Chicken Salad with Fruits & Nuts

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Have you ever had a chicken salad that just felt too heavy.  So much mayo that it almost leaves a slick cream streak down your throat?  Creamy is nice but heavy is not.   Especially during the summer months, salad featuring proteins should lift you up, not weigh you down. 

My recent cooking adventures afforded me the opportunity to cater for my Mom's 'Ladies Lunch'. I had proposed a couple of different menu options but they didn't want me to go too crazy, fancy.  Understandably so, they needed food that would have a broad appeal for everyone's palate, which makes total sense given a group of 30. Chicken Salad was suggested.

I must admit that making chicken salad didn't thrill me.  It was my job to give the 'clients' what they wanted but also introduce them to chicken salad with pizzaz. I like to create flavors that pop, and really wanted to make something different for these special ladies.  Instead of creating a new dish, the creating came in the form of how to take bland, regular, mayo slathered chicken salad and make it lighter and more exciting.  Once I realized that they were open to a more zippidity-do chicken salad, I starting thinking: summer, lighter, texture and crunch. That's when I got more excited.  Texture would come by way of adding crunchy, crisp fruits and toasted nuts. And I dare say that the fruits also help to lighten the load. Check off the texture category requirement.  Now how to lighten up the dressing that is typically globs of mayo?  Yogurt is light. It's tangy. It's zingy and is still creamy.  Gosh, if only I could be more like yogurt...
So, that was it.  I would cut the mayo in half using Greek yogurt and add a couple of other zesty ingredients to lighten it up.     

I got the thumbs up from the team leaders, my Mom and Elena. Onto the plan. I went back and forth about whether to use dark and white meat, whether to roast or poach.  In the end, I choose to use organic chicken breasts and to poach them using aromatics to subtly impart flavor.

Ingredients 

(This batch was made for 30 people. And it made about 10 c.  Scale down for your needs.)
For the Poaching
9.5 lbs Chicken Breasts *                                       
4 bay leaves
4-6 lemon slices
2 t peppercorns
1 carrot, chopped in chunks
1 celery stalk, cut in pieces
parsley sprigs

For the Salad
2 c red seedless grapes, thick slices
2-3 red apple, peeled & cubed
5-6 scallions, thinly sliced
1 c walnuts, roasted & rough chopped
* You can also use leftover chicken and add the dressing.  

Dressing
1.5 c Mayonnaise
1.5 Greek Yogurt
2-3 T Lemon zest
1/3 c lemon juice
2 T mustard
salt, pepper
 

Instructions

1. Clean and rinse the chicken well.  In a large sauté pan, add the chicken in one layer in the pan.  Add the aromatics and enough water to almost cover.  Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 8-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken.  Use a thermometer to ensure that the interior is 165 degrees.

2. While the chicken is cooking, make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients.

Creamy, tangy and light.

Creamy, tangy and light.

3. Once the chicken is done, remove from the pot and let it cool.  Meanwhile, roast the walnuts for 5-7 minutes and rough chop them.  Cut the grapes, apples, and scallions. (Squeeze some lemon juice over the apples or submerge in lemon water to keep them from turning brown.)

Chicken
Red grapes
Apples

4. Either cut the chicken into chunks or shred.  Your choice. Mix all the ingredients together with the dressing.  Some people like their salad moist, others dry. Dress as desired.

Chicken Salad lighter

You can serve this on rolls, or French baguette.  I decided for summertime, and for a healthier option, to serve them with small romaine lettuce leaves to act as boats.   All the ladies enjoyed this light and tangy chicken salad. 

A huge bowl full of light and crunchy, savory and zesty chicken salad.

A huge bowl full of light and crunchy, savory and zesty chicken salad.

The ladies taking a little bit of all the offerings.

The ladies taking a little bit of all the offerings.

Since I made a ton of chicken salad and had so many other offerings, I had some leftovers.  I brought home some chicken salad, and the Israeli Couscous  and Asian Slaw with Tahini/Peanut Dressing and made a bountiful  lunch plate for JC.  At first he said, "That's way too much food."  Not too much later, I found the plate, empty, not even a grain of couscous left.  Apparently, it wasn't too much. He loved it enough to have the rest the next day.  

