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Thursday, April 17, 2014

0 Freezer Bags: An Effective & Compact Way to Store & Organize Frozen Food

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While it's certainly preferable to eat homemade meals that've been freshly made, we all have those days when we'd rather just defrost something than cook. :) Basically this translates into, "Food, please magically appear. NOW." Hahaha. After all, defrosting food is not exactly labor-intensive. :)

If you're like me, and like to freeze homemade meals you've pre-prepared for a future date, you'll probably need to make the most of every inch of valuable real estate in your freezer. I don't know about you, but until I found a better system for frozen food storage, my freezer would frequently run out of space. I'd try to squeeze in the very last container, which would never quite fit. Of course, this would drive me nuts, because then I'd have to remove everything and rearrange stuff just so that ONE item could fit. :)

Or, here's the other scenario: After beaming with pride and self-satisfaction that I'd manage to fit every single item into the freezer without an iota of wasted space, I was faced with the following realization: "What if I needed to actually remove something from the freezer?" Hahaha. Yes, it appeared that my little inner "happy dance" was a bit premature. :) I'd pack the items into the freezer so perfectly, like a tightly fitting 3D jigsaw puzzle, that any future attempts to extract the single precarious, load-bearing container that was propping up everything else -- you know, the one and only container I needed to defrost for dinner that night -- was just asking for it. :) The next time I needed to remove something, I'd probably need to call in for backup. ;) One wrong move and "BAM!" At any moment, that little game of "food Jenga" could turn into a rushing avalanche of heavy frozen plastic food containers that'd come crashing down on my head, or worse, my toes. And let me tell you, nothing hurts more than a frozen food crash landing onto your toes or other delicate body part (OW!), not that I'd know anything about that. :)

Even if you have uniform-sized containers, it can sometimes be tricky to fit items into your fridge. After all, chances are pretty good that whoever designed the freezer section of your fridge hadn't taken the exact dimensions of your frozen food containers into consideration. :) There's always going to be that one last container that won't perfectly into the end of a row. Then, what are you going to do? :) If you're packing a lot of food in there, you need to make the most of that space, and those awkward shaped holes aren't helping any.

OK, I know there are those heat-activated, vacuum-sealed contraptions that require custom bags specifically designed to fit the thing, but since the seal is permanent, they're a pain-in the neck anytime you want to easily reseal your food, which, if you're like most people, can be fairly often. As a testament to how convenient they are to use, I think my mother probably still has hers tucked away in the back of a cupboard somewhere, but I don't think it's seen the light of day in a LONG time. :) (Seriously, that thing is ancient! Hahaha.) Plus, if you run out of those specialty bags when you're in a pinch, good luck trying to find a place where you can quickly get some replacement bags. No thank you. :) I'd rather use something a bit more commonplace and easier to find and use.

The other issue is freezer burn. I've even used those supposedly air-tight, lock-top containers and then bagged them in plastic freezer bags on top of that and it doesn't seem to make much of a difference; they STILL get freezer burn. Even if you remove all of the air from the plastic bag, there's still the container itself, which you have to fill to the rim to get rid of the air, and even then, there are no guarantees. Of course, no one likes having to throw away items covered in freezer burn. Not only is it wasteful, but it's not exactly pleasant when you're handling the affected food, which smells (and tastes!) rather nasty. Yes, I've tried to salvage freezer burned food before because I can't stand wasting food, and the results were almost always disastrous. It can be a very frustrating experience, because even if you think you've gotten rid of all those pesky air pockets, the freezer burn beastie can still attack your frozen food. The fact remains -- those plastic containers just don't cut it when it comes to freezing food.

Do the above experiences sound familiar to you? If so, fear not. I have the perfect solution. :) For those of you who are trying to figure out a way to maximize and better organize the space in your freezer, here's a simple but effective idea: Instead of using plastic containers to store leftovers, which are bulky and leave food more susceptible to freezer burn, use freezer bags. They take up far less space, are easier to fit into your fridge, and can be used for storing almost any kind of food -- fruits and veg, soups, sauces, chilis, etc.

