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The BloggerAid Cookbook

Homemade Fresh Pasta

I know I have been sadly neglecting my blog ever since I came back to Singapore (my 2nd home) and I'm honestly quite ashamed of it. Frankly I thought I would have more time to spent on writing and cooking for my blog but I was sadly mistaken. I had completely forgotten one very important factor: Little One is on summer vacation - that means she has no school 5 days a week for 2 months!!! And that means it's 'mommy! mommy! mommy!' from 7 am till 10 pm (strangely she can't seems to go to bed early like she did in France). Lucky me, I just happen to have a kid who is a morning riser no matter what time she goes to bed. Initially I thought 'no problem, I can occupy her, cook and blog at the same time. After all I did it before when she was little and she wasn't school then. It shouldn't be any different.' Ha! I found out the hard way that as Little One grows older, the more time and attention she commands of me. There goes my first-time mum theory of 'as they grow older, they'll be more independent and will play more on their own.' The first week in Singapore were new and exciting for Little One - language barrier didn't even posed a problem for her. Frankly she didn't even care if the other person or little kid didn't understand French. She just carried on blabbering to them, much to the amusement of the locals and kids. I have to say she did try her very best to think of French words in English and speak it but wasn't very successful. However within a week in an English speaking environment (or Singlish, depends on how one sees it), she now speaks English very fluently and can carry a long conversation with strangers on the street or train. I also encourages her to speak in French with me or Pierre so that she doesn't forget her other language.

As predicted, the excitement of being in a new environment quickly wore out and she got bored at home with no kids to play with (all the little kids in Singapore are either back in school or in full day care centre while their parents are at work). So I decided to enrol Little One in a local kindergarten for 3 hours each day so that she can at least play with little kids and at the same time, learn Mandarin (she's very keen to learn that) and English in an local environment. She loves her new school and looks forward to learning Mandarin every day, except writing Chinese characters which she finds it very hard and difficult. Who can fault her on that? Even I, at my age, find it hard to write certain characters. Learning how to speak Mandarin is a lot easier than learning how to write and read Chinese.

Now today's much awaited recipe was taught by a lovely Italian lady to Little One and her class during one of her many school excursions. The older kids visited the Chadieu Castle while the little ones like poppet got to learn how to make fresh pasta. We, the adults (teachers and parents volunteers for this outing) were frankly more excited than the kids! The kids were asked to of course wash their hands first, then each took turns to 'play' with the dough. Some cracked the nuts while others grated the cheese. And at the end, all the kids enthusiastically set to work, pinching, rubbing, churning out little pasta worms. (yes, we are horrible child labour exploiters!) Boy, did they do a very good job and they couldn't wait to taste their hard work. While the pastas were cooking, the teacher's assistant distracted the kids by asking each one to grace us with a song. You should have seen how every kid was tucking it in hungrily and savouring it to the last (not that they were hungry but they sure have gourmet taste buds). Little One loved it so much that she asked for another serving. All the kids went home all excited at the prospect of making pasta at home with their mum. The next day, some mum I met at school curiously asked me what exactly did their kid made during the excursion because she/he was excitedly talking about making something with flour, water, nuts, cheese etc. I guess this shows the pasta making session was a great success!

Made this delicious pasta with Little One I did, not once but twice at home. Well, Little One got bored pretty fast and I was left to finish the rest myself. Be warned, if you are doing it alone, it's quite labour intensive!

Homemade Fresh Pasta (with Pesto Sauce)

Serves: 5-6

Ingredients

Making Pasta

  • 500 g durum wheat semolina/hard wheat flour (Semoule blanche de blé dur, fine)
  • water

Pesto Sauce

  • 1 packet Fresh Basil leaves (a bunch)
  • some hazel nuts or pine nuts or walnuts or almonds or macadamia nut (roughly chopped or broken)
  • 1 or 2 garlic (roughly chopped - add more if you wish)
  • a small block of Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan - roughly grated or broken up)
  • Olive oil
  • salt & pepper for seasoning
Homemade Fresh Pasta
Directions

Making of Pesto Sauce

  1. In the food processor or blender, put the basil leaves, roughly chopped nuts, garlic, some parmigiano-reggiano and a lot of olive oil together. Season it with salt & pepper.
  2. Blend/process it until it is a puree. Stop and scrap down the sides in mid process if necessarily, to ensure that it is well mix and blend.
  3. Adjust the amount of olive oil according to your desired final consistency (thicker or thinner) ie. more olive oil if you prefer thinner consistency.
  4. Your pesto sauce is now ready to be mixed with your pasta.
  5. Store the sauce in an air-tight container with a thin layer of olive oil on top if there is any leftover or if you are not using it immediately. The pesto sauce keep well in the refrigerator for a week or more.
Homemade Fresh Pasta

Making Pasta

  1. In a big bowl, mix fine durum wheat semolina with some water. Continue to add water bit by bit while stirring until it forms a dough. If it is too wet, add a bit more durum semolina. If it is too dry, add a little bit of water.
  2. Knead the dough until it is smooth and soft.
  3. Take a small portion of dough off and cover the rest with a cloth.
  4. Lightly flour your working surface or your plate/dish and your hands too. Pinch a really small bit of dough off, roll it in between your palms. It should form a small noodle strand that looks like a worm. Drop it on the flour surface or plate. Continue to do the same with the rest of the small portion of dough.
  5. Once your plate is filled with pasta, sprinkle a little bit of flour on them and delicately mix them up without flattening them or distorting their shape. The flour prevents them from sticking to each other, forming a big lump.
  6. Continue rolling the pasta until all the dough is used up. Once all the pasta are done, set them aside.
  7. Bring a pot of water with some sea salt in it to boiling point, put in the pasta and let it cook for about 15 minutes or until al dente.
  8. Serve it hot immediately with freshly made pesto sauce and some freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano on top of it.
  9. Bon appetit!
Homemade Fresh PastaHomemade Fresh PastaHomemade Fresh PastaHomemade Fresh Pasta
The Verdict

This home made fresh pasta is simply the best I have ever tasted - most notably their texture feels definitely better in the mouth. It is so good. I'm terribly lousy at describing taste and texture so you'll just have to take my word for it and try it yourself to believe it!

