A friend gave me a copy of this book as a gift recently and, to my absolute surprise, I could hardly put it down. For a few days straight, I squeezed in time to read chapter after chapter on trains and buses (and whilst waiting for trains and buses – why do they take so long!), whilst eating lunch, one hand blindly feeling for food and delivering it to my mouth as my eyes stayed firmly fixed on the book, during a long hot soak in the tub and indeed, any time when I could snatch a few minutes.

I didn’t expect to find the book so engaging, informative and even, occasionally, gripping.

Pete’s the baker in our household and I am happy to leave it to him. So a book about baking bread didn’t seem the best fit for me. But I was wrong.

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Hardback and paperback covers, respectively

The book takes the reader through a year in the life of American author William Alexander, as he strives to achieve the loaf of his dreams. Determined to create a rustic “peasant loaf” with an airy crumb and crisp yet chewy crust, he commits to baking a loaf a week every week for a year.

In another author’s hands, this could have been a dry and dull account of the incremental changes and improvements made over that time.

But as well as his baking efforts, Alexander weaves in entertaining glimpses of family life, educational visits to yeast and flour manufacturers as well as other (more expert) bakers and even a special conference for bread makers, both the sandal-wearing and non-sandal-wearing kind! His efforts building a bread oven in his back garden are particularly amusing. He even grows his own wheat and thrashes and grinds it, just as Pete did last year.

Further afield, his bread quest leads him to Morocco, where I can’t help but smile at the friendship he strikes up with a helpful shopkeeper, to the basement kitchens of the Hotel Ritz in Paris, where he learns a more commercial form of baking.

Finally, he writes about his visit to an ancient monastery in Normandy where he has somehow agreed to teach the monks to make bread. This section of the book is surprisingly uplifting and moving; surprising because I’m not a religious person and had not expected to be charmed or interested by reading of the life of the monks; moving because I found myself desperately rooting for his success and cheering each tiny achievement along the way.

Interspersed in Alexander’s story is also plenty of solid practical information, much of which was new to me and quite eye-opening.

 

The hardback version of 52 Loaves (with the subtitle “One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust”) is available on Amazon uk for £13.33. The paperback version (sold with the subtitle “A Half-Baked Adventure”) currently costs £8.88. The kindle e-book version is £8.44. (Prices correct at time of writing).

Jul 102012
 

It’s no secret that I love reading.

I’ve been an avid reader since I was small, when I could often be found with my nose so completely buried in a book that I was oblivious to everything around me, including exasperated calls from my parents!

Indeed, learning to read at a young age meant I learned many words in written form long before I ever heard them, sometimes very surprised at how they sounded. Most of my odd pronunciations have long since come to light (though I still pronounce lilac to rhyme with pillock even though I know it doesn’t).

Recently, I’ve been more traumatised than you might expect to learn about another word I’ve been getting wrong all these years.

I have always been familiar with the word misled, past participle of mislead and pronounced “miss-lead“. But for some reason, I never twigged that another word I have been using, and which I pronounce as “my-zld” is, um, the same word…

(Do follow that my-zld link, by the way, it’s absolutely brilliant.)

I mean, when I stopped to think about it (after Pete looked at me incredulously and then hysterically and then pityingly), of course I could see that two words that were spelt the same and had the same meaning (though the nuances were different in my head) were obviously in fact one word. But, you know, my brain totally my-zld me.

However, even though I’m still not over the shock (a good few weeks after learning about it), I’ll not hold my distress against reading. I’m still a loyal bookworm, even though I can’t help but worry a little about which word might waylay me next.

All this serves simply as a strange form of public self-flagellation or perhaps just self-mockery.

And also an introduction to my picks for the Idealo Holiday Reads challenge.

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Foodies100 (a UK food and drink blog directory) and Idealo (a price comparison site) have teamed up to create their Holiday Reads Club, asking UK food bloggers to recommend a reading list for the summer. To expedite this, they’ve given us £25 each to spend on books of our choice.

At first, I thought I might pick some science fiction – when I’m actually away on holiday, that’s my favourite genre. (I read it at home too, of course, and plenty of it!)

But this summer I’ll be staying at home, so I decided to buy some cookery book titles, and chose two that felt like buying myself a decadent summer gift. Not only will I enjoy reading both of these books, relaxed in the garden or on the sofa, but I can look forward to cooking myself some deliciousness too.

 

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Jekka’s Herb Cookbook by Jekka McVicar

Jekka McVicar is the woman behind Jekka’s Herb Farm, a South Gloucestershire organic herbs nursery specialising in culinary, aromatic, decorative and medicinal herbs. The farm, which celebrated its silver jubilee this April, has over 650 varieties of rare, tropical and native species in its collection. Undoubtedly, Jekka McVicar is the queen of herbs and I’ve purchased some of her herb seeds myself over the years.

In this book she chooses fifty herbs that she loves to cook with and gives a description of each plant, advice for growing it, its history in cooking, any medicinal uses and of course, some recipes. The illustrations are by her daughter, Hannah McVicar.

We’ve had a kitchen garden for several years but the herb garden we planted many years ago pretty much died away, and we’re planning to replant it over the coming two or three years. I’m hoping this book will not only give me inspiration and advice which herbs to grow and how best to nurture them but also some great ideas on how to best use the harvest.

