Friday, July 15, 2011

Asparagus, Radish and Broccolini Salad

When the weather began getting warmer in mid-May, I found myself in a bit of a cooking funk. I didn’t feel like cooking anything and worried that I’d never find enough warm weather recipe ideas to keep me going for the whole summer. For the first few weeks I continued making lentil soups and roasting vegetables like it was still winter. This didn’t last long, though, because it became too hot to stand over the stove and have the oven running, and all my body craved was light, healthy, uncomplicated food.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are colorful, bright, and in season right now, but sometimes it’s hard to know how to put them all together to make a healthy meal that’s not boring or that leaves you hungry an hour after you eat it. It’s also ideal to find recipes that don’t take long to prepare since it’s hot out and you’d probably rather be outside than cooking dinner for 2 hours.

My first instinct, when looking for dinner ideas, is to get pulled in by the endless pasta options. Especially at this time of the year when you can boil up a pot of pasta, add some vegetables and a light vinaigrette and call it dinner, it seems tempting to make something like that every night. I’m trying to resist that urge. (hard for me…I could eat pasta every day for the rest of my life)

Thanks to a few sites out there, which provide unending dinner inspiration for any time of year, the search for weather appropriate recipes has been so much easier lately.

Take, for instance, a light salad of asparagus, radishes and broccolini, topped with a toasted pine nut, olive oil, shallot, lemon juice and sea salt vinaigrette, served over nutty farro. Does that sound delicious and filling and just right for a summer day? It did to me when I saw it on 101 Cookbooks, and when I finally made it, it really was wonderful.

The vibrant green of the asparagus and red of the radishes make this dish visually appealing in addition to fresh and wonderful to eat. The vinaigrette is light and has a subtle punch, perfectly coating all of the vegetables. Adding toasted pine nuts to this vinaigrette, which I initially was going to skip because they were so expensive at the store, is probably one of the best parts of this salad. Their crunch and warm, roasted flavor enhance the vinaigrette and give it an extra dimension. Then there are the shallots, which are mild enough to be tasted but not so much so where they overpower everything in the plate.

You could serve this salad over any grain or quinoa, but for me, farro has been a recent favorite option that’s earthy and chewy, and which takes far less time to prepare than brown rice does.

So, next time you’re at the market and see some gorgeous asparagus and radishes, consider making this simple, fresh salad. It’s the glory of summer in a plate.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

If you know me, you know that I really love baking cookies. I’m sure this isn’t something I need to admit, though, because my obsession is rather evident from the numerous cookie recipes I have posted to this site.

When I have somewhere to go, feel like sharing baked goods with friends, or just want to bake something for fun, I always look for a new cookie recipe and bake away.

What I’ve discovered as a newbie food blogger is that there are so many kinds of cookies out there that I’ve never seen or heard of before. Tuiles? Cowgirl cookies? World Peace cookies? These are all part of a world whose surface I’ve barely scratched.

There’s a cookie baking chain called Insomnia Cookies that opened a small store a few blocks away from my apartment (danger!). If you’re not familiar with their story, Insomnia was created by UPenn students who baked cookies for fellow classmates when they craved a late night snack, hence the name Insomnia Cookies. Now they have expanded to several universities throughout the country and, lucky for me, opened a shop in my neighborhood. A few weeks ago when we walked home from dinner we passed Insomnia and stopped in for some grub. The absolute best cookie they sold was the white chocolate macadamia nut.

Let’s back up. Until that point, I hadn’t ever tried a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. I prefer my cookies to have chocolate or M&Ms inside, and macadamia nuts never appealed to me. But since my boyfriend is far more well versed with the finer college type indulgences than I am, he assured me I would love the cookie, and I did.

The version I’m sharing with you doesn’t taste quite like Insomnia’s did (probably because they lace their cookies with secret awesomeness), but it’s still wonderful. The cookies are chewy, textured and sweet with a hint of subtle saltiness to round out the flavors. And, of course, they please a crowd, which is always what you want when cookies are around.

