No Boil Gnocchi Primavera – Cuz You Know Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!

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Sweet-BrownWe all know that even though we may like to do things, such as playing sports, cooking, reading, and gardening, we don’t always do these things.  Why?  My least favorite four letter word holds the answer: T-I-M-E.  It’s a mystery how it escapes us somedays (except when we get distracted watching Michael Bublé videos…or is that just me?), but we never seem to have enough.  As a result, the things we like to do become the things that we do occasionally.  But wouldn’t it be awesome if “occasionally” didn’t have to mean once a month or worse?  What if it could be more often?  What would it take?

Consider the hobby of cooking.  For a woman who can work anywhere from eight to thirteen hours a day, there is one thing that will ALWAYS get in my way…TIME.  So I have learned to cut corners!  Wam-bam-thank-you-ma’am!  These moments come at me usually after 8 o’clock at night when I am starving and really really over peanut butter and jelly.  Tonight, my gastronomic obsession with gnocchi and a pack of this potato goodness purchased 4 months ago is what inspired me.  I wondered why I had passed it up for months and, stay with me as I realize that this sounds like the LAZIEST thing ever.  It shamefully hit me that I literally couldn’t be bothered to boil the water!  And with gnocchi, it’s not just the boiling!  You gotta make sure those royal pillows don’t get stuck to the bottom of your pan (apparently they have separation anxiety)!  Then you gotta catch the suckers as soon as they float to the top and gingerly spoon them out three at a time while all of the other ones cry out at you, “I’m melting! I’m melting!  Oh, what a world, what a world!” (yes…my food talks to me.  Deal with it.).  I see this starchy drama unfold in my mind each time I look at the package, shudder, and go for the jar of Trader Joes Creamy PB.  Well, tonight, I decided to conquer the divas and treat them like bronchitis, cuz even Sweet Brown knows that ain’t nobody got time for that.   Say “hello” to my epiphany.  All lazy anti-water-boilers out there, you’re welcome.

In 18 minutes I had a delicious, nutritious and warm homemade bowl of Gnocchi Primavera that used to take me 25 minutes.  And the only reason that this didn’t take less time is because I had to run outside to my garden for tomatoes and herby goodness.  Forgive my lack of preparation.

Ingredients:

3 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil (enough to cover bottom of pan)

1 heaping TB crushed garlic

1 lb Frozen Sliced Zucchini (I like the frozen as the ice adds moisture)

17 oz Fornari Potato Gnocchi

1/8 tsp Salt

1/8 tsp Pepper

1 c water

4 TB grated Cravero Parmigiano (or whatever you have on hand)

30 Teardrop red/yellow tomatoes

2 sprigs Rosemary

10 large Basil leaves

Directions

1.  Heat olive oil in cast-iron skillet/pan (I’m a Le Creuset fan).

2.  Throw in and toss garlic until browned.

3.  Throw in and toss zucchini until ice melts.  Keep burners on medium-high heat.

4.  Dump in gnocchi pillows and toss in mixture for 2 minutes until evenly coated and warmed.

5.  Add in water and turn heat to medium.  Cover and steam/cook for 5 minutes

6.  Slice tomates lengthwise.  Wash herbs and let sit;  Do not dry or cut.

7.  Stir gnocchi and add in parmiggiano.  Cover again and cook for 2 more minutes.

8.  Add tomatoes to gnocchi.  In your hands, gather all of the herbs and tear in chunks over the gnocchi.  Once again, you could chop them but a) I like the rustic, non-uniform look it gives, b) I love that herbal burst of Italy that mates with the steam for a Aroma Therapy baby and 3) I aint’ got no time for that.

9.  Toss tomatoes and herbs until evenly mixed.  Cover and let cook for another 3 minutes.

10.  As my Mamela always says, “En Guete!”

Torn herbs Gnocchi primavera

Gnocchi Primavera

An Ode to Daphne Zepos

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An Ode to Daphne Zepos

Many have wondered why I have not posted lately.  Don’t worry, I have not stopped having delectable delusions.  On the contrary, I most definitely have enjoyed a richness of experiences during the past nine months.   Bottom line, I have been unexpectedly busy with very good, and delectable, shenanigans.

