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August 21, 2006

On Hiatus

Faithful readers will remember that I had carpal tunnel surgery in March. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any improvement in my hand, and in fact, the numbness has been steadily worsening. This is making it very difficult for me to type, so I'm going on hiatus while I make the round of doctors to try to figure out if there's anything to be done. I'll check back in after Labor Day with an update on my hand.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!


August 17, 2006

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook: Filet of Beef Bourguignon

A quicker treatment than the classic recipe for beef Bourguignon, which requires a long cooking time. This recipe uses slices of beef filet, which cook up very tender and tasty. The downsides: a 3-pound filet of beef is very expensive, and the recipe didn't make enough sauce.

I spent $38.00 for a 2.85-pound filet (the biggest I could find at my market). That's a lot of money to spend on what's essentially a fairly simple, hearty stew. According to the book, the recipe serves 6 to 8 people (and I thought it could possibly serve 10). If you want to reduce your expense and don't need that many servings, you could halve the recipe.

My other big issue with this recipe was the sauce. Garten has the cook slice the carrots quite thickly, and then says to simmer them uncovered in the sauce until tender, "20 to 30 minutes." My 1-inch thick carrots were nowhere near fully cooked in 30 minutes. It took another 20 minutes for them to be completely cooked through, by which time the sauce was way too reduced. I like the look of the thick-sliced carrots, but the instructions in the recipe didn't work for me, so my solution is to double the amount of liquid that goes into the sauce. That way there is plenty of liquid for the carrots to cook in, and the sauce does not over-reduce.

Make sure you're using a very large skillet -- at least 14 inches in diameter. There are a lot of ingredients here, and trying to combine everything at the end will be difficult if you're using a smaller pan.

To make things easy, use frozen pearl onions that are already peeled. If you're using fresh ones, you'll need to blanch them in boiling water for about a minute, then slide the skins off.

Ina Garten doesn't give any serving recommendations for this dish. I liked it with buttered egg noodles, and it would also go well over steamed white rice. Like most stews, this one tastes even better the next day. You can make it in advance up to the point when all the components are combined in one skillet. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. To serve, reheat the beef Bourguignon over medium heat until completely heated through, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: about 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

3 pound filet of beef, trimmed of fat and silverskin
Salt and pepper
4 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 pound bacon, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups dry red wine
4 cups beef stock
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1/2 pound pearl onions, peeled
8 to 10 carrots, cut diagonally into 1-inch thick slices
3 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick

Cut the filet crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. In a very large, heavy bottomed pan on medium-high heat, sauté the slices of beef in batches with 3 tablespoons of olive oil until browned on the outside and very rare inside, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove the filets from the pan and set aside on a platter.

In the same pan, sauté the bacon on medium-low heat for 5 minutes, until crisp. Remove the bacon and set it aside on a paper towel-lined plate. Drain all the fat, except 2 tablespoons, from the pan. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Deglaze the pan with the red wine and cook on high heat for 1 minute, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the beef stock, tomato paste, thyme, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered on medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Strain the sauce and return it to the pan. Add the onions and carrots and simmer uncovered for 35 to 45 minutes, until the sauce is reduced and the vegetables are cooked.

With a fork mash 2 tablespoons butter and the flour into a paste and whisk it gently into the sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes to thicken.

Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms separately in 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil for about 10 minutes until browned and tender.

Add the filet of beef slices, the mushrooms and the bacon to the pan with the vegetables and sauce. Cover and reheat gently for 5 to 10 minutes.Do not overcook. Season to taste and serve immediately. (If making ahead, cool, then cover and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat until heated through, about 15 minutes.)

August 15, 2006

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook: Outrageous Brownies

A completely over-the-top brownie recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. They take a bit more work than regular brownies, but the results are excellent. One big problem, however: the batter burned around the edges of the pan.

