Coffee Cake

Bday cake

Half a year has already passed by and it seems like just yesterday that we celebrated the start of a new year. Sumner is on its full bloom now, after what has been a very long winter. It feels so good to look outside at the clear blue skies and the greenery all around. I have come to appreciate such days even more, thanks to the East-coast weather.

Last couple of weeks have been quite busy. With the weather improving tremendously, the weeks go by planning summer events, weekend trips and concerts. Reading, movies and friends occupy the rest of the hours. And now-a-days of course the soccer matches. The blog had been going down in my list of priorities. It was only as I was changing the calendar for the month of July that I remembered this post pending since May. So finally, here it is. And though I silently promise to be a bit regular on my blog, I have stopped apologizing to my readers for my disappearances once in a while with the hope that they must have gotten used to it by now.

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Today I will talk about the cake I made for my husband’s birthday. Though I love baking, I have not really tried out different cake recipes. Reason is that both of us prefer the sponge cake (recipe) that I had learnt from my mom. However this time I wanted to make something different. A while ago we had got an amazing coffee cake for a friend’s birthday from a nearby bakery. Since then I had been wanting to bake one of my own and what better day to do this than a birthday.

Interestingly, Coffee cake has no coffee in it, quite contrary to what I had assumed. It is known as a coffee cake as it is usually had with coffee.

Stephanie’s Joy of Baking had this recipe of a coffee cake which looked exactly like the one I had had. Being a big fan of her website which has wonderful baking videos and techniques, I did not want to look any further. The original recipe can be found here, the only change that I did was used plain yogurt instead of sour cream. As the recipe suggests using yogurt instead of sour cream gives a lighter textured cake.

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Ingredients:

  • All purpose flour – 1 2/3 cups or 215 gms
  • Baking Powder – 1 tsp
  • Baking Soda – 1/2 tsp
  • Salt – 1/4 tsp
  • Unsalted butter (at room temperature)- 1/2 cup or 113 gms
  • White Sugar – 1 cup
  • Eggs – 2
  • Vanilla extract – 1 tsp
  • Sour Cream / Yogurt – 3/4 cup or 180 ml

For the Crumb topping –

  • Walnuts or Pecans – 1 cup (I used a combination of walnuts and pecans, but you can use other nuts of your preference.)
  • Light brown sugar – Little less than 1/4 cup
  • Mini Chocolate chips – 1/3 cup. (I used the semi sweet ones but you can use any that you prefer.)
  • All purpose flour – 1 tbsp
  • Ground cinnamon – 1/2 tsp

Crumb Topping

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Prepare a baking pan, preferably a spring form pan so that you don’t have to flip the baked cake which might result in messing up the crumb topping. I did not have one so i used a Bundt pan and needless to mention some of the crumb topping came out while flipping it. Whatever pan you choose, grease it with butter and dust it lightly with flour or line the greased pan with a parchment paper.

Prepare the crumb topping –

  • Dry roast the nuts on stove top or bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Let them cool. Coarsely chop them.
  • In a bowl mix the chopped nuts with the other ingredients mentioned for crumb topping – sugar, chocolate chips, flour and cinnamon and keep aside.

Prepare the Cake Batter –

  • In a bowl mix flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, whisk together and keep aside.
  • In a  separate bowl add the softened butter and beat it well using a hand mixer / stand mixer.
  • Gradually add the sugar and beat well till light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well after each addition. Using a spatula or a spoon scrape the sides of the bowl so that everything is well incorporated.
  • Beat in the vanilla extract.
  • Next gradually add the flour in three additions alternating with the sour cream. Mix till everything is well combined and there are no lumps.