(1) For the best results, wait until cooked food cools completely (you don't want toxic chemicals from
melted/heated plastic bags to seep into your food), then pour the food into a plastic freezer bag. Press out as much of the air as possible (make sure you squeeze out every last air bubble!) and then double bag your items, both of which will help prevent freezer burn. If you do this, your frozen items will remain usable for a pretty long time. Take it from me: Some of the items in my freezer just might've been left over from the Ice Age, but nonetheless, I've managed to pull them out intact and unscathed. :)

(2) To save the most space, first stack them horizontally like pallets in your freezer and uniformly flatten each one with your hands (or a metal tray) before stacking the next one on top. Once they are frozen, they're much easier to "re-file" vertically, which I've found to be the easiest way to access them, unless you're storing them on freezer shelves that consist of wire racks. In that case, horizontal storage works best, especially for some of the thinner items, since this way, the bags won't accidentally slip through the slats. :)

(3) Also, it's a good idea to mark the outer bag first with a description and date of your food BEFORE you fill the bags with food. ;) Even if you use permanent marker, like I do, it's harder to write on them once the food's inside, not to mention that the marker tends to rub off that way, due to the inevitable condensation that occurs after you transfer the food to the bags.

(4) Make sure the bags you use are actually freezer bags and not plastic sandwich bags, which don't protect against freezer burn. Also, I've found that the double zipper kind -- and not the kind with the "sliding" zips (!) -- are the best for preventing freezer burn, because they provide the tightest seal possible.

(5) Even though some items already come wrapped in plastic (like poultry, hamburger meat, etc.), it's still a good idea to put them in freezer bags, because they'll keep better that way in the freezer. With only the plastic wrapping, they're still susceptible to freezer burn, because the plastic packaging is way too thin and wasn't intended to be freezer burn proof.

Ziploc® brand Double Guard®
Freezer Bags
So, that's pretty much it. Thus far, I've found freezer bags to be the best defense against freezer burn and frozen food avalanches. :) Try the above strategies and I promise you, you'll be a lot happier. Your freezer will be able to fit more food and it'll be a heck of a lot easier for you to access it all without having anything unexpectedly fly out at you and clock you on the head. :) Your freezer will be neat and organized and as a result, a lot easier to keep clean. Yes, just by tackling this one small corner of your kitchen, your kitchen -- and maybe also your life :) -- will feel more orderly. You will have achieved frozen food nirvana. :)

There's nothing like a bit of organizing to cleanse the soul and put your mind at ease. If nothing else in your life is under control, then at least there will be order in this one small space of the universe. :) And if a sense of calm doesn't wash over you, then maybe you need to organize the rest of your kitchen. Hahaha.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

0 Recipe #372: Avocado-Pesto Dip

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This effortless, flavorful dip recipe combines two of my favorite ingredients -- avocado and pesto. I came up with the idea yesterday afternoon when putting together dishes for our weekly menu. I'd just finished prepping the vegetable side dish for that night's dinner, i.e., Pesto Pattypan Squash and Baby Zucchini (recipe forthcoming), and so the pesto was still lying out on the countertop. Just as I was about to put the pesto away, I swiveled around to grab it and my eyes happened to land on a lonely avocado not but a few feet away in the opposite corner of the kitchen. Of course, that's when the idea dawned on me to combine the two ingredients. :) Since we'd just had the squash last night, we'll be saving the dip for later this afternoon. No one in my family's complaining though; right after we'd finished last night's dinner, my sister found out about the avocado-pesto dip and said, "How soon can we eat THAT?" Hahaha. Too much pesto? Apparently, in our family, there's no such thing. ;)


Avocado-Pesto Dip

Ingredients:
1/2 ripe Haas avocado, peeled and pitted (makes about 1/2 c. mashed)
1/4 c. pesto (see recipe)
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced and tightly packed
1/2 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Directions: Mash avocado in a medium-sized bowl but leave it a little bit chunky to give it some texture. Add all remaining ingredients to the bowl and mash everything together until just combined. (Or, if you'd like to take the ultimate shortcut, then don't bother chopping up any of the produce; just peel the garlic and peel and pit the avocado, then toss everything into the food processor and pulse until just combined.) Serve with crudités or other accompaniments and enjoy!