And the cookie baking obsession continues…

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Margherita Pizza

The first recipe I ever posted on this blog was for simple pizza. Looking back on that post (which is painful) with its awful pictures and ingredient list consisting of mostly store bought items, reminds me of how far I’ve come as a food blogger and, dare I say it, a home cook, over the past 10 months.

Since then, pizza has sort of become my cooking side project. I’ve been working towards sharing a recipe on here that I have tested dozens of times and that makes me proud enough to proclaim that I’d rather eat my own, homemade pizza, than anything I can get at a nearby pizzeria. (I can guarantee that if I lived anywhere within a mile or 2 of this place, though, I’d be doomed. Their pizza is the best, ever. Period. No questions asked. I want some right now. Ohhhh.)

Speaking of pizza, I actually live directly above a pizzeria. We even share an address. On move in day, I thought that I’d become a carb loading pizza fiend and pop in for a slice every other day, but 10 months later, I’ve been there only three times because the pizza there sucks. Other people seem to love it, but I can’t get past their limp crust and paste-like sauce. No good.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit my boyfriend here, too because he’s as passionate as I am about making perfect pizza. In fact, he has become the designated dough maker of our duo. He’s just got a special touch and is able to make it perfectly every time he tries. I don’t know what that special touch is or how to get it, but he has it. And I don’t. (By some stroke of luck, I am way better at cleaning dishes. What a drag.)

Over the course of the past several months, we’ve experimented with a handful of pizza dough and sauce recipes. For a while, we’d finish each pizza feeling satisfied, but also with a sense that it could’ve been better or different. In the end, it all boiled down to a brilliant Brit named Jamie Oliver.

Jamie’s dough first entered my world when Luisa shared the recipe a few months ago on her blog. Prior to this, we’d tried a number of other dough recipes, all of which are wonderful, and worth a try if you’re interested in comparing them. They’re all similar, so it’s possible that one of these will suit you even better than Jamie Oliver’s version might. But my favorite is clear. This dough is salty and sweet and very easy to work with. When the pizza is cooked, the crust is airy, light, and has its own warm, yeasty flavor.

For a while, we were set on this dough and knew it was “the one.” But the problem was that I couldn’t find a sauce I was happy with. Sometimes I’d make a simple marinara or this sauce or even use the stuff in a jar, but after browsing through all the cooking shows on my DVR a few weeks ago, Jamie Oliver’s pizza episode of Jamie at Home was on there, and he made the most wonderful, silky tomato sauce. One try and bam, that was it.

The sauce simply combines garlic, basil, whole peeled tomatoes and salt. Then the whole mixture is strained through a sieve and heated, allowing it to thicken. The basil leaves infuse the rest of the sauce and everything tastes smooth, luscious and fresh.

Here are some notes that might help you avoid some of the common pizza problems:

  • Don’t over-top your pizza. Keep it simple. Choose 3-5 good quality ingredients and let them shine.
  • Feel free to refrigerate the dough for a couple of days if you’re not going to use it right away.
  • Don’t be afraid to crank up your oven as high as it will go to give your pizza a nice scorching hot place to bake.
  • Don’t let the thought of homemade dough and sauce intimidate you. Make this pizza on a weekend and give yourself time to allow the dough to rise and the sauce to simmer.
  • Make sure the sauce and cheese don’t add too much moisture to the top of the pie, or else it’ll all gather in the middle and make the pizza sink.

And now, without any further stalling, I present you with my favorite pizza recipe. I hope you love it as much as I do!

 

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Rhubarb Crisp

Rhubarb is one of those ingredients that had, until recently, eluded me. I’d see it on Tastespotting in galettes, pies and crumbles, yet when I passed it in the grocery store and saw its red celery-like stalks resting ignored near the turnip and lettuce section, I didn’t feel inspired enough to grab some and work with it.



Then, one day, I saw this recipe, and I knew it was time. I had been looking for a dessert that used only rhubarb instead of, say, strawberry and rhubarb together, because I wanted to really taste it in its true dessert form without other flavors mixing in. 

I was intimidated at first and wondered how I’d get those red shoots into a dessert but it turns out that the rhubarb was surprisingly easy to use and really stood up for itself throughout the baking process.

