Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Silverbeet/Chard was a vegetable I dodged as a child. Once I started growing it, ten years ago, it heralded the renaissance of our relationship. Coarser than than English spinach and its flavour earthier, I am beginning to like it more than it's delicate replacement.

Here are four simple ways we have eaten silverbeet this week:

Washed and the water shaken from the leaves, tossed in a pan with olive oil and garlic, cooked til tender.

In a curry (flavoured by Sri Lankan powder, tamarind, extra chillies and tomatoes from the garden) with chickpeas, potato, carrot, potato and beetroot. (The beets were sweet and delicious, be brave and throw them in your next vegetable curry).

With olive oil, onion, garlic, anchovies, preserved lemons and olives, tossed through some gluten free pasta.

A quick lunch, softened in butter with garlic, two eggs, cherry tomatoes, my battered old smallest frypan.


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Sunday, March 29, 2009

another tagine of sorts

To initiate a tagine into useful existence it needs to be soaked for 24 hours then left to dry for a further hour or so. Realising this the other morning, it became clear that the dish I’d planned to christen the tagine with was just not going to happen. Undeterred I went ahead and made a harisa of sorts from our home grown chillies, using the spices I liked that loosely fit this Middle Eastern classic. The resulting meal was slow cooked in the trusty iron pot and came out just fine.

Stripped back harisa paste

6 medium hot red chillies
6 plump cloves of garlic
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds

Toast the seeds in a pan, swirling all the time so they don’t burn. After a couple of minutes the aroma will tell you they are cooking nicely. Keep swirling until the coriander seeds begin to brown. Remove immediately from the pan (residual heat = burnt seeds) and grind with a mortar and pestle.

Chop the chillies into quarters (if you really don’t like the heat, deseed or use less chillies) and process with the garlic, a touch of salt and a drizzle of oil. Throw in the pounded roasted seeds and whiz til you have a nice paste. The consistency I aimed for was runny enough to process easily but a paste rather than a slurry. I used raw sesame oil not necessarily out of authenticity, just because we’ve got a surplus of it at the moment.

The raw paste had a kick but a nice rounded flavour from the other herbs as well. Given that I have a heavy hand when it comes to heat, this quantity of paste would be enough for a meal of about 6 people with good tolerance, or two meals of 4 for those who like things a little milder.

Fish and vegetable ‘tagine’
(for 2-3 people)
Other than the harisa, most of the ingredients can be improvised, this is just a stew afterall!

vegetable oil
1-2 tablespoons of harisa
1 onion or 2 leeks, roughly sliced (I used 1 red onion and a baby leek in need of eating)
1 medium, sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced into wedges
2 Japanese eggplants
6 large peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped (or if you don’t happen to have them in your garden I am sure a cans worth would be fine)

400 gm (200-250 gm per person) of white fish (I used flathead)
salt to taste


Rice, couscous or crusty bread to serve.

This is a slow cooked meal so allow at least 2 hours to cook or prepare. If I was going to do this in a tagine in the oven I’d allow 3 hours of cooking, starting in a cold oven.

Put a heavy based pot on low-medium heat, add a tablespoon of oil then fry off the harisa. Just a minute or two is enough. Add the onion or leeks, stir about for a while, then the rest of the vegetables. Once they are coated in the harisa, add the tomatoes. If they aren’t very juicy add some water or stock to make sure the vegetables are covered. Cover with a lid and once it has come to a gentle simmer put the heat way down low. Give it a stir every once and a while and check there is enough liquid. I’d suggest you aim for 90 minutes minimum. When the vegetables are tender, add the fish and cook for 3-6 minutes depending on the size of your chunks. Check for taste, season with salt if necessary (it will probably need a teaspoon or two of sea salt).

Serve on top of rice (it went well with brown rice) or couscous or just eat it with chunks of a decent, crusty bread. Drizzle a little tahini (sesame seed paste) on top before you dive in. This adds a lovely bit of body to the stew.

Oh boy this was good!

