Tag Archives: holiday

Foodbuzz 24×24: The Make-Ahead Holiday Breakfast Party (Recipe: Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate)

I remember that Christmas morning with all the clarity of the glass icicles adorning our Christmas tree — at least one of which was shattered each year, an inadvertent Christmas tradition. Mom was sitting on the couch in her dramatic floral robe. The scent of coffee — which I loved, despite being averse to the bitter taste — filled the house. The rest of the family was milling about the living room, preparing to distribute the presents.

Suddenly, with a pine needley, jingle-jangly harrrrrumph!, the Christmas tree outright fell on my mother.

I mean, one minute that thing was standing tall, looking regal and festive, and the next it was on her head. She let out a startled cry and flailed from between its branches, sending ornaments and pine needles flying around the room.

Mom will disagree — and okay, my little brother’s First Christmas ornament broke, and that was sad — but this was quite possibly the most hilarious and lively Ruble Christmas morning to date.

Other Christmas mornings were notable too. There was the one where I found, after opening all my gifts, that I hadn’t received the one thing I wanted most: a pedal go-kart. I pasted on a happy face, but I was disappointed. I did have one present left, but it was a card and didn’t look promising.

The card turned out to be from Santa. I scanned it halfheartedly, and realized that it was a set of instructions. I was supposed to head upstairs to my sister’s room. Suddenly, my heart filled with hope. I charged up the stairs eagerly and shot through the door. There, in all its bright yellow glory, was my go-kart!

Other years brought a dose of holiday reality. When I was around 6, I opened my parents’ closet a few days before Christmas to put some clothes away. To my great surprise, I found myself staring at a gigantic dollhouse. I was so stunned that it took me a few moments to realize that this must be a poorly hidden Christmas present.

My tiny heart filled with glee as I briefly surveyed the three-story mansion, complete with furniture, a balcony, and landscaping. I’d always been enamored with miniatures, and now my parents had apparently decided to indulge my dollhouse obsession. I closed the door, thrilled at my discovery and determined to act surprised when I received my gift.

On Christmas morning, I ran downstairs and sure enough, the dollhouse was standing in the living room like a beacon of childhood happiness, boasting a big bow. I squealed joyfully and ran over to it, only to hear my parents call out, “That’s for your sister!

Those four words — so tiny! so brief! — cut me down faster than a fir tree on a Christmas farm.


family photo!

Then there was the Christmas morning I woke up and accidentally stabbed myself in the nose while trying to brush my hair out of my face. My entire family, probably bemused but not surprised by the fact that I’d managed to injure myself immediately upon waking, waited patiently while I tried to stop the bleeding.

I couldn’t make this stuff up.


salted caramel.

It’s true; Christmas morning has varied wildly over the years — exciting, disappointing, joyous, dangerous, absurd. One constant that we’ve all come to cherish, though, is Christmas morning breakfast. Every single year, without fail, my mother wakes up early, bakes an egg casserole, and rolls out dough to make fresh cinnamon rolls. While we’re all still counting sugar plums in our jammies, she’s hard at work in the kitchen.

This year, in her honor, I decided to design some recipes specifically for a holiday breakfast — dishes that in addition to being fancy and indulgent, could be prepared almost entirely in advance. To test my menu — that’s my excuse, and I’m stickin’ to it — I threw a Make-Ahead Holiday Breakfast Party, where I decked my halls and created a make-believe Christmas morning.

The party turned out to be special even beyond the menu. See, Mike and I have never spent a Christmas morning together, despite being in a relationship for most of the past 12 years.

I’m not complaining. So many families are separated on Christmas morning because of deployment, distance, and even death. Our situation is downright joyful by comparison. We’re separated each year because both of our families have Christmas morning traditions. We spend time with our own parents in the morning before meeting later to enjoy Christmas afternoon together. This year, though, my Make-Ahead Holiday Breakfast Party was the perfect way to create a “Christmas morning” for just us.

So yesterday morning, we donned our PJs and slippers in true Christmas morning fashion. I lit my first ever fire, put the finishing touches on all of the make-ahead dishes I’d prepared earlier in the week, and we sat down together to eat. Little Byrd sat between us eating her Christmas kibble. Our plates, however, were loaded down with Gingerbread Coffee Cake, Cinnamon Stix with Eggnog Glaze, Savory Bread Pudding with Cranberries and Fennel, Winter Breakfast Chili in Sourdough Bowls, and Buttered Toast with Bright Pepper Jam.

