Friday, August 29, 2008

sunshine in a bar

Summer is coming to an end. Even though I hate hot weather, I do enjoy the summer. Everyone's more laid back, no one wants to work too hard. It's a time for outdoor concerts and patio brunches. This last week before Labor Day is depressing. Somehow I can feel that going-back-to-school anxiety even though I haven't be in school for ages.

So I need a little pick-me-up, a little sunshine to try to keep the days nice and long. Sunshine in a buttery, custardy, tart, sweet form. Lemon Bars.

I have never made lemon bars before, but I really don't know why. I've made several types of lemon tarts and pies, and I think almost all of them have been at least slightly flawed. Because of my spotted lemon dessert past, I expected something to go wrong with these, but to my surprise, nothing did.

I thought for sure that the crust would be too hard, or the custard wouldn't set, or it would be too tart or too sweet, or it would fall apart when I tried to unmold it, or I'd screw it up when trying to cut it, or something, anything. But either I was blessed, or this recipe is actually idiot proof. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, May 1998

For the crust
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar, plus extra to decorate finished bars
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), at very cool room temperature, cut into
1-inch pieces, plus extra for greasing pan

Lemon filling
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest from 2 large lemons
2/3 cup lemon juice from 3 to 4 large lemons, strained
1/3 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon table salt

For the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and line with one sheet parchment or wax paper. Grease the paper, then lay second sheet crosswise over it. Make sure the paper comes up to the top of the pan's side so that you can grab hold of them to unmold the bars.

Pulse flour, confectioners' sugar, cornstarch, and salt in food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then pulse until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second bursts. Sprinkle mixture into lined pan and press firmly with fingers into even, 1/4-inch layer over entire pan bottom and about 1/2-inch up sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

For the filling: Meanwhile, whisk eggs, sugar, and flour in medium bowl, then stir in lemon zest, juice, milk, and salt to blend well.

To finish the bars: Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Stir filling mixture well, then pour into warm crust. Bake until filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool to near room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Grab hold of the edges of the parchment paper to gently transfer to cutting board, fold paper down, and cut into serving-size bars, wiping knife or pizza cutter clean between cuts, as necessary. Sieve confectioners' sugar over bars, if desired.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

simplicity is beauty

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

borscht pasta. srsly?

Srsly! Well, why not? It just hit me yesterday. I was craving pasta, something light, veggie, summery. And I thought to myself that I've made pasta with so many different veggies, but I've never made one with beets. How could it be bad? So what flavor profile would work for a beet pasta? Dill. Onions. Hmm, this is sounding like a certain delicious summer soup that I love. Borscht. Genius (if I do say so myself).

So how to execute? I didn't want to beets to be cooked to the point where they lost too much texture, but I wanted the pieces of beet to be super small, to completely lose themselves among the pasta, which would inevitably turn the same color as the beets. That way when you took a bite, you may not even see the beets hiding among the noodles, but you'll get that crisp texture. So I broke out the mandoline and used the julienne blade for the thinnest matchsticks I could get. That way, I could saute the beets very quickly and bring them just to the point of tenderness without breaking down too much.

To round out the borscht-y flavor: tons of dill, thinly sliced onions, a touch of hot red pepper, a splash of vinegar for tang, and the crowning touch - a dollop of creme fraiche atop the hot pasta. Yes. Recipe after the jump:

1 pound fettucini
1 bunch beets, about 4 medium
1 medium yellow onion, very thinly sliced into half-moons
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes
3 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup creme fraiche

