Checking In With The Lady Behind Vaquero’s
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Hopefully you read my review of Vaquero’s Dipping Sauce awhile back. My family has been loving this sauce and trying it on everything! I’m always curious when I try a new product to learn “the story” behind it. A big “Thank You” to Michelle Sassen for taking the time to answer some questions!

1. So how long have you been doing this?

I have been making this sauce for years! I can’t really remember exactly when it started. I’m not a chef, foodie, or anything special. I just grew up in the sticks where we learned to make do with what we had on hand. Glean all you can from people, magazines, and the internet then use it and adapt it to your advantage. My husband had hounded me for years to bottle it and to take it to market. I resisted. He finally wore me down in March 2011. After much research and development, we were able to finally run the first production batch of 2000 lbs. on 3/2/12.

2. How did you get started?

I was verbally given an unclear recipe that was emulated from Mustard’s Grill in Napa Valley. By unclear I mean that to me it was unclear. I didn’t know what “BBQ spices” were so I grabbed Montreal seasoning out of my cupboard and used that and when the recipe said that the chilies were ground in a coffee grinder giving it “just a hint of coffee”, I decided I certainly wasn’t about to cross contaminate my coffee with chili by using my coffee grinder to grind the chilies, I just scooped the freshly ground coffee directly into the sauce. Chilies were ground in the old coffee grinder set aside for spices only! I played around with the ratio until I finally found the perfect sauce.

3. How are sales going?

Considering the time I have had to put into it, surprisingly well. During this whole process of bringing Vaquero’s to the mass market, my husband had a motorcycle accident which put much of our lives on hold and has given our lives quite a few ups & downs. Our customer base is mostly in small local stores in Mendocino County where we are based, on our website, a friends pecan farm stand/online (Superior Pecans), and online with Bourbon & Boots.

4. What was the biggest surprise/challenge getting this to market?

The biggest surprise to me is that so many people like it and are willing to buy and/or sell it.

The biggest challenge getting this to market as a complete newcomer to the food business is learning how to do so while doing the bookkeeping for my husband’s business and working 30 +/- hours a week for a physical therapy office.

5. Are the other sauces or products in your future?

Yes! I have a mild version for those who don’t like it as spicy, an Asian Fusion sauce where east meets west, a Vaquero’s BBQ rub based on the sauce, a Smokey Montreal rub which I stumbled on while creating Vaquero’s BBQ Rub, and what my youngest daughter has named “MOMtreal” rub which is my personal version of Montreal. Unfortunately, as many know – it takes considerable time, research, and funding to get each product to market. I have everything past the research and development level. Nutritional values are ready. Art work is in progress. As for funding, well I haven’t been able to do just yet. I have high expectations that in the not too distant future I will be able to bring all my products to the public.

6. What’s your favorite recipe or use of your sauce?

I personally, eat, drink, and sleep this sauce. But I love it on chicken. Barbecued of course and with EXTRA sauce in a small dipping bowl to dip prior to popping it into my mouth. I also love pulled pork (or chicken) sandwiches.

DRR: Thanks again to Michelle for taking time out to tell us more about the story behind Vaquero’s. You can visit their website here: VAQUERO’s WEBSITE. I can’t wait to try the other goodies that Michelle has in store for us!

Product Review – 8th Wonder Spice
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I really need to thank Andy Krish from 8th Wonder Spice for sending me some of his amazing spice blend to sample.

Adding on to the story of the 7 Wonders of the World, the 8th Wonder website states “…8th Wonder Foods continues this tradition with a unique and delicious spice blend that is a monument to epicurean excellence.

Perfected over time, 8th Wonder Spice Blend combines 17 natural ingredients, including cocoa and coffee to create a unique, full-bodied seasoning that compliments all foods.

As a rub, 8th Wonder redefines the standard of taste for steak, ribs, chicken and seafood.

As a seasoning, 8th Wonder Spice Blend transforms tacos, chili, soups, sauces and stews into gourmet masterpieces.

No matter how you use it, the unique flavor of 8th Wonder Spice Blend will enhance the taste of all your favorite meals.”

