Oh, hey there! Have a summer vegetable tart!

So my last posts on this blog were in March. Well, then. Here’s what I’ve been up to since then:

  • April: On the road 12 out of 30 days.  What does my house look like?
  • May: Please allow me to hide in my house until I leave the state for another week and then madly prepare for a board orientation for the day job.
  • June: Did I mention I was taking a stats class over the summer?  No Monday or Wednesday nights for you!  Oh, and most of your other nights are doing homework, lol.
  • Also June: You know what would be a great time to run a major conference? While you’re taking an intense summer stats class!
  • July: Stats class.  Oh, and running another major conference, because that’s just brilliant timing.
  • August: What better time to screw up my meds? (No thanks, insurance company.) I spent most of August hiding under a rock. (Except for the weekend I spend running around Gen Con dressed as one of the iconic characters from the Pathfinder RPG.)

I can’t say I’ve been making a ton of food until the last few weeks, and even then it’s been “easy mode” – baba ganouj, grilled corn and X meat.  Spouse has been taking on a lot more of the cooking than usual.  But I’m loving the summer produce that’s available.  Ohio’s peach crop was frost-killed this spring and lots of stuff has been later than usual, but we’re seeing lots of melons, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes (finally), squash, and even some cucumbers still – as well as the first apples of the season.

Last night I made this roasted vegetable tart with odds and ends lying around the house, and it was both easy and tasty.

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Here’s how it went:

  • One single-sheet pie crust (or two if you want to make a huge one).  I made mine from this recipe (the food processor does make it easy!) plus a half-teaspoon of extra-fine garlic powder for a bit of extra savory yum.  You could also use store bought pie crusts, puff pastry, or phyllo dough following the package instructions.
  • A medium bowl of summer veggies: I used two small eggplant, one medium yellow summer squash, one onion, four small sweet peppers, and a handful of cherry tomatoes which had all split on the vine due to the ridiculous amount of rain we got yesterday.
  • Some cheese.  I used goat cheese; you could also use feta, gruyere, parmesan, whatever.
  • Some kind of savory spread.  I used some olive tapenade that I got at Aldi a while back; you could also use bruchetta topping, hummus, a spreadable cheese or cheese-and-egg base, baba ganouj, whatever.

Slice/dice your veggies (except the tomatoes), toss them in a bit of olive oil, salt, and a splash of balsamic vinegar (or not).  Roast them at 425° for about 15 minutes or until they’re nice and tender.  Your onions should be translucent but nothing should be caramelized or burnt (unless you want them caramelized, in which case go a little longer.)

Do whatever you need to do with your dough situation to make it a single flat piece.  Or you could do several small tarts, in which case you want several small flat pieces.  Moral of the story: flat.  Spread your flat piece(s) of dough with the savory spread, but unless you’re using a pan which your dough fills edge to edge, you might want to stop a little before the edge.

Spread out your roasted veggies on your prepared dough-and-savory-spread situation.  You’ll want them a little bit layered, but not so high that they aren’t going to cook through.  Maybe 1″ high, tops.  I had leftover veggies, and I threw them in the fridge to make an awesome roasted veggie pita with later this week.

Put any tomatoes you plan to use on top.  You don’t have to slice small cherry/grape/pear tomatoes, but you might want to slice larger ones.  Apply cheese.  Fold up the edges of your dough, if that’s an appropriate thing to do with the type of dough you’re using.

Throw the whole thing back in the oven (still at 425°) for about 15 minutes or so, until the dough is a nice golden brown, the cheese is browned and/or bubbly depending on the type of cheese you chose, and it smells awesome.  Go find something engaging to do while it cools for 10 minutes (otherwise you’ll try to eat it too soon and burn the heck out of the roof of your mouth).

This thing is awesome warm and also awesome at room temperature, making it great for really hot days.  I suspect you might also be able to adapt this into a kind of hand-pie recipe and take them out picnicking.

Oh, and I realize it’s not Friday.  Too bad; you get food on Labor Day instead.

 

Foodie Friday: Chicken Paprikash

I discovered Chicken Paprikash in my Better Homes & Garden cookbook from about the year 1998 or so.  I made it a few times and enjoyed it, but when I got a new BHG cookbook a few years later, the recipe wasn’t included, and I kinda forgot about it.

But when one of my food bloggers, No Recipes guy Marc, posted a recipe for the stuff (right here), I was sold.  I have probably made it approximately one billion times since then.  It’s inexpensive, made with basic, readily available ingredients, relatively easy, and delicious.  Like, really delicious.

So you start with some chicken.  You can use any chicken you want, but legs/thighs are the best, and cheaper to boot.

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Then you chop up some onion, or slice it into wedges – whatever floats your boat:

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Heat up some high-heat-compatible fat in a skillet (I’m using bacon grease here):

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Season your chicken with salt and pepper, and toss it in, skin-side down.  Let it sizzle for a while, 3-4 minutes if you can.  You want the skin to get nice and brown.

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I am not quite so patient, but we’ve got a bit of browning going on.  Let the bottom side cook for a while, too.

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Then take the chicken out and set it aside. Throw your onions into the hot skillet and keep them moving until they’re starting to get translucent.  (The recipe I generally use now also includes a green or Anaheim pepper at this point, but I hardly ever have peppers lying around my house, and so I usually omit them.  It’s still delicious.)

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Then throw in your paprika.  Like, a lot of it.  A quarter-cup is not crazy, even though it seems crazy.  Give it a minute to get hot and sizzly and smell awesome.