These “very good and delectable shenanigans” transported me around the world.  I witnessed battles between the bravest and craziest cheese mongers in a Long Island City warehouse.  I saw tens of thousands of 80-lb Comte wheels aging in an impressive nineteenth-century army fort.  I worked behind the counters of the best cheese stores in the United States during absolute mayhem – aka Christmas.  I rekindled my dormant relationship with the French language.  Finally, for le fair de resistance, I consumed some of the best food and beverages known to man in five separate countries in just under a month.  This is merely an amuse bouche of my feast of experiences during 2012.

In contrast to the many beautiful and delicious moments enjoyed these past nine months, numerous bitter tears were shed and many “therapy sessions” were convened in my apartment amongst close friends.  Death’s painful sting seemed to be a common thread – a minimum of five friends gone in a span of four months.  While each were people unique and special to me in various ways, the pain was the same, especially for those who remained huddled together unitedly to find and provide comfort and support.  All of these deaths touched me in their own way, but one in particular managed to break my heart and open it at the same time.  She was a woman that I knew more in name, reputation, and spirit than in actual reality.  However, her impact on my life was tangible and substantive.  On July 3rd, 2012, the cheese and food community lost a true “Raw Milk Rockstar” – Daphne Zepos, age 52.  As the newest member to Essex St. Cheese Co. and a beneficiary of Daphne’s oozing wisdom, this blow hit me like it did for thousands of others – cruelly and with overwhelming sobriety.  Nonetheless, there is no need for me to relive the obviously depressing nature of this loss.  Instead, I prefer to embrace Daphne’s outlook (as shared to me via her husband) to look to the future with a “vision”.  Days after Daphne died, I began searching through my notes from my first “official date” with Daphne.  I sat on the hardwood floor in front of my menagerie of legal pads that I had saved over the years, hoping I hadn’t thrown away my notes from that rainy day in March in a Manhattan pub.  Alas, I found them, but was immediately disappointed in my initial impression of brevity – only one page?!  I slapped myself for not having taken better advantage of my time with her.  What was I thinking?!  She had taken her precious time to open my eyes to a world of opportunities and give so much of herself, but at the time I failed to appreciate the gift.  Now, she was gone and all I had was one measly page of notes to show for it.  But then, my eyes caught sight of my final notation – “Name 4-5 experiences that said to you, ‘Aha!  This is what I want to do!’”  Immediately I was transported back to that Lower East Side pub, all bright-eyed and naive as all new college graduates are.  After explaining my grandiose plans for a career in food, Daphne had in essence told me to “back it up” and return to the basics to find what I really wanted to do with my life.  It struck me that I had never made my “Aha” list, like many things that I promised to do but didn’t because of “life”.

Well, Daphne, it’s been two years since you told me to contemplate why I love what I love.  It took me almost a year to admit to myself that what I was doing WASN’T what I wanted to do (something you already knew, like most mother-figures do).  It took another three months to put my plan into place.  Then, finally, sitting on the floor of my home office, days after your passing, tear-stained and in the mood, again, to do some serious “pondering”, I decided to make my list.

I finally did it, Daphne.  I’m sorry it’s late…but better late than never.  I figured that you wouldn’t mind since you were always a little slow to respond to emails anyway – let’s consider ourselves “even”.

