Category Archives: Back to the Basics

Grains 101

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Grains 101

You are looking through your cookbook and see a recipe that sounds good. You go to the cupboard and realize you are missing an important ingredient. Can you substitute and still get the same result? Or do you run to the store to get just 1 item? Hopefully the list below will help you know when and when not to substitute those grains.

Short and Medium-Grain White Rice 10 to 15 min
Long-Grain White Rice 12 to 17 min
Converted White Rice 12 to 17 min
Short and Medium-Grain Brown Rice 22 to 27 min
Long-Grain Brown Rice 25 to 30 min
Converted Brown Rice 12 to 17 min
Wild Rice 35 to 40 min
Basmati, Jasmine and Texmati Rice 12 to 17 min

Things to keep in mind are that white rice has a longer shelf life than brown rice. Because B1 is removed in the processing of rice, white rice has now been enriched with the nutrient. Also for diabetics, white rice does transform into glucose much quicker so brown rice is a healthier option.


Amaranth – This grain should never be rinsed before using. It is best cooked in the microwave or as a pilaf. In the microwave use 1 c Amaranth and 2 c water and cook on high 7 minutes. Continue cooking on medium for an addition 15 to 20 minutes. As a pilaf it will take 20 to 25 minutes with 1 c of the grain and 1 ½ c of water.


Pearl Barley – Best cooked on the stove top, it will take 25 minutes using 1 c of barley to 4 quarts of water.


Buckwheat (often called Kasha today) – also uses 1 c with 4 quarts of water but only takes 5 minutes on the stove top.


Bulgar – Is more versatile as it prepares well in the microwave, on the stove top or as a pilaf.


Couscous – This is another grain (actually a pasta) that should never be rinsed. It does well in the microwave as well as the stove top. It is very versatile and a variety of herbs, broths and nuts can be used to change it up every time. Microwave on high 4 minutes than finish on medium for 5 minutes. (Be sure to check on its progress) On the stove top equal parts couscous and water and it is ready in less than 10 minutes


Millet – Makes a great pilaf and is often found in the mixes purchased at the grocery store. 1 cup of the grain with 2 ¼ c of water are ready to eat in less than 30 minutes. Browning the grain for your pilaf will tend to take longer then others, count on 10 to 15 minutes.


Quinoa – is something you have seen if you ever watch CHOPPED on Food Network. It requires 4 quarts of water when cooked on the stove but when microwaved or cooked pilaf style equal parts grain and water will get the job done. The best part is that is ready in about 10 minutes.


Wheat Berries – should be cooked on the stove top and require a full hour to be cooked.

BASIC COOKING TERMS

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Recipes are full of measurements, ingredients and directions. Sometimes we come across a word and are not quite sure what it means. Sometimes those terms require us to be very precise or the recipe won’t turn out correctly. Becoming familiar with those cooking terms is a necessity and allows the cook to spread their wings and try new things.

CUTTING TERMS

Crush – To press hard enough to extract juice. Can be done with a garlic press, flat side of a knife or mallet.

Mince – To cut into very tiny pieces such as with onions and garlic, using a knife such as the Chef’s Knife.

Chop – To cut with a knife by rocking the knife from the tip of the blade to the back. You need to use a knife that allows for this rocking motion such as a Chef’s Knife.

Dice – Cutting the food into cubes that are less than 1/2 inch in diameter. Most commonly done with a Chef’s Knife but if you are comfortable with your knife skills can even use a Cleaver.

Cube – Cutting the food into cubes that are 1/2 an inch or more in diameter. A Chef’s Knife is the most common but even a Cleaver can work, if you feel comfortable with such a large blade.

Sliver – To cut into long thin strips such as you find almonds.

Julienne – When food is cut into long sticks, such as french fries.

Pare – To cut off the outer skin of a food such as with potatoes and apples. Use of a paring knife makes the job much simpler.

Peel – To strip off the outer skin of food by hand, such as with an orange or banana.

COMBINING TERMS

Toss – To very gently mix food so as not to cause bruising, such as with a salad.

Fold – A way to combine food so as not to lose air such as with a mousse. The spatula is “cut” into the food and gently drug across the bottom of the bowl and the food is flipped over. Rotate the bowl and repeat as needed.

