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“Nest” Cupcakes

1 Feb

Like a lot of women people I know, I probably spend too much time on Pinterest. I waste a lot of time on there, just browsing and pinning things “for later”. In my defence, I have actually made quite a few things that I’ve pinned (cards, food, drinks) and I’ve used some of my pins for party-planning, so I feel that Pinterest can be very useful. When my best friend recently had her bird/nest-themed baby shower, I knew I could find inspiration on Pinterest…and that I did. These Martha Stewart-inspired cupcakes were just so cute that I had to make them.

I didn’t actually use Martha’s recipe until it got to the decorating instructions (the recipes for the cupcakes and frosting below are ones I’ve used many times before). Quite simply, all you are doing is putting some frosting on a cupcake, digging a little well into the frosting, covering the frosting in toasted coconut, and placing some of the eggs in the well. I found it easier than trying to frost cupcakes as people can’t see the mess you’ve made of the frosting with all that coconut on it!

The eggs are the mini Cadbury candy eggs, which you can buy in the stores all year round (I bought mine at London Drugs). If you are making these for a baby shower (really, I don’t when else you would want nest cupcakes) and if you know what sex the baby will be, you could theme it with pink or blue eggs. We didn’t know what sex the baby will be so I went with a mix of both, however, I think the blue ones look like Robin’s eggs so they were my favourite.

Vanilla Cupcakes – Makes over 24

250g unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
3 cups self-raising flour (using cake flour makes these extra fluffy)
1 cup milk

Method:
Preheat oven to 180C. Beat butter, sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and beat well after each addition.

Add ½ the sifted flour and ½ the milk and stir until combined, then add remaining flour and milk and stir until combined.

Line two 12-hole muffin tins with paper cake cases. Spoon 2 tablespoons of mixture into each paper case and bake for 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool cakes in tin.

Butter-cream Icing:

1 cup butter, softened
5 cups sifted icing sugar
½ cup whipping cream
½ tsp vanilla

Method:
In a large bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy. Alternately beat in sugar and cream, making 2 additions of sugar. Beat in vanilla.

Final steps:
Once the cupcakes have cooled, frost the cupcakes generously and use your thumb to make a well in the middle of the cupcake. Dip the frosted cupcake into your toasted coconut flakes and fill the well with three mini eggs.

Scallop Pasta with Champagne Sauce

5 Jan

I have a habit of taking photos of enticing recipes whilst reading magazines in waiting-rooms. My intention is to cook whatever it is immediately but the reality is that the photo sits on my phone for months, even years, without me ever glancing at, let alone actually making the dish. This is just pure laziness on my behalf and I’d like to change that.

On New Years Eve, rather than going out to party, B and I stayed in and I attempted to make at least a few of the recipes that have been lying dormant on my phone. I knew that B and I would be sharing a bottle of bubbles to celebrate New Years Eve so this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to stop procrastinating and make the Scallop Pasta with Champagne Sauce recipe that I’ve been eyeing off for ages. This recipe comes from the Spring 2013 issue of “Taste” magazine, which you can pick up from BC Liquor.

Of course you don’t need to use actual Champagne for this recipe. A good sparkling wine or Prosecco will suffice (and it is much cheaper). Another substitute you may have to make is with the pasta. I had difficulties finding angel hair pasta so I opted for spaghettini instead – I don’t think it really makes much of a difference. I found this recipe to be quite simple, yet impressive enough that I’d recommend it for a date night, or if you are trying to impress some guests (it could be served as an appetizer in a smaller portion). Happy New Year!