Juhl’s Top Four “Aha” Moments

  1. Winter 2004 – On a snowy Utah night, the sommelier at my Mamela’s restaurant introduced my senses to the culinary insanity of food and wine pairings.  She invited me to a party of flavors where the guests were fresh red pepper strips, gooey house-made fondue, Chilean red wine and the hostess was ma bouche.  The previous eleven years of “melted cheese” experiences had led me to the point of groaning each time my mom suggested this molten dish, much like a kid who whines “ham sandwich again???” as he opens his lunchbox.  But that night, she instructed me on how to breathe in deeply the wine’s aroma, then to gently enjoy the cheese-cocooned-pepper, allowing both my taste and smell to birth the “flavor”.  For the first time, I understood that “flavor” involved more than just your tongue and that you should NEVER give up on a cheese!  Aha! Moment #1.
  2. June 2007 – After returning from my first trip in France with my sister after graduating high school, I was back at my job as a nanny for an adorably pudgy and precocious three-year-old.  The three days a week that we were together always revolved around food – our Starbucks after-school snack, Teriyaki Chicken from the place next to my bank, or preparing food together for her family’s meal that evening.   Having just been to France, the birthplace of the “sous chef”, I thought it only appropriate that I bring her a “sous-chef kit” complete with apron, mixing spoon, measuring cups, and cookie cutters.  I was overwhelmed with a sense of satisfaction as I looked down at her, standing on her tip-toes to reach the bowl of cake batter while she was mixing.  As I smiled at her, she babbled on and on about how much “Mommy” was going to love this special “present” she was making.  I knew then and there that I needed to teach children about the joy and gratification which results from cooking – concepts that are quickly becoming extinct on a global scale.  Aha! Moment #2.
  3. Alsace, France 2009 – For nearly twenty years, I had heard my dad go on and on (as dads do) about how I needed to go to Germany.  He’d looked at me through his square-rimmed glasses and say, “Everything will just make sense, Rachel.  You will look around and truly understand why you are you.”  And for nearly twenty years I “yeah-yeah’d” him and then would go on to my seemingly “American” ways.  After spending a weekend with dear family friends (first-generation Germans living in Alsace), I sat down to my laptop and composed an email to my father I thought I would never write: “I’m realizing how German I am…fits like an old shoe.  Hardly know these people and yet feel at home…feel like I’m safe…I dunno how to describe it but it’s pretty amazing and I had to say thanks for the opportunity to do this.”  At that moment, I knew that wherever life took me, personally, professionally, or both, it had to be tied to Europe somehow.  It had to be tied to where I felt “safe”.  Knowing where you belong is truly an “Aha” moment – something Daphne reiterated to me.  Aha! Moment #3.
  4. June 2012 – Cheese Monger Invitational in Long Island City, NY.  While this was not my first time at the annual “cheese rave”, it was my first time as a legitimate member of the “cheese community”.  As I stood with my family and colleagues cheering on the contestants, I felt an incredible sense of “belonging”.  I was no longer that weird kid who was “fancy” or “eccentric” or “different” for getting crazy excited about the flavor in raw-milk cheeses or how MIND-BLOWING cashews are with aged gouda!  These labels always left me feeling like loving gourmet-food was a bad thing or snobbish.  Finally, I was normal and in fact, for once, the subdued one!  Surrounded by 400 cheese maniacs…and it was absolutely amazing.  Aha! Moment #4.

Unfortunately, Daphne died before I was able to complete my “Aha” list, let alone share it with her.  I had promised her we’d meet for lunch again in that same restaurant, just steps away from the birthplace of Essex St. Cheese Co, to reassess my goals and share the results of the homework she had given me to do.  Now, I often think about what I would say to her if we could still meet for lunch…

I know that you asked for five moments, Daphne.  However, I think that the fifth is en route.  With the help of your husband, business partners, and dear friends, your most compelling “vision” is becoming a reality.  Your joie de vivre and legacy as a phenomenal teacher is alive through this scholarship that will be awarded to a bright-eyed and eager cheese monger committed to your same vision, that of cheese education.  In the last nine months, I have poured a great deal of time, energy, and heart into the process of setting up and administering this endowment fund.  Along the way, I have been connected to literally hundreds of souls that were all made better by having met you, each time learning something new about you, and consequently, our relationship remains strong and vibrant in my mind.  Out of all of my experiences this year, my encounter with you was the most extraordinary in how it broke and opened my heart at the same time.  The separation from a mentor, for any reason, is a feeling that leaves students helpless and questioning how they will continue to bring honor to their education received.  But, you didn’t leave your students, friends, or colleagues alone.  This foundation and scholarship unites all you know and gives us the tools to allow your love of cheese, community, and life to carry on and grow within our own hearts.  So this summer, at the American Cheese Society Conference in Wisconsin, when an eager cheese monger is accepting their check for the Daphne Zepos Teaching Award, I know that this will be part of my really big and magical “Aha! Moment #5”.

