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Make It Easy on Yourself During Easter Brunch


Give your bacon and eggs a little something different this Easter.

Sunrise services, Easter egg hunts and family get-togethers all in quick succession can be exhausting. But planning and preparing Easter brunch don’t have to be. Most everyone loves the old standbys of scrambled eggs and bacon, but why not add to them with a quick strawberry pancake hot out of the oven or portobello mushrooms on toast with cheese melted on top?

Here are some easy recipes that you can assemble quickly and be able to enjoy your time with friends and family.

Strawberry Pancake

Mushrooms on Toast

Raspberry Lemon Pecan Muffins can be made ahead.

Plus, here are some recipes from our files, several of which you can make ahead:

Sour Cherry-Chocolate Scones

Texas Sweet Onion Pie

Smoked Salmon-stuffed Eggs

Tortitas de Huevo con Chile Verde

Frittata of Ham and Spring Vegetables

Overnight Savory French Toast

Raspberry Lemon Pecan Muffins

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Orange and Tequila Flan


After removing the vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the center of the pod and stir into the milk.

Whenever a recipe calls for orange zest, I look for a good, ripe tangelo. The zest has a more vibrant flavor. The juice does, too. It worked beautifully in this dish.

I modified the following recipe from “The Golden Book of Desserts” to use the directions for making the caramel from “The Joy of Cooking.”

Orange and Tequila Flan

3 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, split in half
5 large strips orange zest
1 cup sugar, divided use
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup tequila, divided use
4 large eggs
4 large egg yolks

Heat the milk, vanilla pod and orange zest in a medium pan over medium-low heat. Bring to a gentle simmer then remove from the heat and set aside. let the flavors infuse for 1-2 hours (or overnight in the refrigerator).

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Rinse 6 (3/4-cup) ramekins with cold water.

To prepare the caramel, place 3/4 cup of sugar with the water and 2 tablespoons of tequila in a small saucepan over medium heat without stirring. Very gently swirl the pan by the handle until a clear syrup forms. It is important that the syrup clarify before it boils, so slide the pan on and off the burner as necessary. Increase the heat to high and bring the syrup to a rolling boil; cover the pan tightly and boil for 2 minutes. Uncover the pan and cook the syrup until it begins to darken. Gently swirl the pan by the handle once again and cook the syrup until it turns a deep amber. Swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons of tequila and quickly pour the caramel into the ramekins.

Beat the eggs, egg yolks and remaining sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale and creamy.

Remove the vanilla bean and orange zest from the infused milk. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod and stir into the milk. Reheat to boiling point. Gradually whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture. Pour the custard into the ramekins.

Place the ramekins in a deep baking pan and fill the dish with enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the custard has set but is still a little wobbly in the center. Let cool to room temperature. When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of each ramekin and dip into almost boiling water. Turn out onto plates to serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Adapted from “The Golden Book of Desserts,” edited by Anne McRae/”The Joy of Cooking,” 1997 edition

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Want to Make Your Own Flan? Give It a Practice Run


Making flan is easy once you get the knack of it.

When a friend from church announced that she was being deployed to Afghanistan, it was time for a dinner to send her off in style. What would Erica want for her last meal with us?

Boil the syrup until it turns a deep amber.

Tex-Mex, she said. And Tex-Mex she got.

Everyone in the group pitched in with a lengthy array of delicious dishes from beef enchiladas and tacos to fresh guacamole and borracho beans. I decided I would make flan, simply because I had never made it before.

I had certainly eaten enough of this caramel-topped custard in my years, but making it was another matter. I experienced a little trepidation about making it, though, because I’ve failed at making caramel and melted sugar candies in the past. It was time to try it again, if only for Erica’s sake.

The first thing I had to do was find a recipe. I turned to the original “Joy of Cooking” and found one of the oddest recipes for flan I’ve ever seen. The dish in the book is actually called Custard Tarts or Flan with Fruit, and the recipe reads: “Fill Prebaked Tart Shells … with: 1/2-inch layer of Baked Custard. Top the custard with: Strawberries or other berries, cooked, drained apples, drained cherries, peaches, bananas, pineapple or coconut.”

Not a help. And certainly not the flan I remembered that was an egg-rich custard topped with a silky caramel that ran down the sides and flooded the plate.

I thumbed through a number of other cookbooks that were unfortunately no help. “Make a caramel …” would be the full extent of directions offered. Mexican chef Rick Bayless was no help. His new cookbook, “Fiesta at Rick’s,” features a flan recipe, yet it is far from traditional. Instead of caramel, the coffee-flavored “Café de Olla” Flan calls for pre-

Spread the caramel quickly before it solidifies.

made cajeta. Bayless’ introduction offered no comfort, either: “This recipe is an unorthodox approach to flan, since the caramelized sugar — a kitchen terrorist if ever I have seen one — is replaced by store-bought cajeta (goat milk caramel) and the custards are baked in flexible silicone muffin molds for easy removal.”

