Posts tagged Italian food

Easy No-Cook Noodle Lasagna

Lasagna Kit box

We’ve been hovering around freezing temps here in the Midwest so I’ve been on the hunt for recipes that heat up my house–and my tummy. Red Gold sent me a Lasagna Kit so that I can try out their version of this comfort food staple. I’m already a fan of Red Gold tomatoes–they’re grown here in the region in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, and they hold that just-picked flavor of tomatoes even when there’s a foot of snow outside.

 

I tweaked Red Gold’s Easy Classic Lasagna recipe to make my own version–I usually add an egg to the ricotta cheese to thin it out when I’m putting it into the uncooked lasagna and it helps hold the cheese in place once the dish is cooked. I can’t help but add a little heat to my lasagna, too–if you’re not a spice girl, feel free to leave off the extra kick of cayenne pepper.

 

To find more recipe ideas you can check out Red Gold’s other lasagna varieties. I have the Eggplant Florentine on my list to try soon since Mr. Squid loves eggplant.

Lasagna

Recipe

 

Ingredients

1/2 cup water

1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes

2 14.5-oz. cans diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning

1-2 cloves garlic, diced

1 pound cooked Italian sausage

1 16-oz. box lasagna noodles

1 15-oz. carton ricotta

1 egg

1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning (I used 1 tbsp. fresh, chopped basil)

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (opt.)

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit. Use a handheld immersion blender to mix together the tomatoes, garlic, and water in a large bowl (or you can place these in a blender). In another bowl, whisk together the egg with the ricotta cheese and the Italian seasoning along with the cayenne pepper, if using. Now it’s time to assemble your lasagna!
  2. Generously coat a 9×13″ baking pan with baking spray. Spread 1 1/2 cups sauce on the bottom of the pan. Arrange 1/3 of the uncooked noodles over the sauce. It’s fine to overlap a little.
  3. Next, smear 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles (they’ll wiggle around a little, just put them back in place). Top with 1/2 of the sausage, sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese.
  4. Drizzle 1 cup tomato sauce over the cheese then top with another layer of pasta noodles.
  5. Repeat the steps above: ricotta, sausage, cheese, sauce, noodles.
  6. Pour the remaining sauce on the final layer of noodles then sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese and the Parmesan.
  7. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour; remove foil and cook for another 1/2 hour or until the top is golden. Let the lasagna stand for 10-15 minutes before you cut into it.

Your turn: What’s your favorite tweak to classic lasagna?

 

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Cooking tip: Garlic pasta

Awhile back I posted about making Thai Coconut Soup from the Sriracha Cookbook. The recipe called for minced ginger, but feeling lazy I just put in a whole piece, peeled, on a skewer. I figured the ginger flavor would seep into the boiling broth and I could get out of mincing.

Making pasta the other day I thought I might try the same idea: put a large garlic clove into the boiling water and let the flavor give some zest to my plain-old penne.

Well I didn’t want to waste a perfectly good clove of softened garlic, so then I smushed it with a fork after the pasta was done and added it to my sauce. Often when I use raw garlic I tend to add it too soon or too late to sauces and sautes–either burning it (and trust me, burnt garlic is not tasty) or inadvertently leaving little, pungent uncooked chunks of garlic that surprise and repulse my kiddos.

Now as far as giving the pasta a garlic kick, well, didn’t happen. Or at least I didn’t notice any change in the pasta flavor. Ditto for my family. But I did like using the cooked garlic in whatever else I was making to go with the pasta like sauteed veggies, creamy sauces, or even smushed then mixed with fresh shredded Parmesan cheese and stirred into the pasta. One last idea: you can easily blend it with butter to spread on Italian bread.

Lately, I just toss the garlic in and fish it out once the pasta is cooked

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Basket cookies & bunny bread

Anybody want a cookie?

For Easter I wanted to pass along a couple ideas I came up with while roaming through our neighborhood Italian shop, Alesci’s. Over the holidays, the bakery puts out their version of pupa cu l’ova, or basket cookies, a traditional Italian Easter treat. The idea behind the cookies is to bake an egg tucked into a cookie dough “basket.” Roaming online recipes, I found various ways to do this–sometimes the egg was hard-boiled, other times it wasn’t. Sometimes the egg was already dyed, others went sans color.

