Caprese Barley Salad

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I have a fantastic fresh salad for you today!  It is getting to be the time of year where I much prefer to eat cold foods over hot.  Unless those hot foods are coming from the grill.  But that is a different story.

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I found these gorgeous heirloom cherry tomatoes at Trader Joes this week.  Aren’t they beautiful?

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And I bought a ginormous tub of marinated mozzarella balls at Costco.  Who buys a 40 oz tub of bocconcini?   A hungry person who is shopping at Costco, that’s who.  Word to the wise, eat lunch before wandering those aisles!

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Also, can we talk about this balsamic vinegar? 

It isn’t white, or clear, but a kind of pinky-brown color.  But I hate the way normal balsamic looks when it is drizzled on mozzarella.  It tastes great, but makes it look dirty.  If you can find white balsamic, definitely use it!

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And barley.  Oh, barley.  It is really under-used.  I had this package left in my pantry from a beef and barley soup I made this winter.  And it probably would have sat there until next winter if it wasn’t for this salad.  If barley isn’t your thing, you can use rice, or quinoa, or any other grain of your choosing.  It soaks up the wonderful dressing and gets really tangy and flavorful.

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Fresh, simple and delicious.

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Caprese Barley Salad

makes 4 servings as a main dish or 8 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked barley (4 cups already cooked barley)
  • 16 oz cherry tomatoes
  • 12 oz bocconcini (mini mozzarella balls)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar (or regular balsamic vinegar)
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp basil, cut in ribbons

Directions

  1. Cook barley according to package directions. 
  2. Let barley cool completely.  Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Cut cherry tomatoes in half (or in quarters for very large tomatoes) and add them to the barley.
  4. Cut bocconcini balls in half and add them to the bowl.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar mustard and salt.  Whisk until well combined.
  6. Pour the dressing over the other ingredients.  Add basil and toss salad until it is coated with the dressing.
  7. Chill for several hours to allow flavors to come together. 

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 I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…How can you go wrong with tomatoes and mozzarella?

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Filed under Main Dishes, Salads, Side Dishes, Vegetarian

Philly Cheese Steak Cheeseburgers

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Have you ever been to Philadelphia and had a real cheese steak sandwich? 

I was visiting a friend in Philly when I was in college and he took me to Pat’s. 

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Apparently, everyone is either a Pat’s or a Geno’s person.  He was a Pat’s person, so that is where we went. 

Now, if you have never been to this place, there is a very specific way you are supposed to order your sandwich, or else they send you to the back of the line.  I’m not sure if that is true or not, but the line was enormous and I was not trying to go to the back. 

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I wanted a cheese steak with provolone cheese and onions.  When I finally made it to the front of the line and it was my turn to order, I said “I want a cheese steak with provolone with” because to order onions you say ‘”with” and to order with out onions you say “without.”  Seems simple right? 

So, I’m not a loud person, and I’m actually pretty shy in uncomfortable situations.  And, well, I don’t know if I was just too quiet when I ordered or what, but the person thought I said “Whiz” which is what you say when you want Cheez Whiz and I was too afraid they would send me to the back of the line so I didn’t correct them and tell them that I said “with” for onions and I ended up with a cheese steak with Cheez Whiz.  

And it was awesome.  Best ordering mistake of my life.

I went with the classic provolone for these burgers, but you could easily switch it out for Cheez Whiz, if you are so inclined.

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Start off with some bell peppers and onions.

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Get those caramelizing in a little olive oil.  Grilled peppers and onions make everything better. 

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Divide a pound of lean ground beef into 4 patties.

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Season those with seasoning salt.  This is the best all purpose seasoning I know of. 

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Grill up your burgers, and top them with provolone.

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I always pour a little water into the pan.  The steam really helps with getting the cheese melted. 

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Top your burgers with the grilled peppers and onions.  Simple and delicious, and reminiscent of a scary trip to your favorite Philly Cheese Steak establishment.

