Spanish Rice

 

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Spanish rice – a classic from my childhood. Both my grandmother and mother made it quite a bit. Albeit no one in my family is Spanish, I think we’ve done all right with this dish. Spanish rice makes for a fantastic side dish, but it also makes for a great meal on its own. The flavours are fresh, the process is easy peasy, and it switches things up a bit as far as side dishes go. Additionally, it’s a great way to use up leftover baked ham! (Aside from eating it cold, right out of the fridge, covered in mustard…)

Ingredients

  1. 1 1/2 cups of basmati or long grain rice
  2. 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth
  3. 1 tablespoon of cumin
  4. 2 cups of diced tomatoes
  5. 1/2 of one green bell pepper, diced
  6. 1/2 of one Spanish onion, diced
  7. 1 cup of baked ham, diced
  8. 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  9. Sea salt and pepper to taste
  10. Chopped fresh basil for garnish

Prep all of your ingredients and set aside. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the rice, onions, tomatoes, ham, and peppers, and cook (stirring occasionally) for approx. 5-10 minutes, or until the rice is golden brown. Add the rest of the ingredients to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and let everything simmer for approximately 30 minutes (again, stirring occasionally) until the rice is tender.

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Mac & Mushrooms in Lager Cheese Sauce

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I had to come up with something to go alongside a wonderfully baked beer ham over the weekend. I wanted to match that “comfort food” feel that a baked ham offers, so I decided on a mac and cheese – but with a spin! A delicious, delicious spin.

I was making this for the family, and my parents had yet to try my mac and cheese since nailing it (they’d only had the pleasure of trying my trial mac and cheese dishes some time ago).

My Dad is a big fan of mushrooms, so I knew I wanted to throw some nice and earthy cremini mushrooms in there. For cheese I went with smoked gouda (which is often my go-to) and some creamy Havarti.

Halfway through stirring my cheese sauce and sipping my lager, a brilliant idea hit me – lager into the cheese sauce!

To be quite honest, I’ve always been turned off by the idea of beer and cheddar soup – but I’m a big fan of beer sautéed mushrooms. I figured that in a dish like mac and cheese, a bit of lager couldn’t hurt – and it didn’t! Holy moly. It actually added so much to the cheese sauce, giving it major volume and a smooth, velvety texture.

Now I kind of want to do more cooking with beer. I think this could become a thing.

Ingredients

  1. 3 cups of shell pasta (the larger shells)
  2. 2 cups of cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  3. 8 oz of smoked gouda, grated
  4. 8 oz of creamy Havarti, grated
  5. 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  6. 1 heaping tablespoon of butter
  7. 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour
  8. 1 cup of milk
  9. 1/3 cup of lager beer (I used a honey brown lager)
  10. sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Heat a large pot of water on a stove (you can salt the water or use olive oil to avoid sticking pasta).

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Add the sliced mushrooms.

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Add sea salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Stir occasionally, until the mushrooms are nicely browned. Set aside.

When your water is boiling, add the shells until they are cooked to your liking.

In a large sauce pan, start the roux. Melt one tablespoon of butter in a pan. Add the flour, whisking until a roux is formed. Once the roux has thickened, add 1 cup of milk. Whisk until milk is warmed up – you can wait until it boils slightly, but don’t burn it. Once the milk is hot, add the cheese in parts and stir until all of the cheese has melted. Add the lager, and whisk until well blended. You’ll notice the difference in volume and smoothness. Finally, add the mushrooms to the sauce and mix, coating all of the mushrooms.

 

Roasted Ancho Chili Chickpeas

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I’m really glad that I finally got my butt into gear and made some of these. I’ve been hearing about roasted chickpeas and how great of a “healthy snack choice” they are for quite some time now. Salty flavours and crunchy textures are my weakness; put them together, and it’s on! Unfortunately, when you put those two together, you typically get junk food like chips.

Not anymore!

There are so many different flavour combinations that you can create with this snack. I decided to go the spicy route, because I’ve been slacking on spicing things up as of late and, well, that’s really unacceptable. Last year around this time, my tolerance for heat was sky high and I was drowning everything in Sriracha sauce. After putting a halt to that for a while, for no particular reason, I learned that heat tolerance is something that can fade; something that you need to build up again once lost.

With that in mind (plus the fact that I have an entire bottle of ancho chili powder and never use it), I decided to toss these little pellets of yumyum in ancho chili powder, garlic salt, and a bit of cayenne.