This spice blend rub comes in a cool container. It smells fresh, and is ground to a fine texture for sure, but it does have some coarse bits in it too. It smells amazing. Now, I have never been to Morocco, but that is the first thing I thought of – exotic, far away north Africa. You can smell hints of the coffee and cocoa for sure, but there is a ton of other stuff in there too. Now to taste it!

The first thing I tried it on was wings in the smoker. Now to be fair, I had never done wings in my smoker before.

Fast forward to the final product… they tasted good, but my execution was poor. After I had smoked the wings, I didn’t (couldn’t) get the temp up high enough to crisp them. Next time I will finish in a hot oven.

Even though my wings failed on technique, I was hooked on the flavor. I have since tried 8th Wonder on steak, on fish, and I even cooked lentils with it the other day.This is a unique, flavorful product and everything I have used it on has tasted amazing. I really would recommend it whether you are smoking, grilling or ummm… cooking lentils lol

I circled back with Andy to chat about the product.

What are some of your favorite recipes? (I did tell him about my epic wing-fail)

I really love 8th Wonder Wings but I grill them and then slow roast them off to the side so they get crispy and well done. I can see how simply smoking them would not crisp them up. Don’t give up though. Try 8th Wonder on something else. I truly love a steak, seasoned with 8th Wonder and then grilled over a hot fire. There are so many ways to use it though, it’s hard to know which one is my favorite. 8th Wonder Sugar and Spice bacon is awesome. 8th Wonder Crab Pie is delicious. 8th Wonder Tacos, Fajitas and Quesadillas are great too. Look at the recipe section on my website and I’ll send you a few more.

How long have you been in business?
We have been selling 8th Wonder for about 6 years although we have been making it for about 20 years. Friends and family always loved it and some of them encouraged us to sell it. We kept our full time jobs and started marketing 8th Wonder in our spare time. It has been selling quite well recently so it is like having two full time jobs. (My regular job is as a prop master or set decorator on television and feature films. I used to be a kitchen manager and chef.)

How did you come up with the recipe?

The recipe started as a basic rub and seasoning that I used in a restaurant in Raleigh, NC in the 80′s. My daughter and I modified it and tested it until it was just as we wanted it. As a family secret, we included cocoa as the one secret ingredient known only by us. One day, when friends were enjoying some 8th Wonder Wings, my son excitedly told everyone at the table that it had a secret ingredient and that the secret ingredient was cocoa. He knew right away that he had spilled the beans and his sister was upset with him. He was mortified as we assured him it was okay and that we would come up with another secret ingredient. We did, but we didn’t tell him that it was coffee. It was years later when he was helping to package it that he realized the secret ingredient was coffee. We can’t keep ingredients secret any longer so now the world knows what makes 8th Wonder so unique and delicious.

Is this a rub? A spice? What are some of the best uses?
8th Wonder is a rub and a seasoning. It can be used on anything grilled and it can be used as a seasoning in dishes as diverse as meatloaf, seafood boils and seasoned nuts. I call it an all purpose spice blend because it has so many uses and tastes great on virtually anything.

Are there other products in your future or do you think you’ll stick with this one?
Right now 8th Wonder Spice Blend is our only product. If our plans work out we want to release a smoked 8th Wonder Spice Blend, an 8th Wonder French Fry Seasoning and maybe an 8th Wonder Steak Sauce or Spicy Ketchup.

Again – if you’re a foodie, or a pit master, or a backyard grilling enthusiast looking for something really different, I really encourage you to try 8th Wonder Spice. This spice is so versatile that I can’t wait to keep trying it in different things. The sky is the limit!

Vaquero’s Dippin Sauce – A Review
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I made a brisket on the smoker the other day, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try some Vaquero’s BBQ and Dippin Sauce, which had been graciously sent to me by Michelle Sassen at Mendocino Merchandise LLC, so that I could do a review on it.

This sauce’s claim to fame is “Spicy Chipotle meets Cowboy Coffee”, and it fits the bill perfectly. Flavors are rich and complex. The sauce is dark reddish brown, and is fairly thick and has just a faint bit of chunkiness to it. The coffee flavor is definitely there, and is one of my favorite flavors when it comes to BBQ.This sauce has some heat too, but it is very subtle and sneaky. It’s not “hit you in the face” heat, but more of a “simmer and surprise you”. There are some complex flavors in the sauce – it’s a bit like HP or A-1 sauce, but that really doesn’t do it justice.

