Archive for the ‘Easy’ Category

Favorites: Squash and Rice Casserole

July 10, 2018

I don’t make many new things during the summer.  There are barely enough weeks to get in all my favorites!  This is a favorites week.  And this is a dish I’ll eat three meals a day until it’s gone.  I “even it up” in the dish the way some people do with cake.  Ok, I do it with cake too.

If you’ve ever been to a summer potluck in the South you’ve had your pick of squash casseroles.  And if you haven’t, get yourself to one ASAP.  There’s not much better in my book than a table full of six kinds of macaroni salad and nine squash casseroles.  Throw in some deviled eggs and fried chicken and I might never leave.  But I digress.  I love squash casserole.  All kinds of squash casserole.  But this is the only one I ever make at home.  That should tell you something about how good it is.

I found the original recipe for this many, many years ago in a Cooking Light magazine. You’ll see that I’ve made some modifications such that it’s not so light anymore.  Mostly that’s because I don’t believe in low-fat or fat-free cheese.  I have used brown rice instead of white, but I don’t like the texture much.  I have used plain yogurt instead of sour cream, which works fine.  I increased the squash to rice ratio as well.

So, here’s what you need: (ignore that cottage cheese in the back, you don’t need that)

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  • 6-7 C sliced summer squash and/or zucchini (I like both)
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 C cooked rice
  • 1/2 C sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 6 oz sharp cheddar, grated
  • 1/2-1 C bread crumbs, stuffing mix, and/or panko

Here’s what you do:

  • Preheat the oven to 350.
  • Bring 1-2 C water to a boil in a medium sized pot
  • Add the garlic, onion, squash and some salt
  • Simmer until the squash is cooked, but not mushy

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  • Drain the squash in a colander, pressing out excess liquid with the back of a spoon
  • In a large bowl add the rice and sour cream.  Stir until mixed.
  • Fold in the squash

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  • Stir in the beaten egg
    • TIP:  The mixture in your bowl is probably really hot.  You don’t want to scramble the egg.  So, either set your egg out early so it’s closer to room temp when you add it, or add 1-2 pieces of the hot squash to the egg to raise the temperature slowly without causing a curdle.
  • Fold in most of the cheese (leave a little for the top)

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  • Stir in the bread crumbs (I used half panko and half stuffing mix)
  • Dump everything into an 8×8 glass baking dish
  • Bake 30-40 minutes until the cheese is slightly brown and the edges are bubbly

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This is SO good.  It doesn’t cut into squares, so spoon it out.  Then even it up as much as you want!

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Fish Tacos!

July 7, 2018

The fresh corn salsa is also amazing on fish tacos!  Hard to beat fish tacos, and topped with this salsa they’re darn near perfect.  The only drawback I can think of is that your house temporarily smells like fish.  A sacrifice totally worth making!

There are a lot of ways to make fish tacos.  You can fry the fish.  You can blacken the fish.  You can grill it.  You can pan sear it.  I mostly go the easy route and pan sear.  Add some chopped cabbage for crunch, some salsa, and a little lime crema. Heaven.

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I cut the fish into pieces and coat them in Tony Chachere’s.  It’s a spice combo that works well on tacos and pretty much anything else.

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When you pan sear pretty much anything just make sure you leave enough room in the pan.  You want the pan to be super hot so you get a nice sear.  If the pan is too full the pieces will kind of steam each other.  Not what you’re going for.  Also resist the urge to move the pieces around.  The get a sear from the contact with the pan.  Just let them sit 2-3 minutes and turn them once.  2-3 more minutes and you’re minutes away from tacos!

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For the crema, just squeeze some lime juice into some plain yogurt and add a little salt.  Maybe a little cumin.  You want it to be just thin enough to spread easily on the tacos.

Choose your delivery vehicle and stuff!  I like corn tortillas best.  For beef tacos I like the crunchy shells, but for fish tacos I like the soft white corn ones.  Use yellow corn if you prefer, or even flour.

One final tip.  Before you shake the hot sauce, make sure the top is on good.  Just sayin’.

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Fresh Corn Salsa

July 7, 2018

My two favorite summer foods – tomatoes and fresh corn.  Throw in some onions, jalapeno, lime juice and spices and you’ve got salsa!  This is my favorite salsa.  You can do anything with it.  Eat it with Scoops as is.  Add black beans and serve it as a side dish.  Add chicken or shrimp, maybe some rice, and eat it as a main dish.  Super fresh, super easy/IMG_2671

The corn is the hardest part.  Shuck and silk it first.  No cooking needed.  My tip is that you keep your hands as dry as possible for the silking.  Water makes the silks sticky and hard to remove.  Then get a wide, shallow bowl and a sharp knife.  Put one end of the cob into the bowl and cut the kernels off.  The bowl will catch the kernels.  Then dice the onion about the same size as the corn kernels.  It makes the salsa easier to eat and it looks nicer.