Assemble the Coffee Cake –

  • Since the batter will be thick, spoon out half of the batter into the prepared pan and smoothen the top with a spatula or the back of the spoon. If using a Bundt pan spoon out the mixture and place dollops of it all over the pan. This makes spreading the batter, in the Bundt pan, easy.
  • Sprinkle evenly approximately half of the crumb topping on top of the batter.
  • Again spoon out the remaining batter into dollops all over the crumb mixture. Lightly level it out so as not to disturb the crumb layer.
  • Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture evenly.
  • Bake for about 40 – 50 minutes or until the cake is done and a toothpick inserted in tehe middle of the cake comes out clean.
  • Remove from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes.
  • If using spring form cake, release the sides of the pan. If using any other cake pan, do what I did – gently flip the cake onto a plate. At this stage some of the crumb topping might come out. Take another plate and flip it once again so that the side with the crumb topping on top faces up. Gather the crumb topping that had come out of the cake and sprinkle it on top of it and press gently.

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Note: For a denser texture use sour cream and for a lighter cake use yogurt. Though I used yogurt, I would want to use sour cream the next time to for the denser texture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aloo Morich – Potatoes in Black pepper – for Saraswati Pujo

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Decades ago this day, the day of Saraswati Puja – the day of praying to the Goddess of Learning , was one of the best celebrations of the whole year. Not that we were too religious ever, but this was the day when we were officially banned from studying or reading and writing. Can you imagine what fun it was as a child?? All the books, copies, pens/pencils, musical instruments – for us it was the harmonium – anything that is related to knowledge and ‘vidya’ was not to be touched and were offered to the goddess for her to  shower loads of blessings on them and we in turn would be blessed. Having studied in a convent school in U.P., unlike my cousins in Kolkata, we did not have holidays for Saraswati Puja; so – and here comes the good part – for years, on our parents instructions we bunked school and had great fun the whole day. We would show off the ritually sanctioned abstinence from studies infront of our classmates who would be going to schools wearing the same old boring uniforms while we adorned new clothes in varying shades of yellow, representing the color of Basant Panchami which marks the onset of Spring Season.

My grandmother would ask me the same question every year – “who comes first( as in who is more important) : Ma Lakshmi or Ma Saraswati?” It was a question that would always puzzle me -” whom to choose?” The goddess who gives financial success and money which helps me to go to school or the goddess who gives us knowledge and enriches our brain which makes us successful enough to do good in life and become richer. It was as puzzling as the age-old dilemma of  ‘the chicken or the egg’. Had she been alive today, I might have answered her with a counter question of how life and the universe came into being. And that would have taught her a lesson to never bother me with such disturbing questions.

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Getting back to the celebration – The night before the puja, me and my mother would do all the preparations like decorating the goddess and her podium with flowers, paper cuttings, thermocol cuttings and painting the floors with traditional decorative art called ‘alpona‘, arranging the books next to the podium, filling up of ink pots with ‘kacha doodh’ (raw milk) and ‘khager kolom’ (bamboo quills) and washing all the fruits ready to be cut in the morning for presenting to the deity. Making ‘Alpona’ was something that I learned very early from my mother and grandmother. I would steal some chalk pieces from my class so that I could sketch the outline of the alpona on the floor before proceeding to finish it with soaked rice flour using cotton balls. My father would be the priest chanting the mantras  while we would wake up early, get showered, and decked up for Pushpanjali (empty stomach, mind it!).

This was also the time we were allowed to have the fruit ‘Kul‘ (‘Jujube’ in English and ‘Ber’ in Hindi). Year long me and my brother would crave for the forbidden fruit, as we were told for reasons unknown to me, it was only to be eaten during Saraswati Puja.  The next day morning, before school we would take flowers and ‘bel pata‘ from the goddess’s feet and tuck it inside each book, write some prayers on the Bel leaf with the bamboo quills dipped in raw milk and offer it to Ma Saraswati post which we would expect extremely good results in exams. And that marked the end of the celebrations.

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As we grew up the much enjoyed ban on studies were relaxed and in high school there was no option of not studying as this was the time for preparing for Board exams.

