Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Making Your Own Hot Sauce -- Freshness and Intensity Win!

There are lots of recipes out there for making hot sauce at home -- most use a food processor or a blender -- and most require that you heat or cook your ingredients, partly for safety and partly for room temperature storage.

That's no good. Bad for flavor. Also, it's more like making a salsa, with all the skins and chunky bits. So let's use a juicer instead.

Without getting into a big discussion about cooked or pickled versus fresh flavors, let me just say that I find most bottled sauces have diminished the flavor of their ingredients in the bottling and preserving process, and often attempt to make up for that with heat, vinegar, and spices.

Anyway, I'm going to tell you today how I like to make hot sauce, Fresh Hot Sauce, in much the same way that you can make Juice, using a home juicer. Lots of home juicers will do a pretty good job of juicing, and the best ones will separate only the dry, high-silica indigestible skin and pulp from the micro-solid bearing juice, which is what you want. The better machines will also do it at low speed -- under 200 RPM -- so as not to flash cook the juice, which alters the flavor.

There are a couple of added steps to the process beyond simple juice making, which include allowing for settling, that is the separation of the juice into 2 layers, one fairly clear and the other the color of the fruit and containing the micro solids, and also the adding of some sea salt -- not a lot -- and some rice vinegar, to prevent spoilage or fermentation during settling.

Like any fresh juice this Hot Pepper Sauce NEEDS to be Refrigerated, since it is only minimally stabilized with salt and vinegar.

You can use this method to make ANY Hot Pepper Sauce, of course -- if you want to make a sauce like the spicier Caribbean Sauces with fruit and mustard, go ahead. Just modify the basic sauce and add Papaya, or Mango and Hot Mustard and Spices, as you please. Copy a sauce you like, or make one up.

But you have to begin someplace, so let's start with the a simple one.

Let's say we want to make a Cayenne Hot Pepper Sauce, in some ways like the classic Louisiana Vinegar Sauces we are all familiar with, but not with so much Vinegar, and mostly Pepper flavored.

We want it it be Hot, naturally Sweet from the Peppers, Sour/Bright from the Peppers and the Vinegar, and a little Salty, all in balance.

Here following is such a recipe that allows you to control the amount of Heat, and adjust the Sweet, Salty, and Sour components to taste.

Red Bell Pepper
Red Cayenne Pepper
Red Cherry Pepper -- optional -- adds additional depth of flavor
Fresh Sweet Onion
Fresh Garlic
Japanese Style Rice Vinegar
Sea Salt

Juice the peppers in sequence, and in separate bowls -- you can add the onion and garlic juice to the same bowls and combine with the hot pepper juice, but keep them separate from the Sweet Bell Pepper Juice.

You will have to decide how much you want of each ingredient -- there is no "correct" way.

Most often you will want 4 or so times as much juice from Sweet Red Bell Pepper as you do from Hot Pepper.

Combine All of the Hot Pepper Juice, the Onion and Garlic Juice, 1/2 the Rice Vinegar, and Sea Salt in one large bowl with room enough for the additional Red Bell Pepper Juice.

Now comes the Manly (or Womanly if you are a tough Chick) Part, where you taste what you've made and decide how much you want to lessen the kick, or not,with the addition of the Sweet, and Non-Hot, Red Bell Pepper Juice.

So do it! Taste your Hot Sauce and see if it's Just Right, or Too Hot! I find a 1/4 teaspoon to the middle of the tongue is just right.

Whatever the heat, I think you will be surprised at the intensity and bright flavor of the sauce, and by intensity, I do not mean Heat, but Pepper Flavor, enhanced by Onion and Garlic.

Most often I find the straight Red Cayenne and Red Cherry too hot (peppers vary in heat) and I like to cut it with the Red Bell Pepper Juice, but, hey, if you are a mensch, or the female equivalent, please yourself.

OK, now you have added, or not, the Red Bell Pepper Juice to achieve the heat level you want, you can taste again for Salt, and Acidity. You know you've added enough salt when the pepper flavor seems to pop and the sweetness of the juice is enhanced. It should not taste Salty. The salt is necessary for 2 reasons -- to bring out the flavor of the Pepper Sauce, and to preserve it. The Vinegar provides more Acidity and also adds to flavor and preservation. Add to taste, remembering that you need about 10% by volume for stable cold storage.

