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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Afternoon Tea, Minus The Tea

I don’t like tea. I’ve never liked tea, can’t drink it and I just cannot get my head around the nations obsession with the stuff. I realise I’m the only person in Britain who thinks like this and will probably end up in Pentonville for crimes against patriotism, but I am right. Give me a vanilla latte or frothy cappuccino any day over an insipid cup of tea. I’m prepared for the hate mail.

It came as somewhat of a surprise to me then that I found myself knocking back a vanilla chai latte, and on pondering what chai actually was (if something sounds exotic and foreign then I’m a sucker for it, whether I know what it means or not) discovered through Wikipedia that it was actually a form of black tea. Yes, in a latte, you can imagine my confusion and also the horror that despite everything I stand against when it comes to tea, I found myself very much enjoying some. It helped allay my fears that it tasted absolutely nothing like tea. For those unfamiliar to Chai tea, it originates from India and uses spices like cardamom, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and the like. In a vanilla latte it tastes very similar to a carrot cake although I can’t quite 100% work that out for certain. Its my new favourite hot drink and you can find tubs of Chai powder in the tea and coffee aisle, give it a go.

The best thing about discovering a new ingredient is finding ways to use it. This is what led me to bake up a slightly adapted version of Gizzi Erskine’s chocolate and Earl Grey cake when I had some friends over on Sunday. For someone who dislikes tea so much I’ve sure used it a lot this past weekend, I know, I’m a huge hypocrite. You can find the recipe for her cake in Kitchen Magic, I’ve never made it in its entirety but it looks absolutely fantastic. I turned this cake into cupcakes and instead of making a chocolate icing and an Earl Grey cream, topped half of them with a simple vanilla buttercream and the other half with a vanilla chai buttercream. Icing these cupcakes nearly gave me an embolism by the way. The buttercream was pretty thick so when I attempted to use my new piping bag set I ended up squeezing the bag too hard resulting in an explosion as the bag split. Suffice to say, the piping bag got binned and while my cupcakes look nowhere near elegant or sophisticated, seeing the bag in my bin did wonders for my stress levels. What with the buttercream being so thick, spreading it on the cupcakes meant the cakes crumbled at times and looked like something a child with poor motor skills would make. These cupcakes have the perfect texture, are moist, light and very chocolatey. I could only really make out the tea flavour on cupcakes that had no icing on whatsoever (I got fed up of ruining cupcakes pretty quickly) and the chai buttercream, whilst being absolutely gorgeous, detracts somewhat from the chocolate & tea flavour of the cupcakes themselves. Saying all that, it really is having your cake and eating it with the chocolate cupcake and the hints of carrot cake lurking in the icing. If you’d like to try this yourself simply add 1 tbsp of chai powder into every 2 tbsp of vanilla buttercream.

I couldn’t have such a heavy emphasis on tea in all this baking and not include some homemade scones, courtesy of Nigella’s HTBADG, aka, The Best Cookbook Of All Time. After all, it was sunny and I have a lovely garden, afternoon tea just seemed like the British thing to do on such an occasion. Although with the heat we quenched our thirst with squash and kept the tea in the cakes. As of yet I have no table but a duvet cover on the grass sufficed! I’d never made scones before but I can tell you now that I will be making them all the time, they are so ridiculously easy to make. Why anyone would ever buy those dry, heavy lumps in cellophane from the shops when they are a cinch to make from scratch and taste so dreamy whilst still warm from the oven I have no idea. They are ridiculously light for something that consists mostly of flour and butter. I’m not sure there’s another recipe that so eloquently highlights how simple and tasty home made baked goods can be. If you’re a beginner to baking these would be a great place to start: easy, tasty, moreish and guaranteed to get rave reviews from whoever you feed them to. Smothered in clotted cream and jam, there is nothing better to eat while enjoying a brief spell of English sunshine. Nigella calls these ‘Lily’s Scones’ in the book: Lily, whoever you are, I salute you.

