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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for January, 2012

TIP OF THE DAY: Make Hazelnut Butter

Compound butter is delicious atop a steak;
just don’t tell your cardiologist. Above, herb,
gorgonzola and hazelnut butters. Photo
courtesy AllenBrothers.com.

 

Here’s a treat from Chef Johnny Gnall: hazelnut butter—the compound butter, not the peanut butter spread alternative. He learned it a while back while working at Aziza restaurant in San Francisco, and is “still finding new uses for it every day.”

“For some reason, the hazelnut seems to sit in a class of its own, a bit more indulgent than pecans, walnuts, almonds and other nuts,” says Chef Johnny.

“Hazelnuts work beautifully in sweet recipes and savory ones alike. Their richness and unique flavor can exist in the background of a dish, or they can be the star, paired with nothing more than a bit of chocolate.

“They also hold some hidden potential: hazelnut butter! Almost any nut can be made into a compound butter, but hazelnuts have an unmistakable richness and a hint of sweetness that is just perfect for everyday or special occasions.”

 

COMPOUND BUTTER RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 1 quart raw hazelnuts (peeled nuts are best, but unpeeled will work as well)
  • 1 quart whole milk (or more as needed)
  • Salt
  • Maple syrup
  •  
    Preparation

    1. Combine. Add hazelnuts and milk to a sauce pan. Milk should completely cover the hazelnuts, plus a little more to accommodate evaporation. You can always add more milk if the level drops.

    2. Boil. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for at least thirty minutes, and up to an hour. When you take the pan off the heat, the hazelnuts should be soft to the touch, but not so soft that they break down completely. Strain the milk out and reserve it.

    3. Purée. Add hazelnuts to a blender with half a cup of the milk and purée until smooth. If needed, add milk, a bit at a time, to facilitate the puréeing. But do so cautiously, as too much milk will leave you with hazelnut soup instead of hazelnut butter.

    4. Season. Once you have a smooth, thick, puréee, use a spatula to get it into a large bowl. Season with a pinch of salt and some maple syrup. The goal of the syrup is to add just enough sweetness that it brings out the natural sweetness of the hazelnuts. Add it a tablespoon at a time, incorporating well with a whisk and tasting afterwards. The whole batch shouldn’t take more than a few tablespoons of maple syrup.

    5. Strain. Finally, you have the option to strain the hazelnut butter through a chinoise. This step is only necessary if you are are going for that impeccable, restaurant-quality texture. Otherwise, the hazelnut butter is quite smooth and delicious even without straining. Also note that if you used unpeeled hazelnuts, you may prefer to strain out the skins.

    6. Cool. At this point, the butter is in a soft state. Let it stand for an hour in a cool place, covered, so the flavors can develop; then refrigerate to harden.

    HOW TO STORE HAZELNUT BUTTTER

    There are three basic different ways to store the butter:

  • In an airtight container—plastic, glass or a ceramic crock with a gasket seal (if air gets in, butter can easily pick up other aromas in the fridge).
  • In a roll: As the butter hardens, place it on a piece of wax paper (or plastic wrap) and roll it into a sausage shape, about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Twist the ends of the wax paper and place into a plastic storage bag. Slice it by the piece as you need it. A circular slice looks great atop a steak.
  • For entertaining, press the butter into molds to create stars or other shapes; create balls with butter paddles; or simply press it into ramekins.
     
    You also can freeze the butter for a month or more.

    HOW TO USE HAZELNUT BUTTTER

  • As a bread spread: on everything from toast to croissants.
  • In cookies: Add hazelnut flavor to any recipe.
  • On vegetables, rice, pasta, pancakes and everywhere you use butter.
  • On steaks and chops: If you top your meats with a pat of regular butter, hazelnut butter will add even more flavor.
  • Hazelnut butter makes a great homemade gift for any occasion, from Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Just fill mason jars and tie ribbons around them. Your friends and family will go nuts for it!
  •  
    Pork Roast WIth Hazelnut Butter. For a special entrée, slather a pork shoulder or loin with hazelnut butter and roast it as you normally would. The sweetness of the butter, imparted from the maple syrup, pairs excellently with the pork. Its earthiness adds a whole new level of flavor. For a nice touch, finish the roast on broil for a few minutes to get a nice dark crust over the top. Friends and family will ooh and ah when the roast arrives at the table…but their mouths will be far too full to say anything after that!