Friends and neighbors will drive you “plum crazy”!

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As creatures of habit and hesitant towards change, there are times when even the most adventurous of humans struggle with giving things a chance, especially when it comes to trying new foods. For me, I have always resisted the humble plum. I have eaten plums at homes of friends with pleasure. If one were to inquire of my opinion regarding this specific rock fruit, I would reply with positivity. I would even go on to describe them as juicy, sweet, tender, and excellent for cooking. Nonetheless, each week when I go shopping at Silver Barn market, I pass by the lovely display of locally grown plums, and each week I continue pushing my cart on by. Do not ask me why. It would likely play out like a Dr. Seuss story as I would proceed to confuse you with all sorts of riddling explanations as to why I never buy this particular fruit. Pretty soon your head would be spinning, then my head would be spinning, and before we could effectively end the discussion, we would both be searching for the nearest barf bag.

However, sometimes, what one needs is a gentle push in the right direction. Or, if you’re me, with stubborn German roots, it requires something resembling…more of a kick in the pants.

Last Saturday, I stopped by my friends’ house to pick them up for a night out in Astoria. Seeing their parents in the front yard, I hopped out to say my “hellos” and get my usual “don’t get into too much trouble there, Juhl-child”. While I was chitchatting about their newest landscape project, I found my friend talking to me in the background about her recent interaction with an Ecuadorian neighbor. Trying to multi-task, I nodded along to both conversations simultaneously – (always dangerous and yet I never learn). Beware – you will ALWAYS say, “yes” to something you don’t want or need. It’s like my sister, who at a naïve 23, had to be told by her Parisian friend to stop saying “Oui” to anything she didn’t understand. “You’re going to end up married to an Arab and in the African district if you’re not too careful!” Ignoring this universal advice, I headed back to the car and realized that I had just agreed to a bag full of plums. OF ALL FRUIT – REALLY??!! Apparently my friend had similarly been bamboozled by her Polish neighbor who asked if she liked plums – “ahhh I have a tree – no can eat it all. Here four bags!” So like a good friend, she “paid it forward” and bamboozled me into my very own bag. How nice.

Fortunately, my conniving culinary brain began working and I decided to similarly “pay it forward”. I had a friend for lunch today and prepared tilapia with plum mint salsa. The funniest part of this whole story – my friend doesn’t really like plums. Muahahahahahahaha!

Friends and neighbors will drive you “plum crazy”!

My little plums all washed and ready to be married to their beautiful mint friend.

The final product which my friend and I quickly devoured with pleasure. A successful “kick in the pants” indeed!
Plum Salsa
  • 6 medium (or 8 small) ripe plums, pitted and diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 20 mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tb diced jalepenos
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • 2 pinches Stevia

Put plums in a bowl with onion, cilantro, mint, and jalepeno. Add lime juice, salt, and Stevia and mix until combined. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Broiled Tilapia with Plum Salsa

  • Pam spray
  • 1 lb Tilapia filets
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tb olive oil
  • 1 recipe Plum Salsa (see above)
  • 4 lime wedges

Preheat broiler on High in your oven. Grease a baking sheet with Pam, then place filets on sheet. Generously sprinkle both sides of each filet with salt and pepper. Drizzle filets with olive oil. Broil until cooked to desired temperature (I prefer my tilapia to be medium-well, so I cooked mine for 8 minutes), depending on the thickness.

Transfer the fish to a serving platter and spoon the plum salsa generously over. Garnish with lime wedges and serve immediately.

YIELD: 3 servings

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Now that I have conquered my inexplicable fear of the plum, does anyone have any suggestions on what to do with my-new found gastronomical friend?!

Aside

For those who know me personally, I have recently left my job off two-and-a-half years to finally pursue my passions.  So, as I sat in Mamela’s kitchen two Tuesdays ago, contemplating why the world spins and why I had quit my job, I decided that I needed to finally DO the things I keep SAYING I will get around to.  Staring at me was a copy of Jamie Oliver’s cookbook “The Naked Chef”, a book by a person I greatly admire and relate to in food philosophy.  Unfortunately, this specific book of his had always been on my to-do list.  So with an hour before dinner to kill, I cracked it open to page one and was immediately immersed until I reached page eleven.  Then, I simply became inspired.

