Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Grilled Pizza with Figs and Other Delights

Whoever thought of making pizza on the grill deserves a medal from the culinary medal committee. The grill can get much hotter than my inside oven, delivering that crunchy, nearly burnt crust that's so loved and so authentic. I've made it several times in the past, always placing the pizza dough directly on the grates. This time, I wanted to heat up my pizza stone on the grill and toss the dough onto the stone. It really does produce a more even browning, and it's much easier to handle when it comes time to flip it over. The only problem is that until you recognize just how hot the pizza stone can get, you're likely to burn your first attempt. That's what happened to the first round of dough I placed on the stone. It burned in only one minute. That didn't keep my neighbor's daughters, Janie and Annie, from munching on the burnt offering while we were putting together round two of the pizzas.

Get all the toppings ready ahead of time because the cooking goes really fast. In this case, we were making a couple of pizzas - first the pizza with figs, prosciutto and other goodies. I posted about this pizza in my early blogging days when I had no readers other than my family, and it's so delicious I thought it was worth a repeat here. 

Stretch out your pizza dough (purchased or home-made - this one is from a local pizza shop). Toss it on the grill or pizza stone and keep a close watch on it. It will take only a couple of minutes to brown. 

Flip it over and cover with the cheeses, chopped walnuts and the sliced figs.

Remove it from the grill and add the sliced prosciutto and arugula. Last time I posted about this pizza, I added all the toppings and cooked them together, but now I much prefer to layer the prosciutto and arugula after the pizza is cooked. They taste much fresher that way. Drizzle with a little extra balsamic "essenza" or glaze if you've got it. If not, don't fret. It's delicious even without it.

Figs and gorgonzola not your favorite? Just go with a classic topping of tomatoes - in this case grape tomatoes from the garden - mozzarella cheese and basil. A grinding of salt also enhances.

Grilled Pizza 

Buy pizza dough or make your own.

Heat up the grill to highest setting. As it turns out, the highest setting on my grill was too hot and burned the first batch of dough. Experiment to see what temperature works for you.

Cook the first side of the dough directly on the grates or on a pizza stone that you've heated on the grill.

Flip it over and add any toppings you like.

In these two cases:

Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto and Gorgonzola

Cook the first side of the dough as described above. Flip it over onto the grill or pizza stone. I placed figs, chopped walnuts, about two ounces of gorgonzola and four ounces of mozzarella on top and let the cheese melt. It took another two to three minutes and the other side of the dough gets cooked and browned.

Remove to a platter and top with slices of prosciutto and arugula that's been tossed in some oil and vinegar.

Pizza with Grape Tomatoes and Mozzarella

Cook one side of the dough on the grill or pizza stone. Flip it over and top with grape tomatoes, about four ounces of mozzarella, fresh basil and a sprinkling of salt. If I had thought about it ahead of time, I might have cooked the tomatoes whole to caramelize a bit before placing on the top. Either way, it's pretty irresistible.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Frozen Peachy and Mango Treats

I don't go out of my way to buy mangoes. I'm never sure about their ripeness and always cut into them too soon. If you've ever bitten into an unripe mango, you know that sensation of puckering your mouth around a chemical taste. Native to India, mangoes are common there, and when they're dead ripe, they're sweet, perfumy and luscious. Fortunately for me, the ones I used in this peach-mango sorbet had all those characteristics. They were in fact were given to me recently by friends visiting from India, who know a thing or two about choosing mangoes. And luckily, I had an abundance of deliciously ripe Jersey peaches that were also sweet, perfumy and luscious -- just perfect for blending with the mangoes in a sorbet. You need an ice cream freezer to make this, something I picked up at a garage sale. And if you've still got some wayward pansies blooming from your spring plants, chop them up and scatter them as decorations -- or use edible summer blooms like nasturtiums, if available. Otherwise, no one will mind if you serve it plain. It's a refreshing treat on a hot summer day and has so few calories you can indulge in a few spoonfuls with no guilt.

 If, on the other hand, you've been swimming your daily laps and want to indulge in an even more luscious treat, this fresh peach ice cream is about as good as it gets. The recipe uses a little peach brandy -- don't omit it. It not only adds a little more peachy flavor but the alcohol also helps the ice cream retain a creamy texture, rather than transforming itself into a rock hard mass. The limoncello in the sorbet recipe provides the same purpose. Make sure you cut the peaches into small bits, because no one likes biting into large pieces of frozen peaches.

 Now if you want to be really decadent, follow my recipe for stuffed peaches and serve them warm on top of the peach ice cream, with a little of the marsala wine sauce drizzled on top. You'll want to retreat into a corner and eat this in silent ecstasy. Then you'll realize it's worth every calorie -- even if you have to swim five extra laps in the morning.

