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Category Archives: Menu Items

Showing the inside scoop on restaurant style food and presentation for the home cook

This Week’s Client Menu…

What’s on tap this week for my private client group?

Grilled Tilapia Veracruz (tilapia with a Mexican tomato sauce) served with grilled zucchini and yellow squash with cilantro rice

Seared NY Strip Steak with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli

Roasted Chicken Quarters with quinoa pilaf and roasted asparagus.

You curious about menus for your own family?

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2013 in Menu Items

 

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Left Over Lessons Part I, Cottage Cheese

Left Over Lessons Part I, Cottage Cheese

Left Over Lessons Part I

Got Milk?  Better question.  Got old milk?  Not spoiled, but just at the “expiration” date?  Don’t dump it, recycle it!  With a little bit of chemistry and about an hours’ time, you can turn your skim milk into cottage cheese!

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Start with the basics.  Mise en place.  Simple ingredients.  1 gallon of skim milk, 12 fluid ounces of white vinegar and ¾ teaspoon of kosher salt.

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Put your gallon of skim milk into a large pot.  Bring your milk to 140 degrees over medium heat.  Yeah, I know the temp is reading at 120, those pictures were corrupted.  Gotta kill the potential bad bacteria ya know.  Take your milk off the heat and slowly add the vinegar.  Stir and cover for at least 30 minutes.  This will start to separate the curd from the whey.  What are curd and whey?  Let’s start with curd.  Curd is the solid that is coagulated in the making of cheese.  Curd can be harvested from milk by one of two methods. Rennet, an enzyme that can be either derived from plant or animal sources.  The enzyme from animals is primarily used to digest mother’s milk in young animals.  Acid coagulation is the other method.  Using edible acids such as lemon juice or vinegar will produce similar results.

Both methods raise the pH level of the milk, causing the casein, which is the primary protein in milk to tangle into solid masses.  These masses are curd.  Curd, is what cheese is.  If you press it and age it, you get any variety of hard or soft traditional cow’s milk cheese.  Take the loose curd and add cream to it, and you get the cottage cheese we are making.  If you slowly start to heat soured milk, you get a similar European product call Quark.

What is whey?  When you have coagulated your cheese curd the left over liquid is called whey.  Whey is mostly water.  The dissolved proteins in that whey are primarily albumins.  They can be heated later on to create ricotta cheese.  That is another article.

Now that you know what curds and whey are, let’s make a quick cheese.  Where were we?  Okay, we have heated our milk, added the vinegar and have now left the product to cool for 30 minutes.  Get a tea towel and your largest strainer.  Line the strainer with the tea towel.  Pour the funky stuff into the towel.  Let it rest and drain for 5 or 10 minutes.  Pull the corners up and ring the remaining whey from your curd.  Set your whey aside for later use.  Now rinse your curd, still wrapped in your towel, until it has completely cooled.

When you are done, you will have a dry and rather flavorless bowl of curd.

To make it into your servable cottage cheese, stir in a half cup of either half and half or heavy cream and your ¾ teaspoon of salt.  You now have cottage cheese!  Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Culinary 101, Menu Items

 

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Everybody Loves Pizza!!

Everybody loves Pizza!

Why bother buying the frozen hockey pucks, be they “self-rising” or not.  Why would you order a grease laden card board ring with “cheese”, or some other strange melted substance?  Do you REALLY want to know just how bad a slice of delivery pizza really is?  Why not make your own?  Venture forth my friends in that dark and frightening world of the bake shop.  Tonight, we bake.  TONIGHT WE MAKE PIZZA!!!!

Every good pizza starts with a strong foundation.  Crust.  Yummy, chewy, crispy crust.  This is where people usually turn and run.  YEAST!  I CANNOT MAKE YEAST BREAD!!!  IT’S TOO HARD!!!!  No.  It’s really not that bad folks.  Pizza dough is one of the easiest yeast breads, and yes, it is bread, you can make.  Let start with the basics.

