Milanesa

Happy New Year!!

Sorry for the very long break. The girls’ Christmas vacation started on the 16th and they just went back to school today. It was iiiiiimpossible to get online and post during those two weeks because my days were filled with training for the half, visits to my Mom, laundry (so.much.laundry), and trying to stay sane. Oh, and of course spending time with family and friends and celebrating blah blah blah. Mostly it was the other stuff.

But I’m back and ready to get tell you all about the last three weeks of my year long food project! The fifth will be my one year anniversary so I’m pushing to be caught up by then. I have nine posts and two days, it will be done.

This milanesa was the start of Argentinian week. Argentinian? Argentine? It occurs to me that I never took the time to find out which is correct and what is the difference. Well, too late now! James actually chose Argentina because he’d read about how great the food was and that it was similar to Peru in its variety. To be honest, I didn’t really care either way, but looking back, I’m very happy we chose to eat Argentinian/Argentine food! I don’t want to spoil it for you though so now you must come back to find out why. Muahaha.

That was a pitiful “Muahaha”

Prior to this, I’d had milanesa but it was made with chicken; this version was made with beef. It was brought to South America by the, you guessed it, Italians during the first Italian diaspora of the 1860s. Based on the name, one can infer that it originated in Milan. It was also originally made with chicken but when the Italians got to Argentina, they quickly learned that chicken was viewed as an inferior meat so they altered the recipe to make it a beef dish. The milanesa I’d eaten before was eaten in a torta, a sandwich, and because I love it so much, I decided to go the same route with the Argentinian version.

At first glance it looks like a sandwich of fried meat but it is so much more than that! In between the fried meat and bread is a layer of super thin, delicious, amazing proscuitto. And on top of that? Cheese (I used Munster). And on top of that? Marinara sauce. AND ON TOP OF THAT?! Pickled peppers. The Mexican version do NOT have all that goodness, it just has fried meat, lettuce, and tomato. In the words of my four year old “That bored” She means “That’s boring” but she hasn’t figured out the whole conjugation thing yet.

I ended up making enough cutlets for about six sandwiches. I ate two that night. And another the next day for lunch. And I didn’t regret it for one minute! To be honest, I didn’t regret it because I had the foresight to take an Alka Seltzer immediately after dinner but still, no RAGRATS. The meat was probably the least interesting part of the whole meal but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t delicious. For as thin and as fried as it was, it was still very succulent, but I think the most flavor came from the saltiness of the proscuitto, the creaminess of the cheese, and the acidity of the sauce and peppers. It was an amalgamation of awesome!

So yes, we were very pleased with the first night of Argentina week. Even the kiddos ate it and it was not bored.

Recipe

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Ramen

At the beginning of this project, my goal was to cook five times a week. That didn’t last very long because I quickly realized I don’t like cooking that much. I enjoy making food and putting meals together but I’m also a little lazy and often times (always) that laziness overpowers my joy. Well, it’s not so much I’m lazy as it is I don’t like working hard. That doesn’t make me sound any better…so anyway, depending on the difficulty of the cuisine, I make between two and four meals a week. There have been a few times I’ve made five, like Chinese and Indian weeks, but for the most part, I take the easy route. Technically Japanese week was an easy week with only two meals, however, this ramen took three days to make so I wouldn’t say it was super easy.

Okay, I’m kind of stretching the truth. It was pretty easy; at least the first two days were. The first day involved placing sheets of seaweed in water (kombu dashi) and making a mixture of soy sauce, rice wine, and sake (tare). The seaweed used wasn’t your typical paper-thin nori seaweed, instead I used kombu seaweed, which is thicker. I would like to say it’s like bark but not exactly that thick. These two items form the basis of the stock, which was made the second day.

Again, this part wasn’t too hard because all I did was boil pork shoulder and some veggies. Oh, and chicken necks. I can’t forget the necks. The recipe said to also use spareribs but I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. I think my stock came out just fine without it. What was interesting about making the stock was using bonito flakes, which is just dried, fermented fish. This, along with the kombu dashi and tare, give the stock the umami flavor that is coveted in Japanese cuisine. Umami has become a big deal in the culinary world the past few years, so much so that it is now considered one of the basic tastes, along with sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, and sourness. The short answer is that it is the taste of savory, the long answer can be found in this great podcast by Stuff You Should Know.