Scallop Pasta with Champagne Sauce – Makes Serves 4

1 1/2 cups (375ml) of Champagne, or sparkling wine
4 shallots, minced
4 Tbsp (60ml) whipping cream
1/2 cup (125ml) cold butter, cut into small cubes
1 lb (500 grams) of angel hair pasta, or spaghettini
2 tsp (10ml) butter
1 tsp (5ml) olive oil
1 1/2 lb (750 grams) of quality scallops, hinge muscle removed
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 Tbsp (60ml) chives, chopped

Method
In a small saucepan, combine Champagne and shallots and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid has reduced to 1/2 cup (125ml), 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in whipping cream and cubed butter, a few cubes at a time. Return pan to low heat and continue whisking until all butter has been added. Remove from heat and reserve.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. When boiling, add salt and cook pasta to al dente. Drain and reserve pasta.

When sauce is ready, add pasta and stir to coat. In a heavy non-stick pan, heat 1 tsp (5ml) butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Add scallops and sear until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange seared scallops on a nest of hot pasta and sprinkle with chopped chives.

Jamie Oliver’s Herb Salad on Tomato Bruschetta

29 Aug

Please don’t judge me too harshly on how basic this recipe is. I have been feeling less than enthusiastic about spending time in the kitchen this summer and this recipe shows just how lazy I’ve become over the past few months. I was going to hide behind the guise that this recipe is seasonal – tomatoes are in full swing here on the West Coast – and whilst that is part of the reason why I made this dish, the reality is that it took about 5 minutes from start to finish and that was the appeal.

If you are looking for a healthy, tasty snack or a light lunch, and you have some fresh tomatoes and a handful of assorted herbs, then give this recipe a go. Although it is extremely easy to make, this dish will only taste as good as your produce. If your tomatoes are out of season, then this dish will not pack the same punch as fresh off-the-vine tomatoes and herbs bursting with flavour. Get the best tomatoes you can and go nuts on the herbs!

I honestly hope to be a bit more thrilled about my return to the kitchen come fall, but for now, I’m going to continue enjoying the last breath of summer. Hope you are too!

Jamie Oliver’s Herb Salad on Tomato Bruschetta – Serves 4

3 or 4 ripe tomatoes, mixed colours, roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 fresh red chilli, de-seeded and chopped (optional)
4 slices of ciabatta bread, about 1 inch thick
1 clove of garlic, unpeeled, cut in half
Juice of half a lemon
A small handful of arugula, washed and spun dry
A few sprigs of fresh tarragon, leaves picked
A few sprigs of fresh herby fennel tops
A few sprigs of fresh mint, leaves picked
2 good handfuls of other interesting fresh herbs, such as sorrel, basil, parsley, dill, or chive flowers

Method:
If you have a griddle pan, put it on the heat and get it nice and hot. If you don’t have one, you’ll be using your toaster in a minute instead.

Put your chopped tomatoes into a bowl with a glug of extra virgin olive oil and a swig of balsamic vinegar. Mix together and sprinkle with a little salt. If you are using chilli, add it at this point.

Toast the ciabatta slices in your hot griddle pan or a toaster for a minute or so on each side. Once the bread is nicely golden, rub each piece lightly with the cut side of the garlic.

Make a dressing by whisking together the lemon juice, three times as much extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the arugula and herbs in the dressing.

Divide the ciabatta slices between four plates and top each one with a heap of chopped tomatoes. Press the tomatoes down into the bread and finish with a good pile of your herb and arugula salad.

Jamie Oliver’s Eggy Breakfast Crumpets

25 Jun

Crumpets are a delicious way to start a morning. We always used to have crumpets in my house when I was growing up and I ate them frequently as I considered them a more interesting alternative to regular toast. Thick, spongy, and porous they are perfect dripping with butter and covered in either honey, or a spread of Vegemite (for the Aussies amongst us).

Unfortunately, crumpets aren’t that easy to come by here in Vancouver but I have discovered them in the Whole Foods on Cambie Street. If you’ve not had a chance to try crumpets yet, this dish is a tasty, and slightly fancy, introduction. Essentially this dish is French Toast made with crumpets, rather than bread. The chilli adds a nice touch and isn’t too obvious, and as the crumpets are neither sweet nor savoury, you really can personalize it with your choice of topping.