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. While it is boiling, peel the raw beets and slice into thin matchsticks with a mandoline. You could also grate the beets with a box grater. When the water has come to a boil, add the pasta. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan at medium heat. Add the onions and saute until just translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes on a hot spot in the pan and allow to sizzle in the oil for about 1 minute. Add the beets and saute until just tender, about 5 minutes. Salt and pepper liberally, then add the vinegar and taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Add a ladle of pasta water to the beets and allow to simmer until the pasta is done. When the pasta is about 1 minute short of al dente, remove from the water and add to the saute pan. Toss with the beet sauce, adding additional pasta water if it is too dry. Add the dill and toss until incorporated. Serve pasta topped with additional chopped dill and a large dollop of creme fraiche.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

a cookie philosophy

I have a particular cookie philosophy that perhaps makes no sense at all. Unlike other baked goods, I don't plan ahead for cookies. I use only what is already in my house. I'm not a fan of rolling cookies out and using cutters. I don't like especially sweet cookies, and I tend to be a purist. There are very few nutless cookies that I love.

Those rules may sound somewhat restrictive, limiting the types of cookies I am willing to bake. I guess that is true, because I make these simple Walnut Crescents far more than any other cookie.

They are perhaps the simplest cookies out there, but their buttery, crumbly, nutty goodness is cookie perfection.

I don't need chunks of stuff, or gooeyness, or icing on top. Butter and nuts. Perfect together.


1 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, plus more for sprinkling
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 sticks cold butter, but into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse the walnuts until finely chopped, but do not overprocess to the point of flour. Add the flour, sugar, salt and vanilla extract and pulse to combine. Add the butter pieces and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment. Break off 1-inch diameter balls of dough and shape into crescents. Bake on the middle oven rack for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned. Cool on a rack, then dust with confectioner's sugar.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

peach overload

Saying that a recipe is foolproof is like a challenge for me to screw it up. I sabotage myself. This was one of those cobblers where you put the fruit on top of the batter, and the batter is supposed to puff up and cover the fruit. But alas, that doesn't happen when you piles tons and tons of peaches on top. It's not I didn't know that it wouldn't work with twice as many peaches as the recipe calls for. I just didn't really think about it until it was done, and then I got all upset that it didn't turn out right.

It was still delicious, largely due to the pool of butter that you pour the batter into. This was a recipe from the Salt Lick Restaurant in Austin, so don't be shocked about the butter. I imagine if I decide to make this same recipe in the winter with the appropriate amount of frozen or canned peaches instead of fresh, it will probably work fine.

But after all, you're just going to scoop the thing into a bowl and dump a bunch of ice cream on it, so who really cares in the end? I figure the ton of fresh peaches will serve to counteract the butter. Recipe after the jump:

Salt Lick Restaurant Peach Cobbler
Adapted from RecipeZaar

1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup room temperature milk
1 room temperature egg

1 (28 ounce) can drained sliced peaches, or equivalent frozen or fresh
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Melt butter in a 9 x 13-inch pan.

Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in milk and egg. Pour evenly over melted butter.

Combine peaches, sugar and spices and spread over batter - DO NOT STIR! Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until batter comes to the top and is golden brown.

Serve warm with ice cream.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

out, damned spot!

Yet who would have thought the old beet to have had so much blood in him?

A simple tangy sweet quick pickled beet. If you slice the beets into thin rounds, they make a great burger pickle. It's also fun to stain your hands red and freak people out. Recipe after the jump:


1 bunch beets, tops removed (about 5-6 medium beets)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
salt and pepper

Cook beets until just knife tender, but still slightly firm. (You can wrap and foil and roast in a 350 oven for about 1 hour, or you can boil them for the same amount of time.) Rinse the beets in cold water, then peel with a paring knife. Chop the beets into 1-inch cubes, or slice thinly, and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, olive oil, mustard powder, and cinnamon. Pour over the beets and toss to coat evenly. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes, or jar and refrigerate.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

sunday supper: i'm roasting

I don't know what compels me to make roasts that require 450 degree ovens in the middle of the summer. I'm a dinner martyr. Actually, what made the decision for me this time was being reminded that one day several weeks ago when I ate this on set I freaking loved it. This episode hasn't aired yet (Ask Aida Saturdays at 12:30 ET), but as a special sneak preview for a brand new show, you can find all of the recipes on the site now.

