recipes


I recently started making breadsticks on a semi-regular basis. The reason for this is that the first time I made them, I took a couple of shortcuts with the recipe, and ended up with the easiest ever breadsticks that my family absolutely loves. These are easier than buying a tube of “biscuit” dough and popping it open. They’re more stick than bread, not like those fluffy, gross things you get at everyone’s favorite fake Italian restaurant. They’re long, crispy on the outside, and very slightly chewy on the inside. Depending on how fat you make them, of course. We like them about as big around as a toothbrush. I don’t roll them out, so they’re slightly uneven, but the rolling takes sooo much time. Trust me, this way is better. Also, this dough makes fantastic pizza crust.

(You will notice that some of the photos are taken from about 3 1/3 feet above the floor. This is where I could no longer do the one-handed photography, and my wonderful little Calvin came to my rescue.)

Here’s what you do:

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast OR 1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
almost 2 cups cool water

In the bowl of an electric mixer, with the dough hook attached, measure flours, yeast*, and salt. Mix on low for a minute, to incorporate the salt and yeast. With the mixer running, add the water until it forms a ball on the hook. Mix on the second speed for about 4 minutes. If it’s too sticky, and there’s a lot of dough still on the side of the bowl, add flour a tablespoon at a time, until it pulls away. Stop the mixer and let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Mix again at the second speed for about 2 more minutes. Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for a while.

I say a while, because the rising is not so crucial here. I’ve let this rise for 1 1/2 hours, and for 3 hours. Once it’s risen, you can put it in the fridge for later. Just take it out about 1/2 hour before you plan on baking. You can also put it in the fridge overnight, which will improve the flavor. If you want, you can punch the dough down and let it rise again, which will also improve the flavor, but it’s not necessary.

About an hour before dinner time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grab a sheet pan and grease it with olive oil.
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Spread the oil until it all over. Set it aside.
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Flour your work surface. Yes, this is the entire work surface in my kitchen. Derek and I were talking last night about how, next time we buy a house, we won’t pick one with a mini kitchen.
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GENTLY loosen the dough from the bowl and dump it onto the floured surface. You don’t want to de-gas the dough, you want all the bubbles.
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With a knife or bench scraper, cut the dough roughly in half.
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Keep one half, and return the other half to the bowl and cover.
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If you are making a lot of breadsticks, you’ll use that other half. You won’t want to make extra for tomorrow, because these don’t keep especially well. The nice thing is that when you want more tomorrow, you can just pull the extra dough out of the fridge, cut it, and bake!

Cut that piece in half again.
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Move one half aside, take the other half, and gently pull the corners so you have a rough rectangle.
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Cut a piece from the long edge, about a finger’s width.
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Pick up the piece from both ends.
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Gently pull each end.
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It should stretch really easily, since you didn’t de-gas it or knead it after it came out of the bowl. When it’s about as long as your pan,
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lay it on the pan, the long way.
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Continue until your pan is full, then brush a little olive oil on each breadstick.
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I like to sprinkle Kosher salt on the breadsticks. Sesame and poppy seeds are also really good.
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Bake them for about 12 minutes, then check them. If they are not golden, bake for a few more minutes. If they are brown, they are maybe a little over done, but certainly not burned! These ones were crispy and yummy!
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You could experiment on how crispy you like them. I like them to be able to stand straight, so you could put them in a vase or something, and to crunch when bitten, but to have a chewy center. If they’re brown like the darker ones above, they will be crispy all through, like a long crouton, but still excellent.

One night when I made these, I realized I only had one cup of all-purpose flour. I substituted 2 cups of bread flour, and 1 tablespoon olive oil, to tenderize the dough, since bread flour has that extra gluten. I think you could also skip the whole wheat flour and use all white, but you might need less water. And if you’re in a high-altitude place, or a desert, you will need more water to make the dough soft enough.

*If you are using dry yeast and you like to proof it first, add it to 1 cup of the water, dissolve, and wait until it bubbles up a little. If you are using instant yeast, you just add it directly to the dry flour. If you’re like me, you use yeast often enough that you only proof it the first time you use it, just to make sure it’s alive, and then you pretty much use up the whole jar in a couple of months, before it has time to die. Also, you always keep it in the fridge or freezer.

Really. I mean it. Don’t laugh. Sometimes you just really want something from your childhood that makes you warm and safe. I won’t call it what everyone else calls it, because I hate that term with the fire of a thousand suns. Yet there are things that really do it.