Some obvious variations: celery, carrots, potato, preserved lemons, fresh coriander to serve. Any firm white fish would work well but for the lovers of mussels and other things in shells they would be a winner too. If you want to make sure no shell or grit sullies your dish, cook the mussels etc separately in boiling water, then drain through muslin before adding to the cooked dish.


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Friday, March 27, 2009

celebrating an artist

Birthdays come and go.

Got to admit I play cat and mouse with my own. I love the idea of celebrating the life of someone I care about but a festival of the self makes me squirm a little.

Blogs have birthdays too and one of my favourites has just turned three.

It is really difficult trying to explain to those who have a more utilitarian relationship with the virtual world the role blogs play in my life. Sure, they can indulge my obsession with food, others are weirdly voyeuristic (how I miss “Greg the Boyfriend’s” well crafted nihilism) but a real gem is one that stimulates more than my appetite.

It has been an absolute pleasure to get to know Lucy, first through “Nourish Me”, next as a friend and then as an artist. Yes, she is a modest creature. Those beautifully crafted photographs are not an accident. I know the “a” word doesn’t always sit comfortably even after acquiring a fine arts degree but what else do you call someone who understands natural light, composition and colour?

And she can cook, write and draw!

And much more.

One thing she is a little shy about is self-promotion. For months a little venture to share her photography with the world has been sitting quietly in the digital cosmos and now it is finally launched. You can find Lucy’s beautiful photos for sale at Red Bubble (a lovely Aussie site which means for locals there is no currency conversion and for those with the pound, euro of different kind of dollars the cost is even more ridiculously cheap!).

Stop by to see her photos and stock up on some beautiful cards to cheer up your day. What better way to wish someone “Happy Birthday”.

Oranges by Lucinda Dodds. Reproduced with permission from the artist

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

your dream festival of all things culinary

I blinked and I missed it.

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival that is.

Is it my imagination, or has there been little or no buzz about the festival amongst the Melbourne food blogging community this year? Even Ed, festival hound that he is, has written very little.

I initially wrote a snarky post about my journey through the festival guide. In the twinkling of a keystroke, I’ve deleted it in my attempt to practice a more positive outlook on life (well for the rest of the week at least).

However just let me keep one little swipe:

The Age, who present the festival, produced a brochure studded with errors. This is what you get when your replace an experienced editor with Bill Gate’s spell-check.

2.00pm Tal Karp, Captian of the Melbourne Victory Women's soccer team reveals the secret BBQ ingredient that keeps her fir for elite sport

Ok, I feel better now.

As an aside, the problematic “Out of the Frying Pan” was binned this year, in favour of a sleeker look-a-like event. The global food trends promised “ an afternoon of provocative and informative discussion about the global futures of food, restaurants and the media that covers them.” Different name, same old-media-as-trend-setters scenario. Did anyone attend? I wonder what the experts predicted? Let me guess, did it involve depression era food, less glamour, more value for money?

But where my original rant led me was to ask you, the discerning reader, what do you want from a food and wine festival? Imagine the best celebration of the joys of eating was to be put on in your town, what would you leave your living room for?

This year people seemed happy enough to fork out $185 to make the meal a sold out event. Will next year's festival be heavy on high cost events?

One steam of the festival that has been popular over the years have been the “crawls” from the wonders of the Middle Eastern bakeries on Sydney Road to demystifying the organics at the market, I hope these cheaper events were just as popular. I’d love to see the “Sushi Crawl” make a return. This was the first festival event I ever attended, with a lovely teacher from William Angliss in a now defunct Japanese restaurant. We were instructed in the rituals of sushi (you dunk the fish, not the rice in the soy sauce) offered many different types of sushi and in the end ate our full – all for less than the average price of a Japanese meal at the time.

A recent thread on Progressive Dinner Party garnered an amazing response. Zoe asked what people would like to learn if they were going to a “demystifying the Asian supermarket” session that she was putting on at her local women’s group. From the comments she could run the class for a year and barely touch the surface. I am not a gourmand, I like grass roots stuff like this and so did many of her readers with requests for how to use tofu, rice noodles, shitake mushrooms and other fungi, make a good stir fry and much, much more.