 

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Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook: Nourishment for the Traditionally Built by Stuart Brown

I love Alexander McCall Smith’s feel-good books about Mma Precious Ramotswe and her No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. From the very first book, I’ve been enchanted by the characters and stories and the unconventional focus on quirky people, odd happenings and interpersonal relationships. That the series is set in Botswana appeals too; a country I’ve visited twice, though my focus has been safari holidays in the bush rather than the urban landscape of the books.

I loved the tele-adaptation too.

With a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith himself, this cookery book celebrates the table of Mma Ramotswe and includes fruit cakes, sweets, stews and curries – the kind of things Precious cooks for her loved ones.

Reviews on Amazon tell me that the book is interspersed with quotes from the books, as well as lovely illustrations and photographs. All the reviewers have praised how well it reflects the fictional world of our favourite lady detective and how true it stays to the spirit of the stories. Southern African reviewers also confirm that the recipes are true to their regional cooking, so definitely worth a try.

 

What do you think of my choices and which books would you have chosen?

 

Kavey Eats was given a £25 Amazon book voucher by Idealo UK.

 

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The design of the Leon cookery books isn’t for everyone; I’ve seen some comments from those who don’t take to the look of the books at all. But I love the vibrant, light-hearted, quirky, personal and fun-loving approach that is epitomised in the styling and flicking through any of the Leon books always makes me smile.

Book 3, Leon: Baking & Puddings, full of sweet and baked treats, is more of a step away from what the restaurant is best known for. As is always the way with the Leon team, the book turns to friends and family members for inspiration and recipes.

The one we chose to make was Petra’s Honey Bread, a recipe from Leon founder Henry Dimbleby’s mother-in-law. Described as a “tea bread”, it’s basically a loaf cake that is perfect for anytime snacking.

I was really surprised by how the honey and lemon zest combined to create a flavour that was reminiscent of ginger bread, though we’d added no spices at all to the mix.

Henry suggests serving the cake thinly sliced and buttered. We had it plain, which was excellent, and with thickly spread salted Isigny butter – heaven!

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We learned during and after making the recipe that there are two errors in it. The first is simply that one of the ingredients is not mentioned in the instructions, though we easily decided where to insert it. The second is that the volume of water should be 150 ml rather than the 250 ml stated. We used all 250 ml and, although the cake batter was quite a runny one, the cake came out very well. However a friend mentioned that she’s made the recipe three times without success, and this may well be why.

I was worried that our experience might suggest a lack of accuracy in other recipes in the book, but have been assured by the lovely Henry Dimbleby that, as far as they are aware, this recipe is the only one with mistakes in it. If you have discovered any others please let me know, and drop a note to the folks at Leon too.

 

Petra’s Honey Bread

Ingredients
225 grams plain flour
115 grams caster sugar
115 grams honey
150 ml hot water
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
zest of 1 lemon

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 160 C.
  • Butter a 450 gram/ 1 lb loaf tin and line with baking paper.
  • Mix together the flour and sugar in a large bowl.

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  • In a small pan melt together the honey and the water. Remove from the heat.
  • Add the lemon zest and bicarbonate of soda to the honey water mixture and stir.

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  • Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated.

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  • Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes.
  • Remove from the tin and allow to cool.

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This was an absolutely delicious recipe, and one we’ll make again.

 

I already own Eggs and Sauces, the first two titles in Michel Roux’s series of reference books on classic techniques and recipes. So I was very happy to receive a review copy of Pastry: Savoury and Sweet.

There are chapters for shortcrust pastries, enriched sweet pastries, puff pastry, raised pie pastry, brioche dough, croissant dough, choux pastry, pizza dough and filo pastry and each chapter starts with the basic dough recipe and then provides a wide range of recipes making use of it.

One of the things I like about the book is its use of step by step pictures and instructions for pastry techniques such as lining a flan tin with pastry, making a pastry lattice top and decorative borders, shaping croissants and so on. In addition each type of pastry has several photographs of how the dough looks as you make it. And there are lots of recipe photographs too.

Knowing what you are aiming for gives much greater confidence during the process, for me anyway.

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Pete is pastry king in our house so I got him to make the pastry, roll it out into the flan dish and bake it for me, ready for me to do the rest.

Together, we made this absolutely delicious pea, mushroom and mint flan – a recipe I shall definitely be making again once our home-grown peas start cropping.

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The flan calls on two recipes in the book, the first for flan pastry and the second for the flan itself.

The two shortcrust pastry recipes provided are for pâte brisée and flan pastry. The former is described in the book as a more delicate, crumbly and light; the latter as less fragile, crisper and just as good in taste.

One downside of the pastry recipe is that it creates about 430 grams of pastry, whereas the flan recipe calls for 260 grams. We used the rest to make some simple purple sprouting broccoli quiches a couple of days later.

The recipe also calls for 500 grams of mushrooms. We used only 400 grams, which filled our our flan dish pretty well.

We also substituted frozen petit pois for fresh peas.

Where the recipe requires steeping the mint in the cream, blending it and then sieving it through a chinois, I went for the rustic approach and decided to leave mine in. My stick blender didn’t do a great job on the leaves, and I’ve amended the recipe for next time to simply chop the leaves much smaller and leave out the blending altogether.