In college hostel Basant Panchami was celebrated with lot of fun and galore. After I moved to Kolkata for higher studies I realised that this day is also known as Bengali Valentine’s Day! The streets would be full with girls in yellow sarees and boys in kurta payjama roaming hand in hand as if this was the day of officially ignoring the Indian conservative mindset and giving open permission for romance.

During my MBAs in Kolkata when I was staying at our apartment with my brother and uncle I started the ritual of having Saraswati Puja at home, though my parents could never be with us as they were still in U.P. So I would invite my cousins, friends of mine and my brother’s and everyone would come to our place for Anjali. I had my friends stay over the night before so that they could help me with the decorations; the cook whom we had hired for our daily meals would prepare huge quantities of Khichudi, labra, tomato chutney for all of us. I feel good that by the time I got married my dad had retired and moved to our Kolkata apartment and my mom took over the Puja preparations. Though I am not present there now, they still manage to invite friends and relatives and make a big celebration out of it.

Well, for me – sitting in the US and lacking the motivation of having a Puja done here, I skyped with my family and my inlaws and tried not to feel sad at missing out on all the fun. It was pretty nostalgic to see the ‘P.K.De.Sarkar’ English Grammer book from our school days lying next to the deity just the way it used to be decades ago. I guess somethings never change….

So while there was no Pujo done we celebrated it with food as usual… :-). I made pure veg food (which means not only no non-veg but also no onions/garlic) for yesterday’s dinner- Porotha, Cholar Dal (sweet chana dal) and Aloo Morich (Potatoes with black pepper). Left over Aloo morich with luchi/poori for lunch today.

Here is the recipe for the Aloo Morich  which is my Ma-in-law’s recipe. I love it for its  simplicty in taste and preparation. You will understand it if you decide to make it.  In addition to her recipe I just added some fresh dill leaves that I had got the day before. This is the first time I used dill leaves and just loved the flavor. However it is completely optional.

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Ingredients: (Most of them are to taste so adjust accordingly)

  • Potatoes – 4-5 small to  medium sized, boiled and cubed
  • Ghee – 1-2 tbsp. (No cringing please!!! This recipe demands it so be generous, if required go for more)
  • Green chillies – 3-4 or to taste, slit lengthwise. If you dont want it too spicy reduce the amount as the black pepper will have a strong flavor.
  • Freshly ground black peppercorns – a little less than 1 tbsp or to taste. Note: For the right taste it is required that the pepper be freshly ground and not store bought.
  • Fresh Dill Leaves – a handful chopped (optional)
  • Salt – to taste
  • Water 1 tbsp, if required.

Method:

  • In a pot boil the potatoes really well so that they can be mashed up easily if required. You do not have to mash them just cube them.
  • Heat a wok and add ghee to it.
  • Once hot, add the green chillies and freshly crushed black peppercorns and give it a stir.
  • Add the boiled and cubed potatoes and chopped dill leaves, salt and mix well. Since the potatoes are well boiled some of them will mash up a little bit as you stir, or you can do that with the back of the spoon. That’s how you want it, not completely mashed but just a little.
  • If you want add 1 tbsp of water to it so that everything mixes well and does not stick to the bottom. However remember this is a dry dish. Additionally, if you want, you can add a drop of ghee at the end to garnish.

Serving suggestion – Serve it hot with paratha or puris. I usually make the paratha/puris and then prepare this dish as it dries up when left to cool. Once the potatoes are boiled it takes only couple of minutes to finish it so I prefer making it at the end.

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Sooji/Rava Dhokla

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A pending post, yet once again, from before I disappeared for more than a month. Not that I was doing anything significant. I was busy… just busy with something or the other and then came all the festivities and celebrations and of course the main reason – I was playing games on my iPad. Games which are silly but addictive like Candy Crush. And that doesn’t mean I had not been cooking. Infact I have cooked and clicked a lot in these few weeks, just never got around to write about them. And then yesterday when B left for a week long office trip and the lives on the Candy Crush game had expired and would not be active for 2-3 days (because of the date manipulations that I did … oh I really dont want to get into e) I realized I had blog which needed reviving badly. So here I am.. almost about to delete the games from the iPad and I find this draft lying unfinished from one afternoon. Here it goes.