“A kitchen terrorist”? Oy, what had I gotten myself into?

So, I pulled out the 1997 edition of “The Joy of Cooking.” If you are a cookbook foodie, you know this is the much-maligned edition of the otherwise beloved cookbook, the version that was deemed too hoity-toity for the general populace. Yet the description of how to make a traditional flan, or crème caramel, as the French call it, was written in plain English.

To make the caramel, you had to pay attention. Watch the pot of water and sugar boil, and you’ll do fine, the authors seemed to be saying. So, I gave it a shot. I made sure I had all my ramekins ready and handy before I filled a small saucepan with 3/4 cup sugar and topped it with 1/4 cup water. I didn’t stir the pot but swirled it as it cooked over medium heat. Eventually, the mixture cleared, just as the book said it would.

So far so good. I raised the temperature and brought the mixture to a boil, then covered it for what seemed like an eternal 2 minutes. Any moment, the syrup would boil over, I feared, because the lid was making an angry racket. Then I uncovered it and continued to watch it boil. And watch it and watch it. I swirled it regularly to make the time pass. After a few minutes, the mixture started to get somewhat darker. No matter how long you’ve been watching the syrup, do not let your attention wander at this point. Watch it closely as it gets darker and darker in a matter of seconds. When it’s the color of a fine bourbon, it’s time to remove it from the heat.

Some of the egg custard has spilled into the water bath, but it doesn't matter.

I was so excited to see the syrup turn dark that I almost let it go a little longer on the heat than it should. Get it too dark and you’ll burn the sugar and the caramel will solidify in the bottom of your pan.

Be ready to work quickly at this point. Grab a ramekin and swirl a little in the bottom and slightly up the sides. The book said to get it halfway up the sides, but I wasn’t fast enough for that. The caramel had solidified in seconds, and I had more dishes to coat. So, I divided the lot equally among the dishes and let them set.

At this point, it’s time to make the egg custard, which seems easy in comparison. Yet it is also easy to mess up, if you are not careful. Don’t let your milk get so hot that it cooks the eggs before you bake them in the oven. Use one hand to pour the milk into the egg mixture slowly while whisking constantly with the other. Divide the egg mixture among the caramel-lined ramekins, then place the dishes into a large pan and fill halfway with boiling water. Place the pan carefully in the oven to bake.

I somehow jostled the tray as I was sliding it into the oven and the egg mixture spilled over the sides. It baked to the outside of the ramekins, but it was no great problem, because your guests won’t see the ramekins anyway.

The stress of making the caramel had made me somewhat anxious. My thought was, is all this worth it? Do I really need to do all that?

Though the flans look great just out of the oven, let them chill before eating.

After 50 minutes or so, the custards looked good enough to eat. But I couldn’t. The recipe said to let them chill first.

Plus, my work wasn’t done. I had another recipe to make because of how many would be at the dinner. For the second batch, I decided to try the Orange and Tequila Flan from “The Golden Book of Desserts.” The description of how to make the caramel was a little too basic, so I used the knowledge I had gained from the first recipe and put it to work.

This time there were no problems, no kitchen terrors. The procedure went flawlessly, even though the recipe was a little more involved. Having made the first batch, the second seemed positively easy.

Inverting the flans proved to be simple, too. Thanks to the help of a friend, a knife and a pot of almost boiling water, each serving came out beautifully with that caramel bath covering each plate.

Best of all, Erica seemed to enjoy it. I’ll have to make it again when she comes back in six months. God keep her safe.

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In Spanish or French, Flan Is Always Welcome


Let the flan chill before inverting onto a plate.

“Flan is the pre-eminent dessert of Spain and Latin America, and it is also a favorite in France, where it is known as crème renversée au caramel or, popularly, crème caramel,” write the authors of the 1997 edition of “The Joy of Cooking.”

“Flan is a stiff egg custard baked in a mold with caramel at its bottom. It is turned out of its baking dish and served upside down. The caramel, which melts during baking, forms a lovely syrup that soaks the bottom of the custard and runs down onto the plate. Be aware that the baked custards must chill thoroughly.”

Flan (Crème Caramel)

1/2 cups sugar, divided use
1/4 cup water
5 large eggs or 4 large eggs and 3 large egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole or low-fat milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Make sure the syrup is clear before bringing to a boil.