Between bites, we sipped this Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate. I’m not one for hot breakfast drinks, usually, but I’d make an exception for this thing any day. You coat the mug with hot, buttery salted caramel before pouring in the steaming mocha hot chocolate (where coffee plays a supporting role rather than the lead). The whole thing is topped with a mess of caramel whipped cream and a caramel drizzle.

I’ll be sharing the other make-ahead breakfast recipes with you throughout the coming weeks as you prepare for the holidays. In the meantime, share your favorite Christmas morning memories. Anyone have any harrowing experience with falling Christmas trees?

Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, inspired by Savory Sweet Life, adapted from Martha Stewart (caramel and cream) and TLC
Yield: 2 big mugs of hot chocolate

I can’t really quantify how buttery, caramelly, chocolatey, and delicious this Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate is, so let me just say: mmmmmm. I don’t like coffee, but in this recipe it’s there to add richness and balance, and isn’t the dominant flavor. The recipe is designed to be completed mostly in advance, making it lovely for a holiday morning breakfast — or anytime you’re in a festive mood. Also, don’t be afraid of caramel. This recipe includes temperatures, and as long as you use a candy thermometer, you’ll be great!

Mocha Hot Chocolate Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup brewed coffee
2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate chips (I love Ghirardelli 60% cacao)
2 tablespoons sugar

Caramel Sauce and Cream Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of coarse salt

Directions:
1 to 3 days in advance: Make the hot chocolate and the caramel. First, heat the milk, coffee, chocolate, and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly until it comes to a boil. Remove it from the heat and whisk it to ensure it’s fully combined. Pour it into a bowl and let it cool, stirring periodically, before covering it and refrigerating it.

Make caramel sauce: Prepare an ice-water bath and set a heavy bowl in it. Heat the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until mixture boils and sugar dissolves (don’t stir at all, or crystals will form and make your caramel grainy). Use a pastry brush to wash down sides of pan often to prevent crystals from forming. When the sugar starts to turn amber, you can swirl a couple of times to ensure it’s caramelizing evenly.

Cook until the sugar turns a dark amber (definitely use a candy thermometer here! You’re looking for it to read about 345 degrees), 5 to 7 minutes more. Immediately remove from heat, and slowly whisk in 1/2 cup cream (reserve the rest of the cream in the fridge). It will bubble up when you do this, so be careful. Return the caramel to medium heat, whisking and heating until the sugar melts completely and the mixture boils.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour the caramel into a bowl set in an ice-water bath. Let the caramel cool, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Whisk in creme fraiche or sour cream, vanilla, and salt. Cover and refrigerate this.

The morning of: Reheat the chocolate mixture in a saucepan over medium heat on the stove (or for a couple of minutes in the microwave), stirring often. In the meantime, whip your remaining 1/4 cup cream in a cold bowl to stiff peaks.

Coat the sides of two mugs with caramel sauce, reserving a little over half of it. Gently fold most of the rest of the caramel sauce into your whipped cream (reserving a little to drizzle on top). Fill caramel coated mugs with mocha hot chocolate. Top with caramel cream and drizzled caramel. Serve immediately.

Note: I received a stipend from Foodbuzz for creating this meal.

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Salted Caramel Chocolate Trifle

The first face to poke through the door of my classroom was that of an older woman. She was followed by one of my 7th grade students, who was followed by a white haired man. “Come in! Find a seat anywhere!” I called as I made last minute adjustments to the position of the projector.

Soon people were pouring into my room. They had arrived for Grandfriends Day, where Woodlawn students invited their grandparents (or grandpeople they’d “adopted”) to eat lunch with them and participate in their classes.

I’m going to go ahead and publicly admit that I was terrified of Grandfriends Day. What activity could I plan that both a 60-year-old and a 12-year-old might enjoy? We usually read novels or tackle projects that take weeks to complete. What concept could I introduce and cover in a meaningful way in 30 minutes?

Thankfully, I learned a trick at the beginning of my teaching career that always serves me well in these types of circumstances: when you’re scared of a new thing, get enthusiastic and give it an honest, earnest try. (This also works with baking, writing, and life in general.) So as the students and their grandfriends filtered into my room, I pasted on a smile.

Once they were all somewhat assembled, I took a deep breath and did something a little ridiculous. I turned on the projector and pressed play on this video (no, really, go watch it). Confusion turned into giggles as Maru the cat repeatedly attempted to gain access to a huge cardboard box. Young and old alike cheered when he finally sprang into its depths. I surveyed the classroom as they watched, concluding that funny YouTube clips were, indeed, a language that spanned the generations.

When the video ended, I posed a question: “What was Maru’s goal?”

“To get in the box!” the class cried in unison.