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Then add in a bit of chicken stock – less than you might think – and stir that up.  Make sure you get all the tasty browned bits up from the bottom of the skillet, and get all your paprika dissolved/distributed.  Then add your browned chicken back in.

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Let that come up to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer.  It’ll be perfectly edible in 30-40 minutes; it’ll be divine after an hour or more.  Check it periodically to make sure the liquid hasn’t all wandered off – you want a bit left (but not much).  You might turn over the chicken once, too.

In the meantime, think about what you’d like to serve this luscious silky sauce and tender chicken over.  Rice is fine; egg noodles are fine.  Marc included in his post a recipe for dumplings, and I have fallen head over heels for it – I make these *all the time* these days.  It’s completely manageable for one person to do both the paprikash and the dumplings, but it’s also handy to divide up the work if you have a second person around.

You need one cup of flour, two eggs, and a few tablespoons of yogurt, buttermilk, milk, or even water if you’re in a pinch:

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Mix the eggs into the flour, and then add your third ingredient (milk, yogurt, creme fraiche, buttermilk, whatever) until it comes together into a dough.  This one came out a bit stickier than I preferred, but it doesn’t really matter.

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Boil some nicely-salted water (it should take like seawater).  I just use two forks to scrape blobs of the dumpling dough into my boiling water.  They’re done when they float, and you can just scoop them out with a slotted spoon.

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You might scowl at the imperfect shapes of these dumplings, but they’re actually the best thing ever.  All the folds and bumps and lumps are absolutely perfect for catching the sauce from the paprikash.  So while Marc suggests using some piece of kitchen equipment that I don’t own, I don’t think I would even if I owned it – these just come out so much better this way.

So, after an hour or so, your paprikash will look more or less like this:

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Your onions most likely will not magically convert from chopped squares to sliced wedges; I’m using photos from two different makings of this dish (within the last two weeks), which should tell you everything you need to know about how awesome it is.

Now you get to make the sauce wonderful.  Mix a few tablespoons of flour into a half-cup (or more) of sour cream or yogurt.  Then, you do what’s called “tempering” the dairy mix.  Dip into the beautiful red liquid in your skillet and dump a few tablespoons into the dairy bowl.  Stir that in.  Repeat this until your dairy is warm to the touch – mine ended up using almost a half-cup of the cooking liquid, although I may have used an inordinate amount of sour cream…

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Dump that into your skillet and stir it in.  It’ll be beautiful.

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And it’ll eventually end up looking about like this:

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Which you can then serve over your dumplings, where their imperfect shape will be absolutely perfect for the sauce.

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And if the lighting in your dining room sucks, like mine, the lovely red color will totally not show up in the photograph, but trust me, it’s still lovely. And even if it weren’t, who cares because it’s delicious.

This chicken was so tender that the bones just slid out of it, and the meat all but melted in your mouth.  The onions are like silk in the rich, creamy sauce over hearty, satisfying dumplings.

Did I mention that this is great winter food?  Yeah.  Totally.

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Foodie Friday: Accidental Heat

First, an apology: today’s post has no photos.

To be totally honest, I wasn’t planning to post anything today.  My spouse has taken over much of the cooking in the house lately, and this means that I’m taking even fewer photos than usual.  I came home exhausted from work, remembered that I had failed to post anything for today, and decided that the world wouldn’t end if I didn’t tell you all about meatloaf.

But then this very interesting thing happened with my meatloaf, and it was so interesting that I had to tell you all about it.

Now, you probably know that I”m not a big fan of spicy food (at least, you are if you happened upon my rant about spicy food in this post).  So I don’t generally make it.

At least, not on purpose.

So here I am, throwing together a meatloaf for dinner.  (I looooove meatloaf.  My mom has the best recipe and I use it all the time.)  I have a package of bulk sausage from a discount bundle from my local butcher shop, which I slice open and hurl a hunk of into my bowl.  As I’m moving on, I notice the edge of the package has written “wild country” on it.  And I think to myself, “Huh, I wonder what that’s about. Wild boar? Particularly interesting seasoning?”

And I give it zero additional thoughts as I make the rest of dinner – or at least, until I pull the meatloaf out of the microwave (ok, I’m putting this recipe below because now you must think I’m crazy) and go to pour off the fat to make gravy.  And I see all these little red flecks, and I think, “Wow, that sausage must have a lot of hot pepper in it, because I didn’t put anything else in it that would have anything like that.”

And I give it zero more thoughts, because I’m making gravy and mashed potatoes and roasting some broccoli – or at least, until I sit down at the table with my plate of meatloaf and fixins, and see again those little red flecks.  And I go, “Huh.  Wild country sausage, I get it.  I hope I can eat this.”

Well, as it turns out, it was delicious.  It was also fiery and painful, but armed with a giant pile of roasted broccoli, a mound of mashed potatoes, and a glass of water, I make my way through with more enjoyment than pain.

But here’s the really interesting part.  I finished my meatloaf, and then my broccoli, and move on to finish my mashed potatoes and gravy.  All of a sudden, I’m on fire again.  I think to myself “What on earth??  Are my potatoes somehow spicy?”

And then I got it.  Capsaicin, the stuff that makes hot foods hot, is oil-soluable.  Said gravy was made with the fat poured off from my awesome, accidentally spicy meatloaf.  Some of the capsaicin from the meatloaf had snuck into the gravy, giving it this long, slow burn that was hardly noticeable at first, but built up over time.

