Ma-Po Dou Fu (Ma Po Tofu)

DSCF7677 (640x360)This is a quick assessment. I’ve noticed recently that Filipinos have superbly overshadowed ‘a vast majority of the working population’ in the industry I work in.  It’s definitely a huge industry covering fastfood restaurants, pizza places, hotel kitchens, stand-alone restaurants, senior homes (where I belong), coffee shops and maybe, just maybe, temporary hotdog stands scattered in and around town.  It’s a definitely ‘yes’ for the Filipino in terms of loyalty, dedication, positive social interaction and impact to clients, strict work ethics, and many other obvious identifiable characteristics related to work.

I’ve noticed this change about two years ago when the coffee-shop’s crew members where I regularly visit before work became an all-Filipino team.  It was a refreshing change for the coffee shop. It turned around from something critically unhygienic to some place where some ‘coffee’ downtime can be had and appreciated.  Service, which was the most important factor in the industry,  also vastly improved.  I guess many don’t understand the meaning of ‘service’ in this industry. Filipinos are very disciplined and service-driven, and one factor, one definite major factor which keeps Filipinos ahead is the SMILE. The smile, despite all the hardwork, the hardships and sometimes the challenges, keeps them ‘going’ like the commercial implies. That’s the plus factor.

This dish is not Filipino, but it reminded me of my university days in the early nineties.  My friends re-introduced me to this dish, but I was hesitant to try it not knowing the ingredients and sauces used in the preparation.  I came across this dish again in my antiquated Szechwan Cookbook and began re-thinking it my way. And, surprisingly, it turned out as I’ve imagined it to be with all the spices and sauces that went into the final preparation. All ingredients are available in the oriental store.   It has that ‘Tokwa’t Baboy’ feel, but went beyond Soy Sauce, Vinegar, Ground Black Pepper, and Onions syndrome.  It’s perfect with steamed rice, and for the New Year’s as a solo dish with booze (the spice has that kick).

Ingredients:

  • Tofu (used Dry Firm and chopped in cubes)
  • Pork Belly Slab, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Wood Ear or ‘Tenga ng Daga’, soaked in water overnight and sliced in slivers
  • Mushrooms, chopped
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Green Onion
  • Szechwan Peppercorns
  • Dried Chilis (Chinese, Optional)
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Spicy Bean Paste
  • Ground Black Bean Sauce (or Fermented Black Beans)
  • Chicken Stock
  • Cornstarch solution as a thickening agent

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Heat the wok with a small amount of oil. When the wok hits smoking point, render the fat from the pork belly and set aside.  Stir-fry the ginger, garlic, green onion, chilis and mushrooms into the wok (Discard some of the oil if there was too much rendered).

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Slowly add the tofu and continue stir-frying.  Scoop some of the spicy bean paste into the wok until the tofu has been completely covered (or to the desired spice level).  Add the ‘Tenga ng Daga’ and continue stirring.

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Pour the light soy sauce and some fermented black bean sauce and stir further. Add a little water or chicken stock to create some sauce like mixture. Sprinkle with ground Szechwan Peppercorn/Salt and return the pork belly back into the wok.  Set the fire to low-medium and cover for a few minutes. Thicken with cornstarch solution and garnish with chopped green onions.

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Pan-Seared Veal Chop in Oregano and White Wine Sauce

DSCF7505 (640x494)And the Canadian Thanksgiving is finally over, and I never had the chance to celebrate it. I was up in my neck preparing three Turkeys with all the fixings at work and by the time the celebration was upcoming, the day just went by so quickly that when I woke-up the following day, the week was nearly over.  I felt the exhaustion two days later. I did everything in break-neck speed when I had not supposed to.

Anyway, I really didn’t bother, but I looked for something special at the grocery a week before to celebrate Thanksgiving by myself without really going to the Turkeys. I contemplated on doing a Turkey Breast, initially, but when I saw the thick veal chops on display again, I took two immediately and froze them until I was ready for my own celebration.