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Dhokla is a snack from the Western parts of India, mainly Gujarat. It is usually made from fermented batter of rice and pulses, but we the Gen X folks have a quick and easy version for everything which does not take long hours of fermentation. My recipe here is made of Sooji/ Semolina/ Cream of wheat and I use fruit salt/ENO , though I have read that baking salt can also be used which is something that I still have to try out. Usually a dhokla steamer/stand comes very handy but I have a makeshift arrangement (explained below) for steaming the dhoklas that I have now got a hang of. Also you can make it in a microwave though I still have to try that out. Dhoklas are great for serving with evening tea or for breakfast and I usually serve it with a coconut chutney or a mint-coroander-tamarind chutney.

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Ingredients:

  • Sooji / Semolina – 1 cup
  • Ajwain / Carom Seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Oil – 1 tbsp
  • Yougurt, well beaten – 1/2 cup
  • Ginger – 1/2 tsp
  • Turmeric powder – a pinch
  • Salt – 1/2 tsp or to taste
  • Green Chillies – 2 or to taste, finely chopped
  • Water – 1/2 cup approx. or as required
  • Oil / Spray Oil
  • Eno fruit salt – 1 tsp

For Seasoning:

  • Oil – 1 tbsp
  • Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Sesame seeds or Cumin Seeds (optional) – 1/2 tsp
  • Curry leaves, roughly chopped – handful

For Garnishing: optional

  • Coriander Leaves, finely chopped
  • Coconut flakes or grated coconut

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Method:

  • Combine sooji, ajwain and oil in a mixing bowl till they are well mixed and there are no lumps.
  • In a separate bowl beat the yogurt well, add ginger, turmeric powder, salt and green chillies and mix well.
  • Mix the yogurt mixture with the sooji mixture and till everything is well mixed.
  • Gradually add sufficient water to make a thick batter (like idli batter). Let the batter rest for 20 mins.
  • Meanwhile prepare the dhokla stand by oiling the plates lightly. I do not have a dhokla stand so here is my makeshift arranegement. I use a steel tiffin box and spray oil the base and a normal pot with a lid where my tiffin box fits nicely. I place the lid of the steel tiffin box in the boiling water (top side facing up) and then place the box with the dhokla batter on top of the lid uncovered. You can use any plate or bowl instead of the lid and then place the steel box on top of it. Instead of the pot you can also use  a tall pressure cooker without the whistle.
  • Fill the steamer or pressure cooker or the pot with 1 to 1 1/2inch of water and Bring it to a boil.
  • Once the water comes to a boil add eno to the batter and mix well. Immediately pour the batter into the stands / tiffin box
  • Place the stand inside the steamer / pressure cooker /pot and cover the lid and steam for 12-15 mins approx. Test the ‘doneness’ by inserting a toothpick till it comes out clean.
  • Once done remove the stands or the tiffin box and let it cool for a couple of minutes.
  • Meanwhile prepare the seasoning by heat 1 tbsp of oil and tempering it with curry leaves, mustard and cumin seeds.
  • Taking a knife gently loosen up the edges of the dhokla and take the whole thing out on a plate.
  • Pour the seasoning on top of it and garnish with chooped coriander leaves and grated coconut.
  • Cut it into square pieces and serve it with any chutney of your choice. I use a coconut chutney or a mint-coroander-tamarind chutney.