If you are a fan of spicy food, then you would have freaking loved this gravy.  I would never have thought to make spicy gravy (because I would never make spicy anything, because I don’t like causing myself pain. Spoilers: I also don’t beat myself with sticks.) – but I also don’t recall ever seeing spicy gravy offered or proposed anywhere. So if you like spicy stuff, I’d totally recommend it.  A sausage gravy for biscuits made with this stuff would be awesome.

So there you have it.  Accidentally spicy meatloaf and gravy.  The highlight of my night.

And if you’re interested in making your own, here you go.

Mix together about a half pound each of raw ground beef and sausage, add an egg, a small pile of breadcrumbs (1/2cup or so, enough to hold it together, fresh are a bit better than dry), a good squirt of ketchup, a few good shakes of Worcestershire, a big pinch of salt, a splash of milk, and a chopped onion. Get over yourself and just use your hands.

Shape it into a ring (yes, leave a hole in the middle) in a microwave-safe container, and put stuff on top if you want (ketchup, BBQ sauce, bacon, tonkatsu sauce, nothing, whatever).  Cover with a lid or waxed paper, and cook for 3 rounds of 7 minutes at 70% power, turning it about half a turn between each round.  (You can also do this in the oven; leave it uncovered, cook at 350 or so for 30-45 minutes; you can make a more traditional loaf shape if you do it this way.)

Pour off the fat when it’s done (careful, hot!) and use that to make gravy (or discard, if you’re a heretical person who doesn’t like gravy).  This is great to eat fresh out of the [microwave] oven, but it also makes great leftovers for future meals or meatloaf sandwiches.

But it’s not very photogenic, so don’t get your hopes up for beauty.  Let’s pretend that’s why I don’t have any pictures, ok?

Foodie Friday: Appetizers for Dinner!


I’ve been posting some things lately that have been some amount of work – either they take some prep and then go in the oven for a while, or they take a bunch of prep, or they take ongoing maintenance.

Not today.

Today, I bring you stupidly easy food.  Not only is this stupidly easy and equally fast, it really hits the spot.  You see, I’m a huge fan of appetizers: the menu of mouthwatering savory bits at a restaurant is sooo tempting.  But I can’t actually eat *that* much food, and I know that if I succumb to the appetizer, I won’t have room for my full entree (or worse, dessert!!)  So, tempting as they are, I hardly ever order them.

But.  I am also firmly of the mindset that these delicious treats shouldn’t be relegated to the hated “tempt-me-but-ruin-my-meal” section of the menu.  So it’s not terribly uncommon for me to make appetizer-type dishes for my main course.

Last night, that manifested as these wonderful chorizo-stuffed mushrooms.  I had a small package, about half a pound, of bulk chorizo from my wonderful local butcher shop, and having never made anything with chorizo before, I went Googling for recipes to use it in.

I used this recipe from A Spicy Perspective (odd, given my last post) as my basis – although I was absolutely stunned to discover that said blog was marketing these as appetizers – for Thanksgiving!  Talk about a time when I don’t want to ruin my appetite!!

Anyway, I’ve probably spent more time telling you about these than I spent making them.  It’s pretty straightforward.  Brown your bulk chorizo:

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If your chorizo comes in links, just slice open the casings and squish it out.

Clean your mushrooms and pop all the stems off.  Lay them on a baking sheet (I like to line mine with parchment paper) with the open side up:

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You want decent-sized mushrooms for this. The small ones were a little hard to stuff. This is a mix of cremini (baby bella) and regular white button mushrooms. Portobellas would probably be good too, although messy.

Take a half a block of cream cheese (or more; I ended up using the whole block, and while we’re at it I used the lower-fat Neufchatel) and some thyme.  You could use other spices or seasonings here, but I stuck to the original recipe:

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Mix in your browned, drained chorizo:

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Apply the filling to your mushrooms:

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And cover with some kind of cheese that will get all melty and browned.  I used some shredded manchego, but you could use mozzarella, parmesan, panela, monterey jack, cheddar, whatever.  The manchego was baller.

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Put it in a 400° oven for 15-20 minutes until it’s all melty and browned:

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I used the time they were in the oven to toss some simple salads so I had something green in my dinner.  But don’t let these little guys fool you: they are filling!  My spouse and I together were able to finish maybe half of these guys – the rest had to go back in the fridge for lunch today (not that I’m complaining).  But this totally fits with my narrative of “Who on earth would make these as an appetizer for Thanksgiving??”

Also, I think I spent maybe 10 minutes making dinner tonight.  These were stupidly easy.  And delicious.  You should make some.

Foodie Friday: [Lamb] Stew

We had a wonderful, beautiful, sunny, 55+ degree Saturday last week.  It was lovely.  Now it’s cold again, although at least it’s normal winter cold (lows in the 10s, highs in the 20-30s) and not stupidly absurdly cold, and the snow almost all melted.  I can deal with this.

But even normal winter likes nice warm cozy food.  Therefore, stew.  You can make stew out of just about anything: beef, lamb, veal, venison, goat.  I guess I probably wouldn’t make stew out of chicken or fish, because I have better things to do with those.

So anyway, you start with some vegetables.  I always include an onion and some carrots. This time I also put in some celery, half a sweet potato, and one very small sad turnip (you might also use parsnip, celery root, rutabaga, potatoes, etc.) – all chopped into bite-sized pieces:

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The onions and celery are separate from the carrots and other stuff because they’re going to go into the pot first.  These are what we call “aromatics” – things we cook first to make their flavor wonderful.  The other ones will go in later.

