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“You’re so far away from home!” This is the typical reaction we get when asked where we are from and our response is ”Australia…and France”. Though I always like to think that home is wherever the boat is, we are indeed away from our respective birth countries.

Not to say that we get homesick, but we do like to observe some of our special days and celebrate the way we would at home. Take Father’s Day. The French, Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans all celebrated their Dads back in June (including  me). However Australia’s Father Day falls on the first Sunday of September, and there was no way the kids would change that tradition.

So  on September 1, Terry was probably the only person waking up to his children’s “Happy Father’s Day”! As per family tradition, he was to spend the day as he pleased and order whatever he wanted to eat. We had intended to go scuba diving , all four of us, but thunderstorms and lightning stuffed up that plan. It ended up being a movie day instead. Personally I didn’t mind, as it meant spending time in the galley which I much preferred rather than trying to climb back on a diving boat in a middle of a storm!

Terry’s request for dinner was a good old Aussie meat pie. Now, that doesn’t sound like much, unless you are an expat Aussie! 7 months in Mexico, and this Shire boy is growing tired of empanadas, burritos, and tacos. So, I went to work.

The pie filling was easy: I had all the ingredients on board, but for the beef. It took some searching, figuring the Mexican equivalent of “chuck steak”, to eventually settle for chambarete de res or beef shanks ( otherwise used for osso bucco).

The pastry, on the other hand was a challenge. Puff pastry is near impossible to find where we live on the Riviera Maya. In fact, all that is available in the supermarkets or delis is pre-shaped graham cracker crusts or frozen phyllo pastry. So I but the bullet, and turned to my trusted Robert Carrier Cookbook, and its 45 pages devoted to pies and pastries. There, on page 759, was the recipe for Flaky Pastry, which I favoured over the Puff Pastry as it involved “only” 3 turns instead of 7. The ingredients required were the same in both cases (flour, butter, iced water, salt), so was the technique, but this being my first time and the humid weather melting the butter faster than desirable, I went for the shorter option. Still, it took me a good hour to knead, roll, spread, fold, turn…3 times. But felt quite an achiever as I cradled the buttery parcel to the fridge to rest.

Terry was so excited at the prospect, he mentioned how his favourite part of the pie was the pastry enclosing  the meat. That’s when it hit me. I had made enough flaky pastry to cover the top, not worrying about the bottom. Terry’s comment? “Ohhhh, that’s a French meat pie. A real aussie meat pie has pastry top and bottom, so you can hold it in your hands!”  Nothing peeves me more than being told I’m not cooking things right. So, opened the book again, and sure enough, on page 777, there is an entire section about raised pies! Well, wasn’t I happy that the diving expedition was cancelled, it gave me spare time to try my hand at rich raised pie crust making.

Raised pies are generally served cold, so the crust needs to be rather solid in texture to absorb the juices and still retain its shape.  Ordinary raised pie crust is made with water, lard, flour and salt. The addition of egg and butter makes it richer, what you want when lining a mould, as I planned to. My only issue with the recipe was the use of lard. To be honest, though it’s easily available in Mexico,  it’s not the kind of ingredient I keep on board ( something to do with the look and smell of the plastic wrapped blob sold in the supermarket, maybe). However, I happen to find a tub of duck fat stuck at the back of the fridge, which I had forgotten I had. It was unopened, still carrying its New York price tag from Zabar (just as well, it keeps for ages!) A little softer to handle than lard, it was a perfect substitute for it. Overall, making this crust took a fraction of the time required for flaky pastry: 10 minutes tops.