Bottled pesto sauce never really did a thing to me. Frankly I never cared for it... that is until I made and tasted home made pesto sauce - it ROCKS! So totally different from the flat taste bottled sauce. The home made pesto is strong and tasty (full of flavour).

The whole family (parents-in-law, sis-in-law plus Pierre & Little One) loves it very much. Everyone went for 2nd helpings until nothing was left in the pot.

Notes

.
For the pasta, I didn't think to measure the water volume when I made this as that is how I learned it from the Italian lady at Little One's outing. I'll try to measure it next time when I make this again.

For the pesto sauce, I didn't give an exact amount because I also forgot to measure it. In any case, this sauce is rather flexible. You add the garlic, parmigiano-reggiano, nuts & oil according to how much you want in them. Add more garlic if you want it more garlicky. You can also toast the pine nuts before blending them together with the sauce.

Homemade Fresh Pasta
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Prawns & Mushrooms Risotto

The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chosed to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

For this challenge, we must make our own chicken stock and the risotto base. I was not worried about making my own chicken stock but more about making risotto. You see, I had only eaten risotto once in my life when my sis-in-law made it last summer. All I can remember was it tasted super delicious! Since then, I have been wanting to make risotto but was too scared to even start. I even bought ready packaged risotto (like those ready packaged rice) to start out but each time my courage left me. I sound very silly, don't I (even Pierre looked at me weirdly when he found that out). Those packets of risotto are still sitting in my garage. LOL! Now that the Daring Cooks had issued this challenge, I had to stop running and making excuses... however I did procrastinate on it until the last minute!

I had an idea of what kind of risotto I was going to make - Prawns & Mushrooms. Even watched a video on how to make basic risotto just to make sure I would not screw up on expensive prawns (I'm not even talking about fresh ones - the cheap frozen ones already costs about 12 €/kg). I had everything bought and ready to go, and then my laptop went belly up that very day (right after I got back from my grocery shopping). Arrggh! All my data, recipes, food pictures were in there! How can I cook when I don't have the basic risotto recipe to follow? How can I post on my blog? Yep! You got it right. FRUSTRATION is the word that described my state of being for the following days. As if it wasn't bad enough, someone up there decided to put the proverbial icing on the cake and the whole family got seriously sick with flu by late afternoon. Peachy or not, risotto was on tonight's menu. So I spat on my hands and rubbed them well for good luck like a baseball batter (Gotcha! Just kidding!), I went ahead and cooked it sans recipe, with just memories of how the guy in the video did it, crossing my fingers and hoping it would turn out good.

What do you think? Did it turn out good or bad? Did my ninja's training saved the day? Read further to find out!

Prawn & Mushrooms Risotto
Ingredients
  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion (chopped)
  • risotto rice (I use Arborio rice & measure 1 expresso cup per person)
  • 1 expresso cup dry white wine (for 2 expresso cups of rice)
  • 1 litre chicken or vegetable stock (approx)
  • some button mushrooms (sliced)
  • some fresh prawns (peeled)
  • a dash of parsely (chopped)
  • salt & pepper
Directions
  1. Heat oil in a pan and add onion. Fry for a few minutes until the onion is fragrant and translucent.
  2. Add the rice and stir for a few minutes to coat each grain of rice with oil and toast slightly.
  3. Add the wine and let it bubble away until evaporated.
  4. Add enough stock to cover the rice by a finger's width (about an inch or two). Don't actually stick your finger in, it will be hot. Just eye it off.
  5. Cook on medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon from time to time, until most of the stock has been absorbed.
  6. Then add in mushrooms, season it with salt & pepper with another ladle of stock.
  7. Continue adding the stock and stirring it once in a while until the rice is nicely al dente.
  8. Then stir in the prawns, parsley with a little more of the stock. Cover and heat through until the prawns turn pink and are cooked.
  9. Serve immediately
The Verdict

Strike! I got it right - the risotto was done just right, the rice was thick and moist but not mushy, the prawns were cooked just enough to remain crunchy and flavorful, and go well with the mushroom. I can still see a possible improvement by using more refined mushrooms - morilles (morchella) or cèpes for example would probably make the dish a total bliss.

Don't be afraid to cook risotto like me. It's actually very easy - like cooking rice except one adds broth to the rice little by little until it is cooked. It's that simple. The great thing about risotto is that once you know how to make the basic risotto, you can make risotto with anything you have in mind or in your fridge.

Risotto
Notes

To avoid having a very starchy or lumpy looking risotto, don't stir the rice constantly while it's cooking .

For the above recipe, I used my leftover frozen chicken stock from Poulet à la crème (Creamy Chicken). It's a very basic stock of water & chicken carcass without any extra ingredient. However you can also try making DC's Challenge Chicken stock if you wish.

12 comments on this post.

Tiramisu (made from scratch)

For February, Daring Bakers' host Deeba of Passionate About Baking & Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen chose Tiramisu as the challenge of the month based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obession.

Et bien sûr, nothing is ever simple with Daring Bakers' (hence the name sake), this time around, we aren't taking the easy road like I did with my first Tiramisu in 2007 where everything was store bought and put together. The challenge is to make our own mascarpone cheese and our sponge fingers/ladyfinger biscuits, pastry cream and zabaglione (a cooked one) and piece it all together to make this pick me up dessert.