Yield: 1 c.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

0 Don't Know What to Serve with the Bird? Here are Some Thanksgiving Dinner Menu Ideas....

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Yes, it's that time of year again, when many of us start thinking about what we're going to serve for our
Thanksgiving Day dinners. Some will take the traditional route, while others will toss in some unexpected choices. Whether you're still scratching your heads or just need a few dishes to round out your meal, I'm here to help you with your menu planning by providing you with suggestions to suit a wide variety of needs. Plus, if you're serving an army, it's typically a good idea to offer several different appetizers, sides, and desserts to keep everyone happy and well fed. Below, you'll find a comprehensive array of choices from all of these different dish categories. The only thing that's missing is the bird. :) However, it's usually the other stuff (i.e., everything else!) that people have more of a challenge figuring out, so this extensive list should give you more than enough meal ideas to get you started with your menu planning.

As a chef and frequent host, I've planned lots (and I do mean LOTS!) of menus for dinner parties and large gatherings in the past, and have also helped family and friends with this as well. In fact, for one of our previous Thanksgiving Day gatherings (from a year or two ago), I helped my aunt draw up a menu and calculate food amounts for her guests. If memory serves, they had over 20 people at their house that year, along with three very large hungry poodles, one of whom suddenly decided to jump up on the table after dinner to help clean up the scraps. :)

We really went all out that year: One family friend made a sweet potato dish, my aunt made the turkey, some salads, and vegetable side dishes while I "filled in the blanks" with pumpkin soup, cranberry sauce, two pumpkin pies, and a fruit tart. Everyone's dishes were homemade, so although it was a lot of work (and several days worth of kitchen prep and cooking!), it was lots of fun to make everything. Despite the chaos that sometimes surrounds the process, the end result is usually well worth it, because Thanksgiving is a time when the food and conversation will (hopefully!) bring everyone together and provide a happy background for friends and family to relax and more fully appreciate each other's company.

Anyhow, enough verbiage. I hope you'll find the below meal ideas useful to keep your menu fresh and exciting. Have fun cooking (and eating!), and I wish you all a Happy, Healthy Thanksgiving!

-C


Traditional Selections (Updated & Revamped):

Appetizers:

  • Pumpkin-Potato Soup with Fresh Sage, Rosemary, & Basil: This one was a huge hit at one of my aunt's previous Thanksgiving dinners. Even Erik ate it, and he doesn't typically even like pumpkin soup. :) My friend Charlie's also made it and told me his family liked it a lot as well.
  • Antipasto: Well, it's considered to be a traditional fall holiday appetizer if you've got Italian relatives. :) Erik's family will typically serve this at their Christmas dinner, so since these two fall holiday meals are often very similar in nature, it'll surely work for Thanksgiving dinner as well. My version, Italian-Style Marinated Vegetable Salad (Antipasto), still contains all of the traditional elements but, unlike the plated variety, combines them into an easy-to-eat form that fits onto crackers. Just provide a serving spoon and some crackers or bread for your guests, and you're all set. Or, if you'd rather stay away from (or limit) the starch component, cut up crudités for your guests, like cucumber rounds, etc., which can serve a similar purpose.
  • Hors d'Oeuvres: It's a good idea to give your guests something to munch on before the meal starts: This is done just as much to stave off hunger as it is to keep curious guests from wandering into the kitchen before meal time and nibbling on dishes for an "advance preview." We all know people who like to break off bits of our unfinished dishes to sample things before they before they are really supposed to be doing that. ;) So, keep them at bay by offering them finger food like Mushrooms Canapés Stuffed With Goat Cheese, Kalamata Olives, & Fresh Herbs or various types of dips served with crudités, chips, &/or crackers. On that note, check out the wide selection of dips on this site as well -- from freshly made guac, hummus, and pinto bean dip to Caponata Siciliana, Creamy Red Hot Pepper Dip, and Tuna à La Tapenade.