Both pastries kept each other company in the fridge, while the filling cooked and cooled. Assembling the pie was child’s play. Since we didn’t have individual pie dishes, I served it family style in a 9” deep pie dish along with steamed broccoli ( we needed a healthy side, right?). It cut well, but the amount of filling was such that Terry couldn’t eat it with his hands without the meat being squeezed out the sides. Still, it was delicious and rich, from the pastry and the well-seasoned beef. Paired with a cold lager for Terry and a smooth Argentinian red wine for me, it nearly felt like home

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Australian style  meat pie

Adapted from The Robert Carrier Cookbook

4-6 thick slices beef shins (or 1.5 kg chuck steak cut into bite sized pieces)

3 tbsp plain flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

5 tbsp butter

1 large yellow onion finely chopped

1 carrot finely chopped

1 celery stick finely chopped

500 ml rich beef stock

1tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 bay leaf

2 tsp parsley chopped

Flaky pastry (for the lid – see below)

Rich raised pie crust (for the base – see below)

1-      Make a rich raised pie crust  as directed below. Butter a deep pie dish  and line it with pastry. Keep cool in the fridge.

2-      Mix flour, salt and ½ tsp ground black pepper and roll the beef shins in this mixture.

3-      Melt butter in a thick bottom saucepan ( or a pressure cooker, like I do).  Add the beef shins one at a time and brown them thoroughly, turning them over often. When all the shins have been browned, keep them aside while you saute the finely chopped onion, carrot and celery until soft, for about 5 minutes. Add back the beef shins and their juices in the saucepan/pressure cooker, moisten with the beef stock and the Worcesteshire sauce, add remaining black pepper, bay leaf and chopped parsley

4-      Stir, cover, bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook on low for 1 ½ hour ( if using a pressure cooker, wait until the valve “whistles” then reduce to a simmer, and cook on low for ¾ hour).

5-      The meat should be very tender. Shred it from the shin bones ( or leave it in chunks if using boneless chuck steak). Allow meat to cool in its own liquid.

6-      In the meantime, make a flaky pastry crust as directed below.

7-      When cool enough, add meat and liquid to pastry lined pie dish. Place the flaky pastry crust over the meat, moistening and pinching edges to the dish. Make vents in the pastry to allow steam to escape and bake in a hot oven at 230C/450F for 10 minutes. Lower heat to moderate 190C/375F and continue baking for 20 minutes or until pastry crust is golden brown. Serves 6-8

Flaky pastry

275 g plain flour

Good pinch of salt

Squeeze of lemon juice

200 g butter

Iced water

1-      Sieve flour and salt into a clean, dry bowl and add lemon juice.

2-      Divide butter into 4 equal parts. Take one of these pieces and rub it into the flour with the tips of your fingers until mixture is free from lumps  (it is vital the butter is very cold and you work quickly, if the butter starts melting or your hands are too warm, it turns into a mess! Alternatively, use a food processor and use the pulse setting)

3-      Then add just enough iced water to form dough into one lump. Do not over handle.

4-      Turn onto a floured board, knead lightly until smooth and roll into a long narrow strip, approx. 6mm thick.

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5-      Take one of the remaining portions of butter and with the tip of a knife put it in even rows of small pieces all over the pastry, leaving 25mm margin without butter around the edges. (that’s where it gets tricky: if butter is too hard, it will make ugly lumps, work it on a plate first; if butter is too soft, it will ooze out in a mess, refrigerate it first)

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6-      Flour the surface lightly. Fold the pastry exactly in 3, like a letter. Turn the pastry ½ round, bringing the joins to the right hand side, and press the folds down sharply with the rolling pin so as to enclose some air.

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7-      Roll the pastry out again into a long narrow strip, and proceed as before until the 2 remaining portions of butter have been used (again, make sure the butter doesn’t become too soft during the rolling, cool the pastry in the fridge if necessary between turns)

8-      The last time, roll the pastry out to the desired thickness, if it needs widening, turn it across the board and roll across.

9-      Wrap in gladwrap and rest in the fridge for ½ hour (It will keep it there for several days. Bring back to room temperature for 20mn before using again) .

Rich raised pie crust

225 plain flour

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp duck fat (or lard)

1 egg yolk

Water (up to 150ml)

1-      Sieve the flour and salt, rub in the butter and the duck fat (or lard) until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. (I sometimes use the food processor on pulse setting when I don’t want my hands to get dirty!))