So what is this famous Tiramisu? As mentioned in my older post, it means "pick-me-up" (metaphorically, "make me happy") made of mascarpone cheese, sponge fingers or savoiardi & zabaglione.

When I first read what is needed to be done for this challenge, I nearly fainted on the spot. I assure you would too when you read the following list. But fear not, it's not as complicated and difficult as it looks. Once I got started, I got into the swing of things very fast and all jazzed up... all too soon, the fun ended and I felt a bit bereaved that it ended so fast.

Making pastry cream was a breeze since I have made it before for a Blueberry Tart last year. However I was unsure how a zabaglione should look like after it is done so I just relied on my ninja chef instinct.

For this challenge, I have split things into 3 posts for easy reference :

  1. Home-made Mascarpone Cheese (make this 1 day in advance)
  2. Home-made Spong Fingers, also known as Ladyfingers biscuits & savoiardi (can be made on the day itself or a few days in advance)
  3. Assembling Tiramisu (below)

As we are making all of it from scratch, it's easier and less stressful if you make the sponge fingers first and mascarpone cheese, zabaglione & pastry cream another day or vise versa. Then assemble the tiramisu the following day. The mascarpone cheese needs to be refrigerated overnight while the zabaglione & pastry cream need to be refrigerated for at least 4 hours. Are you still with me after reading the long list of things to be done? OK, whenever you are ready, I'm ready. Let's go!

Tiramisu (made from scratch)

(Recipe source: Carminantonio's Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007)

Serves: 6

Ingredients

For the zabaglione

  • 2 large egg yolks (I used 3 medium egg yolks)
  • 50 g sugar
  • 60ml Marsala wine (or port or coffee)
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp grated lemon zest (finely)

For the vanilla pastry cream

  • 55 g sugar
  • 1 tbsp all purpose flour
  • ½ grated lemon zest (finely)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk (I used 1 medium egg)
  • 175 ml whole milk (I used partially skim milk)

For the whipped cream

  • 235ml chilled heavy cream (I used UHT 35% crème liquide)
  • 55gms sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

To assemble the tiramisu

  • 1 big cup brewed espresso, warmed
  • 1 tsp rum extract or (optional)
  • 110gms sugar (I left it out)
  • 75 g mascarpone cheese
  • 36 savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits (you may use less)
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
Directions

For the zabaglione

  1. Heat water in a double boiler or a bain-marie.
  2. In a large mixing bowl (or stainless steel mixing bowl), mix together the egg yolks, sugar, the Marsala (or espresso/ coffee), vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk together until the yolks are fully blended and the mixture looks smooth.
  3. Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler or the bain-marie. Cook the egg mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 8 minutes or until it resembles thick custard. It may bubble a bit as it reaches that consistency.
  4. Let it cool to room temperature and transfer the zabaglione to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.
zabaglione

For the pastry cream

  1. Mix together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and vanilla extract in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan.
  2. Add in the egg yolk and pour in half of the milk slowly while whisking it. Whisk until smooth.
  3. Place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling.
  4. Add the remaining milk a little at a time, still stirring constantly. After about 12 minutes the mixture will be thick, free of lumps and beginning to bubble. (If you have a few lumps, don't worry. You can push the cream through a fine-mesh strainer.)
  5. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.
Pastry cream

For the whipped cream

  1. Place the bowl (in which cream is to be whipped) and the beaters of the hand held electric mixer in the fridge for about ½ to 1 hour before hand helps to whip up the cream whip very well.
  2. Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl.
  3. Beat with an electric hand mixer or immersion blender until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Set aside.

To assemble the tiramisu

  1. Have ready a rectangular serving dish (about 8" by 8" should do) or one of your choice.
  2. Mix together the warm espresso, rum extract and sugar (I left out this in mine) in a shallow dish, whisking to mix well. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese with a spoon to break down the lumps and make it smooth. This will make it easier to fold.
  4. Add the prepared and chilled zabaglione and pastry cream, blending until just combined.
  5. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Set this cream mixture aside.
  6. Dip 12 of the ladyfingers in the sweetened espresso, about 1 second per side. They should be moist but not soggy.
  7. Line the ladyfinger on the dish, placing them side by side in a single row. You may break a lady finger into two, if necessary, to ensure the base of your dish is completely covered. (I sprinkle cocoa powder on top of every layer of spong fingers)
  8. Spoon one-third of the cream mixture on top of the ladyfingers, then use a rubber spatula or spreading knife to cover the top evenly, all the way to the edges.
  9. Repeat to create 2 more layers, using 12 ladyfingers and the cream mixture for each layer.
  10. Clean any spilled cream mixture; cover carefully with plastic wrap and refrigerate the tiramisu overnight.
  11. To serve, carefully remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle cocoa powder using a fine-mesh strainer or decorate as you please on the surface of the tiramisu. Cut into individual portions and serve.
  12. The Tiramisu can be kept refrigerated for 2-3 days. Once assembled, it can be frozen till you need to serve it, in case you are not serving it immediately.
Tiramisu (made from scratch)Tiramisu (made from scratch)
The Verdict

It's great! Very creamy and sinful but surprisingly it didn't taste as sweet as I expected it to be. There's not an incredible difference with the one made with your off-the-shelf ingredients, but this one is a bit more subtle and flavourful.

The next time I make Tiramisu, I wouldn't hesitate to make my own sponge fingers (ladyfingers) and mascarpone at home, but assemble it using the simpler version ie. make it with raw egg yolks and whipped egg whites. However if you or one of your guests is pregnant or has aversion about eating raw eggs, I would recommend making tiramisu using above methods with zabaglione and whipped cream.