The third day shouldn’t have been that difficult because all it involved was boiling eggs, reheating the stock, slicing the pork shoulder, and boiling the ramen noodles. The recipe said to use prepared ramen noodles but that was way too easy and as much as I enjoy taking shortcuts, every once in a while I get a hankering for the long, winding road. *sings “The long and winding road, the leads to insanity”* Those aren’t the correct lyrics but that’s where this long and winding road lead me because instead of taking the Insta-Noodles Road, I decided to take the Make Your Own Ramen Noodles Freeway. Unfortunately it’s a freeway and filled with all kinds of fast and crazy drivers. Drivers like Making Dough is Dumb and I’m Pretty Sure I’m Going to Get My Hair Stuck in this Noodle Maker and OMFG I Will Never Get All of This Flour Out of My Kitchen. Oh, and who could forget the best driver of them all, The Complete Fucking Fail of Ramen Noodle Making? I’m not bitter.

So yeah, noodle making was not fun. It’s really time consuming, it’s messy, and stressful. I’m just going to show you a picture. (Sorry for the big picture, Squarespace is being difficult)

Thankfully when I bought groceries for this meal, I bought some packets of instant ramen noodles just in case my noodle making didn’t work out. The top bowl are the instant noodles, the bottom is what I made. This was what came out of the colander when I tried to drain my noodles. They came out of the pot of boiling water as individual noodles but sometime between pouring them into the colander and then flipping the colander over, they turned in a big ball of mush. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know anything about noodle making and I haven’t bothered looking up what went wrong but my initial guess is that I didn’t let the noodles dry out enough before boiling them. I was supposed to let them dry for at least ten minutes but our guests were already on their way and I didn’t think it would make too big of a deal. Clearly it did.

So whatever, my noodle making was a disaster BUT if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this project it’s to have a back up plan so thankfully I bought those instant noodles!

And the ramen turned out great! The pork shoulder I bought was in pieces, not one big piece, so instead of nice round slices, we got bits and pieces but it was still good. It was delicious and I think everyone had more than one bowl so that’s always good. The kids ate cheese sticks, some noodles, and I think a fruit snack pack. You know, something very nutritious.

And that was Japanese week. I’ll make ramen again and I might even try making noodles but not any time soon. No, for now I’ll stay on North Lamar Boulevard, which takes me straight to Chinatown and all the easy ramen I can eat.

Recipe, Recipe

Tonkatsu

This was the start of Japanese week! I only made two meals during Japanese week because the second meal I made was ramen, which took three days to make. That difficult meal was offset by this really easy one!

Tonkatsu is breaded and fried pork chop. That’s it, pretty easy. It’s one of the most beloved meals in Japan and there are different ways to eat it other than the way I prepared it. You can also eat it as a sandwich or atop rice and curry but I wanted something easy so I went with this. It’s a little odd that this dish is so popular that there are restaurants devoted to making it but then I read this and I understood it a little more.

I chose a cucumber salad to go with the tonkatsu instead of the traditional cabbage because cabbage gives me gas. Sorry if that’s gross but it’s life. I had a little situation with the cucumber because the recipe said to break it up by banging it against the counter top. I guess I had some aggression I needed to get out because I hit the bag so hard against the counter, it busted open. Thankfully most of cucumber stayed in the bag and I didn’t have a huge clean up.

It was a nice meal, nothing too exciting. I forgot to make the sauce that accompanies it but I used some hoisin instead. The meat was a little dry but the sauce helped. The cucumber salad was fantastic and I’ll make that over and over again next summer. Everyone liked dinner that night and I think the four year old even ate some cucumber.

Two days later, I took on ramen making. Fyi, it’s going to be a long post. Be prepared.

Recipe, Recipe

Poffertjes

Like I mentioned in my last post, this was supposed to be our second Dutch meal but because of bad planning, it ended up being our last. I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way and admit this was a total failure.

I knew this recipe was going to be problematic because one of the ingredients was yeast. Yeast and I have a love/hate relationship. I have about a 60% success rate when baking with yeast and while 60% is pretty good, it’s not good enough. Most of my success in baking with yeast happens when I’m baking bread because I’ve baked enough bread to know how to do it fairly well. I also have my tried and true bread recipes so I’m sure that helps as well. My failures arise when I leave bread making and venture out. Maybe it’s my lack of confidence, maybe it’s my impatience, maybe it’s a combination of both, whatever it is, it doesn’t work.

