Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick or Treat!

There is a house in the next town over, the town where my husband grew up, that every Halloween displays dozens of the most beautiful jack-o-lanterns I have ever seen. I always thought is was a group of people, maybe a club, that got together to pump out the masterpieces, because there was no way it could be done by one person. Well last night I met the woman responsible and it turns out she does do it all. Wow! Every year I look forward to seeing them and am never let down by her amazing creations.

Last week I told you to stay tuned for the next instalment of the roasted butternut squash and here it is. I have seen several recipes popping up for apple and butternut squash soups and the combo sounded really delicious. They all started with uncooked squash but what I had was leftover from last week's risotto and was already roasted and smashed so I had to improvise. The result was a smooth, earthy soup with a hint of tartness to lighten the flavor.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
makes 4-6 servings
1 T butter
1 small red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 granny smith (or other tart apple), peeled, cored and cut into 8 pieces
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 butternut squash, peeled, roasted and smashed
pinch nutmeg
kosher salt and black pepper

If you are not starting with leftover butternut squash, cut a whole butternut squash into 8 pieces, wrap in foil and roast in 375 degree oven for about 1 hr, until very soft. Scoop the flesh out of the skins and mash.

Melt the butter in a medium stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until just softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the apples and cook, stirring occasionally, until apples are slightly golden. Add the stock, increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, about 20 minutes, until apples are very soft.

Puree soup and squash, in batches, in a blender and return to the pot. Add nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally 5-10 minutes. Serve with a hearty bread or croutons.

Note: I made my own garlic croutons with cubes of stale bread that I coated with melter butter and minced garlic and toasted under the broiler, tuning once, until golden. The crunchy croutons nicely contrasted the silky soup.


Jer did the shopping last week and picked up ham and turkey for sandwiches and then it sat, untouched all week. I was worried it would go bad before we even opened the packages so I put Monte Cristos on the menu again. They ended up being the perfect meal in the middle of the week when we both got home pretty late and didn't feel up to cooking much.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches
makes 2 servings

4 slices sandwich bread
thinly sliced ham
thinly sliced turkey
sliced American cheese
sliced Swiss cheese
2 eggs beaten
1/8 cup milk
maple extract (optional)
maple syrup

Between two slices of bread, layer American cheese, ham, Swiss cheese and turkey (that is the order we like). Heat the sandwich in the microwave for about 25 seconds.

Heat a skillet on medium high heat. Beat the eggs, milk and extract (if using) in a shallow bowl. Coat the sandwich on both side with the egg mixture and place in the skillet. Cover with a lid. Cook the sandwich until golden brown on both sides. Serve with warm maple syrup.


I can't recall ever having eaten a chili dog before in my entire life so I was surprised with myself a couple of weeks ago when I had an intense craving for one. I put off making them but once I get an idea in my head I can't let it go until I have tried it. I'm not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that I really enjoyed it. Not only while I was eating but even an hour later I felt totally satisfied. This may be trouble.

Chili Dogs and French Fries

No recipe here. I opted for a store bought chili this time.


I thought this sounded like such and interesting combination of flavors that, although I had already completed my menu for the week when I came across it, I added to the list. The meat of the chicken was perfectly cooked but the skin never got very brown or crispy, the way I like it. I think it was because it didn't have any kind of fat on it to help it along. Next time I think I'll use a little butter.

Roasted Chicken with Apple and Leeks
modified from Real Simple
makes 2 servings

4 small, bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 T butter, softened
2 small, crisp apples, quartered (I used Braeburn)
2 leeks, halved crosswise and lengthwise
3 small sprigs rosemary
1 T olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan ( I used a cast iron skillet lined with parchment because I didn't want anything to get welded to the bottom) toss the apples, leeks, rosemary, olive oil, 1/4 t salt and 1/8 t pepper.

Rub the butter over the skin of the chicken and season with 1/8 t each of salt and pepper. Nestle the chicken, skin side up, into the apples and leeks.

Roast 40-45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and apples and leeks are tender.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Halloween! And don't forget to set your clocks back tonight (only if you are in a part of the world that does that of course)!