Update: We defrozed one of the tiramisu totally the other day and found that it indeed tasted a little bit sweeter than usual. I have also just realized that I added all the mascarpone (180 g) I made in my tiramisu instead of the 75 g as required in the recipe. So if you are making this version, please reduce the quantity of sugar indicated in zabaglione and pastry cream or else your tiramisu will turn out to be very sweet.

Notes

Placing the bowl (in which cream is to be whipped) and the beaters of the hand held electric mixer in the fridge for about ½ to 1 hour before hand helps to whip up the cream whip very well.

As there were already sugar in pastry cream and zabaglione, I omitted sugar in the coffee as I didn't want the tiramisu to be too sweet.

You can assemble the tiramisu in wine glass, cups or verrines as you wish. Leave it to creativity and imagination. Obviously a transparent container will show it's layered structure better;-)

Tiramisu (made from scratch)
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Sponge Fingers (Ladyfingers or Savoiardi Biscuits)

The other not-so-secret ingredient needed for making Tiramisu (Daring Bakers' February Challenge by Deeba of Passionate About Baking & Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen) is home made Sponge Fingers, alternatively known as Ladyfingers or Savoiardi biscuits. It's a very simple and straight forward recipe to do. Nothing to be afraid of except maybe if you are afraid you can't get your whites to stiff peaks. A little dash of salt in your whites before you whip will do the trick. One of the little problems I encountered was controlling the batter coming out of my ziploc piping bag. I'm not very skilled at piping my batter yet. LOL! The other is that my sponge fingers were baked earlier than the time indicated. So do watch your savoiardi biscuits in the oven. Other than that, making these biscuits is a breeze.

The other thing I want to draw your attention to is CAKE FLOUR is not self-rising flour. Do not confuse these two. Self rising flour (known as farine à gateaux in France) has baking powder in it whereas Cake Flour has none - contains only plain flour & some corn starch/corn flour.

Ladyfingers (Spong Fingers or Savoiardi Biscuits)

(taken from Cordon Bleu At Home)

Makes: approx 24 big ladyfingers

Ingredients
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 75 g granulated sugar
  • 95 g cake flour, sifted (or ¾ cup plain flour + 2 tbsp cornflour or corn starch)
  • 50 g icing sugar or confectioner's sugar
sponge fingers
Directions
  1. Preheat your oven to 175°C (350 F - gas mark 4).
  2. Lightly brush 2 baking sheets with oil or softened butter and line it on the baking tray.
  3. Beat the egg whites using a hand held electric mixer until stiff peaks form.
  4. Gradually add granulate sugar and continue beating until the egg whites become stiff again, glossy and smooth.
  5. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork (so that we can easily incorporate the yolks into the whites) Fold the lightly beaten egg yolks into the meringue, using a wooden spoon.
  6. Sift the flour over this mixture and fold gently until just mixed. It is important to fold very gently and not overdo the folding. Otherwise the batter would deflate and lose volume resulting in ladyfingers which are flat and not spongy.
  7. Fit a pastry bag with a plain tip (or just snip the end off; you could also use a Ziploc bag) and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5" long and 3/4" wide strips leaving about 1" space in between the strips.
  8. Sprinkle half the confectioner's sugar over the ladyfingers and wait for 5 minutes. The sugar will pearl or look wet and glisten. Now sprinkle the remaining sugar. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crispness.
  9. Bake the ladyfingers for 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the puff up, turn lightly golden brown and are still soft.
  10. Allow them to cool slightly on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then remove the ladyfingers from the baking sheet with a metal spatula while still hot, and cool on a rack.
  11. Store them in an airtight container till required. They should keep for 2 to 3 weeks.
sponge fingerssponge fingerssponge fingers
The Verdict

My sponge fingers turned out beautifully. It's very soft and spongy on the inside but not crunchy on the outside like it should be. Maybe it's because I didn't sprinkle all the icing sugar on top as indicated. (I only used ¼ of the quantity stated) The ladyfingers taste kinda flat/bland but tasty all the same. It's very eggy - reminds me of Chinese New Year cookies Kueh Bolu. I like to dip mine with tea. I'll definitely add vanilla extract or other flavours when I made these fingers again.

Notes

My ladyfingers are baked way before the indicated time in the recipe. Perhaps I made them smaller or maybe my oven is hotter. Anyway do keep a watch out on your spong fingers, if it's lightly brown on top and springy to touch before the time is up, you should take it out.

sponge fingers
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Homemade Mascarpone Cheese

Making home-made cheese is something that I have always wanted to do but haven't got the guts for it - fear of failure I guess and wasting milk. So when Daring Bakers' announced that we have to make Mascarpone Cheese as part of their February challenge issued by Deeba & Aparna, I was excited but at the same time a bit apprehensive about it. I mean, making cheese sounds so professional. Can I do it? Will I succeed? Pushing my doubts aside, I said to myself: I've lots of time left before the reveal date. Well, time flies when you are having fun... and before long, the dateline for Dbs' challenge was staring at my face. Cornered, I had no choice but to face my fear. Frankly, it's just so ridiculous that I get all so stressed up about it. It's just making cheese, for goodness sake! If it didn't turn out right, it's no big deal, just try again, right?. But I guess we all have our own weird phobia of failures. LOL!

Facing my fear I did. Although I did try to duck out of it when seeing in the recipe that we needed pasterized cream and not ultra pasteurization or UHT (ultra-high temperature treatment). A search on the net gave me conflicting informations. Some sites claim that it won't give you cheese (can't remember the reasons behind it anymore) while others say that as long as you are making soft cheese like mascarpone, it can be done. Since I have only UHT cream with 30% fat in my pantry, I decided to just use it following Ninja's philosophy: if we don't experiment with it, we'll never know!

