Seared Belgian endive updates grilled Caesar

Greens of all varieties have benefitted from the caprices of recent weather. The plants in my garden grew lush during unseasonably warm temperature, then cooled their heels in a cold snap that kept them from bolting.

So the past week’s meals have incorporated plenty of greens: chard, spinach, lettuce, even the ruffle-edged tops from beets. Cooked or raw, on their own or paired with other ingredients, greens can wear many faces.

But when I want a singular sort of green, I reach for Belgian endive. Actually a member of the chicory family, this pale but sturdy vegetable makes a chopped salad of incomparable crunch, particularly when combined with crisp chunks of apple and toasted nuts.

That was my preferred preparation before discovering a technique that revealed another side of endive. Searing it in a pan tempers some of endive’s crunch but brings out so much more flavor. It’s like the grilled Caesar salad concept only so much better.

The following recipe from Tribune News Service doesn’t list quantities, making for a loose interpretation. Writer Leah Eskin notes that one endive head per person constitutes a side dish. Two is a meal unto itself

I adapted the recipe further by toasting some panko breadcrumbs in the residual oil and butter from searing the endive, adding a little anchovy paste and Aleppo pepper and deglazing with some sherry for a warm dressing. Given those flavors, I stuck with a mild cheese, fromage blanc, for topping.

Tribune News Service photo

Crisp Endive

Belgian endive

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

Butter

Garlic

Feta, goat or mild blue cheese

Slice each of the endive in half from root to tip. Trim away root end. If outermost leaves look sad, peel them away. Rub endive all over with the salt and pepper.

Set a medium nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Drop in 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. When butter has melted, halve 1 clove garlic and slide it in, cut-side down. Settle in endive in a single layer, cut-side down.

Cover pan. Let cook over medium-low (no stirring, prodding or fussing) until flat sides crisp to a deep brown and curved sides steam tender, for about 20 minutes. (Times vary depending on size of endive from as little as 15 to as much as 25 minutes. But err on the long side; you want a deep-brown flat surface.)

Set endive, crisp side up on a platter. Crumble on a little cheese. Enjoy warm.

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Spuds satisfy morning or night in Spanish tortilla

Ideas for morning meals, most recently with quinoa, have proliferated in A la Carte and this blog.

Absent, perhaps conspicuously, have been potatoes. They’re another source of satisfying starch for anyone who’s gluten-free, a dietary concern noted in this week’s story.

But that doesn’t mean hash browns and home fries are the only ways to go. One of my favorite preparations of breakfast potatoes, particularly from leftovers, is frittata. A slightly more involved method starts with raw spuds that are fried for the classic Spanish dish tortilla.

Make this for a simple dinner, then grab a slice for the next morning’s breakfast. It’s just as good cold. Aioli is bonus recipe from La Dulce in Royal Oak, Mich., courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Tribune News Service photo

Tortilla de Patata

Oil, for frying

4 Idaho potatoes, peeled

1 1/2 pounds Spanish onions, peeled and diced

10 eggs

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

Aioli (recipe follows)

You will need two (10-inch) nonstick skillets for this recipe. In a pot, heat about 3 inches of the oil.

Slice the potatoes thin on a mandolin; pat dry. Working in batches, deep-fry potato slices until slightly crispy. Set aside.

In a separate large skillet, heat a few tablespoons of oil. Add the onions and cook until caramelized, for about 15 minutes. Remove from skillet and cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with onions, season well with the salt and pepper. Fold in crispy potatoes.

Coat 1 nonstick skillet with 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat. Pour in egg mixture. Keep pushing down sides with a spatula, and cook until bottom is starting to brown. Start a second skillet set over medium-high heat and coat it with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Then in one quick motion flip tortilla to second pan. (If you do this over a plate, anything you lose can be added back to pan).

Cook until bottom is just browned, still pushing down sides with a spatula if need be. Wipe out first pan, and get it oiled and warmed up again. Flip tortilla once more and let cook until not quite set in middle. Remove from heat and let cool to room temp. Tortilla should still ooze a bit in the middle when sliced. Serve with toast and the aioli.

Makes 8 servings.

AIOLI: Place 1 large egg yolk in a bowl set over simmering water. Whisk in 1 small peeled and minced garlic clove and a few pinches of salt and pepper. Continue simmering until mixture begins to thicken. Drizzle in a neutral oil a teaspoon at a time until mixture emulsifies and thickens without scrambling egg.