2-      Bind together with the egg yolk and a little water, keeping the pastry as dry as possible.

3-      Knead well, wrap in gladwrap and rest in the fridge for ½ hour. (This pastry will keep there for a few days while wrapped. Bring back to room temperature for 20mn before using again.)

 

August Happenings

Last month mood was very mellow. August being a holiday month for everyone, we basically “closed the shop”, and retired inside. With most of our friends in Puerto gone on vacation and our kids back to home schooling, life has been quiet: no dinner parties, no trips away, a couple of casual dinners out to patronise the local restaurants but hardly anything to write about. Being in the middle of the hurricane season, we sat thru a couple of storms, too mild to be dangerous, still strong enough to keep us indoors.

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Boat bound, and wanting a distraction from Grade 4 assignments and constant rain, I decided it was the perfect occasion to clean out our cold storage, and use up whatever meat and other frozen stuff had accumulated in our freezers over the past year or so. It felt like a Masterchef mystery box challenge: duck breasts, Italian sausages, NZ mussels, , Australian lamb, cookies and cream ice-cream,…what on earth could we do with all this? Looking for new ideas and inspiration, I turned to some of my favourite food blogs: Dinner a love story always makes me smile, 101 Cookbooks has enough recipes to turn me into a vegetarian (one day…) and if you really want to know how to while away a rainy afternoon, grab a nice cup of coffee and browse thru Food 52 ( I dare you not to spend an obscene amount of time looking thru recipes, funny stories and gorgeous Instagrams! I have).

Luckily our fresh fruits and vegetable market is only a short walk from the boat, so with a head full of ideas, working out dinner was a matter of picking what looked best on the day, and play matchmaker in the galley!

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That’s how the duck magrets were paired with sweet potato slices, guacamole and fresh tomato salsa,

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the Italian sausages found a perfect partner in cheesy polenta,

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the mussels happily swam in a Portuguese style stew, thick with tomatoes and chickpeas

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and the lamb teamed beautifully with cauliflower “rice” and steamed green beans. As for the ice cream, I finally got around to make ice cream sandwiches, thanks to the half opened packet of coconut cookies the kids had left laying around. What a perfect snack for unexpected guests!

You’d think I would have rushed to re-stock our clean and empty freezers, but I liked the idea of a minimalist pantry (sort of) and thought: why not use some of our dry goods for a while, just buying fresh produce when necessary? Couscous, rice, beans, canned tuna, olives, nuts…all found their way in semi-vegetarian dishes. We ended up eating tons of salads, some fancy like this  spinach salad with couscous

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that oyster mushrooms and avocado salad

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or even my own “everything but the kitchen sink salad” concoction

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Staring at the quantities of flour I had purchased in the US, I also obsessed about using it before it reached its use by date, so embarked on a breadmaking experiment. This proved to be the most frustrating and infuriating exercise, as no two breads ever came out the same. Some way worse than others, for which I blamed the high Mexican humidity, but Terry reminded me that I used different  recipes each time. Ooops! I could not help it, I had to try: Buttermilk and Maple Syrup bread, Olive oil bread, Simple French loaf,… Ok, the Buttermilk and Maple syrup failed as a bread, however, it made a wonderful base for Bread and Butter pudding (just needed to add lots of cream, butter, extra sugar and a good handful of sultanas). The Olive oil bread was pretty good on its own, but was 10 times better when toasted and filled with left over roast pork (and since I happened to have pickles, swiss cheese and American mustard in the fridge, we ended up with our own version of a Cuban sandwich)

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bread and butter pudding with maple and buttermilk bread blog

 

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Have I made a dent in my provisions? A little. The freezer is nearly empty (one lonely lobster remaining, waiting for a worthwhile plate companion). So mission is not quite accomplished yet, but I found there is something uplifting about using what is at hand. It forces you to think (and cook) outside the box, try new produce, new techniques, new pairings…. I like to imagine my galley is going thru its own detox! And not to be outdone, Terry joined in the cleansing spirit and has kept the drink fridge empty for the past 4 weeks. Now I wonder how long we could keep going this way?