Culinary Technique time!  Straight Dough Method.  Pizza dough, and its close cousin, Italian bread, are made using the straight dough method.  What does that mean?  Real easy.  Take your ingredients.  Put them in your mixer.  Turn it on.  You have a straight dough.  Minor details…  Mix your yeast with your flour.  Get your water to about 105 degrees.  Put the flour in first.  Put in everything else.  Now you know the most basic of dough types.

Mise en place.  Remember mise en place?  Everything in its place?  Basics.  Mixer, scale, pizza peel, pizza cutter, pizza stone, corn meal, bread flour, yeast, malt syrup, olive oil, salt, water.  Why do I need a scale you ask?  Grab 2 measuring cups.  Grab your flour.  Grab your scale.  Scoop 1 cup of flour and set it aside.  Scoop another and tap it down a little.  Now top it off.  Both look the same.  When you weigh one scoop, it may weigh 4 ounces and the other 6 ounces.  2 ounces of flour makes a big difference!  Baking is a science.  Even a small variation in the level of ingredients can change the texture of the recipe completely.  If you see a professional cook book, the ingredients are almost always listed in ounces or grams, including eggs, water, etc.

Now.  Grab your scale and the bowl for your mixer.  For accuracy, switch to grams.  Weigh out 1lb 12oz of bread flour (750 g), add in ¾ oz. yeast (20 g), stir together well, weigh in ½ oz. salt (15 g), .13 oz. malt syrup (4 g) and 1 lb. 1 oz. warm water (460 g), ¼ oz. of olive oil (8 g).  Turn your mixer on to the medium setting with the dough hook.  Don’t know what that is?  It looks like the accessory from that famous book with the pirate, and the flying kids.  You know which one I am talking about.  This step will take about 3 to 4 minutes for the dough to develop into a nice homogenous mass that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

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Culinary talk time for a second here.  I ran out some ingredients that you may or may not have heard of before.  Fear not.  They are not difficult to deal with.  First we said BREAD flour.  Bread flour is higher gluten flour milled from hard wheat that has up to 13% protein versus All Purpose flour which is milled from softer wheat and contains up to 11% protein.  Why is protein important?  The proteins that we are talking about is a combination of gliadin and glutenin.  When you mix them with water and agitate them, they will de-nature, and form the substance gluten.  Gluten is what makes breads and pizza dough chewy, and gives a crisper crust.  You CAN use all-purpose flour for your breads and pizza dough, but you will not have quite the same result.  It will not have the same chewy texture you expect when you get good pizza dough.  You cannot however use bread flour in all areas that you use all-purpose.  Try making a cake or a cookie with bread flour and it will be tough and chewy, instead of soft and fluffy.

Now, the second item.  Malt Syrup.  Huh?  Sounds like something from a soda fountain.  Well, you are not too far off.  Malt syrup is also called Malted Barley extract.  While they are made from the same product, malted barley, they are not quite the same thing.  Malt syrup has a distinct flavor and not as sweet as white sugar.  It is used in yeast breads as food for those same yeasts.  You can usually get it from your local grocery purveyor.  If you cannot find it there, check at specialty markets like Central Market or Whole Foods.

Now you move to the kneading phase.  No, you are not going to take it out of the mixer and had kneed it.  Turn the mixer up a level.  Let it run for at least 10 minutes. Watch out. The dough is thick and can cause your mixer to jump around a bit.  After your 10 minutes, grab a little bit of dough, a little smaller than a golf ball.  Roll it into a ball and stretch it out.  Keep stretching it until it gets thin enough to see light through it.  If it tears before it gets to that point, you have not developed enough gluten and you need to keep running the mixer for a few minutes.  This is known in the baking side of the kitchen as window paning.