Then you’ll need  some stew meat.  I used lamb, because I had a small package of lamb stew meat from my local butcher.  You can buy your stew meat pre-cut, or you can buy a larger cut and cut it up yourself.  You don’t need tender cuts for this – stewing as a technique works best on tougher cuts with more connective tissue.

Mix up a handful of flour, salt and pepper:

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Then dredge (also known as “toss” or “push your meat pieces around until covered”) your meat in the flour mixture.  You want them all nicely covered, but not with giant lumps of flour attached. They should look like this:

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Great!  Set that aside for a few minutes.  (Out of reach of cats, dogs, small children, etc.)

Apply your favorite soup pot to the stove.  (The pot I’m using here was overkill for this batch of stew.) Put a blob of your favorite cooking fat into the pot – you might use vegetable oil, shortening, lard, or – my favorite – bacon grease!  You don’t want to use butter or olive oil, though – they’ll burn at the temperature you need them.

Get it good and hot:

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And then toss in your meat pieces:

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Brown them on one side (1-2 minutes) and then turn the pieces over and brown the other side:

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Om nom.  Some of the flour mixture will stick to the bottom of the pan and get all tasty and brown. You want this!

When your meat bits are browned, take them out and set them aside for another minute.  (Continue to keep out of reach of dogs, cats, small children, etc.)

Add your aromatics (onion, celery, garlic, etc.) to the pot and stir them around for a while:

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You want them to get a bit cooked but not browned, and do your best to start scraping up the tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pan:

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Then throw in your other veggies:

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I added my herbs at this point (rosemary and marjoram):

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And then you’ll wanna toss your meat back in:

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And enough broth to cover everything:

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While that’s coming up to a boil, add in some other seasonings.  Most red-meat stews can benefit from a bit of tomato paste:

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(Yes, I use my knife to get tomato paste from the can.  I also use my knife to get minced garlic, stock concentrate, and many other things out of jars.  I don’t want to get a bunch of spoons dirty.)

Now, stew is extremely flexible, but runs the risk of being exceptionally bland.  So add in your favorite seasonings.  Salt and pepper are mandatory.  My standard additions are A1 Steak Sauce (I don’t put it on steak, only in stew and pot roast) and worcestershire.  You could also add a bit of a seasoning blend (like a steak seasoning or Mrs. Dash), or a bunch of herbs like tarragon, chervil, savory, thyme, etc.  Goat in particular lends itself to some crazy seasonings like Jamaican jerk.  My rule of thumb is that if it smells good with the flavors already in your kitchen from getting you this far, it’ll probably be tasty.  A teaspoon total is a good measure for dried herbs and spices, a tablespoon each for any liquid flavorings – use these as starting points and adjust from there.

Stir it all together, bring it to a boil, and then turn down the heat and put a lid on it.  You want to let this stuff go for a while – probably around an hour if not more.  A few really cool things happen in this time.  The flour that mixed in with the fat when you browned the meat formed something akin to a roux, which during this time will thicken your stew into a nice rich texture.  The connective tissue in the meat will melt away, which makes the meat super-tender while making the stew even more rich in texture.  The flavors meld together (the tomato paste in particular, which almost vanishes and just leaves a subtle depth), the onions and carrots become lovely and sweet, and everything mellows out.

Incidentally, you can also make this whole thing in a crockpot.  Do everything exactly as described above, but switch to a crockpot after you cook up your onions and celery, and let it go on low for 8-10+ hours.

You can also make this recipe in larger quantities.  Just use more of everything.  It keeps well for leftovers and also freezes pretty well, so it’s a good option to make a bunch of.

Either way, when you get to where you want to be, it’ll look about like this:

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Except hopefully you chose a more appropriately-sized pot than I did.

I forgot to take a picture of it in a bowl, so let’s just pretend that you have a lovely photo here with a few sprigs of fresh herbs (that came from ??? because my herb garden froze over months ago) and some nice toasted french bread.  Or something.

Also, in case you’re wondering, I no longer have a vegetarian in the house.  Just so you don’t think I’m being a giant jerkface here.

Foodie Friday: Vegan Joes

Hey, look at me, actually posting a Foodie Friday on a Friday. It’s like maybe I sneakily wrote two posts this past weekend and scheduled one to go out ahead so I actually have something up on time for once. Who knew?

Anyway, let’s talk about Joe. In fact, let’s talk about several Joes. Vegan ones. Vegan Joes.

So I love sloppy joes – not gonna lie. They’re quick, easy, tasty, and a nice protein blast for gym days. But good ground beef is expensive, and for reasons that I haven’t really gotten into yet on this blog, I only buy good meat. So when I found this tasty recipe for sloppy joes that swaps out lentils for the ground beef, I was pretty much sold.

Lentils are awesome. They’re little, inexpensive, quick-cooking, buy-in-bulk-and-store-forever, protein-packed legumes. They come in a bunch of colors, from the thin red ones that melt away when you cook them to plain old brown ones to fancy marbled french puy ones to crazy black ones. There’s probably more out there – go to town. I usually keep a bin of brown lentils (usually the cheapest) in my pantry for things like this (or for this amazing mushroom-lentil pot pie that you should totally make if you haven’t yet).