    More compound butter recipes.

      

    Comments

    CHINESE NEW YEAR: Ginger Fried Rice Recipe From Jean-Georges Vongerichten

    The Year of the Dragon is considered the luckiest year in the Chinese Zodiac.

    And it began yesterday, when millions of Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese and other Asians rang in the New Year with fireworks, feasts and family gatherings.

    We considered ourselves lucky with a seat at a delicious dinner at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market restaurant in New York City.

    We left with this recipe for Jean-Georges’ signature Ginger Fried Rice. It was on the menu when he opened the restaurant in 2004 (Year Of The Monkey), and has remained a popular dish to this day.

    Made with leftover jasmine rice, fried egg, leeks and fresh ginger, this crowd pleaser is a delicious side with almost anything. It’s also equally enjoyable as a cold or warm rice salad with strips or cubes of chicken or other meat, shrimp, scallops or other seafood.

    Plan ahead when you make the rice, and make enough protein for leftovers to go with the Ginger Fried Rice.

     

    Now you don’t have to go to Spice Market to
    enjoy the Ginger Fried Rice. Photo courtesy
    Spice Market.

     

    GINGER FRIED RICE RECIPE FROM SPICE MARKET NEW YORK

    Yield: 4 servings

    Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • Salt
  • 2 cups thinly sliced leeks—white and light green parts only, rinsed and dried
  • 4 cups day-old cooked rice, preferably jasmine rice, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 4 teaspoons soy sauce
  •  
    Preparation

    1. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels and salt lightly.

    2. Reduce heat under skillet to medium-low and add 2 tablespoons oil and leeks. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until very tender but not browned. Season lightly with salt.

    3. Raise heat to medium and add rice. Cook, stirring well, until heated through. Season to taste with salt.

    4. In a nonstick skillet, fry eggs in remaining oil, sunny-side-up, until edges are set but yolk is still runny.

    5. Divide rice among four dishes. Top each with an egg and drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Sprinkle crisped garlic and ginger over everything and serve.
     
    HOW MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF RICE HAVE YOU TRIED?

    Check out our Rice Glossary.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Make A Purée or Coulis

    A slice of blueberry cheesecake with
    blueberry purée. Photo © Rohit Seth |
    Fotolia.

     

    We asked Chef Johnny Gnall to discourse on purées—an easy way to add elegance to sweet or savory dishes.

    A purée is a terrific way to showcase a fruit or vegetable in a different way. This versatile sauce allows you to add a fruit or vegetable seamlessly into another dish, layering flavor in a behind-the-scenes kind of way. It also makes an impressive and colorful swoosh on plates: one that impresses visually and in flavor (see photo below).

    If you watch TV shows like “Top Chef,” you may have heard the chefs and judges referring to “coulis” (coo-LEE). The difference between a purée and a coulis is refinement: to make coulis, the purée is strained.

    To do it, simply use a rubber spatula to push the purée through a mesh strainer or chinoise (SHEEN-wahz), which removes the seeds and skin. Voilà: Your purée is now a coulis!

    After straining, a coulis displays a truly lovely sheen and smooth texture—one very well suited to a fancy dinner party.

     

    HOW TO CREATE A PERFECT PURÉE

    Creating a terrific purée is not a matter of simply puréeing a fruit or vegetable in the food processor. Here’s a basic step-by-step process to create a purée, addressing all the speed bumps.