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Philly Cheese Steak Cheeseburgers

makes 4 burgers

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1-2 tsp seasoning salt
  • 4 slices of provolone cheese
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 4 hamburger buns

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Sauté onions and peppers until they are caramelized and tender.
  2. Meanwhile, divide ground beef into 4 equal patties.  Season both sides of the patties with seasoning salt.
  3. Grill patties until they are cooked through, about 4 minutes on each side.
  4. Once burgers are almost cooked, top each with a slice of provolone cheese. 
  5. Drizzle 3 tbsp of water into the pan with the burgers.  The steam will help to melt the cheese.
  6. Transfer the burgers to the buns and top each with 1/4 of the onions and peppers.
  7. Top burgers with your favorite Philly Cheese Steak toppings.

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Filed under Main Dishes, Sandwiches

Amish Friendship Bread

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I love my friends.  I don’t know where I would be without them.  I’m not talking about those acquaintances that you see every now and again, although I like them a lot, too.  I’m talking about those few girls or guys who you can tell anything to and you know they will have your back.

Those people who you can go months without talking to, but pick right up like you didn’t skip a beat.

Those people who have seen you at your worst, but still stand by your side.

Those people who would do anything fo you, and you wouldn’t hesitate to do the same. 

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And those friends deserve this bread.

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My coworker brought these bags of Amish Friendship Bread starter to work and handed them out.  She gave one to me specifically because I’m “the baker.”  DSC_0239 (1024x681)

Yesterday was baking day.  I’m going to make a few more friends by sharing this bread with them. DSC_0242 (1024x681)

The idea of the starter kind of freaks me out.  I mean, you leave milk, flour and sugar sitting on your counter for 10 days?  Sounds…uh, not delicious.

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But trust me, when you bake up the bread, it has a slightly sourdough taste to it, and the sweet cinnamon sugar flavor is really great.  The outside is crunchy, and the inside soft and sweet.  I think I have a friend like that. 😉

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 If you don’t have a friend who already has the starter, you can find instructions on how to make it here.  But if you were lucky enough to have a friend give it to you, like I was, you just have to “feed” your starter and let it sit around for a few days.   And on the 10th day, you will be able to bake two delicious loaves of Amish Friendship Bread.

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Amish Friendship Bread

adapted from this recipe <-also a handy printable to pass along with your starters!

makes 2 loaves

*Do not use any metal bowls or utensils while mixing.

You will need 1 portion of Amish Friendship Bread Starter.  Either get this from a friend, or make your own with the recipe linked to above.  Follow these instructions:

Day 1: Squish and mush the bag.

Day 2: Squish and mush the bag

Day 3: Squish and mush the bag

Day 4: Squish and mush the bag

Day 5: Squish and mush the bag

Day 6: Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk to the bag.  Squish and mush the bag.

Day 7: Squish and mush the bag

Day 8: Squish and mush the bag

Day 9: Squish and mush the bag

Day 10: Baking day!  Pour your starter into a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1 1/2 cups milk to the starter and mix until well combined. 

Scoop out four 1 cup portions of this mixture into new plastic ziplock bags. These are the new starters you will pass on to your friends (or keep)

Add the following ingredients to your bowl:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 large box vanilla instant pudding (Do Amish people really use this?  Anyhow…)

Directions

  1. Mix this very well until all ingredients are incorporated.
  2. Butter 2 loaf pans.  (I used metal pans for this because I only have metal loaf pans.  My bread turned out fine.)
  3. Mix together an additional 1/3 cup sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon.  Sprinkle about 1/2 of this mixture in the loaf pans and shake around to coat.
  4. Divide your batter between the two loaf pans and sprinkle the tops with the remaining cinnamon sugar.
  5. Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle. 
  6. Let bread cool completely before cutting.

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I passed on all my starters, because I didn’t want to make any more bread, but keep one if you would like to continue baking this treat!  Also,  you can check out this site which gives a bunch of tips on how to reduce the amount of starter you end up with and prolong the life of your starters. 

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Filed under Baking, Dessert

Deviled Eggs

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Any body else eat too many chocolate bunnies yesterday?  Personally, I enjoyed a few Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs.  They are the best ratio of peanut butter filling to chocolaty coating.  Much butter than a regular old Reese’s cup.