The really awesome part about this particular recipe – originally from the Veganomicon – is that it’s super flexible. It calls for an onion and a yellow pepper. I usually have onions on hand; I rarely have yellow pepper – but it doesn’t matter! I’ve used just about everything else instead – from celery to turnips to eggplant to sweet potatoes. Today’s candidate was zucchini, left over from the package I purchased to make veggie lasagna a while back:

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First, though, you need to start your lentils. One cup lentils plus 4 cups water is the standard. In my world this translates to “some” lentils and “enough water to come to the second knuckle of my first finger.” I’m a really precise person when it comes to cooking. Bring to a boil and then turn them down and simmer. They’ll take about 20 minutes – just enough time to get the rest of everything going.

So, you chop up your onion and your zucchini a bit more finely than you normally would. The weirder your extra veggie, the more finely you want to chop it. (The turnips, for example, I chopped pretty darn small.)
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Put olive oil in your favorite big skillet or saucepan.  This is my favorite skillet.  It’s the most expensive pan I own, and it’s also my favorite – every time I use it, I’m always happy about it.  Worth every dollar.  It’s very sturdy, thick enough to distribute heat evenly, and 100% stainless steel – so I can throw it in the dishwasher, or the oven, or use a scrubby on it to get stuff off (unlike every other skillet in the universe, which is covered with useless, potentially-toxic, lifespan-dimishing, not-dishwasher-safe teflon).  And it has an extra handle opposite the long handle so I can carry it to the table.  And a lid.  Amazing.

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Add your onion and other vegetable, and sauté over medium-high heat until the onion is cooked enough to eat.  When it’s sautéed to your liking, add your seasonings – oregano and chili powder, according to the original recipe, but you can use whatever floats your boat.  Remember, adding your spices and herbs to the oil now (as opposed to the finished stuff later) makes the flavors better.  This is also a good time to point out that chili powder and other “hot” spices get hotter from this treatment – so you maybe want to go easy.

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Ok, rant time.  One of the big reasons I don’t eat more vegetarian or vegan food is because evidently the entirety of humanity that chooses not to eat meat has decided that they must make all of their food spicy instead.  No meat = must be spicy.  It’s like the veg*n cop-out: “This dish would be bland without meat, but I’m too lazy to put actual flavors in it, so I’ll just dump in all these chilis instead.”  Spicy food makes Lyz cry, but because flaming fiery pain is evidently the only flavor available in most veg*n cooking, most recipes are right out, brain-meltingly bland, or require me to figure out how to make them tastier.  (Usually I end up adding bacon or cheese – a pro strat for vegetarian food, right?)  This recipe, for example, calls for THREE FREAKING TABLESPOONS OF CHILI POWDER in a FOUR-SERVING RECIPE.  That’s almost ONE TABLESPOON PER SERVING.  DO YOU WANT ME TO DIE??

So I used a little less than one tablespoon in the version I made, and I often put in other spices as the whim strikes me.  See, doesn’t this look amazingly delicious?

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Then you’ll need some tomato paste and sauce. I was making a bit bigger of a batch here, so I’m going to use a little more than the recipe calls for – two cans of tomato sauce and one full can of paste. These little cans are stupidly cheap at Aldi and keep forever (the ones I used today expire in December… of 2015) so you should always have a few on hand.

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Add your tomato products to your skillet:

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And stir them up real good. Add some maple syrup (about two pancakes’ worth) and some plain yellow mustard (about two hot dogs’ worth). Bring them to a simmer and let them hang out and meld and become wonderful.

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Your lentils should be getting done around now. You’ll know when they stop being crunchy and are instead a texture really not unlike browned ground beef.

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Dump those into the skillet of goo, and mix them in. If you have a few minutes, let them hang out there together to soak up all the tastiness. (The book recommends 10 minutes.)

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I used this time to slice up this amazing fresh loaf of bread my spouse made. This bread, as it turns out, is not vegan, and so if you’re intent on keeping your dinner vegan, use vegan bread, rolls, buns, tortillas, rice, or just eat it plain.

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I gave up on eating sloppy joes on buns a long time ago. Now I eat them open-faced with a fork, because I’m old and have no sense of fun in my life anymore. But I do put home-canned bread-and-butter pickles on them, because they are amazing things and really go very well with sloppy joes.

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Bonus points – this recipe keeps *very* well in the fridge, so you can make a whole bunch and then use the leftovers for lunch at work during the coming week.  And it’s cheap – I think this whole giant skillet may have cost a total of $5 in ingredients.

Foodie Friday: Stupid-Simple Butternut Squash Soup – with Bonus Biscuits!

Well, then. Hello, Sunday! The weather here has only gotten better insofar as it no longer hurts your face to go outside – it’s still mostly gray, sloppy, and cold. My day job is still bonkers, and because that wasn’t enough for my crazy self, I also took on a pretty big freelance gig with a pretty tight turnaround. Such is my life.  I hope you can all forgive me.

Thankfully, I have a spouse who is willing to make dinner.

On the one night this week I did get to cook myself, I wanted easy, warm, and cozy food. I’m also still working on a budget, and I still have a vegetarian in the house. (Vegetarians are great; I just need more practice at cooking veggie-friendly food.) So of course, I decided that soup is the way to go.

Butternut squash is warm and cozy no matter what you do with it.  Soup is kind of a cop-out with this wonderful veggie, but it’s such a delicious cop-out that I don’t mind.  It’s very quick – maybe 30 minutes start to finish? – and very flexible.