You can also see that our mushroom and peas stuck out proud from the creamy custard flan, which I thought looked lovely, but didn’t resemble the clean flat top of the one in the book.

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Pea, Mushroom & Mint Flan

Ingredients
260 grams of shortcrust (flan) pastry, cold from the fridge
500 grams very firm medium button mushrooms, trimmed and cleaned
60 grams butter
250 grams fresh or frozen peas
200 ml double cream
25 grams fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 egg
2 egg yolks
Salt and pepper

Note: We made the pastry according to the recipe provided earlier in the book. It came together very quickly indeed and was easy to roll out and use. You could use ready made if you prefer.

Method

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  • Preheat the oven to 190 C.
  • Roll out the pastry to a thickness of 3mm and line a 20 cm diameter flan dish.

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  • Lightly prick the base, line with paper, fill with baking beads, and bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the beads and paper and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  • Increase the oven temperature to 200 C.
  • Halve or quarter the mushrooms, then sauté in butter until they have released their liquid. Drain, season and leave to cool.
  • Cook the peas briefly. I used the microwave on its defrost setting for about 2 minutes, as I didn’t want to the frozen peas to lose their freshness.
  • Heat the cream and mint leaves in a saucepan, over low heat, allowing the flavours to infuse.
  • Whisk the minted cream with the egg, egg yolks, salt and pepper.

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  • Put the mushrooms and peas into the pastry case.

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  • Pour the minted cream and egg mixture over the fillings. Mine had clumps of mint leaves, which I could have removed from the surface, but decided to leave in.

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  • Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180 C and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until ready. Test by inserting a knife tip into the flan; it should come out clean.

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  • As our flan ring doesn’t allow the flan to easily be removed onto a plate or rack, we left it to cool down in the dish for 5 minutes before serving.

We both really enjoyed the flan – the combination of flavours was excellent with earthy mushrooms, fresh sweet peas and vibrant mint. Our flan bottom was a little soggy, perhaps we needed to bake it a little longer, or possibly brush with egg to create a protective layer against the wet custard.

As I mentioned, there are plenty of classic pastries in the book. Pete’s already made the brioche dough, which he used to make brioche bacon twists, also in the book. We didn’t take any notes or photograph these but they were delicious, if rather less beautifully shaped than those in the pictures!

This promises to be another great reference book to have in our collection.

 

Kavey Eats received a sample review copy of this book from Quadrille Publishing.

Pastry: Savoury and Sweet by Michel Roux is currently available in paperback on Amazon for £6.79 (RRP £9.99).

 

As a cheese and bacon addict, I often have leftover cheese in my fridge, not to mention the stash in my freezer. There’s often half a tub of sour cream or crème fraiche hanging around too, a few rashers of bacon leftover from a weekend brunch and half a bottle of mustard languishing in the cupboard.

And even though our harvest of home-grown potatoes was the lowest for several years, there are nearly always potatoes lurking in a dark corner of the kitchen.

So this pommes de terre Braytoises recipe adapted from Diana Henry’s Roast Figs, Sugar Snow book was a perfect choice to counter the cold weather outside, be frugal with leftover ingredients and try something from a new cookery book too!

We adapted the recipe to 2 people, changing some of the ingredients and instructions to suit us better.

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Diana Henry’s Roast Figs, Sugar Snow

Diana Henry is a cook and food writer with six books under her belt including Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons, Cook Simple and Food from Plenty. She also writes for the Telegraph and its magazine, Stella, presents food television programmes such as Market Kitchen and broadcasts on Radio 4.

I’d read good feedback on her book of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and North African dishes (Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons) and likewise, for her latest title, Food from Plenty, which aims to share recipes made from "the plentiful, the seasonal and the leftover".

But I’d not really seen a great deal of discussion about her previous book, Roast Figs, Sugar Snow, originally published by Mitchell Beazley (an Octopus publishing imprint) in 2009, but with a new edition released in November 2011.

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Having grown up in Northern Ireland, she adores snow, "its crystalline freshness, the silent mesmeric way it falls, the way it blankets you in a white, self-contained world". For this book, she travelled to several other cold climate locations, compiling a collection of recipes that represent winter food.

As for the name of the book, a passage in her introduction partially explains:

"On dark afternoons, my fifth-year teacher read us the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the simple snowy world of the American mid-west found in Little House in the Big Woods, an orange and a handful of nuts in the toe of a sock on Christmas day seemed as alluring as the seeds from a crimson pomegranate; fat pumpkins gathered in the autumn and stored in the attic were fairy tale vegetables. But it was the story of maple syrup that intrigued me most: how you could tap the sap of maple trees when there was a ‘sugar snow’ (snowy conditions in which the temperature goes below freezing at night but above freezing during the day), boil the sap down to a sticky amber syrup and pour it on to snow. There it set to a cobwebby toffee. Here was a magical food that you could get from inside a tree and make into sweets. I got my first bottle of maple syrup soon after being read this passage and have loved it ever since."

In a similar vein, throughout the book are passages from poems and books as varied as Robert Frost’s Evening in a sugar orchard, Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney, Figs by D H Lawrence, Wild Fruits by Henry David Thoreau and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Fir Tree.

