Monthly Archives: June 2012

Tiramisu Cupcakes

Tiramisu.  Famous cake.  Fancy cake.  The cake that never really made sense to me (but I always just accepted it because my mother likes it).  I’m pretty sure my dad likes it, too.  Moi ?  I’m not sold.  I never understood what was so appetizing about cookies soaked in syrup with a little whipped cream – the texture was strange, the taste felt wrong, and the temperature never correct.  However, a little mouse showed me a beautiful photo of Tiramisu cupcakes, suggesting I make them sometime.  (Yeah. Right. Sure. I don’t like this dessert, remember ?)

But they seemed so cute.  And approachable.  And oddly…intriguing.  So I skimmed a multitude of blogs to compare recipes and ideas and techniques and put together my own recipe for this Italian sweet.  I made a few changes that are IMPORTANT :  There was no rum involved in this cake.  No cookies, either.  The cake batter is spicy – not just vanilla.  The result ?  A fantastic and surprisingly LIGHT cupcake that made for a perfect breakfast sweet with coffee, an equally good teatime accoutrement, and a delectable (and beautiful) after-dinner dessert.  The cake is not too sweet and has a nice bite from the nutmeg, which sings with the use of frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur, otherwise known as the reason why the rum is GONE.  A little tip : ice these cupcakes as you go – the whipped cream frosting will otherwise make the cupcakes soggy and potentially make a large mess.  Furthermore, if you ice those babies, you’ll have to store them in the fridge…which will dry them out.  Avoid this if possible.  This recipe makes enough for 18 cupcakes (give or take).

For the cake :

2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
2 tsp vanilla
6 eggs + 3 yolks
2 cups sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Cocoa powder (for dusting)

Preheat oven to 325F.  Line 2 muffin tins with paper liners.  Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Set aside.  Heat the milk and butter over the stovetop (on low heat – DO NOT LET BOIL) until melted.  Stir in vanilla extract.

Mix together the egg yolks and eggs with the sugar.

Be sure to beat these ingredients until the eggs go from a deep, golden yellow to a light, lemony color.  This stage is called the “ribbon stage” – you’re there when you lift up the whisk and the yolks drizzle off in a long, thin stream – like a ribbon.  Clever, no ?

Fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture in three batches. If the butter/milk combination is VERY HOT, mix about half the batter into the milk and then fold that mixture into the rest of the batter – this will prevent the eggs from cooking.  If the milk is at room temperature, you can simply add it slowly to the batter, stirring until JUST combined.

Pour the batter into the tins and cook for 20 minutes.

For the syrup :

2/3 cup STRONG coffee (or espresso)
5-8 tbsp Frangelico
1 tbsp sugar

Combine all ingredients over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Let cool.

For the frosting :

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
12 oz mascarpone cheese
1 cup confectioner’s sugar

(Before making the frosting, place the mixing bowl in the freezer to chill – this will help whip up the heavy cream.)

In a large bowl, whisk heavy cream until stiff and peaks form.  In another bowl, whisk together mascarpone and sugar until smooth.  Gently fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture until incorporated.

Assembly :

When the cupcakes have cooled, brush the tops with the coffee syrup.  I had a little runt cupcake that I used for testing for the syrup – I recommend sacrificing a cupcake (pick the ugly one) to sample.

Repeat this process until all of the syrup has been used.  Allow cupcakes to absorb liquid for several hours (eg 3.  But.  If you are impatient…it’s okay.  Nothing bad happens to those who nibble.)

Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with cocoa powder.  EAT !

Buon appetito !

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Lemon Caper Chicken

In high school, I was lucky enough to have babysitting jobs because I had a younger sister.  The plan of attack was simple :  she made friends, I met her friends (and their parents), and they asked me (sometimes) to babysit because I was (naturally) the older and more mature sibling.  In reality, I couldn’t have been more thrilled to hang out with my sisters’ friends, as they are all charming with charming younger siblings themselves.  Eventually, our families would just merge and become friends.  It is from such a friendship that this recipe surfaced.  While having a casual dinner over at one such family’s house, we experienced Lemon Caper Chicken.  It’s a really simple dish that doesn’t take long to make and it definitely looks fancy…and who doesn’t like looking fancy ?  The bite from the lemon and the white wine work well with the sourness (and surprise) of the capers.  This recipe will make enough to feed 4 people.

