Saturday, February 28, 2009


Science Guy wrote: Blog request: Veal scallopini. Ate it in a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the Italian Alps. Have tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to recreate what I remembered it tasting like.

Well, the short answer is, I can't help you re-create what you ate. Scallopini isn't a dish, it's a method of preparing meat. The word scaloppina comes probably from middle French and means shell. Simply put, scaloppina (plural, scaloppine) is a thin slice of meat or poultry that has been pounded to make it even thinner and more tender. Some dishes that can be made with scaloppine include, Milanese, Francese, Parmigiano, marsala, al tartufo, pizzaiola, limone, saltimbocca, romana, giuda, etc., etc., etc.

Since your memory comes from your time in the Italian Alps, I'd be willing to bet that what you had was something very similar to cotoletta di vitello alla Milano, or veal Milanese. Cut from the leg, and pounded paper thin, cutlets of veal are dredged in flour, dipped in egg, coated with breadcrumbs (fresh and unseasoned), and then fried in butter until golden, which shouldn't take more than three minutes per side. Served simply with lemon and parsley, this is a traditional Milanese dish that is often served with risotto Milanese (arborio rice that's cooked by first toasting the rice, and then adding small quantities of hot stock; risotto needs to be stirred constantly to prevent burning).

Another dish from the north of Italy is saltimbocca (jump in the mouth) which was probably first made in Parma. To make this dish, veal cutlets are covered with a slice of prosciutto and a sage leaf. They're rolled and either tied (traditionally) or sealed with a toothpick. They're then dredged in flour and fried in butter. When they're cooked, the pan is deglazed with white wine, which is allowed to reduce. The veal is added back to the pan to warm and to be coated in the sauce.

Of course, you might also have had what's called veal Francese, a dish that was invented in New York and has since found its way to Italy. Henri Soulé and Pierre Franey, were chefs who were here for the 1939 World's Fair. At the outbreak of WWII, they stayed in the U.S. as war refugees, and in 1941, they opened Le Pavillon, the restaurant that defined French food in the States for the next 40 years. Franey invented the dish. Veal cutlets are again pounded thin, and are simply dipped in egg, dredged in flour and then fried. A sauce of white wine, butter and capers is made and poured over the veal (lemon is sometimes added, but is not part of the original recipe). This is supposed to be a lighter and more refined dish than the "rustic" Milanese.

It's unlikely that you had veal marsala, which originated in Sicily. Here, the veal is not dredged in flour or breadcrumbs. Rather, it's simply sauteed in butter and oil until golden brown. They're removed from the pan, and garlic and shallot are added and allowed to wilt (1 minute) Mushrooms (porcini, if possible, if not, crimini and shiitake can be substituted, but avoid portobello, as they tend to turn the dish a dark brown color) are added. It's important to not stir the mushrooms until they've given up their liquid and that's evaporated. Moving them too soon will cause them to steam rather than saute. When the mushrooms have started to brown, sweet marsala wine is added and allowd to reduce by abou half. The veal and any accumulated juices are returned to the pan, and are just warmed through. Stir in a tablespoon of butter, to finish the sauce, and serve.

Be careful when buying veal, however. Factory produced and processed veal is loaded with antibiotics and growth hormones, and is extremely low in iron (which accounts for it's pale color). Veal calves are frequently sick, and suffer awful, brief lives that are, if anything, worse than those lived by beef cattle. If you can find it, purchase grass-fed, free-range veal. You'll find that the flavor is more defined than factory veal.

Thinly sliced and pounded, beef, pork, turkey, and chicken can all be used in place of veal. Try using skinless and boneless chicken thighs for a heartier flavor. Turkey and chicken breast are milder, and take on the flavor of whatever they're cooked with. Pork loin makes particularly good scaloppine, as its structure is more similar to that found in veal. Whatever you use, though, be sure to buy the best produce you can. Cheap meat is just that, and it tastes it. The better your ingredients, the better your food will taste.

And with that, I'm off to the greenmarket. Good luck, Science Guy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quick tomato sauce.

Why anyone would use jarred tomato sauce is a total mystery to me. Loaded with salt, sugar (in the form of high-fructose corn syrup), and chemicals, overcooked, and then pasteurized, even the best of the jarred sauces tastes like...well, crap. I've heard all the excuses, "it takes too long to make my own sauce," "I'm not Italian, what do I know about making sauce?" "I don't have time to cook sauce after working all day." Poppycock. In the time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta you're going to serve it with, anyone (well, almost anyone, but that's another story) can make homemade tomato sauce from either fresh tomatoes or from high-quality packaged tomatoes.

