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Traditional tamales with a twist

Salsas, jams and honeys have unique flavors, natural ingredients

STERLING – Mark Earl has a pretty simple rule about his culinary creations: “Anything I cook has to taste good.”

That’s one reason he loads up his tamales with meats, a higher ration of carne than masa.

“In my opinion, that’s how it has to be made,” Earl said. “It tastes better.”

He offers a black bean and cheese tamale for those not in the mood for a big hunk of grilled top sirloin or pork shoulder.

Earl’s recipe is based on the tamales made by a neighbor of his grandmother’s in Sioux City, Iowa.

Although he’ll spend 4 1/2 hours steaming meat to make sure it’s tender for the traditional Mexican Christmas dish before wrapping it in corn husks, he is willing to experiment.

“We take a traditional dish that’s been made for centuries and we put a modern culinary twist on it,” he said.

Witness one of his tamale varieties: the prime rib, portobello, and white onion.

Mark’s Best opened about a month ago in the Kitchen Incubator of Northwest Illinois. Earl, 47, of Sterling, cooks the food and his wife, Marcy, 44, helps with the preparation and wrapping.

In addition to tamales, Earl makes salsas (including fruit-based ones such as cherry or mango); jams (strawberry jalapeno, anyone?); five types of butters, such as apple pecan; and seven varieties of flavor-whipped honey.

He also pickles. Did you wake up today and say, “I’d like some bread and butter squash”? Earl is your man. But only if you like your canned goods with artificial sweeteners and preservatives held.

He sells 13 types of tamales by the dozen at prices ranging from $12 to $16. Orders may be delivered or picked up, but notice is needed. Orders must be in by Tuesday for a Friday delivery or a Saturday pick up. Delivery is free.

Mark’s Best

Mark’s Best is open in the Kitchen Incubator of Northwest Illinois, 1741 Industrial Drive in Sterling.

Call 866-422-4505 or go to for more information.

Owner Mark Earl delivers, if given enough notice. He also encourages folks to come to the Twin City Farmers Market, 106 Ave. A, where he provides free samples from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday.

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