“Did he accomplish his goal the first time he tried?”

“No!”

“How about the second?”

“No!”

“Did he eventually get in the box?”

“Yes!”

Their enthusiasm was cute. They were still riding the wave of cheer that Maru’s antics had created. I distributed sheets of notebook paper as I issued their assignment: “Write about a time when you, like Maru, had a goal you couldn’t accomplish right away.”

Some dove at their paper with ardor while others thoughtfully drummed fingers or pencils on the desk. A short ten minutes later, though, everyone sat staring at their finished anecdote. I asked for volunteers to share, wholly unsure about the quality of work I was about to receive. I needn’t have been concerned, though. I have great students and, it turns out, they have amazing grandfriends.

One man told of learning to drive a car with a manual transmission and repeatedly killing the engine before finally getting the hang of it. Another told of being determined to get his garden planted despite the rain that threatened to prevent it. A third detailed how he and his construction crew had created a machine that could drive 16 nails a second to accomplish their goals more efficiently.

Two women discussed taking a pottery class and working for months before they produced the bowl or vase they’d envisioned. My students relayed sports goals they’d attempted to accomplish: a back set in volleyball, a backflip in gymnastics. Finally, one of my students raised his hand and asked to read his grandfather’s composition.

His grandfather had worked with a veterinarian as a young man and decided to enter into that profession himself. His application to NC State’s veterinary program, however, was denied. Undeterred, he entered the college for agriculture instead, and — my student articulated the following with great pride — became the first person in his family to graduate from college.

We were all quiet for a minute before one clap — and then another, and then another — began a round of applause for this man’s accomplishment. It was one of those moments (you teachers out there will know just what I mean) when I thought, “Oh, this is why I teach.”

Some folks that day had reached their goal by pushing through the obstacles. Others had used trial and error, learning from their mistakes and adjusting their actions. Still others had created a tool to help them accomplish their objective. That man, though, had courage and flexibility I sometimes lack. Instead of getting discouraged, he changed his goal. He created a path for himself that wasn’t what he’d originally envisioned. The pride his whole family felt at his accomplishment was a testimony to his success.

I wish I’d had that much grace this week when making this Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake. Yes, I said cake, because that’s what this dessert was supposed to be.

My goal was to create a towering chocolate cake drenched in gooey salted caramel and frosted with a smooth, fudgy icing. I saw that goal crumble before my eyes, however, when I opened my refrigerator and found all 6 layers sliiiiiiding down like they were preparing to do the limbo. The skewers I’d added for support were leaning right along with the cake.

I could pretend I handled it well, because this is the internet. For all you know I’m a supermodel who, apart from saving puppies and keeping a perfect house, never loses her temper. In the spirit of honesty, however, let’s just say that there was a solid 30 minutes of angst in my kitchen Wednesday night.

Then somehow I flipped a switch. I stopped trying to restack the layers, grabbed a spoon and my trifle dish (thanks for my trifle dish, Joyce!), and started building this bucket o’ cake. As I worked, my mood improved drastically.

Not only was my trifle pretty, less fuss to frost, and easier to transport, but it was also going to taste every bit as delicious as the cake I’d envisioned. The satisfied faces of my family around the Thanksgiving table the next day confirmed that it was a success.

Your turn: tell me about a time when you had a goal you couldn’t accomplish right away.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Trifle



Recipe by: Adapted from Martha Stewart
Yield: About a billion servings. Or at least 10-15.

This is actually a recipe for a 6-layer salted caramel chocolate cake. Feel free to attempt the cake and keep the trifle as a backup plan in case it doesn’t work — or just make the trifle from the beginning! Either way, the dessert you end up with will be rich, moist, and covered in the most delicious salted caramel and fudgy frosting. By the way, if you’re scared of making caramel, don’t be — just make sure you use a candy thermometer, which takes the guesswork out of the process.

Cake Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tablepoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons safflower oil
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Caramel Ingredients:
4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter

Frosting Ingredients:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Coarse salt
1 pound semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
flaked sea salt, such as Maldon

Directions:
Note on scheduling: You can make the cake layers a few days in advance. Just wrap them and refrigerate them, and take them out and freeze them the day you’ll be cutting and assembling them (which will make them easier to work with). You can make the caramel up to three days in advance and keep it in the fridge — just let it come to room temperature for a couple of hours before using it. The entire cake can be assembled a day in advance and refrigerated, allowing its flavors to meld.