The sizable basket cookies at Alesci’s are made with a stiff biscotti dough that’s thickly glazed with powdered sugar and then tossed with multi-colored sprinkles. From what I could tell (and I’d have to happily research this by eating more), the cookies are baked, glazed, and then while still warm the hard-boiled egg is pressed into the cookie. Some recipes call for baking the cookies with the egg inside. My thought is if you want to try this at home, you could make a regular sugar cookie dough spiked with a little bit of anise. I’m going to have to try that for next year.

Don't eat the egg in the middle--it's just for decoration!

But what I did make with my kiddos is some bunny bread. We used pizza dough to create our edible bunnies. I rolled out the dough and then had the kids use a biscuit cutter for the bunny heads and simply cut the ears out with a kitchen knife. For the eyes we used black beans, but olives would work well too. We experimented with the nose and teeth. An overturned mushroom stood in for teeth on a couple of our bunnies. My daughter made a pepperoni smile for another. We did make one big bunny by stretching the dough out into a circle but in the end my teen noted it looked more like a pig than a bunny. Ah well, I wanted some sort of Easter treat for my kids that didn’t involve sugar and this one turned out tasty–and fun. Happy holidays everyone!

The floppy eared bunny

This one looks more like a pig, huh?

Bye bye bunny!

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Meatball margarita pizza

Here’s a good reason to start hunting for a good Italian deli in your area–meatballs. Of course, fresh pizza dough, mozzarella, homemade sausage and pasta make the list too, but when I want a quick meal, I’ll often pick up meatballs and sauce at Alesci’s then all I have to do when I come home is make the pasta.

But meatballs have so many possibilities–why not as a pizza topping? I merged two of my kids’ favorite Italian meals–meatballs and margarita pizza for these mini-meals.

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4 mini-pizzas

Ingredients

1 bag pizza dough

1 1/2 cups marinara or pizza sauce

1 bunch basil

8-12 ounces fresh mozzarella

12 meatballs*

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Divided the dough into four equal pieces using a floured knife.
  3. Roll each dough piece out into a 5-6 inch circle, then place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.
  4. Slather each pizza with sauce.
  5. Place three meatballs, mozzarella, and fresh ground pepper on top.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes, remove pizza and add basil then cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or until cheese is golden. (You can leave the basil on the whole time if you don’t mind it getting a little crispy. I actually like the basil crisped so I put it on at the beginning of cooking, it’s up to you!)

*Tweak this mini-meatloaf recipe to make your own meatballs. Cut out the mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire, tabasco and add plenty of torn fresh basil and dried oregano instead.

Coming up later this week:

  • Breakfast pizza failure
  • Apple Gruyere pizza (a new favorite)
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Bistro pizza week–margarita

I’m keeping it simple and fun this week by passing along a few mini-meal ideas we’ve been trying out–welcome to bistro pizza week! Now you can definitely make your own pizza dough, but to keep this meal fast I buy pre-made dough from an Italian grocery store near our home. With dough at $1 per bag, I pick up three and make four mini pizzas with each.

It’s fun to play around with the small sizes and experiment with the flavors. But to start off, I’m passing along a classic–Margarita pizza, topped with only three fresh ingredients: mozzarella cheese slices, roma tomatoes and basil. Named after an Italian queen whose visit to Naples inspired the idea, I find the simple ingredients are appealing to picky eaters. Maybe it’s that the ingredients are so easy to identify, or that every part of the pizza is fresh, but this is the most requested pizza at my house. We even picked up yellow tomatoes to make it again this week–gotta tweak right?

Note: It’s easy to double or triple this recipe and it makes for great leftovers to send in kids’ lunches–or to have for breakfast…

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4 mini-pizzas

Ingredients

1 bag pizza dough

2 roma tomatoes

1 bunch basil

8-12 ounces fresh mozzarella

olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Divided the dough into four equal pieces using a floured knife.
  3. Roll each dough piece out into a 5-6 inch circle, then place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.
  4. Brush each dough piece generously with olive oil.
  5. Place tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh ground pepper on top.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes, remove pizza and add basil then cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or until cheese is golden. (You can leave the basil on the whole time if you don’t mind it getting a little crispy. I actually like the basil crisped so I put it on at the beginning of cooking, it’s up to you!)