And since I had some of the chicken salad dressing leftover and I love to share, I gave some to my neighbors who are a foodies. They just happen to have some roasted chicken.  What serendipity.  They mixed up my dressing with their chicken and loved how the lemon zest and juice really brightened it all up.  Why did the neighbor cross the road?  Ask the chicken.

My plate full of love that I made for JC's lunch. Boston lettuce pockets filled with zingy chicken salad, couscous and peanut slaw.

My plate full of love that I made for JC's lunch. Boston lettuce pockets filled with zingy chicken salad, couscous and peanut slaw.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  To mingle with a few fruits and nuts and slather herself in a light yogurt lemon dressing, of course.

 

Amuse Bouche...That's not English, Right?

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Oh the French, they do give us some wonderful food and great phrases.  And the one that starts it all off is the Amuse-bouche.  The literal translation is mouth amuser.  In a restaurant, this is the appetizer before the appetizer. Not ordered from the menu by a customer, but given as a complimentary single bite from the chef to start your meal.  It is meant to amuse the mouth. Get it ready for the meal. Whet the appetite and get the patron excited for what is to come. 

Only the French would think of amusing your mouth. I dare say that the Italians aren't into amusing so much, but straight up satisfying from the onset.  I do love the idea of tickling the tongue with a little nosh to get you primed.  A little food foreplay, wouldn't you say?

This practice doesn't need to be limited to restaurants. As JuanCarlos and I prepare for a trip to France, I reasoned that this was a perfect time to honor their tradition and share some ideas on the subject. So go ahead,  treat your guests to an Amuse Bouche.  You like them, don't you?  So amuse their bouche.

Remember this is meant to be just one little bite not a full blown appetizer. However,  any of these can be an appetizer. (Just love when things can do double duty).  An amuse bouche can range from the elaborate to a very simple offering. 

Here are six offerings, each providing the all important combination of salty, sweet, tang, texture to get the mouth party off to the races.

Goat Cheese & Nut Topped Grapes

These are an easy, pop in your mouth kind of bite.  Refreshing and textural, and create the "more please" effect. 

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  • Use the stemmed end as the base, as this will help the grape stand up.

  • Slice a tiny bit off the top of the grape to have a level landing spot for a dollop of goat cheese.

  • Using a small spoon gather 1/2 tsp of room temp goat cheese and place it atop the grape. (I use my clean fingers to create a little dollop)

  • Dip it in the crushed/ground nuts (such as pistachios or a mix of pecans, walnuts or whatever nut you like). These can be made ahead of time, but save the nut dipping til just before serving. You don't want the nuts to get soggy in the refrigerate. NOBODY likes soggy nuts.

Prep yourself with everything at the ready. Look how simple this is. 3 ingredients. 3 steps: Slice, dollop and dip

Prep yourself with everything at the ready. Look how simple this is. 3 ingredients. 3 steps: Slice, dollop and dip

You can store in the fridge like this with plastic wrap

You can store in the fridge like this with plastic wrap

Dip right before serving.

Dip right before serving.

Salmon Topped Cucumber or Apple

Alright, this may be two bites, but satisfying ones, for sure. These deliver a creamy texture paired with a cool crisp  and salty bite.

Salmon / cream cheese roll up a top a cucumber slice.

Salmon / cream cheese roll up a top a cucumber slice.

  • Cut a 1/2" slice of cucumber.

  • Pipe a dollop of soften cream cheese on top.

  • Place a small piece of smoked salmon laid down in a crossed fashion.

  • Pipe another dollop of cream cheese in the center and top with capers and dill.
    (You can also use the Salmon Roll method. On a large piece of plastic wrap lay the salmon down, making sure to overlay slightly. Spread softened cream cheese on top. Sprinkle with capers, then roll up like a sushi roll, Refrigerate. Once chilled, cut into 1/2” rounds placing atop each cucumber slice. Adorn with dill, as seen above.)