I’m still exhausted until today and I think this would go on until the holidays. I really don’t have any recollection of Thanksgiving with family and friends. Manila doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving in these modern, digital times;  moreso when I was growing up. Here’s one thing though. When I last visited Manila between 2008 and 2010, a neighbour baked a whole Turkey as his main for Christmas Eve. It was definitely nouveau to Filipinos who has not had a Thanksgiving Turkey, and I’m sure it was an expensive bird. I was surprised it even existed there.  I didn’t touch it. I went for the steamed rice and Pork BBQ. That was my Christmas dinner to match the wine that was served, of course.  I’m sure they were staring at me for some reason. Didn’t care less. I was a happy man with the BBQ.

Ingredients:

  • Veal Chops
  • Olive Oil
  • Onions
  • Garlic, minced to paste
  • Tomatoes (as garnish)
  • Honey
  • White Wine
  • Beef Stock (Veal Stock or demi)
  • Oregano (Italian & Spanish)
  • Lemon juice
  • Evaporated Milk
  • Flour
  • Sea Salt & Ground Black Pepper
  • Cornstarch Solution

Eggplant Marinade:

  • Olive Oil
  • Rosemary
  • Crushed Chili Peppers
  • Salt & Pepper

Marinate the veal chops  in Olive oil, Lemon, Oregano and Salt & Pepper overnight.  Coat the chops in seasoned flour and sear both sides until golden brown. Transfer in a baking pan and finish off in a pre-heated 350’C oven.

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Saute the onions and garlic on the same pan and deglaze with white wine.  Add the beef stock and boil to simmer. Strain in a sauce pan. Reduce to a third and add some honey. Adjust the sauce consistency with the cornstarch solution.

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Slice the eggplant as thinly as possible. Marinade and grill in the seasoned grill pan. Set aside.

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Set the eggplants on the plate before placing the veal chop. Drizzle the sauce before serving and sprinkle with diced tomatoes and oregano.

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Cold Chicken with Szechwan Pepper

DSCF7455 (640x480)Luca won Master Chef this season, and it was no surprise. He works in the industry. He’s Italian and he’s food depicts his background and character and they were all evident in all his dishes.  I believe that was the main ingredient that brought him the crown. His opponent, although technically more capable, just didn’t have that inner so-called ‘inspirational passion and soul’  so needed and required to be in a real, professional kitchen. I guess that’s just my personal opinion. The other home cook challengers should probably keep their day jobs and stay where they belong.  I was thinking while watching how they’d survive the heat of a fast-pace, brutally hot, and extremely impersonal approach in the line.  Again, this is just my personal opinion. It’s a TV show meant to be entertaining, and it’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ reborn.  Honestly, I was hooked and I was extremely entertained by the play-by-play drama orchestrated by the three host.

Anyway, I was able to pick-up some dishes from watching the weekly series. Many were just glamourized home-cooked dishes and nothing else. I’d enjoyed the classics as usual and hated the fancy plates they presented (Luca’s wasn’t). I enjoy doing simple, smooth ‘comforting’ dishes with bold and lingering flavours to the palate. I discovered this by biting my nails into Szechuan Food, and this has been continuing for three weeks now. It’s an entirely new horizon for me and the taste just wakes up my senses.  Moreover, Szechwan cooking serves cold dishes that can be eaten anytime of the day. That’s just so appetizing and this dish is with no exception. It’s so easy to prepare, but the varied dipping sauces are phenomenal.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Breast or Leg
  • Green Beans as garnish

Dipping Sauce:

  • Szechwan Pepper
  • Sea Salt
  • Green onion, minced
  • Garlic, mined to a paste
  • Soy Sauce
  • Shaoxing cooking wine
  • Chinese Vinegar
  • Spicy Sesame oil
  • Brown Sugar

Boil the chicken until tender. Set aside at room temperature and shred or slice into small pieces. Keep it in the fridge to cool.

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In the meantime, roast the Szechuan Pepper and Sea salt in a pan.  When the spice starts to become aromatic, transfer into a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder and grind into a fine or coarsely grounded seasoning.

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Blanch the green beans in boiling water, and let it run in cold to stop the cooking process. Lightly sauté in oil, garlic, and Shaoxing Cooking wine.

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Set the green beans on the plate followed by the shredded chicken. Sprinkle with the Szechwan & Salt Seasoning and minced garlic. Serve with the Chinese Dipping Sauce on the side.