  • Use a blender, not a food processor. Sure, a food processor can work, but blenders are ideal for a couple of reasons (many professional chefs use the Vitamix brand). First, there is less space inside a blender than a food processor, so the ingredients will get mashed up faster and better. Additionally, blenders are shaped and structured in a way that facilitates a vortex, that channel of air you often see appear in the center of your spinning food or liquid that looks like a tornado or a whirlpool. This vortex sucks the ingredients downward towards the blade, which is where the puréeing takes place. A hand blender can also work with purées, but will usually take much longer.
  •  

  • Start with some liquid in addition to your fruit or vegetable. Often, and for a variety of reasons, a certain item will not want to purée: It will just sit at the bottom of the blender while the blade spins. By adding some liquid, a bit at a time, you can get things moving quickly. Your choice of liquid is up to you, but consider water or stock, depending on what you are puréeing. Avoid adding any oil early on: While water or stock will help you on your way, oil often just slicks things up and can actually prevent the purée process.
  • Add your product bit by bit. This rings especially true the more dense, sticky, or otherwise ornery your product gets. “To make a date purée, for example,” says Chef Gnall, “I begin with hot water and two or three pitted dates. Once I get a small amount of purée that is nice and loose, I add dates one at a time. Dates, in particular, are a challenge because of their sticky flesh. If you were to dump 20 dates into the blender and pressed Start, you’d overheat the motor (which can happen if you tax it for too long) before you actually accomplished anything.”
  •  

    Pastry chef Gael Gand uses both a cherry and
    a lemon coulis to grace her cheesecake.
    Photo courtesy Tru Restaurant | Chicago.

     

  • Scrape and stir as you go. Every so often it’s good to move things around in the bender with a spoon or spatula. Things will get lodged if your product is a more challenging one (such as dried fruit); giving everything a few stirs will help you determine how well everything has puréed down and what the consistency of your purée is like. Make sure you unplug the blender before you stick a utensil in it!
  • Season as you go. Just as with any cooking project, the more often you taste and season your purée, the better the final outcome will be. Remember that a purée is like any other dish: It should have a balance of taste, from sweet to salty to tart (acidity) and everything in between. Sherry vinegar is a great acid as it has a bit of its own sweetness in addition to a tangy punch. If you want minimal acidity, rice wine vinegar is also a good choice. Balsamic vinegar works, too, but adds a stronger stamp to the overall flavor.
  • Consistency is extremely important to a good purée. There is no right or wrong consistency, but depending on what application you have in mind, adjust the purée’s thickness accordingly. If you want to spread it across a plate—under a piece of meat, for example—make the purée on the thicker side. If you want to be able to drizzle it over food, go for something thinner. Liquid, quite naturally, is a great way to thin things out. Just use a liquid whose flavors work in the purée (don’t use chicken stock in a fruit purée). A general rule of thumb is to use fruit juice for sweet purées and stock for savory ones, but feel free to go wild: wine or liquor, milk, even something like tomato soup. As long as the flavors make sense, go for it.
  • Sheen matters, too. “Nothing says ‘I’m sexy’ like a shiny, velvety-looking purée,” says Chef Gnall. The way to achieve the ideal is to drizzle in a bit of oil at the end of the process. Drizzling in some oil very slowly, as the purée spins. Watch it like a hawk: As soon as you see the glossy sheen, stop adding oil. If you add too much of it, your purée will taste like the oil you’re using to shine it up. Olive oil works fine, and so do flavored or neutral oils. As with the liquid, just make sure things match the flavor profile of whatever it is you’re puréeing.
  •  
    There’s nothing like a puree to add glamour and pizzazz. If you develop a favorite recipe, please share it with us.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Cheese And Honey For Dessert

    A cheese plate with honeycomb. Photo
    courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

     

    Some of the most sophisticated diners don’t think of ending a meal with baked goods, ice cream, pudding or other sugary dessert. Instead, they prefer a plate of cheese.

    Available in every texture from soft and creamy to hard and grainy, an assortment of cheeses ends the meal with sophisticated flavors, and goes with the remaining wine.

    Cheese can be served with bread, crackers, fresh or dried fruits, nuts and other accompaniments (see our master list of cheese condiments and have fun pairing them with different cheeses).

    For a bit of dessert sweetness, cheese and honey are an excellent combination.