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Gizzi, Gizzi, Gizzi, Can’t You See, Sometimes Your Foods Just Hypnotise Me

Many apologies to the late, great, hip hop legend that is the Notorious B.I.G for the title of today’s blog, but on trying to come up with a title this was all that would come into my head. On repeat. All weekend. I knew the only way to get rid of it was to put it in the title, with the hope that it would annoy everyone else as much as it did me. You’re welcome. It would be downright odd if I’d put that title in and then not actually cooked any of Gizzi Erskine’s recipes, so you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve cooked not just one, but two from her latest book, Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts. The book, as the title makes pretty clear, is all about eating sensibly and healthily during the week and then upping the calorie content over the weekend after being good for the majority of the time. It’s absolutely not a diet book, I couldn’t bear one of those in my house, but is about eating sensible, smaller portions and filling yourself up with fruit and veg. I don’t do diets. While I go to the gym regularly, try and eat healthily and don’t want to be overweight, I really abhor the idea of a ‘bikini body’ and of being obsessed with flat stomachs, a certain dress size and calorie content. It’s not for me. I want to be healthy, but I don’t want to spend my life being miserable turning down food for the sake of having a flat stomach. If I happened to get a flat stomach by chance than that would be a happy accident, but I love carbs far too much to worry about what my stomach would look like in a bikini. For starters, the person I tend to go on holiday with is The Boyfriend who knows what my stomach looks like and he’s still with me. It’s not so bad. Strangers on the beach or by the pool are either too busy obsessing about what they look like in a bikini to care about what anyone else looks like, or too immersed in sunbathing/reading/posing to even notice anyone else. I’m not spending 6 months denying myself everything I love to eat so I can still feel self conscious and paranoid on holiday for the 1 day I might decide to spend at the beach. Secondly, when on holiday I eat like a king. At breakfast there is only one correct answer to the question “would you like your egg fried or poached” and that is “both”. I do not hold back. My hypothetical flat stomach would be ruined within minutes of arriving at my destination. Thirdly, we do not tend to take beach holidays. I will be damned if I spend months of my life on what the media love to call a ‘bikini body’ when my stomach is never on show in public. Balls to it. If having a flat stomach is what floats your boat and you’re happy to sacrifice carbs to get it, great, more power to you, you have more willpower than I’ll ever have. But it’s not for me. I’m fairly happy with the size that I am, I’d like to lose a touch more but I’m not going to look sadly at a tray of cupcakes being passed around and say no. Life is just too short. If you need more convincing on the subject, check out Caitlyn Moran’s excellent book How To Be A Woman and her thoughts and musings on women’s bodies and the pressure we are under from the media to look a certain way.

Saying all that, Gizzi’s book is filled with flavour packed, interesting recipes that are light on calories but that I would still eat whether trying to lose weight or not. From the two recipes I’ve eaten, you would never know from the taste that they are low on calories because the flavours are pretty full on and you’re allowed to use ingredients that you wouldn’t normally find in a diet book, such as chorizo and coconut milk. If this is what the healthy recipes taste like, I can’t wait to try out the sinful recipes in this book. First up, satay chicken noodle rice bowl. Being a big fan of Asian food, this naturally jumped out at me and I couldn’t resist cooking it first. Somewhere in Ukraine The Boyfriend is rolling his eyes, exasperated at the predictability of me. I don’t care though, it was so good. The recipe asks you to use yellow curry paste which I couldn’t find in the supermarket (although I have seen it there before) so I made do with green curry paste which is always in my fridge. I crisped up the chicken thighs (yes, you’re allowed to keep the skin on them, I love Gizzi), boiled up some brown rice and spooned over a supremely delicious curry sauce which was a combination of Thai curry and Indonesian satay, and if that combination doesn’t make you salivate then you’ve obviously never had either of them. As with any really tasty meal, I finished my plate with a combination of complete satisfaction and sadness that there was none left. You don’t get that with many ‘bikini body’ friendly dinners.