Ingredients :

2 tbsp olive oil
4 whole boneless chicken breasts, halved
1 cup of white wine (I used a Chablis but anything will work)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp capers
2 tbsp butter, cut into pieces
A little flour (for dredging)

OPTIONAL FIRST STEP : Pound the chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap to flatter/tenderize.  Place the pieces of chicken into a bowl of flour that has been seasoned with a little salt and pepper.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until hot (but not smoking!  We don’t want the fire alarm to go off…).  Add the chicken and cook for about 10 minutes or until browned and cooked through.

Be sure to flip the chicken after about 5 minutes.  I always have to cut the chicken in half to make sure it’s no longer pink on the inside – chicken is tricky and you don’t want to risk having not entirely cooked the meat.  When done, remove the chicken from the pan and place it on a platter.  Cover to keep warm.

Add the wine and lemon juice to the pan and scrape the bottom to remove the brown bits – these will add great flavor to the dish.  When you add an acid to the pan, you are deglazing it – dissolving so to speak those bits of delicious protein that stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Bring this mixture to a boil and add the capers.  Let simmer for about 2 minutes before whisking in the butter, one piece at a time.  Cook over low heat for 1 minutes.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve !  This pairs well with rice, be it risotto or white rice, as a starch.  A piece of homemade bread is also welcome, given that the sauce is absolutely heavenly.

Bon appétit !

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Caprese Salad

The longest day of the year has come and past…and BOY WAS IT HOT.  Temperatures of at least 97F (that’s about 36C) and a humidity level that is simply unfortunate made this solstice slightly unbearable here in the woods.  Our house is not equipped with central air, so I think my complaining is justified. We have a wall unit humming to help keep the humidity down…but it’s still uncomfortable as I sit here drafting a post.  It’s 22h30 and still about 80F outside…so pleasant…

On days like this, no one wants to be in the kitchen.  The stove shouldn’t even be turned ON for fear of adding extra (and unwelcome) heat into the house.  Tonight, we grilled outside for the protein portion of our dinner (we had salmon), and I made a cold caprese salad as the veggie.  This is a very flexible addition to a summer meal and features the classic combination of mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes – what’s not to love ?  This recipe will feed 4 people as a side dish, but it’s easily adjustable.  Also – these tomatoes are extremely good on pizza after having spent a day in the fridge…so maybe you’ll want to make extra.  🙂

Ingredients :

4 Roma tomatoes
1/2 round fresh mozzarella
About 3 tbsp olive oil
About 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh basil (about 5 leaves worth)

Start with your tomatoes.  On a clean cutting board, slice the tomato into thick rounds (about 1/4 inch thick).  Take these rounds and dice them.

The nice thing about Roma tomatoes is that they have a lot of flesh to them and not as much moisture – handy when making a salad.  That said, any tomato will work – just be sure to remove some of the seeds/tomato water in order to improve flavor.  Put the tomatoes in a medium sized bowl.

Clean your cutting board (if you’re fussy).  Unwrap the mozzarella and using a (serrated) knife, make long, clean passes through the cheese, cutting rounds of about the same thickness as the tomatoes.

You will want about 4 fair sized rounds for the salad – but it’s up to your personal taste.  If you don’t like cheese too much, use less. Dice this as you diced the tomatoes.  I made mine into little rectangles.  Add to the bowl with the tomatoes.

Pour olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper over top of the tomatoes and mozzarella.  Mix well with a spoon.  Taste it to adjust the levels of spices and vinegar.  I like the sourness of the vinegar – if you don’t, simply add a little more olive oil.

Lastly, chop the basil into strips (or rip it into pieces) and put on top of salad.  Being an aromatic, you should add the basil last to preserve its flavor for as long as possible.  Place the salad in the fridge to keep it cool, or eat it right away.

Bon appétit !

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Marmalade Muffins

I’ve never been a fan of hard biscuits and jam.  English muffins, yes; biscuits, no.  That said…I love jam.  I feel like good jam doesn’t get enough attention on this side of the Atlantic.  When these muffins came to my attention (my mother made them for weekend breakfasts on occasion), I couldn’t have been more delighted.  Tucked inside each seemingly plain treat is a treasure trove of jam.  You can vary the flavors – I use raspberry and blackberry most often, but apricot and blueberry would be great as well.  Little tip – make sure you grease the pan liberally – if the jam escapes from it’s little home snug inside the muffin batter, it will boil and bubble in the oven and make it difficult to remove.  This recipe makes 12 plump muffins.

Ingredients :

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1tbsp+ 2tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups plain yogurt or buttermilk
3/4 stick butter
1-2 tsp vanilla
Jam of any kind !

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Grease 12 regular muffin cups.  Thoroughly mix flour, sugar, baing powder, and salt in a large bowl.  In a medium-size bowl, whisk eggs with yogurt, butter and vanilla until smooth.  Pour over flour mixture and fold in until just combined.