Breakfast Egg Muffins

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Till recently breakfast has always been a ‘no-sweat’ effort for me. Even as a child going to a morning school that started from 7:45 and lasted till 1:45, almost all days me and my brother would either have a glass of milk and biscuits or cornflakes in the morning. And our ‘tiffin’ (lunch packs were then and even now called tiffin) would inevitably contain bread butter and sugar or bread butter with salt and pepper or bread and jam. We hardly ever complained; we were good kids to a working mom. There were some days when we would take Maggi, and later in high school my mom would also make some parathas with achar but those were rare. Of course weekends were special days when we would have puri sabji or noodles or idli etc but Bread was the most preferred snack. My friends would often bring different lunches and I would happily share my slices for some bites from someone else’s box. Now looking back I wonder how we never ever got bored of it.

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Breakfast was always the same all through my college and after that when I started working – Bread butter, milk and banana or any other fruit. It was always easy to prepare and quick to consume. When I got married and took over the kitchen duties I would cook a lot of variations for lunch and dinner but breakfast was something that I tried to keep simple. Work, here in US, starts pretty early (as compared to India) so I never really ventured into an elaborate morning meal. I would always tell myself that there was no point in elevating the expectation of my newly wedded husband. I replicated my earlier days and gave either bread butter with tea or cornflakes. Recently (since the last one and half years) I have tried to change the custom of “easy breakfast”. These days I consciously try to eat healthy food and adopt a healthy food habit. And I have realized that the first meal of the day needs to be the most significant one. So most of the days I try waking 15  minutes early to prepare both of us a filling breakfast and its one meal of the day that we religiously take on the dining table together. (Dinner is mostly on the couch in-front of the Television).

Usually I have a list of options that I choose from, depending on how much time I have in the morning. It could be either upma, poha, pancakes, stuffed omlettes  with butter toast or toast with scrambled eggs, all served with a warm cup of tea – and all prepared within the 15-20 mins timeframe. When I have even less time I go for toast and poached eggs or the age old option of butter toasts/cornflakes. Weekends will find me baking even for breakfasts or trying something new. Today’s post is on breakfast egg muffins that I made one Saturday morning just because I wanted to try something different. I had found this recipe and the pics looked so tempting that I had to try it out. The pictures sure did come out very nice.

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My honest feedback – Taste wise they were not as great as they looked. It was okay for something new or different but nothing that excited me. However I think its a great breakfast option for working people since you can prepare and freeze them. You can also use this as a ‘to-go’ snack and am sure the kids would love these variations.

I will really appreciate if anyone of you let me know your feedback if and when you prepare this.

There are a couple of ways to prepare this, and you can choose to add or reduce any no. of ingredients to this. I am providing a rough guideline – this is the way I made it, however feel free to be creative. Also I wanted to keep it healthy so avoided cheese but these will definitely taste much better if you can add some.

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Ingredients: (for 4 egg muffins) –

  • Bread slices – 4
  • Eggs – 4
  • Personalised toppings, cut into small pieces – Add any ingredient of your choice like onions, bell pepper, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, bacon, broccoli, cheese etc. I used only small pieces of onions, bell pepper and mushrooms.
  • Seasoning – Salt, Pepper powder, any other of your choice. I added some Cajun spice.
  • Butter or Oil – as required

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease the muffin pan / ramekins with some oil/butter; Alternatively use muffin liners or line it with a parchment paper (cut a circle slightly bigger than the diameter of the muffin cups and place it).
  • With a rolling pin flatten the bread slices slightly and with a cookie cutter (or use the rim of a glass) roughly cut the slices in rounds, almost 4-5 inches in diameter.
  • Cut each round in half, then press 2 halves into each muffin cup, overlapping slightly and making sure bread comes up to edge of cup. Use extra bread to patch any gaps. If you prefer brush the bread with some butter.
  • In a pan, add some oil or butter and lightly fry the onion, bell pepper and mushrooms (or any other topping of your choice) with salt, pepper and any other seasoning that you prefer. Once cooked distribute it equally onto the muffin cups lined with the bread slices.
  • Sprinkle some grated cheese of your choice. I skipped this step.
  • Next step is to add the eggs. You can do this in 3 different ways:

1. Crack the eggs into the muffin cups and sprinkle some salt,pepper, or any other seasoning of your choice. This is how it will look when done:

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2. Crack the eggs into the muffin cups, using a fork lightly break the yolk (inside the muffin cup) and let it spread.

