Archive for October, 2010

Halloween reads to go along with treats

Photo credit: Pilkey.com

Yesterday I kept a room of 22 costumed 2nd graders in my daughter’s class transfixed for a whole ten minutes.

And this was after their school Halloween parade and after they’d exhausted all the games we’d planned for the in-room party and while they were eating cupcakes, grapes, and caramel-dipped apple slices. (Well, I guess the cupcakes helped keep their mouths a little occupied.)

Such is the power of a good children’s picture book–there were several parents that even stopped cleaning up tables to listen and look at the pictures. I had stashed two Halloween books in my bag in case the party became a little chaotic and I needed something to calm the (literally!) little monsters:)  Sure enough the party activities went much faster than planned so I pulled out my book, hoping for the best.

While I’d love to claim this ten minutes of bliss was entirely due to my brilliant reading–I owe the few moments of calm entirely to Dav Pilkey (yes, the man behind Captain Underpants) and the author and illustrator of The Hallo-wiener. Thank you!

Hallo-wiener tells the tale of Oscar, a dachshund, who’s constantly teased by the other dogs for his hotdog-esque appearance. The 2nd graders immediately related to Oscar, especially when the little dog didn’t want to hurt his mom’s feelings and ended up wearing a hot dog costume for Halloween. Eventually, Oscar saves the other dogs from embarrassment at the hands–er, paws–of two “ornery” cats. His nickname, “Wiener Dog,” replaced with “Hero Sandwich.” (You’re tearing up too, right?)

The whole experience got me thinking about what favorite Halloween books to read to kids. I’ve asked a few friends to contribute their favorites. I suggest curling up with your little witch/hippie/punk princess/construction worker/SWAT team member/angel, grab some candies and read some of these books together.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

Latisha S. is keeping two ninjas and a vampire happy reading Popcorn by Frank Asch. About a little bear that ends up filling his house with, you guessed it–popcorn, while his parents are at a Halloween party. I have to wonder if this one was inspired by true events.

Kimberly M.’s family, who is dressing up as the gang from Disney’s Princess and the Frog, has several favorites, including

Photo credit: Chronicle Books

Frank was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance by Keith Graves tells the story of a zombie who wants nothing more than to dance. But his Frankenstein-like body can’t quite keep up with his moves.

In Piggie Pie by Margie Palatini, Gritch the Witch heads off to Old MacDonald’s farm to dine on a few piggies. But the pigs knew she was coming and donned sheep outfits and other disguises.

CinderHazel by Deborah Nourse Lattimore is a quirky retelling of the familiar princess story, only this time she’s a witch. And Prince Charming–that would be Prince Alarming.

Do you have a favorite Halloween book to share? What about your favorite Halloween candy? (You know, the other 364 days of the year, Twix candies hold no appeal, but on Halloween, I, uh, well, tend to eat my fill, and then some.)

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Halloween Meatball Mice

Warning: These little critters look like, well, real little critters.

I had a vague idea of creating meatballs that looked like mice as a Halloween gag for my kids. I mentioned the idea to my husband, stuck him with the ingredients and then headed out to pick up my oldest daughter at a trick-or-treat party. When I returned, my younger two children were just giggling and my husband had a mischievous smirk on his face.

“They look so gross,” he said.

Now, you should know that when left alone my husband can come up with some pretty inventive creations. A few years ago he disappeared into the garage after asking where I’d stashed some black fabric we had leftover from one of my daughter’s witch costumes. Jump to a couple hours later and he’d crafted a giant black widow spider using old wiring, a deflated basketball, the fabric and some red paint. Seriously, the spider was about 6 feet across! He positioned the spider just above our front door and of course added webs all around. The 5 year-old living two doors down refused to walk on our side of the street in the week leading up to Halloween and she didn’t even stop by our house for candy.

Back to the mice roasting in my oven—here’s what my husband did, enlisting my daughters as helpers. He molded the meatball mixture into mice bodies (think teardrop-shaped) then he cut tails using slivers of deli ham. Olive pieces make up the eyes and once the meatballs were done baking he coated each one with spaghetti sauce.

Ready for a yucky dinner? Hey, only in appearance, they tasted delicious.

Directions for Mice Meatballs

Prep time: 25 minutes + 25 minutes baking

Servings: Around 5-6

Ingredients:

Meatball or meatloaf fixings

Spaghetti sauce

Spaghetti

Deli ham slices

Black olives

Using your favorite meatball or meatloaf recipe, mix together the meat and spice combination. [In this recipe cut out the vinegar, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce and add a teaspoon of dried oregano or basil to the meat mixture.]

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat a baking pan with cooking spray.