If you decide to taste raw rhubarb, the flavor will make your eyes wince and lips purse from its bitterness. Rhubarb isn’t inherently sweet and it doesn’t look particularly appetizing, either. Looking past these flaws, the wonderful thing about rhubarb is that once you add a few simple ingredients to it (sugar, for example), and heat it through, the bitterness is lost and what you’re left with is pieces of rhubarb which fall apart with each bite and a flavor that mixes sweetness and sourness and that has a complexity that most desserts don’t have. In other words, it’s very rich and very good, and when it’s covered in a caramel like glaze and topped with butter, oats and brown sugar and then put in the oven for 45 minutes, the result is amazing.

And, hey! This recipe is just in time for the Fourth of July, in case you needed any dessert inspiration! I think it would be great with some whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Speaking of, what will your Independence Day look like? I’ll be on Long Island where my parents are having their annual 4th of July barbecue. Whether you’re at a barbecue, too, or kicking it on a blanket at the Charles River while eating jello shots out of Tupperware (memories..), I hope your Independence Day is warm, relaxing and full of food, family, and all that good stuff!

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Peace, Patience and Pasta

So it’s back to reality over here. It’s back to 6AM alarms, the morning routine, the work e-mails, client phone calls, deadlines, aggravations and “the grind.”

I told myself when I woke up on Monday morning that I wouldn’t let the routine get the best of me. That I’d relish in the glory of my 10 days away and bring that refreshed, peaceful feeling with me throughout my week.

It hasn’t been easy. Life, in general, can really get under a person’s skin in a way that you don’t notice until you’ve had the time to get away from it.

What I wonder is if it’s possible to remain sane when life is so hectic. Can I be patient and peaceful amidst the constant pull to be doing more or better? Can I sit back and breathe deeply, focusing on exact moments as they happen instead of worrying about singing or work or blogging or what’s for dinner?

I’m really going to try to remain peaceful and not allow myself to get lost in the chaos. And, when there is chaos, which is inevitable, maybe there’s a way that I can look at it from a positive perspective in order to make it a little less dramatic and stressful.

And, of course, the only logical thing to talk about at this point is pasta, right? (Right!) It’s one of those comforting foods that I crave when I haven’t had it in a while. It’s the food that I can count on when I have nothing else in the cupboard to eat. And it is so versatile!

This pasta with portobello mushrooms and asparagus dish is the sort of thing you throw together at the end of a long day. It doesn’t require much effort, is healthy, and makes great leftovers. That’s a theme around here, I think, but it works.

Mushrooms and asparagus make an unlikely yet very fitting pair. The tenderness of the mushrooms and slight bite of the asparagus fit them together well. The contrasted flavors are interesting too. Mushrooms are very deep and asparagus are a bit lighter but, depending on their doneness, they can develop a long, rich flavor, too. And then adding this stuff to pasta is just too fitting. The sauce, made mostly out of vegetable stock (or white wine, if you’d like), has the opportunity to reduce and enhance the flavors of the vegetables.

So, here’s to peace, patience and a little bit of pasta mixed in. Happy hump day!

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

She’s Back!

I really meant to post on here weeks ago before leaving for vacation, but because of work, performances and preparations for the trip, it just didn’t happen.

My vacation was 11 days of absolute, incredible bliss. I’ve been to some great places in my life, but what I saw on this vacation possessed so much meaning and beauty different from anything I’ve ever experienced. As I pass further into adulthood, I find that life looks different than it used to. Vast landscapes and oceans are so much more breathtaking now than they were on 10-hour long car trips with my family when I was a kid. At the time, I couldn’t understand what they saw in that random tree or mountain in the distance. This time around, though, I was filled with awe and wonder so many times throughout the course of the trip, and I’m so grateful for each and every moment of it. I also think it helped that we went on this jaunt at a time when I really needed to get away from New York for a while. Those that live here probably understand what I mean.

