Mexico”!!! Of course, I tried it on eggs, and it has become my current go to for that breakfast staple! I also used it on chicken, pork, and steak. It worked extremely well with all of the meats listed. Ironically, I haven’t made tacos yet, but I have no doubt it will be superb on any traditional Mexican/Hispanic food choice! And of course, let’s not forget pizza! This sauce will be stellar on a good pizza!!!! The thickness and the toasted spice blend with the garlic and oregano will add great value to a basic pizza sauce.
So given that this post will be released around Mother’s Day, it’s very appropriate to celebrate the awesomeness that is Tia Lupita, as Hector pays respect and homage to his mom, Lupita. She shared herself, her family treasures, and love for her son when she sent him sauce to remind him of home. What a sweet thought and visual image of family and the love that so often revolves around our kitchens and the food we eat! I can almost see Hector spending time with his mom talking about life, food, his messy room, childhood memories, etc. etc .etc. My Mother’s Day wish for everyone is that you all have a Lupita in your lives. A special someone-mother, aunt, friend, or whoever- who loves us enough to share and sacrifice their talents and treasures so that we can smile and be happy and experience a little taste of home and family through the culinary cue cards embedded in our hearts and brains! All while rockin’ a big ‘ol purple hair roller!
You can find Tia Lupita on the web at www.tialupitahotsauce.com and at a few lucky, select locations in and around Marin County, California! This is an outstanding hot sauce! One of the best new sauces I’ve tasted in a long time! So get your hot sauce on! Tell Hector I sent you! And tell your momma you love her! And thanks to Hector for allowing me to share a little bit of my world with you, because we all know, Ladies and Gentlemen, that It’s a Fiery World!
Gringo Bandito Hot Sauce is out to Change the World and Burn it Up!
When you first pick up a bottle of Gringo Bandito Hot Sauce, you see a fun image of a sombrero and sunglass wearing, very white (thus the Gringo part of the name, I assume), blonde, pistol packing, bandolier draped character carefully guarding the contents. What you may not know is that is the image of Gringo Bandito founder Dexter Holland, front man for the punk rock group The Offspring! What you may also not know is that Dexter developed and founded his sauce company in 2004 because it would “be cool” to have a hot sauce, and because people who are into hot sauce are passionate! Before taking the first taste, I already like this guy! Luckily, I also liked his sauces!
There are three main sauces in the Gringo Bandito lineup- the original red sauce that features habaneros, jalapenos, and red Japanese chile peppers (more on this later), and two offspring sauces – a green sauce with habs, serranos and “more” peppers, and a Super Hot sauce with scorpion and jolokia (ghost) peppers. According to their website, there are limited release private reserve sauces that appear annually and a taco seasoning coming out in 2017. The original red sauce is a nice, smooth blend of the habs, jalapenos and the darker, earthier, “chile arbolish” Japanese chile, which is actually a native of Mexico’s Jalisco region. The Japanese Chile is a well known player in Asian dishes, especially Szechuan! How’s that for cultural diversity! With a nice front end playful heat, the red sauce makes very good use of black pepper and spices to enhance the earthiness and complexity of this signature sauce. I’d say it has a low to medium heat and does justice to eggs, pizza, tacos, fish, chicken, black beans, and I’m sure lots and lots of other things. Given the complexity of flavors, it’s almost like Dexter used the recipe for some sort of doctoral research in Molecular Biology!
Next up is the green sauce, which pairs a mid palate pop of habanero pepper with the bright, citrusy front end annum style heat of the Serrano’s, and, according to the label, adds in the mysterious “more” peppers. What peppers are those? I really couldn’t discern any specific type, so we’ll just let more be less. And while this sauce has a light green appearance that isn’t the most appealing to me, it takes off on a mojo-induced, solo green sauce flight around the world, landing right in the center of my flavor runway! I loved this sauce!!! So much I could see myself getting on a private jet, flying to the Isle of Man, skydive down, and telling the first person I see that I give Gringo Bandito’s Green Sauce my Fiery World stamp of approval!!!!!
The last entry in this Rock trio of sauces is the “ridiculously rambunctious” (straight from the label) Super Hot! Made with Scorpion and Jolokia, or Ghost, peppers, each known for big hits of heat and flavor, I have to say I was genuinely surprised, as I was fully expecting some super charged, tubular, “nitro” induced blast of heat! However, the Super Hot came across my tongue in a wave of balanced flavor, heat, and spice! It was almost like I had just experienced the Housewives of Orange County- richly flavored, plenty spicy and wildly playful, but still grounded in suburbia!