When I first met my wife
(happy 25th anniversary, honey), she thought she couldn't make tomato sauce. She was intimidated, she said, because of my Italian background. In one lesson, I taught her to make as good a sauce as my grandmother. In two lessons, she had left Nona in the dust. And Nona claimed to have taught Chef Boiardi how to cook. Which would explain a lot. (For the record, I think that Nona was speaking metaphorically, since Boiardi lived in Cleveland, and Nona had never been west of the Hudson River.)

The secret to a great quick sauce is in not expecting a "Sunday" sauce. Sunday sauce was traditionally started early Sunday morning (duh), right after Mass. The women would come home from church and start to cook. Meatballs, braciole (both of which were made from scratch on Saturday), sausage, and pig's knuckles were all browned and added to fresh tomatoes that had been canned the previous summer. This would simmer for hours, until the meat was tender and the sauce was thick and rich. Can you get that taste in 30 minutes? Absolutely not. You can't get it out of a jar either, though, so why bother trying? But what you can do is to make a very, very good marinara style sauce in 30 minutes.

To begin with, start boiling water for the pasta. There are rules about which shapes go with which sauces, but for now, let's just concentrate on long pasta (spaghetti, linguini, cappellini, perciatelli, etc.). While the water's heating, thickly slice some cloves of garlic and roughly chop a small onion. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat and add about a tablespoon of olive oil. When it's just starting to shimmer, add the onions. Let cook for about two or three minutes and then add the garlic. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to color. As soon as it does, add a pint of cherry tomatoes (for two people). You could slice them in half, if you'd like, but it's not necessary. Turn up the heat to medium high again, and cook, stirring or shaking the skillet. The tomatoes will begin to break down, releasing their liquid. The water should be coming to a boil about now, so add your pasta to it. Allow most of the liquid that the tomatoes have lost to evaporate, and let the tomatoes begin to caramelize (the natural sugars will begin to turn brown. Only foods with sugars caramelize. Meat does not!). Add some hot red pepper flakes, and turn off heat.

Cook the pasta until al dente, which means "to the tooth" (it should yield easily to the teeth, but have a bit of resistance or even crunch in the center), bearing in mind that pericatelli will take longer to cook than cappellini, drain the pasta and put it into the skillet with the tomatoes, toss to mix, add some torn basil and some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano or asiago cheese, and serve.

For pasta alla putanesca, add four anchovy fillets with the onion, up the red pepper at the end, and instead of basil, add a teaspoon of chopped capers, about 15 chopped kalamata olives (for god's sake, never use canned olives), and a handful of chopped parsley. With this sauce, rather than cheese, add the juice of half a lemon just before serving. The anchovies and olives add depth and smokiness, and the lemon adds a brightness that lightens the dish and enhances the flavor of the capers.

Want to get fancy? Toss in some sliced crimini mushrooms before the tomatoes. Let them brown, and give up all of their liquid. Grate a pinch of fresh nutmeg on the mushrooms, swap some fresh thyme for the basil, and use freshly grated black pepper rather than hot red pepper flakes.

Want to add meat? Before adding the tomatoes, add some sliced (or, better, crumbled) Italian sweet or hot sausage, some ground pork, some sliced chicken, or some bacon. Allow to brown, and then add tomatoes.

Want a thicker sauce? Start with crushed tomatoes. Stay away from cans; they're loaded with sodium (one brand has 300 mg of sodium per serving, and 13 servings per can!). Rather, buy Pomi chopped tomatoes. They come in a box, are imported from Italy, and taste almost as good as fresh. Let them cook at a slightly higher temperature, since they have more moisture.

Try different kinds of tomatoes! Grape tomatoes are sweeter. Roma (or plum) tomatoes are not as moist. Round "salad" tomatoes are slightly less acidic (and also less flavorful).

All of these sauces are infinitely variable, depending on your taste. Experiment! What have you got to lose? In the time it takes to cook pasta (which you'd have to do anyway), you can serve a delicious homemade tomato sauce that will blow any jar out of the water. Buon appetito!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hundred dollar ham.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking past Grand Central Terminal (not Station). I remembered that there’s a marketplace in the terminal now, and thought “hmmm… maybe some cheese from Murray’s would be nice.”