The recipes in this book are clearly designed for a large food service or bakery operation. Garten tells the cook to bake this very large recipe in a 12-by-18-by-1-inch baking sheet. This size is usually known as a half-sheet pan, and while you might use it for baking cookies, in a home kitchen it's not in common use for a heavy, sticky batter such as these brownies. I used the pan called for in the recipe, and my brownie batter nearly bubbled over the sides of the shallow pan. The edges were hard and stuck to the metal rim with a death grip. I had to sacrifice about an inch of brownie on all sides of the pan, because the edges were overcooked and their texture was horrible. And this was after baking the brownies for 30 minutes, which is about 5 minutes less than the recipe states.

I made the brownies again, but not in a half-sheet pan, and my results were much better. Simply divide the batter between two 9-by-13-inch Pyrex baking dishes; watch carefully after the first 20 minutes of baking, since you don't want to overcook the brownies. The recipe can also be halved and baked in one 9-by-13-inch Pyrex baking dish.

Make sure that you allow the batter to cool all the way to room temperature before adding the chocolate chips. If the batter is still warm, the chips will melt and you'll lose their texture in the finished brownies.

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: about 30 to 35 minutes
Yield: 20 large or 40 regular-sized brownies

1 pound unsalted butter
1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, divided
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
3 Tbsp instant coffee powder
2 Tbsp real vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided (1 cup for batter and 1/4 cup in the chips and nuts)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
3 cups diced walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-by-13-inch baking pans.

Melt together the butter, 1 pound chocolate chips, and unsweetened chocolate on top of a double boiler. Cool slightly. Stir together the eggs, instant coffee, vanilla and sugar. Stir in the warm chocolate mixture and cool to room temperature.

Stir together 1 cup of the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and 12 ounces of chocolate chips with 1/4 cup flour to coat. Then add to the chocolate batter. Pour into prepared pans.

Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until tester just comes out clean. Do not over-bake! Cool thoroughly, and cut into squares. Uneaten brownies can be kept refrigerated for up to 1 week.

August 14, 2006

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook: Homemade Granola

A pretty simple, very good-tasting recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook . I have a couple of quibbles: the cooking time was too long, and I don't like what happens to the granola's texture when it's stored.

Ina Garten's recipe says to cook the oat-almond-coconut mixture for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. My granola mixture was deeply brown within 30 minutes. When you make this recipe, stir the mixture every 5 to 10 minutes, and watch carefully starting at about 25 minutes, since you don't want to burn the coconut.

When you take the oat mixture out of the oven, it will still be sort of sticky. As it cools, it becomes crisp and crunchy. If you don't stir the mixture every 10 or so minutes as it cools, it will become a rather solid lump of granola. If you do end up with a granola brick, never fear, because you can easily break it up with your fingers. My texture problem came with the addition of all the diced dried fruit to the crunchy granola. As soon as the two are combined, the moisture of the fruit causes the granola to become limp and lose all its crunch. If you want to save the granola for breakfast over the course of a few days or a week, I suggest that you store the crisp oat mixture and the moist fruit separately, combining only as much as needed just before serving.

You could vary this recipe according to your tastes. Try different dried fruits and/or nuts. Use maple syrup in place of the honey. Add cinnamon or nutmeg, if desired. Experiment and see what works!

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 25 to 45 minutes
Yield: 12 cups

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
2 cups sliced almonds
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup good honey
1 cup small-diced dried figs
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup roasted, unsalted cashews

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Toss the oats, coconut, and almonds together in large bowl. Whisk together the oil and honey in a small bowl. Pour the liquids over the oat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all the oats and nuts are coated. Pour onto a 13x18-inch baking sheet. Bake, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes with a spatula, until the mixture turns a nice, even golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove the granola from the oven and allow to cool, stirring occasionally.

Combine the apricots, figs, cherries, cranberries, and cashews in a large bowl. Store the cooled granola and the fruit mixture separately in airtight containers, combining as needed just before serving.

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook: Indonesian Ginger Chicken

In the name-dropping introductory paragraph to this recipe, Ina Garten says that "Lauren Bacall gets cranky" if the Barefoot Contessa store is sold out of this chicken. Since the store doesn't exist any more, I suppose that's not a problem these days. I guess I'm no Lauren Bacall (shocking, I know), because while this is an okay treatment for chicken, it's nothing spectacular.