Ingredients

  1. 18 oz (approx. 2 1/4 cups) of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  2. 1 teaspoon of garlic salt
  3. 1 teaspoon of ancho chili powder
  4. 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne (adjust to your heat preference)
  5. 1 teaspoon of olive oil

Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then blot with paper towels and let sit to dry for approx. 30 – 40 minutes.

Once the chickpeas are set, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss the chickpeas in the olive oil, garlic salt, ancho chili powder, and cayenne.

Spread the chickpeas out on a baking sheet, and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the chickpeas and let them cool (approx. 15 minutes).

Place them back in the oven for another 20-30 minutes, or until crispy.

Please note – A lot of people remark on how they can’t seem to get chickpeas to that crispy point. It can be tricky, but it’s attainable when done right. There are tons of arguments in recipe forums stating what does and doesn’t work. For me, I feel like the most important things to remember are to allow your chickpeas to sit out and dry, don’t use too much oil, and bake them twice. For some reason it seems as though taking the chickpeas out of the oven to cool, and then putting them back in for 20-30 minutes, does the trick.

If you don’t get it the first time, don’t worry. For one, they are still pretty darn good even if they are little soft, and second, it depends on your oven and can take practice.

Once you nail it, you’ll see that it was all worth it.

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Classic Meatloaf

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‘Comfort food’ is widely recognized as a meal that takes us back to our youth; back when we were cared for and had no concerns whatsoever. Though, I’m pretty sure as kids we all moaned and groaned when we learned that the family was having meatloaf for dinner; I know I did, albeit I’m not sure why. No, meatloaf isn’t exactly aesthetically pleasing, but it tastes good! (Especially drowned in ketchup, but perhaps that is because I am part French).

With the dreadful attitudes towards meatloaf as children, it’s a little perplexing that so many adults refer to meatloaf as comfort food. The reminder of our youth is there, okay, but what about the displeasure? It’s not exactly as though it’s evolved over the years. I mean, look at it!

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Same ol’ thang!

Though I have to admit, I am a sucker for that sweet “poor man’s” ketchup sauce brushed onto the top.

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Ingredients

MEATLOAF

  1. 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef
  2. 1 egg
  3. 1 onion, chopped
  4. 1 cup of milk
  5. 1 cup of bread crumbs
  6. Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

SAUCE

  1. 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  2. 2 tablespoons of prepared mustard
  3. 1/3 cup of ketchup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease a 5×9 inch loaf pan with butter.

In a large bowl, mix the beef, egg, onion, milk, and bread. You can also use cracker crumbs as an alternative to bread. Sprinkle in some sea salt and pepper.

In a separate bowl, mix together the ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar. Mix thoroughly and make sure that you don’t have any brown sugar lumps! Once complete, pour the mixture over the meatloaf.

Bake in the oven for approximately one hour.

Eggplant Parmesan

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So, I’m basically in love with eggplant parmesan – over any other parmesan dish out there including veal (don’t eat it) and chicken.

I was first introduced to eggplant parm when I was 16 years old and worked in a sub shop. On the menu, they had an eggplant parmesan sub. I remember thinking, “How ridiculous? Why would anyone order that when you can order a sub with meat; when you can order a sub with…bacon!” (Ah, the mind of a 16 year old!)

Welp – confession: when I was bored at work, I’d eat. I was tall and skinny enough to justify eating when I was bored. (Ah, the metabolism of a 16 year old!) I did end up trying the eggplant parm sub, sort of on a self-dare, and I fell in love. I guess when there is tomato sauce, cheese, bread crumbs and frying involved, you can’t really go wrong, can you?

So, years down the road, my Mom made eggplant parm with rice for dinner one night while I was visiting. I’ve taken the recipe and tweaked it as my own.

I know most people eat their parmesan dishes with pasta, but not this gal. No way! It’s rice, all the way. I prefer Basmati rice, but I’ve definitely used Minute Rice in a pinch! Any rice will work.

The reason I use rice? It sticks to your eggplant concoction with every bite, and it’s insanely scrumptious. No other word does a bite of this dish better justice than “scrumptious”. I find pasta is too slippery, wet and everything seems to just slide away.

A fair warning: this recipe entails quite a bit of prep. However, I reassure you that it is well worth it. You end up with a delicious meal, and tons of leftovers. This dish is amazing the next day, and the day after, and…well, yeah. And if you want to change it up the next day, strike out the rice and slap some of this stuff on a bun! It makes an amazing hot sandwich.

