RECIPE: Asparagus Whole Wheat Pasta Salad with Left Over Chicken

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Asparagus is in season, and so is the hot weather! I made a great asparagus pasta salad using whole wheat spirals and fresh grape tomatoes AND left over chicken. If you don't have left over chicken, you can cook the chicken in a saute pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. When the chicken is golden, remove from pan and then deglaze it with the broth indicated below, and boil it down from there. Otherwise, follow the recipe as is-and get rid of some left over chicken from the night before. This recipe is cool and refreshing-and healthy (and my daughter gave it a thumbs up, too!)

Ingredients:

1 lb. green asparagus, bottoms trimmed and cut in 1" pieces
1 lb. whole wheat pasta rotini (or other)
2 grilled chicken breasts, cooled
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved
8 oz. sliced mushrooms (I like mixing baby bellas and regular white mushrooms)
2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. ground dried garlic
1 tsp. olive oil
1/8 tsp. parsley
6 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
10 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried and crumpled rosemary
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
4 oz. Montrachet soft goat cheese, roughly chopped in 1/2 inch pieces

Directions:

In a big pan, cook pasta according to package directions. After 5 minutes of cooking, add the asparagus to the water and blanche with the pasta. When done, drain all of it in a colander and spray down with cool water. Add 2 cups of ice to the colander and shake around. Let the ice cool down the pasta and asparagus while you finish the dish. Toss it around every once in a while so it cools evenly.

While cooking pasta, heat a large skillet with the 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Add the granulated garlic and parsley and whirl around the oil. Add the chicken broth and cook on high until broth is reduced to 1/2 cup. Let cool.



Cut your tomatoes and put in a large serving bowl.



Cut your chicken in 1-2 inch pieces and put in your serving bowl.




Now make your dressing. To your cooled broth reduction, add the vinegar and spices. While whisking add the oil until emulsified.

Chop your basil.

In your bowl, add your cooled pasta and mushrooms. Toss with a spoon. Add your dressing and toss again. Add your basil and toss again.




Add the cheese and toss gently. Serve cool.


RECIPE: "Almost Homemade" Strawberry Almond Bundt with Chocolate Drizzle

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I found this recipe in an old Woman's Day that was stuffed in a drawer in our lake house rental last year. I have saved it and we just made it this weekend. Everybody loved it and requested the recipe. I modified it a bit, and it was really easy and lovely. The fruit flavors have a nice, light, refreshing feel for a hot summer day. Feel free to have extra whipping cream or ice cream on hand to add as an extra garnish.

Ingredients:

2 cups quartered strawberries
7 oz. almond paste
1 box (18.25 oz.) french vanilla or white box cake mix
3 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup water
3 drops red food coloring
1 can white frosting
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 oz. semi sweet chocolate squares
extra strawberries and canned whipping cream for garnish

Directions:


Heat oven to 350˚. In a food processor, puree the strawberries with the almond paste until smooth. (Pulse it so that all the pieces get pureed evenly). Spray a 12 cup bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Ina mixing bowl, add the cake mix, strawberry mixture, eggs and beat for a minute. Add the oil and water, scraping sides as you go. Beat for about 2-3 minutes, or until smooth and fluffy.

Pour mix in the pan. Bake for about 40-50 minutes. I found with my oven, it took more like 50 because this cake is so moist, it too a bit longer to cook. If your toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. Let cool on a rack. Invert cake on your serving platter if you don't care about frosting dribbles. If you want a cleaner presentation, invert cake on a working platter, then transfer the cake over to your serving platter when the frosting is set.

And to that end-the frosting. Open your can of white frosting and mix the food coloring into it. Now microwave on high for 30 seconds. The frosting will be pourable. Using a spoon, drizzle the bundt along the top, letting it drip down the sides. As the frosting hardens you can control it better and can spoon puddled frosting back on top in areas that don't have enough. Once the pink frosting is set, move to the chocolate drizzle. In a small saucepan, heat up the cream until near boil. Take off heat and melt the chocolate, stirring constantly until smooth. If the chocolate
is thick (you need to drizzle it with a spoon, so it needs to be loose), add more cream until proper consistency. Drizzle over pink frosting liberally. Cover cake using toothpicks and saran wrap and keep cool in the fridge until ready to serve.