Place 3/4 cup sugar in a small, heavy saucepan. Drizzle water even over the top. Place the pan over medium heat and, without stirring, very gently swirl the pan by the handle until a clear syrup forms. It is important that the syrup clarify before it boils, so slide the pan on and off the burner as necessary. Increase the heat to high and bring the syrup to a rolling boil; cover the pan tightly and boil for 2 minutes. Uncover the pan and cook the syrup until it begins to darken. Gently swirl the pan by the handle once again and cook the syrup until it turns a deep amber. Quickly pour the caramel into eight (6-ounce) custard cups or ramekins or a 2- to 2 1/2-quart soufflé dish. Using a potholder, immediately tilt the cups or dish to spread the caramel over the bottom and halfway up the sides.

Whisk the eggs, 3/4 cup sugar and salt until blended.

Heat the milk until just steaming. Gradually whisk the milk into the egg mixture and stir gently until the sugar is dissolved. If you wish, strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl or large measure with a pouring lip. Stir in vanilla. Pour into the caramel-lined cups or dish. Place ramekins or dish in a larger dish and fill half-way up with boiling water. Bake until firmly set in the center, about 40-60 minutes for individual cups, 60 to 90 minutes for a single dish. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days.

To unmold, dip the cups or dish briefly in hot water, loosen the edges with a knife and invert onto individual plates or a large plate. The plate for a large flan must be either broad or deep to catch all the caramel.

Makes 8 servings.

From “The Joy of Cooking,” 1997 edition

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Overnight Savory French Toast


Put this eggy baked French toast together the night before.

Take a few minutes to put this breakfast dish together tonight. Then you can just pop it in the oven on Christmas morning and let it bake while everyone opens presents.

Overnight Savory French Toast

6 large eggs
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup snipped chives plus additional for garnish
1 (9-ounce) loaf French bread, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
3 cups (6 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese

Grease a shallow 1 1/2-quart ceramic baking dish. In a medium bowl, with wire whisk, beat eggs, milk, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper until well blended. Stir in chives.

Arrange half of the bread in the prepared baking dish, overlapping slices to fit. Pour half of the egg mixture over the bread and sprinkle with 2 cups cheese. Cover with remaining bread, overlapping slices. Pour remaining egg mixture over bread; gently press down to help bread absorb egg mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake French toast 50 to 60 minutes or until puffed and golden and top of knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cover top during last 15 minutes, if browning occurs too quickly. Let stand 10 minutes to set custard before serving. Garnish with chopped chives.

Makes 8 main-dishes servings.

Nutritional information per serving: 355 calories, 22 g protein, 20 g carbohydrate, 20 g total fat, 1 g fiber, 214 mg cholesterol, 495 mg sodium

From “The Good Housekeeping Cookbook”

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Taste Mayonnaise Two New Ways


If you’ve checked out the mayonnaise section at your neighborhood supermarket lately, you’ve probably noticed a few additions to the usual lineup of Hellman’s, Kraft and the generic store brands.

One is Duke’s Real Mayonnaise, which has been a favorite in the South for years. The word “real” means that it is made with eggs, something you don’t find in every mayonnaise on the shelf. What Duke’s doesn’t have is sugar, something you’ll find in too many other commercial mayonnaises.

Sugar-free does not mean low-calorie, mind you. There is a low-calorie version, which you can differentiate by label color. The regular version has a yellow label, while the low-cal’s is blue.

Of all the commercial mayonnaises I’ve tried, I prefer Duke’s. It’s got a more natural egg flavor without the ghastly acrid taste sugar often gives to mayonnaise and salad dressings. I used to have to drive across town to pick up Duke’s, so I’m real happy to be able to find this around the corner from me.

The price is about $2.75 for an 18-ounce jar. For recipes and tips on using Duke’s, click here.

Baconnaise is for a more targeted audience, to be sure.

Bacon lovers Justin and Dave took their winnings from “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and created an eponymous food company in which all of the products taste like bacon, according to the label.

They started with Bacon Salt, which comes in four flavors and is, believe it or not, a vegan product. Now J&D’s offers bacon-flavored mayonnaise in a recipe that is certified kosher (!?!).

Baconnaise also comes in a regular and light version that’s made with real eggs. It has a touch of sugar in it, but not enough to produce 1 gram in a tablespoon-sized serving.

If you taste it by itself, you may find the natural smoke flavor to be a little too pronounced. But that seems to balance out on a sandwich. In fact, the flavor on sourdough with lettuce makes me long for the fresh tomatoes coming in a few weeks.

J&D’s lineup doesn’t stop here. It also produces bacon-flavored popcorn and envelopes among other products.