As I walked through the door, I was greeted by a young woman offering free tastes of
chorizo. I tried some, and realized that I was standing in front of Murray’s Real Salami. Murray’s is the fabled city of El Dorado to those of us who look for the best in cured, smoked, and cooked meats. As I savored the chorizo, a Spanish sausage, I looked at the refrigerated case in front of me. I thought, “I'm a dead man.” It contained ham, salami, bologna, head cheese, liverwurst, kielbasa, hot I stared, I heard a voice saying "try some raw bacon, sir? Looking up, I saw a man holding out a paper-thin slice of pink and white meat. Without hesitation, I said, "sure!"

Now, before you think I've totally lost my mind, let me explain that I was not being offered hog
tartare. Bacon is a cured meat. It is not heat cooked, but it is chemically cooked. Think gravlax. This dish is made from raw salmon that is coated with a mixture of salt, sugar, dill and pepper, which combine with the water in the salmon to make a brine. This brine changes the nature of the protein in the fish, curing it. Likewise with bacon. Pieces of pork (the belly, the cheek, the leg, etc.) are treated with salt and sometimes spices, and hung to cure. Some, like "American" bacon, are smoked. Others, like prosciutto, are not. Cured bacon is not raw, and it can be eaten without having heat applied to it. Does this mean that for breakfast, I'm ready to tear open a package of Oscar Mayer, slap a couple of slices on a plate with my eggs and tuck in? Of course not. Knowing how the bacon was handled, how it was cured, how it was processed all need to be taken into consideration. My thought was, "hell, this is Murray's. They're not going to offer me something that's going to make me sick, so why not go for it?"

"I like that answer," the person behind the counter said. "Most people look at me like I'm kidding when I ask them that." I took the bacon and put it in my mouth. Slightly salty, slightly sweet, unctuous without being overwhelmingly fatty, and with a silky smooth consistency that literally melted in my mouth. It was
amazing. "That's some mighty good bacon," I said.

Looking at the other choices in the case, I saw speck, which is a type of bacon from the
Tyrol region of the Alps (once part of Italy, now part of Switzerland). "I'd like a quarter-pound of the speck, please," I said. "Certainly, sir. Would you like to try it?" Indeed I would, and did. Speck comes from the hind leg of the hog, like prosciutto. Unlike prosciutto, however, it's boned, and cured with not just salt, but also with juniper, bay, pepper and other spices. After curing for several weeks, it's then cold smoked (under 68 degrees Fahrenheit) over the course of a week and then left to age for at least five months. It was not dissimilar to the bacon I'd had, but there was more "meat" and less fat to it. The texture was a bit chewier, and the flavor of juniper was unmistakably prominent. The finish was not as salty as and somewhat sweeter than the bacon, too. It was eye opening. At $19.99 a pound, it was a treat, but not a particularly extravagant one.

It was then that I saw the
jamon Iberico de bellota. Long illegal in the U.S. (as was prosciutto di Parma until 1989) Iberico de bellota is made from the hind legs of a breed of pig known as pata negra, or black foot. They're descended from wild boars, and are the last herd of free-ranging hogs in Europe. Their diet consists primarily of acorns (bellota), which gives their meat a deep mahogany color and an unmistakable nutty flavor. Looking at the Iberico, I gasped at the price: $99.99 a pound. I had to have some. "What's the least quantity of this that a person can buy?" I stammered, trying not to seem cheap. Without missing a beat, the butcher replied "an eighth of a pound, sir."Would you like to try some?" Would I like to try some? I've just eaten raw bacon, and ordered a quarter pound of speck. What do you think? "Yes, please," I said, and, doing my best imitation of Rain Man, I quickly calculated that 2 ounces, at $100.00 per 16, would cost me a whopping $12.50. Not quite so bad, right? "I'll also take an eighth of a pound, please." The butcher shaved an incredibly thin slice of Iberico, and handed it to me. I put it in my mouth, and went weak in the knees. If the bacon was amazing, and the speck was eye opening, this was nothing less than revelatory. It was like nothing I'd ever tasted before. Nutty, rich, smooth, silky, smoky (although it's unsmoked), with an oaky finish, it was heavenly. "This is without a doubt the best meat I've ever tasted," I said. "Yeah? Makes you wonder what the ones that cost $10,000 taste like, doesn't it?" asked the butcher.