This citrus marinated pork loin roast came out surprisingly juicy and tender, with plenty of tangy flavor from the orange and grapefruit juices, plus a hint of heat from serrano peppers. It was a cinch to do.

I didn't fare as well with the Cilantro Rice, mine came out a little mushy. I think I either need to adjust the liquid to account for the humidity, or I need to boil it uncovered for a little longer to evaporate more. It was still delicious, and actually J-Cat ate an incredible amount of it considering how he usually can't handle too much starch at a time.

A big plus to this pork roast - I turned leftovers into pork fried rice the next day. That is always a winning recipe in my book. Recipes after the jump:

From Ask Aida at

1/2 cup freshly squeezed yellow grapefruit juice (from 1 medium grapefruit)
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves
2 medium serrano chiles, halved and seeded
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice (from 4 medium oranges)
1 (3 to 4 pound) boneless pork loin

Mix all ingredients except 1/2 cup orange juice and pork until thoroughly combined. Add pork loin and turn to coat thoroughly. Place in refrigerator and let marinate at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

Heat oven to 450 degrees F and arrange rack in middle. Remove pork from refrigerator and let rest at room temperature while oven heats up. When oven is heated, remove pork from marinade, strain marinade and discard solids and reserve juices. Season pork well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place pork in a roasting pan and roast until skin is golden-brown and internal temperature registers 145 to 150 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, about 50 to 55 minutes.

Remove pork to a cutting board and let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, combine reserved marinade juices and remaining 1/2 cup orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Skim sauce let cook until mixture is reduced by 2/3, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, as necessary. When pork is ready, slice thinly and serve with orange sauce over top.

From Ask Aida at

3 1/2 cups packed cilantro leaves (about 3 ounces)
3 medium garlic cloves
1 medium serrano chile, halved lengthwise and seeded
3 1/3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup minced yellow onion
2 cups long-grain white rice
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Combine cilantro, garlic, chile, and 2 cups broth in a blender and process until smooth; set aside.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add onion and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add rice and salt stir to coat in oil and cook until rice becomes opaque, about 2 minutes. Carefully pour the cilantro mixture and the remaining 1 1/3 cups broth into the rice and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to low so rice is at a simmer. Cover and cook until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let rice rest covered for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

happy as clams

If memory serves me correctly, linguine with white clam sauce is the first non-red sauce pasta I ever had. A childhood pasta revelation. It continues to be one of my favorite sauces, but believe it or not I've never made one from scratch. Then I realized that it is actually one of the easiest pasta sauces imaginable. There's hardly anything to it. Looking at the recipe, it seems like it can't possibly be particularly flavorful, but the magic of clam juices should never be underestimated. If you're ever looking for a truly 10 minute pasta that will impress, this is the recipe for you, after the jump:

1 lb linguine
48 littleneck clams (or approx. 12 per person)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Rinse clams well to remove any surface sand, scrub shells if necessary. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to cook. In a large saute pan with a cover, heat the olive oil, then add the garlic and pepper flakes and let sizzle for 30 seconds. Saute another 30 seconds, avoid browning the garlic. Add the clams in an even layer in the bottom of the pan and pour wine over, allowing the wine to come to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, then cover. Allow the clams to steam for 5 minutes, then check to see if they are fully opened. Remove any fully opened clams to a bowl, then cover again and continue to steam a minute more at a time until all clams are fully open. Discard any that do not open after 10 minutes.

When the pasta is about 1 minute short of al dente, strain, reserving some of the pasta water, and add to the liquid in the saute pan. Let simmer in the juices until al dente, adding pasta water if there is not enough liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste, be careful with the salt since the liquid given off by the clams may be quite salty already. Remove the pasta from the heat, add the parsley and toss well. You can either serve the clams in their shells on top of the pasta, or remove all clams from their shells, chop them, and toss with the finished pasta.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

a plum job

What fruit haven't I baked into a pie? I think I've done all the berries, pears, apples, peaches, even mango (though it's been a while, I'll have to do that again soon). Is there anything left? Shockingly, yes. PLUMS.