The price is about $4.50 for a 15-ounce jar. Click here for more information on J&D’s and recipes.

Because both of these mayonnaises are made with egg, it is recommended that you refrigerate them after opening.

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Eggs, Brunch and Easter Traditions


Smoked Salmon-stuffed Eggs

Eggs are a symbol of spring and fertility.  Early Christians adopted eggs to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus Christ, celebrated at Easter. But centuries before that, Wikipedia tells us, the ancient Zoroastrians used eggs in their New Year celebration, which falls on the spring equinox.

It may be an ancient tradition, but don’t tell that to kids. They love the traditional Sunday morning Easter egg hunt. Adults, meanwhile, take more pleasure in a few well-prepared egg dishes — and a sumptuous brunch is a great time to serve them.

We’ll share three recipes linked to this article, but if you generally just eat eggs in your breakfast tacos, think again. Here are a few suggestions for thinking outside the carton:

  • Breakfast for dinner: When you can’t think of anything to make for dinner, don’t automatically send someone out for a bag of burgers. Scramble some eggs, make toast, make pancakes, waffles or bacon. It’s satisfying and kids like it.
  • Eggs are appearing more and more as toppers to sandwiches, salads or hot dishes. Put a fried egg on top of cheese enchiladas, a burger, a rice and vegetable stir fry.  Stir a raw egg into steaming hot pasta, add chopped bacon, cream and Parmesan cheese and you have a classic pasta alla carbonara. (So rich, but so good.)
  • Deviled eggs will never go out of style. But we offer a recipe, Smoked Salmon-stuffed Eggs, from the ever -stylish Martha Stewart. Smoked salmon and sour cream make the difference.
  • You might never buy an egg salad sandwich from a vending machine, but made fresh at home this is a short route to a good meal. Hard cook two eggs, let them cool, peel them and chop them up finely. Add mayo, a dash of Tabasco, a half-teaspoon of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Dill is good in egg salad, too. Use it in a sandwich filling for lunch or put a mound of egg salad on top of lightly dressed greens, sliced tomatoes, avocado and other veggies.
  • Frittata of Ham and Spring Vegetables is colorful, easy to make and delicious.  You can’t go wrong here (unless someone just doesn’t like eggs).  If it’s good as an omelet (ham, cheese, spinach, etc.) it’ll be good in a frittata.
  • Finally, here’s an egg dish from Mexico that doesn’t use any exotic ingredients (at least not to us in San Antonio). But the Tortitas de Huevo con Chile Verde has a difference — find out why.

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Eggnog Gives French Toast a Welcome Kick


French ToastIf you have any leftover eggnog in the punch bowl, you can make this treat on Christmas morning.

Eggnog French Toast

2 cups homemade eggnog (see note)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons rum or 1 teaspoon rum extract
12 slices day-old cinnamon raisin bread
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter
Nutmeg, for garnish
Cinnamon, for garnish
Maple syrup, for serving (optional)

In a medium bowl, beat eggnog with the eggs and rum.  Put mixture in a  flat pan. Soak bread in eggnog mixture about 5 minutes, turning to be sure all of the bread is soaked.

In a skillet, melt some of the butter until it begins to sizzle. Then add 2 slices of bread, cooking on both sides until toasted. Sprinkle nutmeg and cinnamon on top before serving. Pass the maple syrup.

Note:  If using store-bought eggnog, use 2 cups eggnog. Whisk in 3 eggs and add rum and/or bourbon (or rum extract) to taste.

Makes 6-8 servings.

From John Griffin and Bonnie Walker

(Photo: Mathilda Tan)

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Eggs Sardou Offer a Taste of New Orleans


Poached Eggs“Eggs Sardou was created at Antoine’s, named after French playwright Victorien Sardou, and remains one of the grandest of the grand New Orleans egg dishes, of which there are many,” according to NOLACuisine.com. “I boiled fresh artichokes for this recipe, but it would certainly be all right to use good quality canned artichoke bottoms; in fact, I wish I had, it wasn’t worth the extra effort and cost.”

Eggs Sardou

4 poached eggs (see below)
1 recipe creamed spinach (see below)
1 recipe Hollandaise sauce (see below)
Slices of prosciutto, optional
4 artichoke bottoms
Paprika for sprinkling

Poached eggs:

Fill a dutch oven with 1 inch of water, heat until just below a simmer. Add a few dashes of white vinegar. Crack the eggs and gently drop them into the water, keeping the shell as close to the water as possible when dropping them in. With a slotted spoon, gently move the ghost like strands of white back to the yolk. The eggs are done when the whites are no longer transparent, and the yolks are still runny. Remove with a slotted spoon and gently dry off with a towel.