Peach-Mango Sorbet

Printable Recipe Here

2 mangos

about 6 peaches

2 T. sugar

2 T. limoncello

Peel mango and peaches and cut into small pieces, then place into a blender or food processor with the sugar and limoncello. Process until puréed, then place into an ice cream freezer and process according to manufacturer's directions. optional: serve with minced pansies or other edible flowers.

Peach Ice Cream

Printable Recipe Here

Recipe courtesy of Curtis Aikens, from Foodnetwork.com

2 cups chopped fresh peaches, peeled

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 T. lemon juice

2 T. peach brandy

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup milk

1/2 t. vanilla extract

4 egg yolks


In a bowl combine peaches, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon juice and peach brandy. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally. Remove peach mixture from refrigerator and drain juice into a cup. Return peaches to refrigerator.

In a saucepan combine 3/4 cup sugar, heavy cream, milk and vanilla. Bring just to a boil.

In bowl whisk egg yolks. While whisking stream in about 1/3 of the boiled cream mixture. While whisking cream and sugar mixture, stream in egg and cream mixture. Return to the heat and continue to heat while stirring. Mixture will thicken as it returns to a boil. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl set over ice. Add the reserved peach juice.

Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. After the ice cream begins to stiffen, when very close to done, add the peaches and continue to freeze until done.  

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Monday, August 20, 2012


For those of you in the Northeastern U.S., it might have been more useful to post this recipe when the weather was in the upper 90s. But you can enjoy this even if the temperature this week drops to the 80s, especially since most of these ingredients are still plentiful in farmer's markets or backyard gardens.

I'm not typically a big fan of gazpacho, but when my friend Cathy served this to me earlier this summer, it struck just the right balance of cooling vegetables and spicy tabasco. Plus it's so loaded with healthy ingredients, you may not even feel a twinge of guilt about that second scoop of ice cream later on. She got the recipe from Epicurious.com and it includes an unusual ingredient for gazpacho - at least I've never seen it in a gazpacho recipe before --  a hard-boiled egg. Don't omit it, because even if you can't taste it, it does help thicken the soup and lends a bit more complexity to the flavor. I did leave out the beef broth though, and didn't miss it one bit, and used V-8 juice instead of tomato juice, on Cathy's recommendation. Good call Cathy.

The recipe makes a LOT of soup, so serve it to a crowd or be content to eat it daily for a week or more. I took some of it with me on a mini-beach getaway with a few friends recently (otherwise known as the Peace Sisters), and it was the perfect lunchtime meal, accompanied by some of my savory biscotti

After our daily morning yoga workout by the bay, and our lunch of gazpacho, I had no qualms about that having that ice cream cone dipped in liquid chocolate. 


Mom's Gazpacho

From Epicurious.com

printable recipe here

  • 1 egg

  • 2 cups chopped fresh plum tomatoes

  • 1/2 cup chopped green or yellow pepper

  • 1 cup chopped cucumber, seeds removed

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

  • 2/3 cup olive oil

  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

  • 2 cups beef broth (optional - I omitted this -)

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar

  • 1/4 cup finely minced parsley

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire

  • Pepper, coarsely ground

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • Salt

  • 1 46-ounce can tomato juice (I used V-8 juice)

  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs

  • Tabasco, to taste

  • Garnish (optional): chopped parsley, minced red onion, chopped olives (I used sliced avocado)

Place egg in small pot of cold water, bring to boil, and let simmer for 10 minutes.

In a pot or large bowl, combine tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, red onion, olive oil, lemon juice, cold beef broth (optional), red wine vinegar, parsley, oregano, Worcestershire, and coarsely ground black pepper to taste. Stir.

Sprinkle garlic with a pinch of salt, and set in bowl.

When egg is finished cooking, run under cold water, remove shell, add to garlic and salt mixture, and mash together with fork.

Pour tomato juice into large pot or bowl with vegetables, and add garlic, egg, and salt mixture. Add bread crumbs and stir so that they dissolve into liquid.

(I removed about 1/2 of the mixture and puréed the other half, then put them together, so that the soup had some smoothness to it and some texture from the chopped vegetables.)

Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and Tabasco to taste. Chill for at least 4 hours and serve. Garnish with chopped parsley, minced red onion, and chopped olives if desired.