Ingredients

  1. Casserole dish or dutch oven
  2. 1 large eggplant
  3. 2-3 cups of shredded mozzarella (depends how much cheese you want. Your call!)
  4. All purpose flour
  5. 4 egg yolks, beaten
  6. 1 cup of Italian bread crumbs
  7. Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
  8. Herbes de Provence (optional, except not optional if you want this to be true “Dana style”)
  9. 1-2 cans/jars of pasta sauce (again, your choice; I used 1 1/2 cans of Primo’s Thick & Zesty)
  10. Olive Oil

 

The first thing I do is cover the bottom of my casserole dish with some pasta sauce, spread evenly, and leave it next to my stove top on the counter. It’s a convenient spot for it, because as you’re frying your eggplant, you will be placing/layering them in the dish straight away.

Grate your mozzarella cheese. I add a tbsp or two of Herbes De Provence to the cheese and toss it around for an even “herb-y” coverage.

Get your breading station ready! I like to be hasty and productive when breading and frying, so I always create a little assembly line. Flour, 4 beaten eggs, and bread crumbs mixed with 1 tbsp of grated parm and 2 tbsp of Herbes De Provence. Again, the grated parm and herbs are optional, but they really jazz up your breading.

Now, slice that eggplant. The perfect width, in my humble opinion, is about half an inch thick.

Once you’ve got your slices sliced, your breading station stationed and your casserole dish-a-waitin’ (Haha, what was that? Are we rhyming now?) heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan. You may need to add more as you go. Heat it on medium heat, and be careful. Don’t smoke out your house. If you heat your oil too high, the moment you toss your eggplant in that bad boy, things are going to crackle; smoke is going to hit you in the face, and stink up your entire place. (Why am I Mother Goose tonight?)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

While your oil is heating, start breading your eggplant. Toss each slice in flour, egg yolk, then bread crumbs. Place in the hot pan, 3-4 at a time, and fry them until they are golden brown on each side.

When they are done, place them in your dish (this is why you want it nearby. Convenience!)

When you have one full layer down, sprinkle some shredded mozzarella on top. Then, drizzle some sauce on top to cover.

Fry up more eggplants, layer in your casserole dish, and then layer with shredded mozza, sauce, etc. Basically your layers are sauce, eggplant, cheese, sauce, eggplant, cheese, sauce…got it? It’s basically like a lasagna!

The very last layer on top should be shredded mozzarella. Always finish with mozza on top, no matter what. I also sprinkled some grated parm on top of the mozza for…”good measure” AKA I’m a fanatic of all of the cheese and can’t ever get enough.

Cover with tinfoil and bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 40 mins. Uncover for the last 20 mins, baking at 300 degrees. You’ll get a nice browning on your cheese top.

Serve over rice, or pasta if you really need to (not at MY house!) Again, next day? Throw some of that on a bun!

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Crockpot Pulled Turkey

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Who doesn’t love an easy crockpot recipe? Especially as the cooler weather approaches; there is nothing quite like the smell of comfort food wafting throughout the house.

This crockpot pulled turkey recipe could probably easily be referred to as the “lazy chef’s thanksgiving dinner”. You’ve got the turkey, the cranberry sauce, a flavourful onion-soup gravy, and you can serve it on a heaping mountain of soft, fluffy smashed potatoes! (Although as you can see, I opted for some wild rice to try something different and it totally worked).

This could also work well as the components for a hot turkey sandwich.

Ingredients

  1. 1 turkey breast, 5-7 lbs
  2. 1 package of dry onion soup mix
  3. 15 oz can of whole berry cranberry sauce
  4. 1/2 cup of chicken broth
  5. sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Place the turkey breast in a crockpot.

Combine all of the other ingredients in a bowl, and then pour on top of the turkey breast. Sprinkle with a touch of sea salt and ground black pepper.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Before serving, remove the turkey breast from the crockpot and set aside.

Turn the crockpot heat to high.

Combine 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with 1/2 cup of water in a jar. Shake until well blended.

Add the cornstarch water to the broth in the crockpot and whisk until well mixed. Put the turkey breast back into the crockpot and with two forks, shred the turkey.

Stir, cover, and let simmer for approx. 5-10 mins. stirring a few times to thicken the mixture.

Serve on top of smashed potatoes or rice.

 

Banana Bread

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Banana bread – who doesn’t love it? Especially if you’re like me and feel as though you purchase bananas specifically to watch them rot in the bowl on the counter (right next to the avocados).