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Tiny goats produce local cheese to rival feta

Southern Oregon has proven fertile ground for the gamut of artisan foods, notably cheeses.

Along with Rogue Creamery, several smaller operations were highlighted for a story in this year’s Our Valley. Among them is Pholia Farm near Rogue River, where playful Nigerian dwarf goat kids frolic every spring. The diminutive herd produces ultra-rich milk for several cheese varieties, including Pholia’s flagship Pheta.

Pholia’s version is creamier than the typical cheeses labeled “feta” but domestically made from cow milk. True Greek feta is made from sheep milk, or a mixture of goat and sheep milk. My personal favorite is sheep-milk Israeli feta. But I’m keen to try Bulgarian feta, described as tangy, since spying this recipe from Tribune News Service.

Combining just a few ingredients, this salad of Brussels sprouts would be a lovely canvas for fine-quality feta of any provenance, including Pholia. White balsamic vinegar, rather than dark, is used for a delicate finish. Consider sherry or Champagne vinegars if you don’t have white balsamic. This dish is from Forest, a Birmingham, Mich., restaurant recently lauded by the Detroit Free Press.

Tribune News Service photo

Feta & Brussels Sprouts Salad

2 1/2 cups Brussels sprouts, ends removed and shaved on a mandolin, divided

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more to taste

3 tablespoons golden raisins

2 ounces Bulgarian feta

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 375 F. Place ½ cup of the shaved Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a few pinches of the salt and pepper. Drizzle with a few drops of the olive oil and toss to coat. Roast in preheated oven for about 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool.

In a large bowl, combine remaining raw Brussels sprouts with roasted sprouts, the raisins, feta, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and pine nuts. Gently toss to coat. Serve.

Makes 2 salads.

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Frittata muffins are grab-and-go breakfast fare

Formulas for fast breakfasts with a little flair filled this week’s A la Carte.

The most novel among them is a “pizza” prepared on naan bread and sauced with pumpkin puree. This incorporates pantry and freezer staples of my kitchen in a way I likely would have never devised before this week’s story.

Although baked ham cups are among the more predictable concepts, it’s the one to which I personally gravitate. Blame my undying and unwholesome fondness for McDonald’s Egg McMuffin.

Yes, the recipe could be much more wholesome with a sprinkle of veggies. But here’s an alternative that uses just about any cooked grain in individual, muffin-cup frittata. Made the night beforehand, these could constitute true grab-and-go fare because they would eat like quiche, which I don’t mind cold, while masquerading as an actual muffin.

The recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, calls for quinoa, although the title indicates that any grain could be used. I’d also reach for amaranth, mentioned in a previous post, which is so small and sticky that it doesn’t disrupt the egg’s texture. Amaranth souffle is a dish I’ve made, but these would be much simpler.

Tribune News Service photo

Frittata Muffins for Any Grain

1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa, preferably red or black

2 cups fresh or frozen peas (do not thaw)

3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded Grana Padano cheese, Parmesan or sharp cheddar, plus 1/4 cup finely grated, for sprinkling

1/2 cup finely chopped scallions (about 3)

1/2 cup loosely packed finely chopped herbs, such as a mixture of mint and parsley or dill and mint

1 to 2 teaspoons minced serrano chili, veins and seeds removed for less heat (optional)

7 large eggs

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grounded black pepper

12 pitted salt-cured black Moroccan or green olives (optional)

Position a rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 F. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan, preferably nonstick, with olive oil or coat with cooking spray.

Place the quinoa, peas, shredded cheese, scallions, herbs and chili in a medium bowl and combine well with a fork. (If grains are precooked, make sure to separate any clumps.) Divide equally among muffin cups, about 1/3 cup for each, filling until almost full.

Place the eggs in a large bowl and season with the 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. (If using previously cooked salted grains and greens, only use 1/4 teaspoon salt.) Whisk well until foamy, for about 30 seconds. Divide egg mixture into cups, using about 1/4 cup for each. Sprinkle each muffin with about 1 teaspoon of the finely grated cheese and gently press in 1 olive (if using).

Bake in preheated oven until frittata muffins puff up and turn light golden on top and golden-brown around edges, for about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool for about 5 minutes. Using a knife or thin rubber spatula, carefully go around edges of each muffin to gently release from pan. Eat warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 muffins.

From “Simply Ancient Grains,” by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press, 2015).