$10,000 for a ham? I guess there are just some things I'll never experience.

Friday, February 20, 2009

To market, to market.

Saturday morning is one of my favorite times of the week. And one of my favorite things to do on Saturday morning is to head to the Greenmarket in Union Square. There, some 180 merchants provide locally grown and produced foods ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to pasture fed beef, bison, pork, game, poultry and lamb to freshly caught seafood, to honey that's produced right here in Manhattan.

Having access to sustainably farmed, locally raised produce is important to me (actually, it's important to all of us, but that will be a different entry). Knowing who grows my food and their philosophy about food is important, as well. I have the opportunity to do this every time I shop at a farmers' market. There are three that I frequent, two in my home borough of Queens, and the one in Union Square. What most New Yorkers don't know is that there are a total of 47 greenmarkets in New York City, and they operate 7 days a week. Union Square, for instance, is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. The market in Sunnyside is open on Saturday, and the one in Jackson Heights is open on Sunday. Each market features different vendors, and each of them must grow, raise, produce, or catch their own products. But rather than continue on and get into a rant (I'm just finishing my first cup of coffee, and am feeling kind of cranky), I think that I'll talk about what I bought at the market.

One of my favorite farms is 3-Corner Field Farm, which raises dairy sheep and lamb. At the market, they sell lamb, mutton, wool, award-winning sheep's milk cheeses, sheep's milk yogurt, sheeps' skins, and sheep's milk soap. And it's not just leg of lamb, either. Shanks, roasts, breasts, racks, necks, steaks, shoulders, sausages, chopped meat, and cubes of lamb are regular items. In addition, "variety" meats ( you know, the good stuff: liver, kidneys, "mountain oysters," tongues, hearts) feature prominently on the "fresh today" board, and are, surprisingly, among her best sellers. Now, ever since I was a child, I've loved lamb. Roasts, stews, curries, you name it. I have never, though, had lamb that tastes as good as the lamb produced by 3-Corner. First, it's incredibly fresh. It's not frozen and shipped from New Zealand aboard ships, and then trucked from California to a warehouse, and then trucked again to a supermarket. This lamb comes from 166 miles away (OK, so it's not within the 100-mile limit that some folk put on their food, but lets face it, this is New York City; it's hard to find a farm within 100 miles of here). Second, it's incredibly lean. Since they're pasture fed and free ranging, these lambs are fit animals. They aren't fed corn, or other silage, and are not fed antibiotics or growth hormones as part of their diets. Third, as an added benefit the texture and flavor are amazing. Smooth grained, and with a sweetness that hints of grass, the meat from these animals is far and away superior to anything that is mass produced.

So, yesterday, I bought some lamb neck and tongues (which are now in my freezer, while I figure out how to prepare them). As you might imagine, the neck is a pretty muscular part of any animal, particularly a ruminant. This means that low and slow cooking (braising) is the way to go. OK, how does that work? To start, thinly slice about three medium onions. Thickly slice anywhere between four and eight cloves of garlic. (You can include carrots and celery as well, although I didn't.) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large, oven-safe casserole or cast iron dutch oven, brown the lamb in olive oil, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan, lower the heat to medium and sweat the onions and garlic, but don't let them brown. After about three minutes, drain off most of the oil, and return the lamb. Add a little bit of cinnamon stick (NOT POWDER), a bay leaf, some black peppercorns, and half a bottle of good red wine (or about 1-1/2 cups of stock or water). The liquid should come up about halfway on the meat. Bring to a simmer, and then cover the pan, and place it in the oven. After about 15 minutes, lower the heat to 300 degrees, and walk away. Go watch a movie. Seriously. Leave the lamb alone for three hours (at least). At the end of that time, check the pot. The lamb should be falling from the bone, and the onions and garlic should be almost disintegrating. Remove the pot from the oven, remove the lamb from the pot, and set aside, covered loosely, to allow the meat to rest. Now, pour the liquid from the pan into a saucepan, and bring to a boil and allow it to reduce. Pour over the lamb, and serve with brown or wild rice, freekeh, barley, kasha, or other grain, and a veg. I served mine with roasted cauliflower with tahini and garlic, and freekeh (roasted green wheat; simmered in stock, it's got a texture similar to rissoto, with a wonderful bite and rich, almost smoky flavor). Yum. Now that's what I call good eating.