Spoon 1 heaping tablespoon of batter into muffin cups.

Fill with jam.

Top off with batter.

Bake 25-30 minutes of until golden brown.  You’ll know the muffins are done when you are able to press their tops with our finger and the cake will spring back.  That said, these are pretty dense – so don’t be surprised if the pan is still heavy when removing from the oven.

Let them cool on a rack at least 5 minutes before serving, as the jam inside is VERY HOT.  We don’t want any burnt tongues…that just ruins the rest of breakfast. 😉

Bon appétit !

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Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

I don’t think my sister nor I ever grew out of the idea of tea parties.  As a result, when I heard my sister was inviting a few girls over to watch Downton Abbey (a fantastic Masterpiece theatre series, if you haven’t watched it…well…you best get on that !), I offered to bake.  Together, Meg and I made some quick lemon poppyseed muffins to go along with the occasion.  We also dug out some old china teacups and saucers and had a time setting the table and pretending we, too, were members of the household depicted in the series – sipping tea, nibbling muffins, and making quiet but important conversation.  These muffins are a fantastic accompaniment to afternoon tea OR breakfast and the best part – they are quick and easy.  This recipe makes 12 regular-sized muffins.

Ingredients :

2 cups flour
2 tbsp poppy seeds
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
1/2 tsp ginger
8 tbsp butter, soft
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1-2 tsp vanilla
1 cup yogurt
1/2 tsp lemon extract (if you really like lemon, add this !)

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line muffin tin with paper liners, as these are quite moist and may be difficult to remove without the liners.  Combine the flour, poppy seeds, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

Mix well to combine.  In another bowl, cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Add the lemon zest, juice, vanilla, and lemon extracts.  Next, add the flour mixture and the yogurt, alternating additions of each.

Stir until just combined – overstirring could cake the muffins to turn tough.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake 18-20 minutes.  You’ll know the muffins are done when you tough the top and it springs back from your touch.

Take them out of the tray and let cool on a rack…but feel free to nibble before they lose all their warmth !  Grab a teacup, put on the kettle, prepare a nice cup of earl grey and you’re good to go.  Bon appétit !

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Homemade Rosemary Bread

I was with my mom in the grocery store yesterday – she doesn’t love grocery shopping – and we were headed down the bread aisle when I saw the price of loaves of bread.  I steered us right out of that lane and said I’d make bread for dinner.  “Oh !  Great !  Scratch that off the list…”

We’ve been a bread-making family ever since I was little.  My dad was in charge of everything that required yeast as an ingredient.  We’d throw everything in the bread machine, let it rise, shape it ourselves, and let it bake.  It’s been awhile since the bread fairy paid us a visit, but that all changed after our chicken marsala dinner SO – here is the recipe for the bread shown with the mushroom dish.  (It was so good, I made more last night).

*This recipe makes two long loaves OR multiple little rolls.  If you have extra, cook it all and freeze the finished product – bread keeps well frozen.  In fact, it’s the best way to store fresh bread, as it won’t go soggy and it won’t dry out.  The French taught me this lovely trick.

Basic bread recipe :

6-7 cups flour
1 tablespoon yeast (not Brewer’s yeast – active, dry yeast).
3 tablespoons granulated sugar OR honey
3-4 tsp salt
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups water (warm)
1 cup milk (warm)
3 pinches dried rosemary (this is optional, but I love rosemary and it pairs well with many dishes.  Leave this out if you want plain white bread.)
Extra flour

Put all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Stir together to incorporate the yeast well within the flour mixture.  Set aside.

Combine the milk and water in one container, and place this in the microwave for about 90 seconds.  This needs to be warm in order to activate the yeast.  Yeast is a cool little ingredient – it’s actually alive BUT purchased in a dormant state.  We have to wake all of those little yeast particles up so that they can get to work eating the sugar molecules in the flour and the sugar and start creating gas.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen – bread rises thanks to yeast farts.  Pretty fantastic. 🙂  Anyway, they need a little heat to kickstart the reaction HOWEVER BE WARNED : yeast is sensitive – if it’s too hot, you will kill the yeast particles.  Sad sad.  I use my finger to test the heat – if you can put your index finger in the milk mixture and it isn’t too hot to burn you, it’s probably fine.

Add this to the flour mixture.  Using one hand, mix together the flour and milk combinations.  It will be sticky and it will be messy but it’s not difficult.  Add the oil.

Once combined enough to hold a shape, dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface, such as a countertop.  Wash your hands and douse them in flour.  You many want to sprinkle a little flour on your dough as well.