The second meal I cooked was pork and chorizo meatballs with spelt spaghetti. Although yet again the supermarket didn’t have what I was looking for so I stuck with my old faithful, linguine. Pork is leaner than beef, so the inclusion of chorizo doesn’t feel so bad and the sauce is made up of fresh, ripened on the vine tomatoes with mashed up garlic, fennel seeds and chilli so as meatballs and pasta goes, it’s pretty virtuous. The trick is dishing up a much smaller amount of pasta than normal, something I really struggle to do what with my unending love for the stuff. Yet again, Gizzi delivered on her promise. The meatballs had a spicy heat from the chorizo and while there wasn’t a great deal of sauce, the flavours of garlic and fennel shine through and there was enough to keep the pasta from going dry. I don’t like tomatoes when raw and firm, I’m not fond of the taste or texture, but once cooked down into mush like in this sauce I can get along just fine with them.

If you need inspiration for healthy meals and like big, punchy flavours then this is the best non-diet diet book around. Healthy meals that don’t leave you feeling deprived and hungry yet can also aid weight loss don’t come better than this. Remember though,there is no secret to losing weight despite what magazines and the Daily Fail might tell you, its just about eating sensibly, exercising and enjoying yourself. And never forget that being happy in yourself and full of self confidence on a regular basis will do more for you than a flat stomach on show for a few days of the year ever will.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Books, Chicken, Cooking, Food, Thai

 

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Dusting Off The Red Wine

Now that the Great Baking Binge of May 2013 has come to pass without severe weight gain or artery blockage, its time to get back into cooking some savoury meals that don’t need blocks of butter and sackfuls of sugar. More’s the pity. This week I made use of Lisa Faulkner’s book Recipes From My Mother To My Daughter, which was a housewarming present from my lovely auntie. I really warmed to Lisa when she was competing on Celebrity Masterchef a couple of years ago; she seemed so sweet, likeable and performed pretty well under extreme pressure. Her food always looked like something I’d order in a restaurant and managed to avoid the ridiculous pretentiousness and clichés of some Michelin starred food. Keep it simple people. In short, she came across as a fantastic home cook. I love the title of the cookbook and the whole concept of passing recipes down through different generations. While I’ve inherited a cracking chilli recipe from my dad and am always being given recipes from my auntie, I wish I had some recipes from my mum that had been passed along to me. I have really strong memories of baking bread rolls with my mum when I was young, ‘helping’ her make cake batter in the food processor (by help I mean taking a spoon to the mix and shovelling it into my mouth….some things don’t change) and watching her decorate homemade birthday cakes, the best one being covered in green icing made to look like grass with plastic cows scattered on top. It’s clear where I’ve inherited my baking gene, but it would be amazing to have a battered notebook or pile of recipe cards in my mums writing to draw on in times of foodie need. Hopefully when I have a family of my own I’ll be a good enough home cook that my own children will want to cook the same recipes when they grow up. Better keep on practicing then. Lisa’s mother died when she was young too and her and her sister took on the role of cooking for the family using their mothers recipes which they grew up eating, and which feature heavily in this cookbook.

Feeling in need of some comforting food, I gave beef bourguignon my very first go. As you may know, I’ve grown fairly fond of French food yet have never tried this classic of the region. I know, as if I dared to call myself a fan of French food. Being the unsophisticated oaf that I am, I don’t drink red wine (again, the nerve of me calling myself a French food fan) but we had some bottles gathering dust in the kitchen. It wasn’t that they’d been there long, they were housewarming gifts, but everything in this house ends up covered in dust if left lying around for longer than 5 minutes. Just ask the cat. Beef bourguignon is traditionally made with burgundy wine, of which I had none. Faced with a choice between a French or a Spanish wine, I thought it would be best to stick with French, although being so clueless about wine I wouldn’t have put it past me to completely disrespect the French by chucking in a Spanish red wine. Gerard Depardieu would be furious. Anyway, the dish takes about three hours to cook in the oven after a little bit of stirring on the hob, and I served it with mashed sweet potato. The beef was meltingly tender from the slow cooking and the wine sauce had thickened into a luscious, velvety, rich sauce. I’m not normally a huge fan of mushrooms served whole but the button ‘shrooms had a pleasing texture and had absorbed a lot of the boozy sauce. It all went really well with the sweet potatoes and despite the fact I hate red wine, cooked down in a stew I completely forgot my dislike of the stuff. Annoyingly I chose to cook this recipe on the one hot day of the week so it felt slightly unnatural to be eating a wintry stew while the sun was shining outside. Ironic too as the rest of the week has been pretty dire weather wise and the beef would have gone down an absolute treat. Still, it tasted mighty fine and is another great staple to help me on my way to home cooked perfection. For tasty home cooked food as well as some more adventurous dishes for the brave amongst you, you can’t go wrong with this gem of a book.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2013 in Books, Cooking, Food, French