Cut – A way to combine fats with a dry ingredient. The end results are balls of fat and dry ingredients forming crumbs. There are 3 main methods.

1.) Holding a knife in each hand they form an X over the fats. The knives are pulled apart, thereby cutting the fat.

2.) A fork is used by pressing down on the fat until it has created crumbs.

3.) A pastry knife is used the same as a fork. This tool is much faster than using a fork.

Stir, Mix and Blend – Used to combine ingredients evenly. Stir is the most gentle, and as you progress to mixing and blending you become a little more vigorous in your efforts.

Cream – Beating until the food is light and fluffy, such as with butter and shortening.

Beat – To use a whip or firm spoon to vigorously combine ingredients. This is much stronger than to blend.

Whip – To use a whisk or beaters to incorporate air into a food, such as making whipped cream.

Knead – To fold dough over repeatedly in order to form a smooth dough and increase gluten. The more you knead, the more gluten is created. Always follow the time lines in the recipe as some foods you want very little gluten, while others you want a lot.

COOKING TERMS

Saute – To gently cook over medium heat.

Brown – To cook over medium to medium high heat in an attempt to brown all sides of the food. This not only adds flavor, but is aesthetically pleasing.

Scald – Heating milk to 180 degrees (82 Celsius) to kill bacteria and enzymes (required for making bread) and denature the proteins. This was needed before pasteurization so in modern cooking it is done mainly to increase the temperature of the milk or change its consistency for specific dishes like Béchamel sauce.

Simmer – To bring food to a very low boil. Bubbles will form and collapse under the surface and on the edges of the pan.

Boil – Bubbles will now form continuously and be breaking on the surface of the liquid.

Rolling Boil – The bubbles are forming more rapidly. Food can easily scorch or reduce at this temperature and should never be left alone.

Roasting – Using a dry heat to add carmelization for meats and vegetables.

Broil – to cook with a dry heat from above the food. This is done at a very high temperature and is only done to put a finishing touch on food. A close eye must be kept on the food to prevent burning. Some older ovens require that the door be slightly ajar when the broiler is used so know your equipment.

TEMPERATURE TERMS

Cool – To allow food to come to room temperature.

Chill – Requires the food be placed in the refrigerator to cool down.

Room Temperature – Allowing an item to sit on the counter to bring up the temperature. Butter and eggs whip better if left out for at least 15 minute before hand. Meat such as steak cooks better as the outside gets a nice crust and the inside is not ice cold. This does not mean you are ignoring basic food safety! Food should only be left out if it is going to be used immediately.

Meat Thermometer – Placed into the meat while it is cooking to check the internal temperature. It is common practice to insert the thermometer after the meat is cooked but this is a very bad idea. Doing so creates a portal for the juices to run out and leads to a dry cut of meat.

Candy Thermometer – Specifically designed to use while making candy. Look for one that you can attach to the side of the pot and the numbers are easy to read. Candy can move from 1 stage to the next rapidly and you should stop cooking right before it reaches the temperature you are looking for.

MEASUREMENT

T/Tb – Tablespoon

tsp – teaspoon

Packed – pushing down on the ingredient into the measuring cup. This is most commonly done with brown sugar, but also used when canning. Never pack unless instructed to!

Level – After an ingredient (such as flour) has been scooped into the measuring cup, take a flat object and rest it on the rim. Make a quick swipe over the cup and this ensures the measurement is precise.

Liquids – All liquids beyond a tablespoon should be measured in a liquid measuring cup. You will never get a completely accurate measurement in a dry cup. Once the liquid is in the cup, place it on a lever surface and bend down so you are looking straight onto the lines. From the top it may look accurate, but once you view it from this angle you may see it is off by quite a bit.

Splash – A quick tip or jerk of liquid added to a recipe.

Dash – A quick tip or jerk of a dry ingredient to a recipe.

Season to Taste – Sometimes a recipe calls for a specific amount of salt and pepper. However, especially when using canned ingredients that already contain salt, you may not require as much as the one who developed the recipe. Seasoning to taste just means you taste the finished recipe and see if you want more salt or pepper.