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Not So Daunting

I am so excited. I built myself a light box this weekend and got a little tabletop tripod. All in all the project cost me about $40 and it has made all the difference in my enthusiasm for shooting. Actually, the light box itself was basically free. I had a cardboard box in my basement that was the perfect size and I had a bunch of white muslin from some curtains I had made for our screened porch that no longer exists. I only had to buy white bristol board for the inside of the box. Other than that the cost was for two daylight light bulbs and clamp lights and the tripod. The dark days of winter are no longer so daunting since I know I can now shoot at any time of the day (or, more likely, night)!


I hope I am not boring you yet with the green chili recipes but my freezer is still mostly full and so they will continue. This is, for the most part, a repeat of the recipe from a couple of weeks ago but this time I did puree about half of the chiles and it had the desired effect of giving the chili a thicker, creamier texture. The other difference this time was that instead of using half hot chiles and half medium chiles this ratio was a little more like 3/4 hot and 1/4 medium. It's good but it'll light your tongue on fire. I was trying to kill the cold I picked up somewhere between DC and here. I'm no medical professional but I am pretty sure it helped to send those little germies packing.

Green Chile Smothered Burritos

1 T vegetable oil
1 pork tenderloin, cut into 1/2" chunks
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 yellow onions, chopped
~ 24 green chiles, roasted and peeled, half purred, half chopped
1 14 oz can tomatoes, half pureed, half chopped
4 cups chicken broth
2 t cumin
2 t oregano
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 t white pepper

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the pork and cook until no pink remains. Add the onion and garlic and cook until lightly golden.

Add the chiles, tomatoes, chicken broth, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for at least one hour (the longer the better).

If you want to thicken it up a bit, stir together 1/2 cup all purpose flour with about 1 T vegetable oil to make a paste. Add a ladle full of juice from the chili and mix well. Once the mixture is smooth and liquidy stir it back into the chili.


This idea came from the blog The Other Side of 50. I saw her photo on foodgawker and it immediately caught my eye. She uses a whole wheat pizza crust recipe from King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking book, which is a fabulous book by the way. It teaches you how to work with whole grains and avoid the undesirable effect they can have baked goods. Their Double Fudge Brownie recipe makes the best brownie I have ever had. No one ever believes they are whole wheat. But, back to the pizza. I decided to go with a pizza crust that I have used before because, although I am sure it is delicious, I didn't have the energy to start the dough the night before, which the whole wheat crust calls for. Another time. I used the same toppings as her because the sounded perfect for a Thai pizza. And... they were.

Thai Chicken Pizza

For the Crust:
1 T (1 package) active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 t kosher salt
3 1/2 - 4 cups bread flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer mix the yeast with the warm water until dissolved. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Add the olive oil, salt and 2 cups of the flour to the bowl and mix on low speed, using the paddle attachment, for 5 minutes to form a wet dough. Switch to the dough hook and, add 1 1/2 cups more flour and mix on medium speed for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour by the tablespoon as needed to form and soft dough that is a little sticky but not too wet. (I didn't have to add any f the last 1/2 cup of flour.)

Form the dough into a ball and place it in a large oiled bowl. Turn the dough over to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. (You can also put it in the refrigerator at this point and let it rise overnight. Let it stand at room temp for 2 hours before making your pizza.)

For the Pizza:
Thai peanut sauce
2 chicken breasts, cooked and cut into bite size pieces
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Assemble pizza and bake ~ 15 minutes on a baking sheet and 5 minuted directly on the oven rack.


This is another foodgawker find. Lately, it seems, that has been my main source of inspiration. This time it comes from This Week for Dinner. She has a similar blog concept as mine (which may be obvious from the name). She advised having the squash ready before starting the risotto which I did not do and because of that my risotto was ready before the squash and I had to pull it from the oven and mash it up before it was fully cooked. I left what I didn't need roasting a little longer and it got much softer. Despite the squash not being perfect the risotto was still a dreamy, flavorful success.

Chicken and Butternut Squash Risotto

1/2 butternut squash
1 chicken breast, seasoned with salt and pepper, sauteed in olive oil and cut into bite size pieces
5 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
2 T olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Arborio Rice
1 cup dry white wine
pinch nutmeg
kosher salt and black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 T butter
1 t fresh thyme leaves

Cut the butternut squash into 8 pieces, wrap in foil and roast in 375 degree oven for about 1 hr, or until very soft. Scoop the flesh out of the skins and mash. Save half of the squash for another recipe (stay tuned next week for what I do with mine.)