Before serving, add little clouds of cream on top of the bundt in 4 areas, and top the cream with fanned strawberries for garnish. Enjoy!

RECIPE: Rich's Almost Famous Ribs, (Braised Then Grilled)

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I published this a few years ago on my main website, www.floracaputo.com. But seeing as how it is memorial Day Weekend, I felt it necessary to share it again, complete with a photo. These ribs are simply the best ribs I have ever had. Really. And many friends and family members ask us to make them during the Summer. They would be a great addition to your picnic menu. What makes them so good is not the barbecue sauce or the marinade. The secret is to braise the ribs in the oven in their marinade juices and water for about an hour or so. That creates the melt-in-your-mouth texture, fall-off-the-bone experience you want with any rib. We use a store bought barbecue sauce called Sweet Baby Ray's at the tail end of cooking time, but my father likes them grilled with just the braising juices-no sauce. He claims the sauce covers up the delicious ribs too much for him. But for our household, Sweet Baby Ray's is The Bomb! And check out the coleslaw a few posts ago for a great side. Happy Memorial Day Everyone! And thank you to our service men and women, too!

Ingredients:


(6) 8-10 inch long Pork Baby Back Ribs (if 3 long slabs, cut in half. If you prefer them long, you can keep them that way but they are hard to manage and marinate)

nonmetal, long Pyrex pan(s)

a meat thermometer for grilling

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce

2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

salt and fresh ground pepper

1/4 cup fresh chopped sage (can use 1 1/2 Tbsp dried)

1 tsp. herb de provence

2 Tbsp fresh chopped chives

Use your favorite barbecue sauce. We use Sweet Baby Ray's

Directions:

Put the slabs in the pan, meat side up. Start down the laundry list , pouring each liquid ingredient over the ribs. Leave the oil for the end. With the seasoning, press the fresh herbs into the meat, evenly dividing it for each slab, and the dried herbs sprinkling evenly over the tops.

Marinate in the fridge for 2 hours, meat side up. Then take out and baste, flip, and return for another two hours (or marinate overnight). Two hours before dinner, pull out the ribs and preheat your oven to 350˚. Add 2 cups of water into the pan with the ribs, diluting the marinade. Cover the pan with tin foil and bake the ribs for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until tender. Check on them every thirty minutes, flipping them and basting them with the pan liquid.

When ready, take them out of the oven and place them on a medium high heat on the grill. Grill, flipping as needed, continually basting with the marinade. Continue until internal temperature is at 150˚ with a meat thermometer. When the meat reaches 150˚, start basting with your favorite barbecue sauce, until the temperature is at the perfect 160-165˚ (this is usually about 7 minutes on both sides.). When they hit this temperature, they are ready to enjoy!

It is important to note to baste with the barbecue sauce towards the end of cooking time, otherwise, they char quickly on account of the sauce's high sugar content.


Serve warm with LOTS of paper towels!

HOME: The Great Garage Sale Experiment, Part 2 (Conclusion)

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HI everyone! It is finally time to draw a conclusion for the great garage sale experiment. And for that, I have invited a guest writer to shed some light on if the whole experience was truly worth it. The previous post about getting ready for the sale and advice about it is http://www.urbandomesticdiva.com/2010/05/home-great-garage-sale-experiment-part.html.

My guest writer is non other than my sister, Jacki, who joined me for the garage sale and kept my spirits up during the day. She has her own blog focused on being an amazing single mother called http://msmama.wordpress.com/, so please visit when you get a chance!
Here she is!