GENERAL TERMS

Slow Cooker – Often referred to as a Crock Pot, however that term refers to a specific brand. All Crock Pots are slow cookers, but not all slow cookers are Crock Pots. This is a counter top appliance that allows food to be cooked low and slow all day long without supervision.

Double Broiler – The fancier term is bain-marie, but whatever you call it, it allows food to be cooked in a very delicate way. For example, eggs can be heated to a temperature that will kill bacteria, but the eggs won’t curdle. The process is used when making sauces and melting chocolate. The bottom pot is in direct contact with the heat source and filled with water. The food is placed into the top pot.

A store bought double boiler, designed specifically for this cooking method.

The homemade version requires a pot and bowl.

The bowl can be glass or metal, just remember it will be hot. When melting chocolate special care must be made to ensure absolutely NO water gets from the pot into the chocolate or it will seize and be unusable.

Marinate – Placing food into a liquid in order to add flavor and tenderize. Always follow the directions of a marinade as leaving meat too long can either cook the meat or tenderize it to the point it becomes mush.

Baste – To spoon a liquid over food while it is cooking. Traditionally done with turkeys for Thanksgiving. However, It has been found that basting merely allows the heat to escape the oven every time it is opened and leads to a drier turkey. It is far better to cover with tin foil and keep the oven shut. When suggested for foods in a frying pan, it is much more successful in adding the desired flavor.

Sifted – To put flour into a sort of sieve or strainer and shake it in order to strain out the lumps and allow the finer particles to pass through. It also allows dry ingredients to be combined in a way to ensure they are incorporated throughout. For example, you can place your flour, baking powder and salt in a sift and it will mix together for you as it goes through the strainer. If a recipe calls for “sifted flour” it is to be sifted before measuring. If it calls for “flour, sifted” it is to be sifted after it is measured.

Rest – Putting food to the side and allowing it to set there undisturbed.

Flour – Okay, I know you are thinking of the food product, but it is also a verb. Wipe shortening, oil or butter on a pan making sure to get every tiny space. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of flour into the pan and shake it till the flour clings to every exposed bit of oil. This is to prevent cakes and brownies from sticking to the pan.

Did you learn anything new? Please let me know if you think I missed any terms and happy cooking!

FISH BASICS

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Fish are in such high demand today because we know the health benefits they provide. There are so many kinds of fish depending on the region you live in, I am not going to try to touch them all. Instead we will focus on basic terminology and those fish that everyone can find in their local store or fishing hole. Not only do consumers need to be aware of what they are purchasing at the store, but restaurants have picked up much of the terminology and put it on their menus.

Farm Raised The process of raising fish commercially in tanks or enclosures to be released into the wild or served as food. Fish that were raised in hatcheries and released to the wild live their life in various lakes, rivers and streams to procreate or be caught by fishermen. Some are transferred to cages placed in rivers, lakes and the ocean until they are large enough to sell. One of the biggest concerns with cage fishing is when fish escape in an area that is not their natural habitat and therefore have no natural predators. The most common cultured fish are catfish, salmon, carp, tilapia, European seabass and cod.

Organic how do you label a wild animal as organic? That is the question that causes controversy in the use of this label. Fish which are vegetarians can easily have their diets controlled. Carnivores however eat other fish which itself cannot be labeled organic. In 2008, the US National Organic Standards Board allowed farmed fish to be labeled as organic provided less than 25% of their feed came from wild fish.

Sustainable Sustainable fish or seafood was either fished or farmed from sources that can maintain or increase production in the future without jeopardizing the ecosystems from which it was acquired. Slow growing fish (such as orange roughy) are at most risk of being overfished. Overfishing puts species at risk of being placed on the endangered list or eventually to become extinct.

There are ways to find out if the fish you buy is sustainable. Some companies promote it on their websites. The Blue Ocean Institute has created a flier you can tuck into your shopping bag that labels fish by its sustainability. Store chains have begun to use this system so you may see the codes in your local store.

Seafood is any marine life regarded as food by humans. This includes fish, molluscs (octopus and shellfish), crustaceans (shrimp and lobster), echinoderms (sea cucumber and sea urchins) as well as edible sea plants, such as some seaweeds and micro algae.