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Soaking overnight is an ancient method for grains

Among the feats of 20th-century food processing are ready-to-eat cereals. But filling the stomach quickly come morning is an age-old human urge. So it only stands to reason that soaking grains overnight is a method even older than many so-called “ancient grains.”

I never used to fret over the time it took to simmer my steel-cut oatmeal. Anticipating the dish while I sipped my coffee was all part of the enjoyment. Then I had kids, which means I’m pressed to polish off a bowl of cold cereal between distractions before it disintegrates into a soggy mess.

Steel-cut oats are still a staple of my pantry, but the current cache has been there for a good year and should be replaced. I really have no excuse to let them languish because, according to McCann’s, the easiest way to prepare them is to soak them overnight. To 4 cups boiling water, add one cup of oats. Stir until the liquid has been absorbed. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and leave overnight.

Its sticky cooked texture makes amaranth another great choice for porridge. Actually a seed, amaranth is among the tiniest “ancient grains.” I’ve been looking for likely amaranth recipes for several years and plan to try this one, which reminds me of my “Moroccan oatmeal.” It’s from Maria Speck’s “Simply Ancient Grains.”

Like so many other whole-foods proponents, Speck vouches for making batches on weekends for use in salads, soups and even muffins on hectic weeknights. Cooked grains will keep for seven days in the refrigerator.

Tribune News Service photo

Amaranth Porridge With Apricots and Pine Nuts

1 cup amaranth grains

3 tablespoons chopped dates

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 cup whole milk

3 tablespoons chopped soft dried apricots

Pinch of fine sea salt

1 tablespoon honey, or more as needed

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

2 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts, for garnish

The night before serving, combine in a heavy 3- to 4-quart saucepan the amaranth, dates and cinnamon stick. Pour over 1 ½ cups boiling water, cover and allow to sit at room temperature overnight (or chill, covered, for up to 2 days.)

The next morning, finish porridge by adding the milk, apricots and salt to saucepan; cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, stir well once with a wooden spoon, decrease heat to maintain a lively bubble and cook until mixture starts to thicken, for about 8 minutes. Stir thoroughly, scraping bottom, and continue cooking at a simmer, stirring often, until amaranth is creamy, for about 2 more minutes. Grains will swell and become translucent but maintain a little crunchiness.

Remove from heat, discard cinnamon stick and stir in the honey and orange zest. Taste and adjust sweetness with a bit more honey and milk, if desired. If you have time, cover and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Spoon into bowls and serve warm, garnished with the pine nuts.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Simply Ancient Grains,” by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press, 2015).

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Replace costly cereals with inexpensive grains

“Make at least half your grains whole.” That’s the federal government’s dietary admonishment, which seems like an oxymoron.

Yet it was a main talking point of this week’s ACCESS cooking class in Rogue River, where I instruct participants in nutrition. While the government’s MyPlate improves on former recommendations for consuming grains, it still fails to make the distinction between the nutritional value in actual whole grains (their natural form) and whole-grain foods, such as breads, cereals and their ilk.

Simply put, whole grains, are nutritious, simple to prepare and for the most part inexpensive. And although it’s not as simple as opening a box, stirring up a cereal from whole grains, dried fruit and nuts costs just a fraction of its packaged counterpart and is infinitely fresher.

Similar to granola, just uncooked, this muesli can be softened in dairy overnight or steeped for about five minutes in boiling water. It’s from Maria Speck’s “Simply Ancient Grains,” courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Tribune News Service photo

Maria Speck’s Muesli Formula

3 cups rolled oats or any other grain flakes, such as rye, barley, quinoa, spelt, wheat or a mixture

3/4 cup chopped nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or a mixture

1/2 cup seeds, such as sesame, flax, pumpkin or a mixture

1 cup chopped dried fruit, such as apricots, figs, dates, prunes or raisins

Pinch of fine sea salt

Add all the ingredients to a large bowl or combine them directly in a tall glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, shaking or stirring with a soup spoon. Muesli will last at room temperature for at least 4 weeks.

Classic: Add 1/2 cup muesli to a small bowl and stir in 1/4 cup yogurt, kefir, milk or cream. Cover and refrigerate overnight to soften the grain flakes. In the morning, stir in freshly grated apple, top with more fruit if you like, and squeeze on a bit of fresh lemon juice.

Every day: Add 1/2 cup muesli to a small bowl and pour about 1/4 cup boiling water over it to soften the grain flakes. After 5 minutes or so, add a bit of whole milk, buttermilk, kefir or yogurt, top with any fresh fruit you have on hand.

