The peppermint patty.

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Looking for a beautiful, handmade gift idea for Christmas?

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Homemade peppermint patties!

You haven’t had a peppermint patty until you have one that’s made by hand. These peppermint bites are relatively easy to make and very pretty, perfect for holiday gifting. Plus they actually taste like peppermint, a far cry from synthetic, aluminum-flavored York peppermint patties. This recipe comes from a pastry chef who once ran her own chocolate making business, teaches classes on handmade candy, and with whom I just finished editing a cookbook; the lady knows her patty.

And, side note: I’ve started writing a food column for Misadventures, the ridiculously awesome magazine for adventurous women; you can find a funny story behind peppermint patties here!

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Handmade Peppermint Patties

Makes 24 patties. Recipe adapted from Ash­ley Rodriguez.

  •   2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  •   1 1/2 table­spoons unsalted but­ter, softened
  •   1/2 tea­spoon kosher salt
  •   1 1/2 tea­spoons pep­per­mint extract
  •   1/2 vanilla bean, seeds only (optional, but so good)
  •   2 table­spoons heavy cream
  •   12 ounces good qual­ity dark chocolate
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine confectioner’s sugar, butter, salt, peppermint extract, vanilla, and cream. Beat with a paddle attachment until mixture comes together. Turn mixer on high and beat until candy comes together and is light and creamy. When you touch it, it should be soft but not at all sticky; if it seems sticky, add a little more powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, until dough is no longer sticky.
  2. Scrape candy paste out onto a long piece of cling wrap and form into a thin tube about 1 1/2-inch in diameter. Wrap well in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Once candy is firm, use a large sharp knife to slice off rounds about 1/4-inch thick. Return to refrigerator.
  3. Melt chocolate in the microwave, stirring in 30-second increments to prevent overheating.
  4. Remove candy discs from refrigerator and dip into melted chocolate. With a fork, let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl and set dipped peppermint patty onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper. If patties get too soft to dip, chill briefly in the refrigerator until they’re firm again.
  5. Let patties set at room temperature, about 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
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Fathers and flourless chocolate almond cake.

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Happy Fathers day to all men of the fathercloth!

And a special shout out to my dad, a man who loves chocolate, especially gooey chocolate.

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My dad carries a bag of carrots, piece of meat, handful of almonds, and hefty hunks of dark chocolate wherever he goes. He could be at the lab, in the airport, on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro; you can bet your bottom dollar on that little lunchbox because he’s got it.

My hypothesis is that he carries around his gourmet food kit out of wariness. Wariness of hunger and what it makes you do, like paying for airlines’ overpriced, sodium-enriched snack packs that are neither tasty nor nourishing. We call Daddy’s phobia “food insecurity.” Yet the more I attempt to philosophize about it, the more I think it’s an expression of his multifaceted, farm-boy, ever-practical inner foodie.DSC_0081

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While packing things for Seattle, I found a Swedish cookbook one of my friends gave me years ago. When I saw a recipe for flourless chocolate almond cake, my Dad’s lunchbox flashed through my head. This is a father cake, I said to myself as I twiddled my fingertips together with glee. The cake looked healthy, yet so gooey ooey chocolaty, while refined. I had to try it.

Upon first bite, you know Swedish chocolate cake is “healthy” like a bran muffin or something you’d get at Whole Foods, which is not necessarily healthy (but hey, it’s all about perception.)  It is not too sweet, surprisingly flavorful, and slightly amandine. However, due to the almond flour, the cake is not as smooth as non-almond flourless chocolate cakes.

Still, ground almonds give the chocolate cake a deep, almost milky sweet flavor that elevates the confection to a whole other category of toasted chocolate wonderfulness. Rest assured, hungry-wary people of the world. This Swedish chocolate cake assuages food insecurity while simultaneously satiating foodie-ism. Let’s just say it’s hard to stop at one slice.

So, Daddy, I dedicate this gooey, rich, wholesome recipe to you. It’s like your food insecurity kit, just minus the meat, carrots, and other stuff like hummus packs that you pick up along the way.

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Flourless Chocolate Almond Cake

Makes a small cake that serves six to eight, depending on how hefty you like your piece of cake. Recipe adapted from The Food and Cooking of Sweden by Anna Mosesson. Anness Publishing, 2008.