Hello! I'm Jacki, Flora's sister, and the SingleMama at http://msmama.wordpress.com/

The garage sale: *sigh* One word - JEEZE! I have to admit that I was not nearly as prepared as my sister, the Urban Domestic Diva! There was a day, a few weeks before the sale, when my son and I were cleaning up his play room and we decided on certain items to sell, but aside from that, I was not as proactive as Flora was.

It was the wee hours of the night before the sale and I was slapping pricing stickers on random items that were in different locations in my house - Flora is right, put everything in one spot - GROAN. I was so aggravated and tired that I started pricing items with the same intent I had with the entire pricing ordeal - BE DONE! So, I had books priced at $0.01! Talk about psychological but clearly illogical!

Next morning: Anthony is still in his sweet slumber and I am packing the car. We get to Flora's house and start unloading. Flora says "wow - you really priced this stuff to move!" The kicker? I barely sold $50 worth of stuff, and more than half of that amount was from perfume my mom asked me to sell for her! The key question is, WHY?

It was remarkable, watching people come in and out of the garage, picking up books that were nearly free, and putting them back down. Picking up drapes that were being sold at a steal of a price and whispering to their friend "can you believe they want $9 for this?" <-- $9 for 4 lined panels! But the strange thing is that many people don't have the guts to try negotiate price. I realized this and tried to be assertive by saying "everything is negotiable!" No beans. And then you have the people who want stuff for free. Some people have the audacity to tell you that they don't want to pay; others just steal! STEAL! Someone stole a few $0.10 books and stuffed animals! Come on! Some people let their kids rip stuff off! Other people stole items off of other patron's buggies that had just been purchased! Thievery! It was crazy. And disappointing. AND exhausting.

Was the sale worth it? I donno...the sale, itself, and the work that went into schlepping everything to my sister's house wasn't, but hanging out with my sis and her hubby totally made up for the negative experience of dealing with people who truly wanted stuff for free. And then there was dinner and *much needed* wine afterward...purrr...
...I digress...

Sadly, we all came away from that experience with a very cynical view of humanity. I don't know if location makes a big difference...maybe demographic dictates what people are willing to pay and whether people know a deal if it is sitting on their heads. But, if you advertise in the paper, you end up pulling demographics from all over, so I would bet that location doesn't make a difference. Maybe the lion's share of garage sale goers are people who don't want to pay for much. I have no idea. I know how I am when I go to garage sales, and I don't expect stuff for free! I don't scoff at prices! I may negotiate if I am grabbing a bunch of stuff, but for the most part, I am reasonable. But we didn't get many people like that...how does one get more people like that! Million dollar question, and if you know, please share!

All in all, if you are willing to do a garage sale, make sure you do it with friends/family members and, what the heck, throw in a few Mike's Hard Lemonade to take the edge off!

RECIPE & TIPS: Spiced Creme Brulee French Toast & How to Host a Sunday Brunch on a Busy Weekend!

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I hate over scheduling my family over the weekends. We have so few of them in the year-and so little time to get what we need to get done AND relax. Sometimes, though, it can't be helped. This past weekend was one such instance. Our close friends have had to reschedule twice for a visit and this past weekend was the only time available until middle of summer! So it was important to fit them in. With our garage sale all day on Saturday, and our close friends coming for a brunch on Sunday, I needed to whip out my inner Domestic Diva full force to get it all done! And it can be done, with a little planning, maybe a late evening grocery trip for you or your husband and a little prep work. Then you can have a delicious Sunday brunch spread to feed a vegetarian as well carnivores alike.

Here was the menu:

Apple Cider Bacon
Morning Star Farms Sausage Patties
Coffee and Juice
Sausage, Sun Dried Tomato and Cheese Strata
Spiced Creme Brulee French Toast (see below)
Lime Ginger Fruit Salad with Vanilla Yogurt Sauce
Store bought granola cereal for fruit topping or with milk
Store bought croissants or artisan breads served with butter and jams


STEP 1, The night before:
First your strata needs to sit overnight, so prep that all the night before on Saturday, cover and chill in the refrigerator. Then, prep your French Toast, which also sits in the fridge overnight covered with saran wrap. The recipe follows. If you are feeling extra ambitious, you can make your lime ginger syrup for the fruit salad and have it chill in the refrigerator so that is one less thing to do in the morning as well.