In my dream festival I would celebrate the ethnic diversity in this city, not necessarily by show casing the big name chefs from each tradition, but by asking the nonnas, the mums and the like to show us how and why they use these interesting ingredients from each of the food stores.

I’d like Mark Bittman, of course and more cooks like him. The ones that don’t use the healthy word but often create something that would fall under that banner without anyone noticing.

I’d like people to have the opportunity to connect more with where the food comes from. Urban gardens and the dedicated, amateur gardeners who grow their fruits and vegetables. We don’t need Jamie Oliver for this giving a stadium presentation, just locals showing off their patch and sharing their tips.

Perhaps while we are at it the festival should also include abattoir tours and a look at what the Egg Marketing Board deems as “free range” or “barn laid”. This probably wouldn’t be that popular but it would be an effective reality check for many omnivores.

More appealing would be “take one chicken” - show folks what they can do with an investment in a rather pricey but luscious organically grown chook. How to use the bones for stock, roast or break up the bird, the diversity of meals a family could make from this worthy critter.

People continue to be mystified by what to do with fish. My whole fish cooking posts get a huge amount of hits. A class on romancing fish in all its glory would be popular.

So my festival would feature some cheaper, down-home events exploring the pantries, nooks and crannies of this town.

What would be in your festival?

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bittman’s anti-ramen

I’ve never been a pot noodle kind of girl.

There’s a newish Asian grocery store that opened in a subterranean storeroom, under the building next door to work. With little or no signage and towers of overcrowded shelving leaning over narrow isles, they’ve been having a tough time attracting customers since they opened last year. Yesterday’s hastily drawn sign on A4 paper promised a free pot noodle with every purchase over $10.

It’s that kind of place.

That might explain why I have only been there once. The oasis of fresh greens I’d hoped for turned out to be the domain of artificial colours and flavouring.

What I am a fan of is Mark Bittman. I don’t know where he has been all my life but the more I see of his work, the more I like him. But maybe this devotion is a touch narcissistic? He cooks in a way that I like to cook, not necessarily the ingredients but the style. But this guy is so much cleverer than me!

This week he posted a three minute video on how to make “noodles in a soy broth” or rather he showed the slaves to instant ramen that you can make your own, tastier version using simple ingredients, taking only a few minutes longer. Subtly he teaches the viewer to not be hung up on quantities for a dish like this, that most ingredients can be substituted and even slips in the basics flavour balance. Just by dumping vinegar, soy, chilli and ketchup into a pot of water – he demonstrates “complex saltiness”, sweetness, “body and fruitiness” to the novice cook.

The guy is brilliant, teaching the basics in a way that is not condescending. Later explaining how with a few added ingredients how you can transform this snack into a meal. If anyone is going to turn a nation of fast food addicts into accidental cooks, it is this guy.

My version of simple soupy noodles is miso in a large bowl, with some rice noodles. But Bittman knows something I never thought of, instant ramen kind of people don’t tend to have miso paste lying around, let alone a stash of fresh shitake mushrooms.

Just as many big-name chefs who write cookbooks forget that most homes don’t have buckets of veal stock on hand or likely any homemade stocks at that, to get people cooking we have to show them how to crawl before they can walk.

Bittman is sheer genius, deconstruct instant noodles, throw in an ingredient that almost every American home would have and there you go, instant chefs.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

the gag reflex

Have I mentioned that I loathe peas?

I can do raw ones, plucked fresh from the shell and eaten idly. Snow peas are fine, especially in a stir fry. But cook the garden-variety, green orbs and I will do my best to avoid them.

So I found myself picking out every, single one of them in a “healthy” vegetarian friend rice. This establishment is one of my lunchtime last resorts. I detest food halls and most of the food cooked in them. But this one makes orders from scratch, uses no MSG and declares the nutrient content on a large board.

But they don’t usually add peas.

When one accidentally found its way to my mouth, I did my best not to re-enact a scene from Eataholics. First the mushy texture, then the awful flavour and there goes my gag reflex. I can swallow them whole if I have to but bite into them and I am gone.

Kind of spoilt my lunch really.