100g/4 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate with at least 75 percent cocoa solids
4 ounces unsalted sweet butter, plus a bit extra for greasing
2 eggs, separated
1-1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons
raspberry preserves, whipped heavy cream, or vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a shallow round cake tin and line with wax paper for easy clean-up.
2. Gently melt chocolate with double boiler on low heat or in the microwave on low power. Remove from heat.
3. Cut butter into small pieces, add chocolate, and stir until melted. Once almost cool, slowly add egg yolks, ground almonds, vanilla, and sugar. Turn the mixture into a large bowl.
4. Whisk egg whites until stiff and then fold them into chocolate mixture. Put in to cake round and bake until just set but still soft in the center, about 15 minutes. Serve chilled with raspberry preserves and vanilla ice cream.

Croissants and the art of living.

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In three days I move to Seattle.
Three days (!)

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I’ll live there for the next bit of foreseeable future. Beyond that, who knows. All this life and being twenty-something stuff, it’s so exciting!

Over the past week I’ve savored post-graduate freedom. From the first hour, I made it a goal to master the art of doing nothing. Yet after two hours spent thinking of everything I could be doing, I scraped my attempt at nothing-filled nirvana.

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It’s not that this Buddhist mindfulness exercise is a load of cotton candy. It’s just that, well, I’m an addict.

<meeting begins> Hello my name is Jessie. I’m a work addict.

I thrive working twelve hours straight. I love making goals. I feel guilty when I do something relaxing. Let’s just say I can get a little too intense. As a challenge to my achieving-addicted self, I decided to live the past week without big goals or many expectations.

And, oh boy, was I rewarded. This past week has been free and just darn good. Without trying to control the week’s outcome, I was able to let go of any relaxation guilt and do things (for fun!) that I was too busy to do these past four years. I drank cocktails every night. I read Catch-22 and a book on the mind-body problem. I hung out with family and friends and gave away most possessions, the ones that have been steadily accumulating in my bedroom for the past twenty-two years. I’ve been rethinking human logic as we know it, and making pastries. Lots of pastries. In doing everything, life has been simple, sweet, whole.

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Nothing lasts forever, I remind myself in my best Dalai Lama voice. In five days I will face a big, cold world with jobs and paychecks and taxes and writer-baker paychecks (that’s not a complaint, just a statement of fact, an acknowledgement of my near-future state of starving artist which sounds too much like Tantalus, on account of me working with food all day long but still being a young writer and thus starving. How about hungry artist?) It won’t be so easy to be a little happy buddha when I’m working the four a.m. shift at the bakery five times a week. Or meeting never-ending editor deadlines or trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life.

But paychecks and plans have nothing to do with contentment. Money, work, approval from others, stubborn self-reliance makes us feel secure. Yet these things don’t actually make life good. I’m talking really good in a primal, beautiful I-might-just-crack-open-with-love-and-ridiculousness-and-everything sort of good.

I’m finding that life is good when we are quiet, when we are confident enough to let it be good. It’s good when we set goals without worrying if we’ll achieve them in the way we think we should– the world has too much imagination to give us complete control– while being aware that, regardless of the outcome, it will be alright. I like to think of this mindfulness as an art because, through balance and awareness, we create our reality. I could’ve read Catch-22 for pleasure or spent more time with my family the past four years, but I told myself I was too busy. And so I didn’t.

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I don’t want to be a work addict. I want to make time for the things that really matter. It’s quiet these days; I’ve made it a goal to continue.

No activity is better to jump start your meditative inner-musings than croissant making. Time becomes flaky. Air wears the silky, sweet smell of butter. Your senses, your mind becomes softer, as malleable as kneaded dough. Be prepared to spend a whole lazy morning making your croissant babies and let the good life flow.

P.S. These croissants make the perfect Father’s Day breakfast! (Hint hint, nudge nudge) By the three crumbs left on his plate, I think my Dad approves.

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Chocolate Almond Croissants

Makes 16 croissants. Adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking. Oxmoor House, 2003.

In May, I tried my first pain au chocolat aux amandes at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in Napa, California. I’ve been dreaming of that fancified, amaretto-scented croissant ever since. This recipe is my (very successful!) attempt to recreate Bouchon’s magic. Enjoy with good coffee.