Cook's Notes: · My recipe serves eight, and it's not worth the trouble to prepare this soup for one. But like homemade tomato sauce, its flavor improves with age—you can store it in the refrigerator and eat it for about a week.
· Why mash the garlic with egg and salt? To make a garlic-infused paste that adds body and substance to the tomato broth.
· Use kosher salt to bring out the flavors of the vegetables.
· Try to chop the vegetables so that they're small but not minced or pulverized, and don't worry if the sizes aren't uniform. The pieces should be small enough to chew but big enough to recognize.
· If you prefer a more elegant presentation, emulsify the chilled mixture before serving. Seasoning is a very personal matter. I tend to like my gazpacho pungent and sharp, with salt, lemon, and onion flavors lingering on the palate. If you prefer milder soup, reduce the onion, garlic, and vinegar quantities by half. If you want a spicier soup, add 2 teaspoons of minced jalepeño peppers. To make vegetarian gazpacho, substitute vegetable broth for beef broth.
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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday Julia!

Today let's celebrate Julia Child, a culinary icon who introduced French cooking to millions of American households. I for one, salute this trailblazer, whose first cookbooks, "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking," volumes one and two, were my countertop companions as a young bride. With her detailed step-by-step instructions, I successfully tackled soufflés, learned about stuffing zucchini and looked no further after finding the perfect onion soup recipe. Having a dinner party and worried about trying out a new recipe? You needn't be if you're using one of Julia's fail-proof, step-by-step recipes. With the skills she learned in Paris and her self-deprecating sense of humor evident in her TV show "The French Chef," Julia introduced French cooking to generations of Americans. 

Born Julia McWilliams, her life story reads like a novel, and if you haven't read her autobiography "My Life In France," you're missing out on a great tale. In Julia's book, written with her husband's grandnephew, Alex Prud'homme, she talks about her early career working in India for the OSS - the precursor to the CIA; how she met her husband Paul, and their life together in France and other places around the world.  Rather than write Christmas cards, their tradition instead was to send Valentine's Day cards to their friends, including this playful one.

I would love to have met her and spent some time with her, as my friend Pietro Frassica did in the late 1970s. Pietro is a professor of Italian literature at Princeton University and was in Aix-en-Provence with friends when the opportunity arose through food writer Lorna Sass. Julia had invited Lorna to come visit at her home nearby in Grasse, but Lorna had no car. Enter Pietro and another friend who had rented a car and could provide the transportation.

They all spent several hours sitting outside in the beautiful Provençal countryside at Julia and Paul's home, talking about food. Although she specialized in French food, Julia wanted to know more about Italian cuisine after hearing that Pietro was Italian and from Sicily in particular, where capers are grown. "She was fascinated to learn about how they are picked as buds and put in salt," he said.

The seeds were also planted that day for a popular course that Pietro now teaches every other year at Princeton. "We talked about how food could be taught in the universities, which at the time, was unheard of. It was a way for me to start thinking seriously about teaching a course in the history of gastronomy." 

But the big question is: What did he eat at Julia's that fateful summer day? 

"She made a green salad with a vinaigrette," he said. "It was very simple, nothing exceptional, but very appropriate for the warm weather."

Pietro also recalled bumping into Julia during the 1970s, when he lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Julia also was living at the time. Not far from Harvard Square was a delicatessen called "Cardullo" that carried Italian specialties. Julia would stop by frequently to pick up provisions, mingling with customers and sharing her knowledge about cooking.

How can you not love this American culinary hero, who would have turned 100 on Wednesday, August 15?  If you have a few minutes, take a look at this hilarious clip of Julia on the David Letterman show back in the late 1980s. You'll be laughing on the floor!

 I hope you will celebrate Julia's 100th birthday by preparing one of her recipes. This one is easy, delicious and appropriate for the season since peaches are at their peak.

Bon anniversaire Julia e bon appétit. 

 Pêches Cardinal

(Compote of Fresh Peaches with Raspberry Purée)

(From "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking", volume one

printable recipe here

For 10 people

(adjust as necessary for fewer servings)

6 cups water

2 1/4 cups granulated sugar

2 Tb vanilla exract or a vanilla bean

a 12-inch saucepan

10 firm ripe, unblemished fresh peaches, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter (I used white peaches)

a slotted spoon

a cake rack

a serving dish 2 inches deep

1 quart fresh raspberries, and 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

OR, 1 1/2 lbs. frozen raspberries, thawed and well drained, and

2/3 cup sugar

An electric blender (or electric beater)

optional: fresh mint leaves

Simmer the water, sugar and vanilla extract or bean in the saucepan and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the unpeeled peaches to the simmering syrup. Bring again to the simmer, then maintain at just below the simmer for eight minutes. Remove pan from heat and let peaches cool in syrup for 20 minutes. (Syrup may be used again for poaching other fruits.) Drain peaches on rack; peel while still warm, and arrange in serving dish. Chill.