Fresh If you are going to buy fish you certainly expect it to be edible. To determine if a fish is fresh you first need to smell it. There should not be a strong fish odor and seafood should smell of the ocean. Eyes should be clear and be slightly bulgy. Herring is an exception to that rule as their eyes should be red. The flesh should be firm with a slight sheen to it. If the meat is separating from itself (flaking), it is old. The gills should be a bright pink or red and slightly wet without being slimy. Check the labels, if the fish was previously frozen the label must state so. This means the store received the fish frozen and then packaged and allowed the fish to thaw.

Smoked Smoking was done to cure the meat in order to preserve it for consumption later on. As time passed, recipes and techniques were developed to create depth of flavor as well. The traditional method requires fish being suspended in a smokehouse and thus infused with the natural smoke of the kindling. Modern methods create smoke condensates which is a liquid smoke. This requires much less time to complete the process.

“Hot-smoking (also called barbecuing or kippering) requires a short brining time and smoking temperatures of 90°F for the first 2 hours and 150°F for an additional 4-8 hours. Hot-smoked fish are moist, lightly salted, and fully cooked, but they will keep in the refrigerator for only a few days.

Cold-smoking requires a longer brining time, lower temperature (80-90°F) and extended smoking time (1-5 days or more of steady smoking). Cold-smoked fish contain more salt and less moisture than hot-smoked fish. If the fish has been sufficiently cured, it will keep in the refrigerator for several months.” (1)In the USA cold smoked fish are raw and need to be cooked before serving. Cold smoked salmon is referred to as lox. Herring that has been salted and smoked are referred to as kippers

Storage Once frozen fish has been thawed, it should not be refrozen. Fresh fish should be kept on ice. The best way to do this is to fill container A with ice and place container B on top that holds the fish. This is needed because the water fish swim in is colder than air and the refrigerator cannot keep the meat cold enough to keep it from rotting. A second option is to place an ice pack under the fish instead of the ice.

If you caught the fish it will last about 10 days this way. Store bought is only good for a few days! Oily fish such as salmon, trout or sturgeon lose a few days automatically. Exceptionally oil fish such as herring, sardine or bluefish should be eaten immediately.

Freezing Fish freezes quite well if done properly up to 6 months. First and foremost it must not touch air. All fish should be wrapped tightly before being placed into the freezer. Glazed fish means it has been frozen in ice to prevent this. I am not a fan of this method as I feel it often produces mushy fish once thawed.

Cooking The 10 minute rule has the cook measure the fish at its widest point. Cook fresh fish 10 minutes for each inch (20 minutes for frozen). This assumes you are cooking a filet. Cooking a whole fish takes longer. Check by pressing on the thickest part of the fish, do not cut it open!

Poached Fish that has been simmered in a liquid

Fried Fish can be pan-fried or deep-fried. If the oil is at the correct temperature the fish should not absorb very much oil. Breaded fish requires more oil in the pan than unbreaded.

Baked Most fish will dry out if baked by itself. You will need a little liquid even if it is simply oil or lemon juice and covered with tin foil. Fish baked in packets cook in their own juices and become very tender. The added benefit is you can enclose vegetables with the fish and cook everything at once. Salted fish requires the fish be cleaned and covered with a mixture of salt and beaten egg whites. The fish bakes within the “crust” and contrary to how it sounds, does not come out tasting like a salt lick.

Sushi Not all sushi uses raw fish. Sometimes it is also smoked or pickled. Western sushi has created a variety of combinations so if you are not familiar with a name, ask what is in it.

Pacific vs Atlantic Salmon In the great salmon wars, people tend to take 1 side and will only eat one or the other. So is there really a difference? The Atlantic salmon is restricted to 1 species. The Pacific salmon encompasses the Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink, Sockeye, Steelhead, Masau and Biwa. Both Pacific and Atlantic spend about 5 years in the ocean before returning to the lakes to spawn. Pacific salmon only spawn once, while Atlantic salmon can do so repeatedly. How much this affects the taste of the meat is up to you to decide.

BASIC CHICKEN FACTS

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As with pork and beef, the labels on packages of chicken have become very detailed in the last 10 years. Here are some basic terms to help you out on your next visit to the store or butcher.

Organic: The USDA has set specific standards that are required in order for a food to use organic labeling.