Great. Now you need to store the Almost Hot Sauce. I find that the flavors develop over time -- weeks or months in the fridge, but the Sauce is good right out of the Juicer and mixed.

One good way to store the Hot Sauce is in well-cleaned clear Gallon Milk Containers, and you can pour off your mixing bowls into the gallon containers using a kitchen funnel. The standard pressure fit cap is a good idea, too, 'cause if you didn't add enough salt or vinegar and fermentation begins, the cap will just blow off! Check it each day over a week or so.

I personally allow my sauce to sit in the refrigerator for a couple of months since I find that the flavor develops over time, but like I say -- you do not have to.

Do refrigerate the sauce a week or so to see if you have added enough salt and vinegar to prevent fermentation.

That's it. Bottle it, jar it, whatever you want. Remember, you still have to refrigerate it.

I think you will be amazed at the difference between this High Intensity Hot Sauce and any other you have tasted.

Just for fun, do a side by side comparison with your (previously) favorite sauce.

If you do, or do not agree, with me that this is a better way to get big flavor, let me know!

Yours in heat and flavor,


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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Caribbean Hot Sauce Reviews: Melinda's Mango and Melinda's XXXXtra Reserve

OK, as promised I'm looking at 2 Hot Sauces this time, Melinda's Mango and Melinda's XXXXtra Reserve, which are very different from each other, but actually quite complementary. As I will explain.

These sauces are both made by Figueroa Brothers -- they are fairly inexpensive, available in some supermarkets, and many places online. You can buy them directly as well.

The XXXXtra Reserve offers some heat and a great aged Habanero flavor, but because of the big Habanero flavor the other ingredients don't contribute very much to the overall flavor of the sauce.

The Mango sauce is barely hot at all, but offers great Mango and Citrus flavor, but needs a good kick to get it moving.

Here is the ingredient listing:

Red Habanero Peppers, Fresh Carrots, Onions, Lime Juice, Vinegar, Garlic, Salt

Fresh Mangoes, Fresh Carrots, Sugar, Cane Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Habanero Peppers, Tomato Paste, Onion, Vinegar, 0.1% Sodium Benzoate

The XXXXtra Reserve has a lovely strong Aged Pepper Nose with Vinegar/Lime and a bit of Brininess. On the Tongue, there is again that wonderful strong Aged Pepper, mixed with , and followed by a Lime/Vinegar Saltiness, gradually finishing over a couple of minutes to a classic Habanero needle like pepperiness. Texture is fairly thick with seeds and some other bits.

This is a great sauce by itself and could be used in many ways like a kicked-up Tabasco substitute. Not quite as Vinegary, more heat, but not crazy heat.

Melinda's Mango has, as you would expect, a strong, Mango Fruity, Citrus/Lime Nose. On the tongue, I taste the same, but with a tiny bit of Onion and Garlic (can't taste the Tomato), some small Pepper, and a lingering sweetness. No saltiness tasted. Texture is thick with a few seeds.

This is a good time to mention that the Melinda's website includes quite a few recipes, along with each Hot Sauce, many from Dave DeWitt, of The Whole Chile Pepper Book fame, which he considers a cook book, but is more than that, and these recipes give a good idea as to how to make use of the Melinda's Hot Sauces.

The truth is, though, that the Mango is not really a Hot Sauce; it's a Fruit Sauce, and of limited utility as a casual condiment. You are not likely to reach across the table for that Mango Sauce for your Scrambled Eggs, or your Steak. Well, I am not, anyway.

But the Mango Sauce does have a great flavor and does work Very Well with the XXXXtra Reserve.

So that's what I do with it -- I mix the XXXtra Reserve in 3 parts, with the Mango 1 part, and the combined sauce is GREAT! Hot, with a tasty Aged Pepper and Mango Fruit Flavor.

I Highly Recommend the combination.

As for the individual Sauces themselves, I do Recommend the XXXXtra Reserve, as a great standard Hot Sauce in the Louisiana Style with Big Pepper, Lime/Vinegar and Salt, and I also Recommend the Mango with the Reservation that it is not a Hot Sauce, but a Fruit Sauce that has to be used like one. In recipes or with something else. Like ... XXXXtra Reserve.