    Try honey with everything from mild, fresh goat cheeses, to bloomy-rind Brie and Camembert, to strong blue cheeses like Cabrales, Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Stilton, to aged Asiago, Gouda or Parmesan.

     

    USE GOOD HONEY

    Most of us already have honey in the kitchen. But think beyond generic* honey and look for sophisticated honey varieties.

  • Basswood, buckwheat, cranberry, orange blossom, raspberry, sage, saw palmetto and sourwood are just a few varietals that are as different in flavor as the cheeses they annoint. The honey carries the flavor of the plant from which the pollen was gathered.
  • There are also quite a few infused honeys: flavors added to the honey, from eucalyptus and orange to pear and truffle.
  • Serve the honey freestyle: drizzled on the plate, passed in the jar or a bowl, or as a slice of honeycomb, as shown in the photo.
  •  
    How many cheeses should you serve? Two to four varieties offer a nice contrast. If you only have one type of cheese, add more garnishes or serve it on a small plate of salad.

    And keep the slices small. Cheese has about 100 calories per ounce and it’s laden with cholesterol/saturated fat. It’s easy to polish off half a pound at a sitting. You’ll do your guests a favor by serving the cheese pre-plated instead of having them cut large slices for themselves.
     
    *Generic honey is generally imported from Argentina and China, where the goal is to provide sweetness. Flavor is secondary.

    HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT HONEY?

  • History Of Honey
  • Honey Facts
  • Honey Trivia Quiz
  • Storing & Using Honey
  • Pairing Varietal Honeys With Food & Beverages
  • Types Of Honey
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Why Your Favorite Food Products Are Discontinued

    This week we received an email from a reader asking what happened to Bibi Caffe, a line of elegant, imported Italian sodas we reviewed in 2007.

    She wanted to know why the line was no longer sold in the USA, and asked if there was “any way to get it at all?”

    If “at all” includes taking a trip to Italy to bring it back, there is a solution. Otherwise, Bibi Caffe joined the ranks of products, imported as well as American-made, that are discontinued by stores.

    Here’s why products are discontinued:

    1. The biggest problem manufacturers have is getting shelf space for their products. There are 20,000 new supermarket products introduced every year. Where will they fit?

    The 20,000 new products include variations of existing brands, such as Chocolate Flavored Instant Cream Of Wheat cereal and the latest flavor of Diet Coke, as well as more niche products. (We once came across Brown Sugar Sweet & Low).

     

    Bibi Caffe Italian soft drinks are packed with flavor and not too sweet. Photo by B.A. Van Sise | THE NIBBLE.

     

    2. It has nothing to do with how good (or mediocre) the product is. As the expression goes, “It’s not personal, it’s business.” To maximize profit, retailers need to optimize their shelf space, which includes inventory turns (the reorder rate or other measure) and profit margins. A product that turns stays on the shelf. A product that doesn’t turn fast enough can be discontinued to provide space for a product that will hopefully turn more (and generate more sales and profits).

    Products that don’t meet sales goals are discontinued by the manufacturer. So even if something sells well in your area, if it isn’t as popular elsewhere, it may be discontinued.

    3. Manufacturers pay to be on the shelves of chain supermarkets. These fees are called slotting allowances, and every product pays them—even the most popular products. The fees vary greatly depending on the product, manufacturer and market. But for a new product, the initial slotting fee can be $25,000 per item at a regional chain, or five times that for a large chain. And that fee is for one item in one chain!

    In addition to slotting fees, retailers may also charge promotional, advertising and stocking fees. Unfortunately, the whole system works against small manufacturers that don’t generate the volume to pay such fees, and don’t have the marketing muscle to promote their products to create the volume.

    Thanks to the Internet, small manufacturers can sell from their websites. But Biba Caffe is imported and the glass bottles are heavy to ship. Even if the company sold it online, only moguls would pay to have it shipped from Italy.

    WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?