Force the raspberries through a sieve and place the purée in the jar of an electric blender along with the sugar. Cover and blend at top speed for two to three minutes, or until purée is thick and sugar has dissolved completely. Chill. (Or beat purée and sugar for about 10 minutes with an electric beater.) (I put the raspberries and sugar in a saucepan and cooked them until the sugar melted, then pressed the mixture through a sieve to eliminate the seeds.)

When both purée and peaches are chilled, pour the purée over the peaches and return to refrigerator until serving time. Decorate with optional fresh mint leaves.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Basil Biscotti - sweet and savory

I love pesto as much as the next guy, but what about using basil in some non-traditional way? When I saw anise basil growing in the fabulous schoolyard garden started by my friend Dorothy (along with about 40 other basil varieties), I knew I had to try making something sweet with it. So why not biscotti, since anise is a flavoring frequently used for cookies? I also added a little of the lemon and lime basil growing in the garden too, just because it seemed like a good combination. And it was. I used a good cup of the basil and the anise taste was subtle in the finished cookie. Next time I'd add even more to make the flavor more pronounced. The green color of the chopped basil held, even through the baking.

When I posted on Facebook that I was making basil biscotti, Marie of Proud Italian Cook, asked me if they were savory. "Hmmm," I thought, "Why not try some of those too?" So I used the small-leafed basil growing in the garden (the kind Ligurians swear is the most pungent and best for pesto) and a recipe on Marie's website that was originally in the Washington Post, created by Domenica Marchetti. Domenica has written several wonderful Italian cookbooks, including one on pasta that I've written about. I changed the recipe a bit to use parmesan cheese rather than asiago and pecorino, (since that's all I had on hand) some chopped walnuts -- and the basil of course. The results were fantastic - and addictive. I could eat dozens of these, with a glass of wine or a cocktail in hand. Try it for yourself. Even if all you don't have anise basil, or the small leafed kind. Regular basil would be great too, especially in the savory biscotti. 

Sweet Basil Biscotti

printable recipe here

This is my friend Lilli's biscotti recipe that I've posted before. They're the gold standard for biscotti.

The only difference this time is the addition of basil.

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
3 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
1 pinch salt
1 cup whole almonds, toasted ahead of time in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes

1 cup chopped basil (I used anise, plus a little lemon and lime basil) 

Mix sugar and butter together until blended. Add eggs, one at a time. Add flour, baking powder, vanilla, and salt until all is blended. Scrape from the bottom to make sure everything is mixed in. The batter will be very stiff. Add the almonds (and dried cranberries if using) either with a durable wooden spoon, or with your mixer. Don't mix for long if using a mixer since you don't want to break up the almonds.

Mix sugar and butter together until blended. Add eggs, one at a time. Add flour, baking powder, vanilla, and salt until all is blended. Add the basil. Scrape from the bottom to make sure everything is mixed in. The batter will be very stiff. Add the almonds (and dried cranberries if using) either with a durable wooden spoon, or with your mixer. Don't mix for long if using a mixer since you don't want to break up the almonds.

Take about 1/3 of the mixture and plop it onto a well-floured counter or board. Shape into a "log" that resembles a small, flat loaf of bread, tapering the two ends at an angle. It's a sticky dough, so you'll need to keep your hands and board floured. Repeat two more times with the remainder of the dough. Butter a cookie sheet and place the "logs" on the cookie sheet, leaving ample room between them. Coat with a thin layer of milk or beaten egg. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until golden - about 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and turn the heat up to 450 degrees. Carefully place one of the "logs" on a cutting board, using two spatulas if necessary to keep it from splitting. With a sharp knife (I use a serrated knife) slice the cookies at a diagonal. Hold one hand firmly on the log while you cut with the knife in the other hand, so you don't break the dough and crumble the cookies. A few are bound to break. Place the cookies back on a cookie sheet and bake at 450 degrees for about five minutes. Watch carefully so they don't burn. Flip the cookies over and bake another five minutes on the other side. Makes about four dozen biscotti.

Savory Basil Biscotti - adapted from Domenica Marchetti

4 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
(Domenica calls for 1 cup of grated aged Asiago cheese and 1 cup of grated pecorino Romano, but I used 2 cups parmesan cheese)

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 cup thinly sliced skin-on almonds (I used finely chopped walnuts) 

3 large eggs lightly beaten, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten, for brushing the dough (4th egg is optional)

1 cup whole or 2 percent milk (I used skim milk)

1 cup basil, chopped finely

Combine the flour, pepper, baking powder, salt and cheeses in the bowl of a food processor; pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse briefly. Add the nuts and basil but do not process.