Sweet, sweet basil.

Basil is one of my favorite herbs. Its smell reminds me of summer, it tastes great raw or cooked, and it's easy to grow. A bit too easy. As Science Guy is finding out, basil is prolific.

I've got some miracle basil growing. No, that's not a breed. I call it miracle basil because it came from nowhere. I started growing a couple of avocado trees two years ago (my intention is that, once global warming has fully kicked in, I'll have the only avocado plantation in the northeast). One of them is now about four feet tall, with a trunk - not a stem - thicker than my thumb. Last summer, it was living on my front porch. One day, I noticed something else growing in the pot, and leaned over to remove it. "
Hmmmm...this looks like basil," I thought. Rather than pluck out the entire little plant, I gently rubbed a leaf between my fingers. "Smells like basil, too. Honey!? does this smell like basil to you?" My wife came out of the house and sniffed. "Yeah, it does. Where'd it come from?" "The avocado. No, seriously. Look." So I decided to leave it to see what developed. We've now got about a dozen three-foot-tall basil plants growing happily beside the avocado. My plantation is already expanding. I still have no idea where that basil came from, but it sure does taste good, especially in the middle of winter.

Basil, despite its being green, is a great source of the anti-oxidant beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin K, iron, and fiber. In addition to being loaded with
flavonoids, its essential oils also have anti-bacterial properties which are effective against Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli O:157:H7, Yersinia enterocolitica, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Simiply put, basil is good for you.

The best thing about basil, though, is its taste. Slightly sweet, slightly peppery, that overlying licorice/anise flavor, and that wonderfully fresh "green" taste all combine to make basil a terrific addition to a wide variety of foods.

OK, that really doesn't answer your questions, but it does point out that 800 pounds of basil growing in one's garage is not entirely out of the realm of possibility. So, what can you do with all of that green goodness? You've got several options.

First, you can eat it.

Try tossing some into a green salad. Or, slice some fresh tomatoes (which, by the way, are also easy to grow), add some shredded basil leaves, a clove of crushed garlic, a little chopped onion, some freshly ground pepper, a splash of olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with some good bread and a glass of wine, and you've got a gorgeous and delicious light lunch or dinner.

Pesto! Traditionally made with a mortar and pestle (hence the name), it can also be made in a food processor. To the bowl of a food processor, add two cups of fresh basil (don't hesitate to use some of the stems here) and two cloves of fresh garlic (or more to taste). Pulse a couple of times to get things going, then slowly add a thin stream of olive oil while pulsing. How much? How much do you like olive oil? More oil makes a smoother, thinner, more unctuous pesto. Less makes a more hearty, more rustic pesto. But it's important to never leave the processor running, or you'll end up with soup. Add about half a cup of lightly toasted pine nuts. When the desired consistency is reached, transfer the pesto to a glass bowl, and gently mix in half a cup (or more)
parmigiano-reggiano and either freshly ground black pepper or, for more of a kick, some dried red-pepper flakes. Add some acid (lemon juice, red wine vinegar, orange juice), ecco la pesto! Grandpa would be proud. If you want to keep the pesto, put it into air-tight jars, leaving at least an inch-and-a-half of room at the top. Cover with olive oil, cover tightly and keep in the fridge basically forever. Add a spoonful to tomato sauce, salad dressing, plain pasta, pollenta, grilled chicken, grilled fish (salmon is ideal), burgers, pork, steak...the list goes on and on. It's important to remember that each time you use some you need to put another layer of olive oil on top in order to seal it. The anti-bacterial qualities of the basil, while powerful, do tend to lose their effectiveness over time.

When cooking with basil, add it only at the end of the process, and generally when the food has been taken off of direct heat. Cut the basil into a
chiffonade (stack the leaves on top of one another, roll into a cigar-shaped package and, using a VERY sharp knife, slice across the cigar into thin strips; the resulting shreds of basil look like chiffon, which is French for "rags") and let the residual heat of the food wilt the basil.

Second, you can dry it.

When the plants are mature, yank them up, roots and all, and hang them upside down in a warm, dry place. After some time (depending on humidity), they'll be completely dry. Spread some parchment paper (or wax paper) and rub the basil between your hands, allowing the flakes to fall onto the paper. Pour into an airtight jar and store in a cool, dark place. While the flavor won't last indefinitely, even after as long as a year,
your dried basil will taste infinitely better than that stuff you've got in a jar in your spice drawer, which has probably been there since the bubble burst.

