Strawberry Short-Cup-Cakes

My toddler loves strawberries.  She requests that I always cut off the leaves, and insists that I do NOT sugar them, and then can eat roughly half a pound a day.  She essentially exists on strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and cheese.  It’s a good life.  Because we always need to have strawberries on hand for her, I buy a carton every time I see them (sort of like milk – it’s never on the list because it’s ALWAYS on the list) – the grocery store, Costco, Target, etc.  So sometimes I don’t pay enough attention and end up with 5 pounds of strawberries.  While my little cutie COULD consume 5 pounds of strawberries in a matter of days before they go bad, it would be awfully hard on her stomach.  Enter strawberry shortcupcakes.  They’re basically a vanilla cupcake with a strawberry balsamic filling and a strawberry buttercream on top.  Pure heaven.

Unfortunately my strawberry-lovin’ daughter takes books very seriously and had recently become obsessed with Pinkalicious before I made these.  In the story, the little girl makes pink cupcakes with her mom, eats too many, and turns pink.  To my two year old literalist, it was not a risk worth taking, so she wouldn’t eat them at all.  Her loss.

Note: if you don’t have/want to buy cake flour, you can substitute AP flour, just take 2T of each cup out and replace it with cornstarch.  Also, all in all, you’ll need 5 sticks of  butter, 1.5-2lbs of strawberries, and 9 eggs so, just be aware.  These really are a lot of work, but if you’re looking for something impressive and outstanding, their worth the effort.  I’d recommend baking the cupcakes the evening before, and filling/frosting the next morning.

Strawberry ShortCupCakes

for the cakes:

2 sticks butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

5 eggs

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

3 cups cake flour

1Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 1/4 cup buttermilk

for the filling:

12 oz strawberries (fresh or frozen)

3 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

for the frosting:

12 oz strawberries (fresh or frozen)

1T balsamic vinegar

1 and 1/4 cup sugar

4 egg whites

3 sticks of butter

1. Preheat the oven to 350. To make the cakes, begin by beating the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.  Add in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.  Stir the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt) together and alternate adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk until everything is incorporated.  Fill cupcake liners to 2/3 full (mine made roughly 24).  Bake for 15-18 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before proceeding.

2. To make the filling, hull and finely dice the strawberries and toss with the sugar and balsamic vinegar.  Allow the mixture to set while you core the cupcakes.  You can either use a knife or a handy coring tool (like this).  Spoon a bit of the strawberry mixture in each cupcake until full – sort of mashing the strawberries in with the back of the spoon.  They can mound a little over the top, they will be covered by the frosting.

3. To make the frosting, hull and roughly chop the strawberries and toss with balsamic vinegar.  Cook the mixture over medium heat in a small saucepan for several minutes until fragrant.  Allow to cool.  Meanwhile, stir the egg whites and sugar together in a heatproof bowl over simmering water, whisking constantly until it hits 160 degrees.  Transfer to a stand mixer with the whisk and beat on medium high until the mixture is completely cool and stiff peaks form.  This takes 10-12 minutes for me.  While it’s beating, pour the strawberries into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Put it in the freezer while you finish the frosting so it’s nice and cool.  Once the stiff peaks are achieved, turn the mixer down a notch or two and add in the butter, in small chunks until it’s all incorporated.  Bump the speed back up and beat another 4 minutes until the frosting is fluffy.  Add in the strawberry puree until incorporated.

4. Frost the cupcakes using a piping bag to cover the strawberry filling.

Nutrition:

If you yield 24 cupcakes: 352 calories per cupcake, 18g fat, 31g sugar.