Refreshing on a slice of apple. This is from my   Lox on What?   idea.

Refreshing on a slice of apple. This is from my Lox on What? idea.

Pea Soup Shooter

A chilled, tall drink of spring. (I have not tried these recipes but wanted to provide a few links for your reference.)
Pea Soup Shooter
Pea Shooter
Pea Soup

These were part of the offering at a catering event I did with Regina Mallon Enterprises, food by  Special Attentions .

These were part of the offering at a catering event I did with Regina Mallon Enterprises, food by Special Attentions.

Dates Packed & Wrapped

Boy, does this one get every part of your mouth ready.  It's got salty, sweet, crunch and tang.

Another 3 step method, Slice, stuff and roll.

Another 3 step method, Slice, stuff and roll.

  • Slice open a Meedjol date just enough to remove pit and replace with something better.

  • Stuff it with gorgonzola cheese and a marcona salted almond.

  • Wrap the date with Serrano or Prosciutto ham.

Simple set up of jamón Serrano, gorgonzola, marconas & dates.

Simple set up of jamón Serrano, gorgonzola, marconas & dates.

Just a little slice, yank out the pit and replace with yumminess.

Just a little slice, yank out the pit and replace with yumminess.

Cranked up Caprese Skewers

This is an amped up Caprese salad on a stick.

Ratcheted up a notch by grilling them until they are just warmed then dipped in grated cheese. Oh the melt, the sweet, the salt.

Ratcheted up a notch by grilling them until they are just warmed then dipped in grated cheese. Oh the melt, the sweet, the salt.

Another simple set up with just a few ingredients.

Another simple set up with just a few ingredients.

Once grilled, roll them in grated cheese. Want some heat, sprinkle red pepper flakes, too.

Once grilled, roll them in grated cheese. Want some heat, sprinkle red pepper flakes, too.

  • Skewer a grape tomato, a bocconcino, piece of basil and another grape tomato. (You can certainly serve them as is. But I highly recommend you go the next steps. Also, you can prepare these ahead of time and refrigerate until grilling.)

  • Coat with oil, salt and pepper and lightly grill, then roll in Parmesano Reggiano, and serve immediately.

Chorizo-Manchego-Olive Skewer

A one bite tapa mix that makes a hearty first nibble. 

Warm, cold. Savory, salty, creamy. Need I say more?

Warm, cold. Savory, salty, creamy. Need I say more?

Honestly, I feel like I could create one every week.  The options and ideas are 'to infinity and beyond'.  Just think of little bites that would get your guests ready for more.  Oh la la to the French for their playful amusement.  What a fun game of enticement. 

 
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Left with Just Leaves Salad: Cilantro, Parsley, Fennel & Apple

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One day, quite awhile back when JC and I lived in our comfy, perfectly, suited for the time, co-op, we emerged from our home office starved. The realization hit us hard as we looked around the kitchen to discover we had barely anything to eat.  Like Little Miss Muffet, I opened every cupboard, and the cupboards were bare. Or so I thought.  One last search in the refrigerator revealed there might be salvation. I had the oddest combination of ingredients.  If you could call these items ingredients.  These are typically used to enhance a dish, not actually be the leading ladies. As I stared at them, I don't know who was begging more.  Me? - willing them to turn into something else.  Or them, shouting out, "TRY US, we can do it."
 
So, here goes an unusual bunch creating a surprisingly, refreshing salad. 

Nothing but cilantro, fennel, red and green apples, parsley and red onion.

Nothing but cilantro, fennel, red and green apples, parsley and red onion.

Ingredients

1 bunch Cilantro leaves (approx. 2 c), whole leaves, remove woody stems
1 bunch Parsley leaves (approx. 2.5 c), whole leaves, remove stems
1/2 Red onion, thinly sliced
2 Apples, thinly sliced (I used Red Delicious, Green Granny) 
1 bulb Fennel (approx. 2 c), thinly sliced  
Fennel fronds

Dressing
zest of whole lemon
1/4 c lemon juice
2 T lime juice
1 T mustard (I like spicy brown)
1/2 t salt
1/8 t pepper
1/2 c olive oil
crushed garlic, optional

Dressing line up.