I hate wasting food. HATE IT. It makes me feel like a terrible human being. So, the fact that banana bread calls for spoiled bananas makes me feel better about my role on this planet. “Oh, you let the bananas rot? Here, make a delicious loaf out of your mistakes!

I wish I could make delicious loaves out of all of my mistakes.

Anyway. Because this was an impromptu banana bread, it’s lacking in fancy things like walnuts or cranberries or raisins or craisins or whatever else you put in banana bread to make it more exciting. This banana bread is a blank canvas – add whatever you like! Or keep it simple. This was still absolutely delicious.

Ingredients

  1. 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  2. 1 cup of sugar
  3. 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  4. 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  5. 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  6. 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
  7. 2 medium ripe bananas, smashed
  8. 2 eggs
  9. 1/3 cup of oil
  10. 1/4 cup of milk
  11. 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  12. butter or non-stick cooking spray

Things you might want to add

  • chopped nuts
  • mini chocolate chips
  • cranberries
  • raisins
  • sunflower seeds
  • shredded coconut
  • orange zest

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lube up a loaf pan with butter or cooking spray and set it aside.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and sea salt in a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the smashed bananas, eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients to the banana mixture and stir until moistened. At this point, you may stir any other goodies you might want to add.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until you can prick it with a toothpick and have it come out clean.

Let the loaf cool before cutting into it.

Served best with milk!

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On-the-vine Tomato Grilled Cheese

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This is the last grilled cheese for a while now! I’m a little grilled cheese’d out. I didn’t even know that was possible, but there you go. Anything is possible.

Except being pizza’d out. That’s not a thing.

My original idea with this grilled cheese was to do a fried green tomato grilled cheese with a horseradish aioli. The first time I experienced fried green tomatoes was in the South – Savannah, GA to be precise – so it was the real deal. Let me just assure you: They. Were. Amazing. They were served with a horseradish aioli for dipping and the pairing was unbelievable. It was such a nice step away from the usual Ranch dressing or marinara sauce that is typically served with breaded and fried foods.

So, I had this fantastic idea all planned out for a fried green tomato grilled cheese only to arrive at the supermarket and find out that they had none. ACK!

I was scrambling through produce in hopes to find inspiration in another vegetable when my eyes found these beautiful yellow and orange tomatoes – all still attached to the vine.

(Excuse the cell phone photo).

Compared to their red pals, yellow and orange tomatoes are milder in taste and have much less acidity. Also, while still being attached to the vine, they continue to extract nutrients on their hike from the greenhouse to your kitchen counter.

Despite the fact that these particular tomatoes don’t offer the sour hint that green tomatoes do, I figured these would work well. And, they did!

I stuck with the horseradish aioli because, quite frankly, I was too excited about it to pass on it. This is coming from a woman who will, upon perusing the refrigerator, gingerly open the jar of horseradish just to take a whiff. So, no surprise there I suppose.

Now, when I say I’m making aioli, what I really mean is that I am mixing something with mayonnaise. Pass judgement all you want – I’m just not yet at a level of confidence where I’m cool with ingesting raw egg. Not from my bowl. A pro-chef, okay. Me? Not yet, dudes. I’m just not there yet.

I also purchased some of those dried up, crispy onion salad toppers to add to the sandwich for flavour, and of course some spinach.

I add spinach to a lot of my grilled cheese sandwiches (in case you haven’t noticed). It helps me avoid self-loathing when eating all of these luxurious gourmet grilled cheeses. Oh, but also, it works really well.

Ingredients

  1. 2 slices of bread, your choice. I used multigrain bread.
  2. 2 yellow and orange (one each) on-the-vine tomatoes (er, without the vine)
  3. 3 oz of Monterey Jack cheese
  4. 2 tablespoons of fried onion garnish
  5. 4-6 leaves of raw spinach
  6. 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise
  7. 1 teaspoon of horseradish
  8. 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
  9. 1 egg, beaten
  10. 1/2 cup of Italian bread crumbs
  11. 1 tablespoon of canola or vegetable oil
  12. 2 tablespoons of butter
  13. Ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium-low.

Slice the tomatoes, and bread them by dipping them (one slice at a time) in flour, beaten egg, and Italian bread crumbs. Once all of the tomato slices are breaded (and by this point, the oil in the skillet will be at a good temperature) place them in the skillet. After approx 1 minute, flip them. They should be golden brown on the cooked side. After another minute, flip them again. Keep flipping them until both sides are golden brown. This should only take 2 minutes per side. Add more oil during this process if you feel it’s necessary.