When we would go to Grandma’s house in Provo when I was little, she would serve up beef stew in those mug-bowls that have a long handle sticking out of them. I always thought she made the best beef stew in the world. A couple of years ago, after I’d been living in my Grandpa’s basement (Grandma died in ’89), he invited me and the fam up for dinner. He spooned up bowls of beef stew with that same aroma that I remember from when I was 8. I was so amazed that Grandpa had learned how to make the stew just like Grandma used to make.

I later found out that it was Grandpa making it all along. Apparently Grandma wasn’t much of a cook, and Grandpa was the resident chef. And Grandpa really likes beef. The two things I can think of that he has cooked for us, on many occasions since then, are roast beef and beef stew.

Grandpa’s beef stew is probably simpler that what most people would make. Since Grandpa can’t tolerate any onions, garlic, or any, and I mean ANY herbs or spices, his stew has beef, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and salt, with the occasional green bean. As a kid, that was all I needed. I didn’t care what was in it, I just knew that it was the best beef stew ever.

This week I’ve had a hankering for beef. This is rare. It’s even rarer that I would go out and purchase a chunk of flesh and actually prepare it, but I did. I wanted to make a roast, to pair with my perfect mashed potatoes, some perfect gravy, and maybe a little salad. Unfortunately, I know almost nothing about choosing a cut of cow. I bought a 2 1/2 pound piece of chuck and brought it home. I thought I’d save it for Sunday dinner (isn’t that quaint?). On Sunday, I started getting a little sore in the throat area, and by mid-afternoon, it was clear there would be no roasting going on.

Monday morning, I had the worst sore throat I have ever had, with excruciating pain upon swallowing. Ice cream for breakfast, though! I decided to go ahead with the roast that afternoon, but when I got out my 1000 Best Recipe, it advised against chuck as the roast, but referred me instead to the stew page. I trimmed the meat and cut it into chunks, then went back to the recipe, which said it would take about 2 1/2 hours of stewing. And it was, of course, too late to start it and have it ready in time for dinner at a reasonable hour for children. So I stuck the chunks in the fridge and made some prosciutto pockets. And the village people rejoiced, as they devoured every last morsel.

So today, I was ready to stew. I don’t have one of those fancy enamel dutch ovens that I’ve secretly been coveting these many years. Nor do I have any sort of oven-safe stew pot. I do have a Crock-Pot, though. You should think that’s funny, since I returned all 6 of the slow cookers we got as wedding presents. Because I’m snob enough to eschew any easy-way-out Americana short-cut casserole cream of chicken soup producing novelty. I gave back the bread maker too. I’ve even been known to brag about not knowing how to use a crock pot, because I only do “real cooking.” Yes, aren’t you glad you don’t know me in real life? Anyway, my mom had bought a crock pot, thinking she could find a use for it, but since she’s the older version of me, she couldn’t. She passed it along a couple of years ago, and I’ve decided I’ll use it.

Slow cooker Beef Stew
Total time: 7 hours with changes in temp. If you put all the stuff in the beginning, I’m pretty sure you can just leave it on low for about 8 hours, or high for about 5, and have it done without any fiddling. I just added stuff as I was passing through the kitchen to do the laundry.

1 T oil
2 1/2 pounds beef chuck, trimmed of fat and silver skin, and cut into cubes
1/2 C red wine
4 C chicken broth
1 onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs thyme
salt and pepper
1 bunch small carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch lengths, halved lengthwise
3 stalks of celery, chopped
3-4 T tomato paste
5 or 6 medium potatoes, cut into large chunks
3 T butter
4-5 T flour

Plug in the slow-cooker and turn it on high. Pour in wine and chicken broth to start warming. Add onion. In a hot skillet, heat the oil and sear the beef chunks in 3 batches, adding to the slow cooker as they get browned. Add bay leaf and thyme. After 1/2 hour or so, turn to low.

After 2 hours or so, add carrots, celery and potatoes and about 2 t kosher salt and a bunch of pepper. Add the tomato paste in blobs, and don’t worry about stirring them in. Make sure the vegetables are barely covered with liquid. Cover and turn back to high for 1/2 hour, then turn back to low.

After another 2 or 3 hours, check the potatoes with a fork. When they’re done, it’s time to thicken the stew. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add flour and whisk for a minute or two. Add hot broth right out of the crock pot to make a gravy. I added about 3 cups of broth, then added a little water, whisking all the while. When it’s thin or thick enough for you, pour it back into the crock pot and stir gently to mix. Check for blobs of tomato paste, and mash them up. Remove the bay leaf and thyme stems, and the onions, unless you like big, slimy onions in your stew. I guess you could chop the onions before you put them in, but I have kids that complain about onions, and the bigger they are, the easier to pick out.

This makes a very meaty stew. If you added more veggies, you could probably feed 20 people on it, instead of 8. I think you’d need another crock pot, though.