Make the cake: Cut 3 circles of parchment paper and use cooking spray as “glue” to adhere them to 3 9-inch round cake pans. Then grease the pans and the paper (I use Wilton’s Cake Release, but you could also use butter and flour). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and coarse salt together in a mixing bowl. Beat the dry ingredients on low until combined before increasing the speed to medium and adding eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat about 3 minutes until the mixture is smooth. Divide it among the three pans.

Place the pans in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with just a few moist crumbs, about 30-35 minutes. Rotate the pans about halfway through so they’ll bake evenly. Let them cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning them out onto sheets of wax paper and leaving them to cool completely. Stick them in the freezer if you’re going to make a cake; if you’re going for a trifle, just leave them out.

Make the caramel: Slice your butter into tablespoon chunks and set it back in the fridge for later. In a large saucepan, gently combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Once you put it on the heat, you won’t stir it anymore to ensure that the sugar will not crystallize and give you grainy caramel. Put a candy thermometer on the pan and heat it over high heat (no stirring!). Once the mixture starts turning amber around 320 degrees, you can gently swirl it every now and then (not stirring!) to ensure the sugar caramelizes evenly. Heat it until the mixture is dark amber (350 degrees on your thermometer), about 14 minutes. Remove it from the heat.

VERY CAREFULLY and slowly, pour in the cream. The mixture will bubble up and spatter so just be prepared and stand back — flaming sugar is no joke! Once you add the cream, whisk the mixture until it’s smooth before returning it to the heat and cooking until it reaches exactly 238 degrees (I know it sounds weird, but apparently this is crucial for the texture), about 2 minutes. Pour the caramel into a medium bowl and add the salt. Let it cool for about 15 minutes before whisking in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time (you’re definitely going to want to enlist another set of hands here; otherwise your arm will fall off).

Make the frosting: In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa and warm water. In a separate bowl, beat together butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the melted chocolate and the cocoa mixture. Let this sit for about 30 minutes before you use it.

Assemble the cake (or trifle): If you’re making a trifle, simply tear up the cake and alternate layers of cake and 3/4 cup of caramel in your bowl, using a spoon or offset spatula sprayed with cooking spray to help spread the caramel. Do a layer of frosting in the middle of the dish and another layer on top before drizzling with caramel and sprinkling with sea salt.

Alternatively, if you want to try the cake, freeze your cake layers until they’re firmer (this makes them much easier to work with). Use a long serrated knife to level their tops and cut each layer in half. Place one layer on a serving platter and spoon 3/4 cup of caramel on top, using a spoon or offset spatula sprayed with cooking spray to help spread the caramel. Place another cake layer on top and repeat the process, alternating layers of cake and caramel, leaving the top cake layer uncovered. For goodness’ sake, place dowels through your cake (I’d say at least 4), mark them at the height of the cake, remove them, and cut them down to size. Then replace them in the cake. I’d also wrap the entire cake tightly in plastic wrap before chilling it to prevent sliding. Refrigerate it until it’s set (about an hour) before frosting the top and sides of the cake and sprinkling with sea salt.

Serve the trifle or cake: I think this dessert is delicious no matter what, but it’s absolutely out-of-this-world if you heat a serving of it for about 30 seconds before spooning a big hunk o’ vanilla ice cream on top. I didn’t try this with a cake slice, so I don’t know that it’d hold together — another benefit of a messy trifle.

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A Dozen Pumpkin Recipes from Willow Bird Baking

My pumpkin craze is far from over, y’all. Just a fair warning.

The pumpkin shortage over the past two seasons must have really scarred me, because it seems like every time I pass a display I pick up a couple more cans. I don’t mind; my pumpkin stash has come in handy plenty o’ times. Here are a few of my favorite pumpkin recipes, hand-picked to be perfect for your Thanksgiving meal. Enjoy!

1. Jack O’ Lantern Whoopie Pies
2. Pumpkin Spice Pull Apart Bread with Butter Rum Glaze
3. One-Skillet Gooey Pumpkin Cookie Cake

4. Mini Pumpkin Pies
5. Pumpkin Cheesecake Stuffed Snickerdoodles
6. Pumpkin Streusel Swirled Cream Cheese Pound Cake

7. Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread Pudding
8. Vegan Pumpkin Nut Bread
9. Easy Sopapilla Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

10. Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles
11. Pumpkin Pecan Streusel Breakfast Braid
12. Browned Butter Pumpkin Croquemcake with White Chocolate Chai Mousse

…and you guys know there’s more where that came from. Pumpkin and I are BFFs.

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Red, White, and FOOD!