Sides:

  • Cranberry Sauce: To liven things up a bit, try my Cranberry Sauce Spiked with Cointreau. Think of this as "cranberry sauce for adults." Actually, most of the alcohol evaporates during the cooking process, leaving behind just a hint of Cointreau flavor for an extra special kick to the taste buds. So, really, it's perfectly suitable to serve to the kiddies as well. I assure you, unless you just pour in the Cointreau at the end instead of cooking it, or drink it while you're making it, absolutely no one will get inebriated from consuming this dish. :)
  • Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are another traditional holiday selection. Instead of making sweet potato mash the sweet way (i.e., with marshmallows, etc.), shake things up a bit and offer a savory (and much healthier!) preparation in another form, like Swoon-worthy Sweet Potatoes. This dish is super-easy to make, and best of all, you don't need to spend all that extra time stirring and mashing. :)
  • Rosemary Potatoes: Another holiday standard, or at least it is in our family. :) Need a recipe? Try my Rockin' Rosemary Potatoes. 

Desserts:

  • Pumpkin Pie: For Thanksgiving dinner, it doesn't get much more traditional than good ole' pumpkin pie. This is a non-dairy version for people who are Paleo, vegan, or kosher. It's also gluten-free. For the Paleo version, substitute almond flour for the oat flour and if you're strict Paleo, look for another viscous binding agent (perhaps maple syrup?) to replace the honey. This recipe is one of my most requested holiday dishes. :)
  • Tiramisù: Again, if you've got Italian relatives, this one is pretty standard fall holiday fare as well. My own version, Tantalizingly Transcendent Tiramisù, uses both ricotta and mascarpone for a lighter (and far less fattening) flavor, while still remaining incredibly rich and indulgent tasting. This way your taste buds can revel in dessert-esque ecstasy without you having to loosen a few notches on your belt buckle after the meal. ;)


Novelty Dishes:

Appetizers:

Sides:
  • Celeriac Remoulade: This dish is very similar to coleslaw, but with a sophisticated twist. It's a neat idea if you're looking for a menu update to keep things interesting. :)
  • Cauliflower Mash with Rosemary & Roasted Garlic: This dish is a nice (and much healthier!) alternative to mashed potatoes. Plus, it's really tasty too! It also makes a great selection for guests with particular dietary restrictions -- it's Paleo, vegan, and gluten-free. :) Whoopeeeeee! Hahaha.
  • Pumpkin Risotto: Still in keeping with the pumpkin holiday theme and yet, it adds an element of surprise. This could also be served as a vegetarian (or vegan) main course as well.

Desserts:

  • Poached Persimmons: Delicious and appropriately seasonal, this dish has a taste that's both tart and sweet. Be sure to allow these fall fruits enough time to blet in order to reach the full peak of their flavor.
  • Baked Figs (or Pears): Another seasonal selection, this dish is soaked in Marsala wine, which makes them taste even better. :)
  • Apple Tart: Simple but decorative, this version of apple tart is healthy and delicious!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

2 Recipe #371: Tomato-Zucchini Soup with Kale, Yellow Squash, & Cannellini Beans (Topped with Parmesan Cheese & Pesto Drizzle)

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First of all, congratulations to the two very knowledgable winners of the Fall Fun Contest! Your pumpkin and squash expertise is truly impressive! Hope everyone had fun with the contest. It seems that a lot of you did, since you gave me lots of positive feedback about it. So, because it was such a smashing success, I might hold another one next year, with new and different types of squash and pumpkins for you to identify, but of course. And who knows, maybe I'll even toss in a few edible gourds or two to make it even more challenging. :)

I realize it's been way too long since my last recipe (Oh my goodness! It's been since early September! Has it really been that long?!), but to be honest, I needed to take a little (OK, long) breather from cooking, recipe writing, and just writing in general. It's been about 2 years since I took any sort of serious break from writing, whether blogging or book writing. If you'd been going that long without a break, you might want to take a break from recipe writing too. :-D In fact, a few weeks ago, my sister made the comment, "I don't know how you've been able to keep pumping out recipes for these books. If I made that many recipes without any break in between, I'd probably never want to cook or write recipes ever again!" Hahaha. 

