BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Leftover Links: December Edition

Another month brings us another batch of sweet eats and food for thought, so let’s get right to it and dig in!

‘Tis the season for simple sugar cookies, and if you don’t yet have your recipe lined up, I have an excellent new option for you to consider. Made with a combination of standard all-purpose and sorghum flour, this unique blend turns out a dough that is easy to roll, won’t spread in the oven, and still retains a soft, chewy texture. Ideal for painless prep and enjoying later, it’s a win-win cookie for both the baker and the eater.

Winter weather may not be synonymous with cool, refreshing smoothies, but I’m doing my part to change that. In the winter issue of Allergic Living, I’ve shared three seasonal blends that are sure to satisfy, even if snow lines the ground in your neck of the woods, too.

Hurry on over to The Recipe Renovator for a chance to win five awesome new cookbooks (Easy as Vegan Pie included, of course) plus a whole bunch of fun kitchen toys and treats! You only have until tomorrow to enter, so don’t wait around to throw your hat in the ring. Stephanie has also shared my recipe for Rock’n Roll Elvis Pie, which you won’t want to miss, if only for that addictive Oinkless Bacon Brittle.

And for the curious, you can catch a brief interview with me written by Ellen Kanner, plus the recipe for Chocolate Chipotle Sweet Potato Pie at the end of the article.


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Another Iron in the Fire

Holiday shopping mania is predictably growing to a fever pitch yet again, making expeditions into any store a veritable mine field of aggressive sales pitches and tempting impulse buys. Shiny new toys beckon to both young and old, crowding out more rational thoughts of measured resistance. It’s easy to get sucked in, especially when deeper discounts promise “the best deals of the season!” no matter how many times the price is still sure to drop. Though I’m far from immune from this siren song, and probably the worst person to consult about saving vs. splurging, it’s simply become too much to stomach. Tired of watching every outing turn into yet another spending opportunity, I’m ready to swear off the stores and start shopping through my own dusty shelves instead.

There’s a whole trove of rarely used culinary treasures stashed away in kitchen cabinets and buried under the everyday staples. Move aside the gently warped sheet pans and cake tins flecked with faint patina, and once prized possessions suddenly come back into sharp focus. Humble, common, and yet so rarely employed, it’s the waffle maker that sits at the bottom of the stack, one of the oldest kitchen residents aside from the storage unit itself.

A victim of dish washing aversion, it’s not the usage, but the cleanup afterward that prevents me from plugging in and firing the iron up. Once silly excuses can be put aside, that small inconvenience is quickly forgotten by the ease of preparation. Putting it into perspective, such hassle is on par with managing mini muffin pans and their many crumb-filled crevasses that must be addressed. That’s a small price to pay for breakfast bliss, especially compared to the price tag of yet another superfluous gadget.

As for the waffles themselves, you truly can’t go wrong no matter what flavor adventure you embark upon. Basic batters tend to get a more appreciative reception around here, so I kept mix-ins to a minimum while infusing a pronounced pomegranate taste into every bite. If it were just me eating, I would toss in a generous handful of arils without a second thought, but that uniquely crunchy texture can be rather polarizing, as I’ve found with my typical panel of taste-testers. Regardless, the pomegranate molasses is not optional or replaceable, since nothing else will deliver the same deep, tangy, and slightly earthy punch.

Should that secret ingredient prove to be elusive, don’t let that become another excuse to let your waffle iron remain cold for another season! Consider the recipe below merely a template for crispy yet fluffy waffles of any flavor, given a few quick swaps. Use any fruit juice or even plain old water instead of pomegranate, lose the cinnamon or add more spices to the party, and consider maple syrup, agave nectar, or standard molasses instead of the pomegranate molasses. Once you start waffling again, you’ll wonder why you ever stopped in the first place.

Pomegranate Waffles

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups 100% Pomegranate Juice
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
1/4 Cup Pomegranate Molasses

Begin by heating up your waffle iron so that it’s ready to go as soon as the batter is, too. Combine all the dry ingredients and then add in the wet. Stir to incorporate, but don’t over do it- A bit of lumpiness is just fine!

Once your iron is nice and hot, grease with cooking spray or margarine, and ladle a healthy portion of batter on top. It really depends on the size of your waffle iron, so don’t be discouraged if your first couple are a little bit funny looking. Cook for about 4 – 6 minutes or until golden brown all over and serve immediately.

If you’d like to save them for later, allow the waffles to cool for completely on a wire rack. Wrap them tightly in a clean plastic bag and stash them in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Yields about 4 – 6 large waffles, or 8 – 12 small, depending on the size of your waffle iron.