Poffertjes are puffy mini-Dutch pancakes. There’s a specific pan used to make them that ensures they come out round and puffy but I read on various sites that the pan wasn’t necessary. Using a regular pan meant I wouldn’t get the full, round, puffy shape but I’d get pretty close so I went forth. I knew they wouldn’t be perfect so I was already prepared for them to not match pictures but I didn’t expect what I got.

I don’t know exactly what happened but I’m blaming it on the yeast. I had to heat up the milk to just a little hotter than lukewarm and then dissolve the yeast in it until it got foamy, about 5 to 10 minutes. At the 10 minute mark it was bubbly but not foamy, so I heated up some more milk and tried again. The second attempt was better than the first so I went ahead and used that mixture to make the batter. The batter had to sit for an hour until it doubled in size but after an hour, my batter hadn’t increased too much in size. At that point I didn’t care and just started making pancakes.

Obviously mine were not puffy. They were flat, And too chewy, And I ended up eating a sandwich.

I think maybe I didn’t let my yeast warm up to room temperature or maybe the milk was too hot. Whatever it was, it didn’t work. And this is why I hate working with yeast; she is so moody!

James and the girls ate them because they’re nice (mostly they were hungry) and James said they were good but I think he was just trying to keep me from getting too upset. I was really frustrated because I couldn’t figure out exactly what happened. I like to know what I did wrong so I won’t repeat it but in this case, I won’t ever know. Which is fine, I don’t plan on making poffertjes ever again.

Recipe

Chicken in Orange Sauce and Poached Apple

This will be a short post because I currently have a four year old standing next to me and crying because I won’t give her a chocolate chip granola bar. She was originally crying because I put her in her room after we got back from the doctor’s office, where she decided to start screaming in the waiting room because I made her put a coat on for the whole 100 foot walk back to the car because it’s a wonderful 40 degrees outside. I know, I know, I’m the worst mother ever. I make her wear a coat so she won’t freeze and then I won’t give her a sweet whenever she wants one.

Oh, now she’s crying because I made her walk back to her room. The room that is filled with about 100 books and 1,000 toys. The least fun room in the entire house.

Just call CPS on me now.

This was our second Dutch meal. I had originally planned on making poffertjes, Dutch mini pancakes, but I didn’t have time to let the batter sit for an hour before cooking for I made this instead. This was so much better than we both expected! We didn’t have high expectations of it because it’s such a simple meal, literally chicken in orange sauce. Granted the sauce was a little fancier than something I would normally make since it consisted of orange peel, Cointreau, and orange juice but I didn’t think it would be all that special. And I know that sauce doesn’t sound exotic or anything but it’s fancy for me because anything with more than two ingredients is ooh la la territory for me.

I used chicken thighs instead of the breasts like the recipe called for and I think that contributed to the flavor. The extra fat along with all the butter in the sauce made this a lot richer than I think it would have been with just breasts. Even with all the orange ingredients, it didn’t have a strong citrus flavor. I mean, you could taste it but it was subtle and I loved that. I think the brown rice also helped mellow out the entire meal. The poached apple was super sweet but eaten alongside the rice, it wasn’t crazy.

Both girls also ate this meal so big win there! The baby ate the chicken by the fist full but, surprisingly, neither was fond of the apple. I think it was the texture because they’re both used to crunchy apples.

Speaking of, the four year old passed out in her room. And I’m now eating her granola bar. I won this round!

Recipe

Stamppot

Two weeks behind; I’m getting there!

This was the beginning of Dutch week. To be honest, I’ve never had an interest in the food from the Netherlands but we do have a friend who is Dutch and I did this for him. Hi Bob! Bob and his wife, Nicole, currently live in South Carolina but we met them a few years ago through mutual friends when they lived here in Austin. Through the years they have become some of our favorite people and I always look forward to seeing them when they come down to Texas. They usually make a couple of trips a year, one earlier in the year and then another later in the year. They came down during the summer but I had already booked the Netherlands for the winter so I told them I’d cook for them when they came back down. And that was the plan.