Photography, by Jason Lowe, is beautiful and evocative. There are images of big hearty dishes, ingredients and scenes from the places whose food Henry brings together. That said, many of the recipes – I’d say well over half – don’t have an accompany photograph, so this may not suit those who prefer to see what all finished dishes look like.

Oddly enough, whilst I really loved reading this book, flicking from recipe to recipe, reading the introductions and stories about the places, ingredients and dishes, I found that there were only a handful of recipes I want to actually cook. Partly, this is because there’s a Northern European preponderance of walnuts and pecans, poppy seeds and cinnamon, dill, prunes, cranberries and juniper berries, chestnuts, dried mushrooms and smoked fish. Some of those ingredients I like, in some contexts, but less so in cooking. Others, I’m simply not a fan of. I like this book but can’t see me using it very often.

That said, there are still many recipes that appeal as great comfort for a cold day – Antico Risotto Sabaudo (a Fontina-rich risotto), Poulet Suissesse (chicken with crème fraiche, mustard and cheese), Sobronade (an every day version of cassoulet without the duck), Beef Pie with wild mushrooms and claret (billed as better than cleavage for its seductive powers), Dublin Coddle (a layered bake of sausages, bacon, onions, potatoes and chicken stock), Poires Savoyards (cream, butter and sugar baked pears), Hot Lightning (featuring apples, pears and bacon), Apple Bread, Roast Figs and Plums in Vodka with cardamom cream and Scandinavian Pepparkakor (Christmas biscuits).

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RoastFigsSugarSnowSPUDS-9251

Pommes de Terre Braytoises
Cheese and Ham Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Adapted from Diana Henry’s Roast Figs, Sugar Snow

Ingredients (for 2)
2 baking potatoes
25 grams butter
Salt and pepper
125 grams Camembert
4 thick rashers of bacon or about 60 grams ham, cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons sour cream or crème fraiche
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 egg
50-75 grams Comte, grated

Note: We used left over bacon, fried in a pan, so we added the bacon fat to the mix too.

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SpudBraytoise-9375 SpudBraytoise-9399

Method

  • Prick and bake the potatoes (180 C fan oven) for approximately an hour, or until tender all the way through.

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  • Cut each potato in half, scoop out most of the flesh, careful not to pierce the skin.
  • Mash the potato flesh with butter and season with salt and pepper.

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  • Roughly chop the Camembert and the bacon or ham. Mix with the mashed potato flesh, along with half the sour cream or crème fraiche, the mustard and the egg. Henry suggests discarding the rind of the Camembert before using, but we chose to use it.

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  • Divide the mixture between the 4 potato skins. Mix the rest of the sour cream or crème fraiche with the grated Comte and spread over the top of each potato.

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  • Bake for 10-15 minutes until the tops of the potatoes are golden and bubbling (180 C fan oven).

We really enjoyed these potatoes, they made for a very comforting and delicious week day dinner and were very easy to make.

We so often have cheese, bacon and sour cream or crème fraiche left over, we have already made these a couple of times and will certainly be making them again soon.

I’m submitting this post to Family Friendly Fridays, a monthly blog event hosted by Fabulicious Food.

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I can’t recall where I first read about Garlic & Sapphires but it must have been a positive review as I immediately added the book to my Amazon wishlist. Thanks to kind friends, it popped through my letterbox over Christmas and I tore through it during the first two days of the new year.

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The fourth book by former restaurant critic Ruth Reichl, Garlic And Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Food Critic is a wonderfully entertaining meander through Reichl’s working life at The New York Times. Essentially a string of anecdotes strung together with a simplified personal narrative, it’s almost always amusing, often enlightening and occasionally touching too.

Tales of creating deliciously audacious disguises with wigs, wardrobes and wicked backstories are interspersed with stories of visiting many of New York’s best known restaurants, and many lesser known places as well. These chapters include the restaurant reviews as they were published in the paper, giving a great insight into how Reichl translated the multiple visits she made to each restaurant into succinct and pithy pieces for print.

Keen cooks may also appreciate the seventeen recipes Reichl has shared; related to events in the book, they range from New York cheesecake to hash browns to vanilla cake to spaghetti carbonara.

At first, Reichl revels in her new role, relishing the chance to transform herself into an increasing number of alter egos which we too can giggle and gasp over. But just as the reader pales of the endless parade of new characters, so does Reichl, increasingly dissatisfied with these deceptions and her own changes in behaviour as a result.

It’s not a deep book, by any means, and yet we do go on a journey with the author from start to finish.

An enjoyable read; perfect for a long hot soak in the tub or whiling away the time in the airport lounge or on the train.


Garlic And Sapphires by Ruth Reichl is currently available in paperback on Amazon for £5.30 (RRP £8.99).

 

Chatting to the UK arm of US publisher Rizzoli about titles I might like to review, the pull of the pig drew me towards The Whole Hog Cookbook. Promising “chops, loin, shoulder, bacon and all that good stuff”, author Libbie Summers draws on childhood memories of her grandparents’ hog farm together with “modern sensibilities [that] lend new twists to beloved dishes”.

As the front flap declares, “the best way to honor an animal like the pig is to appreciate every part”.

The book starts with an introduction to the strengths and characteristics of various heritage breeds of pig before sharing recipes divided into chapters for loin, Boston shoulder, bacon, spare ribs, picnic shoulder, leg, offal and slices.