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Once you get your proper gluten level, take your dough out of the mixer and pull it into a ball, stretching it to a point on the bottom.  Take the ball with the gathered point at the bottom, and roll it in your hands to tighten the skin of the dough ball more.  Doing this will make a nice skin for the dough later on.  Put a drop of olive oil in your bowl, and drop the dough in.  Cover it with a damp towel and set it aside for about an hour to an hour and a half, until the dough doubles in size.

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While your dough is in the rise phase, you can start gathering your toppings.  Traditional cheese is mozzarella, but you can change things up and mix in other Italian cheeses like fontina, romano, parmesan, or asiago.  This is your pizza.  Pick your passion.

Sauce.  Hmmmm.. You could go with the jar.  It’s easy.  You can also take a few minutes to make a simple sauce of your home made Sauce Tomate (coming tomorrow) or plain tomato sauce, mixed with salt, pepper, olive oil and garlic with a touch of rosemary and you will have a spicy sauce with a nice little kick.

Now, back to the dough.  You will have enough dough to make four, twelve inch pizzas.  Cut the dough into quarters, and treat them like you did the big dough ball.  Rotate them between your hands with the pucker side down and tighten the ball up.  Let them sit for 10 to 15 minutes to allow them to relax.

While you let your dough balls relax, fire up your oven.  If you happen to have an old school dial oven with a cleaner setting like this one, you can really crank it up.  The hotter you can get your oven the better.  Turn the oven to bake and crank the dial as far as you can and still have the oven heating.  The hotter you get it, the crisper the crust.  Put your pizza stone in the middle rack.  Why use a stone?  Ovens tend to fluctuate up and down between 20 and 30 degrees while they cycle.  You can still make pizza with a sheet pan, but you will not have the same crust result.  You want that constant and direct heat.  They are not that expensive and are well worth it.

Now that your dough has relaxed, roll it out as thin as you can get it.  Be patient.  If it is bouncing back to much, pick it up and stretch it out.  Put it into your hands and work the circle around, stretching it out as you go along the edges.  Lay it down and finish rolling it out.  Now you dock the dough.  Huh?  What does that mean you ask?  Docking the dough means that you are punching little holes into it to allow steam to escape preventing the middle of the pizza from looking like it has a bad sunburn and blisters.  You can use a fork and punch holes in it, or you can use the specialty dough docker that most average folks would look at like it was a medieval torcher device.  Okay.  Your dough is ready to go.

Grab your pizza peel.  Put a little corn meal on the peel.  This acts as a medium that keeps the dough from sticking to the peel.  Top as you please.  Cook until it the cheese is bubbly and the crust is just turning brown.

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Eat and Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Menu Items

 

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Asian Sesame Ginger Chicken Salad

Asian Sesame Ginger Chicken Salad

Today’s subject will be a healthier version of an Asian Sesame Ginger Chicken Salad that I introduced to the menu at Maudee’s Café and English Tea room as a special.  It was such a hit, that it has stayed on as a very popular item ever since.

Okay folks.  Salad.  Salad you say?  That’s easy stuff!  Just open the bottle and dump away right?  Sure.  Processed goo from a bottle and bland greens are GREAT.

(sarcasm)yum.  i can feel my enthusiasm for that one.  yeah (/sarcasm)

Salad can be done well.  Salad can be more than just the flavorless and dead to the world iceberg lettuce and goopy bottled “ranch dressing”.  Salad can be Goo…   ooooohhh…  Don’t want to get in trouble for any trademark infringement.  Salad can be good stuff man.

Let’s do some technique talk first.  Okay.  First principal in a professional kitchen is mise en place.  French stuff.  It is not mice in place.  You want to know how to pronounce it before you know what it is.  Meeze on platz.  That is really what it sounds like.  What does it mean?  Literally translated is means putting in place.  In the culinary world it means that everything is in its place.  You have your prep done.  Your protein is out and thawed.  Your greens are out, washed and prepped.  You have all of your spices, oils, vinegars, everything you will need, in your work area, including tools.  This will prevent spinning.  Spinning is what you do when you are running from fridge to pantry to counter to pantry to counter to cupboard to fridge and back again.  While it’s great for exercise, it sucks for cooking.