The Humble Omelette

Lets go back to the days when my cooking skills were inexistent. Actually, I could boil rice, which hardly counts as a gourmet prowess though it goes a long way towards sustenance.

When faced with the task of learning to cook, where do you start? These were the late 1980’s, pre-internet days, so forget googling recipes or join food forums. I had no family and very few friends in Australia, international phone calls cost nearly $2/minute therefor calling Mum for family recipes was out of question. So I bought The Robert Carrier Cookbook, which was perfect for 2 reasons: the blurb on the back cover stated “if you have only one cookery book on your shelf, make it this one”, and even though it was nearly 900 pages, it was the size of a paperback, so would not take space on the boat.

This is the most comprehensive cookbook I could find at the time, it covers everything from Choosing your menu, to How to set up your kitchen, All about beef, and even Christmas fare. His chapter on Souffles alone has 22 pages!  Unlike most books nowadays, there is not a single photograph, which at times was unnerving, when I had no idea  how the dish was supposed to turn out.

One meal I had no problem picturing though was an omelette. A standard fare in France, I had eaten omelette nature hundreds of time, just never cooked one. Until I read Robert Carrier’s recipe, which not only included the most simple ingredients (eggs, butter) but also described the technique used to produce the perfect basic omelette (it’s in the lifting and the sliding!).

After purchasing a dedicated pan*, I practised and practised for days, using Terry and his daughters as guinea pigs. Then one night, we had unexpected guests, and with nothing in the fridge but eggs, I offered my humble omelettes as an impromptu dinner. It was such a success, my neighbour  asked for the recipe! I find it so quick and easy to make, over the years it’s been my go-to dish when pressed for time or ideas. That’s the first thing I taught my kids to cook, when they were old enough to handle a hot pan. An individual omelette is the quintessential fast-food on the boat!

*my omelette pan has followed me from boats to boats. It is a heavy duty non skid pan, 20cm wide with rounded slides, so the omelette can slide easily onto the plate when cooked.

Individual French Omelette Adapted from The Robert Carrier Cookbook

Serves 1.

2 eggs

1 tbsp water

Salt

Butter

1tbsp whipped egg white (optional)

  1. Beat eggs with water until well mixed. Add salt to taste.
  2. Heat butter until sizzling in a preheated omelette pan. Remove pan from heat and pour in egg mixture.
  3. Return to heat and quickly stir eggs for a second or two to assure even cooking.
  4. As eggs begin to set , lift edges with a fork or spatula so that the liquid can run under. Repeat until liquid is all used up but the eggs are still moist and soft. All the while, shake the pan to keep the eggs from sticking (alternatively, run a thin spatula gently underneath)
  5. When eggs are set, roll omelette on to a warm plate by tilting the pan starting it away from edge at one side with a fork and letting it roll over itself.

This is a plain omelette. Variations are endless, here are some of suggestions from our crew.

Add between step 4 and 5:

–          Grated cheese and chopped ham or fried bacon ( our 10 year old daughter)

Anne's favourite, it is child's play really...

Anne’s favourite, it is child’s play really…

–          Grated carrots, shallots, bean sprouts, and a splash of soya sauce (from me)

The perfect quick meal after a day at the beach!

The perfect quick meal after a day at the beach!

–          Buttered mushrooms and garlic (from Terry)

–          Left over bacon and potatoes, finely chopped (from our 15 year old son).

 

 

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My daughter’s favourite: banana, vanilla yogurt, apple juice. Real sugar kick!