The names of these cuts remind you immediately that the book is an American one, though there are plenty of websites online that will help you translate the names of cuts to their UK equivalents.

That said, the recipes themselves take inspiration from all around the world, including Hangover Irish Crubeens, Spaghetti alla Carbonara (made with guanciale) and Pork Osso Buco, Serrano Ham Croquettes and Rioja Potatoes, Summers’ Aunt Setsuko’s Ham Fried Rice, Crispy Thai Pork Belly, West Indian Pork Roti, Cuban Pork Roast Someone needs to tell Summers, though, that the “scotch” in scotch eggs doesn’t mean they’re Scottish, as she’s called them!

And of course, there are many American-inspired recipes, gleaned from all across the country and adapted and refined by Summers. I’m tempted by lots of them, including Prodigal Chocolate Pig (a moist chocolate cake featuring bacon and rum), Buttery Potted Ham, Sweet Tea-Brined Pork Roast, Grilled Summer Corn Soup, her grandma Lula Mae’s Double Cola-Braised Pork Shoulder, Citrus Sugar Rubbed Ribs, Southern Peanut Soup, Savoury Mushroom and Bacon Bread Pudding…

Summers also provides a number of recipes for side dishes and condiments such as Clementine Prosecco Marmalade, Buttermilk Biscuits, Stout Mustard, Lemon Mint Mashed Potatoes, Creole Mayo, Moon Gate Bacon Jam, Lemon Thyme Custard, Applesauce, Hot Guava Dipping Sauce, Banana Chutney, Butt-Kickin’ Ketchup

I think I might leave the Hot Peppered Pickled Pig’s Feet for someone more adventurous though!

I’ve already taken inspiration from Summers’ South Cackalacky Spare Ribs recipe, though I created my own recipe for the Cackalacky sauce, I used Summers’ rib rub, on beef instead of pork. And I’d never have heard of Cackalacky if not for the book.

Intrigued by two baking recipes, the husband’s disdainfully raised eyebrows at the thought of sweet scones ruled out the Rosemary Bacon Scones (which also feature white chocolate), so I decided to make the Bacon Banana Cookies instead.

Immediately, I was confronted with the other weakness of the book (from my British point of view) – it’s use of cup measures instead of weights/ volumes.

Whilst a cup of sugar is quick and simple, a cup of peanut butter is much more of a pain.

Luckily, Summers doesn’t drive me to complete distraction and mostly lists ingredients such as fruit and vegetables more rationally with numbers of carrots or bananas, though she occasionally refers to onions by cup after peeling and dicing, which surely depends on how small I dice and gives me little guidance on how much to purchase in the first place.

I realise cups are easier for those who grew up with them, and one gets better at estimating how much to buy with experience, but it strikes me as a dreadfully inaccurate way of measuring for many ingredients and makes it difficult when purchasing unfamiliar ingredients.

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image from the book; my cookies

Bacon Banana Cookies

Ingredients
1.5 cups all purpose flour (plain flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
0.25 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1.5 teaspoon ground cinnamon
0.25 teaspoon kosher salt (large grained salt, a little like sea salt)
0.5 cup / 1 stick unsalted butter (113 grams)
1.25 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 bananas, mashed
0.5 pound bacon, cooked crisp, chopped (225 grams)

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Method

  • Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

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  • In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, half teaspoon of the ground cinnamon and the salt.

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  • In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer to cream together the butter and 1 cup of the sugar.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until they are fully incorporated.

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  • Beat in the vanilla.

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  • Add the butter mixture to the flour mixture.

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  • Then stir in the mashed bananas, beating well after each addition.

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  • Fold in the bacon.
  • Stir together the remaining quarter cup sugar and the remaining cinnamon and set aside.

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  • Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet 1 inch apart.

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  • Sprinkle generously with the cinnamon sugar and bake for 10-12 minutes, until slightly browned.

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  • Allow the cookies to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Cookies will keep for 5 to 7 days.

Note: I missed the instruction to separate out some of the sugar and ground cinnamon to sprinkle onto the cookies before baking, so they were mixed into the dough along with the rest.

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So what did we think?

Pete wasn’t convinced by the flavour combination of banana and bacon – he didn’t dislike it but didn’t particular fall for it either. But I loved it! I’d probably up the amount of bacon a touch more actually, to bring it out even more.

Where we both agreed was on the texture – far more bread or cake like than what we expect from a cookie.

Worst of all, although the recipe advises that the cookies will keep for 5-7 days, after less than 24 hours in a plastic box (into which they were placed only after they had completely cooled down for a few hours) they were already a little soggy!

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Sadly, I can’t recommend this recipe as it stands, however, I liked the flavours enough to want to find a successful version.

(I might try it as a loaf of banana bread though, as I think that would work).

If you have any advice on how to bring banana and bacon together in a cookie that has a texture more like the traditional slightly chewy centred American cookie, please let me know!


Libbie Summers’ The Whole Hog Cookbook is currently available from Amazon for £13.97 (RRP £19.95).

 

I’m a natural born collector. As a child I collected stamps, coins, mugs, rubbers and key rings, to name just a few. Our family holidays took us around the world, which allowed me to find great variety, both at home and abroad and I took my collections seriously, taking time and care to choose new additions.