Chopped Chicken Salad

As summer comes upon us, the weather gets warmer, and I want to spend more time in the pool and less time in the kitchen, I find myself craving dinners that are refreshing, easy, and still filling.  Salads with protein are one of my favorite ways to get in some vegetables and a hearty dinner without spending hours over a hot stove.  This chopped chicken salad makes a ton – so if you are only serving a few, you’ll have leftovers for a few days of lunch.  Alternatively, served with cold beers and a killer dessert, it’s great when you have company, too (it’s beautiful to serve).  It’s also one of those meals that you can mix up the ingredients on based on what you need to use up in the fridge – the cabbage and carrots are a must to me, but any other crunchy vegetables would work well, too.  I use finely diced grilled chicken, but any leftover protein would work (shrimp. beef, even tofu).

I’m also excited to share that I’ll be sharing nutrition information for my recipes.  I’ve been pregnant and/or breastfeeding continuously for the past 3 and a half years, so being aware of my calorie intake is important.  I certainly believe that there’s a time and place for splurges (um, see the cheesecake I posted last month), so meals like this that pack in a lot of protein and vegetables without a ton of calories make for a great hearty lunch or dinner – especially when there’s great dessert to be had.  I hope you enjoy this new feature.

Chopped Chicken Salad

2 grilled chicken breasts

1 small head purple cabbage

3-4 carrots

3-4 green onions

1 mango

small handful of chopped roasted peanuts

small handful of cilantro

for the dressing;

2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp sriracha

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

2T honey

1/2 cup peanut butter

2T lime juice

2T sesame or olive oil

2T fish sauce

1/2 cup water

1. Chop the cabbage and finely slice the carrots and arrange in a bowl.  Finely dice the green onions and mango.  Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and arrange all in the bowl.  Top with chopped peanuts and cilantro.

2. Stir all of the dressing ingredients together until combined (unless you’re using natural peanut butter, the emulsifiers in the pb will keep it from separating).  Either dress the salad or serve with the dressing on the side (my preference).

Nutrition information:

272 calories for 1/8 of the salad and the dressing.  Note that this does not include the peanuts, which can account for a lot of calories if you aren’t careful.  They aren’t completely necessary, but if you add, say, a tablespoon, you’re adding about 80 calories.  I typically skip them unless it’s dinner and I need some extra protein and calories.

13g fat

10g cholesterol

20g carbs

13g sugars

18g protein

 

Miso Salmon

In the past decade of dating/being married to my husband he’s made a lot of requests in the food department.  I enjoy a challenge and, with the exception of one ill-conceived and poorly executed pesto, he’s always been happy to eat everything I make.  Lately he’s suggested more seafood and I have been trying some new fish dishes.  We cook with shrimp a lot, but other fish is not my wheelhouse – I am not experienced enough to make substitutes well based on what’s available.  I also have been generally opposed to salmon – it seems like salmon got trendy in the early 2000s and it was everywhere and generally poorly prepared and I just got tired of it.  I never buy it, but it was on sale at the grocery store and Ross wanted more fish, so I gave it a try.

This dish might be the single easiest dinner I’ve ever made.  It takes 3 minutes of prep the night before and 10 minutes of cooking the day of.  That’s it.  I’ve served it with rice and with quinoa, usually with grilled asparagus on the side.  It’s insanely good.  The miso paste may be hard to find, I located it at Whole Foods.  It’s fermented soybean paste – so it stays good forever in the refrigerator.  Whether you’re a long time salmon lover or a salmon skeptic, give this a try.  Mostly because you can make it in 11 minutes.  You do need to marinate it overnight, so keep that in mind.

Miso Salmon

adapted from Keepers by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion

2/3 cup red miso paste

2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

3 Tbsp brown sugar

1lb of salmon filets (at my grocery store, this means 2 long filets so I cut eat in half to get four pieces)

1. Place the miso paste, vinegar, and brown sugar in a large ziploc bag or tupperware and mix together until combined.  Add the fish, making sure to coat all sides, and place in the refrigerator overnight.

2. When you’re ready to eat, line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, spray or brush with a little olive oil, and heat the oven to 400.  Arrange the salmon pieces on the foil skin side downand bake for 6 minutes, flip them over, and bake an additional 4 minutes, until you’re just able to flake the fish with a spatula.