3. Beat the egg with a tablespoon of milk in a separate bowl, sprinkle some seasoning and pour it into the muffin cups. This is how it will look when done:

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I made 4 muffins – 2 of option 1 and 2 of option 3.

  • Bake the muffins at 350 F for 7-10 mins or until the egg whites are set. Temperature and baking time may vary from oven to oven. Do not over cook the eggs or they will become rubbery. The muffins will continue to cook for sometime even when out of oven so keep that in mind. Mine took 7 mins to bake and then 5 more minutes to cool down. I prefer the yolk on the soft side than over cooked.
  • Once the muffins have cooled down, gently take them out by running a small knife around the cups. Serve immediately with tea/coffee/juice.

Storage:

You can make these muffins in batches and freeze them for later use. Let the muffins cool down completely and then wrap them and freeze in a zip-lock bag or a freezer bag. For reheating wrap in a paper towel and reheat in microwave.

Chicken Slice Sandwich

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I am out  of town accompanying my husband on his office trip. We will be returning home today so we decided to check out and I am waiting for him to pick me up at the Destiny USA / Carousel Mall in Syracuse, NY. Already done with the window shopping and now lunching at the Panera Bread with a Napa Almond Chicken Sandwich and plenty of time to kill. No I am not shopping anything for myself, however hard that might be to believe, I am not. We both had been buying stuff a little extravagantly last couple of days telling each other its our Puja shopping but seriously who are we kidding!!!

Anyways my Panera Sandwich reminds me of  the post that has been lying in my drafts waiting to be edited and submitted, so I decide to do this right away. No stories today.. no pouring out emotions. Just a quick post on an equally quick recipe. Actually no recipe at all its mainly assembling that needs to  be done. On those days when you wanna grab something for a light lunch or dinner without any elaborate preparations/cooking/cleaning – a sandwich can always come to your rescue.

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I made this last week and used whatever was available in my fridge. There can be number of alterations / additions to this, so do it your way and make it your signature dish.

The first picture has been edited by my loving husband… he wanted to give it a feel of a restaurant style menu. I loved it and decided to use it as my landing pic for this post.

Ingredients: As required for one sandwich

  • Bread – 2 slices; I used white bread, but you can use any variety of your preference.
  • Tomato slices – 2 small slices or one big slice
  • Lettuce – 1 leaf, washed, dried and folded.
  • Onions – 2 rounds or slices
  • Chicken Slice – 3-4. I used the this variety from Target – Hormel Natural Choice Sliced Rotisserie Style Deli Chicken Breast. It is cooked and needs minimum preparation. Use any type of chicken / meat you want.
  • Any sauce/dressing of your choice – as required. I use either a dash of hot sauce, honey mustard or lemon dill
  • Butter or spread for the toast – I like using the Irish butter that is available in BJs.
  • Oil / butter.
  • Any seasoning of your choice – Salt and Pepper (for sure), sometimes I also add a little of the Cajun spice.

Method:

  • Heat a pan on high heat with very little oil/butter. I use the spray oil can for this purpose.
  • Add the onion rings/slices and the chicken slices.
  • Sprinkle some seasoning and saute on both the sides for a minute or two. This adds flavor to the chicken.
  • Meanwhile toast the bread and coat it lightly on one side with butter / spread.
  • Assembly: Place the tomato slices on the butter side of one of the bread slice. Top it with the lettuce leaf. Then add the sauteed chicken slices along with the sauteed onions. Add sauce of your choice. Top it with the remaining slice of bread, buttered side down.
  • Press the sandwich a bit and slice it in halves. Secure it with a toothpick (optional).

Serve it as a lunch, brunch or even dinner. This time I added some grapes and a mango smoothie to make it a complete lunch meal.

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