Today, the stamp and coin collections have long since been passed on through the family. The rubbers were discarded. Only a few of the key rings were kept, though I still regret the loss of the rest.

A lot of the mugs are still in the kitchen cupboard. I can’t bear to get rid of the “I’m A Mug From Luton”, though the text is faded almost to nothing, after 25+ years through the dishwasher. Perhaps it’s because the slogan describes me as well as it does the mug?

As I left childhood behind, I stopped collecting. But I missed it. Sometimes, I indulged in retail therapy trips where the urge to buy would result in spending £40 or more on clothes and books and magazines I didn’t really want or need. An article eulogising egg cups caught my attention. The author found such joy in the immense variety of design and shape of objects made for a single, simple task and I was immediately nodding in agreement. There and then I decided to start a new collection, part of me consciously thinking that I could satisfy those occasional urges to buy something new by spending just a few pounds at most. In those early days, prices were often in pence, as initial egg cups were found in charity shops and car boot sales.

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Today, I own far too many egg cups and have over 100 sitting in a box to sell on Ebay (when I get a round tuit).

But the ones I display (on a chaotic and far-too-full living room shelving unit) give me great pleasure. The kind of pleasure only another collector can really understand.

So when I read Allegra McEvedy’s book, Bought, Borrowed & Stolen: Recipes & Knives From A Travelling Chef, I immediately felt a kinship – a warmth that comes from the shared personality disorder of the collecting mindset!

In her introduction, Allegra describes her knife buying as gathering, explaining that she hesitates to use the word ‘collect’ as that implies that her knives are not for use and she certainly uses hers! Don’t worry Allegra, I use my egg cups too, though given that I don’t eat boiled eggs and soldiers that often, it’s a slow cycle. And I confess, some just aren’t as practical at holding eggs as others…

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The magpie in me appreciates the rather striking turquoise cloth binding with shiny gold foil print. It’s an unusual design and I like it.

Inside, the book is divided into 19 chapters by country (though the USA is represented by two cities, New York and San Francisco). Each is introduced by a country fact file sharing basics such as geography, population, religion plus a short sharp summary of the cuisine, top five favourite ingredients and most famous dish. Next comes the travel memoir page, where Allegra talks about her experiences visiting the country. I enjoyed these personal memories, though a single page for each means they’re little more than a snapshot.

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Next, my favourite part of the book, the introduction to the knife that Allegra bought back from that country. Reading about how she found and came to own each knife, what memories it holds, how she uses it now… I can really feel her affection for each item in her collection.

There’s her Pine Forest Picnic Knife from Turkey, Win’s Special Burmese Machete from Burma, a Suction Free Chef’s Knife from San Francisco, the Pig Leg Boner from Brazil, the Lemon Wood Pastry Slicer from Morocco, Lorenzi’s Ceramica from Italy, Balisong from The Philippines, the Grenadine Scrimshaw, the Oaxacan Whacker from Mexico and several more.

I find the collection fascinating!

The collection of recipes is equally diverse, and I find some more appealing than others. There are many I find interesting to read about but which don’t tempt me at all to make them.

Also, I think it would be accurate to describe most of these recipes as influenced by her travels rather than authentic, something that’s been confirmed by friends from a couple of the countries represented.

Probably the biggest let down for me is the food photography. Whilst I appreciate the idea of simply presenting the food, rather than filling half the shot with styling props and unused ingredients, I find the photographs in this book lifeless and sometimes actually off-putting. Certainly, they don’t do the job of making me salivate and feel an urge to make the recipe.

That said, what I do like is the sheer spread of cuisines, ingredients and types of dishes covered. It’s a fun book for someone who wants to dip their toes into the pool of international cooking and wants a wide spread of recipes to choose from.

The recipe I chose to try is from Malawi, a simple ginger and garlic fried dish.

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Nsomba Zokazinga Ndi Ginja Komanso Anyezi

(Ginger & Garlic Fried Fish)

Serves 2

Ingredients
50 grams ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 bird’s eye chillies, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
3 spring onions, roughly chopped
0.5 teaspoon paprika
5 tablespoons groundnut oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 portion-sized fish such as red bream, about 700 grams each once gutted and scaled
Approximately 750 ml light oil for frying
limes, to serve
salt and pepper

Note: I bought Corsican bream, which were expensive, about £13.50 for two.
Note: I omitted the chilles, for personal taste.
Note: I substituted cider vinegar for white wine vinegar, as that’s what I had in stock.
Note: I used considerably less oil for shallow frying.

Method

  • In a blender, blitz up the ginger, chillies, garlic, spring onions, paprika and a teaspoon of salt with the groundnut oil and vinegar.

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  • Make some deep diagonal cuts across both sides of each fish – about 5 cuts along each side.

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  • Put about half a teaspoon of ginger paste into each slit and smear the rest on the skin and in the cavity.

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  • Pour oil to the depth of about 1.5 centimetres into a frying pan large enough to hold both fish and shallow fry on medium high – the oil should be hot enough to make the fish fizzle when it goes in.

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  • Fry the fish fast for about 5-6 minutes on each side until golden.

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  • Serve straight away, with rice, salad and lime quarters.