Working with about 2 ½ to 3 tablespoons of meat, form the mixture into a teardrop shape.

Line up the meatballs in rows on the baking sheet.

Thinly slice the deli ham into “tails.” Press a “tail” into the back end of each meatball.

Add fingernail-sized piece of cut black olives next to the “nose” part of the meatball. Press into place. Repeat with all of the meatballs.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the meat is cooked through.

Make the spaghetti noodles according to the package directions.

Brush warmed spaghetti sauce over each “mouse.”

Serve 2 or 3 mice meatballs over the spaghetti noodles and top with additional sauce.

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Chef Q&A: Pam Turkin of Just Baked

cupcakes

Photo credit: Pam Turkin

For over a year, Pam Turkin put in long hours through the weekend tweaking and perfecting her recipe for buttercream frosting. “I bet I made 100 batches,” recalls Turkin of her efforts. Along with buttercream, Turkin baked different varieties of cupcakes trying to find the right balance of sweetness, flavor, moistness and that indescribable something that just makes cupcakes so alluring: See Just Baked’s Fat Elvis cupcake for an example☺

During the week, Turkin worked in marketing and advertising often traveling for her job. She’d noticed on her travels little boutique cupcake shops dotting each coast and yet when she got home to Michigan, she couldn’t find a similar shop. “I just got it into my head that a cupcake shop was one thing I wanted to bring Detroit,” says Turkin. To date, she’s brought four retail shops, called Just Baked to Michigan.

Turkin’s first store opened in Livonia in 2009. Other stores followed in Ann Arbor, Royal Oak, Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi, and soon the first franchise in Canton, just across the street from IKEA. While Turkin admits baking, marketing, planning and everything else involved with running the cupcake shops have eaten away most of her time, her family has been supportive all along the way. Granted, her five kids acted as the official taste-testers in the early days of her business!

So far, Turkin’s keeping mum on her cupcake recipes (darn!), but she passed along a recipe for her pumpkin cookies to share with MKES readers.

What three ingredients do you always keep stocked in your pantry?
Fresh eggs, fresh butter, potato chips

Your favorite meal to make or serve?
I love to cook. My favorite meal to cook is Thanksgiving dinner—the turkey, stuffing, I love the smell of it, the look of it—I love everything about it.

We all have a favorite indulgence, for a foodie like you it must be something spectacular?
Easy, shortbread. We make our own homemade shortbread to use in a lot of our cupcake bottoms. Many of the cupcakes are layered. We also use crumbled shortbread as a topping for our strawberry cheesecake cupcakes. My employees know to stash a little extra shortbread in the back for me.

What’s one of your worst cooking mistakes?
My mother never cooked, but she happens to make one thing really well and that’s brisket. No matter what I do, I either overcook or undercook it. Every time I make it it’s just wrong. I’ve given up.

There are so many great Michigan-made food products, what is your pick?
I love Faygo sodas. When I think of Detroit I think of Faygo, it’s indicative of Detroit. I had the opportunity to go to the plant—it has to be the best smelling place in the world. It smells just like orange cream soda.

What do you suggest for first-timers to Just Baked? What menu item should they make sure to try?
Our Grumpy cake cupcake is definitely our bestseller. With the holidays coming up, though, I’d have to recommend the pumpkin pie cupcake—it’s my personal favorite. Then there’s the sweet potato pie cupcake that we also only do around this time of year and that’s really good too. *By request Turkin also has gluten free and vegan cupcakes available.

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Pumpkin Cookies from Just Baked’s Pam Turkin

pumpkin cookies

Photo credit: Pam Turkin

From cupcake queen Pam Turkin, the mind behind Just Baked, comes this recipe for pumpkin cookies.

Ingredients

4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (saigon is my favorite)
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 cups butter
1 can (15 oz.) 100% Pure Pumpkin
2 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
2 cups raisins
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup Mini Marshmallows

Directions

  1. PREHEAT oven to 350°F.
    COMBINE flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and pie spice in medium bowl. Beat soften butter and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl for 30 seconds. Add pumpkin, eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract; beat until blended. Gradually add flour mixture into pumpkin mixture at low speed until combined. Stir in raisins and nuts. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased baking sheets.
  2. BAKE for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire rack to cool completely. Spread each cookie with frosting.

Frosting ingredients

2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup Milk

1/2 tsp Vanilla

dash cinnamon

Directions

Add Milk and vanilla to powered sugur until thin enough to drizzle.  Once cookies have cooled drizzle over cookies to taste and enjoy!!