Yeah, I was feeling a little bit burnt out, but realize that it's probably time to start posting some recipes again. Otherwise, I might continue my lazy streak of eating nothing but salads, hard boiled eggs, raw veggies and fruits (i.e., preferably ones that don't require any peeling), and cans of sardines. JUST kidding. Er, well, sort of. :) Here's a brief anecdote to illustrate my point: One morning, (a morning less distant that I care to admit - lol), I ran out of breakfast food but was so disinclined to cook that I took a head of broccoli out of the fridge, steamed it, and just ate that for breakfast. No spices, no herbs, no nothing. Yes, THAT is just how bad it got. Talk about lazy. :) (Yeah, let's not mince words. It was pathetic, I know.) I told my mom that story a few weeks ago and we had a good laugh about it. Well, even though a head of steamed broccoli isn't traditional breakfast food, at least it was healthy. And it was so filling that I wasn't even remotely hungry again until dinnertime. That's the great thing about cruciferous veggies. Lots of fiber. :)

But really, it was about time to climb back onto the horse again. So here I am again, back in action after 2 1/2 months, in case you were wondering if I was ever going to post another recipe here ever again. ;)

Soooooo, let's talk about soup, shall we? I've been wanting to post a soup recipe like this for a while now. In the past, I've created various types of soup recipes with kale (e.g., kale-potato-leek soup, Azorean kale souptomato-basil with kale and various greens, etc.) and even another version of tomato zucchini soup, but nothing exactly like this. In addition to its full flavor and simplicity, the beauty of this recipe is that it only takes 20 minutes to make. So, without further ado, I give you.....


Tomato-Zucchini Soup with Kale, Yellow Squash, & Cannellini Beans (Topped with Parmesan Cheese & Pesto Drizzle)

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. shallots, peeled and finely minced
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced
4 c. chicken (or vegetable) stock, divided
2 c. fresh kale leaves, stems and ribs removed
2 c. zucchini, diced (about 1 large or 2 medium zucchini)
2 c. yellow squash (about 1 large or 2 medium yellow squash)
2 c. vine-ripened tomato, diced
15.5 oz. can cannellini beans
4 c. water
8 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves

Toppings:
shredded Parmesan cheese, about 1 Tbsp. per serving
pesto, about 1 tsp. (or more) per serving

Directions: Heat olive oil in a large (8-10 qt.) stock pot on medium heat until shimmering. Then reduce heat to low, add shallots and garlic, and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Occasionally stir with a heat-proof spatula, then deglaze with 1/4 c. chicken (or vegetable) stock, using the sides of the spatula to release the fond (i.e., brown bits) from the sides and bottom of the pot. Continue to cook until stock has been reduced to a thin layer. Next, add kale, zucchini, yellow squash, tomato, and beans, followed by remaining stock, water, and tomato paste. Stir to incorporate. Turn up heat to high and bring to a rolling boil, (which will take about 10-15 minutes!). Then quickly reduce heat to low again and simmer for 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then add fresh basil and thyme, and cook for a final 5 minutes. Pour into bowls and top each portion with Parmesan cheese and pesto drizzle. Serve hot and enjoy!

Yield: 6-8 servings.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

1 Fall Fun Contest!

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Time to have some fun! How well do you know your squash and pumpkins? Name that squash or pumpkin, from left to right. And no cheating by googling. :) Please post your answers (or guesses!) in the comments section of this post for all 6 types shown below.