Sometime in the future I'm going to take a look at some of the other Melinda's Sauces -- there are a lot, and I'm curious.

By the way, both of these reviewed sauces were purchased directly from the online store at Melinda's, at quite good prices, $3.43 for the Quatros Equis (that's XXXX, for you), and $3.43 for the Mango. Or $35.98 , and $34.65, respectively, per Gallon. Smile.

Meanwhile, I'm expecting to review some of the Benito's Hot Sauces next time.

Yours in heat and flavor,


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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Caribbean Hot Sauce Reviews: Melinda's Hot Sauce

Melinda's Hot SauceI have called this Melinda's Original Habanero Pepper Sauce, but really, most if not all of Melinda's Sauces say Original Habanero Pepper Sauce on the Bottle -- this original sauce is really "Melinda's Hot Sauce", as distinguished from Melinda's XXXXtra Reserve, or Melinda's Mango.

Melinda's Sauces are produced in Costa Rica by Figueroa Bothers, Inc., headquartered in Dallas, TX.

If you like the Melinda's sauces you will be glad to know that you can purchase many of them BY THE GALLON from their company store, at quite a savings. So for instance, a gallon of the standard Melinda's Hot Sauce, available for $34.65 would make 25+ 5 oz bottles of the stuff, and at $2.96 per bottle, you would be saving more than $40.

Cool to have a gallon of the stuff at the table, huh?

Check out the website; it's got a lot of stuff listed. OK, now to the review.

This sauce was one of my first non-Louisiana style Pepper Sauces, and I have fond memories of discovering it, especially since it did not hit me over the head with major Vinegar.

Melinda's Hot Sauce
Ingdts: Carrots, Red Habanero Peppers, Onions, Lime Juice, Vinegar, Garlic, Salt

As you can see the acid/sour components come 4th and 5th on the list, so the major flavor contributors would seem to be Carrot, Pepper and Onion.

This sauce is thick and orange in the bottle with some visible chunkiness -- it coats the bottle well when shaken and I would expect it to stick to what it was poured on and add to the thickness of a sauce.

To the Nose there is a fairly mild and well balanced Lime/Pepper Garlic mix, but no hint of heat and just a little Vinegar.

The 1/4 teaspoon test to the tongue gives a strong Lime taste first, followed by a classic habanero pepper heat and flavor with Carrot sweetness, some Garlic,and a lingering Saltiness.

The finish is fairly long, beginning with a strong Lime and fading to a Salty Habanero Pepperiness, and finally to a mild Pepper Heat on the front and mid-tongue over a minute or 2.

The heat is fairly mild, and well within the range of common and familiar Hot Sauces, although with a longer finish and a little more intensity.

This is an unbalanced sauce in that it supplies a nice range of Sweet, Sour, Salty, Hot, and Complex Pepper flavors, but with a predominant Lime Flavor, and it would be good in quite a range of foods, from Seafood to Wings, or on a Burger.

I think it would make an especially good sauce for those who are used to basic Louisiana style sauces and it would add a level of interest beyond what they expect.

I personally have tried it on many foods, including, recently, chicken sausages and Mexican Style Pulled Pork, or Carnitas (my admittedly inauthentic version, gringo that I am), and it was great.

You have to be careful in that Melinda's Hot Sauce does add a fairly strong Lime flavor to foods, especially when you add a goodly amount to compensate for the mild heat.

Recommended, especially for fish, seafood, and more mildly flavored foods that respond well to the addition of Lime and/or sweet(ish) foods where the Sweetness balances the Lime.

I purchased this Sauce from The Carolina Sauce Company for $3.75.

Next time, I'll do Melinda's Mango and Melinda's XXXXtra Reserve, and I'm doing them together for a reason. Can you guess what it is?

Yours in heat and flavor,


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Caribbean Style Hot Sauce Reviews: Dave's Crazy Caribbean Hot Sauce

Dave's Crazy Caribbean Hot SauceNext in the Caribbean Style Hot Sauce Reviews is Dave Hirschkopf's Crazy Caribbean which is more towards the traditional in the category with carrots as the highest proportion ingredient, common in Caribbean Sauces, followed by Habaneros and Red Chiles, Vinegar, Salt, Garlic, Lime Juice, Acetic Acid, Ascorbic Acid, and Xanthan Gum.