Do you have any noteworthy food aversions?

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

the great tomato glut of 2009


We’ve had literally buckets of them.

Who would have thought when the SE insisted we plant five of them (I thought the three I first bought were a little over the top for just the two of us) that he’d be away for 2/3 of the time they were in season.

Nor that when he finally came home in time to enjoy the last flush (a mere 10 kg to plough through before they rotted on the ground) after a day or two he’d embark on a water-only detox (he approaches health – good or bad, like an extreme sport).

We’ve given away more than we got a chance to eat but in a final sprint this week has been the festival of the tomato. Here’s a round up of my favourite tomatoey endeavours this season.

1. Whole tomato pasta

Slowly sauté onion and garlic, add whatever else is in the fridge. When the onions have softened throw in an abundant handful of cherry or tommy toe tomatoes and cook for 5-10 minutes. As they heat through, squish with the back of a wooden spoon. Toss through black olives (Kalamata, Ligurian etc), basil or parsley and season before serving with gluten-free pasta.

The “whatever else’ bit – zucchini, green beans, tuna, anchovies….

2. A rich tomato and kidney bean soup or stew

Cumin, coriander, onions, garlic, eggplant fresh from the garden, kidney beans (a handy can of the organic variety), lots of fresh tomatoes and whole Kalamata olives, This created a rich and juicy delight needing no added stock, just a little seasoning before serving. The original meal was somewhere between a soup and a stew, served with generous slices of fresh sourdough bread to dunk.

The next day I added some silverbeet/chard in desperate in need of using up and as the remains were not as soupy, I ate it on hot buttered toast for lunch.

3. The freshest Bloody Mary I’ve ever tasted

So good, there were a few repeat performances scouring the vines for the last pieces of fruit.

Tips and tricks: tommy toes are like bouncy balls that fit perfectly down the chute of the juicer. Unless you want your walls and white t-shirts looking like a massacre, while the machine is not running place about 4 whole tommies down the chute, cover with the plunger then turn it on.

Melrose organic Worcestershire sauce is worth the hunt.

Thanks to Ed’s comment I will try making it next time with pasata!

4. Two versions of pasata

It all started because I planned to make a big batch of roasted tomato soup to freeze. Roasting tomatoes is a no-brainer. The large, juicy grande lisse were halved and crammed into one baking tray, the free wheeling whole tommy toes in another. A sprinkle of salt and pepper and placed into the oven at 190c. The small ones took about half an hour, the large a further 10-15 minutes (in my oven at least).

On the first night, which was going to be for the soup, I slowly sweated onions and garlic in my big cast iron pot while the tomatoes roasted. When they were done and cool enough to handle, I just slipped the fruit out of their skin and dropped the pulp straight into the pot. There was lots of juice in the pan also, so I poured that in. I threw in some whole basil, a little sugar and salt, and then simmered for a while longer. The whole beautiful mess was blended (with the basil removed first). One taste convinced me to go no further with the soup idea. This is the perfect base for bean and vegetable stews, fishy casseroles, tomato sauces and of course diluted with good quality vegetable stock to make a great soup.

Night two – another bucket of tomatoes to dispatch, only the small ones this time I was considerably lazier. Simply roasted tomatoes whole, with lots of unpeeled garlic cloves thrown in for good measure. I love the mellow flavour of roasted garlic! Once cooked, the tomatoes are simply pinched between the fingers to de-skin and the garlic peeled. These went into a big mixing bowl, a little dissolved sugar and salt added and given a whirr with the stick blender. A much lazier exercise than the first batch but just as delicious.

The pasata, instead of being bottled or canned (no equipment and who can be bothered with all that fuss?) was ladled into containers and sits ready to be used, in the freezer.

Though a large glassful was leftover and beckons me from the fridge! Roasted tomato and garlic bloody Mary anyone?

5. Semi-dried tomatoes

This is where “laying down” the glut began. I’ve been vigilant due to the moisture content, to make sure they remain well covered with oil. It will only take a day or two on the bench for any bit sticking above the oil line to begin to grow mould. However I grew tired of this and now have thrown a handful of olives on top that act as weights and of course, they too can marinate in the great garlicky oil.