Finally, you can freeze it. Pull the leaves from the stems, rinse them in cold water, gently pat them dry, lay them out in plastic zipper bags, squeeze as much air from the bags as possible, and toss them in the freezer. When you
need some, open a bag, break some off, refresh in warm water, pat dry, and you're good to go.

And what of the remaining 790 pounds? I'd recommend you get a stall at the local farmers' market, print up a sign that reads "Locally grown, free-range, organic basil," and charge $3.50 a bunch. In today's economy, it's the only market in which you'll get any kind of ROI.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

And so it begins.

I've been talking about doing this for a long time, and have finally decided to have a go at it. My own food blog (hmmmm...a flog? I think I've just coined a new term). Anyway, what's the point? What's the purpose of yet another blog about food? Especially another flog (there, I'm already using it) written by an unknown author (blauthor? OK, I'm getting carried away) with absolutely no credentials?

The point is, I do have credentials. No, I'm not "trained" in the traditional sense, and no, I'm not a "foodie" (a term I despise), but I'm the guy people come to when they have a question about food and all things kitchen related. I'm the guy who can save you a bundle on a knife purchase (ask Tom). The one who can tell you where to get lamb liver (ask Marie). I can pair wines with an extremely eclectic five-course dinner (ask Jane) and can direct you and your friends to an inexpensive, authentic Bangladeshi restaurant in Queens (ask Deb). I can lead you to a supermarket that caters to the Latino or Arabic or Subcontinental community (ask Dave) or tell you where to eat based on what subway stop you're getting off at (ask Evan). I'll even ask you to save your poultry carcasses (ask John or Fran) so that I can make soup. Besides, I've been cooking all my life. I started by helping my grandfather mash basil and garlic in his mortar. I helped my grandmother and aunt forming meatballs and frying veal cutlets. One of my fondest childhood memories is the smell of lamb roasting on an Easter Sunday.

So what? How does that separate me from any number of other guys out there? Frankly, it doesnt. What does separate me from them, however, is that I love doing these things. I love baking bread. I love making a turducken as someone's birthday present. I love teaching friends the difference between sharpening and honing their knives. I love talking about the different uses for stainless steel and cast iron; how a skillet, a saucier, and a saute pan all differ. Pretentious? I don't think so. At least I hope not. I think that these things are important.

I said I despise the term "foodie," and it's true. A friend of mine and I were talking about this once, and I realized that the term, like all diminutives, trivializes the individual in question. It makes them seem less powerful, more easily controlled, and not to be taken seriously. There's a scene in The Music Man where Charlie Cowell is trying to seduce Marian Paroo. In that scene, Cowell refers to her as "girlie girl." That's always made me feel a little uneasy. It's obvious that she's the one in power, the one who is calling the shots, and he can't deal with that, so he demeans her. That's how I feel about the term "foodie." What's wrong with "food lover" or even "gourmand?"

OK, so what's this blog ultimately going to be? Well, I'm not sure yet. I'd like to publish recipes. I'd like to discuss technique. I'd like to rant (I'm getting started!). I'd like to talk about people in the food industry whom I respect. I'd like to talk about the way food connects us, the ways in which it helps us understand one another. I'd like to talk about the cultural and social importance of food. And most of all, I'd like for all of you, dear eaters, to get involved. Let's talk. Let's trade. Let's eat together. Let's feed one another.

About the name of this flog: it comes from the musical Oliver! In the first big number of the show, the poor, half-starved urchins burst forth in song and dance over the idea of food. It's quite the number. "Hot Sausage & Mustard" comes from the first chorus:

Food, glorious food, hot sausage and mustard.
While we're in the mood, cold jelly and custard.
Pease pudding and saveloys, "What next?" is the question.
Rich gentlemen have it boys, in-dye-ges-ti-on!
Food, glorious food, we're anxious to try it.
Three banquets a day, our favorite diet.
Just picture a great big steak, fried roasted or stewed.
Oh, food, wonderful food, marvelous food, glorious food!

That pretty much sums up how I feel. Food is wonderful, marvelous, and glorious. It's what nourishes us, sustains us, and what gives us life.

And so with all that said, I invite you to join me here at my virtual table. Come in; pull up a keyboard; have a favorite libation; tuck in; and most of all, get comfortable. I hope you like it here.