This is a thick orangy sauce, with some chunkiness apparent, in a tasteful (by Hot Sauce standards!) bottle. Dave's Gourmet Sauces are made in Costa Rica under contract to Dave's Gourmet.

The Nose goes with a strong Lime and Pepper note first, not a Habanero Pepper either, but more an aged Cayenne Pepper, followed by Vinegar and a small amount of Garlic with a tiny bit of Sweetness.

Interestingly, this sauce tastes very much like it smells, not always or even often the case with these hot sauces, with a first impression of Lime/Vinegar followed by some small Pepper Heat -- a bit less than Blair's Original Death Sauce for instance, and a nice aged pepper/lime finish that lasts for about a minute.

The texture is pleasantly chunky and thick with what seems to be bits of carrot (I could be wrong), and will stay where you put it on food.

Although I like the flavor I must admit to a bit of disappointment that there isn't more punch (not heat) and intensity to the flavors in this sauce -- you will need to use quite a bit to get the predominant lime and chile pepper flavor to shine.

I tried this sauce on scrambled eggs, fried catfish, and in a chick pea/bean salad and it worked well when used VERY liberally; without enough sauce you would hardly know it was there. Except on the eggs, of course -- you do not need a lot on the eggs!

I even liked it on a burger and in some beef stew.

Recommended, but not highly. Worth a try.

Next time, Melinda's Original Habanero Pepper Sauce.

Yours in heat and flavor,


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Caribbean Style Hot Sauce Reviews: Blair's Original Death Sauce

Blair's Original Death Sauce
There is no one kind of Caribbean Hot Sauce -- some are fairly simple, though more complex than standard Loiusiana Hot Sauce, often adding Lime Juice, Garlic, Onion, and Carrot, and using Habanero, or its siblings Scotch Bonnet or Goat Pepper, and some get more complex. adding mustard, tropical fruit, such as papaya or mango, and herbs and spices.

Today I am going to start looking at some of the simpler sauces, which I find more useful in a range of foods.

Also distinguishing them from Loiusiana Style sauces is the fact that Vinegar is not the most important ingredient, that is, these are not principally Vinegar Sauces -- for most of them, you will see that Habanero Pepper is the first or second listed ingredient, with Vinegar well down the list, except for Blair's Original Death Sauce, which might be considered a hybrid sauce anyway.

Blair's Original Death (you gotta love these sauce names with each one trying to outdo the next in frat-level outrageousness) has been around a while, for one of the newer sauces, being Blair Lazar's first hot sauce and the start of what is now a considerable business of hot sauces and snacks under the ExtremeFood label.

BODS is a step towards more flavor and more heat and with its popularity brought more exotic hot sauce to the mainstream -- to this day it remains at the top level of well reviewed hot sauces.

Most of these Caribbean Sauces are orange-ish in color, and fairly thick, but BODS, no doubt due to its chipotle addition is darker with a reddish brown cast to it.

Now to the Blair's Original Death Sauce Review -- let's be clear -- it's NOT a death sauce, and only slightly hotter than, say Tabasco, for reference.

Blair's Original Death Sauce: red and orange habaneros, vinegar, fresh cayenne, smashed garlic, chipotle, lime juice, cilantro, fresh herbs and spices

Even though ingredients are listed in order highest proportion the Nose says smoky chipotle first with an underlying layer of lime and vinegar, and just a hint of garlic. It's a very pleasant smoky sweet smell and I can imagine it with many types of foods. Not much spiciness or heat to it.

The 1/4 teaspoon test straight to the tongue says sour lime and vinegar first, followed by smoky chipotle, not much garlic, and a nice smooth peppery finish that lasts a minute or so on the front of the tongue. I do not get much of the characteristic Habanero sweet fruitiness and I guess the Chipotle just overwhelms it. The chipotle and lime together give an almost Worcestershire sauce like tamarind flavor.

Texture is thick and has some pepper and pepper seed chunks. Heat is a 3 on a scale from 1 to 10.