After nearly completely planning a trip to Germany and Austria and deciding at the last minute that it would be too much for right now, we decided to head to the west coast. We spent 3 days in San Francisco, two in Napa, and then drove northward (stopping briefly in Portland) over the course of 2 days before ending the trip with 3 days in Seattle. It was truly glorious.

Overall highlights of the trip included a cable car ride in San Francisco, feasting on Tartine’s baked goods in a Mission park on a sunny morning, a bike ride over the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito, the sprawling beauty of Napa’s vineyards, the gorgeous drive through Oregon whose pristine landscapes are amazing, spending a morning with Dana, who so generously shared a tour of Pike Place Market and lunch with us, roaming through Ballard on Seattle’s sunny, warm first day of summer, the amazing and popular farmer’s markets in Seattle, and a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island and a walk through Alki Beach Park, both of which offered breathtaking views of the city. I will absolutely never forget this vacation. Sigh.

 

Oh, and, of course, there was lots of incredible food. I think I need a bit of a detox now after all of the indulging we did (it was completely worth it, of course!). The meals we ate on this trip were some of the best I’ve ever had in my life. The meaning of local ingredients is so much more clear to me now than it ever was before now that I’ve seen them in action daily at markets and restaurants on the west coast. There’s such overt pride there for local beer, wine, fruit and vegetables and for serving ingredients that are thoughtful and life giving. You cannot find food like that easily in New York. I never realized it before but now it is so, painfully obvious.
I found myself gaping in disbelief over the incredible food we enjoyed far more than I thought I would. I am jealous of everyone who lives in San Francisco and Seattle because they have constant access to some of this amazing stuff. I want more!

In case you’re headed over there soon and need some ideas, these dishes and drinks, in order of consumption, stuck out for me and were my absolute favorites:

San Francisco:
Salmon at Zuni Cafe
Roasted potatoes with fava beans and crème fraiche at Zuni Cafe
Vegetarian quiche at Tartine
Pain au chocolat at Tartine
Dahi Vada from Dosa on Fillmore
Peony cocktail from Dosa on Fillmore
Paratha from Dosa on Fillmore

 
Napa: 
Roasted potatoes with garlic oil, poached egg and red cabbage from Ubuntu
Seasonal beet dish from Ubuntu

Seattle:
Onion obsession sandwich from Paseo
Salted caramel ice cream from Molly Moon’s
Soy latte from Macrina Bakery

Asparagus soup with pickled shallots and fried egg from Staple and Fancy
Mustache ride cocktail from The Walrus and the Carpenter
Croissant from Cafe Besalu
All the coffee, everywhere (I am going to miss this so much)
Now I’m back home with a great appreciation for all that I saw and learned on my trip. I hope to incorporate those experiences into my cooking and, more importantly, into my life. Watching the way that people live in other cities and states is such a great lesson for my own life. I saw so many happy, thriving locals on my travels, and part of watching them made me look forward to coming back home to my own amazing city with all of its quirkiness, frustrations, glory, memories and familiar faces and places. I feel so rejuvenated and I am really looking forward to living and accomplishing and bringing meaning to my life and to the lives of the people I love here at home.
As for the blog, I can’t wait to post new, wonderful recipes to share with you here, and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I will.

 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

French Yogurt Cake

When the weather started getting warmer this spring, complex flavors stopped appealing to me for a few weeks. It was so weird. I didn’t want a rich chocolate cake or my one of my favorite foods, falafel, among other things. Everything seemed too much, too rich, too complicated. It all required too much energy to enjoy.

Thankfully this all subsided after a few weeks and now everything is back to normal. Phew. I was getting worried!

As a person who enjoys cooking and sharing recipes, it was hard to think about what I wanted to prepare when all I felt like eating was boring stuff that no one cares about (ie: plain pasta, roasted cauliflower, chickpea salad, etc). Usually it’s the simple food that I pass over in favor for the more colorful, vibrant, spicy sorts of things but in this case, I was drawn to foods I normally would not choose to eat.