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Seed the jalapeno and dice it finely.  Add the juice of one lime.  Add cumin, chili powder and salt to taste.  You can add chopped fresh cilantro if you like.

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Here’s another tip.  Don’t add the tomatoes until you’re ready to serve it.  You can refrigerate the corn mixture.  Tomatoes get mealy and lose flavor in the fridge so add them at the last minute.  You can make extra of the corn mixture.  It will keep for 2-3 days.  Just take out what you need and add tomatoes to it.

Enjoy!

 

Hot Day, Cold Plate: Herbed Mustard Potato Salad

July 1, 2018

Hellfire hot, that’s what today has been.  Over 80 by 9am and climbing steadily.  Even with the A/C the thought of cooking much or eating hot food is a little much.  So, we’ve got meat and three, the refrigerator version.  Plenty of leftover Londob Broil, deviled eggs and cucumber pickles from yesterday.  The eggs and pickles are more garnishes than proper sides, so back to my farmers’ market haul for the beans and potatoes.

You might expect that my green beans would have ham or bacon in them.  Sometimes they do, but I went the vegetarian route today.  Just salt, olive oil and garlic.  Super good.  One simmering pot isn’t so bad as cooking goes.  Just cover the beans in water, add salt, olive oil and 2 garlic cloves,  halved.  Simmer for about 30 minutes.

The real work today was the potatoes.  I’m always looking for side dishes that I can take to outdoor events without having to worry about the mayonnaise or yogurt going bad.  Potatoes do nicely with mustard and herbs.  I have two herb pots and too often forget to use them.  So tonight I clipped some dill and parsley and chopped them up.  Add the herbs to 1 part dijon mustard and 2 parts olive oil.  Squeeze in some lemon juice and add salt to taste.

Here’s the trick to a mustardy potato salad.  Once the potatoes are cooked to fork tender, cut them in half or fourths depending on the size.  While they’re still warm, toss them with 1-2 T of cider vinegar. I used white wine vinegar tonight because it’s what I had.  Just as good.  Cool the potatoes until you’re ready to use them.

I’ll admit that this plate is a little heavy on the vinegar/mustard side of the palate.  I use dijon mustard in my deviled eggs too.  Still, because the beef is plain and the beans are neutral, it works out.  I love pickles and mustard and sour things so this plate totally works for me.  Another plate of fantastic farmers’ market food!

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Farmers’ Market Fun

June 30, 2018

Nothing is better than food from the farmers’ market unless you pick it out of your own garden.  My garden is doing a whole lot of nothing this year.  Looks like I’m going to get summer squash, green beans, and radishes and not much else.  My tomatoes are mostly drowned and the peppers never really took off.  No problem.  I have many wonderful markets to choose from!

Now that it’s almost July in Central Virginia, the market is so full of wonderful things that it’s hard to resist buying too much.  I’ve been waiting for tomatoes and butter beans and corn to come in – and they have!  I also got some eggplant, potatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, jalapenos, cucumbers, bacon, and a pork shoulder.  I was too late to get eggs today, but I had a few left for deviling so all is not lost!

Here’s the thing about food that was picked on Friday and you eat on Saturday or Sunday – it’s the very best it can be already.  Very little dressing up needed.  Butter beans cooked in salted water, drained, and with a little butter added.  Squash and onions cooked with garlic, salt and pepper until it chars just enough.  Cucumbers sliced and put in a water, vinegar and dill bath.  A London Broil cooked on the grill.  Dinner done.  Divine.

I had my first tomato sandwiches of the year today.  That’s really the sign that summer has started.  Soft bread, tomato with salt and pepper, and Duke’s mayonnaise.  Slider buns and large dinner rolls work great. The world’s most perfect food.  Add some cucumber or bacon for crunch if you like.

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The London Broil has nothing but salt, pepper and olive oil on it.  When I cook a fairly large piece of meat on the weekend I like to make it as plain as possible so it’s super versatile for the rest of the week.  The key is to take the beef out of the fridge about an hour before you start cooking.  Salt it when you set it out so the salt has some time to work it’s way into the meat.  It will flavor and tenderize.  This one is cooked 16 minutes total – 4 minutes, 90 degree turn, 4 more minutes, flip, repeat.  I like it on the pink side.  Let it rest while you cook the sides.