The chicken is marinated in a pretty basic Asian-style mixture of honey, soy sauce, garlic and ginger. The resulting chicken is somewhat sweet, and went well with steamed jasmine rice and stir-fried snow peas. But my mood's not going to be affected if I never make this one again.

If you only need to cook 1 chicken, the recipe can be halved.

Prep Time: 15 minutes, plus overnight marinating time
Cook Time: about 1 hour
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 cup honey
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup grated peeled fresh ginger root
1/4 cup minced garlic (8-12 cloves)
Two chickens, about 3 1/2 pounds each, quartered and backs removed

In a small saucepan, cook the honey, soy sauce, ginger and garlic over low heat until the honey is melted. Alternatively, you can combine the marinade ingredients in a microwave-safe container and heat for approximately 30 seconds on high, or until the honey is melted.

Place the chickens in a large, shallow roasting pan, skin side down, and pour on the sauce. Cover the pan tightly with foil and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the chicken, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover the pan, turn the chicken skin side up, and increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake for 30 minutes more, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh and the sauce is a rich dark brown. Serve hot or cold.

August 09, 2006

Sporadic Posting

Hey there, I'm still around, although the sporadic nature of my posts recently might lead you to believe otherwise. I've got busy real-life stuff keeping me away from the computer, but I have been cooking from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and I have plenty of entries in the pipeline. I'll try to have new content up this week, but can't guarantee it. Next week, however, I'll be back on track, so check early and often!

August 07, 2006

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook: Pecan Shortbread

Here's a very good shortbread recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I thought the instructions sounded strange, but my initial impression was wrong: the recipe works, and the cookies are delicious. The yield, however, is way off.

Ina Garten says to roll this dough out to a thickness of 1/2 inch and then cut it into shapes. That's a very thick cookie, and I thought perhaps it was a typo, but after making the cookies, I understand why they need to be that thickness. The presence of the small bits of pecans in the dough makes the dough want to crack and fall apart. Thinner cookies would not hold their shape. The thicker cookies retained their shape and were easier to eat, since they didn't immediately break into a million little bits when bitten into.

I have made one small change to the instructions: Garten's recipe says to form the dough into a disk and then chill for 30 minutes, but there's quite a lot of dough here, so I've suggested that you make 2 disks instead. That way you can roll out 1 at a time, without the dough getting too soft while you're working.

The yield was not even remotely close, so I have to wonder if this recipe was scaled down for home use from a larger recipe that was used to make large quantities for the Barefoot Contessa bakery, without any actual testing to see how many cookies resulted. The book says this recipe makes 20 to 24 cookies (2 1/2 squares). I made cookies of that size, and ended up with 45 -- almost twice as many as the book says. Depending on the size you decide to make, you may end up with between 3 and 4 dozen cookies.

Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus 30 minutes chilling time
Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes
Yield: 3 to 4 dozen cookies

3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups small-diced pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter and sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-sugar mixture. Add the pecans and mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a work surface dusted with flour and shape into 2 flat disks. Wrap each disk in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

On the flour-dusted work surface, roll the dough, one disk at a time, until it is 1/2-inch thick. The pecans may make it difficult to roll the dough out without it cracking; don't worry, just press the cracks together as best you can. Dough scraps may be re-rolled as often as necessary. Cut into 2 1/2 inch squares with a plain or fluted cutter (or cut into any shape you like). Place the cookies about 1/2 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Cool on racks. Store at room temperature for up to 5 days.

August 04, 2006

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook: Parmesan Smashed Potatoes

A delicious side dish that owes its delectable flavor to the large quantities of half-and-half, butter, sour cream, and cheese that go into it. Ina Garten says that if you're being virtuous with the somewhat lean Turkey Meatloaf, you can serve these potatoes alongside it and feel good about it. I'd still like a better meatloaf, but the potatoes are fantastic.