I got a half-peck of McIntosh apples from Trader Joe’s last week and I decided it was time to just use up the last of them. But it turned out I only had 2 1/2 pounds left, and the recipe for apple butter in The Joy of Cooking calls for 4 pounds. I improvised with about 3 cups cranberries. It ended up pretty tart, but sort of chutney like. Marvelous. It’s reminiscent of wassail, and it’s such a lovely raspberry color. I had to make some bread today, so I would have something to put my fruit butter on.

Apple Cranberry Butter

2 1/2 pounds peeled, quartered and cored McIntosh apples, or other tart, cooking variety (my mother-in-law’s Jonathans are fantastic, but they’re in Utah and I’m not)
1 cup water
1 cup cider vinegar
3 Cups fresh or frozen cranberries
lots of sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t cloves
1/4 t allspice
grated rind of one lemon
juice of one lemon
grated rind of one orange

Cook the apples on medium low in the water and vinegar in a large saucepan. When they fall apart completely, mash them with a potato masher or puree in a blender, depending on your preferred texture. Meanwhile, in a microwave-safe bowl, microwave the cranberries until hot and mushy, checking every 30 seconds. Puree in a blender. Add cranberries to apples, along with 1/2 cup of sugar per cup of fruit. I think I used about 2 cups sugar, because I like it tart and not too sweet. Taste it before adding more sugar. Add spices and lemon and orange stuff and cook on low, stirring often, until the mixture sheets from the spoon. This can take hours, so if you must leave the house to pick up your kindergartener from school, just turn off the heat and resume when you get home. Be so careful not to let it burn. Pour it into hot sterilized pint or half pint jars. It will still seem runny when it’s done, but it will thicken up as it cools.

This stuff is really heavenly on whole grain toast. I definitely think it could be used as a chutney or meat sauce… Oh man, this would be fantastic with a pork loin roast. I think I’ll make that tomorrow.

I roasted two little Sugar Pumpkins this afternoon, at the request of Calvin, who is dying to try some pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin. Ever since people started putting up Jack-‘o-Lanterns before Halloween, he’s been begging to cook up a pumpkin. So I went to Trader Joe’s where they were selling Sugar Pumpkins, which are actually meant for eating, not carving. I bought two, because I knew violence would ensue if a pumpkin magically appeared at the behest of one child, and there wasn’t one for the other. And I always like to use the whole beast if I can.

Easy as pie, so they say. I sliced the little (baby-head sized) pumpkins in half from top to bottom, put them on a greased cookie sheet, skin side up, and baked them for an hour at 300 degrees. Then, when they were cooled down, I scooped out the flesh and pureed it with my stick blender. Actually, Derek was in the room and he asked me if I needed him to do the pureeing. I told him I was doing just fine, and he confessed that he thought it looked like fun, so I let him do the pureeing. Tomorrow, I will whip up some pie crust. Tuesday, I’ll make some pie.

As for the seeds, I put them in a big bowl, ran a little bit of water in, swirled them around, and picked out the big chunks of pulp. I ran some more water and they floated above the rest of the pulp, so I could just scoop them out onto a paper towel. Calvin has also been asking for pumpkin seeds, you see.

Candied Pumpkin Seeds

about 2 cups fresh raw pumpkin seeds, washed and patted dry
2 T butter or canola oil
1/4 cup real maple syrup (it would probably work just fine with only 2 tablespoons, but wouldn’t that be sad?)
generous pinch salt
1/8-1/4 t cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Melt butter in a large bowl. Add maple syrup, salt, and cayenne and mix well. Stir in pumpkin seeds and mix to coat. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast for 45-60 minutes, stirring every ten minutes, until golden. The syrup should be dark golden brown and very sticky.

When you take the seeds out of the oven, stir them with a couple of spatulas for about 5 minutes while they cool, breaking up large clumps. Eat immediately. Yummy.

Derek and I ate the entire batch as soon as it was cool enough. I don’t know how Sugar Pumpkin seeds compare to carving pumpkin seeds, except that I was expecting them to be more woody. It seems like I’ve had the seeds in the hull before, and I had to chew and chew those suckers. Well, these ones I made today were not at all like that. In fact, they were so yummy that Zeeb ate a bunch, calling them “Pumpkin chips” and Kiki found a clump that had fallen to the floor and tried to eat it. I can usually get things out of her mouth, like when she eats rocks or marbles, but this time, she would NOT give it up. She had those jaws clamped tight, and kept mooshing her lips so I couldn’t stick my finger in there. It was amazing.