Coming up later this week:

  • Meatball margarita pizza
  • Breakfast pizza failure
  • Apple gruyere pizza (a new favorite)
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Italian focaccia bread

Have you tried focaccia before? The chewy Italian bread is almost across between a thick pizza crust and a crusty French bread. And it’s dimpled all over the top with indents that act as little pools for olive oil. Mmmmmm.

I’ll admit—good focaccia takes time to craft. You’ll need to create a starter dough, or biga, the night before you plan on making the dough. And the bread will need a couple rounds of rising. But none of the steps are difficult–you just need a little patience. Sure, there’s plenty of recipes with shortcuts, some even call for using pizza dough in place of the spongy focaccia bread, but I promise the effort is worth it.

You’ll want to serve the focaccia hot from the oven. I try to only use half of the bread the first night. And with the leftovers, I make Italian sandwiches the next night using slices of ham, salami, pepperoncini (also called banana peppers), tomato, lettuce and mayo mixed with a little pesto (you could also use Italian salad dressing). See, so at least if you go to all the effort of making focaccia you should have enough for a couple meals—that’s if you family doesn’t dig in and eat it all the first night!

Recipe

*From an old, well-worn copy of Cuisine at Home magazine

Servings: 1 loaf Prep time: 45 minutes + rising (x2) + 20 minutes baking

For Biga:

(Make this the night before)

1 1/2 cups water at room temperature

1 packet instant yeast

1 cup bread flour

For the dough:

2 cups bread flour

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary needles (opt.)

4-5 Tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

  1. Whisk the water and yeast together for the biga in a glass or metal bowl.
  2. Add 1 cup flour and whisk until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight (but no more than 16 hours).
  3. Before preparing the dough, bring the biga to room temperature, setting it on the counter for at least one hour. It will be thick and foamy.
  4. Combine the biga and 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons salt and sugar for the dough in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low speed for 1 minute until incorporated.
  5. Transfer dough to a bowl coated with cooking spray. Pull the dough up and over itself until its top is smooth, then coat with spray.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 11/2 to 2 hours.
  7. Drizzle 3 Tablespoons olive oil in a 9×13 inch baking pan, then use your fingertips to stretch the dough to the corners of the pan.
  8. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until it’s about 1 inch thick, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  9. Preheat oven to 400.
  10. Top dough with rosemary. Coat your fingers with cooking spray. Make indentions in the dough with your fingertips.
  11. Drizzle dough with 4 to 5 more tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. (I usually only use 2.)
  12. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer dough to a cooling rack.
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Where to find deals on pricey ingredients

Grapeseed oilTrying out new recipes can carry a real price tag. Sometimes, I substitute other ingredients if I know I’m not likely to use them again (sorry lemongrass), but other times I really try to hunt down the complete list. That’s why there’s fish sauce, Gruyere cheese, and concentrated pesto paste hanging out in my fridge.

So if you’ve been looking for deals on some otherwise pricey ingredients, here’s where you might have some luck:

•Ingredient: Extra virgin olive oil

Where to find it: Costco

Scoop: It may not be imported from Italy, but for about the same price as a small flask anywhere else, I can buy a 2-quart jug at Costco. I save the pricier imported varieties to drizzle over meals that call for it (like on top of focaccia). But in most vinaigrettes, I’m using the less pricey brand.

•Ingredient: Cool cheeses

Where to find it: Trader Joe’s

Scoop: Fontina cheese can make a meal, with its smooth consistency and tangy flavor that’s slightly stronger than mozzarella (but note that it won’t make your sauces, like alfredo, stringy). At Trader Joe’s it’s around $2 a pound, cheaper than I’ve found it anywhere else. They carry a full array of cheeses at prices low enough that you can justify trying something new.