KNEAD FOR 10 MINUTES.  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.  The bread’s texture is going to change as you knead it (you are forming gluten networks.  Cool, right ?).   The heel of your palm will be helpful – stretch the dough and then reform it into a ball.  Punch it.  Let out your emotions.  I don’t have a photo given that both of my hands were covered in flour but as long as you are stretching the dough out repeatedly, you should be all set.  You will need to constantly dust the dough with flour.  Once you’ve kneaded the dough for a good 10 minutes (no skimping!) it should look like this :

Forming it into a ball is usually a wise plan.  Put this in a large bowl (like the same mixing bowl as before…just cleaned and oiled) and let sit covered and undisturbed for anywhere between 45 minutes to 1h30.  The dough should double in size.

Now comes the fun part.  Dump the dough out onto the countertop and punch all the air OUT.  I like to use my fingertips and poke the dough all over.  You have two options at this point :  you can either let the dough rise again (this improves texture) OR you can prepare it for baking.  I’ve done it both ways and I think that even with one good rise, the bread tastes great.  If you let it rise a second time, just repeat the same steps as above.  If not…

Cut the dough in half using a serrated bread knife.  Form it into a flat round – like pizza crust.  Fold the top two corners of the round together so that you make a triangle shape.  Then, starting at the tip of the triangle, roll the dough down until you have a baguette-type shape.  It’s like making a snake out of clay or Play-Doh.  (Come on, we all did it.)  Roll to seal the bottom and shape the tips so that they are rounded (or pointed – it’s as you like).  Place on a well-oiled baking sheet and dust with flour.  Do this to both rounds of dough.  Cover with a tea towel and let sit for another 30-45 minutes.  Yes, they are going to rise.  At this point, preheat your oven to 500F.  Hothothot.  I use steam to help cook the bread by placing a jelly-roll pan filled with water in the bottom of the oven (on the second rack).  YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS.  It will be fine if you skip it.

When the loaves have just about doubled in size, remove the tea towel.  Using the serrated knife, make a series of quick slashes on the top of the bread.  These help the dough to expand more while cooking.  Be confident and don’t cut too deep !  We want to keep the gas in.  I was nervous the first time I did this (a couple nights ago) but it all worked out.

I put a little salt and pepper and herbs on the top of the bread before throwing it (gently…) in the oven.  Let bake for 8 minutes at 500 before reducing the temperature to 400 (or lower, depending on the browning of the bread).  The bread is done when you knock it and it sounds hollow.  You’ll know what I mean.

Let cool on a baking rack.  It’s best to wait until cool to slice BUT if you are going to rip it…then it can still be warm.  🙂

Bon appétit !

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Chicken Marsala

It’s never a fabulous idea to leave me alone and to my own devices. A few days ago, such an event occurred, and I watched two food-related documentaries back-to-back before deciding that cooking was exactly what the doctor ordered ! In our refrigerator were all the ingredients necessary to make Chicken Marsala and nice, crusty “Italian” bread. You can just guess what we had for dinner…

My family now thinks it’s WISE to leave me all by myself – dinner is [magically] made by the time they return to the house !

Here is the recipe, adapted from Gourmet Magazine’s Chicken Marsala.

Ingredients :

2 cups chicken broth (low sodium would be best)
2 or 3 tbsp finely chopped shallot/onion (I used an onion)
5 tbsp unsalted butter
10 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1 1/2 tsp fresh sage (I used dried rosemary to great effect)
Ground black pepper
1 cup flour
4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
2 tbsp olive oil
2/3 cup dry Marsala wine (I used cooking wine)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1-2 tsp fresh lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil over high heat and let boil, uncovered, until reduced to about 1 cup of liquid. Depending on the power behind your stovetop, this can take 15-20 minutes. If it reduces too much, it’s okay – you’ll just have a little less sauce. This (OF COURSE) can be offset by adding more wine/cream later, so don’t stress.

Chop the shallow/onion. I never have shallots so I’m always substituting onions. To cut an onion finely, I recommend halving it, then cutting gridlines with the knife on the half of the onion. Then, slice thinly, and the onion will fall onto the cutting board in nice small pieces. Crying is allowed.

Cook the shallot/onion in 3 tbsp butter (or olive oil, that’s okay) in a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring until it begins to turn golden. At this point, add the mushrooms, being careful not to crowd them. Julia Child spoke wise words when she said, “DON’T CROWD THE MUSHROOMS” as they won’t brown well if you do. Cook half the batch at a time, if necessary. Once they start to change color, I chop them in half with the wooden spatula used to stir so that they release more liquid. Season with ground black pepper and rosemary.