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the asparagus contest

asparagus

Photo credit: elana's pantry

The other night at dinner my kids polished off all the asparagus. And I couldn’t be more disappointed. I really like asparagus, especially roasted, which is how I prepared it with just a little bit of olive oil and sea salt. I started off with 6 asparagus stalks on my plate at the beginning of dinner and after eating just 2, my 9 year-old was asking for more. She’d finished off what was left on the pan and was circling the table asking for anyone’s extras–I gave her mine.

So how did I lose all my asparagus? I’d like to say I started out the meal planning to have my kids asparagus-lovers by the end, but that was not my intent at all.

See, I’d visited one of my favorite grocery stores, Sirna’s, earlier in the day. They stock local produce (the best Empire apples) and Amish meats in all their varieties–ham, bacon, pork loin. I picked up fingerling potatoes and then spied the asparagus. The stalks were thinner and more pliable then the asparagus I usually find–I figured they’d be perfect for roasting (I also thought my husband and I would be the only ones eating them). It’s not that I don’t want my kids eating veggies, it’s that I thought asparagus was one of those foods you have to try a little bit so many times before you decide you like it. That’s how I discovered I was an asparagus fan.

As with any new-to-my kids or ‘they’ve-rejected-it-before foods,’ I put only a small portion on each of my kids’ plates. Two stalks a piece. I only give them a little bit of new foods so that when I say, “Ah, just give it a try,” it isn’t too overwhelming. That also meant there was more asparagus leftover for, uh, me.

My 9 year-old liked eating the asparagus right off–”It’s like eating a tree, mom.” But my youngest wasn’t interested at all. That’s when my husband prodded, “Your sister is going to eat more.” Cue my 9 year-old picking up each asparagus, aiming it into her mouth starting from the end and then chomping away until she reached the tip, then grabbing another to do the same. It was like watching one of those old cartoons when Bugs Bunny inhales carrots. My youngest immediately took to the challenge. Her two stalks disappeared, my 9 year-old had already cleaned off the pan and then of course they turned to me. I was torn between my excitement that they were eating–and enjoying asparagus–and really wanting to finish off my veggies myself. I caved. My asparagus went for the greater good–creating veggie lovers.

I have no idea whether our little asparagus contest would work again. And certainly, I wouldn’t encourage veggie eating contests as a regular habit, but at least this week, it got my kids eating more green. Next time, though, I’m buying more asparagus!

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Easy Ghostly Chocolate “Cookies”


Every Halloween, my mom would break out the white chocolate so we could make these ghost treats. They’re fast and easy to make–you can have them prepped and ready to go in under 10 minutes. You can even turn them into “ghost pops” to give to friends or teachers.

Here’s what you need:

•White candy bark (white chocolate chips can work too, but it’s much harder to melt them)
•Sprinkles or chocolate chips to make eyes, mouth
•Wax paper

Optional:
•Sprinkles

Melt the white chocolate in the microwave. I use two squares in a 4 or 8-ounce ramekin for each person. I usually melt them in 30 to 45 second rounds at full power and stir them after each time. White chocolate burns easily so be careful not to over do it. If the chocolate seems soft, take it out of the microwave and stir it to melt completely. If you do happen to burn the chocolate, don’t try to keep using it. Clean it out and start again.

Once the chocolate is melted,give each person a large piece of waxed paper, a spoon and decorations. Paint the ghost on the wax paper using the spoon to spread the chocolate into a ghost shape. Add a popsicle stick, if using them. Decorate with chocolate chips or sprinkle eyes and mouth. Let your ghosts sit for about 3 to 5 minutes then remove it carefully from the waxed paper. Now you’re ready to bite your ghost’s head off!

My kids loved making these ghosts. Even if the ghosts didn’t quite look right, that just made them look more…ghostly.

Coming soon: Freaky meatball mice.

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Cinnamon Rolls take two–Nutella Rolls

Nutella cinnamon rollsAh, any excuse to use Nutella, right?

Well, not exactly. I really like cinnamon rolls, but Mr. Squid, not so much. Whenever I make cinnamon rolls I tend to be the one to finish off the pan (even the kids get a little bored with the standard variety). I wanted to craft a roll that my crew wouldn’t be able to resist. In the past, I’ve tried adding golden raisins instead of regular ones, dried cranberries, orange frosting instead of the powdered sugar glaze. But nothing seemed to really set the cinnamon roll apart from something you could get at pretty much any decent bakery.

Then, I opened the cupboard–Nutella.

For the uninitiated, Nutella is a creamy mixture of chocolate and hazelnuts. And like many tasty discoveries, Nutella came about by accident.