In a large saucepan, bring the chicken broth and water to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and toast, stirring often, for about 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the it is absorbed, 2-3 minutes.

Add two ladles of the warm chicken broth to the rice and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat adding two ladles at a time until all of the liquid is absorbed. If the rice is not completely tender continue to add hot water, 1/2 cup at a time until rice is cooked through.

Stir in the squash, nutmeg, thyme, salt and pepper to taste and let cook two minutes. Add the chicken, cheese and butter and stir until melted.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monuments and Solar Homes

We spent last weekend in DC. My first trip to our nation's capital. Despite the torrential rains we had a fabulous time and not only got to visit the memorials and some of the Smithsonian museums around the Mall but we were also lucky enough to be there during the last weekend of the 2009 Solar Decathlon. It was so inspiring to see the solar homes designed and built by students around the world, all of which were beautiful, and to see the amount of people braving the rain and cold to check them out. Although they were all very good I did have a few favorites including Penn State and Minnesota. I thought these two teams achieved some of the most livable solutions. I think after the 10 event contest there should be a year long study of the homes in the climates they were designed for with two residents in each one. I think this would be very telling.

It did clear up on the last day we were there and we enjoyed a walk around the mall and the monuments. I was most looking forward to seeing Lincoln but was surprised by the beauty and serenity of FDR. This is one of my favorite images from the trip. If only we could live up to the words of this man.


Last week was spent moving things back into the house and packing for our trip. I did manage a couple of meals and although they weren't incredibly inspired they were pretty darn tasty.

This lasagna kept us fed for several days and did a good job of it. Mmmm.

modified from The Big Book of Casseroles by Maryana Vollstedt
makes 12 servings

1 lb lean ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 1/2 0z can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
3/4 t dried basil (or 1 T chopped fresh basil)
3/4 t dried oregano (or 1 T chopped fresh oregano)
1/4 t sugar
1/2 t kosher salt
black pepper to taste
16 oz cottage cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 T chopped fresh parsley
12 lasagna noodles, uncooked

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet over medium heat cook the beef, onion and garlic, stirring, until the meat is no longer pink and the onion is tender. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce temperature to low, and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, mix cottage cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, sour cream, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese and the parsley.

In a 9"x13" baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray or oil, spread 1 cup of the meat sauce. In layers add 4 noodles, then 1/3 of the cheese mixture and 1/3 of the remaining sauce. Repeat layers two more times ending with the sauce. I like to rotate the direction of the noodles in each layer so the spaces between do not end up stacked.) Sprinkle remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses on top.

Cover and bake 45 minutes. Remove cover and bake until bubbly and browned, about 15 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.


This is such an easy meal to throw together and is really satisfying on a cool night. I haven't yet attempted making my own pierogies but someday I will. I had a friend in high school who is Polish and every year at either Christmas or New Years (I can't remember which) she and her grandmother would spend all day making pierogies from scratch.

Pierogies and Kielbasa

This was the first time I have made Chicken Parmesan and the chicken itself turned out really well. It was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, but the sauce I used for the pasta was totally gross and it tainted the whole dish for me. The tomato relish helped add some flavor to the flavorless sauce, but next time I'll stick with a sauce I know or make my own.

Chicken Parmesan
modified from Cuisine Tonight
makes 4 servings

1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4" thick and cut in half (or 4 thinly sliced chicken breasts)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 T fresh basil, chopped
1 1/2 t capers, minced
1 1/2 t red wine vinegar
1/2 t tomato paste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the bread crumbs and Parmesan. Place cheese mixture, flour and egg into separate, shallow dishes. Season chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in flour egg and cheese mixture, in that order.

Heat 1 T oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Saute chicken, turning once, until golden, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove chicken to a baking sheet and top each with 1 T of mozzarella. Place in the oven and cook until the cheese melt and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, basil, capers, vinegar, tomato paste and the remaining 1 T oil in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve chicken over pasta topped with relish.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Playing Catch-up / House Guest

The first three items in this post are things that I have made over the past several weeks that didn't really fit into a weekly menu but that I wanted to post anyway because they were soooo good. All three are great fall food. Warm and earthy.