Makes 10 (1/2-cup) servings.

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Salt, then stir-fry these cooked ramen noodles

Sometimes a single, simple tip is all a cook needs to transform a formerly lackluster dish.

Salting water for cooking pasta, mentioned in the previous post, is one of those. You can never achieve that flavor by salting after cooking, I counseled participants in an ACCESS-sponsored cooking class.

But as with so many things in life, exceptions occasionally come into play. The following Chicago Tribune recipe for ramen noodles calls for tossing cooked noodles with soy sauce before stir-frying with vegetables and egg.

And for cooks stuck in a rut with their pasta repertoires, including one participant who signed up for the free class that I’m helping to teach in Rogue River, this dish certainly should shake things up. Billed as “breakfast,” it calls to mind fried rice with its inclusion of scrambled egg.

Food writer Leah Eskin notes that it’s curiously named for Japanese buckwheat noodles yet uses wheat noodles. Look for plain versions, not instant-soup packages, in grocers’ Asian-foods aisles. I like the fresh ones stocked in refrigerated sections near tofu. Soba, says Eskin, also work.

Tribune News Service photo

Breakfast Yakisoba

4 teaspoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon sugar

4 ounces ramen noodles

2 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch tabs

1/2 cup quartered white mushrooms

1 cup diced green cabbage, in 1-inch pieces

1/2 cup diced red onion, in 1/2-inch pieces

2 eggs beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh tomato

In a large bowl, stir together the soy sauce and sugar.

Heat a large pot of water to a boil, drop in the noodles and cook just tender, for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool water, drain again. Slide noodles into bowl with soy sauce and toss to coat.

Over medium-high heat, heat a wok (set on a wok-ring) or cast-iron skillet. When hot, toss in the bacon. Cook, stirring with chopsticks or a wooden spatula, until crunchy and brown, for 5 to 6 minutes. Scoop out bacon, leaving rendered fat in pan.

Slide the mushrooms into pan and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the cabbage and onion. Stir-fry until vegetables are nicely browned, for about 5 minutes.

Slide noodles into pan, toss until hot, for about 1 minute. Pour in the egg and scramble with noodles until egg is just set, for about 1 minute. Toss in reserved bacon.

Scoop noodles into 2 shallow bowls. Top with the tomato. Dig in.

Makes 2 servings.

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Veggie pasta kicks off ACCESS cooking course

In nine years of blogging, producing 900 posts, I’ve hoped this platform would impart some lessons in cooking.

Hundreds of recipes aside, the actual process at times evades explanation. So I’ve enjoyed the past year and a half of demonstrating recipes as a volunteer Cooking Skills Educator for ACCESS. Presentations at various locations in and around Medford paved the way for providing still more hands-on instruction through six-week courses called “Cooking Matters.”

Monday marked the start off my second series, this one at the Rogue River food pantry, after teaching a curriculum for kids last spring at Howard Elementary. Although I’m guiding my 3-year-old son around the kitchen, holding kids’ hands while they wield chef’s knives can be stressful to say the least. The enthusiasm may not be so palpable, but teaching adults definitely comes closer to my comfort zone.

We instructors broke the ice by asking which food participants would want if stranded on a desert island. Tricky, but my mind always reverts to pasta with its satiating quality and versatility. One participant, at least, voiced the same preference. He signed up for the free course to learn ways of expanding his pasta repertoire.

Well, Chris, you came to the right place. A whole-wheat pasta with roasted vegetables was the class’ first recipe.

It’s the little things with pasta, I’ve learned, that make all the difference. For that reason, I deviated from the recipe and salted our pasta-cooking water. You’ll never be able to replace that flavor by adding salt on the back end, I said. Every time I forget this all-too-critical step, I taste it in the first bite then proceed to berate myself.

And no, oil should never be added to the cooking water, or else the pasta doesn’t stand a chance of absorbing and/or adhering to the sauce. Cooking pasta in plenty of rapidly boiling water, while stirring, is the best way to prevent sticking. So that’s why his sauce had just been sliding off the noodles, Chris said.

Lastly, don’t forget to reserve some of the pasta-cooking water to bind the sauce and loosen up the noodles a bit. I usually transfer my pasta straight from the boiling water to my sauce or other ingredients using tongs or a spider, then I can’t goof and pour all my starchy water down the drain. But if that happens, refer to the outcome of the other all-too-critical step mentioned above.