My only tip with this recipe is that you may need three eggs instead of just two to make the egg mixture, depending on how quickly your crumpets absorb the eggs. Overall, this is a yummy, fast way to enjoy crumpets and breakfast.

Jamie Oliver’s Eggy Breakfast Crumpet – Serves 2

2 large organic eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground back pepper
1 fresh chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped
6 slices of good quality bacon
Olive oil
4 round crumpets
Brown sauce (HP sauce) or maple syrup, to serve

Method:
Crack your eggs into a bowl and give them a little whisk with a small pinch of salt and pepper and most of the chopped chilli. Then heat a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and fry the bacon in a tiny amount of olive oil. Let it crisp up on both sides.

Meanwhile, get your crumpets and really push them into the egg and chilli mixture. Turn them over a few times – they’ll soak it up like a sponge. Push the golden bacon to one side and tilt the pan so the fat runs into the middle. Add the crumpets to the pan and fry them for a few minutes until golden, then turn them over and fry them on the other side.

Serve the eggy crumpets topped with the crispy bacon, with a dollop of brown sauce or a drizzle of maple syrup. To finish, you can sprinkle over the extra chopped chilli (if desired).

Jamie Oliver’s Strawberry Salad with Speck & Halloumi

24 Jun

Strawberry Salad with Speck & Halloumi

Summer is officially here! To me, that means:

  • Enjoying warm, sunny days
  • Getting out into nature
  • Sun-kissed skin and sun-induced freckles
  • The sizzle of the BBQ grill
  • Colourful, heavily-scented flowers
  • Indulging in seasonal foods, like berries and stone fruits

Strawberries

Besides the fact that BC strawberries are unbelievably tempting at the moment, I decided to make this salad because I promised you some recipes that include halloumi, and because summer is the perfect time to experiment with salads.

Considering that frying the halloumi was the toughest part of the recipe, I think we can safely say that this is an easy dish to make. Although I wouldn’t rave about this salad, I did enjoy the textures of the crispy halloumi paired with the tender flesh of the strawberries. What I think is key with this salad (and a general rule when cooking) is to find the best ingredients you can. If you have the freshest, juiciest strawberries and a good quality meat (try Oyama if you are in Vancouver), then those ingredients will take this salad to the next level.

Jamie Oliver’s Strawberry Salad with Speck and Halloumi – Serves 4

12oz strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/4 inch slices
Good-quality balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
A few sprigs of fresh basil, leaves picked
9 oz halloumi cheese, cut into 8 thin slices
A few sprigs of fresh mint, leaves picked
A handful of mixed salad leaves, washed and spun dry
8 slices of speck (you could also use a prosciutto)

Method:
In a bowl, drizzle the sliced strawberries with a good splash of balsamic vinegar, the lemon juice and some extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. This will draw out and flavour the lovely strawberry juices.

Preheat a large non-stick frying pan to medium hot and add a splash of olive oil. Press a basil leaf onto each slice of halloumi. Place the slices, leaf side down, in the frying pan and fry for a minute. Turn over carefully and fry for another minute until the halloumi is light golden and crisp.

Get yourself four plates and place a couple of pieces of the crispy halloumi on each. Put the mint, the rest of the basil leaves and the salad leaves into the bowl with the strawberries and toss together. Pile some of the strawberry mixture in the middle of each plate and drape the speck over the top. Finish with more salad leaves. To serve, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Recipe from Jamie at Home.

Inside-Out Scotch Eggs

12 May

As much as I love brunch, there are times when I crave something different to the usual brunch items of bacon and eggs, French toast, or bennies. But it can be difficult to find a dish that is “different”, yet still late morning/early afternoon appropriate. When I discovered this recipe in my April edition of delicious magazine, I knew that it was going to be a good one, and indeed, I was right. The idea is a simple one – simply squeeze out the filling from a sausage and cover it in breadcrumbs – but if you choose your sausages correctly (flavourful, fatty ones) then this will be an impressive dish. I cooked this at a recent brunch that I hosted and it was very well-received (even the kids loved it). Seriously, who could turn down a crunchy-coated sausage??