Spiced Creme Brulee French Toast

Ingredients:

Caramel Sauce:
1 stick butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. honey

Bread & Eggs:
8-9" Country round loaf, (you may use LaBrea presliced Italian Country, but put two of the 1/2" slices together to make 1 " thick when filling your pan.)
5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half & half
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. Grand Marnier
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, melt butter, sugar and honey until a smooth, caramel sauce is created. Pour into a 13 x 9 pan. Spread evenly along the bottom. As it cools, it will stiffen so move quickly.

Either cut the bread yourself in 1 " thick slices (discarding the ends) or as mentioned above, use a presliced bread to save time. The goal is to have 1" thick slices, so double up on your bread if you need to. I keep the crusts on for a more chewy texture, but you can trim them if you wish. Arrange the slices in one layer in the pan flat over the sauce, squeezing them in there tightly. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the half and half, Grand Marnier, salt, vanilla and spices. Pour evenly over bread. With the back of your spoon, push the bread down in areas so it becomes saturated. Cover and chill overnight. An hour before cooking, let sit out to come down to room temp. Preheat oven to 350˚. Bake uncovered in the middle of the oven for 40-50 minutes-or until golden, bubbly and puffy. While baking, be sure to take a spoon and ladle the egg mixture and caramel over the tops of the bread, as well as push ends into the egg mixture gently. This helps keep the tops moist and helps to cook the toast evenly. Serve warm-with syrup if you wish, although you kind of don't need it.



STEP 2, The next morning (about 3 hours before your guests are due to arrive):

First, make yourself some coffee. THAN get to work! Pull out the strata and the french toast. Preheat oven to 350˚ (the great thing is the oven stays at 350˚ for all the stuff you will need to bake in there-it streamlines things). Cook the strata first, because the toast needs to come down to room temp. While the oven is heating, cut up your fruit and make your fruit salad. Make your lime syrup if you haven't already, and finish the salad. Make your yogurt sauce, and cover and keep in the fridge with the salad until ready to serve. Cook your strata.



STEP 3, The next morning:

Meanwhile, set up your table, get music going, set up your "coffee station" (complete with mugs, creamers and sweeteners) and if you have drunk all the coffee (like we did-it was a long garage sale Saturday, we needed it!) make a fresh pot. Pull out your rolls and have them ready to go in a basket.




STEP 4, The next morning:

Collect all extra condiments and topping you need to serve and put them on a tray (syrup, butter, jams). Get a cute bowl and pour your granola in there, cover with saran. Set aside until guests arrive. Pull out the strata from the oven and put in the toast to cook-it takes about 40 minutes. Tent the strata to stay warm with foil.



STEP 5, The next morning:

Watch your toast, spooning egg mixture over as you need.



STEP 6, The next morning:

Finally, cook your bacon. If you have a vegetarian guest, offer Morningstar Farms patties. Evidently, baking them is preferred so put them on a foiled baking sheet and bake during the last ten minutes of the french toast's time on the lower rack.



STEP 7, Guests Arrive:

Offer everyone coffee at the coffee station, and put out all the food. Take out the fruit salad and yogurt sauce from the fridge, too. Sit down, relax and ENJOY your guests and delicious spread!

HOME: The Great Garage Sale Experiment Part 1

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I have spoken on and off about cleaning out the closets, donating items to charity and buying things at second hand stores for a greener (and cheaper) tomorrow. But one thing I have never attempted was to run a garage sale. I have been told that garage sales typically are not worth the effort put in. That is why I have always just donated items and taken the tax deduction at the end of the year. But this year, I have so many old baby items, including furniture, that I decided to take part in the annual neighborhood garage sale. If you have an opportunity to have your garage sale during an event like this, it seems it might be more worth while. The community association pools the entrance fees and buys ads in local papers and puts up signs. The whole neighborhood takes part, so you will get a lot of foot traffic-and that is key. I am doing a two part post. This one will talk about preparation for a garage sale. The next post will be after the sale and about if I think it was worth all the effort.