Printable Recipe


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Nog-Off: Speed Round Rematch!

Two years after the first fight for vegan nog supremacy went down, the landscape of dairy-free, egg-free holiday beverages has finally shifted once more. The first change is not a happy one; it seems that the Earth Balance Soy Nog has thrown in the towel, bowing out of the game altogether. This would have left a gaping hole in the lineup, but the good news is that a spry newcomer has stepped up to the plate in its wake. Going by the name of “Holiday Nog” by Califia Farms, this rookie is a definite underdog, having appeared on the scene with little fanfare and almost no web presence. It doesn’t help matters that these shapely 48-ounce bottles are Whole Foods Market exclusives, severely limiting their availability across the country.

What the Holiday Nog lacks in distribution, it makes up for in innovation. The first almond-based nog on the market, it fills a niche previously untouched, meaning that those first punches land with great impact on the largely soy-based competitors. Touting itself as a lighter choice, it goes beyond the standard comparison to traditional eggnog, and goes straight for the kill, hitting where it hurts and boasting lower sugar content than any of the other commercial options out there. True to the claims, this milky elixir pours freely, approximately the same viscosity of standard almond milk. Fine for a solo sip, but that kind of thickness really can’t support an added splash of holiday “spirit”.

Without any detectable almond flavor, it was a brash, borderline harsh and definitely manufactured nutmeg note that dominated, storming in a bit too hard and heavy to really enjoy. The rookie must have tired itself out in that first barrage, because the sweetness struck me as rather lacking, too. Some will definitely appreciate this aspect, owing to a light hand on the organic cane sugar, but quite frankly, I wanted a treat that could stand up to the promise of eggnog, and this just wasn’t doing it. Sorry, sports fans, but this kid is down for the count, leaving So Delicious as the reining champ.

For you folks keeping score at home, that brings the final ranking, from most highly to least recommended, to…

1. Coconut Nog by So Delicious

2. Silk Nog by Silk

3. Holiday Nog by Califia Farms

4. Rice Nog by Rice Dream

Don’t let me tell you what to fill your mug with, though. Host you own nog-off at home and taste the options for yourself! I’m giving away a $25 gift certificate for Whole Foods Market, furnished by the natural grocery giant itself, so that you can pick up a full complement of eggless nogs, or whatever else might bring you a bit of edible holiday cheer. All you need to do is be a resident of the US, and leave me a comment about your favorite commercial nog, homemade recipes, or what you like to make with your excess nog once the holidays are over. Make sure your name and email are both entered into the appropriate boxes so I know who to contact! The entry period will be open until Friday the 13th at Midnight EST, so start talking!

UPDATE: After consulting with my very favorite random number generator, together we determined that the winner of the gift card would be…

The owner of comment #40, otherwise known as sara!

If that wasn’t the result you were hoping for, don’t despair. You can still snap up a coupon good for 50 cents of off Califia Holiday Nog should you want to give it a try yourself. Stay tuned for more giveaways to come, too!


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Wish I Was There

Whipping bitterly cold gusts of air against my exposed skin, the wind howled mercilessly, landing a barrage of freezing punches from all directions. Inescapable, unrelenting, this assault makes each step outside feel like a mile away. Winter in New England can be a challenge to cope with on the best of days, and through the eyes of a SAD-sufferer, no day is a good day. Days blur, sloppily, slowly, into one ugly mess of endless slush, ice, and darkness.

Lighting the way through these murky moments is the promise of imminent escape. Having the foresight to book a ticket back to Hawaii while airfare was still reasonable was the smartest impulse buy (not to mention the most expensive) I made all year. Memories of warmth, sun, and genuine happiness fuel a stubborn persistence to keep hanging on just a little while longer. White-knuckling it through the stress of final exams and bleakness of winter’s descent, the day of departure simply can’t come soon enough.

In the meantime, the tastes of Hawaii provide some small comfort, a tiny tropical oasis in the midst of less favorable conditions. Turning back to those incredible macadamia nuts that I had been saving for a rainy day, stashed way back in the depths of the freezer for safe keeping, savory inspiration pulled me away from my standard palate of sweet ingredients.

Seeking something light and bright to contrast with all of the other, heavier comfort foods keeping me afloat, quinoa proved an ideal canvas to paint the colors of Honolulu upon. That concept turned out quite literally, as dried hibiscus blossoms (the official state flower) and red beet juice stained the white grains a dainty shade of dusty rose. Buttery macadamias and a generous splash of coconut milk lend richness to the otherwise lean pilaf, balancing the opposing desires for clean flavors and soothing touches of decadence. Flavored simply with a backdrop of garlic and scallions, the floral infusion is what sets the dish apart. Each bite brings back visions of brilliant blooms, stretching upwards to kiss the cloudless blue sky.