 

Anyhow, now that Easter has come to an end, I’m sure you have an abundance of leftover Easter eggs to use up.  And while plain eggs with salt and pepper are great, sometimes you just want something a little different. 

That is where Deviled Eggs come in.

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Let’s talk about boiling eggs for a minute.  I don’t know about you, but my Facebook wall was blowing up over people’s inability to boil an egg.  I didn’t know this was such a problem!  I listen to my girl, Martha, when it comes to things like this.  She says to place eggs in a pan and cover with cold water.  Slowly bring the eggs to a boil.  Once the water’s boiling, turn off the heat and cover the eggs.  Let them sit for 12 minutes, then run them under cold water to stop the cooking.  This make perfectly cooked hard boiled eggs, and you won’t get that greenish ring around the outside of the yolk. 

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So, cook and peel your eggs.  

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Slice your eggs in half long ways.

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Separate all the yolks from the whites. Place all the yolks in a bowl, and the whites on your serving platter.

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Mash up the yolks until they are very fine.

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Add some mayonnaise, mustard, celery salt and pepper.  I like my filling to be pretty firm.  My mom always said “You can add more, but you can’t take it back out.” so go slowly when adding these ingredients, because you can always add more to get to your desired consistency.

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To fill the eggs, I like to use a plastic bag.  You can be really fancy and use a piping bag with a tip in it to create a really pretty look, but the plastic bag works just fine for me.   To fill the bag, fold it over a bowl, then put your filling in.  When you unfold the bag, the filling is inside with no mess!

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Push the filling towards one corner.

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Then snip off the tip.

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Then pipe your filling into the egg whites.  Be sure not to overfill the eggs.  You want to make sure you have enough filling for all of them.

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I do what my mom always did, and top the eggs with some paprika and a slice of green olive. 

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This screams 1970s to me, but it is the way I’ve always had deviled eggs served, so I wouldn’t dream of doing these classic eggs any other way.

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Deviled Eggs

makes 24 egg halves

Ingredients

  • 12 peeled hard boiled eggs (see directions above for the perfect hard boiled egg)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp mustard
  • 1/4 tsp celery salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 pimento stuffed green olives
  • paprika

Directions

  1. Slice eggs long ways (from the small end to the larger end).
  2. Separate the yolks from the whites, placing the yolks into a bowl and the whites on to your serving platter.
  3. Mash up the yolks until they are very fine (resembling sand).
  4. Add mayonnaise.  Begin with 1/3 cup and add more (up to 1/2 cup total) until desired consistency is reached.
  5. Add mustard, celery salt and fresh pepper (2-3 grinds).  Mix well.
  6. Fill a plastic bag, or piping bag with tip, with the yolk mixture.  Pipe the filling into the egg whites.
  7. Slice the olives in half.  Top each egg with an olive slice.  Sprinkle the tops with paprika.

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Filed under Appetizers, Side Dishes, Vegetarian

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash

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I love pasta as much as the next gal.  I can eat a big bowl or the stuff, no problemo.

But with summer and swimsuit season right around the corner,  sometimes you just want a lighter option.  Enter spaghetti squash. 

Now, I’m not claiming that spaghetti squash tastes like pasta (it tastes like squash!), or that it will curb that carb craving (it is a veggie!), but it is a good alternative when you don’t want the heavy feeling that often comes from eating too pasta.  And what doesn’t taste good covered in marinara sauce?!

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Spaghetti squash kind of looks like a football.  You want to choose one that is solid and seems heavy for its size.  Wash the outside to remove any grit of dirt that might still be there.  We aren’t going to eat the skin, but its just good to get rid of that stuff.

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Take a large kitchen knife and pierce the skin.  The skin is very tough, so this might take some effort. 

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Work your way around the squash and flip it over when you are half way through to reach the other side.

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Then you will have two squash halves!

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Take a spoon and scrape our the seeds and stringy flesh in the cavity…

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Until you have two empty squash halves.