At first I tried Vera's method cooking the cream on skillet but after like an eternity, still no sign of any bubbles - a cue for me to add lemon juice (I don't have a cooking thermometer, you see... *hint*hint* to whoever wants to get me a gift). So I decided to switch to bain-marie - nope, still no bubbles. Anyway I decided to just squeeze a few drops of juice in the cream to see if anything happens...what can I lose, right? And the cream had been cooking for quite long enough. Well, NOTHING was darn happening! Arrgggh! Stir, stir, stir... can't tell whether it is milk scum or is it really thickening, but something was sure coating my spatula. LOL! I was getting pretty desperate at this point. I mean how long can I cook this cream? I decided to ditch the bain-marie method, put it on direct low heat and a few more drops of lemon juice for the road. Blink! Blink! Like magic, it was thickening. (yes, for a minute there, I doubted my own eyes) Hurray! Did a happy cheese dance 'I'm so excited. Yeah yeah yeah!'

OK, now that I had it thickened... How do I know what's the right consistency? Did a little stove dance: burner, off burner, back to burner as I wasn't sure if it was thick enough. LOL! Anyway, after a while, I decided to stop the musical stove with my mascarpone and let it cool for 20 minutes. Miracle! It had thickened. As I had to leave for grocery shopping, I put it in the fridge to cool while it was kinda warm. Came back a few hours later and found a nice thick textured mascarpone. Did a finger dip - tasted fantastic! I didn't have any water dripping from the sieve like some other bloggers did. By the way, I didn't use cheese cloth for this - don't even know where to buy it here in France so I used the alternative: hub's good old cotton handkerchief. And yes, it's a freshly cleaned one if any of you were wondering. It works like a charm.

MASCARPONE CHEESE

(taken from Vera's Recipe for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese)

Makes: 12oz/ 340gm of mascarpone cheese

Ingredients
  • approx 500ml or 2 cups whipping pasteurized cream with 25% to 36% fat (I used UHT cream with 30% fat)
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice
Directions
  1. Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering.
  2. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, then place the bowl into the skillet.
  3. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 87.7°C (90°F). If you do not have a cooking thermometer, wait until small bubbles keep trying to push up to the surface. It will take about 15 minutes of delicate heating.
  4. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles.
  5. Do not expect the same action as you see during ricotta cheese making. The whipping cream will only just thickens, like a well-done crème anglaise. It will cover the back of your wooden spoon thickly.
  6. Remove the bowl from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. If you don't have cheesecloth, use a cotton kitchen towel or a cotton hankerchief.
  8. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time).
  9. Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours. (Vera's notes: The first time I made mascarpone I had all doubts if it'd been cooked enough, because of itscustard-like texture . Have no fear, it will firm up beautifully in the fridge, and will yet remain lusciously creamy.)
  10. Keep refrigerated and use within 3 to 4 days.
Home made Mascarpone CheeseHome made Mascarpone Cheese
The Verdict

I like the tastes of home-made mascarpone better than the one bought from the store. It's creamy and silkenly delicious. I don't really know how to describe but it just taste differently good.

Notes

If the above method doesn't work for you, cook the cream on direct very low heat. But be careful not to burn it or else you will get a burnt flavoured mascarpone cheese.

If you don't have any cheesecloth at home, you can also use cotton kitchen towel, a big handkerchief or any coarse cloth. You can also use those newborn cotton nappy cloth that we often us as diapers, light blanket or wipers etc.

Home made Mascarpone Cheese
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Amaretti

HAPPY NEW YEAR! May all of you be basked with joy, happiness, prosperity, health & laughter all year long.

Woohoo! 2009 ends today. Good riddance, indeed! It has been a long and hard year for not just me, but for everyone around the world. I'm so looking forward to 2010 - it sure looks promising with economy bouncing back more or less globally. Let's usher the new year with a big bang of our own - be it singing, cheering, horning, setting off fire crackers or fireworks or even popping champagne with our family and friends.

Like every year, we celebrate New Year's Eve together with my parents-in-law at their house. Mom-in-law has already prepared half of the dinner (Boudin Blanc and Potato Pie) and dessert (Cherries Clafoutis) for tonight. Mind you, sometimes I think my mom-in-law is Wonder Woman in disguise. LOL! Now she is off for a walk in the woods with Little One who is bouncing all over the house full of energy.

What is a festive celebration without chocolates and cookies (besides good wine and champagne) ? And cookies, we definitely have made. Together with my sister-in-law, we made Amaretti - an Italian macaroon over Christmas. It's incredibly simple to make... you don't even need any baking skills. So if you are a beginner and wants to impress your loved ones during this festive season, try this. It's quite fool proof!

Amaretti

(Irène's Recipe)

Ingredients
  • 200 g ground almonds
  • 150 g sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tsp almond extract
Directions
  1. Preheat oven at 180°C (350°F - gas mark 4).
  2. Mix sugar and ground almond together in a big bowl.
  3. Stir in the egg whites and almond extract into the dry ingredients. The mixture might look a bit too dry at first. Continue to fold and mix the ingredients together. Slowly it will form a dough.
  4. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for an hour.
  5. Moist your hands with a bit of water, take a small bit of dough and roll it into a ball between your palms. Then press your thumb in the middle of the ball to flatten it slightly. Place each ball slightly apart from each other on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
  6. Bake it for about 15 - 20 minutes. If your amaretti gets brown too quickly on top, cover it lightly with a foil.
  7. The amaretti should be crunchy on the outside but soft in the middle.
  8. Serve it with coffee or tea.
  9. Store it in an airtight box as amaretti hardens when left in open too long.
amarettiamarettiamaretti
The Verdict

Crunchy outside, soft inside with a strong flavor of almonds: just yummy! You can definitely put these in the "this time it's the last one" sort of treats - can't stop eating them!