Once the tomatoes are a nice golden brown crisp, set them aside.

Butter one side of each slice of bread. These are the ‘outer’ parts of the sandwich. Take a slice buttered side down, and layer on some cheese, the tomatoes, more cheese, and the spinach.

In a bowl, combine 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise and 1 teaspoon of horseradish. Mix well. Spread this on the other slice of bread as the condiment, and evenly distribute the fried onion garnish onto the mayo (that way they stick to the mayo rather than tumble off of the spinach).

Carefully close up the sandwich and transfer it to the hot skillet, still on medium-low, for approx. 1.5 – 2 minutes since the skillet is already quite hot. Carefully flip it, and cook for another 1.5 – 2 minutes. Repeat until both sides are golden brown.

Blueberry Molasses Grilled Cheese

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No, I’m not running out of ideas. This grilled cheese here actually works! Honest!

Okay, so most blueberry grilled cheese recipes I’ve stumbled upon call for balsamic vinegar; I broke that mold. I broke that mold because in said recipes, the blueberries are boiled down to a reduction with sugar, creating quite a heavy sweetness. I figure the balsamic vinegar is used to bring some tartness into the equation and counterbalance the sweet to create something savoury.

I wasn’t really into the idea of using sugar in this recipe, so I decided to smash the blueberries (with a fork) into a jam-like spread-y thing. Because the blueberries were nice and fresh, they were pretty tart; I needed something sweet. I wanted to avoid honey, because I’ve used that in a recent grilled cheese (see my Camembert and Pear Grilled Cheese).

There was a carton of molasses that had been sitting in my fridge for, oh, probably a year now. Since Christmas cookie baking time, I imagine. I thought, and I thought hard. Could molasses taste good on a grilled cheese sandwich?

The answer is yes. Yes, molasses can taste good on a grilled cheese sandwich. Anything can taste good on a grilled cheese sandwich if paired with the proper ingredients.

So there.

Ingredients

  1. 2 slices of bread (I used plain ol’ whole grain here)
  2. 1/4 cup of fresh blueberries, smashed
  3. 3 oz of gruyere cheese
  4. 3-5 leaves of fresh spinach
  5. 1 tablespoon of molasses
  6. 2 tablespoons of butter

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet on medium-high heat.

Butter one side of each slice of bread with the remaining butter.

Start to build your sandwich. Take one slice of bread, buttered side down, and spread the smashed blueberries evenly. Then layer the cheese and spinach. Lastly, drizzle the molasses onto the ingredients. Grab a seat – it may take a while! Ha.

Close things up with the top slice of bread and carefully transfer the sandwich onto the skillet.

Bring the heat to medium-low and let the sandwich cook for approx. 3 minutes or until the bottom i golden brown. Carefully flip the sandwich and let it cook for another 3 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Laura’s Sangria of the Month – Orange-Vanilla

Orange-Vanilla SangriaPhoto credit: Alan Sandonato

Over the next several months, I will be posting seasonal sangria recipes. This month, I made orange-vanilla sangria as may farewell to summer. This is my most requested sangria. It’s refreshing and sweet, and the vanilla makes it so much better than a typical white sangria. Originally, this was supposed to be a ‘creamsicle’ sangria, but in a rush to use up the bottle of vanilla vodka on my shelf, I never worked out the whole cream part. You’ll notice that I specify store bought orange juice in the ingredients. Unless you live in Florida and can get your hands on juicy, sweet oranges straight from the tree, fresh squeezed orange juice just isn’t sweet enough for this recipe.

Ingredients

  1.  1 orange, sliced
  2. 1 lemon, sliced
  3. ¼ cup sugar
  4. ⅓ cup orange juice, store bought
  5. ¼ cup vanilla vodka
  6. 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
  7. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  8. 1 bottle of cheap white wine

Put your orange and lemon slices in your vessel. (I’ve been known to make large batches of this in my crockpot insert.)

Cover the fruit with sugar and gently muddle the orange and lemon slices with a wooden spoon until they give up some juice and the sugar starts to dissolve. A wooden spoon is key here, otherwise the pulverized fruit makes the sangria pulpy.

Add the rest of the ingredients and stir.

Finally, you have to let the sangria sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours before serving. This is where the magic happens. Freshly mixed sangria tastes like a bad mixed drink, but letting it sit melds all the ingredients to create a smooth and refreshing beverage. Don’t forget to give it one last quick stir before serving.

Already a fan of sangria? What goes in your favorite recipe?

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