All in all, of the two traditionally styled hot sauces, I have to give the valedictorian award to the original red sauce! I liked them both, but I especially liked the way Dexter used the blend of the earthy Japanese chile with the habanero, jalapeno, black pepper, and other spices. Don’t get me wrong-the Super Hot was also very good, and it had plenty of good heat that made you pay close attention to the ride. I compare it like this-You’re expecting that knock you off your surfboard big wave of heat, and instead it gives a fun, tricked out skateboard ride through the streets of Orange County! But the green sauce, pukey color aside, was a solid home run for me! I really, really liked it and I’m super picky when it comes to green, verde style sauces.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a little about labeling, since that’s what draws people to a product on a store shelf. According to some random internet sources, Dexter’s choice of label art was a way to pay a bit of homage to a staple of the Mexican sauce world, Tapatio, which displays a similar image, albeit not the very blonde, Dutch looking white guy with punked blonde hair! Gringo Bandito sports a smart, clean, visually appealing label, each flavor with it’s own label color, making it easy to spot on a store shelf. And the witty banter they placed in the contents and nutrition info certainly brought a smile and soft chuckle to this fiery food aficionado. Now found nationwide in several thousand grocery stores, and online at www.gringobandito.com, Dexter Holland’s labor of passion and love is doing quite well for itself.
So there you have it! A punk rock inspired, three piece band of sauces – each instrument with a unique sound – kind of like a Gibson and an Ibanez, but when connected with a Marshall stack, they come together as a finely tuned symphony of flavor, spice, and heat. El Sabor Gringo Bandito is highly recommended by this blogger and reviewer , and I’m sure it will bring a smile to any hot sauce loving family of Offspring! And never, ever forget, ladies and gentlemen – It’s a Fiery World!
Katie’s Jerky – Served Up Sizzlin’ and Upside Down!
When Katie Levesque asked me to review her line of jerky I told her, sure, bring it on! And since I already knew something about Katie and Katie’s Premium Beef Jerky, having had it before, (spoiler alert!!) this will be a slam dunk, positive review. Well, I was right about the positive part- the jerky is first rate! But not so much with the slam dunk part. I wanted to be unique! Different! Unusual! Creative! A jerky reviewing master! I wanted to own the jerky and make it my…… well, okay, you get the drift! So I started thinking and decided that I didn’t want the usual, “take a bite, taste and review” review. I wanted to show you, my It’s a Fiery World audience, what makes this jerky special, and so much more than the myriad of brands you see at the mega-mart. So yes, we’ll talk about the products themselves, but also about Katie, the company, and how I like to experiment in the kitchen.
First, the review. Katie has a full lineup of “original” beef and bison jerky, and flavored pineapple jerky. She uses an excellent cut of meat, lean and savory. But what I didn’t find is a lot of tough stringy, hard to eat, tendon and fat. This stuff is easy to eat. It is slightly thicker than run of the mill products, with a very pleasing texture, so it feels good in your mouth. Regardless of flavor profile, the jerky is consistently tender without turning to mush in your mouth. This allows the flavors to escape evenly and fully, making your mouth happy, and your teeth not feeling as though they’d just gone 10 rounds with Clubber Lang! I have tried the original and several other flavors, and regardless of flavor (think original, spicy, more spicy, extra spicy, and holy crap, this stuff has some heat! spicy), the underlying flavor of the meat is preserved, while taking advantage of the various flavors and heat levels. There’s just enough onion, just enough garlic, and just enough of Katie’s special spice blends to make anyone smile. And at around 250mg of sodium (give or take a little), it’s not overly salty, which is a big beef with me. I don’t want to wake up after a jerky eating fest with fingers and ankles that feel like they’re stuffed sausages! I also had the Bison Jerky, and I love that big, full flavor of good, lean bison meat. I actually like bison more than regular “cow”, so having that option is an extra treat! I do wish the bison was available in more flavors! And she has recently teamed up with the Sauce Goddess, Jennifer Reynolds, and added some new, exotic flavors to the jerky lineup, using the Sauce Goddess’s spice profiles! I tasted some in Arizona, and man oh man, was it awesome!
I wanted to play with Katie’s products, so I decided to transform them and use them incommon recipes. Let’s start with the jerky. The pictures give is away, but I first made fajitas with the original beef and bison jerky. And it was a super easy recipe. I took a couple of packs of jerky and cut the pieces into long fajita strips. Next, I dumped a bottle of Born to Hula’s Smokin’ Pineapple sauce (alas, no longer in production) all over the meat, put it in the frig, and let it sit all day. By dinnertime, I had sufficiently rehydrated the meat and took in some of the flavors of the marinade, which added a little sweetness and smokiness that I enjoyed. Of course, you could use any vehicle for a marinade, so let your imagination and taste buds be your guide. I sautéed up some onions and peppers, added the meat to heat it up and blend the flavors (it is fully cooked, remember), and voila! Fajitas were born. The hardest thing about it was cutting up the onion! So hard it made me cry! (sorry…couldn’t resist!) My wife and my youngest gave me a big thumbs up, and I gave Katie’s beef and bison an even bigger thumbs up! Actually using the jerky in recipes helped me to appreciate the quality and inherent tenderness in the cut of beef and bison Katie uses. By the way, this is a great recipe to use for extended camping or backpacking trips.