We can’t keep buying those small packets of fresh herbs from the supermarket.  Quite often we are paying high prices for substandard herbs, and not much of them either…the idea is that fresh herbs are to be picked and used in cooking for a really natural, fresh perfume, not sweating and wilting in plastic.”  (Excerpt from “The Naked Chef Cookbook” page 11.)

Jamie managed to put in ink what I always have thought – that store-bought herbs is nearly tantamount to “cruel and unusual punishment”.  Before you dubb me “Rachel’sDramaticDelusions”, hear me out.

Many are all too familiar with the high costs of packaged fresh herbs that are only good for two days, forcing you to only buy herbs when you know that you will immediately use them.  I do not know about you, but I do not like being told when I can have my favorite pesto gnocchi.  Enter the genius argument for home-grown herb plants.

“Whether you live in the city or the country, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you live on the sixteenth-floor or in a basement flat, it doesn’t matter!  Just stick them in your garden, window-box, flower pot, bucket – anything that doesn’t move!”  (Excerpt from “The Naked Chef Cookbook” page 11.)

While this rules out my wheelbarrow, my family and I have definitely not let the lack of fresh arable land to hold us back or constrain our eating habits.

Mamela interrupted my delusional daydream to ask what kind of starch I wanted with my grilled steak.  Leaving her confused, I rand out to the back of their house to our shared garden and began snipping away.  Just like Jamie said, the perfume of fresh mint and rosemary on my fingertips gave me a calm feeling as dusk settled in and a warm summer breeze rustled through my dad’s tomatoes.

In an hour, I was sitting on Mamela’s terrace under the twinklelights and listening to my dad rant and rave about the refreshing sensation my roasted potatoes gave his palette.  I sat there, sipping my g’n’t, and thanked “The Naked Chef”.

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Our sweet rosemary doing its best to keep up with its herbal friends.

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Our mint that came back with such a vengeance this season that we had to exile him to his very own and larger pot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yukon gold potatoes tossed in mint and rosemary pesto before baking.

Roasted mint and rosemary potatoes ready to be savored.


It’s Not Just for Toothpaste: Roasted Rosemary and Mint Potatoes

Gin’n’tonic – more than just a cure for malaria

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Once upon a time in the year 2004, my sister returned from her first of now countless trips to France. Like most 21-year-olds returning from their travels abroad, she was wiser and had tales to tell of the world beyond the U S of A. One practice she had adopted after her two-month stint was the custom of an aperatif before one’s meal – particularly a gin’n’tonic (or as Maureen, her adopted nanny from England would call it, a “g-n-t”). It may seem simple and uninteresting to many, but it was a cocktail that reeked of sophistication, class, and history as she told us the story of why it is the cocktail of choice for so many Brits. Some of you may know this tale, but for those still stuck in their cultural cocoon, allow me to explain.

Back in the days when the British had spread their imperial ways across the majority of Earth’s landmass, including lands plagued with malaria such as India, British soldiers needed a means to protect themselves from such deadly pathogens. Afterall, if the soldiers all died, who would enforce afternoon tea???! DEAR GOD MAN (sorry…inside joke with my sister :p )!!! So, they discovered that quinine could treat the disease, but unfortunately was incredibly bitter and distasteful. Like many things, adding a little sparkling water, sugar, lime, and gin to anything makes it go down a whole lot smoother. Thus the birth of the g’n’t!!! Now back to me.

So here my family was in 2004, sitting around our kitchen table, each with a glass filled with this sparkling crisp concoction. As the kitchen table always was the site for lively discussions about our daily frustrations, delights, and philosophical delusions, the beverage became a mainstay in the Juhl family. Much like cheese, but that’s for another blog :).