I made these for a party at a friends house. I wanted to make some kind of finger food and was browsing on foodgawker for inspiration when I came across a fried risotto ball with green chiles that someone had made for a potluck. I thought that would be perfect and I decided to modify my sweet corn risotto recipe for them. Well, as the day drew near I felt less confident about frying the risotto balls (I have always been a little timid about frying) so I decided instead to put a scoop of the risotto into a crispy wonton cup. They turned out really great but were definitely at their best when the risotto was still warm. It got me thinking about more ways to make green chile risotto which I plan to experiment with this fall. Stay tuned...

Green Chile Corn Risotto Bites
makes 72 pieces (+ extra risotto)

For the Risotto:
2 cups uncooked corn
4 cups chicken broth
2 T unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup chopped green chiles
kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup pepper jack cheese, grated

Puree 1 cup of the uncooked corn in a food processor until smooth. In a saucepan, heat the chicken broth to a simmer.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallot and saute until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and saute, stirring, 3 minutes. Stir in one cup of the chicken broth and the pureed corn and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has been absorbed, 5-7 minutes. Continue add the chicken broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently and waiting until the previous addition has been absorbed before adding more.

After the last cup of broth has been absorbed, let the risotto cook 3 minutes more, stirring. Add the remaining corn and the chiles and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

For the Wonton Cups:
18 wonton wrappers, cut into quarters
vegetable oil

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Brush each wonton wrapper lightly with oil. Mold each wrapper, oiled side up, into the bottom of a cup if a mini (1") muffin tin. Bake until light brown, 5 - 7 minutes. Let cool slightly and remove from tin.

I have been wanting to make Chile Rellenos for a while now but have always shied away from actually doing it (again with the frying phobia). Well, I recently got a surge of confidence I guess because I tackled them and they were good. Oh, were they good! I used a recipe from Use Real Butter and my only problem with it was it made A LOT of batter. I ended throwing a lot of it away which I hate to do. Next time I will use the reduced recipe which I am providing below. In fact, I have a half full bag of thawed green chiles in my fridge right now which I need to use up so "next time" might be very soon.

Chile Rellenos
from Use Real Butter (slightly modified)
makes 2 servings

8 whole, large green chiles, roasted, peeled and deseeded.
8 oz, Monteray Jack cheese, cut into sticks
vegetable oil for frying

1/2 cup flour
1/4 to 1/2 t kosher salt
2 eggs, separated
1/4 -1/2 cup beer

Place a piece of cheese in each chile and fold the chile over the cheese.

Combine the flour, salt and egg yolks in a bowl and slowly add the beer until the mixture is thick but smooth and well combined. Beat the egg whites to medium-stiff peaks (I did this by hand and had to tag team Jeremy to take over halfway through because I thought my arm was going to fall off!). Fold the whites into the batter thoroughly. Heat 1" of oil in a skillet until it is glistening. (To test if the oil is ready, drop a small amount of the batter in and if starts to sizzle you are good to go.)

Coat each chile with batter and fry for about 4-5 minutes, until golden. Flip and fry until evenly golden. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain and serve hot with salsa or green chili on top.

Jeremy celebrated a birthday recently (the big 3-0 in fact) and we upheld what is, in my opinion, one of the best birthday traditions... homemade cake! Each year I ask him what kind of cake he wants (meaning flavor) and each year he tells me something like "A Land Rover Cake" or "A Volkswagen Cake" or "A Bugatti Veyron Cake". The man is very into cars, what can I say. Well I have done the Land Rover and I have done the VW and last year I even decorated his cake with an ear of corn (I'm not sure which he like better, cars or corn). This year I was stumped by the Veyron so instead I focused on the flavor and kept the decorations pretty simple. I saw this cake on foodgawker and had to try it. Jer was a little concerned about the chocolate to peanut butter ratio (he likes the chocolate to dominate) but said he would give it a try. It was perfect. The peanut butter was a nice accent but certainly not the star of the show and the ganache gave it a decadence worthy of a thirtieth birthday celebration. One warning though, this cake is enormous so plan to share it with a lot of people or to wear out (or break out) you walking shoes.