We really enjoyed this simple dish, the flavours of the paste were balanced and full on yet didn’t overwhelm the beautiful fish. It was also very quick and simple to make.

With thanks to Octopus for the review copy.


Allegra McEvedy’s Bought, Borrowed & Stolen is currently available from Amazon for £11 (RRP £25).

 

Given how much I adored Saraban, I was really excited about getting my hands on the latest title from Greg & Lucky Malouf: New Middle Eastern Food.

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Whilst I was immediately taken by many of the recipes, one major problem with the book revealed itself very early on:

The typography and page layout may look modern and attractive but made the book very hard to read. With the exception of the recipe title and ingredients, the introduction and method are printed in pale grey on white paper. Combined with the small text size, this really had me struggling. I’ve not had this problem with any other recipe book, so it’s not a case of deteriorating eyesight.

Flicking through the book on the sofa, I tried to lift the book closer to my eyes, but it’s large size and weight made that impractical.

I can only suggest reading this one at the table, and making use of a sturdy book stand when in the kitchen. Or perhaps investing in a pair of magnifying reading glasses!

Reading problems aside, what about the book?

Whereas their previous books (Arabesque, Moorish, Saha, Turquoise and Saraban) are as much about sharing their journeys and creating, in words and pictures, a vivid mental image of the regions, peoples and traditions they experienced, this latest title is much more focused on food.

What you’ll find here is a compendium of over 300 Middle Eastern recipes, many of which have appeared in the Maloufs’ other books. There are also plenty of new recipes for fans who already have a Malouf library. I particularly like the larder section at the back which is a veritable encyclopaedia of recipes for spice blends and spice pastes, dressings, pickles, relishes, jams and preserves.

As is the Malouf style, the recipes in the book are not slavishly authentic but adapted to suit the modern global market which allows many of us to incorporate ingredients from all around the world into our cooking. So a recipe for a zucchini omelette includes provolone cheese, and a confit date ice cream uses Kahlua. As Greg explains in his introduction:

“My food would not be about reinventing classics – and nor, really, would it be about tradition. Instead, I was bursting with ideas for a new kind of Middle Eastern food: subjective and personal interpretations, yes, but dishes that would absolutely capture the essence of the Middle East, but express it in a fresher, more inventive – and even, perhaps, a more Western – manner.”

We chose to make two recipes: lamb kifta tagine with eggs and my favourite, kukiye sabzi (a soft herb omelette), which we’d made once before, as the recipe is also in Saraban, . By the way, the spectacular Persian Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken (Tahcheen-e morgh) that we so enjoyed previously is also included in this book.

Lamb Kifta Tagine With Eggs

This dish can best be described as lamb meatballs in a tomato-based sauce, with eggs baked on top.

Meatball ingredients
500 grams lamb, finely minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil for frying
Sauce ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 x 400 grams tinned tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Other ingredients
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup coriander leaves, finely chopped
6 free-range eggs
(optional) baby radish leaves and sage flowers to garnish

Note: We halved all amounts, above.
Note: We used regular salt instead of sea salt (since it was being used in a cooked dish).
Note: We used vegetable cooking oil instead of olive oil (for the same reason).
Note: We used chopped tinned tomatoes and included all the juices.

Method

  • To make meatballs, thoroughly mix all the ingredients, except for the oil, and with wet hands, form into walnut-sized balls. Heat the oil and brown the meatballs all over. Drain well on paper towel.

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  • For the sauce, heat the oil in a heavy-based casserole dish and lightly sauté the onions and garlic until they are translucent. Add the tomatoes, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Then add the water, stir again and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce, uncovered, for about thirty minutes, or until it has reduced to a very thick gravy.

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  • Add the meatballs to the sauce and continue cooking for a further 8 minutes. Stir in the parsley and coriander. Carefully break the eggs into the sauce, cover the pan with a lid and cook until the eggs are just set, which will take about 5 minutes.

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  • Serve at once, straight from the pot.

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  • Malouf suggests liberally garnishing with radish leaves and flowers, and serving with plenty of Arabic flatbread to mop up the runny egg yolks. Alternatively, he proposes accompanying the tagine with a dish of plain buttered couscous and a dollop of thick natural yoghurt.
  • He also adds a note that those who enjoy a more piquant dish may add one finely chopped bullet chilli whilst sautéing the onion and garlic.

We really enjoyed the dish, though found it a lot like a North Indian tomato-based curry in flavour. Reducing the volume of coriander leaves would probably alleviate this.

(Kuku-ye Sabzi) Soft Herb Omelette

Ingredients
2 tablespoons barberries, stems removed
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup chopped coriander leaves
1/2 cup chopped dill sprigs
1/2 cup snipped chives
50 ml olive oil
6-free range eggs
(optional) 2 tablespoons saffron liquid (a few strands of saffron soaked in a couple of tablespoons of boiling water)
1 tablespoon self-raising flour
(optional) 1/3 cup fenugreek leaves or 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Note: we omitted the barberries, saffron liquid and fenugreek.
Note:
We halved all amounts, above.

Method

The first time we made this, we used a small frying pan, which was better suited to the halved amounts. The second time, we used a much larger pan, which resulted in a flatter finished omelette with raised sides, reminiscent of a Yorkshire pudding. Both tasted great and had a good texture, but the one made in the smaller pan was more in line with what the dish should look like.