In the 1940s, Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker in Italy, was trying to make his rations of chocolate go just a little bit farther so he added in crushed hazelnuts, which were plentiful in the area. I learned more about Ferrero when I visited Nutella’s website. Along with historical tidbits, I found that if I saved 5 proofs of purchase, I could get a Nutella t-shirt (I’m going to start clipping!).

So here’s the deal on making the Nutella cinnamon roll. I have the complete details below, but for a quick summary, just spread Nutella in place of butter on the dough before rolling, then sprinkle with chocolate, coconut, almonds, walnuts, cinnamon that you’ve pulsed in a food processor.  It’s almost like a German chocolate cinnamon roll. I finished these off with–what else–a glaze made from Nutella.

These are good without frosting too!

Recipe

Servings: 24 rolls

Prep time: 45 minutes + 1 ½ hours rising + 30 minutes baking

Ingredients

I jar Nutella

2 Tablespoons butter, softened

1 cup coconut

1 teaspoons cinnamon

dash of salt

1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup  walnuts

1/4 cup almonds

1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Frosting ingredients

2/3 cup Nutella

2 Tablespoons milk or heavy cream

1 1/2 to 2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 batch of easy-to-make bread

  1. Prepare the bread recipe above, substituting one of the cups of warm water with warm milk (for a total of 2 ½ cups liquid—so 1 ½ cups water, 1 cup milk). Proceed to the step where you divide the dough into two equal parts. Instead of making loaves of bread, divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 9 x 13” rectangle.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the filling ingredients (except for the Nutella) until the mixture is crumbly.
  3. With a kitchen knife gently spread the 3-4 tablespoons of Nutella over the dough (straight from the can:).
  4. Sprinkle 1/4 of the coconut blend over the first dough rectangle. Going from one long side to the other, roll up the dough, careful to make the dough tight enough so that the filling will stay in but not so tight that it can’t rise.
  5. Cut the rolled dough into 6 equal pieces Place the pieces onto a large cookie sheet that has been lightly greased.
  6. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  7. Let the rolls rise for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the rolls are lightly browned. Let the rolls cool for at least 30 minutes in the pan before frosting.
  8. In a small bowl whip together the frosting ingredients, adding more powdered sugar until the glaze has a slightly thicker consistency than corn syrup. Drizzle over rolls and let the frosting set before removing from the pan.
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Fast, Light Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rollsMy mom never made a pan of cinnamon rolls–she’d make 4 or 5. There would be a couple pans draped with cotton kitchen towels on every counter and the table would disappear underneath a cinnamon roll shroud. The whole house would be bathed in the aroma of yeast, cinnamon, butter. Mom’s rolls were always about 2 inches across, golden on all sides and peppered with dark raisins and bits of walnuts and topped with a powdered sugar frosting. It seems every baker has a slant on how to craft rolls. Some like to use the buttery, rich brioche roll for the dough. Some swear by melting butter for the gooey interior, others don’t use butter at all—just cinnamon and sugar. And raisins—that’s a matter of debate at our house. I’m not a fan of raisins in my rolls—in cookies, yes, cinnamon rolls, big chunks of walnuts please. And as far as cinnamon roll construction—well, I loved my mom’s rolls, truly, but I like a bigger roll. I don’t use a cookie sheet like my mom, I use a casserole dish so that I can have tall, thick rolls that push together as they rise and bake.

Now maybe my cinnamon roll philosophy differs because I don’t have leftovers. I make two pans, 18 rolls and that’s it. My mom would make enough rolls to feed my brothers and sisters (all six of us!) for a couple breakfasts and then she’d fill the freezer with leftovers.

My rolls differ from my mom’s in another way too. They’re fast and foolproof. I borrowed my no-fail bread recipe to craft these rolls. The recipe goes together quickly and isn’t as heavy as a standard roll. I save the butter for the filling—there’s none in the dough making this a lighter, but still good-sized, breakfast treat.

Recipe

Servings: 16 LARGE rolls

Prep time: 45 minutes + 1 ½ hours rising + 30 minutes baking

Ingredients

4 Tablespoons butter, softened, divided

1 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

dash of salt

½ cup chopped walnuts

Frosting ingredients

5 Tablespoons butter, softened

2 ½-3 cups powdered sugar

2 Tablespoons milk or heavy cream

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 batch of easy-to-make bread