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate Ganache

For the Cake:
1 1/4 cups sour cream
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups water
2 1/2 T white vinegar
2 t vanilla
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
3 cups sugar
1 cup Dutch process Cocoa Powder
1 T baking soda
1 t salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3 9" round cake pans and place a round of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan.

Whisk together the wet ingredients (sour cream to eggs). In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add the dry mixture to the wet and stir until smooth. Pour an even amount of batter into each cake pan and bake 35-45 minutes, until the center springs back under gentle pressure. Cool in the pan and freeze until ready to frost.

For the Peanut Butter Frosting:
1 lb cream cheese, at room temperature
1 lb peanut butter, at room temperature
1 lb powdered sugar

Cream together the cream cheese and peanut butter. Add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time and blend until smooth.

For the Chocolate Ganache:
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 T vanilla
2 T light corn syrup

Place all of the ingredients in a double boiler and melt, stirring until smooth. Cool until it is still runny but not so hot that it will melt the frosting. Pour in the center of the frosted cake and help it just to the edges with a spatula, let gravity do the rest.


We are now moving on to the second part of this post. Last week we moved in with my in-laws while we had our floors refinished (they look gorgeous, by the way!) and I offered to cook for the week so that I would have something to post about and also as a thank you to them for putting us up for the week. It was kind of fun to be away from our house. Sort of a like a mini vacation. Planning a menu for 4 is a little harder than planning for two, with two more peoples taste preferences to think about. I didn't do it on purpose but for some reason almost everything I made was very spicy.

This is another Use Real Butter recipe. Since I brought home my stash of chiles I have visited her recipe archives often since she has made a number of delicious things with chiles in the time I have been reading her blog. This was definitely a hit all around. And, I didn't even know it at the time but apparently it is National Chili Month! This was a great way to celebrate!

White Chili
from Use Real Butter (amounts modified)
makes 6 servings

1 1/2 lbs chicken breast, cubed
1 T olive oil
1 large white onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
6 roasted green chiles, skinned, deseeded and diced
3 cans cannalini beans, drained and rinsed
32 oz. chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
3 t cumin
2 t oregano
1/4 t cayenne pepper (I left this out because the chiles I used were already causing us breath fire)

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Saute the onion, garlic, celery and green chiles together. When the onions and celery are soft add the chicken and saute for a few more minutes. Pour in the beans and broth. Bring to a boil, add the seasonings and season salt and pepper to taste.

Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until liquid thickens to desired consistency. Serve with Jack cheese and tortilla chips.


Oww, not Tuna Noodle Casserole agaaiiiin. Yep, Tuna Noodle Casserole again and no whining. Oh sorry, just practicing. I know I just made this a couple of weeks ago but my Mother-in-Law has always talked about how much she likes it and doesn't make it at home because my Father-in-Law is not a fan. Well, we let him fend for himself one night and I treated my MiL to an old fav. We also had plenty of leftovers to eat for lunch for a couple of days.

This dish is quintessentially fall. The apples give it a nice tartness and the chiles bring it back to earth.

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Apple-Green Chile Salsa
modified from Real Simple
makes 4 servings

1 1/2 to 2 lb pork tenderloin
1 t chili powder
1/2 t cumin
1 1/2 t kosher salt
2 T olive oil
2 small Granny Smith Apples, diced
1 small red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T cider vinegar
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 roasted green chiles, skinned, deseeded and chopped
1 jalapeno, deseeded and chopped
1 T sugar
1/4 t black pepper
1/2 cup diced red pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rub the pork with the chili powder, cumin and 1 1/4 t of the salt. In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, heat 1 t of the olive oil. Add the pork and brown on all sides. Transfer to a roasting pan and 20-25 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, in the same skillet used for the pork, add the remaining olive oil. Add the apples, red onion, garlic, and vinegar and cook 5-8 minutes until the apples and onion are translucent. Add the broth, chiles, jalapeno, sugar, black pepper and remaining 1/4 t salt. Stir and cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the apples are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the red pepper during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Serve with the pork.


I made a simple quinoa "salad" to accompany these meatballs. It is one cup of quinoa, cooked and to it I added 1 can of drained black beans and 1 mango, diced. The mango was an especially nice addition, adding a little tart to the plate.


The sun just popped out and I am going out to rake some leaves! Oh, happy fall weather!

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