•Ingredient: Grapeseed oil

Where to find it: Marshall’s

Scoop: Prized for its high smoking threshold and its mild flavor, you might find grapeseed oil turning up in more recipes. But it’s a pricey ingredient–unless, that is, you find it a discount store. Check at Marshall’s for this specialty oil (and others!).

•Ingredient: Ghirardelli chocolate chips

Where to find it: Cost Plus World Market

Scoop: Okay, so this isn’t an exotic ingredient or anything, but if you’re looking for the 60% cacoa variety of the big chips, you won’t find it at the grocery store. I know, I’ve tried. The only place I’ve found it so far is at Cost Plus World Market (other than at Costco seasonally). Around the holidays the chips go on sale, pair that with frequent coupons they dole out with their Rewards Program–it’s free to join–and I can get my favorite chocolate, in a 30-ounce bag, for less than if I bought a grocery store brand.

•Ingredient: Tortillas, dried chilies, panko crumbs

Where to find it: Ethnic grocery stores

Sccop: Google  ‘ethnic grocers’ in your area. When I need to find fresh tortillas for enchiladas, I make a trek to a Mexican grocers. Ditto when I need specialty items for Japanese, Chinese, Middle Eastern, or Thai fare. Usually, the cost for ingredients is sometimes as much as half what I’d pay at the grocery store. And usually, I find other ingredients that inspire me to try more new recipes.

Now it’s your turn–where do you find deals on ingredients for recipes that you want to try–and you don’t want to spend too much?

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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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Calzones done right

CalzonePizza gets old. Trust me, I’m a pizza fan, but sometimes I like to tweak the ingredients into something just a little bit different. Hey, I’m not the only one–calzones certainly seem like an excuse to reinvent pizza.

Calzones, with their pizza-like dough that’s folded over yummy ingredients like Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese, do seem an awful lot like a handheld pizza. But what I like about calzones is the excuse to dive into the fridge and uncover fun ingredients to toss in. Roasted veggies on hand? Make a roasted veggie and cheddar cheese calzone. Pesto and leftover chicken? Throw in some Parmesan and mozzarella, even a little baby spinach, and you have a tasty pesto calzone. (This time we made sausage and veggie calzones and the veggie variety were my husband’s favorite!)

You can cut down the prep time for calzones and buy pizza dough from the grocery store, but where’s the fun in that? Yes, calzones do take some time to make, but if you use your food processor, it goes pretty quick.

Hint #1 I always, always double the recipe and freeze some of the extra calzones to use for lunches or a quick dinner later. Making a big batch of dough also means that I have to get creative—who wants 12 calzones all with the same filling? I let my kids come up with whatever cheese and meat or cheese and veggie—or more likely cheese, meat and veggie–combo for their calzones.

Hint #2 Only put a couple tablespoons of sauce—tops—into the calzone! Putting in too much sauce makes for a soggy calzone. Serve heated up spaghetti sauce, alfredo or pesto sauce along with the calzones and let your kids dip instead of trying to tuck the sauce inside.

Hint #3 Let the calzones rest after they’ve baked for at least 15 minutes. These come out hot. Your kids will like them a lot better if the calzones have had time to cool down.

Hint #4 Calzones make for easy breakfasts. You can even eat them cold!

Recipe

Inspired by a recipe that first appeared in Cuisine at Home.

Prep Time: 30 minutes + rising time of 1 ½ hours

Servings: 4-6

1 cup warm water

1 yeast packet

¼ teaspoon sugar or honey

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups bread flour (optional, or just use more all-purpose flour)

1 Tablespoon sugar or honey

2 teaspoons salt

Filling ingredients (mix and match a meat and cheese—or 2!)

1 pound Cooked Italian sausage

1-2 cups Mozzarella cheese

½ cup Parmesan cheese

½ to 1 cup Ricotta Cheese

Dash of salt and pepper

Other possible ingredients

Diced ham

Roasted veggies

Prepared spaghetti sauce (for dipping and to include with the filling)

Directions

In a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl, put the first 3 ingredients into the bowl and whisk vigorously. Let this mixture sit for around 6 to 10 minutes or until you see bubbles forming (the bubbles show that the yeast is active and that your dough will rise, yeah!). After the mixture has stood and bubbled, go ahead and add in the oil.