Wait, what?! I've never made a pie or tart with plums before. I don't know why. It's delicious.

Despite the fact that half my plums were a little underripe, and half were a little overripe, and none were really all that perfect, this was a pretty tasty tart. The crust, from a recipe by Ina Garten, was especially good, a nutty mixture of flour and walnuts and buttery goodness, and doubled as a crumb topping.

Ina's recipe called for more sugar in the crust, but no sugar at all for the plums themselves. Worried that my fruit was a little on the tart side, I decided to sprinkle some of my vanilla sugar on top of the fruit. This turned out to be a good idea, and in fact it could have used even more sugar, it was still on the tart side after baking. But no worries, that was rectified by some vanilla whipped cream. And tonight, I'll dose the leftovers with a bit more sugar before warming it up and serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Can't. Wait. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), diced
1 egg yolk
2 pounds firm, ripe Italian prune plums, pitted and quartered lengthwise
3 tbsp vanilla sugar (or 3 tbsp plain sugar plus 1 tsp vanilla extract)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the flour, walnuts, and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the walnuts are finely chopped. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles couscous. Add the egg yolk and pulse until fully incorporated.

Press 1 1/2 cups of the crumb mixture in an even layer into the bottom of a 9 1/2-inch springform or tart pan. Refridgerate for 30 minutes.

Arrange the plums in the pan, skin side down, to form a flower pattern; begin at the outside and work your way in.

Sprinkle the vanilla sugar over the plums. If you do not have vanilla sugar, sprinkle a teaspoon of vanilla extract, followed by plain sugar. Sprinkle the rest of the crumb mixture evenly over the plums. Bake the tart for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it's lightly browned and the plum juices are bubbling. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and transfer the tart to a flat plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

sunday supper: i don't think that word means what you think it means

I don't know why this is called a "torte". In my mind, a torte is sort of cakey, or maybe tarty? But this is neither. In fact, it's sort of mushy. A giant mess. A delicious, wonderful mess. A delicious, wonderful mess that took a really long time to make, several pots and pans, and a chunk of my patience. It also really doesn't photograph well, or maybe I was just too tired and hot by the time it was done to take the time to try and get a decent picture.

I decided to try this recipe - before realizing how many freaking separate pots and pans it required - solely because there were great local eggplant and zucchini available. It's sort of like a lasagna meets a ratatouille, with several separate elements that need to be individually prepared. In separate pots. The first was the tomato sauce, with sage and thyme and slowly cooked onions for delicate sweetness:

Then the oven roasted vegetables. The starring veg is eggplant:

Plus red pepper and zucchini:

Every element is layered with a cheesy custard sauce:

Then all is baked until bubbly, brown and puffed. Then you do dishes for an hour. But seriously, it was worth it, the sweetness of the onions in the tomato sauce, the different deep flavors of the roasted vegetables playing off one another, and that cheesy custard, yum, that was the icing on the cake. I followed the recipe closely for the most part, but I chose to use olive oil spray to roast the vegetables instead of brushing them with oil. I think the end result had the right amount of flavor and was not greasy at all, sticking with the original oil amounts would probably have been too oily for my taste. I intended this to be a side dish for pan-roasted bass, but I all but ignored my fish. I'd sooner eat a ton of this. I still don't get why it's called a "torte", though. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from Gourmet May 1999

2 large onions (about 1 pound)
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons olive oil
olive oil spray
a 26- to 32-ounce container chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 large eggplants (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
4 large zucchini (about 1 3/4 pounds total)
4 large red bell peppers
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
6 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 2 cups)

Halve onions through root end and thinly slice. Finely chop garlic. In a large heavy skillet cook onions with salt to taste in 2 tablespoons oil, covered, over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and cook mixture, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until any liquid onions give off is evaporated. Add tomatoes with juice, sage, and thyme and simmer, stirring occasionally, until excess liquid is evaporated and mixture is very thick. Season mixture with salt and pepper and cool. Preheat oven to 450°F. Spray at least 2 shallow baking pans with olive oil spray.