Here are some Willow Bird recipes that are perfect for your 4th of July celebration! If I had to tell you just one thing you have to make in order to fully enjoy all the fireworks and summer heat, it’d be the Old-fashioned Burger Stand Burgers. Everything else is delicious, too, but I’m craving one of those tender, thin, salty, juicy, tangy burgers right this second! And it doesn’t get much cuter than the printable fry pouches and checkered trays.


Old-fashioned Burger Stand Burgers with Easy Fries (and cute pouch/tray printables!)


Strawberry Lemonade Popsicles



Itsy Bitsy Berry Cream Pies


Deconstructed Pizza Bites


Pretzel Dogs


Red Berry Pie


Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade


Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade

Stay tuned later this week for a cute party banner that you can make with minimal effort and about $8. I made the whole thing while watching America’s Got Talent, so it obviously doesn’t take much concentration, either! Happy eating!

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Happy Easter From Willow Bird Baking!

Happy Easter, from me and little Byrd.

Thank you, Jesus, for your sacrifice and resurrection! He is risen! Rejoice with your families today and always.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Joyce let me borrow some of her keepsake grade school valentines to help wish you a happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s hoping your day is full of food, family, friends, and LOVE ❤ . . . and maybe cupcakes.

My favorite:


Billy was apparently the boyfriend from 2nd grade. Too cute!



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Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas

The students have all closed their novels and packed up their supplies for Thanksgiving Break, so it’s time for me to take a deep breath and relax — until the baking begins tomorrow, of course! Because I enjoyed reading Jillicious‘s list of things she’s thankful for this year, here are a few of my own:

  1. Jesus, who made the greatest sacrifice for me.
  2. My family — they’re crazy, wonderful, and so supportive.
  3. Mike, who has never disliked anything I’ve ever cooked, whether overseasoned, underseasoned, burnt, or weird.
  4. Cake.
  5. Friends, for joining me in ridiculous escapades.
  6. My students, who make me laugh every day and (usually) make me feel like I’m making a difference through my teaching.
  7. Writing.
  8. Byrd and Squirt, my poodle and red-eared slider. One is fluffy and hyper, the other is scaly and . . . frowny; nevertheless, they’re both the sweetest pets anyone could ask for, and have made my little apartment a home.
  9. My snuggie. Shut up; it’s comfortable!
  10. Food, which is one language through which history, family, culture, and emotion has been communicated to me. I love joining the conversation.

On that note, here are some dishes that have warmed the pages of Willow Bird Baking in the past months that would be lovely on your Thanksgiving dinner table. May you enjoy the sharing of mirth, love, and calories with your family this year!



Mini-Pies: Pumpkin, Peach Crisp, and Sour Cream Apple — Add some variety to your Thanksgiving pie choices! Everyone gets to choose their own flavor. The pumpkin and peach pies are especially scrumptious.





Jack-O’-Lantern Whoopie Pies — These cakey cookies are hearty, moist, spicy, and addictive. Whoopie pies should be part of every family’s Thanksgiving tradition.







Peach Crisp Pie — Delicious, gooey peaches and crispy oats fill a tender, flaky crust. This is my favorite pie of all time!





Best Ever Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Easy Caramel Frosting and Spiced Apples — This moist, dense, finely-crumbed cake is heavenly with or without some spicy cinnamon apples on the side. “Best Ever” is not an exaggeration!



Chocolate Tart — Tired of pumpkin? If you’re a chocolate lover, this tart is a must-eat. Rich, indulgent chocolate fills the buttery tart crust, and a pile of freshly whipped cream accompanies each bite. This post also includes a bright and tangy Raspberry Cream Cheese Tart.


Overnight Yeast Rolls — These fluffy, delicious, buttery yeast rolls are part of my family’s annual Thanksgiving tradition. When I realized I was old enough to make them myself (and at any time of year, too), it was one ecstatic day in the kitchen!


Cardamom Pumpkin Macarons — Having an elegant Thanksgiving? These gluten-free cookies combine cardamom with traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin. Macarons are the perfect bite: crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside.



Barefoot Contessa’s Carrot Pineapple Cake — Looking for a big, beautiful cake to adorn your Thanksgiving table? Barefoot Contessa’s Carrot Pineapple Cake is brimming with hunks of pineapple, carrot, walnut, and raisin. With cream cheese frosting slathered on in a thick layer, it’s an elegant and decadent Thanksgiving dessert.

Green Chile TURKEY Enchiladas — Okay, these don’t quite fit on the Thanksgiving dinner table, but maybe you find yourself wondering what to do with all your juicy turkey leftovers? These Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas can be transformed into turkey-filled treats, and what a great way to spice up leftovers. The recipe is so seductive, yet very simple — it won’t take up all of your Black Friday!


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