 

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Let Them Eat Cake

Let no one ever say that I ever do things by half. Just one week into the oven being delivered and fitted and I’ve already made three cakes. Oh yes, my baking addiction is back on track which just goes to show that cold turkey really does not work. At least where the chemical reaction between sugar, flour and eggs is concerned, anyway. Taking a cake out of the oven and covering it in icing fills me with delight, whilst eating said cake and sharing with friends and family just makes me feel very happy to be alive. It sounds cheesy, but food really does bring people together and it’s rare to attend an event without food being at the centre of things. The best things about cakes beside the fact they taste scrumptious is that they are completely unnecessary; full of ingredients that are of no nutritional benefit and expensive to make, to me cakes embody just how much humans eat for pleasure instead of just simply surviving, at least if money allows. Life is short, lets eat well and enjoy what we put in our cake holes (a literal description of my mouth this weekend).

My first cake of the week was a red velvet, the much loved American cake topped with a cream cheese frosting. I got the recipe from my favourite food blog Smitten Kitchen which is basically the food blog all others aspire to be. You really should check it out although if you deign to come back here after seeing the perfection of SK I can only apologise for my sloppy work. I’m just not cut out to test, re-test and then re-re-test recipes for your cooking pleasure, but I’m very glad that SK does, her recipes are fantastic and her cookbook is on my wish list. This cake is made up of three layers so it is a big cake and all the more fantastic for that. The cake uses a lot of cocoa powder which means that you need to use a larger quantity of red food dye to overpower, if you will, the colour of the cocoa. I was 5 tablespoons short of what was needed dye wise so my cake was more brown velvet which was not as striking and attractive as the traditional version but so be it. Taste wise though it was great, with the cocoa coming through very strong which is not always the case with red velvet. The cream cheese frosting would not set despite my best efforts and while icing the cake crumbs would mingle with the icing, resulting in a lumpy and rather unattractive cake. No matter, it still looked pretty impressive and triumphant, standing there high and mighty in the true spirit of Americana.

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Not wanting to stop with the one cake, this weekend I cracked open the Nigella books. In my eyes it’s not home until a Nigella treat has been baked so to make up for lost time I baked two. Common sense, no? Feast gave me just what I was looking for, a chocolate Malteser cake from her Chocolate Cake Hall Of Fame chapter. I feel it should be obligatory for every cookbook to have a similar chapter as there is no finer thing to pull out of the oven than a chocolate cake. Although don’t quote me on that next time I’m extolling the virtues of a roast dinner. This cake is pretty decadent, what with being sandwiched and covered in a cocoa and Horlick’s buttercream icing and then studded with Maltesers. The cake itself is quite fudgey with a malty, chocolatey flavour but the real star is the icing. As you can well imagine I was full of despair when there was small amount of icing leftover in the bowl for me to eat, the taste is what I would describe as something along the lines of malty fudge with a chocolate undertone. This cake is a winner and I highly recommend you make it, however you’ll get no complaints from me if you were to only make the icing. Heavenly.