This is not a delicate sauce and the principal pepper flavor is not that of fresh pepper but rather of smoky chipotle. A good sauce for more robust and meaty foods. The BODS bottle comes in a box that offers Suggested Uses including Chili, Bloody Marys, and Jambalaya, all of which I agree would be GREAT with it, and also, Clams, Oysters, and Crawfish, which I think might be overwhelmed.

I tried it on a bacon cheeseburger and in some beef short rib stew and was very happy.

I think of this as a transitional sauce, bridgeing Louisian Style Sauces and Caribbean Style with more Vinegar and Aged Pepper than most Caribbean Sauces, and less Vinegar and Salt than Louisiana Sauces. You can see from the Suggested Uses above that this sauce has its origins in the Louisiana style.

Fairly well balanced -- my preference would be for a little more fruity sweetness and heat and a little less vinegar, but, no matter -- this sauce is great with food.

Highly Recommended.

Three Caribbean Style Hot Sauces
Since this is not a supermarket sauce, and unless you have a hot sauce store close by, you will have to order it online -- I picked it up from The Carolina Sauce Company. which shipped the same day I placed the order. List is $7.95 -- I picked it up for $6.25 not incl. delivery.

Next time I'll take a look at Dave's Crazy Caribbean Hot Sauce and Melinda's Original Habanero Pepper Sauce.

Yours in heat and flavor,


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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Exotic Hot Sauces -- What are they, and are they good?

Exotic Hot Sauces
I call any hot sauce you can't buy in a supermarket -- exotic. Generally speaking they fall into the various categories of hot sauces that are well known. Even if you can buy some of them in some supermarkets, many are not well known, and due to lack of general availability, I still consider them exotic.

Jennifer Trainer Thompson, in her book, "Hot Licks", breaks down North American sauces into the:

Blair's Original Death Hot Sauce
1) Mild Louisiana Style, or vinegar based sauces with cayenne and salt,

2) Often quite hot Caribbean Style, with habanero peppers, tropical fruits and sometimes vegetables (often carrot), herbs, spices, some vinegar and/or vinegar (often cider vinegar),

3) Mexican or Border Sauces in which dried and/or smoked peppers such as chipotle, arbol, piquin, and others predominate, along with fresh pepper, onion, herbs, spices, and some vinegar.

She also discusses

5) Caribbean Piques, made with vinegar, dried and fresh pepper, garlic/onion, and some herbs or spices, which are like a spicier more kicked up Louisiana Hot Sauce,

Marie Sharp Hot Sauce
6) And Caribbean Sherries with sherry or rum (or other island alcohol) and peppers.

Trainer gives a bunch of recipes for making your own Hot Pepper Sauces, too, and points out that many of these sauces are basically home made in origin and continue to be so in their native countries.

Which means of course that you, too, can make your own hot sauces, if you wish.

And that's what happened in this country some time back, and is continuing to happen right now, with new hot sauces being introduced all of the time.
Benito's Hot Sauce
A lot of those are standard hot sauces with the same cast of characters as ingredients, and differ from each other only in balance and proportion, but some started to add Hot Pepper Extract, which is just another way of saying these sauces include short cuts to greater heat, sometimes crazy heat, for which there is an adoring and CRAZY public (not me), who like their Hot Pepper Sauces jacked up with Capsaicin or close analogues.

For me that just pushes the flavor into the background -- I mean peppers and the other ingredients in the sauce have flavor, but if you can't use more than a 1/2 a drop of the sauce, how much flavor are you going to get?
Melinda's Hot Sauce

I am interested though in those newer sauces up to about 50,000 Scoville Units (about 25X hotter than Tabasco FYI), without extracts and I'm going to review a few, starting with some Caribbean and Central American Style sauces, some made here in the US of A, and some from ... elsewhere.