Chicken Pad-ish Thai

Pad Thai is one of my favorite dishes of all time.  The tang of lime, crunch of peanuts, savory noodles – it’s my go-to at any new Thai restaurant.  Ross requested Pad Thai for dinner last week and, after scouring about a hundred recipes, it seemed like all of them required specialty ingredients.  I’m sure that using one of those recipes would yield a more authentic taste, but I couldn’t really picture dragging my toddler and baby across town to an Asian market where I was unfamiliar with the layout, restrooms, and exit strategy.  So I wanted ingredients I could easily find at Safeway or, better yet, my pantry.

I came up with this recipe and it is really delicious, but you could hardly call it authentic.  It lacks tamarind paste, rice noodles, tofu (due to my sucking at cooking tofu, not availability), and bean sprouts.  But if you’re looking for a noodle dish that’s spicy, a little sweet, and has a lovely peanutty taste, then this is your dish.  You could certainly substitute any protein here – I had intended to make it with shrimp, but the ones at our store looked pitiful this week, so I used two leftover grilled chicken breasts.

 

Chicken Pad-ish Thai

12 oz. linguine noodles (or spaghetti or vermicelli)

1/3 cup fish sauce

2T honey

2T sesame oil

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2T lime juice

1 tsp sriracha

1/2 cup water

1 shallot (or half an onion, if that’s what you have)

3 cloves garlic

2 eggs

4 green onions

handful of fresh cilantro

1/2 cup chopped, roasted peanuts

lime wedges for serving

oil for cooking

1. Boil the pasta according to package directions, I usually boil for 20% less time than it suggests (so 8 minutes if it says 10 – taste and see).  Meanwhile whisk the fish sauce, honey, sesame oil, rice vinegar, sriracha, lime juice, and water together in a small bowl and set aside.  Mince the garlic and shallot, slice the green onions.  Lightly beat the eggs.

2. In a large pot or wok, heat 2T of oil over high heat.  Add the shallot and garlic to the pan and cook for a few minutes until fragrant, about a minute.  Add the eggs and stir constantly to scramble the eggs – about 30 seconds.  Add the cooked noodles, green onions, and chicken, then toss the mixture together.  Pour the sauce over the top and allow it all to cook together for a few minutes.

3. Chop the cilantro and peanuts for garnish.  Serve warm with cilantro, peanuts, and a lime wedge.

 

Tortellini Salad

When I became a stay-at-home Mom, lunch took on a whole new meaning.  On one hand, it was awesome – I wasn’t restricted to 30 minutes with only a microwave for cooking.  I could use a stove!  Any ingredients I wanted!  I could eat whenever!  It was all fine and good until I found myself with 2 screaming kids who also wanted to eat and a menu that basically varied between taco bell and peanut butter sandwiches.  Something had to change.  Once I had my head above water with 2 kids, I made an effort to improve my lunches.  It’s nothing fancy – typically a wrap sandwich, salad, leftovers, etc.

This tortellini salad is a great lunch option whether you work or stay at home.  It’s good cold and actually improves during it’s time in the refrigerator.  You can add or subtract anything from the recipe – depending on what you have.  I like to make a big tupperware full of this and eat a bowl for lunch every day.  As the dressing soaks into the veggies and pasta, they get better and better.

Tortellini Salad

1 large package cheese tortellini (I use the 20oz. Contadina)

1 small container feta cheese (or goat, if that’s what you have)

1lb. cherry tomatoes

1 cucumber

1/2 to 1 cup kalamata olives

1/2  of a red onion

1/4 cup olive oil

3T red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp dried oregano

salt and pepper

1. Boil the tortellini according to package directions, but subtracting about 20% of the cooking time (if it says 10, only go 8).  Half the cherry tomatoes, chop the cucumber, kalamata olives, and onion.