Dressing line up.

Since I didn't have any lettuce greens I knew I needed to use as much of the cilantro and parsley as I could. These were going to have to do the work of lettuce.  So I lovingly plucked off each leaf leaving it whole. I did my best to not include the stems. I really wanted the purity of the leave to shine.  Once all plucked, they got washed in cold water and took a went for quick whirl in salad spinner for a good dry.

Pluck, pluck, pluck.

Pluck, pluck, pluck.

Look at those fresh, crisp beauties. You are going to love their flavors front and center.

Look at those fresh, crisp beauties. You are going to love their flavors front and center.

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Since I needed as much volume as possible, I used the fennel fronds, too.  I shaved them off the tops and then rough chopped them.  Onto to the fennel bulb, which I thinly sliced.

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Chop, chop. Just enough so they mingle in.

Chop, chop. Just enough so they mingle in.

Thinly slice the bulb and some of the stalks.

Thinly slice the bulb and some of the stalks.

Keeping with the theme of thin.  I sliced the onions and apples in the same manner. (I usually use a mandolin for all the thin slicing.  So if you have one, this is the perfect time to bring it out. I felt like using a good, sharp knife this time.)  Normally, I like to cut salad ingredients using a variety of different sizes for the items.  But I knew this salad would require an even more delicate touch since eating parsley and cilantro leaves whole might be a bit over-powering.  This is why all of these ingredients are nice and thin in order to mingle well together.

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Since apples can turn brown once cut, a good trick is to place them in acidulated water, which is nothing more than cold water with a big squeeze of lemon juice. This both helps to keep them crisp and prevents ugly brown spots, but only if you will be plating the salad within 15-30 minutes. If you keep them in the water longer, than it actually has the opposite effect.  Check out this interesting, helpful link for other ways to prevent browning.

Apples happily floating in lemon water.

Apples happily floating in lemon water.

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Keeping everything at the same thinness allows each to stand up to one another.  And so they did, dressed in a mustard vinaigrette. 

 

Never underestimate those dangling participles left in your fridge.  Those usually making supporting appearances, or a walk on extra without a speaking part can make a starring role if you let them. These were so proud of their debut as stars of the show! 

Eat this salad on it's own, or add it to a brunch plate, or dinner plate.  Whatever plate.  Just pile it on.

Thin slices keeps this salad so crisp and clean.

Thin slices keeps this salad so crisp and clean.

Oh, the freshness truly brighten an already delicious brunch plate.

Oh, the freshness truly brighten an already delicious brunch plate.

Sunday Lunch with Friends

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When I was growing up Sundays were traditionally a family gathering day. It revolved around the main meal served around 2pm usually consisting of pasta and meats from the gravy (sauce).  Oh the glory days, when life was much simpler and we made time to gather for food and laughter.  Much to my sadness, those days of living around the corner from one another and having oodles of time are long gone.  And so are the weekly family gatherings.  I could go into a long diatribe about that subject but the point here is to try to create new Sunday traditions.  With that in mind, JuanCarlos and I usually cherish making pasta on Sundays.  We have this funny joke between us where one of us will smilingly state, "Lidia said".  We glommed this phrase after watching a cooking show with Lidia Bastianich where she stated that it's ok to eat a little pasta every day.  That was all I needed to justify my habit. We couldn't agree more and with her permission we proudly, confidently shout out: "Lidia said", and a tradition was born.  We also try to harken back to those olden days and invite people over.

The only unfortunate part is that since we live in the burbs we don't have many friends who can just stop by.  
We do, however, have a few that like to venture up from the Big Apple.  And so one wintery Sunday we were graced with a visit from two adventurous souls from Manhattan willing to share a Sunday meal with us.  They are originally from Florence, Italy.  Our friend, Tecla, now lives in NYC but her dad, Paolo, recently returned to Tuscany and was here for a visit.   When we were in Italy last April, he welcomed us into his home, so it seemed only fitting that we would return the favor in this small way. (Tecla's husband, Scott was not able to join us.)