Well, then Nicole went and got herself a lucrative contract with a gallery in New Orleans and now they can’t travel as much. Way to go, Nicole! Of course I’m kidding, it was/is an amazing opportunity for Nicole and we are so very proud and happy for her! My friend is famous! If you’d like to check her out (and you really should!) please visit her website or The French Art Network, with whom she works. Saying Nicole is talented is an understatement and I’m constantly in awe of her work. I bow down at her abilities. I am not worthy!

But I am worthy of this meal! Stamppot was a suggestion made by Bob, who said that unfortunately the Dutch aren’t known for their food. We had other friends live in Amsterdam for a bit and they agreed, their favorite food to eat while living there was actually Indonesian. Well I had already done Indonesia so “boring” Dutch food it was.

This was far from boring! It’s really easy to make because all you do is boil and them mash veggies. A child could make this. Well, a child with a good handle of cutlery because you do have to chop up a lot of veggies beforehand. The cool thing about stamppot is that it’s very versatile. From what I gather, you just need to have a couple of root vegetables and a green and you’re good to go. I used potato, sweet potato, turnip, carrot, leek, and cabbage. Bob made a kale stamppot a few days later that look amazing so I will definitely try it kale next time. The recipe called for rookworst, which is a Dutch sausage, but I couldn’t find it so I used kielbasa. Bob suggested smoking it next time to get a richer flavor and to also use a sausage made by Salt Lick, a local barbecue place.

I ate multiple servings of this and I was stuffed afterwards. The girls did eat this as well. The four year old picked at the stamppot but really enjoyed the sausage; the baby stuffed her mouth with both. James also liked it but said it was heavy. It was but that didn’t stop me! I ate it for lunch the next day, and the day after that, and was sad when it was gone. I had planned on incorporating it into our Thanksgiving dinner but I forgot about it until later. Whoops! This would be perfect for the cold weather weare (finally!) experiencing here in Austin so I’ll probably be making this again soon. I’ll just have to make sure I go for an extended run beforehand so I don’t go into a carb coma.

Recipe

Chicken and Jackfruit Curries with Wattalapam

This was our last Sri Lankan meal and it taught me the importance of reading the recipe and labels on cans of food.

First up, the chicken curry. It was chicken, it was curried, it was good. There was nothing remarkable about making it or eating it. That’s not to say it wasn’t tasty, all of us enjoyed it, but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t had before.

Now the jackfruit curry, that was something different. The recipe had a picture of what the dish was supposed to look like and I normally pay close attention to those pictures because I use them as a guide. Most of the time my attempts fall in the “Close enough” range but there have a few times they’re in the “Where did I go wrong?” column. I hate those times.

I think you know where I’m going…

The recipe called for three cans of young green jack fruit. I’d seen cans of jack fruit in a few stores so I knew I wouldn’t have a problem finding them and when I went to the Indian market, I luckily grabbed the last three cans they had. I was feeling pretty good about myself at that point. Then I started cooking. As I opened the cans of jack fruit, I saw that they were in syrup. I looked at the recipe and didn’t see a mention of syrup (typically it will tell you to drain the syrup or not). That should have been the first signal something wasn’t right. I drained the jack fruit and continued along my merry way. After a half hour, I checked the curry because the recipe said it would turn a dark brown color; it had not changed color. I put the lid back on and went back to doing whatever it is I do when waiting for food to cook (hide from my kids in the kitchen and read Jezebel). Another thirty minutes later and it still wasn’t dark brown but at that point I didn’t care because I was hungry and I thought maybe it hadn’t turned dark brown because I wasn’t using a pressure cooker like the recipe suggested.

James and I sat down to eat and dug in. I believe the word he used for the jack fruit curry was “Interesting.” Food that is “interesting” is almost never good. I tried it. It wasn’t bad…Okay, so it really didn’t taste bad, it was just sweet. I thought it was weird that a curry would be so sweet and that this would be eaten as a dinner meal because, really, it was sweet! I pulled up the recipe on my phone, looked at the pic, looked at my plate, “Where did I go wrong?” I re-read the recipe and there it was “Young green jack fruit.” My cans were just jack fruit. I did a bit of research and yeah, there is a big difference between jack fruit and young green jack fruit. Young green jack fruit is often used as a meat substitute and has the texture of chicken; my jack fruit had the texture of an apricot. Actually, it also tasted like apricot. I mentioned this to the girls’ teacher the next day and they were like “Yeah, you used the wrong kind of jack fruit.” They then brought out a can of the right kind and right on the label, it clearly said “Young green jack fruit.” Lesson learned.