2. Whisk the olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, and oregano.

3. Run the tortellini under cold water.  In a large bowl stir the tortellini, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and crumbled feta.  Pour the dressing over the top and toss to distribute evenly.  Chill before serving.

Classic Barbecue Sauce

My family is definitely a cooking family.  Some of my best memories in life center around the kitchen – bustling around with my parents and brothers, my husband and sister-in-law, and now my kids.  As with anything, after you’ve cooked enough meals together everyone sort of falls into their own specialty – my dad will set an alarm every three hours all night to feed the smoker, my grandma makes amazing potato salad, my mom pulls together insanely good sides, I typically make dessert, and, in the case of a bbq, Ross always makes the sauce.  The recipe comes from one of our dearest friends, James, and exists only in an email sent from him to my husband 8 years ago (it’s a picture taken of a recipe).  I haven’t changed anything about the recipe, but I’m tired of searching through the archives of Ross’ email every time I want to make barbecue sauce so I’m sharing it here.  James is one of the best barbecue-ers (meatists?) I know, so his authority on sauce is commendable.  It’s only fitting that I share it now, as he’s about to move across the country and we won’t be seeing him for a while (though, he offers us an excellent excuse to visit L.A.!)

The smell of smoking brisket and homemade barbecue sauce is one of my favorite smells in the world and given that our sense of smell is tied so closely to my memory, it’s no wonder I have so many wonderful memories of cooking.  If you’ve never made your own sauce, give it a try – it’s not very hard and it tastes a million times better than what you could purchase at a store.  We’re hoping to try some new varieties this summer (I’ve grown some awesome peppers in my garden, so a spicy version is on tap for the near future).  This makes about a quart of BBQ sauce, enough to serve and have plenty left to keep in the refrigerator.  It you reduce it enough it fits perfectly in a large mason jar.

James’ BBQ Sauce

3T olive oil

3 cloves garlic

2 1/2 cups ketchup

3/4 cup chicken broth

3T soy sauce

6T brown sugar

5T molasses

3T red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Mince the garlic.  Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and cook for about a minute, until fragrant.

2. Add the other ingredients, stir, and allow the mixture to come to a boil.  When it does, turn the heat to low, and allow the mixture to simmer and reduce for 20-30 minutes.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Hawaiian Buns

We’ve been in the midst of picnic season in North Texas lately, so picnic food has long been on my mind.  Sandwiches are my go-to, especially egg salad, tuna, and a bizarre TVP concoction I’ve been eating since I was a kid.  At the crux of all small picnic sandwiches are my favorite store-bought bread – King’s Hawaiian rolls.  Soft, fluffy, sweet – they’re one of those foods I could eat for every meal, and polish off the whole bag in a day.  Of course, I’ve longed to make my own.  These are not quite the same as the standard King roll – they aren’t quite as fluffy, a little denser, especially if you make them with some whole wheat flour, but they also don’t come with hundreds of unpronounceable ingredients.  The beauty is that you can customize them to fit any sandwich – small for picnic sandwiches, big for hamburgers, etc.  They do need to rise for a substantial amount of time (that’s why they’re fluffy!), but they aren’t much work otherwise.

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Hawaiian Buns

3 eggs

7ish cups AP flour

2 cups pineapple juice

1/2 cup suga,

2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp vanilla extract

1.5 Tbsp yeast

1 stick of butter, melted

1. Beat the eggs and add the pineapple juice, sugar, salt, ginger, vanilla, and melted butter (I use my stand mixer).  Stir together until combined.  Add the yeast and mix until the yeast is fully incorporated.  Add the flour, one cup at a time, waiting for each to fully incorporate.  Continue to add flour until the dough is sticky, but not overly wet (usually 7 gets it there for me).  Continue to knead the dough either with a bread hook or your hands until it forms a soft ball.  Transfer to a greased bowl and allow to rise for a few hours, until doubled in size.