Directions

  1. Prepare the bread recipe above, substituting one of the cups of warm water with warm milk (for a total of 2 ½ cups liquid—so 1 ½ cups water, 1 cup milk). Proceed to the step where you divide the dough into two equal parts. Instead of making loaves of bread, roll out each piece of dough into a 9 x 13” rectangle.
  2. In a small dish blend the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. With a kitchen knife gently spread the 2 tablespoons of the butter over the dough. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon and sugar blend over the first dough rectangle. Going from one long side to the other, roll up the dough, careful to make the dough tight enough so that the filling will stay in but not so tight that it can’t rise.
  3. Cut the rolled dough into 8 equal pieces—dividing it first in half, then in half again and each piece in half. Place the pieces onto a 9 x 13” casserole pan that has been lightly greased.
  4. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
  5. Let the rolls rise for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the rolls are lightly browned. Let the rolls cool for at least 30 minutes in the pan before frosting.
  6. In a small bowl whip together the frosting ingredients, adding more powdered sugar until the glaze has a slightly thicker consistency than corn syrup. Drizzle over rolls and let the frosting set before removing from the pan.
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Easy to Make Bread–Promise!

BreadRaise of hands—who thinks they can’t make bread? Don’t worry, no one’s watching. Admit it, the thought of using yeast in baked goods scares you almost as much as the upcoming SpongeBob marathon on Nickelodeon.

I once thought I couldn’t make bread either—turns out, it is all about the recipe. My good friend Melissa made this bread for me when she invited my family over for dinner one night. “I wish I could make bread like this,” I told her. “You should try this recipe. It’s really easy,” she said. Sure it is, I thought sarcastically. I didn’t believe her at all. Still, I dutifully copied down the recipe fully intending to throw it away once I got home but instead decided to give it a try. I’ve been making loaves at least once a week ever since.

And the best part about making this bread is it’s a stress reliever. Seriously, follow me on this: Once the dough is mixed, you have to (or rather, get to) punch it down every 10 minutes. My middle child calls it “beater” bread. Now I’m no food science expert, so I’ve no idea why the punching makes this bread so good (probably has something to do with the two tablespoons of yeast in it), but I can tell you it does do wonders for the bread and your psyche. Give it a try—even my brother-in-law made perfect loaves the first time with this recipe.

Recipe
Ingredients
2 ½ cups warm water
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
2 Tablespoons oil
6 cups flour
2 Tablespoons yeast

Directions

  1. Fill a measuring cup with the warm water and then add the yeast and sugar. Let it sit for three to five minutes (bubbles should form, letting you know that the yeast is active).
  2. There are a couple different ways to mix up the dough. Sometimes, I beat half the flour with the wet ingredients with my handheld mixer. The dough will get a little unruly after you add the full 6 cups and you’ll spend more time kneading, but the end result is still perfect. Lately, I’ve been using my food processor to mix up the dough. If you have a large upright mixer, that will work well too.
  3. In a large bowl, or the food processor bowl, add six cups of flour and the salt. Mix. Add the oil to the wet ingredients and then gradually pour in the yeasted liquid to the flour (again, if you’re using a handheld mixer you should only use half the flour at first, then add in the rest until the mixer won’t mix any longer).
  4. Pull the dough out onto a lightly floured cutting board and briefly knead until smooth.
  5. Place the dough into a large, oiled mixing bowl (I spray mine with cooking spray) and cover with a slightly moist kitchen towel.
  6. Now, for the fun part! For the next 50 minutes, you’re going to punch down the dough every 10 minutes (so, four punching rounds). Set a timer at each ten minutes then punch away–you may need to dust your fist with flour.
  7. After the last punching session, let the dough rise for 10 minutes. Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and separate it into two balls (or three, or four, depending on the size of loaf you want).
  8. Let the dough rest for about five minutes before kneading it and rolling it out to a thick rectangle (about one-inch), then roll up the loaf tightly as you would a jelly roll. Place the loaf onto a lightly greased baking sheet.
  9. Cover with the kitchen towel and let it rise for 30 to 60 minutes (I once forgot about the bread rising and it went for nearly 90 minutes without any problems).
  10. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
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Calzones take two–dessert raspberry ricotta

What to do with a little extra dough?

When we made calzones the other day, I had that thought. Usually, I just roll out the leftover dough, throw on a little butter, cheese and garlic and have breadsticks for the kids. The breadsticks are tasty, for sure, but I was in the mood for something different.

Something sweet.

I rummaged through the refrigerator for ideas, here’s what I came up with–raspberry ricotta calzones. I mixed about 1/4 cup ricotta, a teaspoon or two of sugar, 1/8-1/4 cup of fresh raspberries and then stuffed the one calzone just as you would with the savory variety. Next time I’d also either add a few chocolate chunks or a healthy helping of fresh lemon zest. You can also brush the filled calzone with a little milk or heavy cream and a sprinkling of raw sugar before baking. Serve warm, leftovers will get soggy.

We split one calzone among the five of us to sample. If I were to make this for guests, I would make small, mini-calzones instead of large ones. I’d say a successful experiment!

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