Once the liquid has been evaporated and the mushrooms are nice and brown/soft, remove from the heat and put into a bowl.

Put flour in a wide, shallow bowl. Gently pound chicken to 1/4 inch thickness between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pat the chicken dry and season with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour, one piece at a time.

Using the same pan that was used for the mushrooms, heat 1 tbsp of both oil AND butter. Once the butter stops frothing, place the chicken in the pan and cook until golden. Chicken takes awhile to cook and you want to make sure it is cooked ALL THE WAY THROUGH. NO PINK. Got it ?

Once cooked, remove the chicken from the pan and place on a platter. To keep this warm, the chicken can be placed in the oven but WARNING – this could dry the chicken out. You know your oven – you decide.

Add the wine to the skillet and boil over high heat, scraping the bottom of the pan to get all the nice brown bits leftover from the chicken. (This is called “deglazing” – it works wonderfully).

Add the broth and the cream and bring to a simmer. Once lightly boiling, add the mushrooms and continue to stir until thickened slightly. At this stage it is of the UTMOST IMPORTANCE to TASTE the sauce. This way, you know if you need to season it more – add salt, pepper, more cream or wine, perhaps – I ended up adding much more wine and cream. 🙂 Live the good life…

Once the sauce is hot and seasoned to your liking, add the lemon juice and a bit of wine. Stir and then pour over the chicken. Serve with a nice chunk of bread…I made mine but this dish isn’t picky – any nice, crusty Italian loaf will do. Bon appetite !

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Lemon cupcakes with raspberry filling

I think the cupcake craze has finally hit me.  I know, it’s a litttttle late for that, but I’ve made three batches of cupcakes in the past…two weeks (?) and I’m having far too much fun in the kitchen.  Flour.  Everywhere.

Or in this case…lemon zest.

Being a slightly competitive person…I’m staging a mini-war with the fantastic Baked and Wired of Washington, D.C. in an effort to reduce the pain my wallet feels every time I crumble and purchase a cupcake.  My current favorite is a lemon cupcake with a raspberry filling and a lemon buttercream frosting.  After a few edits (lighter frosting, spicier filling, and a more lemony cupcake), here’s my new and improved version:

For the cake :

1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups granulated sugar
Zest and juice of 3 lemons
1 cup buttermilk (can be made with milk + 1 tbsp lemon juice OR distilled vinegar)

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line 2 muffin tins (24 cups total) with liners (or parchment paper).  In an electric mixer – or by hand – cream butter until smooth.  Add the sugar slowly until smooth, followed by the zest and lemon juice.  The batter will separate a bit – but when the flour is added, the it will stabilize.  Cream the mixture until light.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. In a bowl, mix the baking powder and the flour together.  Add the flour and the buttermilk at the same time, mixing until combined but not more to avoid a tough cake.  Pour into pans and bake for 20-25 minutes or until springy to the touch.

For the filling :

1/2 cup raspberry jam
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp ground ginger

Combine all ingredients and boil until well blended and thickened – using a thermometer might be beneficial.  I boiled until the thread stage.  Chill.

For the frosting :

4 egg whites
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp cream of tartar (optional)

Combine the water, sugar, lemon juice and zest together in a medium pan.  Stir to help the sugar dissolve and then boil until 238F or until the mixture thickens slightly and forms a thin, continuous stream when poured from a spoon.  It’s good to taste this to make sure it’s lemony enough (or sweet enough) for your tastes (but be careful, as boiling sugar is HOT).

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whip the eggs whites and cream of tartar until they hold soft peaks.

Once the sugar syrup is ready, turn the mixer on high and pour the hot syrup over the meringues, being careful to add it in a thin, continuous stream.  The egg whites will be billowy and light – almost like a foam.  I added a few drops of yellow food dye to give it a light yellow tint.

Assembly :

Using your finger (or a spoon), make a little divot in the center of each cupcake.  This will be filled with the raspberry syrup.  There is no need to remove the centers – the cake is quite moist, so compacting it works just fine. Using a teaspoon, pour raspberry syrup into the crevice until filled.

Once this is complete, they are ready to be frosted.  I used a piping bag to frost mine, but it isn’t necessary.  Once can easily use a spatula, a spoon, or a knife to top off these delicious little cakes.  Once iced, I sprinkled a little lemon zest on top (But you don’t have to…it just looks pretty !).  And there you have it !  Watch out, Baked and wired !

When it’s cut in half, you can really see the filling – it’s just like jam…but better.  🙂 Bon appétit !

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