2.  Once doubled, punch the dough down and roll sections of dough into individual rolls (I shoot for ping-pong ball sized).  Place these into a greased pan – I usually fill one 9×13 pan and one 8×8 pan.  Place the rolls far enough apart to allow them to double in size.  Cover with a dishtowel and allow to rise for another hour or two until the rolls have doubled in size again.

3. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes.  Overbaking will cause these to become crunchy, so be sure to pull them out before they get too brown.

Easy Vanilla Ice Cream

Memorial Day, like Thanksgiving, is one of those holidays that I never really “got” until I was an adult.  As a kid, I was fine with the day off from school, a few flags in the neighborhood, and a tasty barbecue, but really, there were no fireworks, no gifts, no parades to speak of, so it wasn’t anything special.  As an adult, it has become one of my favorite holidays, partially because it truly signifies the start of summer.  As a stay-at-home-Mom, with no end of the school year to trigger the “summer” vibe, I like that Memorial Day weekend marks the start.  We usually swim for the first time, eat watermelon, spend time outside in the heat (though this year it rained all three days), and, of course, it’s the first day of the year that I make homemade ice cream.

For me, ice cream is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  Having spent two of the last three summers extremely pregnant, I acquired a whole new love for frozen desserts, and I felt like I was making homemade ice cream all the time.  I’ve made several vanilla ice cream recipes, and this one is undoubtedly the easiest, but it’s weirdly also the best.  During my second pregnancy in a bizarre nesting/hot/hungry rage I made several varieties in one day and hosted a blind tasting to determine the best – and Philadelphia style (no eggs) won out unanimously.

One way to make this easier is to purchase vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla beans.  I started using the paste many years ago and I haven’t purchased a single vanilla bean since.  The paste gives the correct look, taste, and consistency without the trouble (and expense!) of real vanilla beans.  The bottle may seem expensive, but it will last for a long time.  Pair this with some homemade chocolate sauce, a handful of strawberries, and some toasted pecans and it’s basically heaven.  This recipe makes the perfect amount for my 1.5 quart Cuisinart ice cream maker and serves about 6.   I purchased a second bowl for my ice cream maker a few years ago so I make 2 batches for a crowd.  As with all homemade ice cream, getting the ice cream to harden is difficult, so making it the night before so it can benefit from a night in the freezer gives it a great consistency if you aren’t into soft-serve.

Vanilla Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup milk (I used 2%)

3/4 cup sugar

1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

1. Pour the sugar, 1 cup of the cream, the salt, and vanilla bean paste into a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved (don’t bring it to a boil, it doesn’t need to be that hot).

2. Pour the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the milk, the second cup of cream, and the vanilla extract until combined.  Place the bowl in the freezer or refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to chill.

3. Make the ice cream according to directions on your ice cream machine.  Mine usually takes 20 minutes or so and makes a soft-serve consistency.  Transfer to a container and move it to the freezer to harden before serving.

Chilaquiles

I had chilaquiles (chee-la-key-lays) for the first time at Tila’s an adorable restaurant in Montrose  near our old apartment in Houston.  I am pretty sure I only ate inside once, as they had a fabulous patio like so many Houston restaurants.  See, in Houston, June-August is really, really awful and hot, but September through May is absolutely gorgeous.  You basically transition from summer to the rainy season (hurricane), then it’s lovely weather for 6 months before it gets dreadful and those 6 months were ideal for margarita sipping on patios.  This was back before we had kids and actually ate at restaurants other than Taco Bell.  Chilaquiles are basically a nacho casserole – and from my understanding you can pretty much put anything you want on them.

I love the pickled onions and avocados on these, it makes the dish really summery.  You can throw this together in a matter of minutes, depending on what you have on hand.  I made my own salsa verde, but you could certainly use jarred salsa as well.