As with most of the recipes that I enjoy cooking, this one takes hardly any time to make and is not overly complicated. The only advice I need to give on this one is to make sure that you use the tastiest, juiciest sausages that you can get your mitts on (Vancouverites, think Oyama Sausage). Also, for a bit of extra crunch you could substitute panko crumbs for the breadcrumbs.

Inside-Out Scotch Eggs – Serves 4

500 grams thick pork and herb sausages (the best you can afford)
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, or panko
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon white vinegar
4 eggs
Rocket (arugula) leaves, to serve

Method:
Squeeze sausage meat from the casings, then roll into 4 portions and flatten into patties. Coat patties in half the crumbs, then chill for 10 minutes to firm up.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a fry pan over medium heat. Fry patties, turning, for 8 to 10 minutes until golden, crisp and cooked through. Transfer to a plate to keep warm.

Return the pan to the heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Fry remaining 1/2 cup crumbs for 3 to 4 minutes until golden, then toss with herbs and lemon zest. Set aside.

Fill a wide shallow saucepan with water, add vinegar and bring to a gentle simmer. One by one, crack the eggs into a teacup. Swirl the water using a spoon to create a whirlpool, then carefully slide the eggs into the water. Cook for 3 minutes or until poached but yolks are still soft. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and drain on a tea towel.

To serve, divide patties and eggs among 4 plates, top with crumbs, rocket and a drizzle of oil, then season well.

Recipe from April 2013 delicious magazine.

Frozen Banana “Ice Cream”

25 Apr

In a recent post, I promised to let you know if I found any other sneaky ways of getting more fruits and veggies into your diet. Well, I’m happy to say that I’ve found another recipe and this one is exciting to me for two reasons. 1/ It’s a healthy dessert, and 2/ It is exactly like a treat that I used to get when I was living in Australia (and hadn’t had for years until I made this).

There aren’t many things to do in my home town of Darwin but one thing I would do religiously was to visit the weekly (now bi-weekly) Mindil Beach Markets. Darwin has some kick-ass markets! One visit to this beach-side, night market and you would understand immediately where I get my love of South East Asian food from. The market is full of locals and tourists all there with one purpose – to get some delicious food from the almost 60 food stalls that are brimming with international cuisine, and to eat it whilst watching the sunset. It was one of my favourite things about growing up in Darwin and something that I still miss.

A Darwin sunset (photo taken by B)

One of my favourite ways to end my meal at the balmy markets was with a frozen banana ice cream, which was made with nothing but frozen fruit. The frozen fruit was churned through a fancy ice cream maker and the result was a cooling, tasty treat. I have yearned for that ice cream for years. I was recently reading Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet when I came across a recipe that sound suspiciously like that ice cream, except that you didn’t need a fancy ice cream maker, you just needed a simple food processor. Hallelujah!! I have one of those! And guess what? The ice cream tastes exactly the same as I remember it!!

So, not only is it cheap, but it is low in calories whilst also providing another serving of fruit into your diet. If all of this health talk is making you crazy, you could jazzy it up by adding some peanut butter (whilst you are whizzing), or by sprinkling some chocolate chips or nuts over the top for some crunch. I know what I’m going to be making copious amounts of this summer!

Frozen Banana “Ice Cream” – Serves 2

2 bananas, cut into thin rounds and frozen

Method:
Place frozen banana into a food processor and whiz for about 3 to 4 minutes until the banana is whipped like ice cream. You will need to constantly push the banana down whilst you are whizzing it in order for it to whip properly. Do not over whip or the ice cream will melt. Serve immediately.

*If the starchiness from the bananas is too much for you, add frozen blueberries or strawberries to cut the starch.

Healthy foods in disguise!