So far, August has not been the quiet month I expected for a detox. Too many hot days, children on holidays, cooking experiments leading to impromptu gatherings leading to too many “dates with bottles of wine” as my friend Monica would say. It’s not for lack of trying and in an effort to kick start the day in some virtous kind of way, I have enrolled the assistance of my trusted blender. So every second day or so ( depending on everyone’s mood and the state of the fridge supplies!), I make smoothies for breakfast.

Not only do they taste good, but they’re so healthy you can feel yourself actually coming back to life as you drink it (well, I do, anyway). The blender I use is a monster I acquired in the US, called a Mix n Blend II by Blendtec. It’s a pretty heavy duty machine, a bit of an over kill for blending smoothies, but I wanted an appliance that could also crush ice and also mill/grind grains, in case I fancied making my own flour on the boat ( that hasn’t happened yet, in the 2 years we’ve been at sea!) Oh, and it has a mixing bowl too, so that’s what I use for making bread and cakes. But I digress. The reason I mention this, is that running this blender early in the morning causes such a racket, it wakes up the kids. How is that as an added bonus?

Now for the smoothies. We’ve experimented with fruits and vegetables, and fruits win hands down in the morning. Spinach and celery green power shakes at 7am have never found any takers on this boat I am afraid. Ok, here’s what goes in (for 4 serves):

1 banana, either fresh or frozen. It adds thickness and sweetness to the shake, and if using frozen you don’t need ice cubes. ( Tip: do not throw your overripe bananas, cut them in 1” chunks and freeze them)

1 cup plain yoghurt, unflavoured and unsweetened (in Mexico, look for yogurt natural sin azucar, as yogurt natural comes loaded with sugar)

2 cups of fresh fruits, whatever is on hand. In Mexico, we use mainly tropical items, like mangoes, pineapples, rockmelons. Anywhere else, strawberries, apples, peaches, nectarines…Whole citrus fruits do not work (trust me, they will turn the whole thing in a mushy mess!) And any berries with large seeds (rasperries, blackberries,…) will give a gritty texture to the shake. We don’t like that. Oh, and if you use melons, then skip the bananas, the 2 flavours don’t go so well together in my opinion.

½ cup of orange, lemon or lime juice, my kids like apple juice but that’s too sweet for my liking

100 ml natural sweetener like maple syrup (my favourite), honey or agave syrup

A small handful of mint when we have (it goes beautifully with pineapple or melons)

3 or 4 ice cubes ( any more and you’ll need a spoon to scoop it out)

Blend on the smoothies/shake setting if your blender has one, otherwise at low speed for 10 seconds then high speed for another 10 seconds or so until everything is nice and smooth. Enjoy!

 

Loading up for the latest smoothie sensation: rockmelon, mint, yogurt, maple syrup, a squeeze of lime...

Loading up for the latest smoothie sensation: rockmelon, mint, yogurt, maple syrup, a squeeze of lime…

I give you "veloute de melon" which is French for rockmelon smoothie, sounds more sophisticated that way!

I give you “veloute de melon” which is French for rockmelon smoothie, sounds more sophisticated that way!

 

When simple is sometimes the best

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I’ve always said that what I love about our travelling is the opportunity to experience new and different cultures first hand.  Learning languages, tasting exotic foods…total immersion is the way to go in my books.  But meeting new people has to be on top of the list of “by-products” of our global roaming.  Locals, holidaymakers , fellow cruisers or relocated expats…Puerto Aventuras, where we have been for the past 6 months, is a big village full of fascinating people.

A few weekends ago we invited an American family over for a BBQ on the boat. As often happens these days,  the kids met first  and forged relationships, and it wasn’t until 3 months later that we made the parents’ acquaintance at a house party. We hit it  off, Terry and Joe sharing the same interest for flying and business, Kelly and I swapping travel stories and “the joy of taking your family along”  anecdotes. They had many guests to attend that day, so we parted with a promise to get together again and chat some more. Soon. Life went on, both our families busy with school and boat issues (us), or business travel (them).  It took another 3 months  to find the time to resume our previous chat, which turned out to be even more fascinating than the first! Our floating home and lifestyle is always a source of  curiosity for people, and a first time visit  on board invariably  includes a guided tour and answers to many “how do you…??”  type of questions.  From weather to anchorages, engineering issues to our favourite destinations, we’re always happy to share our experience. But my favourite has to be when asked about fishing and food! We have so many fishing stories and recipes to share, I could write a book  about it. Until I do, I am happy to include fish on the menu whenever we have guests.