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Chilaquiles

2 jalapenos

1 red onion

2 limes

1 bag tortilla chips (Calidad are my favorite)

2-3 cups cooked chicken (I used 2 grilled chicken breasts)

3 cups green salsa

1 cup queso fresco

sour cream

cilantro

2 avocados

1. Finely dice the jalapeno and slice the onion into strips.  Place both in a small bowl and juice the limes into the bowl.  Allow the mixture to sit at least an hour, but you could let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 350.  Cube the chicken, grate the cheese.  In a large casserole dish, arrange half of the bag of chips along the bottom of the pan and spread the chicken over the top.  Pour the green salsa over the top and sprinkle the cheese over the whole dish.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  While it’s baking, slice the avocados and chop the cilantro.

3. Top the hot chilaquiles with the pickled onions from before and the sliced avocado.  Serve with the cilantro and sour cream on the side.

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Crazy good cheesecake

Full disclosure: as much as butter, sugar, and baking are my “jam”, cheesecake is not my jam.  It’s not like cheesecake is gross to me (like flan), but as far as desserts go, it’s really low on my list.  To me, it’s too rich and often a lot more work to make than it’s worth.  That said, it’s one of my husband’s absolute favorite desserts so, because I love him, I make him a cheesecake every year for Valentine’s Day.  This year was our TENTH Valentine’s Day together, and though there have been some cheesecake winners in the past, this one was my favorite – to the point that I might consider making 2 per year.

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Cheesecake is an inherently difficult dessert to make, and this is no exception.  It’s a lot of work because there are four layers of goodness involved, but none of the steps are too challenging.  The chocolate-covered espresso beans aren’t crucial to the cheesecake and I’ve heard they can be hard to find, so if you can’t it’s no problem.  I found them in the bulk foods section of a local store, and I’ve gotten them at Trader Joe’s before.   Be sure to allow plenty of cooking and cooling time – you might even want to start a day early.  The cake is good for a solid week covered in the refrigerator (maybe more, ours was gone by then).

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Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake

Crust:

2/3 package of oreo cookies

6T butter

1/4tsp salt

Ganache:

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

20 oz bittersweet chocolate (chopped or buy it in chocolate-chip form – Guittard makes a great bittersweet chip)

1/4 cup kahlua or similar coffee liqueur

Cheesecake:

24 oz cream cheese (3 packages)

1 cup sugar

1.5 T flour

2 T rum

2 T instant espresso powder

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp molasses

3 eggs

Topping:

1.5 cups sour cream

1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate covered espresso beans for garnish

1. Set the cream cheese out to soften.  To make the crust: twist the oreos in half and discard the cream.  Place the cookies in a food processor to make a very fine crumb.  Melt the butter and add stir the butter, oreo dust, and salt together in a medium bowl.  Press the mixture into a 9-inch springform pan completely covering the bottom and coming up about halfway up the sides.  Put the crusted pan in the refrigerator until you’re ready to pour in the ganache.

2. To make the ganache: in a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream to a simmer.  Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and, once the cream is simmering, pour it over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts.  Add the liqueur and stir until incorporated.  Pour about half the mixture into the springform pan, just make sure the chocolate doesn’t come above the crust.  Reserve the rest of the ganache for topping.  Return to the refrigerator.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 with the rack in the middle.  To make the filling: beat the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth.  Add the flour, rum, espresso powder, molasses, and eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated.  Pour the mixture into the pan and place on a rimmed baking sheet before placing in the oven.  Bake for 45 minutes to an hour – until the top is puffy and starting to pull away from the edge of the pan.  Remove from the oven, but leave it on while you prepare the topping.

4. To make the topping: beat the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla together until smooth.  Carefully spread over the top of the cheesecake, using a spatula to smooth.  Return to the 350 degree oven and bake for 10-15 more minutes.  Allow the cheesecake to cook for at least half and hour, then pipe the remaining ganache over the top and garnish with espresso beans.  Be sure to pipe along the edge to give it a nice side view.  Then move to the refrigerator (or freezer, if you watch carefully) to chill for an additional several hours until completely cool and set.  Carefully remove the springform and cut with a sharp knife.

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