Anyway, if you want a yummy, good-for-you snack (and by that I mean not processed or including unpronounceable ingredients, not low calorie), try these. They’re so easy. I’m gonna make some for appetizers on Thanksgiving.

In a characteristic fit of I-can-do-anything-itis, and after having read this article in the New York Times, I hauled off and ordered 10 pounds of fresh olives a few weeks ago. They arrived a couple of days after we moved into the house, so I stuck them in the fridge to await their fate. Today was the day. I finally bought 12 quart canning jars last night, and 2 pounds of lemons. I got up this morning with that glow of excitement at the start of a new project. I’ve only been thwarted in minor ways, no big set-backs yet.

I washed my olives and put them in the jars with the brine, vinegar, lemons, garlic, and celery. I still need to go get more lemons to make juice to add, and I also need a bunch of hot peppers, which I had forgotten about. Also, I think I need at least one more head of garlic. I’m not totally certain the jars are big enough, though. The recipe says to put 3 1/2 pounds of olives in 2 1-gallon jars, but I only had quart jars. And it seems like if you use gallon jars, you end up with olives only in the bottom half of the jar. But you use a lot more brine that way. I think I’m gonna have to keep an eye on those buggers.

I’m so excited to try my own home-cured olives in 6 months. I love olives. Sometimes I think I should have been born in the Mediterranean, because I love olives, citrus, garlic, and flatbread more that about anything else. I wish I had had some good green olives last night, because I could have used them in our dinner. I had to improvise with black olives and capers, which I’m not sure would really fall into a traditional Moroccan meal. The capers, I mean. But man, was it yummy. So yummy, that for your entertainment, I’m posting the recipe for this Moroccan Lemon Chicken and Almond Rice Pilaf, as well as Roasted Cauliflower, which it the perfect accompaniment to the chicken. It’s a little bit of a cheater menu. I used leftover rice from the night before, and subbed in the wrong olives, but it was still so good.

Moroccan Lemon Chicken

1 T olive oil
1 whole, boneless chicken breast with skin and wings (I used 8 frozen thighs from Trader Joe’s)
1 small onion, sliced thin
3/4 t ground cumin
1/4 t paprika
1/4 t cinnamon
2 t finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 t flour
1 1/2 C chicken broth
1/3 C green olives, pitted and sliced thin (or black olives plus 1 T chopped capers)
1 T honey
1/2 C drained, rinsed canned chickpeas (which I left out, because I had none)
2 T chopped fresh cilantro (also absent, because where do you get fresh cilantro in Ohio in November? I don’t know!)

In a large, heavy saucepan (I don’t use non-stick for stuff like this, because the fresh-ground spices scratch it up, so I use cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Don’t let it smoke. Dry off the rinsed chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken with the skin side down (this is one of those times when you really want the skin still on. It makes this dish taste like actual chicken, and also gives the sauce a nice, velvety texture) until the skin is deep golden brown. Transfer to a plate.

Add the onions to the pan and cook a few minutes until soft. Add spices (if you’re me, double the amount), zest, and flour, and simmer for one minute, stirring. Add broth, olives (and capers), and honey. Add the chicken again and simmer for about 8-10 minutes, uncovered. Stir every so often, and don’t worry about the skin that forms on the sauce, just stir it in. Add the chickpeas, simmer, add salt and pepper to taste. When serving, make sure everyone gets a lot of sauce, and sprinkle with cilantro.

Almond Rice Pilaf

1 t olive oil
1/4 C chopped or slivered almonds
2-3 cups cooked rice (I used long grain brown rice)
small handful of raisins

Heat the olive oil on medium in a skillet (non-stick is good here) and add almonds. Stir and cook until toasted and a tiny bit golden. Add rice and stir, incorporating all the oil and breaking up any chunks. Add raisins and keep stirring until all the rice is hot. Be pretty careful not to burn the rice. I like to add a couple of tablespoons of water to rehydrate the rice. The water steams the rice a little.

Roasted Cauliflower, or Cauliflower Fries, or The Best Cauliflower You’ve Ever Tasted, Even If You Think You Hate Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground caraway
3/4 t salt
pepper

Toss the cauliflower with the oil, then the spices and salt. Again, if you’re me, double the spices. Put the cauliflower on a baking sheet in one layer, and roast in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes. You should hear a lot of sizzling. Take it out and turn the cauliflower. It might look a little burned on the bottom, but that’s what you want. Return to the oven and roast another 10 minutes. It should be shriveled, blackened and crispy on the edges, and kind of juicy looking. Let it cool a little before you try it, and then prepare yourself for a new addiction. Keep the kids away, because they will eat it all. And beg for more, even fight over the remaining pieces.