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Lamb Chops with Honey and White Balsamic Vinegar

Canada is celebrating Thanksgiving Day today; a month earlier than the United States. It has been a relatively quiet long weekend and Thanksgiving Celebration. I have no idea why, but I clearly remember that last year’s Thanksgiving was highly emotional, loud, and extremely festive. There were also so many dramatic instances only so common to a Filipino gathering that year, which I’d rather avoid experiencing again this year.  I made sure this time around, and luckily it never occurred. Why are Filipino gatherings so emotionally sacrilegious (even in small groups)?   I always ask myself why. I also didn’t work last year. I was called this morning to cover a shift, and noticing that this year’s celebration would be eerily quiet; I jumped-in and took the shift.  More so, it was also around this period that I landed in Canada and celebrated my first ever Thanksgiving as prepared by my Aunt and second cousins.  It was the first and one of the most memorable Thanksgiving I’ve ever had (as far as I remember).

I had to cook something really very special for these two occasions.  To celebrate, I bought a portion of New Zealand Lamb Chops. I’ve always wanted Lamb Chops and since I really couldn’t finish an entire Leg of Lamb by myself, I bought these quick grilling chops instead.  Lamb Chops of this quality is very similar to buying an Angus quality T-bone steak. I just don’t understand why it’s so bloody expensive; and minutely cut and prepared to serve one (Why Iska?).

My life this year versus last year is more at peace; must be, given the tame comparison with 2011. It was incredibly confusing, frustrating and sometimes annoyingly disturbing that I just had to drown myself in beer and good food on the eve of Thanksgiving of 2011;  just to let go of any tribulations that were hounding me as the last quarter winded down.  It was just not my year, and as soon as 2011 started, the repercussions of my decisions and actions a year before was taking effect and never left me up until the middle of 2012-such an agony.

Anyway, this was one of those years which I had to celebrate Thanksgiving by myself (have been celebrating it for the last couple of years with friends).  I know it’s not proper being alone, tapping my thoughts on the keyboard relating my past to the present into this blog, but whenever I do celebrate something (as a self-fulfilling , ‘being selfish’ or ‘self-centred’  individual), I make sure I create a long-lasting feast to satisfy my hunger. That’s the goal.  It really doesn’t have to be grand. It has to be heavy and satisfying enough to put me to slumber (just came from work).

These are quick preparations with readily available ingredients. I marinated the chops ahead of time and the  mushrooms and the garlic, generally, are always available in the supermarket.

Lamb Chops with Honey and White Balsamic Vinegar:

  • Baby Lamb Chops (New Zealand)
  • Olive Oil
  • White Balsamic Vinegar
  • Honey
  • Fresh Mint
  • Honey Mustard
  • Lemon Juice
  • Sea Salt
  • Ground Black Pepper

Combine all ingredients and marinade the lamb chops for two days.  Leave the lamb chops at room temperature before grilling. Grill the lamb chops, about 3-4 minutes each side, to achieve desired doneness (had mine medium to medium rare). Remove from the grill and let them rest for about five minutes before serving.  Squeeze with lemon juice and add sea salt on the plate.

Fried Mushrooms with Garlic

  • Fresh Button Mushrooms
  • 5 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • Parsley

Heat a sauté pan with olive oil. Cut the button mushroom in quarters and pan-fry. Add more olive oil and seasonings along the way. Add the minced garlic thereafter and toss a couple of times to prevent the garlic from burning and browning. Drizzle with Olive Oil and garnish with finely chopped parsley.

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Picadillo (Giniling)

My very first trip to the United States was way back in 1985. A couple of my Aunts and Uncles migrated to the USA back in the 1970s, and my family and I have been constantly invited to visit them. That monumental trip led us to Los Angeles, and every trip thereafter was almost always in the West Coast where most of my Mom’s friends and family members resided. Only a few of them immigrated to the East Coast, and that trip only came late in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Honestly, I was a bit envious of my cousins who had grown and lived in the USA almost all their lives. I felt they were more fortunate than I was in terms of growth and job opportunities, education, quality of life and the general point of view of living life itself in a more open society. It was not a secluded society, and as cliché as it may sound, some kind or some form of ‘freedom’ for individuals and new settlers alike indeed was felt. I also never expected to be an immigrant myself 20 years later.