My only quibble; Garten says to cook whole red potatoes for 25 to 35 minutes, until tender. She doesn't specify that she's using very small new potatoes, which are the only ones that will cook through that quickly. If you can't find itty-bitty red potatoes (about the size of a walnut, or smaller), then you'll need to cut the potatoes in halves or quarters so that they don't take forever to cook. Red creamer potatoes that you'll normally find at the supermarket should definitely be cut into quarters.

Garten says to heat the half-and-half and butter in a saucepan; I thought it was easier to heat them together in a large Pyrex cup in the microwave. That way I didn't have to wash another pan.

The recipe says to use a stand mixer to smash the potatoes. If you don't have one, or don't want to drag it out for this recipe, you could use a handheld potato masher.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: about 25 to 35 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

3 pounds unpeeled red potatoes, washed (cut into halves or quarters if necessary, see note above)
1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/4 pound unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Place the potatoes and 1 Tbsp salt in a large saucepan with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer covered for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the potatoes are completely tender. Drain.

Heat the half-and-half and butter in a small saucepan, or in the microwave, until hot.

Put the potatoes in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix for a few seconds to break them up, then slowly add the hot cream mixture to the potatoes, mixing on low speed. (Alternately, mix the potatoes and hot cream with a potato masher.) By hand, fold in the sour cream, Parmesan, remaining salt, and pepper. Taste for seasoning, then serve immediately.

To reheat, place the potatoes in a baking dish and sprinkle with 2 Tbsp Parmsan. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the top is browned and the potatoes are heated through.

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook: Turkey Meatloaf

I have yet to find a turkey meatloaf that tastes as good as the old standby made with beef, pork, and veal. Alas, this rendition from Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook fares no better than any other turkey meatloaf I've tried: the flavor is bland and the texture leaves much to be desired.

Garten says to use "ground turkey breast" in the ingredients list. Most markets have a couple of versions of ground turkey breast; the nearly fat-free kind that says "No Skin," and the 7% fat version. Having had experience in the past with turkey meatloaf, I used 2 packages of the higher-fat turkey, hoping that a bit more fat in the loaf would help its texture. It wasn't enough -- the main problem with turkey meatloaf is the coarse, chewy texture, and using a higher fat turkey product doesn't alleviate that problem. There's an even higher fat product, ground turkey, which doesn't qualify as "turkey breast" since it contains dark meat. A loaf made with this turkey might come somewhat closer to the ideal, but I'm still skeptical that it will have the proper texture. Much as we'd like to try to make a leaner meatloaf, some things just need to be made with a good dollop of fat. For me, a beef-based meatloaf wins hands down in the flavor and texture department.

The flavor of this turkey meatloaf was somewhat bland. I thought it was curious that there was no garlic in the loaf. Its addition might perk things up a bit. If you're looking for a lean meatloaf and intend to try this one, you might add a clove or 2 of minced garlic to the onions, to boost the flavor.

The recipe as written in the book makes an absolutely enormous meatloaf. There's a side note which indicates that the recipe can be halved, which I did, although there are quite a few quantities in the larger recipe which don't lend themselves to easy halving (1/3, 3/4, etc.). I've given the original recipe; if you decide to halve it, just measure the quantities carefully to get half of 1/3, and so on.

I've expanded on the directions somewhat, for ease of use.

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: 8 to 10 servings

3 cups chopped yellow onions
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 tsp dried
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp tomato paste
5 pounds ground turkey breast
1 1/2 cups plain dried bread crumbs
3 extra-large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup ketchup

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat, cook the onions, olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme until the onions are translucent but not browned, about 15 minutes. Add the Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, and tomato paste and mix well. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Combine the ground turkey, bread crumbs, eggs, and onion mixture in a large bowl. Mix well (use your hands to get the mixture well combined), then turn the mixture onto an ungreased baking sheet. Shape the meat into a rectangular loaf about 5 inches tall. Spread the ketchup evenly on the top. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, then test the internal temperature; it needs to be 160 degrees. If the meatloaf is not up to temperature, bake for about 15 minutes longer. Serve hot, warm, or cold in sandwiches.