To be labeled as “100″ organic” the food must contain only organically produced ingredients and processing aids, excluding water and salt.

Items labeled as “organic” must be at least 95% organically produced ingredients, again excluding water and salt.

Finally those food products which have the “made with organic ingredients” are processed products that were made with at least 70% organic ingredients.

Free Range: This term refers to allowing the animal to wander at will rather than being fenced in. Free range animals are for the most part, allowed to find their own food rather than the farmer providing it. The USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range nor the duration of time an animal must have access to the outside. As long as the chicken has been allowed outside for a time, even if it is on pavement, they can be labeled as free range. Europe has much stricter guidelines in order to use the term on chicken sold there.

Yarding: In yarding the animals are kept within a fence. Too often animals that have been yarded are referred to as free range.

Cage Free; This is purely a marketing term and not one used by the USDA. A cage free chicken was not kept in a cage, that does not mean they were running out in a green pasture all day looking for bugs to eat.

Fresh: The internal temperature of the chicken carcass has not dropped below 24° F. Bear in mind 32 degrees is freezing so part of the chicken may still be frozen. Companies such as Foster Farms make a huge point of the fact that their chickens make it so fast to the store shelf they are labeled as fresh.

Natural: The natural chicken has been “minimally processed” such that the raw product has not been fundamentally altered. No artificial ingredients, preservatives, or colors have been added.

Kosher: Jewish dietary laws have strict requirements that must be proven in order to receive this label.

No antibiotics administered: This is a marketing gimmick unless it is accompanied by the USDA ORGANIC label.

No hormones: As the USDA prohibits hormones in all poultry, it does not matter if this is on the label or not.

Plumping: This terms refers to food processors injecting salt water, chicken stock or seaweed extract into their chicken in order to “add moisture”. It also adds weight to the chicken and increases the price of the meat. The amounts injected can range from 15% to 30% of the weight of the meat being purchased. This has been going on since the 1970’s in the USA. Chicken that has been plumped may still carry the 100% natural label as the packaging also states the meat has been injected. Consumers must look carefully for that statement as it is usually in very small print.

Whole Fryer Chicken: A fryer chicken is 7 to 13 weeks old and will weigh 1 1/2 to 4 pounds.

Split Chicken Breast:When a chicken is butchered the breast is left on the breast bone and the ribs are still attached. This is split down the middle, leaving the split breasts.

Chicken Tender: When the bone is removed from the breast, a small piece is left and referred to as the tender. The term is also used interchangeable with fillet, strip and fingers to describe a boneless piece of chicken.

Chicken Quarters: When the leg and thigh are left attached to each other.

Neck: The neck is often found in the cavity of a chicken along with the heart, liver and gizzard. Many people place them in the pan when roasting the chicken to add flavor to the drippings.

For optimal quality, however, a maximal storage time in the freezer of 12 months is recommended for uncooked whole chicken, 9 months for uncooked chicken parts, 3 to 4 months for uncooked chicken giblets, and 4 months for cooked chicken. Freezing doesn’t usually cause color changes in poultry, but the bones and the meat near them can become dark

Safety: Hands should be washed immediately after handling raw chicken for a full 20 seconds. None of this 5 second stuff I see on the Food Network all the time. Cross contamination happens easily and the best prevention is to use a clean cutting board and knife after it has touched raw poultry. I know our moms all did it, but we should not leave chicken out all night in order to thaw it.

Disinfectants can be sprayed onto surfaces to kill bacteria but needs to be left there for several minutes. Products purchased at the store will tell you on the back of the bottle how long to leave the spray in order to kill the bacteria. Some say up to 10 minutes!

Temperature: Chicken should always be cooked all the way through. Eating raw chicken puts you at risk of food born illnesses. Sometimes this means simple a simple stomach ache, but people do die from improperly handled food, young children are especially susceptible. All poultry should have an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit or 74 degrees Celsius. A thermometer should be placed in the thickest part of the meat. If it is still on the bone caution must be made in order not to touch the bone with the thermometer as it will give an inaccurate reading.

Happy cooking!

BASIC PORK FACTS

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Purchasing cuts of meat can sometimes become a little confusing. There are so many terms being used it can be difficult to choose what the cook really wants. By becoming familiar with the labels the consumer can purchase pork and be more satisfied with the resulting dishes.