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Last by by no means least, I made raspberry bakewell slices from Kitchen, a pretty mammoth Nigella cookbook but one which has served up many delights in our home. Not strictly speaking a cake, instead a pastry base filled with jam, raspberries and frangipane (one of my favourite words ever, it just sounds so made up), but does it really matter? This recipe epitomises why I love Nigella so much. Other cookbooks would tell you to make a pastry, roll it out to a specific thickness and then drape over your baking tin, which is what can put people off pastry making because it is such a ball ache. Nigella saves the day by making it as simple as possible, just combine all your pastry ingredients and then press into the tin with your knuckles. Perfection itself and completely stress free. I think I took these out of the oven too early as on cutting into squares the middle fell apart and they aren’t quite as solid as they probably should be but they are by no means inedible. They are too edible in fact. Crisp, buttery, sweet pastry with a fruity, jammy middle topped with almond frangipane and flaked almonds, they are seriously tasty. Sour from the fruit but with enough sweetness to balance the whole thing out. I wish they’d kept their shape a bit more but all is forgiven when tasted. If you’re worrying about my arteries, cholesterol and waistline after this excessive and somewhat obsessive baking binge, fret no more as I had a steady stream of visitors today who I weighed down with cake whether they wanted it or not. I just can’t wait now for The Boyfriend to get back from his travels in Kiev so I can cook his favourite meals that until now have been out of reach. It’s safe to say that the slow cooker and George Foreman grill have been tucked well out of the way to gather years of dust. Good riddance.

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Not On My Watch, Gwyneth

At first I thought that I didn’t like Gwyneth Paltrow. Its an easy conclusion to arrive at, after all she did sob all the way through her Oscar acceptance speech, is married to the most boring man in pop, has perfect hair/skin/figure and bleets on about her wonderful lifestyle on Goop.com. Spare me. But then two things struck me. One is that this woman is good friends with Beyonce and Jay Z. Jealous though I may be, anyone good enough for Miss Single Ladies is good enough for me. I can forgive the boring taste in men when I consider her wonderful taste in friends, especially as I know deep down that one day Beyonce and I will be best friends (humour me, ok?). The second was that I recalled seeing Gwyneth on The Graham Norton Show a couple of years ago where she did a pretty fine job of rapping her way through an NWA track. Best friends with Beyonce and a dab hand at rapping? Why, Gwyneth and I are cut from the very same cloth! How can I hold any sort of grudge against her for her perfect skin when in actual fact we are one and the same. It would be like hating myself and I’m all about self acceptance.

So when my lovely Aunty brought me a housewarming gift of two cookbooks, one being Gwyneth’s ‘Notes From My Kitchen Table’, I was intrigued to see what she could offer me in the way of discovering new dishes and tasty treats. Warning: if you don’t like name dropping then you’d do well to skip the acknowledgments page which reads like a who’s who of A-listers, including my future BFF’s The Carters. If you didn’t already know Gwynnie was well connected, this page would set you straight. One thing that really struck me about her attitude towards food from this book is that she seems slightly scared of it. I’m all for living a healthy lifestyle and an everything in moderation type attitude towards food, but I firmly believe food is to be enjoyed and that too much of a good thing can be bloody wonderful. Life’s too short to make a brownie healthy, which unfortunately Gwyneth seems to have had the time to do. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to eat a brownie or three I want it with side orders of guilt and sugar highs. Gwyneth gives a recipe for brownies that she says are as healthy as possible without sacrificing any of the flavour. When did it become socially acceptable to put agave syrup, soy milk and grain sweetened choc chips (that’s right, not sugar sweetened, grain sweetened) into the mighty brownie? I’ll tell you when: never. A brownie recipe with no sugar or butter is an abomination. If I didn’t want sugar or butter in my diet then well, I’d probably be hugely depressed and locked in a padded cell for my own safety, but that’s beside the point, I’d eat only quinoa and vegetables, not faff about with the brownie. It’s safe to say that I will not be making the brownies from this book. They offend me.

Aside from interfering with brownies, the cookbooks actually pretty good. The majority of recipes are fresh, nutritious and light so if you’re looking for low fat meals this wouldn’t be a bad investment. Crammed full of salads, soups, sandwiches and dinner options you’re bound to find something healthy to eat. To be fair to the author, her father died of cancer and she states in the book that she believes his diet had a part to play in him suffering from the disease so I can understand her caution and attitude towards food. While there aren’t really any properly unhealthy recipes in the book, naturally I gravitated towards the ‘worst’ one. Quellé surprise! This would be French toast made with brioche, that heavenly, buttery, soft, sweet bread which soaked up the egg and vanilla batter exceptionally well. Fried in butter and sprinkled with what Gwyneth states should be a tiny amount of sugar, instructions which I took the liberty of ignoring, the slices of brioche crisped up beautifully. I topped the vanilla absorbed slices with chopped banana, icing sugar and a good drizzle of maple syrup, and tucked right in. The toast itself is crisp on the outside, gooey and moist within and you don’t need me to tell you that the banana and syrup were perfect partners. As Sunday morning breakfasts go, it was up there with the best that bacon can offer. Gwyneth, you’re cookbook passes muster with me, just don’t mess with any other sweet baked goods again.