We were lucky  to have scored  some mahi-mahi fillets (dorado/dolphin fish) from a friend’s boat the day before, freshly frozen only a few days ago (i.e. frozen immediately after being caught). I had a craving for sashimi, but  you need super fresh fish for that (read, not defrosted). So the mahi-mahi would require cooking, but still,  I wanted a starter with the texture of raw fish. Challenge? I poured over my collection of cookbooks (the ones Terry allowed me to take on board, the other 100 are  in storage in Sydney) and found this recipe for pepper-crusted tataki with hoisin vinaigrette, in the book Terrific Pacific by Anya Von Bremzen. Terry bought it for me as a gift 17 years ago, before setting off on our first Pacific crossing. A brilliant collection of recipes from South East Asia, it has become my bible, evidenced by the many dog ear marked curry stained pages, all held together by an elastic band. The original recipe calls for fresh yellowfin tuna, covered in a spicy pepper paste. I substituted the mahi-mahi and omitted the pepper paste as one of our guests suffers from severe food allergies. The fish had to be plain. The key is in the method of cooking: it’s seared very quickly in a dry skillet, wrapped in plastic wrap, and allowed to finish “cooking” to just the right degree of doneness. Paired with an oriental flavoured dressing, and served on corn chips (for a Mexican twist! ), it made for a delicious appetiser, the boys fighting over the last piece.

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In keeping with the plain BBQ theme,  we grilled some pork spare ribs and chicken thighs, baked some potatoes,  all  simply sprinkled with salt and pepper. The colour accents were provided courtesy of a spinach and tomato salad, and bowls of papaya chutney.  Dessert in comparison was rich, a luscious coconut flan bathed in caramel which the still hungry adored, but our food sensitive guest could not have. Note to self: find a dairy-free, egg-free, version for the next time.

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Pepper–Crusted Tataki of Mahi-Mahi  with Hoisin Vinaigrette  

Adapted from Terrific Pacific, by Anya Von bremzen

Serves 4

1 ½  tbsp green peppercorn (optional)

1 ½ tbsp black peppercorn (optional)

1 ½ tbsp pink peppercorn (optional)

2 ½ tbsp virgin olive oil

2 pieces fresh mahi-mahi or yellowfin tuna ( defrosted frozen is Ok, as long as there are no freezer burns)

  1. Rub the olive oil all over the fish.
  2. If using the peppercorns:  using a mortar and pestle or small food processor, grind the peppercorns with the oil to a paste. Spread the mixture over the fish, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.
  3. Preheat the grill or the skillet.
  4. Grill the fish just to sear, about 1 minute on each side. Wrap in plastic wrap, allow to cool, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Slice into medium-thin slices.
  5. To serve as finger food: lay the fish slices on a platter, serve a pile of corn chips or wonton wrapper and the hoisin vinaigrette separately. To eat, dip a fish slice in the vinaigrette and place on a chip.To serve as a starter: divide some salad greens among 4 plates, fan out the fish slices and drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Hoisin Vinaigrette

Makes 2/3 cup

2 tsp hoisin sauce

1 ½ tsp soy sauce

1 ½ Dijon mustard

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 small clove garlic, crushed

2 tsps minced fresh ginger

1 ½ tsp ground white pepper

Salt, to taste

6 tbsp light olive oil or neutral vegetable oil (do not use virgin or extra virgin, too strong!)

In a bowl, mix together the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, mustard, vinegar, garlic , ginger, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking until emulsified. Let stand for 30 minutes for the flavors to develop.

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