21 Mar

I am in constant awe of the Internet. I tell the internet “Hey there Internet! I want to find healthy, yummy ways to get more veggies, fruits, and legumes into my diet – can you help me out?” With a bit of time and just a few Google searches, I discovered a plethora of suggestions. How wonderful is the Internet?! Oh, let me count me the ways!

The following suggestions are all from brainiacs on the Internet – I am not innovative enough to come up with any of these ideas myself but I always think that we can all use a bit of help with finding interesting and tasty ways of adding more veg into our diets so I’d like to share some that have been successful for me.

1/ Smoothies

Now, I know that I’m not letting you in on some big secret here but did you know that you can hide a bunch of veggies in a smoothie and as long as you add a big scoop of protein-rich peanut butter, you can barely taste them? I tried this at first with just a big ol’ bunch of spinach, a banana, a scoop of peanut butter, and some water…and ta-dah…a tasty, yet healthy smoothie. I then took it up a notch by keeping the banana, spinach, and peanut butter, but then I also added a handful of frozen blueberries, some avocado, a scoop of flaxseed, and some almond milk, and I got this kick-ass smoothie. Smoothies are great as a meal supplement as they are really quite filling and, as you can see from all the goodies you can hide in them, pretty good for you too (although I don’t advocate skipping meals).

2/ Cauliflower “Rice”

This would have to be the change that has had the biggest impact on my veggie intake. I really enjoy rice and a lot of my go-to meals revolve around rice – curries on rice, chili on rice, stir-fry on rice…you get the picture. This is a genius way of cutting your calories, adding some veggies, and cutting back on cooking time. Basically you take some cauliflower florets and chop them up as small as you can and then gently fry them for a few minutes. If you wanna get adventurous, you could add some garlic or leek, or a sprinkle of turmeric for some added cancer-fighting goodness. Once it has cooked slightly and is slightly golden, take it off the heat and use it as rice. It truly couldn’t be more simpler!

Cauliflower “rice”

Serve your favourite curry or stir-fry over your rice, and you have even more veggies!

3/ Zucchini “Pasta”

This is a trick I have been using since the New Year when my goal was to cut back on pasta. I love pasta (oh man, do I love it!) but I know it is essentially empty carbs so when I’m craving pasta I just use zucchini instead. Get a zucchini and use your vegetable peeler to slice thin “ribbons”. I have found it best to do this until you get to the seeds and then turn the zucchini and start peeling another side until you end up with a cube of zucchini (see picture). Boil some water and added a generous pinch of salt and blanch the zucchini for just a minute. Drain them and try to squeeze out the excess water. Serve your favourite pasta sauce over the top. Yum!

4/ Lentil “Mince Meat”

I really love my beef-based dishes such as bolognese sauce, chili con carne, and tacos, but as I have been trying to cut back on my meat intake I have been using veggie ground as an alternative to minced beef. That’s all very well and good but I prefer to eat real food so when I discovered this genius idea from Chow Times I got to using it straight away. Boil some lentils in vegetable broth (or if you want a real short-cut you can buy a can of lentils from the store) and then mash them with a potato masher. Add them to your dish as you would mince. I tried this with spaghetti bolognese and it was a great alternative as the texture is similar and the flavour of the lentils was very discreet. I will definitely be using lentils instead of beef from now on and the great thing is that a can of lentils is much cheaper than minced meat anyway! Bonus!

Lentil Bolognese on Zucchini Pasta

I’m going to keep exploring other ways of getting more fruits and veggies into my food, which I’ll share with you as I find them. With these changes, and all of the bean dishes, and mushroom pâté, and kale chips that I’ve been making, I feel like I’ve come a long way in just a few months. I’m consuming way more veggies now than I was before and it’s encouraging that there is more to veggies than just salad.