Some of those with staying power and some of those which have attracted favorable attention include:

Ingdts: red and orange habaneros, vinegar, fresh cayenne, smashed garlic, chipotle, lime juice, cilantro, fresh herbs and spices

Ingdts: fresh carrots, choice red habanero peppers, onions, lime juice, vinegar, garlic, salt

Ingdts: hand-select choice red habanero peppers, fresh carrots, onions, lime juice, vinegar, garlic, salt

Ingdts: organic orange habaneros, fresh orange bell peppers, garlic, carrots and white onions

Ingdts: red habanero peppers, fresh carrots, onions, key lime juice, vinegar, garlic, and salt

Ingdts: organic bhut jolokias, organic orange habaneros, organic ginger, organic lime juice, fresh onions and garlic

Stay tuned for the reviews!

Yours in heat and flavor,


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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

4 Hot Pepper Sauce Reviews -- The Winner?

Is there a winner? Well, maybe.

To be honest, these are all Vinegar Sauces first and Hot Sauces 2nd (or 3rd or 4th).

And to be fair, there is not a lot of heat in any of the sauces except the Tabasco, and that I consider mild to moderate. The others I consider anemic from a heat standpoint.

But you can get heat from these last 3 – you just have to add a hell of lot of Hot Sauce.

Trappey’s has a recipe for “Devil Wings” on the label that calls for a 12 oz bottle of sauce for 5 lbs of wings – that’s a lot of sauce, but it still won’t really be a lot of heat.

You will however get a lot of Vinegar acidity and Lemony flavor as well as some Aged Pepper Flavor and Saltiness.

If you were to make the same recipe with Tabasco, you wouldn’t need anywhere near as much Hot Pepper Sauce to get the same level of heat, but you would get a lot more Aged Pepper Flavor, and not so much acidity.

If you made the recipe with Crystal, you’d get a lot Aged Pepper flavor, not too much heat, and a fair amount of acidity.

Tabasco and Crystal are the most interesting Hot Pepper Sauces here, Tabasco more so, and Crystal for its Aged Pepper complexity.

To sum up on a scale of 0 to 5 with 5 being the MOST (relative to each other):

Hot Sauce






























By my standards, all of these sauces are overly Sour – some foods can stand up to that, and some can’t. Finally, I have to say, these Hot Pepper Sauces are mislabeled. The principal flavor is Vinegar with a little (sometimes very little) Heat and Pepper flavor. What they will do in to food is make it brighter, more sour, a little salty and a little hot. If that's what your dish needs, these sauces will fill the bill.

I have to admit Frank's is a bit of a disappointment with no Pepper Sweetness, next to no heat, and a little bitterness.

Trappey's is a good choice if you need some thickness and body to your sauce, and Crystal, if you if you like the Tabasco style but do not like the heat, and Tabasco is in a class by itself as far as complexity of aged pepper flavor goes and interesting balance of flavors.

To all of you who swear that one of the above sauces is better by a longshot than the other 3, I say -- Maybe so, for you and what you cook or put your favorite on, but all 4 are more similar than they are different.

Next time: What about Exotic or Specialty Hot Sauces?

Also, how can we make a better Hot Pepper Sauce? A Real One.

Yours in Flavor and Heat,


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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Frank's Red Hot -- Hot Pepper Sauce Review #4

Now for Frank’s Red Hot:

Aged Cayenne Red Peppers
Garlic Powder

Frank’s is an orange red in the bottle but with a thicker, more viscous appearance compared to Crystal or Tabasco, but similar to Trappey’s in that respect..

The nose says Lemony Vinegar with something else, maybe Garlic?, a little Aged Pepper and some Brininess. Quite mild overall, the main effect is of sourness. No pepper sweetness to the nose.

On the tongue we have a thick sauce with Sour Lemon, some Bitterness, more than for the other 3 sauces, some Aged Pepper flavor, and mild saltiness. The finish is fairly rapid with heat falling off as well.. There is a background flavor, Garlic or Garlic Powder perhaps, and maybe that is where the bitterness comes in. This sauce has the least background Pepper sweetness.

Principal effect on food will be lemony acid and aged pepper, with a small amount of salt and a little heat. The thickness of the sauce will add some body to soups and stews especially if it is added in the larger amounts necessary to have real effect on flavor.

OK. There you have it. All four supermarket sauces tasted and critiqued.

Next time I will sum up what I've learned about America's most popular Hot Sauces -- as measured by bottles sold -- and what I think of them as a condiment for food.

Stay tuned.

Yours in heat and flavor,


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