It went well with the brisket and everyone enjoyed it. I am definitely looking forward to trying Vaquero’s on some other meaty goodness. I’d definitely recommend it. Great flavors!

Brisket, Pastrami and some Vaquero’s Dippin Sauce
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Well, with a long weekend here, I decided to “get my smoke on”! I pulled a brisket out of the freezer, and a corned beef too. In the pantry I had some Vaquero’s BBQ and Dippin Sauce, which had been graciously sent to me by Michelle Sassen at Mendocino Merchandise LLC, so that I could do a review on it.

I don’t do brisket very often, usually the cuts are too big, and it’s too expensive. Awhile back I was lucky to find some on sale at Costco that were small enough for my lil family so I picked one up. Since I have 2 shelves in my smoker, I decided to do a pastrami too. Yummmm

The brisket was rubbed heavy with Cowboy Rub from McCormick. I wrapped in plastic and it sat in the fridge over night. For pastrami, I buy corned beef when it is on sale. I took the thawed one and soaked in water all night to draw out the salt.

After the charcoal was ready, I re-rubbed the brisket and put it on the grill. The corned beef (soon to be pastrami) got rubbed real heavy on both sides with coriander and black pepper.

Brisket

Pastrami

Then it’s easy. I keep the smoker humming along between 225 and 250. Once the meat gets up over 170, I foil it, pour some apple juice in, and keep it going until it’s 190 or better. Then I pull it and let it rest.

I served the brisket with traditional BBQ fare – potato salad, and corn on the cob. I plated it with the Vaquero’s on the side, and everything was awesome! I’ll post more about the Vaquero’s in my next post.

Brisket sliced

Pastrami sliced up

I have enough brisket and salami to feed us all week! Yum!!

Fine Peruvian Cuisine in Queen Creek
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I don’t often do restaurant reviews on this site, but I am compelled to, this time. One day we were wanting to try something different in the neighborhood and I recalled seeing a Peruvian restaurant, in a flier we received in the mail. It’s only a few blocks away, so we tried it.

Inka Empire is right in downtown Queen Creek, at the little plaza found on Ocotillo and Ellsworth. The staff was friendly and helpful. The place was clean, and our food (ordered to go) came out pretty quickly. I ordered “Tallarines Saltado con Pollo” for my wife, which the menu describes as “Sautéed linguine with chicken mixed with green onions. red peppers, tomatoes & onions.” I ordered “Tallarines Verdes con Bisket” which is “Linguine with pesto sauce Peruvian style served with premium beef loin”. To start things off, we ordered an appetizer “Palta Rellena with Shrimp” – A stuffed avocado with Peruvian spices and your choice of veggies, chicken or shrimp. All of the food was hot, fresh and flavorful. The appetizer was amazing!

In addition to the Peruvian food, they also have available Peruvian soda (Inca Cola) and Peruvian candy as well. The friendly staff will answer all of your questions. Prices were about average, maybe a little on the low side of average with entrees running between 10 and 13 bucks.

From their website:

Peruvian cuisine reflects local practices and ingredients—including influences from the indigenous Inca and cuisines brought in with immigrants such as Spanish, Chinese, Italian, German, Japanese and African influences. Without the familiar ingredients from their home countries, immigrants modified their traditional cuisines by using ingredients available in Peru. The three traditional staples of Peruvian cuisine are corn, potatoes, and chili peppers. Staples brought by the Spanish include rice, wheat and meats (beef, pork and chicken). Many traditional foods—such as quinoa, kaniwa, some varieties of chili peppers, and several roots and tubers have increased in popularity in recent decades, reflecting a revival of interest in native Peruvian foods and culinary techniques.

I strongly encourage you to stop by and try this great food in the far southeast valley. Their Hours of Operation:
Monday – Thursday 11:00 – 8:00
Friday – Saturday 11:00 – 9:00
Closed Sunday

Their address 21803 S Ellsworth Rd., Queen Creek, AZ

You can visit their website here: Inka Empire or you can LIKE them on Facebook