Monday, October 31, 2016

Mini Orange and Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Walnut Crust – Trick? Treat!

Pin It First published: 27/10/14



 Legend has it that long ago, in the depths of Ireland, there was a farmer named Jack. Jack was notoriously mean and sneaky. Over the years he had peeved heaven and hell so much with his meanness and trickery that when he popped his clogs, he was refused admittance to both. To get rid of him, the Devil sent Jack away with a burning ember to light his way through eternal darkness. Jack hollowed out a turnip in which to carry the ember. To this day, he roams the earth looking for a resting place, with the strange lantern lighting his way. Wooooo-ooooh. The End.

Okay, the legend is a bit longer than that but the essential bit is the lantern. Thankfully, when Irish emigrants brought the legend and the lantern to the other side of the Atlantic, they discovered that pumpkins were a lot easier to carve than turnips and looked much more impressive. I’m glad because Orange and Turnip Cheesecake doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!

For approximately 22 mini cheesecakes you will need…
… to preheat the oven to 160°C while the cheesecake bases are chilling.

Filling
500g full fat cream cheese (such as Philadelphia) at room temperature
250g pureed pumpkin pulp (available in a tin)
125g brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 tablespoon corn flour, sifted
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
a small pinch of ground cloves (go easy, it’s a very strong spice)
finely grated zest of one orange (just the very outer layer)
2 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk 

Biscuit base
225g digestive biscuits (graham crackers)
75g walnuts
75g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
90g butter 

Decoration
Ready-made spooky chocolate shapes
OR some melted chocolate and an artistic flair

 For the filling
First make the filling. (This allows excess air bubbles incorporated while mixing a chance to escape, reducing cracking in the surface of the cheesecakes.)
Place all the ingredients, except the eggs, in a food processor and pulse until combined into a smooth batter. Now add the eggs and pulse until just combined. Transfer to a large jug and leave to one side while you prepare the base. 

For the base
Line 22 muffin cups with paper liners (I use two 12 cup tins and line 11 cups of each)
Place all the ingredients, except the butter, in a food processor and pulse until the biscuits are reduced to a fine crumb. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the crumb mixture to the melted butter and stir to combine.
Divide the mixture evenly between the muffin papers, about a heaped teaspoon in each and press down lightly and evenly. Place in the fridge until cool. (Preheat the oven now).
Pat the base into an even layer - the back of a teaspoon will do but this little cookie stamp is perfect
When the bases have chilled for about 10 minutes, remove from the fridge and divide the filling between the paper liners, leaving a gap of about 3mm at the top.
Carefully transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes or until they have risen very slightly and there is no wobble when you shake the tins gently.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the muffin tins. They will collapse a little. This is normal and allows room for the chocolate decorations to go on top.
When cool, cover and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight if possible.
Cover with white, milk or dark chocolate. Decorate with contrasting spooky chocolate shapes. (You’ll need to work quickly as the chocolate sets almost instantly on the cold cheesecake.
Happy Halloween!!!

(The cheesecakes will freeze, undecorated, in a single layer in a freezer container for up to a month. Thaw before decorating.)

Note...
For the chocolate shapes, I copied templates from the internet, making sure to size them a little smaller than the diameter of the cakes. I printed them out and placed them on a baking tray, under a sheet of non-stick baking parchment. I melted chocolate in a ziplock bag then used it as a piping bag by snipping off a tiny corner and drawing over the shapes I could see through the parchment. (I also ate a lot of the ones that didn’t turn out quite right but you could re-melt them if you have stronger willpower than me.)


I placed the finished shapes in the fridge for an hour until solid and then carefully peeled away the paper before transferring them to the chocolate-covered cheesecakes.
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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Lightly Spiced Carrot Soup – Liquid sunshine!

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The choice at my supermarket the other day was an odd one. I could have a 1kg bag of carrots (already half a kilo more than I actually wanted) ... or I could have a 3kg sack at one-third of the price of the smaller bag?  Why can’t they do that kind of maths with chocolate?

It was a no-brainer but what on earth to do with the 2.5kg of carrots left over.

They’ve been cut into sticks and used to transport Hummus and Melitzanosalata (Roasted Aubergine Dip) to my mouth.
They’ve been made into veggie samosas.
They’ve been shredded into a carrot and orange salad.
They’ve been roasted along with a Piri Piri / Peri Peri / Pili Pili chicken.