So, we start with Le Butternut Squash:

These things last forever, by the way.  Buy enough in the fall to last until the following May, and just store them somewhere cool and dry.

These things last forever, by the way. Buy enough in the fall to last until the following May, and just store them somewhere cool and dry.  I use about one a month.  (Bonus points, sometimes they’re hilariously phallic!)

So you want to start by peeling and cubing your squash.  First, I want to say that peeling any other squash is a royal pain in the ass, so don’t even try it with anything else.  Second, the only way to peel butternut squash is with a very sharp steel or ceramic peeler – then it’s actually pretty easy.

This is probably ~4-5 cups of squash cubes.  You can buy pre-cut squash if you'd like.

This is probably ~4-5 cups of squash cubes.

You can also buy this stuff pre-cut at the grocery store these days.  Or, if you want to DIY but don’t have a sharp peeler, you can halve the thing longways and either roast it with a little olive oil, S&P (350°) for about 45 minutes (drool), or nuke it for 5-10 (fast!).  These latter two options have an extra bonus of reducing the simmer time for the soup itself.

Ok, squash get!  Now chop up an onion:

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And throw it into a soup pot (also known as a kettle, pasta pot, or very large saucepan) with some olive oil over medium-high heat.

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Then throw in the squash, assuming you haven’t otherwise cooked it yet:

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You’re gonna cook this stuff for a while, maybe 5-10 minutes or more, until the onion is translucent and maybe juuuust beginning to brown. Stir occasionally – you want the heat high enough to do something but low enough that you don’t have to stand there tending it the whole time.  You can use this intermediate time to do something like make a salad or whip up a batch of biscuits.  Hmm…biscuits…

Once your onions look tasty (the squash won’t look anything more than a bit soft/wet on the sides – it won’t brown), add about 4 cups of broth.  If you have pre-cooked your squash, now is the time to add it. I used vegetable broth made from Better than Bullion, but I’ll often use homemade chicken stock.  Bring that up to a boil and then turn it down to simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Put a lid on it if you have one handy.

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You may need more or less liquid depending on how much squash you have. You want just enough that your squash cubes are just covered.

It was about this time that I decided I wanted biscuits with my soup – nice cheesy herby biscuits. So I started working on those. They’re easy-peasy – you just take your favorite biscuit recipe (even Bisquick) and stir in some shredded cheese and herbs when you mix the wet and dry ingredients.

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Shredded smoked gouda, and dried parsley, dill, sage, and savory. Savory, as it turns out, is a cranky little plant and will stab you if you try to rub it to break it down, so don’t try to rub it with your fingers.

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Dry ingredients!

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Wet ingredient!

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They’re mixed together! It’s biscuit dough!

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Biscuit dough on the baking tray! Here’s where you want to learn from my mistakes – if your biscuits have cheese in them, use parchment paper on your baking sheet.

Then I decided I wanted decadent biscuits, so I brushed them with melted garlic butter.

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Into the oven with those bad boys – whatever your biscuit recipe tells you.  Mine took a little longer than advertised.

When those get close to being done in the oven, you want to blend up and season your soup.  I have a stick blender that I totally love for this kind of thing, but you can use a regular blender, too – just let the soup cool a bit and be careful.  I blend the everliving daylights out of mine, since I like a silky velvety soup like the ones I ate in Australia a few years ago.

Now, seasonings.  Salt and pepper is almost mandatory, but from there, you can do wherever you’d like. For an eastern style, try adding some coconut milk, ginger, and curry powder.  You could do a southwestern hint with lime juice and chili powder.  A sweet-style soup might have a bit of maple syrup and maybe some cloves, mace, or allspice.  You can add some cream or crème fraîche or yogurt if you’d like a creamier soup.  I ended up using salt, pepper, and just a hint of ginger and curry – just enough to add some flavor complexity, not enough to make it taste like squash curry.

You may have to reheat the soup a bit depending on how much stuff you put in it and how cold it was.  Do that.  Then serve this soup with your wonderful cheesy-herby-buttery biscuits.

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Le Wonderful Soup. This pot may have been overkill, but better too big than too small.

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And the biscuits, in all their cheesy-herby-golden-brown-glory.

Foodie Friday: Cheap Soup

Winter here in Ohio has been rough this year.  This is what it looked like out my window today:

There's a water main break over on that corner, hence the giant piles of ice.  It's supposed to be fixed by 1/31!!!…...

There’s a water main break over on that corner, hence the giant piles of ice. At least they’re going to have it fixed by 1/31! … … …

So of course I want warm, comforting, cozy food.  Who wouldn’t?

As it turns out, I also have a vegetarian houseguest this week, so my normal go-to comfort foods (pot pie, roasted chicken, braised beef/bison/vension) are right out.  No problem, I have lots of vegetarian go-to recipes.  We made veggie lasagna earlier this week (guess how many pictures I took?) and that wonderful lentil-mushroom pot pie with gouda biscuit topping which you should totally make if you haven’t yet.

But, as it turns out, I’m also on a budget, so I have my go-to low-cost comfort foods.  This recipe is a favorite fall-back.  It’s largely based on Poor Girl Eats Well’s Smoky Split Pea Carrot Soup, but (as with all my food) I don’t actually measure anything, and I throw in whatever sounds good at the moment.

You start with (you’re never going to guess this): some chopped veggies!  In this case, I started with garlic, an onion, and the most sad pathetic wilted limp floppy carrots you’ve ever seen, from the bottom of my fridge.