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Later in the week your veggies might need a little more than salt or butter to help them be their best.  This week you’re likely to see steak tacos with corn salsa.  Grilled eggplant with cucumber and feta relish.  Grilled vegetable salad with buttermilk dressing.  We’ll see how things go.  I’ve got cucumber pickles and deviled eggs to make everything feel a little like summer.  Can’t wait!

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Everything a “meat and 3” should be!

Steamed Spiced Summer

June 16, 2018

Super busy day.  Hot and steamy out.  Lots of chores.  One of my pups has had an iffy stomach for a couple of days so I made some chicken for him today.  Enough to last a couple of weeks.  Bake, chop, wipe up, bake, chop, wipe up.  Six pounds worth.  Throw in some pumpkin and he’ll be right as rain in no time.

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When it came time for my dinner I had no interest in creating another disaster in the kitchen.  One pot and 2 bowls.  That I can handle.  Steamed spiced shrimp is a favorite of mine. Always reminds me of the beach.  And vacation.  I could use one of those for sure!  Until then, these take less than 10 minutes start to finish.

I know you can buy your shrimp pre-steamed and pre-spiced from the grocery store or the seafood shop.  It’s super easy to do at home though and will save you some money.  You need a pot with a lid and either a steamer or a colander.  If you’ve got a lemon, great.  If not, fine.  You’ve got your choice of spices, but Old Bay is my choice.  Throw in some cocktail sauce and you’ve got yourself some dinner!

Put a little water in the bottom of a pot or pan and bring it to a boil.  Add part of a lemon to the water if you like. Meanwhile, put your shrimp, shells on, in the steamer or colander.  Add some Old Bay and some more of the lemon.  Once the water boils, put the steamer basket in the pot and put the lid on.  That’s it.  Wait a few minutes and voila!  Roll up your sleeves and dig in!

Too tired Friday

June 15, 2018

It’s been a long week, y’all.  And it’s not quite over.  Still, a girl needs her comfort food.  Lucky for me I had some leftovers and a few odds and ends to make a dinner that felt about nice enough to get me through.

Summer Friday night is often a little piece-y.  I’m always down to the last few items from last Saturday’s farmers’ market trip.  Tonight that meant a few fancy lettuce leaves; a baby squash; a sweet onion; and a mostly green tomato.  Here’s a tip. If you buy a green tomato to use as a green tomato you need to use it in 5-6 days.  As it sits around it’ll start to pink.

Combine the lettuce with the leftover peas and rice from earlier in the week.  Main course done.  My first squash and onions of the summer.  First side done.  And some barely pink fried green tomatoes.  Not a ton of effort, but tastes a lot like loving care to this girl.

What’s the first sign that a yummy dinner is on the way?  All three of my cast iron skillets on the stove at the same time.

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I’ll direct you to a previous post to get details on making fried green tomatoes.  For tonight I can tell you that going the lazy route doesn’t pay off.  A breading station has 3 parts:  flour, egg, cornmeal in this case.  I cheated.  Cornmeal, egg, cornmeal.  It’s not the same.  The flour on the bottom makes the coating fluffy underneath.  The egg in the middle makes everything stick.  The cornmeal on the outside makes a crispy coating.  Your other option is cornmeal on the bottom.  Egg in the middle. Panko or breadcrumbs on the outside.

Two layers of crispy isn’t the same.  Don’t misunderstand, they were darn good.  And I burned the tar out of my tongue eating the first one when it was still too hot, as always.  But there is a better way.  And this is it.

The second sign that a yummy dinner is on the way is that it takes more than one dish to get it to the table!  It’s not the prettiest meal I’ve ever made, but it did taste like summer.  And it did feel like a little comfort, so it did its job plus a little.  Some days that’s the best you can expect.

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Ode to Summer (and a Southern Salad)

June 9, 2018

I love Summer!  I love that my neighbors sit on front porches and wave as you walk by.  I love that our vegetable gardens are in front yards because dogs and chickens are in the back.  I love that there’s plenty of mint for juleps and mojitos and salads.  And I love that my Friday nights are spent with a lap full of cookbooks making plans for the wonderful things I’ll find at the Saturday farmers’ markets.  And so it was last night – Hardywood’s Mamaw’s Mean Peach Cobbler beer and Vivian Howard’s Deep Run Roots.