Tecla is always smiling and laughing and is a blast to have around.  Paolo is a gentleman and a gem of a man.

Tecla is always smiling and laughing and is a blast to have around.  Paolo is a gentleman and a gem of a man.

First things first. Set a simple but inviting table. 

It was a Sunday lunch so I wanted to keep it informal yet welcoming.  Staying with an all white dish theme and adding cream hued napkins helps to tone down the formality.  In order to keep it from feeling too overdone, I opted for no tablecloth instead using a layered placemat approach.  First layer is a cream linen placemat with a dark wooden wicker mat placed in the opposite direction so it hung over the table.

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Bird's eye view of this simple but chic table setting.

Bird's eye view of this simple but chic table setting.

Adding individual salt & pepper shakers to the table avoids each guest having to pass them around. It's especially helpful since some guests might feel intimidated to ask thinking that adding salt/pepper is an insult to the chef.  

I left the middle of the table open as the landing spot for the family style platters and moved all the candles and votives to the far end of the table. It's all about the food and company.

Now with the table set, onto the food. 

What a treat to share a Sunday meal.  I know I rambled on and on about enjoying pasta on Sundays.   So I bet you are anticipating a pasta dish.  Foiled again.  We swerved from that tradition, and instead made risotto and pork loin.  The traditional part was served by a big dose of enjoying a meal with people we love, and that was plenty enough tradition for us. 

Hosting doesn't mean that you have to go nuts preparing for days. Simple food that tastes good is all you need.  And that is exactly what we did.  I had made a bean and escarole soup the day before and thought it would be nice to start with a little bowl to warm their souls on that chilly day.  Then we moved onto to snacking from a cheese/charcuterie platter followed by roasted eggplant topped with feta gremolata and roasted tomatoes.  We enjoyed those treats in our kitchen while we caught up on life, and while I began making the risotto.  

Charcuterie & Cheese Platter, chock full of  Serrano ham, chorizo, Mahon Curado  cheese, grapes,  Marie's Gone Crackers

Charcuterie & Cheese Platter, chock full of Serrano ham, chorizo, Mahon Curado cheese, grapes, Marie's Gone Crackers

Roasted eggplant with  feta gremolata  and  roasted tomatoes .  Honestly, having a ton of roasted tomatoes in your fridge or freezer is your best secret weapon.  The dishes you can make are endless!

Roasted eggplant with feta gremolata and roasted tomatoes.  Honestly, having a ton of roasted tomatoes in your fridge or freezer is your best secret weapon.  The dishes you can make are endless!

Our meal was a simple offering of:

Pork Loin
Creamy Risotto
Sautéd Mushrooms
Apple Crisp Salad

Served with an Italian red wine 

Cream Puffs served with warm strawberry compote

Pork Loin, simple but tasty and fresh with a squeeze of lemon.

Pork Loin, simple but tasty and fresh with a squeeze of lemon.

Creamy risotto, replacing pasta this Sunday. Still hearty and satisfying.   

Creamy risotto, replacing pasta this Sunday. Still hearty and satisfying.   

Apple crisp salad and sautéd mushrooms

Apple crisp salad and sautéd mushrooms

Fill your plate.  Fill your heart.

Fill your plate.  Fill your heart.

Dessert was a pile of cream puffs served with warm strawberry relish, and continued to keep the wine flowing.

Cream puffs

Cream puffs

I can't tell you how fortunate we are to have such wonderful friends, and the ability to share delicious food that is super easy to make, and even easier to enjoy.  

I hope you have a Sunday tradition that you cherish, or take this cue to create one to enjoy for decades to come. 

P.S. Out of pure coincidence and happiness, this post is launching on Tecla's birthday.  So happy birthday, dear friend.  Here's to many more Sunday lunches and more!