In a food processor (you could do this with a standing mixer or a handheld mixer, but it’s easiest in the processor), pulse together your flours, 1 Tablespoon sugar and salt. Just a note on the flours, bread flour will make the dough stiffer and the finished calzone crispier. I’ve found that using all bread flour makes the dough too hard to roll out. The 50/50 combo works perfectly. Once these ingredients are blended, run the machine as you pour in the yeast mixture. The batter should come together to form a ball (this should only take a few seconds).

Spray a large mixing bowl with oil. What I do is let the dough rest in the food processor while I clean out the mixing bowl. I towel dry it and then spray it with oil. Not only does taking a minute to clean out the bowl make for less mess, but the bowl is also slightly warm when I put the dough in it, making it rise that much more.

Remove the dough ball from the food processor and onto a lightly floured cutting board. Gently knead the dough a few times until it’s no longer sticky and feels smooth.

Place the kneaded dough ball into the oiled mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap that you’ve also lightly sprayed with cooking oil.

Let rise for 1 hour.

After rising, punch down once and then place the dough ball onto a lightly floured cutting board. Divide the dough with a sharp knife or pastry cutter into 6 pieces. Form the 6 pieces into balls and then place them on a lightly oiled baking pan. Cover the pieces with a slightly damp cooking towel. Let them rise for 30 more minutes while you prep the filling ingredients.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (yup, that’s hot!).

Lightly spray a 9 x 13” baking pan with cooking oil and then sprinkle with cornmeal to prevent the dough from sticking to the pan.

In a bowl, mix a combination of your selected ingredients. For example, 1 pound Italian sausage plus 1 to 2 cups mozzarella cheese, ½ cup Parmesan, ¼ pound diced ham or replace the sausage with diced, roasted veggies. I also like to add ½ to 1 cup ricotta cheese and 1 tablespoon of prepared spaghetti sauce. So get creative with the calzone fillings!

One at a time, take one of the dough pieces and using a rolling pin make a circle ¼” thick on a floured cutting board. Move the dough onto another floured cutting board for filling. Place about ½ to ¾ of a cup filling into the center of the dough circle. Pull one end of the dough over to meet the other side. With your finger, place a little bit of water onto the inside edge of the dough circle to seal.

Use the edge of a fork to make indents into the sealed end of the dough. (So now that your circle is a half circle, the curved side.) Place the filled calzone onto the prepared baking dish and prepare the rest of the dough pieces using the same process.

Lightly brush the calzones with olive oil before placing them in the oven.

Cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until the calzone are lightly browned at the edges. Let the calzones rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. Heat spaghetti sauce to serve with the calzones.

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Fast & Easy Creamy Sauteed Spinach with Ricotta and Fontina Gnocchi

Gnocchi and spaghetti with ragu

Ingredients

1 17.6 ounce package gnocchi

4 cups spinach

1 cup ricotta

¾ cup fontina

1 clove garlic

1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil, separated

ground pepper and salt to taste

2 Tablespoons either half and half or cream (optional)

Fresh, chopped basil (optional)

Directions

Cook the gnocchi according the package directions.

Add the olive oil to a large sauté pan and bring to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds before adding the spinach (I don’t even bother pulling them into smaller pieces I just throw them whole into the pan). Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or just until the spinach leaves just barely begin to wilt. Push the spinach to the outer sides of the pan and add another ½ tablespoon of oil. Add the cooked gnocchi to the middle of the pan. Let the gnocchi cook for about 4 minutes before moving them around.

Now that the gnocchi have had time to sauté, turn the heat down to medium. Add the ricotta cheese in dollops on top of the gnocchi and sprinkle with the cheese.  Don’t mix the ingredients until you see cheese just beginning to melt. Sprinkle with pepper and salt, stir briefly until the cheeses mix with the rest of the ingredients. For a creamier sauce you can add a few tablespoons half and half or heavy cream at this point. You can also toss in fresh basil, Parmesan cheese and/or a few red pepper flakes. Serve.

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