One of those things? A French style lemon yogurt cake, formally known as Gâteau au Citron. Simple, unfussy and bright, this cake is the perfect solution for a simple dessert. The yogurt in the batter gives the cake a moist, light texture that is so refreshingly spring like. It’s the sort of cake that doesn’t look all that pretty or seem like it’ll make heads turn, but the fact that it is unexciting in appearance makes its subtle sweetness and elegance a surprise.

The cake itself mixes the usual suspects: eggs, yogurt, sugar, flour, canola oil and lemon zest. Once the cake comes out of the oven and cools, a lemon glaze is spread over the top, seeping into all the nooks of the cake. It’s so delightful and special.

In the end, I got what I wanted. I had a dessert that was easy to make and that didn’t have a multitude of flavors running through each bite. I also had a cake that made me close my eyes while I ate it, savoring the pure lemon flavor and airiness. And, I think I’ll make it again even when I’m not in the mood for something so simple.

 

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Friday, June 3, 2011

On Barbecues and Pasta Salad

When you hear the word “barbecue,” which pleasures come to mind? Many will probably agree that beer, burgers and ribs take the cake. I personally picture chips & guacamole, cold beers, swimming pools and, typical for me, pasta salad.

Yes! I said pasta salad. The kind that’s full of fresh vegetables and coated with a bright, zesty vinaigrette and served at room temperature. It’s the pasta salads that, in my experience, are often completely passed over while hungry guests fill their plates with baked beans, hot dogs, corn and mayonnaise laden potato salads at barbecues. And that’s really not a problem because then there’s more pasta for me.

I attended my first barbecue of the season on Monday at my parent’s house and it felt so, wonderfully, like summer that day. (and all week, really) There’s something about summer barbecues and hanging out in people’s backyards by the pool with a beer in hand and the smell of food cooking on the grill in the background that evokes happy and hopeful memories for me. It’s good to know that, even though the opportunities for barbecues in the city are rare (even more so now that we’ve been banned from even stepping foot onto the roof of our building without incurring a $275 fine! Stupid.), that I can still hop on the LIRR and see friends and family all summer long.

Because my mom follows a vegan diet, barbecues at our house generally contain more vegetarian/vegan items than not. At a barbecue a few years ago we started introducing veggie burgers and soy hot dogs into the mix and, before my mom was able to tell everyone which plate of hot dogs had the “real” ones and which one didn’t my grandfather took a bite of a soy hot dog and winced at bit. He proceeded to yell, “What the hell is this thing?!” Oops.

For non meat eaters, barbecues can sometimes seem a bit unfriendly. While I’ll fully admit that I occasionally deem it perfectly acceptable to drink beers and eat chips, dip and dessert and call it a meal, that sort of eating can be a bit unfulfilling sometimes.

That’s why dishes like this pasta salad are so wonderful at this time of year for outdoor eating. It’s a salad that can be eaten at room temperature or even a little bit warm and that has great texture contrasts because of the loads of fresh vegetables, beets, and chopped almonds. The vinaigrette is bold enough to stand out among the various ingredients and is light enough to avoid weighing down your plate. The beets, scallions, parsley, beets and radicchio add delightfully bright colors to the dish, and the flavors meld perfectly to make this pasta a great picnic or barbecue option.

The hands-on preparation time for this pasta isn’t too bad, but because it contains beets which need to be roasted for an hour and then cooled before they can be diced, this isn’t the sort of thing you can throw together in 10 minutes. Don’t fear, though! All you physically have to do is chop ingredients and mix them together. So while the beets are roasting, you can take care of other things. It’s worth it, I promise!

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Buttermilk Blueberry Scones

I mentioned recently that we’re headed to the west coast in a few weeks. I really can’t wait for a vacation, and, naturally, we’ve been spending the past few weeks making lists and dinner reservations, and all kind of plans for what we want to do when we’re away.

One of the destinations that we’re particularly excited about is Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. My parents got Scott, who has become very interested in bread baking these days, the Tartine Bread book for his birthday and we have been eyeing all of the wonderful recipes in it for months. When we realized that Tartine is in San Francisco, we both freaked out a little and then added it immediately to our list of places to try.