FOR THE CROISSANT DOUGH
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons warm water (105-115 degrees F)
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted but cooled
1 cup cold whole milk
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and pinch of sugar in warm water. Let stand until foamy, around 5 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, combine yeast mixture, remaining sugar, salt, melted butter, milk, and ½ cup flour. Mix with a wooden spoon until blended. Slowly add remaining flour just until dough comes together in a sticky mass.
3. On a lightly floured surface (granite, stone, or metal countertops work best because you can cool them by placing a clean ice pack on the surface 1 hour before working with dough,) roll out dough into a ½-inch thick rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap, transfer to plate, and let cool in refrigerator for 30 minutes while you prepare the butter layer.

FOR THE BUTTER LAYER AND BAKING
1 cup unsalted butter (very important to use unsalted butter; unsalted butter usually tastes better and is of higher quality than salted butter)
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 large egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon milk (for a golden, flaky crust)

1. Place butter on a work surface and sprinkle with flour. With a rolling pin or the heel of your hand, beat butter into a 6 x 8 inch rectangle with the flour worked in. If, at anytime during croissant making, the butter becomes too soft (softer than the texture of the bread dough) refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. This next step is called laminating the dough. Roll out dough into a 9 x 13c inch rectangle. With the short side facing you, place the butter on the lower half, leaving a ½ inch border on all sides. Fold over the upper half to cover the butter and press edges together to seal. Then, with the folded side to your left, roll out the dough to a 10 x 24 inch rectangle. With short side facing you, fold the bottom third up, then fold the top third down, as if folding a letter. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This completes the first turn.
3. Return chilled dough to lightly floured work surface with a folded side to your left and repeat the process to make 3 more turns: rolling, folding, and chilling. (To complete a total of 4 turns.) After the fourth turn, refrigerate dough for at least 4 hours or overnight (or, if you want croissants later in the week, freeze dough now.)
4. To form the croissants, roll out on a lightly floured work surface to a 9 x 18 inch rectangle. Cut in half lengthwise. Cut each half crosswise (forming 4 squares.) Cut each square in half (forming 8 squares.) Cut each square crossways (forming 16 triangles.)
5. Lightly butter 2 sheet pans. Working with one triangle at a time, gently stretch each triangle about twice its original length. Gently stretch the long edge. Fill croissant with a bit of minced dark chocolate, almond paste, both, or neither. Place hands at top of wide end and gently roll pastry toward you. Seal tip with your thumb, place on baking sheet and form into crescent.Repeat with remaining triangles, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Cover with a moistened kitchen towel and place in a warm spot to let rise until doubled in size (about 1-1/2 hours.)
6. Position rack in middle of convection oven (place higher if not) and preheat oven to 425 degrees.
7. Lightly brush the tops of your pastries with the egg mixture. Bake them one sheet at a time until golden brown (15-18 minutes.)
8. If you want a sweet almond crust on your croissants, take out your croissants 5 minutes before they are done. Sprinkle with sugar water and almonds. Return to oven to complete baking time. Dust with powdered sugar when completely cool.

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Massaged kale and chocolate vinaigrette.

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“Just massage it with your hands.”

“What?”

“The kale,” my grandmother insists over the phone. Her name is Sandi but I call her Mammy. I think the line is getting fuzzy or she is delusional. Mammy explains her  experience with kale massage, “rub chopped, raw kale with oil and make sure to do it with your hands; you won’t regret it.”

I knew I had to try it.

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Mammy was right; she always is. Now Massaged Kale is one of my collegiate potluck go-to dishes. Massaged Kale takes two minutes to make, is healthy, and tastes great. Plus, there’s a special place in heaven where we can watch Massaged Kale consumers’ faces when they hear about its sensual preparation.

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It’s fun to discuss out of context, but massaged kale is serious business. Kale is a cancer-fighting wonder food packed with vitamins A, K, and C and minerals like calcium and iron. The hearty, green leaf also contains bile acid sequestrates that lower cholesterol and decrease absorption of dietary fat. So why don’t most people call kale a favorite food?  Because it’s extremely fibrous, kale is difficult to digest and requires steaming, baking, or frying, processes that leach many of kale’s beneficial nutrients.

This is where the massage comes in.

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With Massaged Kale, you get raw nutrients and kale that tastes good too.