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If you bought a GIANT spaghetti squash, like me, you might have to cut your halves again to fit in your baking dish, but if yours fit, just leave them as halves.  Clearly, I had to cut mine.

Add enough water to the baking dish to come up about 1/2 in on the squash, and bake for 30-40 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

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When the squash is done, take a fork and scrape the flesh away from the skin.  It should come off in strands that look like spaghetti! 

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Cinnamon Raisin Granola

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I think my kitchen was confused when I made this granola.

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To begin, it smelled just like oatmeal raisin cookies as it was baking.  I love oatmeal raisin cookies, so this made me very excited!  But alas, cookies will have to wait for another day.

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Another reason it was confusing?  The smell of cinnamon always, always makes me think of fall.  And it is far from fall in this neck of the woods. 

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Spring flowers are blooming all over the place, birds are chirping and allergies are acting up.  Nope, not a pumpkin in sight. 

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But don’t let these tricks deter you from making this crunchy granola!  I mean, is it really so bad to have your kitchen smell like you’re baking cookies?  Or to be slightly confused as to what time of year it is?

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I didn’t think so.

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Cinnamon Raisin Granola

makes 15 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3-4 Tbsp very warm water
  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 1/4 cup raisins

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine vegetable oil, honey, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.  This mixture will clump together.
  3. Whisk in 3-4 tablespoons of very warm water to loosen the mixture.  Whisk until it is mostly smooth (there may still be some lumps).
  4. Add in rolled oats and mix until oats are coated evenly with sugar mixture.
  5. Spread in an even layer on a foil lined baking sheet that has been sprayed with vegetable spray.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes.
  7. Add sliced almonds to the tray and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes until almonds are toasted.
  8. Cool granola completely and add raisins.  Mix to combine.
  9. Store in an air tight container for up to 4 weeks.

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Filed under Baking, Breakfast

Shrimp Creole

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Shrimp Creole reminds me of my childhood.  It makes me feel a little bit retro.

 I remember my mom making it when she and my dad had dinner parties.  I supposed that shrimp was a bit of a delicacy in our house, so it was reserved for adults and special occasions.  She would always make this dish with those little cocktail shrimp, so there were tons of tiny shrimp throughout the spicy sauce.  

I think my brother and I ate hotdogs on those nights. 

This recipe comes from my Aunt Ann.  When I got those recipe cards, this was the first one on in the stack.  I recognized her handwriting immediately.

It really is a simple dish to prepare, so it is great for a week night dinner, but it is a little special, so it can certainly be served  to company.

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To begin, saute some onions, bell peppers and celery in a little olive oil.

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Add your seasonings.  I used this Cajun spice blend, which is from Penzey’s Spices.  I have no idea what happened to the label…

You can order this online, or use your favorite Creole or Cajun spice blend.  Also add a bit of hot sauce, some garlic, a little pepper and some salt.

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Once that has cooked for a little, add your diced tomatoes and tomato sauce.

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Saute this mixture for 15-20 minutes, or until the vegetables are all tender and the sauce has thickened.  This would be a great time to start making your rice!

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Add in a pound of large peeled and deveined shrimp…

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And cover and cook for about 5 minutes, or until shrimp are opaque and cooked through.   Make a slurry with a little corn starch and water and add it to the sauce to thicken it a little more.

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Serve over a bed of fluffy rice to soak up the delicious, spicy sauce.

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Shrimp Creole

makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, chopped (or substitute another green pepper)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp Cajun Seasoning
  • 2 tsp hot sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • freshly ground pepper (about 1/4 tsp)
  • 1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1-8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 lb peeled and deveined raw shrimp
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp cold water

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat.
  2. Saute onions, bell peppers and celery until tender, but not brown.
  3. Add garlic, Cajun seasoning, hot sauce, salt and pepper.  Cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Simmer mixture, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender and sauce has thickened.
  5. Add raw shrimp.  Cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until shrimp are opaque and cooked through.
  6. Meanwhile, combine cornstarch and water.  Pour this mixture into the sauce and stir to combine and thicken the sauce.
  7. Serve over rice.

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Filed under Main Dishes, Seafood