Although it won’t stop me from counting the days until my Hawaiian adventures begin anew, a heaping helping of warm quinoa does help time pass at least a little bit more easily- And certainly much more deliciously.

Mahalo Macadamia Quinoa Pilaf

2 1/3 Cups Water
6 Dried Whole Hibiscus Blossoms, or 6 Bags Hibiscus Tea
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cups) Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/4 Cup Red Beet Juice or Puree (Optional, for Color)
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Raw Quinoa
1 Cup Macadamia Nuts, Coarsely Chopped
1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil
1 Large Sweet Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Large Scallion, Thinly Sliced

Place the water and hibiscus blossoms or tea bags in a large saucepan over medium heat, and bring the water to a boil. Cover, remove the pot from the stove, and allow the tea to steep for about 30 minutes.

Squeeze out and discard the spent blossoms or tea bags. Return the pot to the stove and introduce the coconut milk, beet juice or puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring the liquids to a full boil before adding in the quinoa. Cover and turn down the heat to low, keeping the contents of the pot at a gentle simmer. Cook for 16 – 20 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Turn off the heat but keep covered for 10 minutes to steam and finish cooking.

Meanwhile, toss the macadamia nuts into a dry skillet over medium heat, and stir constantly until they’re lightly toasted and smelling irresistibly nutty. Quickly transfer to the pot of quinoa to prevent them from burning and lightly wipe out the skillet.

Melt the oil to the skillet before adding in the onion and garlic. Saute, stirring periodically, until golden brown all over. Transfer to the pot of quinoa, along with the pepper and scallion. Mix thoroughly to combine and distribute the nuts and onions evenly throughout the quinoa. Stir in additional salt to taste, if desired.

Serve immediately while still warm, or chill for at least four hours for a refreshing cold salad.

Makes 6 – 8 Side Dish Servings

Printable Recipe


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Wild Winter Wonderland

Change up the usual festive flavors and think blue this holiday season! Before you hit palate fatigue from pumpkin pie-spiced everything, reach to the freezer for inspiration and invite Wild Blueberries back to the party. Even as the days go by and winter tightens its grip, frozen Wild Blueberries are still not only available but convenient, since they’ll stay icily preserved until inspiration strikes, and of course, just as sweet and delicious as ever. I’m not alone in my Wild Blueberry holiday plans, as two other very talented bloggers have joined me in developing some festive, true blue treats to celebrate the season.

Together, with the help of Wild Blueberries, we banded together to create a delicious free e-book with seven irresistible recipes, both sweet and savory, to help inspire some new holiday traditions.

My contributions start with a sweet and simple drink. It may not look like much more than a standard mug of hot chocolate, but beneath that steamy surface hides a rich, blue secret. Wild Blueberries and chai tea spice things up together, contributing both a warming and fresh, fruity flavor unlike any other cocoa combination I’ve ever tried. Wild Blueberry Chai-Spiced Hot Chocolate is a snap to whip up after a rough day out in the freezing cold, and is sure to take the chill off instantly.

Heading over to the savory side of the street, a quick Wild Blueberry jam infused with fresh sage is sure to surprise and delight. Perfect to smear on crackers and enjoy unadorned, or pack into pretty glass jars to give away as gifts, this is an intense, flavorful spread that masterfully balances sweet, savory, sour, salty, and herbal tastes in every bite. Of course, you can also dress it up for your next big shindig by creating Wild Blueberry Crostini.

Lightly toasted slices of baguette are topped with creamy pistachio ricotta, serving as the perfect foil to the flavorful jam. Finish the whole thing off with a sprinkle of crunchy whole pistachios, and guests may not be able to save room for dinner itself.

Stock up on a bag or two of frozen Wild Blueberries and go check out the whole free e-book for these recipes and more. I don’t know about you, but now I’m dreaming of a blue Christmas…

This post was written for and is sponsored by Wild Blueberries, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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Leftover Links

Another day, another delicious project! Although the blog hasn’t exactly been a hub of activity lately, the kitchen is another story. Churning out recipes and photos at every turn, fresh assignments for other outlets have kept me busy lately, but with less to share in this space of my own. Happily, many of those features are now hitting the internet, so it seemed like as good a time as any to round them up and share what I’ve been working on…

I make no secret of my strong bias towards all of Nava Atlas‘ unbeatable creations, but it’s been an absolute joy to continue our partnership beyond her forthcoming cookbook. Essentially cooking my way through the archives of VegKitchen, I’m proud to report that the Thanksgiving selections in particular are now lavishly illustrated, with photos that will hopefully inspire and entice in equal parts. From main courses to sides to sweets and beyond, there’s everything you could need to prepare for the festive meal, and I can vouch for the flavor of each and every one of them.