Notes

The cookies tend to be soft when first taken out of the oven but will harden once it is in contact with air. Do know your oven well and adjust the baking temperature and timing accordingly. If your cooled cookies are not done in the middle due to oven not hot enough, you can always put the cookies back into the oven for a few more minutes.

I noticed that there are many version (with some slight variations of flavouring) out there for making amaretti but I like this recipe the best - it's simple and it tastes excellent.

amarettiamaretti
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Cannoli

I first heard about Daring Bakers a few months after I started my own food blog. I was intrigued by it and loved the monthly challenges they issue to participating bakers, bringing them to a new heights each month. But I felt intimidated as I was really a novice (and still am!). Now after two years of baking and cooking and lots of hesitation, I decided to just jump right on the wagon and learn how to swim with the experts if I have to. So here I am, my very first Daring Bakers Challenge.

For this november 2009 challenge, the Daring Bakers are taking out their woks: yes, we are frying. But all the same we still need our faithful rolling pin to do the hard work. This month's host, Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives chose the Italian pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural) - a fried, tube shaped pastry shell filled with mixed creamy fillings of sweetened ricotta cheese, chocolate, candied fruit or zest and sometimes nuts. It can also be filled with pastry cream, mousses, ice cream etc. The origin of cannoli dates back to Sicily, where it was prepared during the Carnival season or Mardi Gras and it is said to be a symbol of fertility.

In all honesty, when it was announced that we would not be baking this month, I was very disappointed. But it wasn't long before the Cooking Ninja rose to the challenge and tackled it with a gusto. I did however run into a few problems with my cannoli, it wasn't going as well as I expected. In fact I almost throw in the towel on this challenge as I was going no where with my dough. It kept ballooning up like a little pregnant blob, while everyone else turned out beautiful except mine and I had no idea why. Using all my Ninja spirit I gave it one last try, and I'm glad I did as it finally turned out exactly how it was supposed to be. I wouldn't be that head banging frustrated while making this cannoli if I had only RTFM: the most important thing to remember when making this is to ROLL the DOUGH REAL PAPER THIN and make sure the cut out is 3" to 5" big. Duh! So now you know the trick, so please don't make the same hair pulling mistakes like I did.

Lidisano's Cannoli

Makes 22-24 cannoli

Ingredients
  • 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons (28 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened baking cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • Approx. 125 ml sweet Marsala or any white or red wine
  • 1 egg white (to hold the dough closed on form)
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • creme pâstissère
Directions
  1. Put flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, oil, vinegar in a food processor. While blending it, add in enough wine or juice to make into a soft dough. Then turn the dough out on a lightly floored surface and knead until smooth (about 2 minutes). Shape it into a ball and cover it with a plastic wrap. Let it rest in the fridge minimum 2 hours to overnight. The longer it rest, the dough gets more aromatic.
  2. Divide the dough into half. Keep the remaining dough covered while you roll out the other dough.
  3. Flour your rolling pin and roll out your dough until super thin (thin like crêpe) on a lightly floured surface. Let it rest a minute before cutting out the shapes. The dough might spring back a little.
  4. Cut it out to 3" - 5" circles (small: 3", medium: 4", large: 5" - choice is up to you). Then roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it springs back a little.
  5. Oil only the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once). Roll an oval shaped dough from the long side around each tube. Dab a little egg white on the edges and seal it by overlapping it & press it well. Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it. Set aside to let the seal dry a little.
  6. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan to 190°C (375°F) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute.
  7. Carefully place a few cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.
  8. Scoop up cannoli tube with a large slotted spoon out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels.
  9. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Or push it out with a butter knife or back of spoon. Do it gently as the shells are very delicate. Don't let the shells cool on the tube or else you will have difficulty in removing them. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels.
  10. Repeat the making and frying process with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.
  11. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.
  12. Fill cannoli only when you are ready to serve. If you fill them an hour early or so, you'll end up with soggy cannoli shells.
  13. However, if you are preparing the shells in advance, store them in an airtight container, then re-crisp in oven at 176°C (350°F) for a few minutes, before filling.

For Cut Out Shaped Cannoli

  1. Just cut out your desired shapes with cutters or a sharp knife about 3" to 5" big.
  2. Deep fry it until golden brown and blistered on each side, about 1 - 2 minutes.
  3. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon, drain dry on paper towels.
  4. If the cannoli balloon up in hot oil, dock them lightly prior to frying.
  5. Place on cooling rack until ready to stack with filling.

Filling the Cannoli

  1. When ready to serve, fill the filling of your choice (in my case, creme pâstissère) in a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side.
  2. Dip cannoli tip in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest. Dust with confectioner's sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.
Cannoli

(The dough is not rolled thin enough and cut out is too small.)

The Verdict

The shell itself is very tasty - crispy, lightly flavoured with cinnamon & wine and only a hint of sweetness. Even without stuffing, it's quite addictive. With the filling, it brings you to another high in the taste department. Simply delicious!

Now if you didn't roll them thin enough like I did with my first 2 batch, your cannoli will taste like puff up deep fried pastry - like deflated donuts. They are still very good and addictive, just not crunchy.:-)

Notes

You can replace the wine with fruit juice like grapes, orange, cranberry, apple juice etc (any sweet fruit juice) but add a little more vinegar, this is to ensure that there is enough acidity to relax the dough so that it is easier to work on.

No Cannoli tubes? No problem! Just saw off a few sticks off a broom or mob handle. Voilà, you have cannoli tubes. Or you can wrap your dough around pasta shapes like penne or rigatoni or cannelloni - this works too.