HAM: There are 4 cuts of ham, the picnic, the butt end, the shank and boneless. On the butt you will find more meat, however the shank provides a wonderful bone for making soups and beans. Because of that bone however, it is much easier to carve the butt cut. Both the butt and shank come from the back end of the pig while the picnic comes from the front.

CURED: Generally when people think of a ham they are assuming it is cured. This is how we preserve the pork by adding sugar, salt, smoke and nitrates. The process extends the life of the pork by preventing spoilage.

CITY HAMS: Most hams in the United States were submerged in a brine (salt water) until all the meat has been preserved. A more modern method is to inject the salt water, which is a much cheaper process. Most city hams will have been smoked as well.

So exactly how much water has been added to your ham? When the label states “Ham” it is a minimum of 20.5% protein and no added water. Next is “Ham with natural juices” with only 18.5% protein and therefore about 8% water has been added to increase the weight of the ham. “Ham, water added” needs only 17% protein and a high of 10% added water by weight. Last (and many consider the least favorite ham) is “Ham and water product,” which can contain any amount of added water. The consumer must read the label to find out how much water has been added to it.

COUNTRY HAMS: Compared to a country ham which has been dry rubbed, the city ham will have a very different flavor. Prosciutto, Bayonne ham, Serrano ham, Black Forest ham, Westphalian ham, York ham, and Ardennes ham are all cured in the same way, where the hams are hung to dry for months. Country hams are available smoked and unsmoked and usually raw, so that requires being fully cooked before serving so be sure to read the lable. These hams are extremely salty and much drier than the city ham.

FULL HAM: A ham that includes the shank and butt end. It has not been cut in half and will weight around 16 pounds.

BONELESS: If you are looking at the diagram above and wondering where to find a boneless ham, you won’t. It is a ham where the bone was removed and pressed back together to form a nice oval shape. In this category fall the hams found in a can which are pieces of ham pressed together.

SPIRAL CUT: Hams can be loaded onto a machine and it is spun in a circle as the knife continually cuts thin slices. It is especially nice when used on a buffet. However, they are not ideal for freezing for more than a couple months.

PORK LOIN: This is a long tube of meat cut from the top of the pig. When cured it becomes known as Canadian Bacon in the States, or Black Bacon in the United Kingdom. This is a very tender and lean piece of meat.

TENDERLOIN:
Cut from the center of the loin and is very tender, lean and full of flavor.

PORK CHOPS: When the pork loin is sliced the pieces are referred to as chops. They can be bone in or boneless and thicker slices are preferred so they don’t become overcooked.

COUNTRY STYLE RIBS:
Country style ribs are a way to enjoy a rib and still use a fork and knife. There are rarely any bones in them as they come from the sirloin end of the loin.

BABY BACK RIBS:
These ribs are from the top of the rib cage between the spine and the spare ribs, below the loin muscle. The term “baby” is an indication they are not from sows, but market weight hogs. If one buys the whole rack, they have the ribs from 1 end of the pig to the other and will include 8 to 13 ribs.

SPARE RIBS: These ribs are from the belly side of the rib cage, below the section of back ribs and above breast bone. Spare ribs tend to have more bone then meat on them, unlike the baby back ribs. They are also a fattier cut of meat.

PORK ROASTS: A pork roast should be cooked low and slow. If cooked too quickly they will get very dry. They make great pulled pork sandwiches.

BACON: Lets take just a moment to reflect to this one cut of pork. It is salty, smoked, sometimes flavored with maple syrup or black pepper and perhaps the best part of the pig. Now that you are drooling, how do you prefer your bacon cut? Thick slices take longer to cook, but you are not at risk of eating flimsy pieces that fall apart before they make it to your mouth. Bacon is made from several place of the pig. The belly tends to be very high in fat. A side cut will be leaner. Bacon made from fatback is just how it sounds, mostly fat while bacon made from the loin will be much leaner. Unlike ham, bacon uses dry packing for the curing process.

COOKING TEMPERATURES: The USDA lowered the temperature for pork from 160 degrees to 145. This was announced in May of 2011.

As always, please let me know if you have any questions. Happy cooking!