Combine the 3 beaten eggs and the milk in a measuring cup, then add to the food processor bowl, pulsing as you pour. Process just until the egg mixture and nuts are incorporated and the dough begins to form a ball. (This proved to be too much volume for my food processor. I had to switch to the mixer.)

Turn out the dough onto a large piece of wax paper, patting it into a disk. Wrap the disk in the paper and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. (I baked it without refrigerating it first and it worked just fine.)

Position oven racks in the middle and lower third of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners. 

Remove the dough from the refrigerator; if it is very firm let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Divide into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a log about 11 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick. Place 2 logs on each baking sheet, spaced at least 1 inch apart. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the tops of the logs with the remaining beaten egg, if using. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom; then bake for 15 minutes so the logs are golden on top and springy to the touch. Use a wide spatula to transfer the logs to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes; keep the baking sheets at hand because they will be used to bake the sliced biscotti.(Wipe the paper or liners clean as needed.)

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Working with one log at a time, place it on a cutting board and use a serrated knife to cut crosswise on the diagonal with a slow, sawing motion into 1/3-inch-thick slices, arranging them closely together on the baking sheet as you go. Bake both sheets for 15 minutes (on the middle and lower racks), then rotate them from top to bottom and front to back; bake for 15 minutes, until the biscotti are golden and crisp. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Monday, August 6, 2012

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini

I can't help myself. It's zucchini time and for me that means another stuffed zucchini recipe. Come on -- who can deny that these little orbs weren't crying out for some stuffing? I've posted several stuffed zucchini recipes in the past - stuffed with ricotta cheese, with cheesy rice and veggies, and with ground turkey.  This time it's a bread stuffing, but one enriched with sausage - really good sausage, from a nearby organic farm called "Simply Grazin." Their products are also sold at Whole Foods, at least in this part of New Jersey.

 If you're not growing your own round zucchini, or can't find them in the market, the long variety of zucchini will do just as well. I can't resist this adorable variety however, so I make sure to plant them in the garden each year.

Score the inside with a sharp knife, then scoop out the interior, leaving a small perimeter of flesh. A grapefruit spoon works well here, but try not to pierce the outer skin.

 Boil the zucchini for about five minutes, then drain.

Make the stuffing using some sturdy Italian or French bread, cooked sausage, peppers, onions and seasonings -- plus eggs and some parmesan cheese. You could add other ingredients to suit your taste, or what's in your fridge, like mushrooms or mozzarella cheese.

Season the interior of the zucchini well before putting the stuffing inside. Smear a little olive oil in an ovenproof casserole, place the zucchini inside and bake at 350 for about 1/2 hour.

 Keep an eye on it because the top may brown a little too much -- in which case you'll want to cover with a bit of aluminum foil. Bake for 1/2 hour or longer, until cooked through.

Another alternative is to slice the zucchini in half and stuff each half. The presentation isn't as dramatic as having the whole globes with stuffing peeping out the top, but it does make for a bit more even cooking. Plus a whole stuffed zucchini can be a lot for small appetites to finish at one sitting. Make sure you season the zucchini well with salt and pepper before stuffing them.

In this case, I topped the stuffed halves with grated parmesan cheese, and I placed them in a casserole where I had started roasting some grape tomatoes from the garden. Place the casserole in the oven at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour or longer, until the tomatoes have had a chance to caramelize and the bread stuffing is cooked through.

Who wouldn't want to sit down to dinner with this as the main event?

Stuffed Zucchini with sausage

Printable Recipe Here

4 zucchini, round or long

Cut out inside of zucchini and save for another recipe (like chocolate zucchini cake or zucchini cheese scones). Boil the zucchini halves in water for about five minutes. Drain. Season the inside of the zucchini, then stuff.


1 lb. sausage

1/2 cup diced red pepper

1 large onion, diced

2 T. olive oil

2 cups bread cubes (sturdy, day old is best)

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup parsley

salt, pepper

Take the casing off the sausage. Fry the sausage in a little bit of oil, breaking it up in the pan with a wooden spoon until it's cooked through. Drain and remove sausage from pan. Set it aside. Saute the red pepper and onion in a couple of tablespoons of oil until softened. Drain. Mix the sausage, peppers and onions with the bread cubes and the rest of the ingredients until well combined. This is enough stuffing for at least four round or long zucchini.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 1/2 hour or until the top is well browned.

Roast with small grape tomatoes, if available.

If you have extra stuffing, just place the stuffing in a small ovenproof cup that's been greased. Bake along with the zucchini or save for another time.

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