See that purple-skinned carrot on the edge?  I grew that one!  It's the last of my summer garden carrots.

See that purple-skinned carrot on the edge? I grew that one! It’s the last of my summer garden carrots.

It didn’t seem like quite enough, so I added these two hakurei turnips from the same bottom of my fridge.

They've been patiently hanging out since CSA season, which ended the first week of December.  Held up better than the carrots.

They’ve been patiently hanging out since CSA season, which ended the first week of December. Held up better than the carrots.

You could add all kinds of things here – potatoes, parsnips, celery (celery root?), jerusalem artichokes, salsify, maybe even rutabagas or a golden beet.  I think I’d stick with root vegetables, and I’d stay away from normal red beets unless I wanted split pea borscht.

Olive oil in a pot, start the onions and garlic first.  Add your spices now (cumin, salt and pepper, and smoked paprika – yeah!) so the flavors bloom some.

 Bonus smoky flavor if you, like me, let your onions burn a little bit.  It's a feature.  Really.  You can trust this faceless person here, right?


Bonus smoky flavor if you, like me, let your onions burn a little bit. It’s a feature. Really. You can trust this faceless person here, right?

What’s that, Lyz? Bloom?  Well, the flavor from spices comes from the essential oils in each spice, so you can really get way more out of your spices by adding them into your starting-saute and letting them sizzle for a few minutes.  Don’t overdo it – burnt spices are awful – and remember that it’s not as effective with herbs (and doesn’t do a damn thing with salt).

Add the carrots (and turnips or whatever else you’re using), your split peas (rinsed and picked over, please!), and enough water to cover everything by an inch or so.  You could also use broth, stock, or add in some bullion here – I didn’t, because I currently don’t own any vegetarian soup base.  You could also add a ham bone (my butcher carries WONDERFUL smoked ham hocks for dirt-cheap) and/or some chopped-up ham here, if you were inclined to do so.  Just remember, ham is not vegetarian.

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Bring it up to a simmer and let it go for a while.  PGEW suggests 20 minutes, which I have never found to be enough.  I let mine go for closer to an hour tonight and it was lovely – but you could probably stop somewhere more like 40 minutes and be fine.

Now, while you’re waiting for your dinner to cook, let’s talk about split peas.  Split peas are cheap, hearty food – lots of fiber and protein, plus some iron to boot.  They come in two colors (at least!) – the typical green ones, and also in yellow.  The yellow ones are theoretically a little sweeter, which sounds pretty good.  However, the green ones come at something ridiculous like 69¢ for a pound at Aldi, and you cannot beat that price – so I’ve actually never tried the yellow ones.  (Have you?  Let me know how they are!)

Since your soup is obviously not done following our little pea chat there, go make some biscuits or get some bread to go with this soup.  I got my spouse to make some herb-garlic-cheese dinner rolls, but even refrigerator biscuits or grocery store rolls/bread would be fine. Heck, sliced bread is fine.  Go to war with the bread you’ve got.

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Let’s assume that the soup has cooked for its allotted time by now.  Your peas should be tender, not crunchy – crunchy peas are a total bummer in this soup, not that I’m sure there’s ever a time and place for crunchy split peas.  Take about half the soup out, and blend one half or the other (or more or less, it’s up to you) with your favorite blending implement – if necessary.  Mine just sort of smoothed out as I stirred it.   (Incidentally, this is a good time to take out the ham bone if you put one in.  We’re not playing “Will It Blend?” here.)

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Then recombine your two parts of soup.  You may need to add liquid, adjust seasonings, or reheat it some if it’s gotten cool while blending.  If you didn’t add chopped ham before and you’ve changed your mind, this is a perfectly good time to throw it in and heat through.  Top with your favorite soup toppings: bacon bits (not vegetarian!), crème fraîche, croutons, shredded cheese, toasted bread crumbs, crispy fried shallots, whatever.  Or nothing.  Nothing is a totally valid soup topping.

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Eat.  Warm.  Cozy.  Bread.  Blankets.  Kittens.  Sleep.

Foodie…Sunday? Thoughts on Getting By

I owe you all an apology.  The past two weeks have been bonkers for me, and that resulted in my not having a post for you on Friday.  It’s not that I’m not eating (believe me, I am!), or even that I’m not cooking (gotta kill that stress somehow).  No, it’s a much sillier problem than that: evidently when I get busy, I forget to take pictures of what I’m making.

I tried!  I have first-stage photos of…

Oven-roasted chicken breast:

Proto-Roast Chicken Breast

Intended as part of the “what you do with a chicken” post, but I forgot to take pictures of the previous parts AND the parts that come later.

From-scratch caesar salad:

Proto-Caesar Salad

Totally worth the extra time and effort. I’ve been using the recipe at http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/classic-caesar-salad, with the shortcut of that tube of anchovy paste because what on earth are you going to

And yesterday I made some ice cream using the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home cookbook.  I have pictures of starting to make sugar-plumped apricots:

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Blackstrap praline pecans:

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And the ice cream itself:

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But I completely forgot to take pictures after this point, for each and every one of them, except the roast chicken, which wasn’t quite ready for prime time:

This chicken is not done.

This chicken is not done.

But I want to talk about that for a minute, in the interests of making small improvements in life.