For a Valentine’s day dinner twist, I’ve included a recipe for chocolate vinaigrette to drizzle over your Massaged Kale. It’s so good, I promise you’ll earn your own cook’s massage.

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Massaged Kale

serves 2 as a side.

1/2 bunch of kale (around 1/2 lb), sliced in thin ribbons
1 Tablespoon oil (use olive oil for less flavor, truffle oil for more flavor)
pinch of salt and pepper

  1. Mix kale, oil, salt, and pepper in a large serving bowl. Massage kale with finger tips until kale is tender, darker green in color, and reduced in bulk.

Chocolate Vinaigrette

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of pepper

  1. In a saucepan on medium-high heat, reduce balsamic vinegar until slightly thick and half its original volume. Stir often to prevent burning.
  2. Turn off heat and whisk in mustard, cocoa powder, salt and pepper until well incorporated.
  3. When completely cool, toss with kale and serve.

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Chocolate hazelnut and gluten-freedom.

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At a party the other night, a friend asked me, “If you’re stuck on a deserted island and could only bring Nutella or peanut butter, what would you bring?” Scoff. I’ll have both, and stay on this island forever.

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My family moved to Australia when I was five and I discovered new friends with Nutella-wonderbread sandwiches in their lunchboxes. Lucky me, Aussie children are crazy about American egg salad. At school, I traded my Power Ranger lunchbox for the sweet, nutty chocolate in a shady cafeteria corner. I was hooked.

Since Australia, I squirrel Nutella in to everything I can: smoothies, frostings, spoonfuls, and now cookies. These aren’t just cookies with Nutella. No, they are the hazelnut chocolate makings of Nutella in cookie form. And they’re gluten-free.

More to come on peanut butter love affairs…

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(Gluten-free!) Nutellettles

About 45 cookies
Recipe by Terresa Murphy of La Cucina di Terresa and David Lebovitz

1 1/4 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
1 cup rice flour (or all-purpose flour)
3 1/2 ounces butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
1. Put the hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse them until very fine; they should be the consistency of coarse polenta.

2. Transfer the ground nuts to a bowl and add the rice flour. Cut the butter into pieces then add the butter, sugar, and salt to the dry ingredients. Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together until the butter is dispersed and completely incorporated. The dough should be very smooth and hold together. If not, knead it until it does or add a tiny, tiny bit of water.

3. Divide the dough into three equal pieces and roll each piece until it’s 3/4-inch (2cm) round. Try to get them as smooth as possible, with no cracks. If the dough is too long to work with as you roll them out, you can cut the dough at the midway point and work with it in batches or use plastic wrap to compress the dough in to ropes. Chill the dough logs until firm on a small baking sheet or dinner plate lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper in the freezer for 15 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 325ºF and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. Working with one length of dough at a time, keeping the others in the refrigerator or freezer, cut off equal-sized pieces using a knife. Once you’ve cut a length of dough, roll the pieces into nice little balls the size of a marble and place them on the baking sheet, slightly spaced apart.

6. Bake the cookies for 10 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets in the oven midway during cooking, until the tops are lightly golden brown. Let the cookies cool completely.

7. Melt the chocolate until smooth on microwave medium heat or in a double boiler. Put a chocolate chip-sized dollop of chocolate on the bottom of one cookie and take another cookie, and sandwich the two halves together.

Storage: The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

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Dear autumn, I love you.

In the spirit of cooler weather, pine cones, and  leaves, commune with your oven…

I know this isn’t how I should introduce a recipe, but my dad, Ben, would hate these brownies. Specifically the goat cheese part. He tries to block out the memories, so I’m not quite sure of his whole story. From what I can gather, my grandfather bought a goat in attempt to reduce his three teenage boys’ exorbitant milk consumption during the Farm Crisis. Since then, Benny won’t go close to anything with goat.

So when my roommate Taylor told me about a recipe for goat cheese brownies, I was intrigued. A brownie that I can fearlessly leave on the kitchen counter in the presence of my dad’s sweet tooth and know it will be there when I get back? Yes.