CannoliCannoli
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Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce (Tomato)

Tomato has always been my favourite fruit, or more precisely favorite veggie until I learned it was actually not one. So what makes a fruit a fruit and a vegetable, a vegetable? Basically if it has seeds, then technically (botanically), it's a fruit. So does that means cucumbers, green beans and walnuts are all fruits? Yes. And the rest of the plant where the fruit is from like the leaves (spinach), stems (celery), roots (carrots) and flowers (cauliflower) are referred as vegetables.

For the record, tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, A & K, molybdenum, potassium, magnesium, dietary fiber, chromium, and vitamin B1,B2 & B6, folate, copper, niacin, iron, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, vitamin E and protein. With all these healthy benefits, we should eat more of this fruit. Don't you agree?;-)

Tomatoes are sensitive to cold, so don't put unripe tomatoes in the refrigerator as the cold temperature will impede their ripening process. It is best to store them at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. However, if the overripe tomatoes are not ready to be eaten, keep them in the refrigerator (it will keep for another one or two more days). Tomatoes stored in the refrigerator tend to lose flavor but they will regain maximum flavour and juiciness if taken out 30 minutes before using them. To hasten the ripening process, place tomatoes in a paper bag with a banana or apple.

As you might guessed it by now, today's recipe is all about tomatoes, lots of it.:-) Today I'm introducing a very popular Italian sauce called marinara sauce. Why is it popular? Simply because it is very quick and easy to prepare and the simplicity of this sauce makes it a very common and versatile base for many Italian dishes. The word marinara derives from the Italian word for sailor, marinaro (please correct me if I'm wrong). This sauce dated back to the 16th century, originated from Naples - back then, it was a very popular sauce to cook by the cooks on board sailing ships as it is easy to whip up, meatless and the high acid content of the tomatoes makes the sauce last longer.

This is my all time favourite pasta sauce. I have tried so many times to replicate this sauce sans success until my mom-in law gave me this book recently. All that went wrong with my 'tryings' is simply I didn't add enough tomatoes. Duh! Something so simple yet has such big enough impact on it. Amazing, isn't it.

Sphaghetti with Marinara Sauce (Tomato)

Taken from Cooking Light - Pasta

Serves: 6

Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1½ tbsp minced garlic
  • 2.7 kg or 6 cups tomatoes (coarsely chopped & peeled)
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh basil (chopped)
  • ¼ cup fresh persil (chopped)
  • cooked sphaghetti (600 g uncooked sphaghetti)
Marinara Sauce (Tomato)
Directions
  1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic, let it cook for about 2 minutes stirring it frequently.
  3. Add tomato, season it with salt & pepper, bring to a boil. Then reduce heat, let it simmer for 25 minutes, stirring it occasionally.
  4. Add in chopped basil & persil, let it cook for 1 minute.
  5. Serve with pasta and parmesan (optional).
Marinara Sauce (Tomato)
The Verdict

Obviously it's very tomatoey, and you'll taste the difference if you use quality tomatoes. I only had dried basil and persil but this was so flavorful and "sunny", just imagine using fresh ones! Little One loves it and so did the adults who had 2nd and 3rd helpings.

Notes

Normally I cook a big batch of it and freeze the sauce in small batches - it comes in handy on days when I don't know what to cook or run out of food in the fridge or a very hungry kid or adults who can't wait for me to slave over the stove to present a big meal.:-)

For some kick in the pasta, add some dried chili when you are cooking the garlic. You can either remove them before adding the tomato or just leave them in. If you have little mouths, scoop up some sauce aside for them and throw in some freshly cut chilies to the rest of the sauce for adults.

Peeling tomatoes

Score a small 'X' with a knife at the bottom of each tomatoes. Place them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove them with a slotted spoon and quickly plunge them in iced water to stop the cooking. The skin is easily removed once the tomatoes are cooled.

Marinara Sauce (Tomato)
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Peach Tart

Peachy! that's exactly how I would describe Little One, in spite of the fact that she is currently having a bad case of flu. One would think a child this sick would sleep through the night. No, not my daughter. She has to be special... waking up every few hours through out the night. I don't know which is scarier - being caught in a nightmare or being woken up from a nightmare with sound of your bedroom door opening, someone calling out 'mommy' sending your heart 'boom boom boom' hurling off your chest. Oh mind you, she wasn't cranky with sleepy eyes, she was in fact very much wide awake like 'ok, I'm done with sleep. Now it's time to get up and play', even talked and joke with me while I accompanied her several times back to bed. Heaven above, give me strength!

Now the other reason for her present state of euphoria : PRESCHOOL! She LOVES it, BREATHES it and EMBRACES it totally. Today, we enter the 3rd week of school and one would think her enthusiasm has worn off... no, no, no. She is excited about it as she did on her 1st day. At the sound of activity in the kitchen in the morning, she would quickly hop out of bed, come down with a keen look on her face: 'mommy, time for school?'. Just last Sunday, she got up early, we were having some quiet time together when suddenly she said: 'Mommy, it's time to dress me up for school or we'll be late..' When I explained to her that there is no school on Sunday, she was crestfallen but immediately cheered up when I told her she has school the next day. I have to say that her enthusiasm for school is quite infectious.

Cute and great as her eagerness might be, it's wearing her parents off. Ever since school started, no ever since she turned 3, she explodes with boundless energy - no matter how little sleep she seems to get. Don't tell me she inherited from her paternal grandfather who needs only 5 hours of sleep. If that's really the case, we are in for a very rough ride. For my sanity sake, I hope it is just a passing phase.