In case that’s not enough dessert for you, I also shared a super-simple No-Bake Apple Ice Cream Pie over on Go Dairy Free. Use a few store-bought shortcuts and whip this beauty up in mere minutes, or go all the way with homemade components; you can’t lose with either approach, and the results are guaranteed to impress.

Hitting newsstands and mailboxes shortly, you’ll find these Caramel Apple Crisp Cupcakes stashed within the pages of the November/December issue of VegNews Magazine. Lavished with ribbons of salted caramel sauce and a crown of caramel frosting, the tender, lightly spiced apples within never had it so good. Who said the cupcake trend was over?

I’m delighted to announce that Vegan Desserts is finally available for purchase again, now in its second printing and paperback format! In case you missed out on the first round, you now have a chance to enjoy all the same tried-and-true recipes, but now with fewer errors and two additional photos that were originally omitted. Not to mention, an even further reduced price over the hardcover version.

Finally, for any local readers, I want to point your attention to the Small Business Saturday event at the Fairfield University Bookstore on November 30th, where eight local authors will share their favorite books- Myself included! Get your cookbooks signed to give as gifts, if you can bear to part with them, and taste some samples of the recipes within. Hope to see you there!


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Stick With It!

Less than a week’s time separates today from the Great National Food Coma, otherwise known as Thanksgiving. More hotly anticipated than any splashy movie premier, most plans for this year’s grand event have long since been laid, solidified, and are now gradually shifting into gear. Menus are set, tasks have been doled out to eager participants, and non-perishables have been procured; no detail, neither big nor small, shall be left unattended.  Only the actual cooking remains for the particularly well organized and industrious few. Knowing just how much work goes into such a grand production, I wouldn’t dream of waltzing in here and suggesting that you turn your carefully crafted game plan completely upside-down with crazy new dishes, not yet passed the test of time. You’ve already got the raw components for the typical fixings, right? I’m merely imploring you to consider them from a new perspective.

All the classic accoutrements threaded neatly onto portion-controlled, hand-held, and highly dippable little packages, Thanksgiving kebabs are the answer to menu malaise. Stick with tradition, keep the Brussels sprouts and “turkey,” but present them in a whole new light. Consider this concept with an open mind for the greatest degree of success, since all the ingredients can be effortlessly swapped with your own holiday favorites, or tweaked to achieve ideal proportions and flavors. Consider adding cubes of sourdough or sturdy cornbread to evoke stuffing; pumpkin or sweet potato could be excellent understudies for butternut; trimmed green beans can comfortably slip into any empty spaces; these kebabs are limited only by a lack of imagination.

Small skewers could be fun teasers for guest to enjoy while awaiting the full spread, but more generous cuts fit perfect on the dinner plate for the main event, too. Send out a heaping platter of kebabs nestled cozily atop a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, gravy for dipping on the side, and you could be on the cusp of a whole new annual tradition, with all the familiar flavors comfortably intact.

Thanksgiving Kebabs

Amounts will vary depending on how many people you plan to serve and which vegetables/add-ins you choose, but the concept remains the same. What follows is largely a reflection of what is pictured above, but the formula is entirely open to interpretation.

Seitan, Tempeh, or Vegan “Turkey,” Cubed
Peeled, Gutted, and Cubed Butternut Squash
Small Brussels Sprouts, Cleaned and Trimmed
Large Fresh Cranberries*

Marinade:

2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Tamari
2 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
Pinch Rubbed Sage

To Serve:

Mashed Potatoes (Optional)
Gravy, for Dipping (NOT Optional!)

*When selecting cranberries, be sure to use particularly large berries and skewer them precisely in the center, as they have a tendency to wither and/or split while baking.

Before you start prepping vegetables or turning on the heat, submerge your wooden skewers for at least 20 minutes to prevent them from burning (or worse, catching fire) while in the oven. If using metal skewers, go ahead and skip this precaution.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a shallow baking dish that can accommodate the full length of your skewers.

Thread individual vegetables and “meat” on the skewers in any pattern or proportion you like. There’s no right or wrong answers here, just do what’s easiest, looks good, and tastes good. Just make sure that all your components are roughly the same size so that they cook evenly. Place the finished skewers in a single layer in your prepared baking dish. If you’re making enough for a big party, you may need to consider a second vessel.