I guess I could be selfless and substitute cream cheese…

Chevre Brownies

Serves 12

1 batch of brownies, prepared but not baked
1 large dark chocolate bar, cut into chunks
8 oz. chevre (goat cheese) or cream cheese for those goat-adverse people in your life
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp cream cheese
1 egg

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and grease your baking pan (I used a 9×13).  You can also cut a piece of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of the pan.  I’ll ensure your brownies don’t stick to the bottom. In a large bowl, prepare your favorite brownies–homemade or from a mix–and stir in the dark chocolate chunks.  Set the brownie mixture aside. In a separate bowl, combine the chevre, honey, flour, cream cheese and egg.  Beat the ingredients together until the mixture becomes  smooth. In the greased baking pan add half of the brownie mixture.  Spread it out so that it covers the entire bottom.

Add spoonfuls of the goat cheese mixture on top of the brownies you just spread in the pan.  Spoon the rest of the prepared brownie mix on top, as well. Using a plastic knife or a butter knife, make swirls and zig-zags throughout the spoonfuls of chevre mixture and brownie mix, creating a pretty swirled pattern. Bake the brownies in the pre-heated oven until the center is set but still quite fudgy.  (Follow the baking directions for whichever brownie mix or recipe you used–I had to bake mine for approximately 20 minutes).

When the brownies are finished, remove them from the oven and let them cool.  Once they’re completely cooled, remove from the pan and freeze–or cut and serve.

Vinaigrette d’Elizabeth.

I have a French-Portuguese friend named Elizabeth. Well, she’s not actually French. Or Portuguese. But she lives as if she were both. With her two cats, Milo and Luther, and a dog named Lucy, she lives in Santa Fe atop a hill worthy of the French Alps. She sleeps in a nook big enough only for her bed. Her cottage has two doors; one for the bathroom and one for the front entrance, which she often keeps open. She wears black linen and entertains everyone from her mechanic to artist friends with five-course, four-hour meals. In her kitchen, Elizabeth displays fresh tomatoes and colorful potatoes bought at the farmers market in hand carved wooden bowls. Beside the sink resides her French cooking bibles, including a loved copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Louise Bertholle’s French Cuisine for All.

She starts dinner soirées with the apéritif. At Elizabeth’s, I fell in love with Lillet, a sweet French orange liqueur and Bordeaux blend, that she poured in to little glasses furnished with a curling lemon rind.

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Elizabeth balances Lillet’s honeyed citrus flavor with the bloomy rind of a Triple Crème cheese, salty grape-like capers, red peppers, and olives. For the main course, she serves light Château de Flaugergues with a stunningly complex mélange of beef bourginon, smashed baby gold potatoes, and haricots verts. Elizabeth finishes her evenings with a sliver of decadent, flourless chocolate cake dusted with Vietnamese cinnamon and drizzled in crème fraîche. She constantly tops off wine glasses so they never seem to become empty. Conversations around her table are as full as her wine glasses; hours at Elizabeth’s house melt away like fleur de sel truffles.

Flourless Chocolate Cake dusted in Vietnamese cinnamon and drizzled with creme fraiche.

As any good French-Portugese woman, Elizabeth makes a mean vinaigrette. Through her salad creations, she reveals to me the powers of caramelized vinegar vinaigrette and its deep, sweet, aromatic flavor. Instead of olive oil, she uses drippings from a special smoked bacon she can only find in the small town where she grew up in New Hampshire. After a recent trip, she brought five pounds back to Santa Fa in her carry-on bag. Airport security was skeptical at first. But once they heard that her ball of  questionable, frozen meat wrapped in paper bags was bacon, the TSA enthusiastically waived their misgivings.

Elizabeth’s Vinaigrette

2 or 3 shallots, finely chopped
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup Balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
————– Optional, but delicious additions:
1 tsp anchovy paste
Handful of chopped, fresh herbs like thyme, basil, or rosemary
————–
Heat olive oil in heavy saucepan. When the oil is so hot that it will make a bit of shallot sizzle, add the rest of your shallots and let them caramelize pink. Turn to low heat and add garlic and vinegar. Let the mixture simmer for 3 minutes (add more vinegar if vinegar evaporates too quickly.) When caramelized, turn off heat and add mustard, salt, pepper and optional items if desired. Let cool and serve over something like Elizabeth’s Salade Lyonnaise or with raw vegetables (I love fresh zucchini rounds.) Vinaigrette stores well in fridge for up to 5 days.

Salade Lyonnaise at Elizabeth’s