So the first part of preparing for a garage sale is cleaning out your house. I have been preparing for this for months. Each room I clean out, I store items to be sold in a spare, unused bedroom. If you don't have an extra room, find room in your attic, basement or garage to keep storing things to sell. Keeping everything in one spot will make things easier to price.

Weeks before the big day buy ribbon or yarn, small stickers or labels, and a black marker. I use the stickers to price out items. I have ribbon on hand to tie things together or hold things together so they look presentable and are "saleable". For instance, hooded baby towels typically have a cute design on the hood, but you may miss it if it were tossed in a box, flopping around. I folded the baby towel like a square package, showing the hood on the front. I tied a ribbon around the whole thing like a present, and priced it. Now the towel will stay nice and folded, and customers can see the design on the hood nicely. They will also sit neatly where I put them so customers don't need to weed through a box of nonsense and lose patience. If you are not sure how to price stuff, here is a salvation army link that I found helpful:
http://www.salvationarmysouth.org/valueguide.htm

Also, if something is dirty or has scuff marks, Lysol wipes or a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is a great way to spruce up items. No one wants to buy a grungy, dirty, scuffed anything. A little effort now goes a long way.

I am making a huge effort to properly label and make sure things are organized and presentable. I plan on using old baskets and boxes that I was planning on selling and have them hold items nicely, like you would see things at a nice store.

I may also, if I have time, sell baked goods in sandwich bags tied off with cute tags. Many customers will have been walking all day and could use a snack-and yummy food attracts customers! Water bottles might not be a bad idea, either!

Finally, in preparing for set up, many folding tables are a must to show off your wares. We purchased a cash box, and will get coins and singles the morning of so we can make change. I have saved many grocery store bags that I plan on reusing so I can offer customers a way to carry home more than one item. I hope to have music playing (for our sake as well as our customers) and some chairs for us to sit in. I hope to have a marker, some small boxes to hold items, tape and some paper and poster board nearby in case I need to make a sign or two during set up. We should have a couple extension cords handy so people can test any electronics (maybe even batteries or light bulbs), and a calculator as well. And I may wear an apron (stocked with extra stickers and a marker) so I can be mobile and give change on the fly without being near the cash box (although someone should be at the cash box at all times!)

So as you can see, we have much to still do before the big sale on Saturday. I will let you know how things go-and if I decided it was worth all the effort and time it took to price things and spend a whole Saturday taking part in this garage sale.

GARDENING: How to Put in Brick Edging

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At long last, I finally got edging into the ground today for my garden. A garden without proper edging is like dropping a football a foot before the touchdown. Your lawn creeps into the garden and your husband doesn't know where the garden starts and the lawn ends, so he may mow over things. It neatens up the shape of the bed to showcase all the color and texture within it. It is an investment, so we had to wait a few years to do it. But this year is the year! Menards had the bricks on sale, so I went there. But after doing some math while I was there, I found the larger ones were less because I had to buy less than the smaller crescents that were on sale. SO be sure to measure and do your math, and compare for the best deal. You may be surprised. Also, larger bricks take less time to put down-so keep that in mind too.


It took a little over an hour for one side of the yard. Here is how I did it.


First, as you can see below, my lawn over the years kept creeping and creeping into the bed. Out of fear of mowing anything, my husband stayed clear of the edge, making the edge messy and distracting from the plants in the bed.







Measure the length of your beds by inches. Then divide the length by the amount of inches of the bricks you wish to purchase. These below were 12 inches. Whatever number you get is how many bricks you should buy. I round up the number, and get 10 extra for good measure. If you are adding some arcs to the design versus straight lines, you may need
a few extra.