I’ve also added sprigs of basil to some of the jars too.

These semi-dried tiny tomatoes are plump, moist and delectable – they’ve found their way into scrambled eggs, pasta sauces, squished on garlic rubbed toast and been a star of the antipasto platter with the olives.

6. Au naturel

Sun warmed, straight off the vine and into the mouth.

In salads of every description.

As a snack.

On toast.

In roll-ups.

But now the time has come and the season is at an end for us. Though stay tuned and the great chilli glut of 2009 iscoming your way soon!

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Friday, March 13, 2009


As a tribute to the end of the tomato season in my inner-city garden, I made a fitting drink.

I mean, what else could I do? I’ve been up to my eyeballs in lycopenes for weeks (a full tomatoey round up is coming soon) and now it was time to farewell the lovable nightshade with appropriate aplomb.

The Bloody Carlton

Take a dozen Tommy Toe tomatoes straight from the garden and run through a juicer.

Combine with:
a nip or two of good quality vodka
a tsp or two of Organic Worstershire Sauce
a generous shake of Tabasco Sauce
a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Add ice, garnish with a stick of celery.

Stir, sip and give thanks to the goddess of small gardens.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

in search of lunch

It’s been a while since I blogged about lunch. The quest for a workday lunch in the CBD for the digestively fussy is a never ending search. Generally I go for rice over bread and if you’ve been reading my words for a while you will probably know that meat and dairy is off the menu. Throw in some MSG and I will never darken your doorstep again.

Too many places I like have shut down in my small patch of central Melbourne. Satay Bar is still a block or three too far in the nether reaches of Flinders Lane. Just after I spruiked the wonders of Invita the Hardware Lane café shut. No more tofu burgers for me. While there is the odd foray into the David Jones food hall, which never tastes quite right in that subterranean over chilled environment, I tend to rotate through my top three choices. So at long last - all is revealed

The Food Nazi's top three CBD lunches

1. 3 Nori Rolls and Miso at Sushi Monger

When Tokio in The Causeway reverted to 1 small shopfront I’m sure they were a little miffed to find the other half of their premises become another Japanese eatery. Tokio and I go way back, possibly 20 odd years, to when I first moved to this city. A family run business offering the usual “dons” (meat, prawns, eel or tofu on rice) plus gyoza, curry and a few other treats by the time they halved their floor size they’d also dropped down to just mum and dad doing all the serving and cooking. Prices rose, number of seats dropped and often the wait to be served seemed endless. I felt guilty defecting after so long but Sushi Monger offers the best nori roll deal in town. While the directly compete with their long established neighbour on various similarly priced hot dishes, people literally line up down the street to get some cheap sushi.

Sushi Monger has been open about 3 or 4 years now and despite a change of ownership, or at least in terms of the “face” of the Sushi Monger (Mr Sushi is now a guy I think of as “Slow Hand Luke”) and installation of a nori rolling machine, they go from strength to strength. Perhaps because their “3 rolls and a soup” deal for $6.80 has not gone up in price since they first opened. Now considering the high-end rolls, such as tempura prawn or fresh salmon (generous chunks) and avocado, sell for $2.50 a pop, getting three with soup is a money saver. The salmon always tastes fresh, the avocado is usually perfect and this place is understandably packed out every working day of the week.

The trusty "specials" board propped on a chair outside Sushi Monger hasn't changed since they first opened

2. Masala Dosai at Nila City

Down the quieter end of Degraves Street is a modest little Indian establishment by the name of Nila City. They have sister restaurants in Forest Hill and Brunswick, churning out classics from the region. There is only one dish for me, something I first tasted in some little restaurant behind Euston Station in London in the ‘80’s – a Masala dosai.

A dosai if you have never been lucky enough to have one is often described as a pancake but that is a totally inadequate translation. Sure there is a batter involved but this one is fermented and the flour is usually made from ground lentils. It is thinly applied to a a greased hotplate in swirls resulting in a huge, crispy disc. The Masala version at Nila is usually filled with potato curry and served with dahl and other condiments. The added bonus when consuming the tasty meal (for less than $6, though the outdated menu on the website is a tad out of date), is the Bollywood greatest hits blaring from the plasma screen.

