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Meatballs with Rice in Tomato Sauce

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

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The basis for this meatball recipe is how my mom prepares them: the meat is combined with rice instead of other fillers like breadcrumbs, and the meatballs are stewed in low liquid for 45 minutes to one hour.

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The problem was I had been cooking French-inspired meals for a few days before I made this dish. With several different recipes beginning in the same way (sauté shallots in butter, add wine and herbs ...), I became quite accustomed to it and these steps somehow found their way into the sauce here. I found that the meatballs were much improved by this method of preparing the sauce.

Meatballs with Rice in Tomato Sauce
(Makes about 12 meatballs)

You will need:

For the meatballs:
1 cup uncooked white rice
Dash of salt
1 lb ground turkey
1 lb ground chicken
1 shallot (or 1/2 small onion), chopped
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp black pepper
Dash of paprika

For the sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot (or 1/2 small onion), chopped
1 tbsp parsley
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups vegetable stock
6 oz can tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
1. Fill a medium pot with 1 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Add a dash of salt and the uncooked rice. Cover and let simmer on low heat until the water has evaporated and the rice is almost done, 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 10-20 minutes.
2. To make the meatballs, combine ground turkey, chicken, shallot, egg, and the cooked rice in a large bowl. Add salt, oregano, pepper and paprika. Mix well. Form into large meatballs (about 2 1/2 inch in diameter); cover and refrigerate.
3. To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large pot or a tall-sided pan. Add the shallot and cook 2-3 minutes until softened. Add parsley and cook for 30 seconds more. Then add the white wine and quickly bring to a simmer; cook the onions in wine, stirring, for about one minute. Add the stock and bring to a simmer, and mix in the tomato paste. Wait until the sauce starts to simmer again, and season with salt and pepper.
4. Carefully place the meatballs into the sauce and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and let simmer, spooning the sauce over the meatballs occasionally, for 40-45 minutes, until the meatballs are fully cooked. Serve in a shallow bowl with the sauce.

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Gløgg

Friday, December 23, 2011

Residents of Northern climates know not to fool around with the elements.

If you live in a region where the winters are mild (to me, 15 - 32 ºF average is mild), imagine cold. Really cold, when the cold air feels like invisible needles piercing through your exposed skin. Then imagine: colder. So cold, that when you speak (which is unwise), the air from your mouth is steaming the air around you, and your lips and jaw begin to numb so that you find it hard to form words. Imagine flurries and icy wind. Then imagine: even colder. In the midst of winter, even in southern Norway, it gets so cold that if you bring a jug of boiling water outside and throw it up in the air it will immediately turn to ice.

As a child, having spent some time vacationing at my grandmother's who lived in the Ural region of Russia, I was no stranger to cold winters. When I was growing up, in addition to wearing animal skin and fur, tied up in a bundle with a scarf around your mouth and nose, a popular means to warm up, for adults, was a shot of hard liquor.

With the mild mid-Atlantic winters, I had forgotten just how cold it can be. I was reminded of it again in Norway.

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So there we were in Oslo, wondering around in the beginning of December, watching the sun set at 3 pm, and feeling the already-freezing temperature descend in the lingering rays of the low, cold Northern sun which soon disappeared completely. It quickly turned from being slightly unpleasant to walk around outside, to slightly unbearable. We were shopping for gifts to bring back home and I took off a glove to try on a knitted mitten, when I dropped both. I asked Tony to pick them up because I was unable to do so: I could not move my fingers, which became numb as soon as they came in contact with the air. (For the Norwegians out there reading this and laughing, to my defense, I have poor circulation and I have problems keeping my hands warm when it's much below 70 ºF).

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We came into an open-air Yule market and, with me remembering the Russian way of warming up quickly (it was a necessity at that point), veered toward the stand serving alcohol. I had a cup of gløgg, he had a cup of Jæger tea. We warmed up enough to try some moose sausage infused with red wine at the next stand, before going home.