  • Preheat the oven to 180 C. Soak the barberries in cold water for 2 minutes, then drain and dry. Toss the herbs together and use paper towel or a clean tea towel to pat out as much moisture as you can.
  • Pour the oil into a non-stick oven-proof frying pan and heat in the oven for 5-10 minutes.

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  • Whisk the eggs and saffron liquid, if using, until frothy. Whisk in the flour, fenugreek, salt and pepper, followed by the herbs and barberries.

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  • Pour the egg mixture into the hot oil. Cover the pan with a lid or foil and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until nearly set. Remove the cover and cook for a further 15 minutes to brown the surface.

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  • Cut into wedges and serve hot from the pan. Alternatively, drain on paper towel and cut into wedges when cold. Cold omelette is particularly good as a sandwich filling.

This dish became a favourite of mine at the now closed Aqua restaurant in North Finchley, so it’s great to have a simple, delicious recipe to make it at home.

With thanks to Hardie Grant for the review copy.


Published by Hardie Grant, New Middle Eastern Food by Greg & Lucy Malouf is currently available from Amazon for £19.84 (RRP £30).

 

New cook books are great. New cookbooks I won by following the author on twitter are even better, especially as I hadn’t even realised there was a competition running!

I’m a real fan of a good stew.  Hearty and comforting, full of warmth and good flavours and often made from inexpensive ingredients. What’s not to like?

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Genevieve Taylor feels the same way and shares a wide range of recipes in her book Stew! released earlier this year.

Particularly appealing to those wanting inspiring yet frugal recipes, it didn’t take me long to decide which recipe to try first, though I have a feeling we’ll be trying quite a few through the cold winter months to come.

The recipe for lamb shanks with red wine and balsamic vinegar was very straightforward and the results were absolutely delicious. And it was just as frugal as promised, making use of a small pair of lamb shanks from Donald Russell, an inexpensive but perfectly drinkable red wine from Aldi, and an inexpensive bottle of balsamic vinegar from Waitrose.

This is definitely a recipe we’ll make again!

Enter my competition, below, to win your own copy of Stew!

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Lamb Shanks with Red Wine and Balsamic Vinegar

Ingredients
2 tablespoons plain flour
4-6 lamb shanks (or 1 kilo ox cheeks, see note below recipe)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
4 red onions, cut into wedges through the root
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
375 ml red wine
150 ml balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Note: We had 2 lamb shanks, so halved all amounts in the recipe above.
Note: We used regular vegetable oil in place of olive oil.

Method

  • Season the flour with salt and freshly ground black pepper. On a large plate dust the lamb shanks with the seasoned flour and toss to coat all over.

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  • Heat the cooking oil in a heavy-based pan, with a lid, and brown the lamb shanks on all sides. This will take a good few minutes so don’t rush it as the flavour will be greatly improved if the shanks are well browned. Remove to a plate and set aside.

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  • Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary, add the onions and allow to soften and colour a little at the edges. Then add the garlic and rosemary and cook for just a minute.

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  • Return the lamb shanks to the pan and pour over the red wine and balsamic vinegar.

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  • Bring up to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook very slowly for 2 – 2.5 hours. You want the lamb to be so soft it is coming away from the bone. Turn the shanks every now and then to baste them in the juices.

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  • Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Serve with herby mash potatoes.

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Delicious…

Edit: The following week, I made this recipe again substituting a ox cheeks for the lamb shanks and it worked beautifully. I used a kilo of ox cheeks and the full amounts of everything else. I also allowed an extra hour for cooking, covered and then an additional half an hour uncovered to reduce the sauce a little further at the end. It was absolutely fantastic, just like the lamb shanks.

Win!

If that lovely recipe whet your appetite, why not enter my competition to win a copy of this marvellous book for yourself?

 

How to enter

You can enter the competition in 4 ways.
Please leave a separate comment on this post for entries 1 – 3. A separate comment is not needed for entry 4.

Entry 1 – Answer the question
Leave a comment below, answering the following question:
Which vinegar gives its distinctive flavour to the lamb shank stew I cooked from Genevieve’s book?

Entry 2 – Become a Facebook fan of Kavey Eats
Go to the Kavey Eats Facebook page and click on the Like button. Leave a comment below once you’ve done so. If you’re already a Facebook fan, just say so in your comment. Please include your Facebook name.

Entry 3 – Follow Kavey on Twitter
Click through and follow @KaveyF on Twitter and leave a comment below once you’ve done so. If you already follow me, just say so in your comment. Please include your Twitter name.

Entry 4 – Tweet
Tweet the (exact) sentence below:
I’d love to win a copy of Stew! by Genevieve Taylor from www.kaveyeats.com #KaveyEatsStew

Rules & Details

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Saturday 26 November 2011.
  • One entry per method per person.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • The prize includes delivery, and can be delivered to UK mainland addresses only.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for cash.
  • The prize is offered and will be delivered directly by Absolute Press.
  • The winner will be notified by email or twitter asked to provide a delivery address. If no response is received by the end of November 2011, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

*If you don’t have a secondary email address already and are nervous about sharing your main email address on the internet, why not set up a new free email account on hotmail, gmail or yahoo, that you can use to enter competitions like this?


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