With a shovel, cut into your yard the shape you wish the edging to take. You may be cutting into turf, and if you do, don't let it go to waste. I take a first pass, just cutting the shape into the yard. Then I go again over it, fine tuning the shape, but digging deeper and starting to pull up turf. Then I start again on one side and really pull out turf and make a trench about 6-8 inches deep. I use the shovel as well as get on my knees and use my hands to pull, dig and shape. If you are pulling nice chunks of sod, do not toss them. Use them to patch dead areas. It is just like putting down fresh sod.







We have a dead area near our daughter's play house that I placed all the sod pieces I pulled up and put them down there to take. Waste not-want not!






Now comes the nitty gritty. Using a hand spade or rake, make an even footing in your trench and put your brick down. Look at your brick, is it level or wobbly if you press down? If so, work the dirt under it so that it is even and sturdy. You may need to hack at the trench wall to get it at the right angle and put the brick back in. The brick should be level and sturdy when it is placed. Now with your hand tool, build dirt up around it and press down, so the dirt is level with the brick and holds it in place. Now place your second brick in, following your shape. Continue using you hand tool to reshape your trench and move dirt around the next bricks. As you add bricks, be sure to push dirt into the interlocking areas as well, so they stay put together. After a handful of them in the ground, I gently step on each of them to make sure they are in there nice and sturdy, adding more dirt around if I need to as I do this. You may see some dirt movement from the pressure and that is just a sign that you need to build up around the bricks a little more. If one moves too much, you may need to pull it out and fix the dirt under it and try again.







In the end, you should have a level, sturdy, brick edging to make all the neighbors jealous!













RECIPE: Mom Alexander's Picnic Cole Slaw

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It's grilling season-and that means it's time for Cole Slaw! In honor of it being Saturday, I know many of you are probably firing up the grill tonight (we'll see about Chicago though-typical that I should wake up to 45˚ outside in the middle of May. Gotta love this city!) Cole Slaw has taken many fancier renditions over the past few years. I, myself, prefer a peanut Asian slaw that my husband whips up. But this recipe I am sharing with you is a typical All-American slaw that my mother-n-law has made for years. Make it tonight with some ribs and corn on the cob-and if you are in Chicago-be sure to remember a blanket if you are eating outside! Brr!

Ingredients:

1/2 head cabbage, shredded (you can also get a preshredded package mix with purple and white cabbage and carrots)
1/2 green pepper, chopped fine
1/2 celery, chopped fine
1 carrot, cut into matchstick size pieces
1/2 red pepper, chopped fine
2 Tbsp. onion, chopped fine
3/4 cup mayo
1 Tbsp. horseradish
1 Tbsp. mustard
1/4 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup Italian salad dressing

Directions:
Toss cabbage, both peppers, celery, carrot and onion. In another bowl, mix mayo, horseradish, mustard, sour cream, apple cider vinegar, sugar and dressing. Add to the vegetables and toss to coat. Let sit in the fridge an hour to let flavors meld before serving.

RECIPE: Crock-Pot Hamburger Mac & Cheese

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This is WAY "Betty Crocker" in flavor profile and ease, but my daughter loves it. For busy weeks, it a great meal to slap together in the morning and have it ready for dinner time. Also, it's "crock-pot fever" time with all the church and end-of-year school functions. This is a great dish you can start in the morning, go to work, come home and grab this as you go to your dinner function! It's very kid friendly. You could also get adventurous and mix some other cheeses in with the cheddar-like Gruyere, Smoked Cheddar or a little Blue Cheese for extra zing.

Ingredients:


1 lb. ground sirloin

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 Tbsp. Ketchup

1/2 lb. elbow macaroni, cooked and drained

4 cups shredded cheddar
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk

1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

butter flavor nonstick spray

Directions:


Spray the crock pot with cooking spray. Add everything but 1/2 cheese. Mix well, then top with remaining cheese and cover. Cook on low for 5-6 hours until mixture is set and golden around the edges. Do not stir. Serve warm.
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