Finally the wattalapam. When I told the teachers I was making this, they were really surprised and, honestly, I think they were wondering if I’d be able to pull it off. Apparently this is a dessert that is reserved for special occasions like weddings. All of them exclaimed how much they loved it and one said she’s never even made it because it’s so difficult. Challenge accepted! When I initially read over the recipe, it sounded like flan so having just made a coconut flan during Colombian week, I knew I’d be able to pull this one off. And I would have (if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids!) if I’d had read the entire thing. I mean, I did pull it off, I just had to wait until the next day to eat it because I didn’t read the very last sentence in the recipe that it had to be chilled for several hours. It had the same consistency of flan but was richer, if that’s even possible. It had a slight licorice taste to it, I’m thinking because of the jaggery, but it wasn’t overpowering.

By the way, the teachers loved it! They said it was fantastic and applauded me 🙂

Recipe, Recipe, Recipe

Shrimp Curry with Yellow Rice and Wambatu Moju

So I didn’t catch up on my blog posting over the weekend…In my defense, it was a holiday but mostly I was too lazy to walk into the office and sit at the computer. I’m going to stop giving myself a deadline on posting because there is just too much going on and I don’t need one more thing to feel guilty about. You’re welcome, me!

This was our second Sri Lankan meal and my favorite. I was little nervous about this one because of the shrimp. I know I’ve mentioned many, many times about how apprehensive I am about cooking with fish so I won’t bother getting into that again but know, I was worried. The recipe called for tiger prawns but I didn’t bother looking for them because Gulf shrimp is sold at my nearby HEB and that meant one less shopping excursion through Austin. It seems like my laziness paid off because I was recently reading about shrimp farming and I came upon this eye-opening, if not kind of depressing, article about tiger prawn farming. Keep in mind, the article is thirteen years old so things might have changed since its publication (I didn’t bother researching if it has because, lazy) but I do know that Gulf shrimp farming is sustainable and it’s a few hours away so, yay! Good for the environment and I’m supporting Texans! This curry was sweet and just a tad bit spicy but I loved it! I actually made it the following week but substituted chicken for the shrimp and it was just as fantastic so if you’re not into seafood, just know you have options.

I loved the curry but I could not get enough of the wambatu moju, which was eggplant. The recipe called for sprats, which are little fish, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I asked the owner of the Indian market I frequent about them and he described them as salty so when I made the dish, I added a bit more salt and just a couple of drops of fish sauce. I don’t know if it made a difference or not but it didn’t make me hate it. It came out tangy and I think that was because of the green chilies. It’s been my experience this year that green chilies are what happens when a lime and a pepper mate (because that’s totally possible) but they really are a little sour and spicy. I have yet to encounter another pepper that does that.

I had the leftovers for lunch the next day and they were as yummy cold as they were warm. I don’t remember if the girls ate this or not but I’m pretty sure they didn’t. The baby is starting to follow in the four year old’s steps and pushing things away. She still eats a lot more than the four year old but if the older one shows disgust at something, the baby follows. Great.

Recipe, Recipe

Roasted Coconut Pumpkin Curry and Yellow Rice

I’m slowly catching up with the blog and am now only two weeks behind! Progress! Thankfully this week is Thanksgiving and I’m only cooking twice for the blog so I should be all caught up by this weekend. Or maybe next weekend. Or maybe never.

This meal was prepared for the first night of Sri Lankan week. Sri Lankan food probably isn’t on a lot of people’s radar and up until four years ago, it wasn’t on ours. What changed four years ago? The oldest started attending a Montessori school run by four Sri Lankan women. It’s not like all of a sudden we were immersed in their culture or anything but we became more aware. Such is the beauty of meeting people from different backgrounds…take note new administration!