#1
#2
#3

#4
#5










#6

The first two (2) people to correctly identify all (or the greatest possible number) of the above produce by this Friday, November 8 will get a private preview of special, unreleased recipes that can ONLY be found in either the Cooking with Corey cookbook or The Athlete's Cookbook. The winner will have their choice of 2 of the following, "top-secret" recipes:

(To whet your appetite and help you choose which recipes you'd like to win, click on the below links to view the corresponding photos.)

(1) Oven-Baked Rosemary-Parmesan Sweet Potato Fries
(2) Crème de Cassis Hazelnut Chocolate Fudge Brownies
(3) Guilt-Free Peanut Butter Fudge
(4) White Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies
(5) Gourmet Halva/Halwa Bonbons
(6) Pear & Pecan Clafouti
(7) Toasted Chili-Lime Pumpkin Seeds
(8) Olive Hummus
(9) Parmesan-Crusted Asparagus in White Truffle Oil
(10) Greek-Style Eggplant Gratin with Feta & Tomato Sauce

Good luck and have fun!

-Corey

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

0 Recipe #370: "Lemon Cooler" Smoothie

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I just created the below "Lemon Cooler" Smoothie recipe this morning. Tart and refreshing, creamy, cooling, and a little bit sweet, this beverage is reminiscent of those lemon cooler cookies many of us used to enjoy as kids, except this time, what you're eating is actually good for you. :)

Creating smoothie recipes is a blast, especially since I've been intentionally creating many of the recipes to taste like treats and mocktails. :) Plus, it's been really fun to name these drinks too. Of course, unlike many other smoothie recipes, these smoothies are actually good for you and have been specifically created to boost athletic performance and aid recovery while at the same time, providing exceptional nutritional value for overall health and well-being. Tasty for the tummy and good for your body, what more could a person ask for?! :-D


"Lemon Cooler" Smoothie

Ingredients:
1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus some of the pulp (for extra fiber and body) (the juice of about 3 large lemons)
1/2 c. lite silken tofu
1 c. unsweetened organic soy milk
1 scoop (1/3 c.) vanilla whey isolate protein powder (if vegan, use vanilla soy isolate protein powder instead)
2 c. ice cubes
3 Tbsp. honey
1/8 tsp. salt

Directions: Add all ingredients to a blender and pulse until smooth. How's that for quick and easy?! Serve and enjoy!

Yield: A little over 32 oz., or roughly 4 (8 oz.) servings.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

0 Recipe #369: "Pumpkin Pie" Smoothie

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Since fall is almost upon us, I thought it'd be nice to create an autumn-themed smoothie to usher in the season. This recipe will be appearing in my next book/cookbook, Cooking with Corey. After this book has been completed, there will hopefully be more time to write recipe exposition here that's more than a mere paragraph or two. :-D


“Pumpkin Pie” Smoothie

Smoothie Ingredients:
1/2 c. canned purėed pumpkin
1/2 tsp. pumpkin spice (see below for ingredients)
1 c. soy milk
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. honey, or to taste
2 c. ice cubes

Pumpkin Spice Mix Ingredients: (Yield 2 tsp.)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves

Directions: Place pumpkin into a small bowl, cover, and microwave on high for 45 seconds, then allow it to fully cool. (Cooking the pumpkin will mellow the flavor and also take away its canned taste.) Mix all pumpkin spice mix ingredients together in a bowl. Store any leftovers in an airtight container (in a dark, cool place). Add all ingredients to a blender and pulse until smooth. Easy as (pumpkin) pie. :)

Yield: 2 (1 1/4 c.) servings.

Chef's Notes: Paleo modification: To make this recipe (strict) Paleo, simply omit the vanilla extract, honey, and substitute almond or coconut milk for the soy milk. If you're not strict Paleo, you might want to leave in all or some of the honey, because otherwise, it's not going to taste as much like "pumpkin pie." ;) It's a fairly small amount of honey per serving, but of course, how you choose to make the recipe is up to you. Just don't blame me if it doesn't taste the same as the original recipe. ;)

Tip: Leftover pumpkin spice mixture can be sprinkled onto hot cereal, applesauce, baked apples, or added to hot cocoa or tea.

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