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The point of this tale, my friends, is this: cold weather and spirits go hand in hand. Take this piece of knowledge from the Russians, and take it from the Scandinavians: they know winter, and they know alcohol. So on a cold winter night, when the days are short and the mood is cheerless, try a spice-infused, warm gløgg to lift your spirits and warm the soul.

Below is our version of gløgg, which is the Scandinavian mulled wine (also known as glögg in Swedish, and glühwein in German). In this recipe, the spice and alcohol proportions very closely approximate the taste of the gløgg we sampled in Norway on that cold December day. There are several ways of preparing it, which vary between a cold extraction (the spices are soaked in alcohol for some time) and a hot extraction (the spices are heated in the alcohol). We opted for a combination of the two, for optimal infusion in a short amount of time.

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We find that cardamom and cloves are essential (our first try was without them and the result was mulled wine but not gløgg), as is the orange peel.

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We make ours with dry, cheap red wine and aquavit, which is a Scandinavian spirit, about 40% alcohol, distilled from potatoes and infused with flavorful spices, including anise, and then aged in oak.

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As a result it complements the other ingredients in the gløgg quite well. If you cannot find aquavit, we recommend brandy, which has a similar alcohol content, and a rich oakey flavor. In a pinch, plain vodka will do, but we find that it lacks flavor and the complexity of the other spirits.

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You can serve gløgg in a mug or a double-wall glass, with some added raisins and nuts. Before taking the first sip, raise your glass and look into the eyes of those around you. Skål!*

*Skål means cheers! Once again, as a simplification, you can imagine the letter å pronounced as "awe" in a New Jersey and/or Brooklyn accent (you can read more in this post).

Winter Night Gløgg

Part 1

In a measuring cup, combine the following:

1/2 cup aquavit
1 whole star anise
2 crushed cinnamon sticks
6 crushed cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp grated orange peel
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp grated ginger root

Stir for 5 to 10 minutes.
Then cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour.

Part 2

Add the “tea” from above (including the solids) to a pot.
Then add the following to the pot:

1 bottle (750 mL) red wine
1/2 cup port

Heat this mixture until warm, then add:

1 ounce fresh orange juice
4 tbsp brown sugar

Continue heating until bubbles just begin to form, and no more.
Let it sit several minutes, so that the sediment settles to the bottom.

Part 3

Without disturbing the sediment, take the gløgg from the top with a ladle. Alternatively, filter the entire batch through cheesecloth or a mesh (discarding the solids). Serve in a mug with added raisins, cranberries, or nuts of your choice. Skål!

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Kale Slaw with Cherry Tomatoes

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

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Ever since making the dinosaur kale and radish salad, I was left intrigued and dissatisfied. I was intrigued because I like the taste of kale, it belongs to the cabbage family and I'm familiar with various ways of preparing cabbage, and because kale has many great nutritional qualities (it is rich in vitamins and has anti-cancerous properties). I like it much better than lettuce, because let's admit it, lettuce is a tasteless, bland salad filler. A salad containing lettuce is centered around other ingredients. Kale on the other hand is much more flavorful, and can stand on its own in a salad. But I was dissatisfied because kale is tough to chew on. Even the dinosaur kale, which is considered more tender than other kale, was quite an exercise in mastication.

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I therefore decided to borrow my mom's cabbage salad recipe (in which cabbage is tenderized with salt to make it softer and more palatable) and apply it to kale. I sliced kale in long shreds as one would cabbage for a coleslaw, and tenderized it with salt. I added sugar to cut the bitterness. I then marinaded the kale in lemon juice for one hour to soften it further.

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Right before serving, I added cherry tomato halves (I used orange cherry tomatoes which are more tangy and sweet, complementing the lemon flavor), and young radish sprouts. The radish sprouts taste sharply just like the radish root, providing an interesting taste contrast, but you can use alfalfa or other less strong-tasting sprouts. With time to marinade, the toughness of the kale all but disappeared, as did the bitterness. The salad became a tender, savory combination of citrus taste of the lemon, sweetness of the tomatoes, slight sharpness of the radish sprouts, together with a gentle reminder that one was still eating kale.