Mario Batali’s Wilted Greens with Garlic and Anchovies

11 Mar

I am always searching for tasty recipes that include lots of green vegetables. I enjoy eating most green veg but at times it can get a bit dull so I look for recipes that add some much-needed flavour and variety. I recently came across a Mario Batali recipe for “Wilted Greens with Garlic and Anchovies“. It sounded quick and easy, yet tasty – exactly what I was looking for. I used kale as the recipe calls for any sturdy green leaf and we have an abundance of kale here in BC. Mario recommends escarole or turnip greens.

Overall, it was a simple dish, although not particularly memorable nor impressive. I felt that it needed more of the fishy flavour so I would add 5 anchovy fillets, rather than just 3, next time. I also finished it with grated parmigiano reggiano for just a bit of added flavour.

Mario Batali’s Wilted Greens with Garlic and Anchovies – Serves 6
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 anchovy fillets, rinsed
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 head escarole or 1 head or bunch other sturdy leafy green, such as dandelions or turnip greens, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide ribbons, washed and spun dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lemon

Method:
Heat a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the olive oil, anchovies, and garlic and cook just until the garlic is light golden brown, about 30 seconds. Add the greens and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, squeeze the lemon juice over, and serve.

Recipe from Epicurious.

Thomas Keller’s Salmon Crisps

10 Mar

Today I realized that it has been a year since my visit to The French Laundry. Our evening at TFL will always be one of the highlights of my life – everything about it was just so perfect. Thomas Keller’s standards are incredibly high so, in some ways, it is almost pointless to re-create his dishes at home as they are so perfect, yet that didn’t stop me from attempting to re-create his famous “Salmon Cornets” recipe. These are served at both Per Se and The French Laundry as a prelude to the meal and are served like miniature ice cream cones. I wasn’t brave enough to attempt to make the cornets as I had read that it is finger-burning work but, thankfully, there is a cheaters version of the recipe – crisps! Rather than making gorgeous, perfect cornets, you can cook them flat and serve them as crackers.

I thought that making the crisps would be much simpler than it was but I have since found this blog, French Laundry at Home, which gives a really detailed description on how to make the cornets or crisps (I wish I had found this before I made mine!). I would highly recommend reading the post before you embark on this dish. The stencil would have been a HUGE help and there are some great tips, such as seasoning the salmon with salt (it was definitely needed) and adding red onion to the whisked creme fraîche, which would have added a bit of “oomph”. I found making the crisps to be quite challenging, perhaps because the recipe seems slightly off. The main red flag for me was that the recipe claims to make 3 dozen crisps but I found it only made about 15 (my sister also had the same issue when she made the same recipe). I just found this post on Zen Can Cook and the recipe looks more accurate than the one I used. Perhaps use that recipe instead of the one below. These would be absolutely perfect served at a dinner party as they are beautiful to look at, yummy to eat, and easy to make prior to the dinner (just don’t assemble until you are about to serve).

Thomas Keller’s Salmon Crisps
4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 chilled large egg white
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds (I used white ones)
4 oz (120g) of salmon, preferably sushi grade, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons very finely chopped shallot
1 1/2 teaspoons very finely chopped chives, plus a few snipped for garnish
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon
Freshly ground white pepper and a sprinkle of salt
1/2 cup crème fraîche

Method:
Preheat the oven to 400F (I recommend lowering it to 380F). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the sugar and salt. (I found that my KitchenAid Mixer was handy for this). Add the egg white and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the butter until smooth and creamy.

Spoon teaspoons of the batter 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets and spread to 2-inch rounds (this is where the stencil would come in handy). Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and bake in the upper and middle third of the oven for about 15 minutes, shifting the pans from top to bottom and front to back, until the tuiles are golden and fragrant. Let cool flat.

In a medium bowl, combine the salmon with the shallot, chopped chives, lemon zest, squeeze of lemon, and a pinch of white pepper and salt. Spoon the salmon onto the tuiles and top with a dollop of slightly whisked crème fraîche and a couple of snipped chives. Serve immediately.

Recipe from foodandwine.com. All italics are personal suggestions.

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