To celebrate the state of Miss Little Peachy, here's a simple recipe taken from Cuisine Vénitienne.:-)

Peach Tart
Ingredients
  • 1 pâte brisée (short crust pastry)
  • 30 g butter or shortbread biscuits, reduced to crumbs
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 6 peaches - approximately 1 kg (riped, seeded & cut into 6 pcs)
  • 90 - 125 g sugar
Directions

Making the Pastry

  1. Prepare the short crust pastry accordingly till step 3.
  2. Take it out of the fridge, roll it out into rectangle shape of 1.5 cm thickness. Fold the rectangle in 3 (like you are folding a letter).
  3. Roll it again into rectangle shape of same thickness, fold it again like the above. Cover it with plastic and put it back into the fridge for another 30 mins.
  4. This makes the pastry a bit flaky

Making the tart

  1. Preheat oven at 220°C.
  2. Roll out the pastry to a pie dish of 23 cm in diameter. Press the pastry lightly onto the dish and fork the surface.
  3. Sprinkle biscuits crumbs all over the surface, then arrange the sliced peaches on the pastry in whichever pattern you like.
  4. Put bits of butter all over the top and sprinkle the sugar. (more or less depending on how sweet the peaches are).
  5. Bake for about 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 190°C - continue to bake for another 45 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the peaches starts to brown on the top.
  6. Take it out of oven and let it cool at room temperature for about 2 to 3 hours before serving.
The Verdict

Obviously a fruity dessert - if like my other half you are more into creamy, rich desserts this will probably not be your cup of tea. I personally love this tart, the flaky crust, the light sweetness and the peaches whose flavor stays true to the fruit.

peach tart
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Lasagne

It's funny how I have thought for years that lasagne were difficult and complicated to make - I mean, looking at the multiple layers of pasta and tomato sauce oozing out with the cripsy cheese on top etc. I thought only chef could whip that up... definitely not for the layman I used to be.

Now you would have thought that since I have now done quite a few dishes, making lasagne would be child's play for me... well, a few days ago I was still thinking that making lasagne was really complicated and beyond my cooking capability.:-p Why in the world do I still think that way, I have no idea. It's strange, isn't it. However after making these lasagne the other night, I realised that sometimes something that may look complicated sometime isn't. You should have seen my jaw dropped on the floor when I was preparing them - it is really is child's play: a layer of this and a layer of that, repeat it a few times and top it with grated cheese. Et voilà !

For this post, I really have Pierre and Michèle to thank for. Why ? If not for him thinking of his mom's lasagne and requesting for it, I wouldn't have overcome my cooking shyness. And thank you Michèle for sharing your recipe with us.

Lasagne

Serves : 6

Ingredients
  • 1 pack lasagne
  • 1 clove garlic (cut into half)
  • 3 onions (chopped)
  • 450 g minced beef & pork
  • 600 ml tomato puree
  • herbes de provence
  • salt & pepper
  • grated cheese
  • 750 ml béchamel sauce
lasagne, lasagna
Directions
  • Prepare your béchamel and meat sauce first and set it aside.
  • Rub the halved garlic all over the sides and base of a deep rectangle baking dish (or gratin dish). Don't throw it away after that - chop it up and cook it together with the meat sauce.

Making lasagne

  1. Preheat oven at 210°C (410°F - gas mark 7).
  2. Spread some béchamel sauce on the base of the prepared rectangle baking dish (or gratin dish), then lay each piece of lasagna side by side. It should more or less cover the dish.
  3. Put some meat sauce all over the dish, followed by a layer of béchamel sauce on top of it. Sprinkle some grated cheese on top of the béchamel sauce.
  4. Lay another layer of lasagne on top of it, followed by the meat sauce, then the béchamel sauce and some grated cheese. Repeat this until all meat is used up and end the dish with lasagna and a layer of béchamel sauce with grated cheese generously sprinkled all over.
  5. Bake it for about 30 minutes. The top should be golden brown like gratin.
  6. Serve hot and enjoy !

Making Meat Sauce (Bolognese)

  1. Heat up pan with some olive oil, when it's hot, stir-fry the chopped onions until it is golden and sort of transparent (it will be very aromatic). Throw in the chopped garlic.
  2. Add in the minced beef & pork and mix it well, making sure that the meat are broken up into small pieces.
  3. Sprinkle the amount of herbs de provence according to your liking. Season it with salt & pepper.
  4. When the meat is almost cooked, pour in the tomato puree and mix it well. Check to see seasoning is to your taste. Add more if needed.

Making Béchamel Sauce

  1. Melt 50 g butter in a pot at medium heat, add in 50 g plain flour and stir it vigorously with a whisk. Continue to stir vigorously until you obtain a mousse like mixture.
  2. Stir in 750 ml milk a little at a time (make sure it's well incorporated), vigorously to avoid getting lumps.
  3. When about half the milk is in, switch to a balloon whisk and start adding large amounts of milk instead, but always whisking briskly.
  4. Whisk it until it thickens, then turn the heat down to its lowest setting.
  5. Season it with salt, nutmeg and pepper.
  6. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes (whisk it from time to time) and then remove from heat.
lasagne, lasagnalasagne, lasagnalasagne, lasagna
The Verdict

The flavour of meat sauce and béchamel blend so nicely together giving these lasagne a rich and creamy taste that makes you long for the next bite, just to get more of the flavour. It is so good that you can easily over-indulge yourself. So be warned! The texture is a bit rich because I put a lot of béchamel sauce, you might want to put a little bit less of it if you like your lasagne to feel less creamy.

Notes

This is a great dish to prepare in several quantity and freeze it to be baked later whenever you wish.

Btw: In the US, this dish is commonly known as 'lasagna' (singular) while the rest of the world refer it as 'lasagne' (plural).

lasagne, lasagna
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