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Kale Slaw with Cherry Tomatoes
(Serves 4)

You will need:
3 cups fresh kale, bottom stems removed, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
2 medium carrots, grated
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 tbsp green sprouts (such as radish sprouts)
Black pepper, to taste

Directions:
Place sliced kale in a large bowl and add salt and sugar. With your hands, in a swift motion begin mixing the salt and sugar into the kale, squeezing the kale as you do so. Continue squeezing the kale a few more times, until it is fairly moist with its own juices and reduced in volume by about half. Add grated carrots, scallions, and lemon juice, and toss well. Mix in the olive oil. Cover and let stand refrigerated for one hour. Just before serving, mix in cherry tomatoes, sprouts, and black pepper.

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Gluten-Free, Vegan French Onion Soup

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The French onion soup is typically served with toasted baguette slices and grated cheese. Whenever I had this soup at a restaurant, two things struck me: its taste was extremely good, and it was extremely heavy. To me it was a meal in itself, with little hope of fitting much else (one time after wandering around the Louvre, I did appreciate the extra calories, however). I was wondering if it was possible to make the soup lighter, without sacrificing its wonderful, hearty taste.

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The secret to the onion soup is, as it turns out, onion. Onion and alcohol. With those two ingredients intact, the taste is retained. It otherwise makes little difference whether the onions are cooked in melted butter or oil (although butter will arguably let the onions brown more). I used gluten free, vegan stock and I simmered the onions in wine just before adding them to the stock to extract more flavor. I thickened the soup with corn starch instead of flour. And I've omitted the cheese and bread entirely. When I told my mom I was making a vegan onion soup, she said "that's great, just remember to add lots of brandy!" As a result, in this recipe there is just as much, perhaps even more, alcohol content.

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The soup is not at all difficult to make. As with many French recipes, however, it simply takes time. The onions are slow cooked and then fried for a total of forty-five minutes (some prefer to cook them even longer). The onions are then added to an already-made (or bought) stock, in which they simmer for half an hour to forty-five minutes more. A splash of brandy is added right before the soup is ready to be served.

The soup turned out to be delicious, slightly lighter, but just as hearty and flavorful. It is salty and sweet, with a caramel-like taste of the browned onions and a bit of acidity from the wine. The taste of the soup itself (naked, as it were) is so complex that I did not miss the cheese or toasted bread. So if you happen to have more onions on hand than you know what to do with, this is a great, lighter alternative to the traditional onion soup recipe.

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Adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

French Onion Soup (Gluten-Free and Vegan)
(Serves 4)

You will need:
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups yellow onions (about 4-5 medium), thinly sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp corn starch
4 cups vegetable stock (vegan and gluten-free)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tbsp brandy (such as cognac)
4 tbsp finely chopped green onion stalks, for garnish (optional)

Directions
1. Heat oil in a large pan on medium heat. Stir in onions, mixing well to coat in the oil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, until onions are softened and fragrant. While the onions cook, heat the stock to a simmer in a medium sized pot.
2. Add 1/2 tsp salt and brown sugar to the onions, and increase the heat to medium. Cook onions, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes. As they cook, the onions will turn translucent to pale gold to gold to slightly browned; they will also reduce substantially in volume.
3. Increase the heat to medium-high and add white wine to the onions. Stir well, scraping any onions stuck to the bottom. Wait until the wine begins to simmer, then add corn starch. Mix rapidly, until the wine is reduced slightly and the onion mixture begins to thicken, about one minute.
4. Add the onions to the simmering stock, stirring well. Bring to a boil, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in brandy. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped green onions for garnish.

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Smoked Salmon Tartare and Cucumber Appetizer

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lately we've been experimenting in our kitchen quite a bit. The best way to do that, is to simply get your hands (and kitchen counter) dirty. Remember the ingredients and the steps. If it works, write it down, if it doesn't, figure out why and try again. This makes cooking scientific (and now that science is involved, more fun for my husband).