Whisk together the ingredients for the marinade and brush it generously over the skewered “meat” and veggies. If you have any leftover, reserve it to baste the skewers once more halfway through the cook time. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of your vegetables, flipping after 10 and basting if desired. The vegetables should be nicely browned and tender when done.

Serve immediately over hot mashed potatoes with a small bowl of gravy for dipping on the side.

Printable Recipe


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Neatly Nested

Adorable and cheerful as they are, handmade softies tend to accumulate in mass amounts around here if left unchecked. Multiplying mysteriously throughout the course of a month, it seems as though they spring forth out of the ether, entirely of their own accord. There’s no stopping this home invasion, but there are certainly worse problems to worry about. When space is at a premium and not another square inch can be spared, at least this particular close-knit family of featherless fowl is happy to accommodate.

Nesting within each other like plush matryoshka dolls, no actual nest is required for them to call any place home. Luckily for them and their hosts, even the smallest spaces can comfortably contain all four, right down to the tiny eggling still waiting to hatch. No matter what, you can rest assured that it will be kept very warm!

[The Nesting Birds knitting pattern can be found on page 45 of Huge & Huggable Mochimochi: 20 Supersized Patterns for Big Knitted Friends by Anna Hrachovec.]


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A Call for Comfort

If there’s anything good to be said in favor of the colder, wintery climate slowly but surely settling in across the northern hemisphere, it would undoubtedly be about baking. No longer does the kitchen itself become a sweltering sauna upon preheating the oven, and whipped meringue stays fluffy and pert, regardless of the duration. Holiday cookie plates aren’t the only reason why bakers return to their sugary arsenal around this time of year; the seasonal shift triggers an instinctive need for warmth and comfort, both of which can be found in ample supply within a fresh batch of flaky apple danishes, still steamy within, or gooey chocolate chip cookies, soft as non-dairy butter.

The soothing capacity of homemade baked foods isn’t limited to any single genre, and exactly what sweet treat one pulls out of that radiating electric range is a highly personal choice. For me, tender, sticky gingerbread would be on the menu every day if I was living solo. Since variety is the spice of life, or so I’m led to believe, perhaps it’s a good thing that my family members all have their own words of wisdom once the oven roars back to life after its summer hibernation.

Hands down, scones will always rank near the top of the list for my mom, whether they’re served with extra icing for dessert or a smear of jam for breakfast. My tried-and-true formula, that fool-proof ratio of flour, liquid, and fat effortlessly yielding golden brown and delicious biscuits, rarely varies. The mix-ins are what keeps each subsequent batch exciting, preventing palate fatigue before the frozen earth outsides begins to thaw.

Looking to shake up the standard pastry routine, I was in luck when Meduri Fruit offered to send me a sample of their wares. Calling these morsels “boutique-quality dried fruit” sounds like a dubious compliment at first blush, but these specimens were truly outstanding. Whereas bulk bin picks are certainly more economical, they often dry out to a consistency better suited to beefless jerky, deterring more frequent purchases. None of that can be found here. Each variety is clearly dehydrated with care, maintaining an incredibly soft, chewy texture in each sweet piece.

Using such intensely flavorful dried fruits allows the kitchen-sink approach to work so brilliantly in these unassuming scones. Their inner beauty is revealed with each bite, the essence of a different fruit coming forward in alternating nibbles and crumbs. The specifics aren’t terribly important when selecting your own dried fruits; quality counts above all else.

Fruit Basket Scones

1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Almond Meal
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/2 – 2/3 Cup Mixed Dried or Candied Fruits, Chopped into Raisin-Sized Pieces if Necessary
3 – 5 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1/4 Cup Sliced Almonds

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Mix the flour, almond meal, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl until thoroughly blended. Cut the margarine into tablespoon-sized pieces before dropping them into the dry goods. Using a pastry cutter or two forks, cut in the margarine until you have coarse crumbs with chunks of margarine no larger than the size of a lentil. Add in the dried or candied fruits of your choice, tossing to coat with flour before drizzling in 3 tablespoons of non-dairy milk along with the lemon juice and almond extract. Mix thoroughly, using your hands to bring the dough together if necessary, and slowly incorporate additional non-dairy milk if the mixture is still to dry to form a cohesive ball.

Gather up the dough into a big round and place it on your prepared baking sheet. Pat it out into an even round about 1/2-inch in thickness. Use a very sharp knife to slice it into four equal wedges, and then sprinkle them with slice almonds. Press down gently to make sure the nuts adhere to the tops of the scones.

Bake for 18 – 20 minutes, until golden brown all over. Serve warm or cool on a wire rack for later. Place in an air-tight container or wrap tightly in plastic and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Makes 4 Scones

Printable Recipe

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