That’s it, really. Good pasta dishes are in reach of any home cook. Really great pasta dishes require a bit more practice and finesse. For example, choosing the right combination of vegetables takes a bit of savvy. I personally pair up veggies that grow during the same season, ensuring the best flavor but also a sense of cohesion. And I usually don’t combine more than three in one dish, or it starts to seem like a smorgasbord. I don’t, however, count aromatics (garlic) or herbs, in that tally.

Although the following dish doesn’t adhere to the same-season philosophy, it does offer a visually appealing theme: red, white and green (the colors of the Italian flag). I love peas in pasta and because I most often use frozen, the ingredient really does straddle the seasons. I would probably substitute sun-dried tomatoes for the bell peppers in this recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Tribune News Service photo

Red, White and Green Penne

In a large pot of well-salted boiling water, cook 1 pound penne pasta until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 1 chopped red bell pepper; cook until slightly softened, for 3 minutes. Stir in 3 minced garlic cloves; cook for 1 minute. Add ½ cup cream and ½ cup peas; heat to a boil.

Transfer drained pasta to skillet; toss to mix. Add some reserved pasta water if needed to loosen sauce. Season with salt. Serve with Parmesan cheese. Makes 4 servings.

 

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Airy mousse doesn’t go light on lemon flavor

Whipped cream joined eggs as Easter’s other leftover in my kitchen. Made to complement sliced fresh strawberries, it should have gained a citrusy note from lemon extract added along with my customary splash of almond extract.

But mounded atop berries macerated with a bit of sugar, the whipped cream managed to fall flat. Not enough lemon, not by a long shot.

I skimped on the citrus flavor for fear of putting off family members accustomed to cream sweetened with sugar and vanilla. At least my timid approach ensured the cream wasn’t incompatible with this week’s morning coffee.

Next time, I’ll go all out on the lemon. To achieve that, I almost certainly need actual lemon juice, mingled with sugar and cream in the method of this recipe. This light, lovely mousse doubles up on “double-strength lemon” flavor, according to Chicago Tribune writer Leah Eskin.

Sounds good to me.

Tribune News Service photo

Lemon Mousse

6 lemons (approximately)

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

4 eggs

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Fresh berries

Zest 2 of the lemons into a large, heavy saucepan. Squeeze all lemons and measure out 3/4 cup juice; pour into pan. Whisk in the 3/4 cup sugar, the eggs and butter.

Set pan over medium heat and whisk until thick, for 5 to 6 minutes. Press this lemon curd through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl.

Let cool. Cover and chill.

Use an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a handheld whisk and muscle) to whip the cream with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and the vanilla to sturdy peaks. Pour in chilled lemon curd and whip briefly to combine.

This pale yellow mousse is lovely heaped into small glass bowls and topped with fresh berries.

Makes 8 servings.

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Guacamole meets deviled eggs in this spicy snack

Easter has past, and I still haven’t had my fill of eggs.

I skipped the whole egg-dyeing routine this year in deference to my son’s tender age. His efforts, at not quite 3, are better spent finding hollow eggs filled with chocolates and jelly beans than spilling food coloring all over the kitchen.

And besides, coloring a dozen Easter eggs leaves me with roughly 11.5 eggs to consume all on my own. My husband invariably turns up his nose at hard-boiled eggs. But I think I may have found the deviled-egg recipe to entice him for next year’s holiday.

These delicacies from the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen incorporate one of his favorite foods, avocado, and mitigate the whole sulfurous egg scent with jalapeno and cilantro. To underscore the similarity to guacamole, I might garnish each with a tortilla-chip shard. Blue corn chips would be especially striking.

Tribune News Service photo

Avocado Deviled Eggs

6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled

1 ripe medium avocado

1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

2-4 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, plus a few leaves for garnish

1/2 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced (optional)

1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallion

Regular or smoked paprika, for garnish

Cut the hard-boiled eggs in half. Remove yolks and place them in a bowl. Place whites on a serving platter.

Cut the avocado in half and remove pit. Scoop out avocado flesh and place in bowl with egg yolks. Roughly mash with a fork. Sprinkle with the lime juice and salt. Stir in enough of the mayonnaise to make a barely smooth consistency. Stir in the chopped cilantro, jalapeño, if desired, and the chives. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Scoop a generous spoonful of avocado mixture into hollow center of each egg white. Top with a small sprig of fresh cilantro or some additional chopped chives.

Makes 12 eggs.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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