I started out wanting to make something involving smoked salmon on cucumber slices. I've had cucumber and smoked salmon with some sort of white base variant (cream cheese, greek yogurt, sour cream) in-between on several occasions. And while I like the idea, I wanted to do something differently.

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There was a lone avocado aimlessly rolling around in the fridge drawer. It reminded me of the raw salmon tartare served on avocado we've had as a sushi appetizer with a soy sauce based marinade. We decided to make a similar marinade for the smoked salmon, and tried several different versions. One was simply soy sauce, lime juice and brown sugar (brown sugar canceled out the salt of the soy sauce, and we were largely left with taste of the lime juice). Another involved hot sesame oil, which was too distracting. The recipe that seemed to work the best was lemon juice and soy sauce mixed with the salmon first, followed by toasted sesame oil after the fish has had a chance to absorb the first two ingredients. If the sesame oil was added first, the chemistry goes, it would have simply coated the salmon and blocked the lemon juice from getting into the flesh.

We made this recipe to our taste, so feel free to adjust it to your own.

Smoked Salmon Tartare and Cucumber Appetizer
(Makes 12)

You will need:
4 oz smoked salmon, finely chopped
2 tsps fresh chives, finely chopped, plus more stalks for garnish
1 tsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsps freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 avocado, peeled and mashed
1/2 of long cucumber, sliced into twelve 1/4 inch thick round slices

Directions:
In a bowl, combine smoked salmon, soy sauce and lemon juice. Let stand for a minute, then mix in sesame oil and chives. Adjust ingredients to taste, as suitable for your own palate. To assemble, place cucumber slices on a serving platter and spread a small amount of the mashed avocado on each slice, enough to cover it. Carefully spoon the salmon tartare on top of each slice. Top with chive stalks for garnish. Serve or refrigerate up to one hour until serving.

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Eggplant and Zucchini Lasagna

Thursday, December 8, 2011

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With the price of meat increasing at an exponential rate, I've been exploring ways to have more meatless but filling meals. This resulted in an added benefit of having a greater budget for vegetables, which no matter how fanciful, are still cheaper per pound than most meats. As a result, when I decided to make a lasagna, instead of the meat, I used a greater variety of vegetables, differing in texture, flavor and quality.

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This recipe is for a meatless lasagna made with eggplants, zucchinis, baby portobello mushrooms and peppers. Baby portobello mushrooms have a meatier texture than white crimini mushrooms, and together with eggplants provide enough density and flavor so that not even a seasoned meat eater will be left unsatisfied. Without the greasiness of sausage or ground meat, this lasagna is filling without letting one feel weighed down.

I used regular lasagna noodles in the recipe, however whole wheat noodles, which some might find too heavy in a meat-based lasagna, would work well in this recipe.

Eggplant and Zucchini Lasagna
(Serves 9-12)

You will need:
5 tbsp olive oil, divided
12 oz lasagna noodles (3/4 of 1 lb package)
1 medium white onion, peeled and sliced into strips
1 red bell peppers, sliced into strips
1 green bell pepper, sliced into strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 green zucchinis, sliced into rounds
2 Italian eggplants (or 2 small eggplants), sliced into quartered rounds
1/2 lb baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3 tbsp chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
15 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 tsp dried oregano
hot pepper flakes, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and a 1 tbsp olive oil. Cook lasagna noodles until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Strain and fill the pot with noodles with cold water; let stand until ready to assemble the lasagna.

2. In a medium pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil on medium heat. Add onion, and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add green and red bell peppers. Season with salt, pepper, and oregano. Cover and let cook, stirring occasionally, until peppers are soft, 15-20 minutes.

3. In a large pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil on medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add zucchinis and mushrooms, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add eggplant slices, 1 tbsp chopped basil and 1 tbsp parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and the mushrooms are tender, 25-30 minutes.

4. To make the tomato sauce, combine crushed tomatoes, 2 tbsp basil, salt, pepper, and hot pepper flakes in a medium bowl. Set aside.

5. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a lasagna dish or a disposable lasagna pan with 1 tbsp olive oil. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce evenly on the bottom of the dish. Place a layer of lasagna noodles on top. Spread 1/2 of the ricotta cheese evenly on top of the noodles. Follow with 1/2 of the eggplant mixture, and half of bell pepper mixture. Ladle 1/3 of the remaining tomato sauce on top, followed by 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese. Place another layer of lasagna noodles on top. Spread the remaining ricotta cheese over the noodles. Top with the remaining eggplant mixture and the remaining bell pepper mixture. Ladle 1/2 of the remaining tomato sauce over the vegetables and sprinkle with 1/2 of the remaining mozzarella cheese. Place another layer of noodles on top, and ladle the remaining tomato sauce over the noodles.

6. Cover the lasagna with foil, and place in the oven. Bake at 350 for 1 hour, until lasagna is steaming and starting to bubble. Carefully peel back the foil and sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top. Cover and let cook about 5 minutes more, until the cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve garnished with fresh basil.

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Raw Kale and Radish Salad

Monday, December 5, 2011

This salad was a complete spur-of-the-moment. I went to Whole Foods and ended up coming out with things entirely different from what I had in mind, which sometimes happens to me (I get easily distracted by interesting ingredients, especially when I'm hungry). As I veered towards the fruit and vegetable section, I was intrigued by the dinosaur kale.

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I was also attracted by the daikon and red radishes, the latter always my favorite, which looked freshly picked. And I'm always a sucker for the smell of fresh parsley (it reminds me of my grandmother's vegetable garden). Because the kale and roots looked so beautiful, I wanted to preserve their freshness and use them raw. This can be tricky with things like kale (which can be quite chewy, grassy and sometimes bitter), and radishes (which can be quite sharp). But always a lover of interesting flavor combination, I decided to make a salad using these ingredients. I used lemon juice and olive oil as a dressing, together with salt and pepper, with just a small sprinkle of sugar, to help tenderize the kale a bit.

It worked out well. Though this salad, using two different radish types plus kale, demands quite a bit of mastication, it presents an interesting combination of flavors and texture. The young cherry tomatoes, which I added for color contrast, serve as a sweet and welcome treat from the other ingredients. The salad is also quite filling and can make a wonderful lunch.

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Raw Kale and Radish Salad
(Serves 4-6)

You will need:
2 cups dinosaur kale, sliced into edible pieces
1 medium daikon radish, top and root whisker removed, sliced into rounds
4-5 red radishes, tops and root whiskers removed, sliced into rounds
1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 tsp sugar

Directions:
In a large salad bowl, combine kale, daikon and red radishes, and tomatoes. In a small bowl or measuring cup whisk lemon juice, olive oil, chopped parsley, salt, pepper and sugar. Pour the salad dressing over the salad. Toss and serve.

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Friday Happy Hour: Quelque Chose de Nouveau

Friday, December 2, 2011

There are two things that are new. First, gooseberry mooseberry now has its very own domain name! So welcome, readers old and new. We hope you like the change.

Second, something new to celebrate calls celebrating with something new. Today the Friday Happy Hour returns with a Beaujolais Nouveau (if slightly belated).

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We usually like to get Georges Duboeuf as our Beaujolais Nouveau. This year we decided to try a different one: Pascal Chatelus Beaujolais Nouveau 2011.

I look forward to the release of Beaujolais Nouveau, which goes on sale the third Thursday of November, when it is typically just 6-8 weeks old. I love fruity, fresh flavors of this young wine. Some discount this wine as immature, others (like my mom) say even a glass gives them headaches. I generally disagree.

Pascal Chatelus Beaujolais Nouveau is a beautiful plum color, dark but still transluscent. The aroma is savory, fresh, very mild, and reminds me of sour cherries. I was having a hard time articulating any particular flavors upon taste. I detected light notes of oak, and, as an afterthought, very slight hints of sour cherry or red currants. But I was missing the usual freshness and fruitiness of the wine. Overall, it struck me as immature, as if it were still developing, promising to get better with age.

Husband says: "There is nothing that strikes me about it. It is typical in a good way."
 

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