  • If you really love something, become an evangelist. Tell everyone. Email your friends. Add it to your Facebook page. Blog about it. Tweet it. Start a grassroots movement to generate initial purchases, and hope that everyone loves (and buys it) it as much as you do.
  • Pitch it to the buyer at a specialty food store. Specialty stores (also called gourmet stores), such as Bi-Rite in San Francisco, Dean & Deluca in New York City and Fox & Obel in Chicago, delight in introducing new products to their customers.
  • Generate some publicity for it. If you can buy the product, see what you can do to get it some attention. This is similar to the first point, but it takes substantially more effort—unless you’re a food publicist with a list of every food reporter and producer.
  • Contact the company. If you can no longer find a product, contact the manufacturer, who should be able to tell you if and where it can be found.
     
    And appreciate that, like fresh flowers, some things are ephemeral. Enjoy them while they last.

      

  • Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Clean Your Water Bottle

     

    If you carry a refillable bottle of water, or reuse disposable water bottles for water, that’s great for the environment.

    But, says Prevention magazine, you should clean your water bottle daily to wash away the germs that collect. This video shows how.

    We must admit to using both refillable bottles and disposable bottles several times before washing them. We’ll have to watch the video a few times!

       

       

    DO YOU KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MINERAL WATER AND SPRING WATER?

    Check it out in our Water Glossary. You’ll be surprised how many different types of water there are.

    Comments

    NEWS: A New Post Office Wedding Cake Stamp

    First class postage goes up tomorrow: to 45 cents for the first half ounce of a letter and 32 cents for standard-size post cards (3″ x 5″ to 4″ x 6″).

    The U.S. Postal Service has also issued a 65-cent Wedding Cake stamp, to accommodate those thick wedding invitations (up to two ounces).

    First introduced in 2009, this latest addition to the U.S. Postal Service’s Weddings series is available at Post Offices nationwide, online at usps.com and by phone at 800.782.6724.

    The three-tier wedding cake in the photo, topped with white flowers and green leaves, was created by pastry chef Peter Brett of Washington, D.C.

    Like Stamps?

    Follow the new issues on Facebook, through Twitter or at BeyondThePerf.com, the Postal Service’s website that focuses on upcoming stamp subjects, first-day-of-issue events and other philatelic news.

     

    Getting married? Here’s your stamp.
    Photo courtesy USPS.

     

      

    Comments

    COOKING VIDEO: It’s Easy To Make This Homemade Granola Recipe

     

    Our next Top Pick Of The Week will review 140 different granolas and mueslis. But you can make your own perfect mix of oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruits right now.

    If you eat lots of granola, you can save a goodly amount of cash by buying rolled oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruits in bulk and making your own.

    You can also tailor your recipe to a specific calorie count and/or sugar grams, and use lower-glycemic alternatives to honey and maple syrup, such as agave nectar and brown rice syrup.

    Homemade granola can even become your signature special gift (it’s healthier than brownies). Whether in a clear plastic treat bag tied with a ribbon, or in a reusable gift tin or canister, any cereal eater/snacker will welcome it.

    You can also buy gluten-free oats to make gluten-free granola—a wonderful gift for friends limiting their gluten intake.

    Check out the video below to see how easy it is to make your own granola.

  • Granola bar fan? Here are our favorite granola bars.
  • Cereal lover? Find more of our favorite cereals in our Gourmet Cereal Section.
  •    

       

    Comments

    WEEKEND COCKTAIL: Rum Spiced Cider

    Serve something different this weekend. We’re inviting friends over for rum spiced cider, a popular winter warmer.

    This recipe, Orange Spiced Cider, was created by tea expert James Labe for Ron Abuelo rum. It blends añejo (aged) rum with orange spice tea and apple cider.

    ORANGE SPICED CIDER RECIPE

    Ingredients Per Serving

  • 1 orange spice tea bag (Constant Comment*
    or Numi)
  • 8 ounces apple cider
  • 2 ounces añejo (aged) rum
  • Optional garnish: cinnamon stick
  •  
    *Constant Comment, originally made with black tea, is also available as a spiced green tea. There’s also a decaffeinated Constant Comment made with black tea.
     