 

I love hearing from you, so please feel free to leave a comment.

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Apple Crisp Salad

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I am one of those writers who loves journals.  I have a million but that doesn't stop me from buying more when I see one.  I am drawn to them like bees to honey.  I love the texture. I love holding them in my hand. I love all the styles, designs and colors. I see one, and like some fiend that has been implanted with a chip that orders me to buy every time I see one, I do so willing, happily, adding to my ever growing collection.  And because I have so many journals I write in different ones at different times.  Sometimes it depends on my mood; does the cover and feel of the journal match how I'm feeling?  Sometimes it's the contents; is what I'm about to write similar to what has already been written in that journal.  Other times it's simply about the weight of the journal.  If I am traveling, I choose the lightest, thinnest one.  While other times I could be in one location but still slightly traveling slowly side to side on the hammock. For those times, I choose a weightier journal than the one intended for trains, planes and automobiles.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. But aren't they all so pretty. Wouldn't you buy them, too?!

This is just the tip of the iceberg. But aren't they all so pretty. Wouldn't you buy them, too?!

Scribbles with no amounts. The green notes are from me recreating it for this blog, so I could give you measurements.

Scribbles with no amounts. The green notes are from me recreating it for this blog, so I could give you measurements.

The happy result of having started but not finishing
a journal is that I happen upon poems, writings, rantings, recipes and ideas from moments past.  There is a certain excitement upon discovering these nuggets. I can relive times in my life and feel a sense of journey and accomplishment. They also seem new and fresh to me, usually bringing me joy.  This occurs particularly when I'm thumbing through and unearth a recipe I want to try again. I can't tell you how happy I am that a few years back I started writing recipes down.  I've always written my thoughts and feelings
in journals but not recipes. So being able to recreate dishes that I made once and almost forgot is a real treat.  Like this Apple Crisp Salad.  I remember it now, and would have totally slipped my mind and fallen into the vast past of recipes lost had I not jotted it down.

It is exactly how I named it.  A salad featuring apples where the crispness comes from the way they are cut.  I believe I have mentioned this before but the cut of food, especially fruits and vegetables can make all the difference in world.  It can either enhance or overwhelm a dish.   In this recipe, the apples are cut like matchsticks, allowing them to mingle themselves throughout the entire salad providing a crisp crunch with every bite.

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ingredients

(4 Lunch or 6 dinner servings)
4+ c apples, sliced into matchsticks               10 c Boston, Romaine lettuce        
1 c parsley leaves
1 c cilantro leaves
1/3 c scallions, sliced
1/4 c heaping red onion, thinly sliced

 

Dressing
2 T lemon juice
2 T lime juice
1 t dijon mustard
1/4 t fresh ginger, grated
1/2 t garlic, crushed
salt, pepper to taste
1/3 c olive Oil

Instructions

Prepare all the ingredients as directed above, leaving the apples to the very last so they don't turn brown.  You can also squeeze lemon juice on them to keep them from turning.  For both the parsley and cilantro, pick the individual leaves off the stems and leave whole.  This adds so much flavor.

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Arrange the lettuces on a platter or big bowl. Then mix in all the other ingredients.

Cut 1/8" slices of the apple.

Cut 1/8" slices of the apple.

Then cut them lengthwise to create matchstick pieces.

Then cut them lengthwise to create matchstick pieces.

Using a mandolin, I also like to thinly slice some of the apple for garnish.  

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Add it to the top of the salad in various places.

Add it to the top of the salad in various places.

 

Make the dressing and then pour over the salad right before serving.  Toss until coated.  

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This dressing has a nice kick provided by the dijon grain mustard, the fresh grated ginger and garlic.

This dressing has a nice kick provided by the dijon grain mustard, the fresh grated ginger and garlic.

This is a perfect salad for this time of year as apple picking is in season.  Go pick a few then make this salad to accompany my Apple Butter/Spicy Sausage Sandwich.  Since the weather is still warm the salad is a great sub in for the roasted tomato soup that I originally made with that sandwich.  Either way...

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An apple a day...