Creamed spinach:

1 cup cooked and chopped spinach, squeezed in a kitchen towel to remove excess water
1 pint heavy cream, reduced by 3/4 of its volume
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon Crystal Hot Sauce
Drops of Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt, to taste

In a saucepan over low heat, add spinach. Stir in cream. Add nutmeg, cayenne, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and salt. Adjust seasonings to taste and cook until flavors are melded.

Hollandaise sauce:

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup clarified butter, warm
Kosher salt, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Dash of Crystal Hot Sauce
Drops of Worcestershire sauce

Place the vinegar, lemon juice, and egg yolks in the top deck of a double boiler. The water in the lower deck should be hot but not boiling.

Whisk slowly until you see the yolks start to coagulate on the sides. If the pan gets too hot, remove it from the heat for a minute, whisking constantly.

Whisk while cooking, minding the bowl temperature, until the yolks are lighter in color and do not leave yellow streaks when the whisk goes through them. If you see any signs of scrambling, remove the bowl from the heat.

When the yolk/acid mixture is good and thick, remove from the heat and slowly drizzle in the clarified butter, whisking constantly, until incorporated.

Add the hot and Worcestershire sauces, and season to taste with the salt and cayenne.

If the sauce is a little too thick, you can thin it down with a few splashes of hot water.

Makes about 2/3 cup.

To assemble: Divide the creamed spinach in the center of two heated plates, nest two artichoke bottoms per plate on the spinach. Place prosciutto on each artichoke bottom, if using, followed by a poached egg. Top with a generous portion of Hollandaise sauce. Sprinkle with paprika. Serve.

Makes 2 servings.

Adapted from NOLACuisine.com.

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Griffin to Go: Slipping into an Elegant Christmas Breakfast


Eggs1

For some, the Christmas dinner is the family meal of the year. For the past few years, the breakfast on that day has become the main event.

Chalk it up to people’s schedules, which extend late into Christmas Eve. By the time I get to my colleague Bonnie’s house, it’s late in the morning. No one has any church services left to play for (Bonnie and her husband are organists, I play in a bell choir), and no one has anything on their minds but a strong cup of coffee and a desire to relax as late as possible. The work of the holiday is done. Now comes the time to snuggle up with a cat (there are enough to go around) and let the ease of the day envelop you.

French Toast

Recipe: Eggnog Gives French Toast a Welcome Kick

It’s the perfect setting to make a meal in as leisurely a manner as possible.

It’s also a great time to experiment. So, one year we made Eggnog French Toast, in which the cinnamon-raisin bread was drenched in an eggy sauce before being fried. A touch of rum, a sprinkle of nutmeg, a little more cinnamon, and we were all set. A few jalapeño-cheddar links from our favorite Texas sausage maker completed the meal in style.

Another Christmas morning was planned to within an inch of its life because of the time it took to prepare. That was the year of the Truffled Eggs. I had never cooked with an actual truffle before (my wallet had a little more elasticity then), but I had tasted a dish in which you flavored the eggs for a week with the black truffle. You just place eggs and truffle shavings in an air-tight jar and let them set for a week; the aroma of the truffle is so strong it will permeate the shell.

When it’s time to scramble the eggs, you chop up a bit of the truffle and add a touch of truffle oil to make sure your lily has been appropriately gilded. Serve with copious amounts of Champagne to cut through the richness of the dish.

Beignets

Recipe: Beignets Bring the Flavor of New Orleans to Your Kitchen

I had also made a flourless chocolate cake with grappa-soaked dried cherries and toasted pine nuts as a dessert. It, too, was so rich that we waited awhile before giving it the full attention it deserved.

Last year, it was pancakes, but with a subtle lift from applesauce. Perfect, of course, with sausage or bacon or any other pork product you have on hand.

How should we expand the repertoire this year? Bonnie has suggested something with a New Orleans touch this year, specifically beignets and Eggs Sardou. Sounds perfect. You shouldn’t be rushed when making a hollandaise sauce. And those in the kitchen can munch on the beignets along with the rest of the gathering while preparing the eggs.

Just the right unhurried feel before settling into the thrill of exchanging presents, another part of the schedule that’s been shuffled about a bit, and no one seems to mind.

Being together is what matters. If you keep that mind, your holiday meal, no matter what you serve, will be special.

Poached Eggs

Recipe: Eggs Sardou Offer a Taste of New Orleans

Pancake

Recipe: Sweeten Your Pancakes With Applesauce

Black Truffle

Recipe: Truffled Eggs Make for an Extravagant Breakfast

(Top photo: Kasey Albano)

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