Now for the pineapple. I know what you’re thinking- how is pineapple jerky different than plain ol’ dried pineapple? Cause that’s what I thought. But here’s the thing- regular dried pineapple almost always has added sugars that turn it more into candy than simple dried fruit, and I’m not into all that extra sugar. So Katie’s pineapple, available in brown sugar and a myriad of other fun flavors (orange, pina colada, and cherry were the ones I tried), is a great, sweet snack alternative. Katie takes great care in getting the pineapple to a nice texture and consistency. It may be a little chewier than regular dried fruit, but I didn’t have any problems, and I don’t consider that a negative in the least. But it’s also more tender than some fruit leathers, and it’s not blended into a mush that is dried almost hard. Simply put, I really like it and it has lots of uses! What uses, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked, cause we’re going to take a journey into my culinary creative side.
I needed to make a dessert for a work Christmas party, so I made pineapple jerky upside down cupcakes with a cinnamon cayenne brown sugar butter creme icing! I didn’t rehydrate anything, and used a pineapple upside down cake mix, and a brown sugar and butter mixture. I lined the bottom of the cupcake tins with the brown sugar/butter mixture and then added a piece of Katie’s spicy brown sugar flavored pineapple and a piece of cherry flavored pineapple. Add in the batter and top with a few diced pieces of the orange flavored pineapple jerky, and bake like normal! Delish! I added the icing and my co-workers devoured them! One take away for next time – the jerky wasn’t rehydrated first, so it was chewier than i would’ve liked (it is jerky, after all), so I would dice the pineapple and simply add it to the batter. I’d still get the desired flavors while getting a better texture and pineapple bite with each cupcake. But that’s a minor thing. I had a lot of fun playing with Katie’s beef, bison, and pineapple, and have nothing but praise for Katie’s lineup of products. They are rock stars in the world of jerky!
In closing, let me speak briefly about Katie’s Premium Beef Jerky as a company. Her back story is inspiring, and I don’t have time here to give you all the detail, since this article has already run pretty long (couldn’t help it- I had too much fun and enjoyed the jerky too much to just write a brief, “Spark Note” review). But long story short, she started like so many artisan, small batch, food entrepenuers, making jerky for her own pleasure and for friends. She received so much encouragement that she started selling, and fast forward a bunch of years, and here we are- a hard-working, passionate woman with a vision and a great product selling her passion full time! It’s fun talking with Katie, as her passion and excitement for her products and her company show in every conversation, whether it’s in person, or via email or text.
So go to www.katiesbeefjerky.com and load up! You won’t regret it and tell them I sent you! Because, we all know, that food is meant to be fun and yes, Virginia, it is a Fiery World!
Getting Creamed by the Culinary Pyros at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo
It was a cute little jar. All pretty and unassuming. It’s gold top gleaming at me, anonymous due to the lack of any labeling – filled with the creamy spread inside that called me…..Kennnnnn…….Kennnnnn…….I’m creammm cheeeese….…..I’m smoooooth…..I’m sweeeet…..I’m……..REALLY FREAKING HOT!!!!!
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, was my introduction to one of the most awesomely unique and delicious products I’ve tried in a while, Zane & Zack’s International Society of Culinary Pyro’s currently unnamed and unrated Reaper Cream Cheese Spread. Unveiling it’s formal name and debuting at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo on March 29th, 2014, this is a gourmet, artisan cream cheese spread laced with the Guinness world record holder Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper, recently dethroned but still insanely hot Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, Habanero, and other “select” peppers! And I was told there are “other super hots” in the spread as noted in the “select pepper” ingredient list!!! Bwahahahaha!!!!
Sam McCanless’ masterful blend of spices and ingredients make this a gourmet quality product – cream cheese, Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper, select peppers, lime juice, fresh garlic, vinegar, minced onions, red chile flakes, and salt. And I can tell that salt is not a main ingredient, as it doesn’t overpower the sweetness and allows the natural slight saltiness of the cream cheese to shine through. He limited the ingredients so each flavor has identity so not to make any one flavor overpower the other. Even the peppers are layered nicely, hitting me at different times and in different ways and places, like a savvy prize fighter picking his punches for purpose and effect. A quick Habanero jab to the face, a hard Scorpion right cross that instantly hurts, and then the steady body blows of Carolina Reaper.
Speaking of a prize fighter, the as yet unnamed Reaper Cream Cheese Spread kinda reminds me of a boxing match. It packs a pretty stout punch, but it’s not a knockout punch. Not the “I’m gonna rip Evander Holyfield’s ear off” angry Mike Tyson punch, but more like Rocky and Apollo Creed’s post Clubber Lange victory fight punch. The punches sting…okay, downright hurt, but just for a minute, then you’re ready to take on another round. And you’re smiling! And you like it! You like it a lot! A whole lot!
The International Society of Culinary Pyros have done themselves proud with a gourmet quality cream cheese spread that earns 4 Fiery Worlds from me. I can’t wait to see it officially at the 2nd Annual New York City Hot Sauce Expo, March 29 and 30, 2014. Check out the Expo website for more details and check out Zane & Zack’s website for more fine sauces and products from Sam and Tina McCanless! You can also find their products from the fine folks at www.iburn.com. So beware the unassuming jar with the gleaming gold cap! Why, you ask? Because ladies and gentlemen, It’s a Fiery World!