    Preparation

    Cooler months inspire warm cocktails.
    Photo courtesy Ron Abuelo.

    1. Heat cider until very hot.

    2. Steep tea bag directly in cider for 5 minutes, covered.

    3. Uncover, add rum and stir. Garnish with cinnamon stick.
     
     
    Find more of our favorite winter cocktail recipes.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Vacu Vin Instant Marinating Container

    The Vacu Vin Instant Marinating Container is
    a handy aid for anyone who cooks.

     

    We’ve had a Vacu Vin for some 20 years—the Vacu Vin Wine Saver. It removes air from an open bottle of wine, to preserve the wine quality until you get around to finishing the bottle.

    Then Chef Johnny Gnall introduced us to the Vacu Vin Instant Marinating Container for meats and vegetables.

    Marinating helps retain natural juices, enhances flavors and helps to deliver better results when grilling, pan searing or roasting.

    The easy-to-use Vacu Vin Instant Marinating Container, with a vacuum seal, makes it possible to marinate food in minutes instead of hours. Simply place the food in the container, add the marinade, fasten the lid and pump out the air to create a vacuum.

    Explains Chef Johnny:

     

    The difference between good cooking and exceptional cooking often lies behind the scenes. There are tricks that good cooks know that can unlock incredible flavors.

    Marinating is one of these tricks: Taking a great piece of meat and marinating it, even in something as simple as olive oil and sliced garlic, can take things to that exceptional level.

    Marinades work to infuse meat with flavor; but if you add salt, citrus, vinegar or some other acid, you actually tenderize the meat as well.

    Moreover, you build flavors in rich layers. A sauce can add something special and complex, but marinating that food in the same sauce will deepen those flavors significantly, creating a fuller, rounder taste.

    In the simplest terms, the Vacu Vin Instant Marinating Container is a Tupperware-like container with a vacuum pump attached to the lid. You pump it to remove air from the container and create a vacuum seal—a simpler approach to the Cryovac machines used in the kitchens of Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller and other chefs of reknown who vacuum marinate their foods to get a high concentration of flavor in a short amount of time. The Vacu Vin does the same thing to a lesser degree (because you’re paying $40, not $4,000).

     

    WHAT SHOULD YOU MARINATE?

    It’s not just about meat. You can (and often should) marinate vegetables, fruit, even certain grains. It’s all about getting the most flavor you can out of the food.

    The added depth of flavor can make some foods even more appealing. Maybe your kids don’t like broccoli. Try marinating it in some olive oil, lemon juice, salt, garlic, and Parmesan cheese (grated as needed from a piece of cheese, not the product in the green can), then roasting it. There’s no guarantee your kids will devour it, but at the very least, you will have had them try some darn tasty broccoli!

    GIVE IT A LITTLE TIME

    Remember that when you’re marinating, time makes a real difference. The minimum something should sit in its marinade to make a significant difference is 30 minutes. Granted, you can marinate for 10 minutes and you’ll get some flavor, but most of what you’re tasting is the marinade that adheres to the outside of the food. You’re not getting the most out of your marinating.

     

    What’s for dinner? Start it with a 15-minute
    marinade in a Vacu Vin. Photo courtesy Allen Brothers.

     

    If you don’t have those 30 minutes, the Vacu Vin Instant Marinating Container will cut the time in half. It may become your new favorite kitchen toy.

    So pick up a Vacu Vin and marinate your food as the very first step in cooking. Place the meat, vegetables or whatever into the Vacu-Vin for at least 15 minutes prior to cooking. The food will still benefit if you can marinate it for longer, but you are looking at a significantly shorter time requirement and a way to get more out of your cooking.

    Plus, you can have some fun and play around with it.

  • Try pickling vegetables in the Vacu Vin: They will probably take half as long as they normally do.
  • Keep meat and leftovers fresher longer by vacuum-storing them.
  •  
    You can really get some miles from this handy utensil: a time saver, a flavor unlocker and a pretty good deal all around.

    The bottom line is this: the more love you give your food, the more love you’ll get out of it.

      

    Comments

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