Oddly enough, I’m not sick of carrots yet but boy is my eyesight super sharp this week and I swear my ears are longer and kinda floppy. I’ve used up the last of the carrots in this lightly spiced carrot soup – a bowl of liquid sunshine and a lovely light meal for the dog days of summer.

For 4 – 6 servings of 'sunny as a bowl of sunshine' carrot soup you will need...
1 teaspoon coriander seed
½ teaspoon cumin seed
3 green cardamom pods
2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter
1 stick of celery, peeled of stringy bits and roughly chopped
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
750g carrots, skinned and sliced or diced
1 litre of chicken stock (or vegetable stock to keep it vegetarian)
½ teaspoon fine table salt*
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

Transfer the toasted spices to a bowl (or mortar, as in the photo)

First, toast the coriander seed, cumin seed and cardamom by placing them in a dry frying pan over a medium heat, swirling them around the pan to toast them evenly and to keep them from burning. This will only take a couple of minutes so don’t leave them unattended. They are done when the colour deepens slightly and they begin to smell toasty and spicy. Take them off the heat and transfer them to a bowl (or mortar) to prevent them from cooking further. Remove the cardamom seeds from their pods, discarding the pods.

When they have cooled, crush all three spices to a coarse powder using a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder if you have one, or you could put them on a chopping board and roll over them with a rolling pin.

Next, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Add the celery, onions and carrots and stir to coat with the oil. Turn down the heat to the gentlest of sizzles and cover the pan with a lid. Let the vegetables ‘sweat’ gently for about 10 minutes. You are not looking to brown them.

Add the toasted, crushed spices, stock and salt and pepper to the saucepan. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the carrots are soft. Remove from the heat and puree to a smooth cream (a stick blender is ideal for this job).

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
The well-mannered, posed picture...

I served it with a swirl of crème fraîche and a handful of fresh coriander leaf but parsley, basil or chives are also good.

Moments later - have I mentioned my coriander addiction...
(tho' basil, chives, parsley or chervil are all equally good with this soup)

* If your stock is already quite salty, hold off on adding any salt until you’ve tasted the pureed soup as it may not need it.

Schlurp! That's all folks!

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Quinoa Burgers - Vegetarian food for carnivores !

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I grew up in an Ireland where vegetarian food was generally carnivore food minus the meat. Happily things have changed and I find myself drifting more and more towards meatless meals. 

I’ve been experimenting recently with quinoa burgers and made them for a family gathering so that my newly-vegetarian sister had an alternative to my mum’s gorgeous roast Wicklow lamb. Surprisingly, several carnivores opted for them too and nearly everyone was curious enough to at least taste them. (They were pretty 'meaty' after all and they did look rather tempting with their crunchy golden crust.)

Although I fried them gently in a little olive oil to get that gorgeous crust, you can also bake them – straight from the freezer – in the oven preheated to 180°C for about 25 minutes or until golden on the outside and piping hot in the middle.

For 8 – 12 carnivore-tempting Quinoa Burgers you will need…
350g freshly cooked Quinoa, cooled to room temperature
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
40g Parmesan, finely grated
40g feta, finely crumbled
40g spring onion, very finely chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon salt
a little freshly ground black pepper


4 medium eggs, beaten

A little oil for frying – I prefer olive oil or sunflower oil for this.

Method
Place the Quinoa in a large mixing bowl and add the breadcrumbs, the two cheeses, spring onions, garlic, salt and black pepper. Add the eggs and mix well until combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until ready to cook.



Form the burgers by gently pressing approximately 90g of the mixture into a mould such as a 9cm scone cutter (or a small bowl lined with cling film) to form patties approximately 2cm thick, to make 8 burgers in total. If you don't have a metric weighing scales, or a suitable mould, simply divide the mixture into 8 roughly even portions and mould into patties using your hands.  You can make the burgers bigger or smaller as you like.

(You can freeze them at this point)*

Fry gently for about 6-8 minutes each side or until they have formed a golden brown crust. Serve with or without a decent bun, some interesting dressings, and salad.



*To freeze, place them on non-stick baking paper on a tray in one layer and pop them in the freezer. Once frozen, put them into a suitable freezer bag and store frozen for up to a month. They can be cooked straight from frozen. Preheat the oven to about 180°C and bake for about 25 minutes or until golden on the outside and piping hot in the middle. You can also fry them from frozen.