Sometimes your chicken doesn’t get done, and you’ve carved it up and you now have two servings of not-quite-done chicken.  It’s not the end of the world!  I just plopped it back in that pan, now in two pieces, and stuck it back in the oven for another 10 minutes.   Dinner.  Sure, it wasn’t quite as glorious as my roast chickens usually are (I really do need to share that with you) but it was a perfectly tasty, wholesome meal regardless.

Likewise, one of the most interesting dishes I made this week was the least photogenic.  I didn’t even bother taking pictures of it because it was ugly from step one.  See, I had some leftover spanish rice and some leftover seasoned beans.  I thought, “hm, rice and bean skillet.”  So I chopped up an onion and sautéed that, then threw in the rice and beans (the rice immediately sticking to the bottom of the skillet and making a mess).  Then I thought, “hey, this would be pretty good with some corn!”  I quick-thawed a package of frozen corn under hot water and stirred it in.  “How about some shredded cheddar?”  In it went.  Topped it off with a sprinkle of a spanish-style spice blend from my market bag (although simple salt and pepper plus maybe a little chili powder, or a sprinkle of taco seasoning, or anything else would have been perfectly fine), and called it good.  Served with sour cream, lime wedges, and tortillas: warm, filling, wonderful food.  (And vegetarian, to boot!)  But let me tell you, it sure didn’t look like much.

So what’s the point?  Something I tell myself often: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

Maybe you forget to take pictures while you’re cooking.  Maybe you don’t have the time and energy to cook from scratch, but instead of dropping by the fast food joint, you drop by the market and pick up a rotisserie chicken.  Maybe you throw your hands up altogether, but you go to the little Korean food truck instead of the Bland-O National Chain Restaurant.  Much as Anthea was saying earlier this week, don’t criticize yourself for good decisions just because they aren’t perfect!

Oh, and maybe your Friday blog post went up on Sunday.  Better late than never!

Foodie Friday: Comfort Pot Pie

Yesterday, I did not want to get out of bed.  I spent most of the day wishing I could go back to bed.  The high was 10° F (with a windchill high of 0° F).  When I left the office, this is what it looked like outside:

Yeah, that sky only looks blue in this photo. It's about the same color as the road, snow, house, and trees.  And cars, since they're all covered in salt.

Yeah, that sky only looks blue in this photo. It’s about the same color as the road, snow, house, and trees. And cars, since they’re all covered in salt.

And I was starving.  All together, an urgent call for comfort food.  Chicken pot pie, here I come!

Incidentally, many of the ingredients in this recipe come from a chicken.  I’ll have to show you what to do with a chicken someday.

Here’s the cast of characters:

An onion, celery, a red carrot (I grew it!), and some sad little hakurei turnips from my CSA last fall.  Those things last forever.

An onion, celery, a red carrot (I grew it!), and some sad little hakurei turnips from my CSA last fall. Those things last forever.

Some chicken leftover from Sunday's roast.

Some chicken leftover from Sunday’s roast.

Chop up the veggies:

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By the way, this is a great time to introduce the stock bag!  Any veggie trimmings, peels, etc. (usually onions, celery, and carrots) go into this gallon ziploc bag that hangs out in my freezer until I make a pot of stock.  (Stock recipes coming soon.)  No brassicas, though – broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc. – they’ll make your stock smell like farts.

This is my stock bag.  Any ends of veggies (usually onions, celery, and carrots) go into this gallon ziploc in my freezer.  No brassicas, though - broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc. - they'll make your stock smell like farts.

This is my stock bag!

And sauté them in some butter until they’re tender, the onion is just barely browning on the edges, and the carrots are not rock-hard.  Chop up your chicken, if you need to – big chunks are nice, or you can chop it a bit finer if you have less chicken and want to stretch it.

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I had plenty of chicken, so nice big chunks here.

You can throw your chicken in now, or you can wait until after you make your gravy.  In general, if your chicken is frozen, wait until you make the gravy.  In general, actually, you’re supposed to put the chicken in after you make the gravy, but I got all excited and threw it in early, and it didn’t hurt anything.

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Then throw in a small handful (1/8 cup?) of flour:

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And stir that in until it’s mixed.  Then you add some chicken stock (do you sense a theme here?), somewhere around a cup or so, stirring as you go.  You want to end up with a nice thick bubbly gravy, but not glue.

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Homemade is best, but use whatever you’ve got – a carton, can, “Better than Bullion,” or even just a bullion cube dissolved in water.

And, because I forgot to throw this in before I made the gravy, add a handful of herbs, plus some salt and pepper:

I grew these!  And it's totally not weed - that's sage.

I grew these! And it’s totally not weed – that’s sage and thyme.

If you’re a little confused about the order here, the point is that it doesn’t actually matter all that much, as long as you have sautéed veggies, gravy, chicken and herbs together in a pan/pot/skillet at this stage in the game.

Put that in a baking dish that’s big enough to hold it.

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And then top it with your favorite biscuit, pie crust, or puff pastry.  I whipped up the biscuit topping from this (awesome on its own merits) recipe using whole wheat flour instead of cornmeal and mixing the cheese right into the dough:

Hell yeah, food processor.

Hell yeah, food processor.

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Biscuits on top.

And then you bake it.  I’ve found that when in doubt, bake on 350° F until it’s lightly browned and/or bubbly.  In this case, I left it in for about 30 minutes.

Golden brown on top, bubbly around the edges.

Golden brown on top, bubbly around the edges.

It’ll be kind of like napalm when you take it out of the oven, so let it sit for a few minutes.

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And let me tell you, it was terrible.

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And then I climbed into bed and went to sleep.