So now it’s the year 2012 and even though we don’t live together anymore, we still spend our select evenings together sitting around that old Amana table, debating life, and sipping our g’n’t’s. So, it’s no wonder that when I came over this last Wednesday night after a long and crazy day, I went straight to my parent’s fridge to grab the necessary ingredients. That’s when panic sat in…no limes or lemons. DUHN DUHN DUHNNNNNNNNNN!!! What were we going to do??? All the stores had closed. The fruit stand vendors were long packed up. But, then I had a revelation…

A month ago my sister came to town for a visit and we met up with one of our dear friends to do what every Manhattanite is doing on a Friday evening…HAPPY HOUR! As I perused the cocktail menu at Café Sprig in the Lipstick Building, my eye gravitated to a gin cocktail that included a bizarre ingredient – cucumber extract. I love cucumbers and I love gin, but together??? But then my lovely sister who freakishly operates on my same wavelength said, “I bet it’s gonna be like that “Gilmore Girls episode!”

Lorelai: “What is it about cucumber water that makes it so much more refreshing than non-cucumber water?”
Rory: “I think it’s the cucumbers.”

So I told our stunning 6’2″-Aryan waiter named Hans (well, k I don’t remember his name, but it SHOULD HAVE been Hans) that I would take a stab. And I did…twice. It was just THAT good.

So here I am now, four weeks later and in a serious state of concern. There was no way I could stomach just gin and tonic water alone. Enter my gin-cucumber revelation. Two slices of cucumber quartered and sunk in my glass later, I took a sip and had a Bogey moment, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Crisis averted and family bonding time was back on track.

Think I’m crazy??!! Grab a cuke and give it a try! If anything, at least think of the sugar you’ll save from switching to a food that is high in vitamins A, K, and C, as well as potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. See – I can even make gin sound healthy ;). Take that British East India Company!

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“What was for dinner?…I forget.”

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All of us have experienced that awkward moment when we can’t remember what we ate for dinner last night.  Even worse, is when you can’t remember what you ate for breakfast just three hours ago.  This is what we have become – a nation of eating people who are so “productive” that we can even tweet, phone conference, sign documents, and book next month’s vacation all while we eat breakfast. However, we begin to veer off the road to productivity and crash towards inefficiency when our original plan for a nutritious and measured bowl of Special K turns into the Lake Michigan of carbohydrates and lactose.  Oops, guess we shouldn’t be on that phone call while pouring the box, huh?  You may reason that you are not going to eat it all, that you can say, “no”?  That would work if you weren’t currently too busy replying to inner-office emails and looking over your day’s schedule to notice that the bowl is now empty.  You have now eaten too much without even knowing it.  But, wait, again you reason that it is ok because you plan on skipping lunch.  Epic failure continues as your coworker proceeds to bust out a bag of chips and while you are Dr. Phil-ing her on her boyfriend woes, you’ve now eaten half of the bag…again, without even knowing it.  Mindless eating propelled by emotions is a guaranteed way to pack on the pounds…without even knowing it.

In the last ten years I have heard and tried all sorts of tricks to help me slow down and enjoy my meals, in an effort to then actually eat less.  Many have worked like setting the fork down in between each bite or not taking another bite until the previous one is completely swallowed (don’t judge – you know you’ve done the “two-handed shovel” before).  Recently, my friend Mariel (from So What’s Bloomin‘? ) sent me a link to a New York Times article that reinforced the dilemma of “mindless eating”, but proposed a solution I had not considered – “mindful eating”.  With food being more than just mere sustenance, this concept of literally mulling over each bite so as to have a better experience is incredibly attractive to me.  So, I gave the article a read and while I do not ascribe to any segment of Buddhism or Catholicism, these monks have got more than just beer figured out!  Take a read for yourself and if you don’t start packing your bags to head up-state to join the others in silent eating, at least you’ll have some food for thought next time you stop for a meal.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/dining/mindful-eating-as-food-for-thought.html?pagewanted=1&seid=auto&smid=tw-nytimes

Alternative Sweeteners: Friend or Foe?

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Delectable Recipes on the Fly: Chicken and Lemon Asparagus Penne

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Trader Joes…you are my hero : Teriyaki Shrimp and String Beans

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La Tortilla Factory: Let’s wrap it up!

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