Next?  Emulsion.  Your salad dressing today will be an emulsion.  There is an old saying.  “They get along like oil and water.”  Why?  Remember in elementary school science?  They don’t mix.  You can shake it as much and as hard as you want, but it’s just not gonna happen.  Again see the exercise part…  Well, ladies and gentlemen, with a little culinary science, you will make the impossible happen.  You will make oil and vinegar (water) mix!  You will need what is called an emulsifier.  Common emulsifiers in the culinary world include:

  • Egg yolk (in which the main emulsifying agent is lecithin)
  • honey
  • mustard (where a variety of chemicals in the mucilage surrounding the seed hull act as emulsifiers)
  • Proteins and low-molecular-weight emulsifiers are common as well
  • Soy lecithin is another emulsifier and thickener

Today we will be using mustard powder.  Why?  It’s readily available and ads a nice flavor to your salad dressings.  We will also be borrowing a page from our friends in the fabulous world of molecular gastronomy by stabilizing our emulsion with Xanthan Gum.  Sounds exotic and hard to find huh?  Try Whole Foods.  They have it in their baking area.  Cool stuff.  Commonly used as a food thickener.  I have used it to add body to soups, and stabilize emulsions.  Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, or complex sugar that is a bi-product of the fermentation of glucose, sucrose or lactose with Xanthomonas campestris bacterium.  Sounds scary?  Not to different from making beer.  Ah fermentation.

Let’s get to it.  We will be making a Sesame Ginger Dressing that we will serve on our Asian Chicken Salad.  We need the ginger part.  Don’t bother with the dry stuff in a jar.  Use fresh.  You will look at this funny looking little thing and pull out a knife or peeler right?  Nope.  You will be wasting that wonderful fragrant material.  Use a spoon.  The skin on ginger is soft.  Scrape the edge of the spoon along the ginger.  You will be amazed at how easy it is to peel.  Slice it up and end to the blender.

Since we are looking at low cal/ Weight Watchers friendly foods, we will be substituting Splenda for the normal white sugar.  Roll with less than a ¼ cup, instead of the normal ¼ cup of sugar.  Regardless of what they say, Splenda is still sweeter than sugar.  Next pour in your ½ cup of rice wine vinegar.  Now for the emulsifiers.  You don’t need much, we are not making gallons.  We are making cups.   Add and eight of a teaspoon of your mustard powder, and about half that amount again of your Xanthan gum.  Got it all in the blender?  Don’t forget to put the top on.  Messy otherwise, trust me.  Spin it on high until you don’t hear the clunk, clunk of the ginger swirling around the blades.  Now that you are done with that, you will need to make the emulsification part.

Oil.  Toasted sesame oil to be specific.  Lots of flavor.  Too much if you are not careful.  I cut it.  You need ½ a cup of oil.  I go for a bit more than a quarter cup of toasted sesame to the balance of the half cup of canola oil.  Drizzle it slowly into the still spinning dressing.  When it’s all in, taste it.  Always taste your food man.  Season with a little salt if you think you need it.  Pinch at the most.  Bottle it, zip lock it, whatever, it’s done.  Set it aside.

Flavor complements.  Oranges and onions.  We are making Supremes of orange.  Ever wonder how they peel all those orange segments?  You are gonna learn.  Why?  Do you want orange membranes stuck in your teeth?  It’s easier than you think.  Use a very sharp knife.  Cut the top and bottom of the orange, you know the part with the belly button and the other side…  Set the orange on your cutting board.  Cut sections of the peel off, just past the pith, or the nasty bitter part that is under the skin.  All you want is the bright and juicy meaty pulp of the orange visible.