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Monday, April 25, 2016

Fresh and Smoked Salmon & Leek Pithiviers – a posh word for pie!

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Pithivier - a posh word for pie!

A self-catering break can be a real challenge for a cook. Blunt knives and bockety pans are par for the course on a hired narrow boat, canal barge or holiday cottage and the kid behind the counter of the local corner shop will look at you oddly if you ask for anything out of the ordinary… pesto for instance.

Funnily enough, rather than putting me off cooking, the quest to produce something delicious using the simplest of ingredients, the most basic of tools, and a minimum of effort shakes me out of a rut. It reminds me to cook the style of food that is close to my heart - easy, quick and tasty.

Pithiviers fit the bill – a Pithivier is a posh word for a little puff pastry pie, filled with a sweet or savoury filling. I’ve gone for a fresh and smoked salmon and leek filling. They are perfect for lunch or dinner, hot or cold, and a delight on a picnic.

Here I have used ready-prepared puff pastry. If you have the will and wherewithal to rustle up perfect puff pastry from scratch in self-catering, you are a better person than I am.

For 4 little pies of puff pastry perfection you will need…

For the filling…
40g butter
175g young leeks, finely shredded
2 tablespoons mascarpone
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
300g fresh salmon, diced into 1cm cubes
100g smoked salmon, shredded
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the shell…
A little plain flour for rolling out the pastry
450g all-butter puff pastry (ready-rolled is best if your kitchen utensils are limited)
1 egg beaten



Method
First melt the butter over a medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the shredded leeks and stir until coated in the melted butter. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and cook gently without colouring for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Put the mascarpone, and the lemon juice and zest in a large mixing bowl and give it a quick whisk with a fork. Mix in the rest of the filling ingredients (including the leeks once they are completely cool) until coated in the mascarpone. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Mix...

Meanwhile on a work surface lightly dusted with flour, roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of a 1 euro coin - approximately 3mm. (If you are using ready rolled pastry just unfurl it.)

Cut out 4 circles approximately 12cm in diameter and 4 circles approximately 16cm in diameter. (The larger circles are the important ones from a presentation point of view so if you need to reroll any scraps to make up your circles use them for the smaller circles which will be underneath and hidden.) 


Pile...

Divide the salmon mixture into 4 even portions and pile a portion in the centre of each of the smaller pastry circles, leaving a margin of about 2cm all the way around. Brush each margin with a little of the beaten egg. Cover each with a large pastry circle, pressing around the edges to ensure a good seal. Trim away any excess overlapping pastry to leave a neat edge. 


Trim...


Using a small sharp knife make a small hole in the centre of each pie to let steam escape while they cook.  It is traditional to score the surface of each pie with semi-circular lines radiating out from the centre.


Score...


Refrigerate the Pithiviers until needed.

When you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 180°C (fan). Place the pies on a non-stick baking tray or one lined with baking paper and brush with beaten egg before baking in the pre-heated oven for about 25-30 minutes or until risen and golden.


Share...

Serve hot or cold with a salad.



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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Hot Cross Buns – and an Invitation to Commit Gluttony!

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Hot Cross Buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday. These ones will lead you into temptation. 


As a child, one of the great treats of staying with my Gran in Cork City was that her local bakery produced great Hot Cross Buns at Easter. Maybe my taste buds are suffering from nostalgia, but I haven’t been able to find a bakery since that can produce a bun of comparable deliciousness. Many commercial versions taste like a mouthful of sawdust – a penance indeed. Experience has taught me that these Easter buns are a creation often best baked at home.
Easter is thought to be named after the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring, Eastre, and some believe this sweet spiced bread was baked in her honour. It makes much more sense to me that these sticky treats are a celebration of springtime and abundance to come rather than an invitation to commit Gluttony in the dying days of Lent. Whatever you believe, they are delicious.

For 12 tempting buns, you will need...
... to preheat the oven to 190°C at step 7

For the dough
500g strong white flour (bread flour)
1 teaspoon fine table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 sachet of dried yeast (7g)
1 tablespoon olive oil
75g ready-to-eat dried apricots, cut into small pieces (about the size of sultanas)
50g sultanas
75g honey*
300mls fresh milk
1 large egg, beaten 

a little extra olive oil for oiling the work surface and your hands for kneading

For the cross decoration
2 tablespoons plain flour
2 tablespoons water 

For the honey glaze
One tablespoon runny honey, warmed (I put it in a heatproof bowl and stand the bowl in hot water).
Remember that scene from Fried Green Tomatoes...
Put the flour, salt, ground cinnamon, orange zest, dried yeast, olive oil, dried apricots and sultanas into a large bowl. Mix to combine.