It’s still early summer.  In Central Virginia that means cucumbers, green beans, early squash, late radishes and spring onions. My garden also has a little arugula ready to bolt.  We’re all ready for corn and peaches and tomatoes and field peas, but we’ve got a few weeks to wait yet.  So, salads are still kind of the thing.

My farmers’ market also has the best bacon I’ve ever eaten.  Crabill’s Slab Bacon.  I call it Crack Slab Bacon.  Since I discovered it I haven’t been able to give it up. I buy extra all summer so it will last me through the winter.  So tonight we’re working with arugula and bacon salad.  Leave it to Vivian Howard to make wonderfulness from that.  This is a modifed version of her Sprouted Hoppin’ John Salad with Hot Bacon Vinaigrette.

Hoppin’ John is my traditional New Year’s Day food so I was surprised to be drawn to it on a 90 degree day.  I was hoping there might be early field peas to be had at the farmers’ market, but had to settle for frozen black-eyed peas instead.  I love black-eyed peas, so no problem there.  Hopping John is essentially rice, black-eyed peas and bell pepper often with smoked ham or turkey.  This salad, done my way, is all those things, but with bacon instead of ham and served over salad greens.  Use whatever greens you want.  I used lettuces and arugula, but spinach and chard would work just fine.

I cooled the rice, but left the black-eyed peas warm.  The lettuce and peppers are salad cold and the bacon cool enough to crumble.

The key is the dressing.

Hot Bacon Vinaigrette
  • 8 ounces sliced bacon
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion white part only
  • 1 garlic clove, grated on a mandoline
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey (I used Southern Hot Honey)
  • 1 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Add 2 tablespoons of bacon fat back to the pan. Over medium heat, stir in the scallion and let it sizzle for 10 seconds. Then quickly add the garlic followed by the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, Dijon, and salt. With a wooden spoon scrape all the little bacon bits, or fond, from the bottom of the pan.
  2. Once the dressing begins bubbling furiously, pour it over the salad. Stir it up and serve with the crumbled bacon on top. The arugula will wilt, and that’s the point.

As always, I have leftovers.  Salads can be difficult to eat leftover.  The greens get wilty and then slimy if you dress them.  For storage I mixed the leftover rice, peas and dressing.  I can reheat all of that together without damaging any of it.  When I add the warmed rice mixture to a fresh bowl of lettuce and peppers the greens will wilt just as they’re supposed to without being soggy!

I enjoyed this salad immensely!  It’s a complete meal all by itself.  It’s a wonderful combination of flavors and textures.  Using field peas, or the sprouted peas in the original recipe, would make the flavors less earthy and more green, but still good!

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Chicken Green Masala – Wow!

May 21, 2018

It’s been a while!  I haven’t made anything very interesting lately, but this is a major comeback dish!  If you’ve been reading then you know I love Indian food.  And I’m overjoyed to find that I can make a darn good version of many dishes at home.  I’m incapable of cooking for one so I love dishes that make good leftovers. Check!  And I love versatile dishes.  Check!

This is a variation of a dish from my Rasika cookbook.  Rasika is my favorite Indian restaurant.  It’s in DC so I get to go there a few times a year.  Just can’t say enough good things about it.  If you have a chance, make a trip there.  If you don’t, get the cookbook.  This dish is really popular in the restaurant.  It’s described as really spicy so I’ve been afraid to try it there.  Maybe a good call.  My version made my nose run and my forehead sweat!

Let’s start with the masala.  You can make this ahead.  I love blender sauces because the chopping is minimal.  Note that you use the cilantro stems here.  Love that too, less waste.  Now let’s talk about the chiles.  The recipe calls for 10 Thai chiles.  I’ll admit that my chile knowledge is pretty minimal, but that sound super hot to me.  Medical emergency inducing hot.  My grocery store didn’t have any Thai chiles yesterday so I got a serrano and a jalapeno.  Honestly I didn’t notice that the recipe said 10 chiles until I started.  Just as well.  Plenty hot.  Plenty.  I did include the veins and seeds of both peppers because I was afraid of missing the mark by a lot.  That was a good call if you like spicy.