Look close.  You can see the membranes of the orange.  Take that same nice sharp knife and cut out each segment.  Be careful.  Remember that you have a sharp knife in your hand you are cutting toward your own hand.  Take your time.  You will need two oranges worth of Supremes.

Now for the onions.  Use red ones.  Much less “hot” than their yellow or white cousins, and they just look nicer on the plate.  Peel it, cut it in half and super thin slice what you want.  Up to you how much you use.

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Time for the Chicken part of the Asian Chicken Salad.  Easy stuff.  Lay out your chicken breasts flat.  Take your sharpest knife and cut through the middle like you would be butterflying it.  Just keep going.  It may take practice if you are not used to it, but you need to cut it so it will cook quickly and evenly.  Season it with salt and pepper.  Hit each side with a little pan release spray, and set aside to wait for your pan to get nice and hot.

Sauté on each side until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  You want to kill those potential nasty pathogens like salmonella.  Nothing worse than a nice week long case of the praying to the porcelain god to convince you to cook your chicken.  Want it to move quicker?  Use steam.  After you get good color on both sides of the breast and you temp it at 100 degrees, add a splash of water to the pan and cover.  When the water is evaporated, temp it again.  You will be close to your 165 pretty quick that way.  Using steam in a covered pan will allow 100% coverage of your food product to 212 degree heat.   Try sticking your hand into a 500 degree oven.  Kinda warm, but not gonna burn you for a while.  Try putting your hand over a steaming tea pot?  Quick burns, and bad ones.  Steam is a super-efficient conductor of heat.  More science, I know.  And you thought you were just making a simple little salad huh?  Now, set your chicken aside so we can build our salad.

Put a nice mix of your favorite salad greens into a nice mid-sized mixing bowl.  Add your amount of choice of your sliced red onions, toasted sesame seeds, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper.  Salt and pepper?  Yes.  You ALWAYS season a salad.  ALWAYS.  No exceptions.  ALWAYS.  Use your squeeze bottle and put no more than about 1 teaspoon of dressing on your greens.  Wash your hands.  Why?  They are the best salad mixing tools you own.  Toss your salad…  Taste it.  Remember.  Always taste your food.  If you want more dressing, now is the time to do it.  You are not trying to drown your salad in dressing.  You should not have puddles on your plate when you are done.

Plate in the center, with some height.  Cut your chicken breast and fan across your greens.  Garnish with 6 or seven of the Supremes of orange and sprinkle a little more sesame seed on top, and you have a refreshing, healthy and filling salad that you can be proud of.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Menu Items

 

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Pork Piccata with Brown Rice Mushroom Risotto and Garlic Sauteed Spinach

Pork Piccata with Brown Rice Mushroom Risotto and Garlic Sauteed Spinach

Rave reviews from the family! All but the 3 year old, but hey, ya can’t win ’em all right?

Tonight I used a Weight Watchers Pork Piccata recipe and modified it for my needs and tastes.

The pork was quick and easy, just like the traditional piccata. The sauce was defiantly not the butter mounted piccata that I am accustomed to, but it had a nice tart flavor that could pass well for the real thing. As would be expected, the risotto was the long term project. Because of the brown Arborio that I used, the creamy factor was not there, but the texture and bite of the rice was a nice touch.

Now for the down and dirty…

Since it takes a solid hour to cook, let’s start with the Risotto. Slice length wise, two large shallots. Slice 8 oz. each, cremini and button mushrooms. Hit your sauté pan with a spray of pan release, sauté the shallots until they are slightly browned translucent. If the pan is overly dry, put a splash of water in the pan to keep things moving.

After your shallots are as described, add your mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms. When all the liquid is out of the pan, put a splash of water in the pan to help move the items in the pan. Continue to cook until the majority of the liquid is out of the pan. Set the mushroom and shallot mixture aside.

Do not clean the pan out. The dark stuff in the bottom is nothing but flavor. In the business, we call it fond. It is the foundation for almost all of your pan sauces. Hit the pan again with your pan spray.