Scott had been talking about making the croissants (which look gorgeous) from Tartine’s bread book for weeks and when his schedule freed up a bit, he decided it was time to dive into this project. Just note this: the croissants were attempted. Sourdough starter was made and proceeded to explode all over the kitchen counter on a daily basis. In the end, oven temperature issues foiled the whole thing and now we’re back to the beginning.

On a happier note, Tartine’s original cookbook features a delightful recipe for buttermilk currant scones. I made them recently, and they are amazing. I actually used blueberries, not currants, since I liked the idea better.  I’ve never had scones quite like the ones that came out of this batch.

You know how some scones can be? Dry, brittle, stale tasting and unimpressive? These scones blow all those others out of the water. They’re buttery, sturdy and moist and are the kind of scones that you’d want to eat for breakfast or just snack on all day long. They’re vaguely biscuit-like and possess a delicate balance of sweetness and tartness that make them exact and satisfying without being the least bit overwhelming. The scones taste best when you’re in the mood for something that isn’t too rich or elaborate because they’re comfortably unfussy. It’s that natural simplicity which makes them so delightful.

Best of all, they’re not difficult to make. I initially wasn’t sure what to expect when I made scones for the first time (omg triangles!), but I assure you that there is nothing to fear. My first attempt ever yielded wonderful scones, and it took about 3 days to finish off the entire batch.

I’m counting down the days until I visit Tartine! I’ll let you know how it is.

 

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Brussels Sprouts and Tofu

Food wise, I had a wonderful weekend. (with the exception of Friday night, when Scott and I both came home from an opera performance and rehearsal, respectively, at around 1AM and sat in front of the couch eating whatever we could scrounge up. Not our best moment.) Yesterday was particularly exceptional. Being the lovely girlfriend I am (note sarcasm here), I bought Scott some bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Zingerman’s, one of his old college haunts, to celebrate two years of dating and we had an indoor picnic (the weather outside was crummy) with those ingredients, pesto, mozzarella cheese and olives from Fairway, fresh fruit, vegetables, baba ganouj, wine, and chocolate chip walnut cookies from Levain Bakery. It was a feast that was far too excessive for two people to eat alone (leftovers!!) and it was followed (several hours later, mind you) by dinner at Marea, one of the best restaurants I’ve visited in the past few months. If you go to Marea, definitely try the calamari appetizer. It’s stuffed with cod puree and accompanied by tomatoes, pignoli nuts, capers and grilled polenta. The flavors are warm and reminiscent of Italy and the dish is incredibly refined and looks spectacular. The tagliatelle with lobster and tarragon is quite a treat, too. Gosh, I wish I had taken pictures.

As you can imagine, it was around noon today before I even wanted to eat anything. At that point, I still couldn’t really imagine eating a full meal so when it came time to make dinner tonight, I knew whatever I made would have to be easy and light. A stir fry type dish was the perfect choice.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you: I am not the world’s biggest fan of tofu. Yes, I will eat it if it’s available and is the only non meat option on a menu. Yes, I’ll actually crave tofu in a Thai red or green curry (that’s my favorite way to eat it). But at home, I don’t generally gravitate towards recipes that include tofu because it’s just not my favorite thing to cook with or eat.

But tofu and brussels sprouts? This intrigued me. I saw the recipe on Dana Treat a few months ago, and was just waiting for the right time to make it. Side note: If you’re ever looking for wonderful desserts or healthy, fresh meals to make, you should read Dana’s site. I’d probably starve without it. Or eat pasta every single night.

Now back to this. The key to this recipe is to let the tofu marinate for a half hour before doing the stir fry. Let it soak up the sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, maple syrup and chili sauce. The tofu absorbs these tastes and then infuses all of the other ingredients in the pan with the flavor of this marinade. The profile is noticeably East Asian with a hint of edginess which the brussels sprouts lend to the dish. Even if you’re not a huge fan of tofu or brussels sprouts, there’s something to be said for the bold, sweet, spiciness of this combination.

Best of all, it doesn’t weigh you down. Served by itself or with a side of brown rice, there’s no better way to get back into eating well than to make something like this for dinner.

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