You know when you haven’t been to the market for a while, and you’re running low on vegetables? And low on everything else that could possibly be construed as edible? That happens about once a week here. Earlier this week, I perused the contents of the fridge with an empty head. I couldn’t come up with anything to make for dinner, and I had almost nothing that could be combined with anything else to make a passably edible meal.

Until I noticed the leftover macaroni from the night before. That had been a desperate attempt at getting the boys to eat something without complaining or making any retching noises. I had made plain mezzi rigatoni with butter, salt and pepper, and for the vegetable, cucumbers in vinegar. They ate, they forbore to complain. They even fought over the cucmbers. The next day, the leftover noodles became White Macaroni and Cheese, which was really sort of noodles alfredo, but a little different. I didn’t have any cream, but I did find a can of evaporated milk in the pantry. I melted the butter, tossed in some flour and made a roux, poured in some evap milk and regular milk, some salt, some grated parmesan cheese, and the noodles, and stirred it all until it was hot. The boys totally loved it, especially when I started calling it “White Macaroni and Cheese.” I would have liked it better with some steamed broccoli, green beans, or zucchini, but the boys would make noises. And sometimes I’d rather stab myself in the eyes with toothpicks than listen to the whining.

Fridge Fry #1: White Macaroni and Cheese

1 T butter
1 T flour
1/2-1 cup evaporated milk
1/4-1/2 cup milk
1/4-1/2 cup grated parmesan, pecorino, swiss, or any cheese or combination of cheeses
salt and pepper
4-6 cups leftover pre-cooked noodles
some sort of vegetables, steamed or sauteed

Later that night, I still had the same problem with the no vegetables. I scrounged around some more, and found the remnants of the frozen Costco spanakopita that Derek and I love, but the boys won’t eat. I decided on a Greek theme, but I somehow couldn’t find any chickpeas. I did have some kidney beans, so I pulled out the remnants of the quinoa that the boys also mysteriously didn’t like last week. A solitary onion, a waning carrot, some leftover tomato paste, and a can of chicken broth? We have the makings of a South American soup. But how to turn it Greek?

I know this is totally lame, since I’m in no way Greek or South American, and hence no expert, but I got out my favorite recipe for stuffed zucchini and made the sauce for that. It has only cinnamon and oregano for seasonings, and I love it so much, so that’s what I put in the soup. It was no standout in the parade of jumbled concoctions my family has been subjected to in the last 7 years, but it wasn’t yucky, and the childrens ate. Zeeb even decided he liked the spanakopita and ate three. I felt cheated.

Fridge Fry #2: Greek-Peruvian Bean and Quinoa soup

1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, very small dice
1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t oregano
2-3 T tomato paste
1 can chicken broth
1 can kidney beans (or kiddy beans, in my house)
1 cup leftover pre-cooked quinoa (round rice)
water
salt and pepper
maybe some steamed zucchini, if you have it, or some diced and sauteed eggplant

On my mission in the Philippines, I cooked lunch for the people that lived in our house. One of my mission companions would give my dishes names that caused me to giggle. Vegetable Rumble with Tokwa was one. It’s pronounced “Betch-ta-boll Rrrrrahm-boll weeth Toe-kwah. Tokwa is Tofu. Another dish was Eggplant Macaroni with Color. I think the “color” was zucchini and tomatoes.

Compulsive Writer is on a dessert binge, and keeps posting cake recipes, so I have cake on the brain. But no zucchini! What to do?

I’m providing you with my mother’s famous chocolate zucchini cake, because every once in a while, you need you eat your zucchini in the form of dessert. For me, it’s actually hard to accumulate enough zucchini to make this, since I positively love zucchini, especially if it’s little and I can sautée it in a freaking hot pan until it has brown spots, add some salt and pepper, and serve it up with pasta.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Preheat oven to 350°, grease and flour two 8 inch cake pans (I think it’s 2, I’m gonna call my mom to make sure, so check back later, just in case).

In a big bowl, sift together:

2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C cocoa
2 2/1 t baking powder
1 1/2 t soda
1 t salt
1 t cinnamon (optional)

In another medium bowl, cream together:

2 C sugar
3/4 C butter or shortening

Beat into the creamed butter and sugar:

3 eggs

Stir in:

1/2 C warm milk
2 t vanilla
2 C zucchini, shredded (packed, generous cups)

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix to combine, so there are no little bubbles of flour. Pour equally into pans, and bake for about 1 hour, until they’re done, that is, when a toothpick inserted almost in the middle doesn’t come out gooey.

Frost this cake with chocolate ganache frosting, chocolate buttercream, or chocolate syrup. I prefer ganache, personally.

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