*Weigh the honey directly into a small saucepan and add the milk. Warm the milk to between 27°C - 35°C (this is when a finger dipped in the milk will feel neither hot nor cold – but best to use a thermometer).

Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and add the beaten egg, and about half the milk. Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula and continue adding the milk until you have a soft dough and no dry flour remains. You may not need to use all the milk. Continue mixing until the fruit is well distributed throughout the dough. (You could use a stand mixer with a dough hook either.)

I am shifting more and more towards the no-knead method so I simply cover the dough with a lightly oiled sheet of cling film and leave it in a warm place to rise until doubled in size. (If you prefer, knead it by hand for about 8 minutes or in your stand mixer for about 4 minutes before covering and leaving to rise.)

After the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly oiled work surface, and knock it back. (This simply means giving it a couple of jabs with your fists to remove most of the air so you can form it into its final shape.) Knead lightly for a minute or so, before dividing into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball on the oiled surface, and flatten slightly into a bun shape. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking parchment and gently transfer the buns to the tray. Cover the buns with lightly oiled cling film and leave in a warm place, until once again doubled in size. Make sure the buns have plenty of room to rise.


Meanwhile, make the paste for the cross by mixing together the flour and water - you want a smooth paste with a consistency similar to porridge.

When the dough has once more doubled in size, remove the cling film. Carefully pipe the cross shape onto each bun. Transfer to the pre-heated oven and bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the buns to a cooling rack and immediately brush them with warmed honey.


An orange blossom honey makes the perfect glaze

It is considered good luck to share these buns and the cinnamon and orange make them particularly good with coffee so what better excuse to invite some friends over! 
Lead me not into temptation... well, perhaps just the once!
This recipe was first published in April 2012 and is back by popular demand!
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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Guinness Chocolate Cake – a piece of this is your only man!

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In true Irish style, Paddy's 'Day' 2016 is set to last 3 days. If you happen to be in Dublin, check out what's on and remember to knock up a quick batch of Guinness Chocolate Cake to keep your energy levels up.




When money's tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt -
A pint of plain is your only man.
(The Workman’s Friend, Brian O’Nolan)
You’ll often see visitors to Dublin with what I call “Guinness face”, poised over a glass of the black stuff, feeling that they must taste the local brew but reluctant to put their lips near something that looks like it might have been scooped from the nearby Liffey.
If you are a Guinness virgin, wait until you are in Ireland to try this beverage. Although there shouldn’t be, there is a world of difference between the flat bitter stuff I’ve been served in bars in the UK or the States and a creamy mellow jar of the stuff in its native land.
Among the many pubs that pull a decent pint of Guinness are: Johnnie Fox’s in the Dublin mountains; Kehoe’s, just off Grafton Street; Davy Byrnes, also just off Grafton Street and a stopping point for James Joyce fans; and one of my favourites, The Stag’s Head, (just off Dame Street) a tavern almost as old as Guinness, and probably as close as you’ll get to a proper traditional Irish pub -  not a shamrock or leprechaun in sight.

If you are unable to make it to the Emerald Isle to paint the town green on Paddy's Day, well then, a piece of this rich dark Guinness Chocolate Cake is your only man. 

For one tray bake (15 generous pieces) or 8 mini cakes you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160
°C
Cake Batter

300g Muscovado sugar (or other dark brown sugar)
280g plain flour
40g cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
¼ teaspoon salt
250mls sunflower oil (or other flavourless cooking oil)
250mls Guinness (or other stout)
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1                    Lightly butter and base-line an 18cm x 26cm (9” x 13”) baking tin.
2                    In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
3                    Place the oil, Guinness, beaten eggs and vanilla extract together in a large jug and whisk to combine.
4                    Gradually add the oil mixture to the flour mixture, stirring together with a whisk until no dry mixture remains.
5                    Transfer the mixture to the baking tin and place in the preheated oven for 35 – 40 minutes until well risen. To check if it is done, lightly press the surface of the cake with your finger. If it springs back it’s done. If a small indent remains continue cooking for a further 5 minutes then test again. Alternatively, poke a cocktail stick into the centre of the cake and if it comes out clean (i.e. no damp batter clinging to it, it’s done). Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
6                    While the cake is cooling, make the frosting.  