Here’s what you need for the herb puree: (serves 4)

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  • 1 smallish bunch cilantro, amounting to 2 cups roughly chopped
  • 1/2 C packed fresh mint leaves (spearmint)
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 large jalapeno, roughly chopped
  • 1 small serrano, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 t turmeric
  • 1/4 C fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 C water

Here’s what you do:

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  • Put everything in a blender and puree 2-3 minutes until very smooth

Make the puree a day before if you like.  The chicken doesn’t take very long making this an easy weeknight meal.  I cheated some on the chicken.  The recipe calls for whole cardamom pods; a cinnamon stick; and whole cloves.  I have all of those thing.  What I don’t have is a spice grinder.  So, moving to ground. I had cardamom and cinnamon, but no ground cloves.  Grr.  What I did have was garam masala.  It includes all of the required spices plus a few other things.  Close enough!

Here’s what you need for the chicken:

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  • 1 T canola oil
  • 1 C finely chopped onion
  • 1-1 1/2 lbs chicken, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1/4 t turmeric
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 T garam masala
  • 2/3 C unsweetened coconut milk

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the oil in a heavy pot (with a lid) until the oil shimmers (no smoke)
  • Add the onions and saute until soft, but not brown
  • Add chicken, turmeric and salt
  • Cook with the lid on for 4-5 minutes, stirring a few times
  • Add the herb mixture, coconut milk, and garam masala
  • Bring to a boil
  • Cook 5 minutes, until the chicken is done

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Serve with rice, naan, and yogurt or cucumber raita.

One note.  When you cook the chicken with the lid on it traps the moisture inside, adding a little liquid to your pot.  It keeps the chicken from sticking and burning.

So, what’s versatile about this dish?  You can control the heat.  Leave the chiles out completely if you like.  It’s super easy to make as a vegetarian dish.  Make it with tofu or seitan instead of chicken.  You can control the schedule.  Do the puree ahead or do the whole thing ahead. This dish is designed to eat the next day.  This puree would be good on roasted cauliflower or with shrimp.

I only made 1/2 the recipe, and those are the amounts I’ve provided.  It’s still easily 3-4 servings even without a side dish.  I will say that I made a full cup or cucumber raita and used nearly half of it tonight.  I’m ok with that.  I really enjoyed the heat and was really grateful for the relief as well!

Here’s how it turned out: (cookbook photo on the left, mine on the right)

HOT!  But so yummy.  I’ll make it again for sure.  I’m guessing I’ll make this cilantro puree a lot.  Without the chiles it would be fantastic as a dip for bread or roasted vegetables.  Nice as a sauce for rice as a side dish.  And a great way to use up cilantro stems!

Runner’s World Chickpea Salad

May 3, 2018

I’m a runner.  Not a fast runner.  Not a good runner.  But a runner.  So, of course I have the Runner’s World Cookbook.  I haven’t made much from it, but this seemed like a good option for a long week that’s turned hot!  And for those of you who, like me, are always on the lookout for something new to take to cookouts and potlucks, this is a fantastic choice.  No mayonnaise so it can sit out.  Vegetarian and gluten-free, so workable for almost everyone.  And for the runners out there, it’s listed as “recovery” food.  It also takes about 15 minutes and one bowl to make so hard to beat all around.

If I had to describe this dish in one word it would be, “Zing!”  There are a lot of sharp flavors in here:  red onion, raw garlic, raw ginger, and jalapeno.  Those will wake you right up!  Fortunately there’s a lot of sweet to balance them out:  dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, and parsley.  And then the salt:  feta, smoked almonds, and salt.  In the background, really as the delivery vehicle, are the chickpeas.  Creamy and neutral.  This is good stuff.

And it’s beyond easy.  Drain, grate, dice, chop, dump.  Then for the dressing, measure and shake.  That’s it.

Image result for tip  Do read the directions carefully.  And this applies to every recipe.  There’s a difference between “1C chopped parsley” and “1C parsely, chopped.”  In the first one the measuring happens after the chopping (which means you need more than a cup to start with).  In the second one, you measure first and then chop what you have.

Here’s what you need:

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  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 T grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 C smoked almonds, chopped
  • 2/3 C chopped dried cranberries
  • 1 jalapeno, veins and seeds removed, chopped fine
  • 1 C chopped parsley
  • 4 oz feta crumbles
  • 2 T cider vinegar
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t pepper

Here’s what you do:

  • Dump everything chickpeas through feta crumbles in a large bowl and mix together gently
  • In a small jar, add oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
  • Put the lid on the jar and shake until well combined.
  • Pour over salad and mix gently.

Here’s how it turned out:

This is a wonderfully balanced salad.  And good for you!  Eat it as a main dish or as a side.  It would pair very nicely with steak or with grilled shrimp.  I bet it will be even better the second day!

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