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Breakfast: The Most Delicious Meal Of The Day

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or has had to suffer a conversation about food with me that any meal is regarded as a treat in my eyes. Whether its a toasted cheese sandwich at lunch, a gorgeous plate of pasta for dinner or a mid morning snack of fresh mango, good food is always cause for celebration. But after a weekend away in Liverpool, I’ve come to the conclusion that as delicious as other meals are, nothing beats a truly great breakfast. Forget your bowl of cornflakes or sorry looking banana eaten in the weekday morning rush, I’m talking breakfasts that you can really take your time over and savour. Bacon sandwiches, eggs Benedict, kedgeree, hot crumpets, homemade granola, fry ups, pancakes, boiled eggs; they all have sheer deliciousness in common and to me herald the start of the weekend and all the joys that it brings. It may be the simplest breakfast going but its not really a holiday unless I have hot, thick, white toast smothered in butter at the airport before my flight. Breakfast rocks, and after not eating for such a long stretch while we catch up on our beauty sleep we deserve a little decadence to break the fast.

This is where Moose Coffee, Liverpool comes in. Found entirely by chance, the 4 of us knew we’d found an absolute jewel of a cafe on seeing the words ‘American and Canadian breakfasts’. I’m not ashamed to say that my heart fluttered a little on reading this (probably in anticipation of the calories about to be consumed), what with my love for all things American. Walking in you’re faced with large portraits of iconic figures such as Neil Armstrong replaced with moose heads, antlers and plush couches running along the back of the cafe, and the enticing smell of fresh coffee and good food. My kind of place, then. What can I say about breakfast? It was unbelievably good. Three of us had the special that morning, which was the Grande Bouche topped with two poached eggs. I have never understood before the American tendency to pair ludicrously sweet dishes like pancakes with bacon, but after the Grande Bouche experience I am a complete convert. French toast made with brioche soaked in an egg and vanilla batter, topped with bacon, eggs and maple syrup. My head knew it shouldn’t work, my curiosity knew I had to give it a go regardless, and my tongue just knew it was delighted to have been allowed to give it a go. Gorgeous. You may grimace at the idea, but a week ago so would I and look at how wrong I was. All three of us loved it and agreed that sometimes you’ve just got to admit defeat and say the Americans know exactly what they’re doing.

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Basically, breakfast was so good that we had to go back a couple of days later before catching the tran back home. Not feeling the sweet stuff this time I decided to go down a completely different tangent and had the manolito which is the Moose’s take on the Mexican breakfast classic huevos rancheros. My idol Nigella has raved about huevos rancheros on Twitter and I’ve been desperate to try it for ages so seeing this on the menu my mind was made up straight away. Spicy food may not be everyone’s cup of tea first thing in the morning but once again breakfast was stunning and right up my street: two flour tortillas topped with salsa, fried eggs, sour cream, refried beans and cheese. Heaven. The salsa had a really deep flavour with a good spicy kick that totally woke me up and the melted cheese was the perfect strength to stand up to the strong flavours of the salsa. I’m now addicted to it and need to make huevos rancheros for myself very very soon.

None of us had a single complaint about the food and everyone was full and contented by the end of breakfast. The coffee here was also delicious and if you leave Moose without having the Moose macchiato then you have really missed out, as it was delicious. Coffee that dreams are made of. I urge you to check Moose Coffee out if you’re ever in Liverpool, it really was the best breakfast I’ve ever had and has served as a timely reminder of how great the first meal of the day can be, just a few days before our oven finally arrives. Now that’s definitely a cause to celebrate!

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Posted by on May 7, 2013 in American, Breakfast, Cooking, Food

 

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