Cream Cheese Frosting
100g full fat cream cheese
50g butter, at room temperature (i.e. soft)
350g icing sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon Guinness
½ teaspoon vanilla extract 

7       In a medium mixing bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese until combined. Add one-third of the icing sugar and slowly beat until smoothly blended. Add in the rest of the icing sugar, the Guinness and the vanilla extract and continue beating until light and fluffy. This will take about 3 minutes.  Transfer to the cake using a spatula, or pipe in generous swirls. 

Note:  For the mini cakes shown in the photos, I carefully removed the cooled cake from the tin and stamped out 8 mini cakes using a 6cm (3”) round cutter before piping on swirls of frosting. The scraps of cake can be used for trifle or cake pops.
Sorry Brian, sometimes a cup of tea is your only man!

First published in 2012
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Monday, January 18, 2016

Homemade Burger Buns – less is more !

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For me the burger bun is too often just a bit on the side. Even when eating half decent restaurant burgers, the love seems to go into the filling and the bread is an afterthought, frequently overly sweet and cakey.  I find myself tipping the burger and the salad onto the plate and discarding the bun as just NWTC (Not Worth The Calories). At its very worst, the burger bun is something you could practically squirt soap onto and wash down the car with.

In the past, I bought some supermarket offerings as a vehicle for homemade burgers but I was really put off by the alarmingly long list of ingredients and the extraordinary shelf-life of some of the products on offer, which seemed in inverse proportion to the amount of flavour involved. More often than not they too got left on the plate and later thrown to the birds (sorry birds). Now they just get left on the shelf. If you are going to take the time and the trouble to make good burgers, then they need an equally good mode of transport to your mouth.

With a few simple ingredients and the alchemy of a little time and a little yeast, you can easily pull together a self-respecting burger bun that won’t become expensive bird food. In fact, I love these so much that I often leave out the burger and simply eat the bun!

For 8 awesome buns that won’t be left on the side, you will need…
...to pre-heat the oven to 190C before baking

450g strong white flour (bread flour)
1 x 7g sachet of dry active yeast
 teaspoons of fine table salt
1 egg at room temperature, beaten
30g runny honey
100mls warm milk (approx 38°C)
150mls warm water, (approx 38°C). Note, you may not need to use it all
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

a little beaten egg
sesame seeds (or other small edible seeds such as sunflower, poppy, or celery seeds)

Method
Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl and add the egg. Dissolve the honey in the warm milk and add to the bowl, along with the olive oil. Mix well. Finally, add as much warm water as necessary until the dough comes together in a ball (you may not need all the water). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Alternatively place the ingredients in a stand mixer and mix with a dough hook until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes).
Cover with lightly oiled cling film and leave until doubled in size. (I leave it to develop overnight in the fridge for a bigger flavour but in a warm, draft-free spot, it should take about an hour and a half, or less.)


Next, turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead gently to deflate. Divide it into 8 even pieces – I weigh each piece, which is usually approximately 105g.



Shape each piece into a smooth, round ball. I use the ‘claw method’ for this: Using a wooden chopping board - or similar - as your work surface for this. Form a claw with your hand and trap a chunk of dough between your palm and the board. Using your fingers as a cage to stop the dough escaping, press down and rotate at the same time, moving the dough against the board until it comes together in a smooth round ball. The trick here is not to use a lot of flour. The dough needs to stick ever so slightly to the surface as you work it. When you master the method, you can do one in each hand, flying through the process like an old pro.
When you have 8 smooth, round balls of dough, lightly flour your hands and flatten the dough balls into discs, roughly 9cm (3½ inches) across.
Place the discs of dough on a lightly-floured or parchment-lined non-stick baking tray. Cover loosely with lightly oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.



Brush the buns gently with a little beaten egg and sprinkle over pinches of sesame seeds (or other small edible seeds)



Pre-heat the oven and about a minute or two before baking, place a roasting dish on the bottom shelf of the oven and add a cupful of hot water. (The steam will help the buns rise and help create a shiny crust.)  Bake the buns on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until risen and golden. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.
Split across the middle when completely cold. Freeze or use within 24 hours.


You're going to need a good burger for the filling. Try the cheese and chive-filled Elvis Burger from the book, or if you fancy a veggie option, check back in a week or so (or subscribe using the box towards the top right of this page to get the recipe direct to your inbox ).

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