3. Vegetarian Combination at Sheni’s Curries

Though hardly a secret to anyone with a weakness for Sri Lankan cuisine, Sheni’s Curries (near corner of Russell St and Flinders Lane, next to Yak Bar) is a place I love so much I have been reluctant to blog about it. I’ve been eating here on a regular basis since 1997 and it’s still as good as the first time I tentatively crossed their doorstep. This is the place I go when I want a decent feed at lunchtime. Don’t be put off by the bain marie – the food is all fresh and delicious but the real deal is the meal option – vegetarian or meat, small or large. The Sri Lankan curries are not for the chilli-averse but are rich in flavour and offer a very healthy lunch option – dahl, 2 vegetables curries (they change each day), along with rice, poppadom and condiments (including extra hot stuff is you so desire). If I am very hungry and the fish curry of the day is tuna, I might add that too for an extra dollar fifty.

I tend to ignore fried things in the cabinet typical Southern Indian fare, crispy and enticing as they arey. So too the interesting looking meal of the day that gets a wide following, as they are all meat based on the days I am in the city. The food is always good value and the so-called small serving option is very generous. One of the nicest things about the place (other than the lovely twins who run it) is the variety of vegetarian curries they make, meaning each visit may have offer a dish a little different to the last. There’s often a queue but it is worth the wait, your meals are served directly to you and it doesn’t take long at all.

But please, don’t all rush there at once!

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

quickie links and thoughts

I want to go out and buy beetroot now after watching Mark Bittman make his goat-free beetroot salad. The dressing is made by softening a lot of garlic (8 plump cloves) in an ample amount of olive oil, throwing in some walnuts and blending with just a dash of fresh orange juice. Long live the beetroot and goats cheese divorce!

Garlic in such quantities would likely give Khaled Sherbini, chocolate maker extraordinaire and founder of Coco Loco, conniptions. This interesting little den of cacao worship is never open when I am wandering around High Street Northcote in need of reviving. However one fine afternoon, the tables on the footpath were set up and the door open, though the establishment was actually closed, Khaled welcomed us in, put aside his half eaten lunch and filled us up with chocolaty goodness. While lovingly making our iced chocolates he shared his revulsion of garlic reeked patrons, his passion for chocolate and his obvious pride at our admiration of his unique, dairy-free delicacies. His secret ingredient is cashew milk (kashew mylk), so much nicer than soy. I’ve never spent $10 on a non-alcoholic beverage before (it was still a little early in the day to go for the liqueur spiked versions) but it was worth every, rich drop.

Just try not to drop in after eating garlic prawns!

Or Simon’s (“The Cook and the Chef”) dahl. But it looks delicious and simple. Though I tend to go for a less soupy dahl, this recipe is easy and delightfully vegan.

Breakfast today – eggs gently scrambled with butter, homemade semi dried tomatoes, a little smoked salmon and basil. Heaven!

Does anyone have favourite fish or vegan tajine recipes? The very late Christmas present has finally arrived via the Oxfam shop. The lovely big Moroccan Tajine is awaiting a good soaking and some long, slow cooking action.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

speedy raspberry "ice cream"

From my last post you may have been misled that kitchen-wise there was a hive of activity here at chez-food nazi. To continue this misconception, I whizzed up a batch of I-can’t-believe-its-not-ice-cream for my sister when she stayed recently.

Fortunately there were three frozen banana’s waiting in the freezer. I grabbed a punnet of (expensive, organic) late season raspberries from the market and, after rinsing, through them in the blender with the frozen bananas.

Preparation time – less than a minute.

Sure it needs to go back into the freezer for another couple of hours but how simple is that? My guest was suitably impressed and has returned to New Zealand to continue the tradition.

Tip 1: Raspberry “ice cream”, sorbet and the like, tastes great served with a dash of Grand Marnier liqueur.

Tip 2: Always replace the bananas with some more peeled, ripe ones in a bag in the freezer.

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