Every Thanksgiving they prepare food for the parents to take home and I always look forward to that meal. The first year it took me by complete surprise and I was beyond giddy to try what they had prepared. At the time I was working in south Austin and usually had an hour plus commute home so James would always pick the kid up from school. He called to tell me that when he picked her up, they had a buffet out and had told him to take as much as he wanted. I remember him saying he only took a couple of pieces of chicken and I exclaimed “WHY?! That chicken sounds amazing!” I was very upset and I hadn’t yet seen the food.

Side note: I was already pregnant with the baby so, you know, I was emotional and hungry.

Side-side note: I’m no longer pregnant but I’m still emotional and hungry.

I still remember that meal. It was a chicken curry, yellow rice, samosas, a veggie salad, and some sweet cakes. I loved that rice! I LOVE that rice. I look forward to it every year and always mean to ask for the recipe but never do.

Well, I found it! And I made it! And it was not as good as the teacher’s!

My yellow rice was good but it was missing something. I didn’t add the cashews or raisins because I forgot them but I don’t think that’s what affected the flavor. The cashews and raisins mostly add texture and I typically remove the raisins anyway. The recipe called for pandan leaves and I couldn’t find any so I think that’s what was missing. I know where to get pandan leaves, I cooked with them during Thai week, but I was being lazy and didn’t want to make an extra trip to the Asian market. Unfortunately my rice paid the price for my laziness. So it goes.

The curry, however, was spectacular and made up for the not so great rice. I don’t have a lot of experience cooking with pumpkin aside from making pumpkin pie and pumpkin empanadas so this was new territory for me. I mean, both of those items call for canned pumpkin but I’m not even sure if that can REALLY be considered pumpkin. I’ve cooked with many kinds of squash so I don’t know why I was nervous about cooking with pumpkin; I guess it was just fear of the unknown. You would think that by now I would be a lot more confident in the kitchen, and I am compared to how I was in January, but I still doubt my abilities. I need to get over it…Anyway, I was a little disappointed that the coconut flavor wasn’t stronger but that’s the only complaint I have about the dish.

The girls didn’t eat the curry but they did eat a lot of rice. The love they have for rice never ceases to amaze me and it also tugs at my heartstrings. I, too, adore rice so seeing how much they enjoy it is like watching genetics in work. You could argue that looking at their faces is like watching genetics work but they look more like their father than me. Although, sometimes, in the right light and with the correct scowl, it’s like looking in a mirror.

Recipe, Recipe

Doro Wot, Azifa, and Ye’Abesha Gomen

This was our last Ethiopian meal and the one I was most looking forward to because I love me a wot! Wots (or wats, I’ve seen it spelled both ways) are basically stews but what makes them different from others is a very long sweating of large amounts of onions in nit’r qibe, a spiced butter. I didn’t have nit’r qibe and I didn’t want to go through the effort of making it so I just used ghee and added some extra spices. I don’t think it affected the taste though because it came out ah-mah-zing! I don’t remember my exact feelings but I do remember that we didn’t have any leftovers because we ate everything.

Everything.

The girls even ate the collard greens in the ye’abesha gome and the lentils in the azifa. The baby especially couldn’t get enough of the lentils and I believe she had multiple bowls. Huzzah!

The only downside to this meal was that we didn’t have any injera to go with it. I didn’t use it for two days and I didn’t think it would affect it much because by then it would have been fermenting for four days. On the fourth day I unwrapped my bowl of batter and found that a tiny bit of mold had grown on top of it. I didn’t bother looking up if this was normal because typically mold growing on things is not a good sign. Also, I’d had a run-in with mold and an attempted sourdough starter in the not too distant past so I was still recovering from that episode. Mold in a sourdough starter is not good and you have to throw out the entire starter if it grows on it so with that in mind, I threw away about two cups of injera batter. I later learned that a bit of mold on injera batter is not the end of the world and it can be removed and you can continue on your merry way. The more you know.

So while our week in Ethiopia didn’t start off so well, it ended on a pretty high note. I mean, the four year old ate greens! Voluntarily! That’s a pretty big deal! We had Chinese food for lunch today and as she was eating her eggroll, I saw her pull out of every piece of green onion she could find. I didn’t mention the fact that she was still eating a good amount of cabbage because, why kill the dream? She clearly hates anything green but in that one moment during Ethiopia week, she ate it and it was wonderful. I will forever hold that moment in my heart.

Recipe, Recipe, Recipe