To keep the top of the meatloaf from cracking, put a shallow pan of hot water in the oven underneath the loaf while baking.

August 03, 2006

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook: Peach and Raspberry Crisp

A perfect recipe for this time of year, when the peaches are ripe and juicy. Get the sweetest peaches you can find, from the farmer's market if possible.

This recipe makes an enormous crisp, so feel free to halve the ingredients. Use an 8-by-8-inch baking dish for the smaller crisp.

Ina Garten recommends serving this dessert with rum-flavored whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. I've added a couple of additional suggestions to the ingredients list.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: about 1 hour
Yield: 10 servings

4 to 5 pounds ripe peaches (10 to 12 large peaches)
Zest of 1 orange
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups plus 2 to 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 pint raspberries
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
Rum-flavored whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, sour cream, or crème fraîche, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the inside of a 10-by-15-inch baking dish.

To remove the peach skins: Blanch the peaches in a large pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, then drop them in a bowl of ice water. Peel the skins off, slice the peaches around the middle, and twist to remove the fruit from the pits. Discard skin and pits. Slice the peaches into 1/4-inch thick pieces and place in a large bowl.

To the same bowl, add the orange zest, 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar 1/2 cup of the brown sugar, and 2 Tbsp of flour. Toss well. Gently mix in the raspberries. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. If there is a lot of liquid, add 1 more Tbsp of flour and stir gently. Pour the peaches into the prepared pan.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt, oats, and the cold diced butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the butter is pea-sized and the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle the streusel evenly on top of the peaches. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the top is browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve hot or warm, with desired accompaniments.

August 02, 2006

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook: Croissant Bread Pudding

An over-the-top dessert from Ina Garten. If you like bread pudding this one may appeal to you; I found it rather boring, myself.

You'll need to buy the croissants a day ahead so that they get a bit stale. Garten's recipe says to cook the pudding in a 10-by-15-inch baking dish, but I found that the croissants and custard mixture fit just fine in a 9-by-13-inch dish. Garten also says that you need to make sure that the raisins are completely contained within the croissants, or they will burn. I found this curious, so I purposely left some of the raisins floating in the custard, and they were fine. In other words, don't worry about it.

I think that Ina Garten's definitions for "medium" and "large" must be different from mine, because the original instructions for this recipe say to mix the custard in a "medium" bowl. In my world, 5 cups of half-and-half plus 11 eggs and yolks do not fit in a "medium" bowl. I've changed the instructions to read "large."

The recipe suggests serving this bread pudding with rum-flavored whipped cream. I honestly think that that's just another boring dairy component that won't add a lot to a dish that's already overflowing with half-and-half. For contrast, I suggest a compote of fruit such as strawberries or raspberries (place the fruit in a saucepan with a sprinkling of sugar, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for just a couple of minutes so that the fruit retains its shape).

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: about 1 1/2 hours
Yield: 8 to 10 servings

3 extra-large eggs
8 extra-large egg yolks
5 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
6 croissants, preferably stale
1 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, half-and-half, sugar, and vanilla. Set the custard mixture aside.

Slice the croissants in half horizontally. Place the bottoms of the croissants in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the raisins atop the croissant bottoms, then cover them with the croissant tops (try to keep the raisins inside the croissants, but don't worry if some of them escape). Pour the custard over the top and allow to soak for 10 minutes, pressing down occasionally.

Place the baking dish in a larger roasting pan filled with an inch of hot water. Cover the larger pan with aluminum foil, tenting the foil so that it doesn't touch the pudding. Cut a few holes in the foil for steam to escape. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 40 to 45 minutes or until the pudding puffs up and the custard is set. Remove from the oven and cool about 10 minutes before serving.

In Progress: Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

At last, I'm moving on from Food Network Favorites! Ina Garten hosts a show on the Food Network, and was the owner of the eponymous Barefoot Contessa specialty food store/restaurant/bakery in the Hamptons. This book, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook , features recipes and ideas from that store.

My first glance through the book shows beautiful photography and some interesting recipes, so let's see how they work!




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