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When the pan is good and hot, at medium high heat, toss your two cups of brown Arborio rice into the pan. Stir the rice until it is slightly browned and the edges are translucent. This is part of the traditional preparation of risotto. Normally this is done with either butter or olive oil. While the pan spray version does not develop the same flavors, it does still impart a little extra flavor.

Now we build the big flavor. Use real chicken stock. We will go into the making of chicken stock soon. Using box broth or powdered chicken base just does not add the depth of flavor or richness. Add the stock 1 ladle at a time. As the stock is cooked into the rice, you add more. This is where the time comes in, especially with the brown rice, and its thick hull. This is the rinse and repeat side. You will use up to 6 cups of your stock to make this recipe. Where you differ from the traditional, is about 3/4 of the way through the cook process, cover the pan. You want to eat tonight, and the hull on the brown rice will keep you stirring in stock all night long.

When you rice is to the tenderness that you desire, stir the shallot and mushroom mixture back into the rice, cover, and keep hot on low. If you were to try this with non-brown rice risotto, you would be continuing the cooking process and making wall paper paste. Since you are using brown, it is very forgiving as there is not as near the starch content of its de-hulled cousin.

While you are between doses of stock, it’s time to work on your pork. Slice your pork tenderloin into half inch slices. Place those slices in a zip top bag. This is where my culinary school teachers cringe. Take a nice heavy pan. Smack the meat in the bag a couple times, until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Why not use a meat mallet you ask? Your average grocery store meat hammer is the old school tenderizing hammer with the nasty looking points on it. It looks like a waffle iron you can crack your skull with. What this does to delicate meat is destroy it. You can go out and buy a nice high dollar French, heavy flat mallet, but if you have an iron skillet or omelet pan, why bother?

Now that you have, I will resist the urge to say it. Flattened out your meat. You have what is referred to as scaloppini. Again we diverge from the traditional preparation. Normally you would take your meat, and dredge it in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper. The flour, salt and pepper are still there, but in lower quantities. We are trying to lower the calorie count.

Instead of dredging, you will dust both sides of the meat. This will be an area of change that changes the base and flavor profile of the sauce. Now you set it aside, until you reach the last step on the risotto.

Now we get to some of the technique side. Get your pan hot over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add your 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the pan and lay 5 to 6 pieces of pork to the pan. Don’t mess with it too much. You want color on the meat. The more you jack with it, the less color your meat will take. Why not heat the oil and the pan at the same time? Because your food will stick to the pan. The old rule of thumb is, hot pan, cold oil, food won’t stick. It does really work.

When both sides of your pork have that golden and delicious look about them, put them into a warm oven to keep hot for service. Because we are going healthy, you will want to remove most of the oil from the pan, but not the fond again. Fond is flavor.

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Looks like a lot of spinach? Not really. By weight its only 10 ounces. For four people, that is all you need. Let is sizzle for a few seconds and then splash a little water in, and toss in some crushed roasted garlic, salt and pepper and set aside to keep it hot for service.

Not so much spinach anymore…..

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Time to build that not so traditional sauce. Clean your pan from the spinach. In a bowl, or measuring cup, mix 1 1/4 cup of your chicken stock and a half cup of fresh lemon juice with 4 teaspoons of corn starch. Yeah, I know this is not the classic piccata sauce, and your Italian grandmother would slap you silly for doing this, but it is a low fat version.

You will bring it to a quick boil in the pan. As the liquid boils, the cornstarch will do its magic and thicken your sauce. Stir in your cappers and cook for a minute to impart flavor, then season with salt, pepper and a splash of sherry. Taste it. Always taste your sauce man.

Before you plate, stir a small handful of chopped chives into your risotto. Plate a half cup in the center of the plate. Fan 3 of your hot pieces of pork and dress with your spinach. Spoon your sauce over the meat and serve.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Menu Items

 

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