Cut eggplants crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick rounds and arrange in one layer in baking pans. Spray eggplant slices with olive oil and roast in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of pans halfway through roasting time, until tender and golden, about 20 minutes. Cool eggplant 5 minutes and transfer with a slotted spatula to paper towels to drain.

Cut zucchini lengthwise into 1/3-inch-thick slices and roast in same manner until tender and pale golden, about 25 minutes. Cool zucchini 5 minutes and transfer to paper towels to drain.

Quarter bell peppers lengthwise and discard stems, seeds, and ribs. Arrange peppers, skin sides up, in oiled baking pans and brush with some remaining oil. Roast peppers in same manner until tender and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Cool peppers 5 minutes and transfer to paper towels to drain.

In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy saucepan melt butter over moderately low heat and whisk in flour. Cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes and whisk in milk and cream. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking, and simmer, whisking occasionally, 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and cool sauce 5 minutes. Whisk in eggs, two thirds Parmigiano-Reggiano, and salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 400°F. and lightly oil a 14- x 10- x 2 1/2-inch or other 3 1/2-quart shallow baking dish. In baking dish arrange half of eggplant, overlapping slices to form an even layer, and season with salt and pepper. Top eggplant with half of tomato mixture, spreading evenly, and pour about one third Parmigiano-Reggiano custard over it. Nestle half of zucchini in custard and season with salt and pepper. Top zucchini with half of peppers. Repeat layering, reserving half of remaining custard for topping. Pour reserved custard over final layer of peppers and sprinkle with remaining grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Bake torte in middle of oven until custard is puffed and golden brown, about 30-35 minutes. Let torte stand 10 minutes before serving.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

friends with gardens

Tomato from Matt's garden + Basil from Beth's garden = Perfect bruschetta

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Friday, August 01, 2008

cuckoo for cauliflower

Last month the NY TImes ran a very amusing article on "recipe dealbreakers" that any cook would probably relate to. For me, the mention of candy thermometers, any phrase similar to "keep the individual sheets of filo moist with damp paper towels between each layer", or "don't be afraid", in a recipe generally turn me off. But what about the other side of the coin? What makes me decide that I absolutely have to try a recipe, without even completely reading it? Perhaps, cauliflower?

I think I have a fair number of cauliflower recipes on here. And here's another. But I tried to at least makes things a little more aesthetically interesting by using an orange cauliflower for this one. Pretty.

This is from Mark Bittman's recipe for Indian-Style Rice Salad in this week's Dining & Wine section. I had pretty much all of the ingredients available at home, so I couldn't resist. And it was as yummy as I had hoped. Recipe after the jump:

(Slightly) adapted from The Minimalist at

1 1/2 to 2 cups brown basmati rice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped scallion
1 cup cubed cooked potato
2 cups cooked cauliflower florets
3/4 cup cooked green peas
1/2 cup light coconut milk, or more as needed
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, or more to taste
1 tablespoon curry powder, or to taste
1 jalapeƱo or other hot fresh chili, stemmed, seeded and minced, or to taste, optional
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro.

1. Cook rice in abundant salted water, as you would pasta, until it’s just done; white rice will take 10 to 15 minutes, brown 30 or a little longer. Drain, rinse in cold water, drain again, then combine with vegetables in a large bowl.

2. Combine black pepper, coconut milk, rice wine vinegar and curry powder in a bowl and whisk until frothy. Taste and add more vinegar a teaspoon or two at a time until balance tastes right to you, then add more curry powder, salt, or pepper, if needed.

3. Drizzle vinaigrette over rice and vegetables. Toss to combine, fluffing rice and tossing gently to separate grains. Stir in chili and cilantro, taste, and adjust seasoning or moisten with a little more dressing. Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate for up to a day, bringing salad back to room temperature before serving.

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