Anyway, what drew me more into this utopia of sorts was the abundance and affordability of food. Grocery food was definitely for the masses, and the middle class, and anyone in the street can afford to purchase what’s needed, what’s wanted, and what’s required on a day-to-day basis. That was a relatively new concept back then and having been brought up by South Supermarket in Paranaque where my family and I had lived, that was totally an exuberating experience for a growing teenager with strong ideals and dreams. South Supermarket was in no way close to these huge market places where everything and anything can be had for cheap at bulk prices.

Besides these discount supermarkets, I was also drawn by the growing and expanding Mexican food over at the West Coast for obvious reasons.  Taco Bell was my fastfood of choice and Denny’s was a major treat. I’ve never had an American breakfast set in Diner style before, and Denny’s, as a teenager, fascinated me like no other for recreating that atmosphere.  Nevertheless, I still searched for the real deal, Mexican food besides Taco Bell, and I found authentic Mexican restaurants along the way.  Mexican food for me was a complex mixture of flavours, but after being exposed to it just last year through a myriad of cooking shows, I discovered that many Mexican recipes were Spanish based; only infused by Mexican chilis and beans which were abundant in the area or any other local ingredients that was locally grown or harvested like cacti. Furthermore, recipes were very easy to prepare and almost all ingredients were readily available in market shelves.

Like Afritada, the Filipino Picadillo or Giniling can be totally boring. I’ve had tasted Giniling countless times; from cafeterias, in plastic bags for lunch delivered by Makati Gilid ‘Caterers,’  to side street vendors, and didn’t feel any gusto eating ground meat with potatoes and peas dowsed in diluted and greasy tomato sauce. It was as plain and as morbid as my ex-wife’s lame excuses and shameless upheavals. I have decided to twist this Giniling by adding some Mexican flavour into it, and adding Zucchini which is originally is not mixed  with the traditional Giniling.  I knew Zucchini would work well with tomatoes, limes and Oregano. The chilis definitely stood out in the sauce. It took a little more time to prepare, but by the next day, the sauce became even better.

Ingredients:

  • Ground Chicken (Pork or Beef)
  • Italian Sausages or Chorizo
  • Red Onions
  • Guajillo Peppers (dried)
  • Plum Tomatoes
  • Red & Green Bell Peppers
  • Garlic (for roasting and sautéing)
  • Zucchini
  • Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • Green Onion
  • Mexican Oregano
  • Mexican Chili Powder (Optional)

Red Chili Tomato Sauce:

Roast the Garlic, Green & Red Bell Peppers, and Tomatoes on the stovetop or in the oven. Let the tomatoes cool at room temperature and peel the skin.  Meanwhile, roast the Guajillo Chilis on a skillet or Grill pan until the essential oil is released. Soak them in warm water for half an hour or so and de-seed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pan-fry some sausages (Chorizo) in a sauce pan and set aside.

Blend the Chilis, Tomatoes, Roasted Garlic and Bell Peppers, and strain  back into the sauce pan where the Sausages were pan-fried. Add some of the water from the soaked Chilis to adjust the consistency. Adjust further the seasoning with  Mexican Oregano and salt & ground black pepper to taste.

 

 

 

 

 

Sides:

Boil the potatoes until tender, peel and let it cool at room temperature. When manageable, dice.

Peel and dice the Zucchini. Add salt and draw out the moisture using a strainer.

Pan-fry the potatoes and Zucchini until golden and set aside.

Ground Meat:

Season the meat and dust with flour. Set the stovetop to medium-high and pan-fry the ground meat until brown. When brown, set it at one side of the pan and add in the red onions and garlic.  Continue sautéing and when the meat is nearly done, slowly incorporate the Red Chili Tomato Sauce into the pan. Stir continuously.

 

 

 

 

Set the meat at one side of the plate and the sides on the other. Garnish with finely chopped green onion (or cilantro) and finely diced, de-seeded tomatoes.

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Spanish Escabeche

Probably every pub in the city serves some kind of Fish & Chips.  It’s a very popular and profitable dish. If the fish fillet came as frozen, it would have been either portioned accordingly and coated in an house batter, deep-fried half-way, and finished off before service started. It  could also have been shipped as individual fillets in a box and  deep-fried with a batter to order.  I’ve seen pubs working with or around this pretense as a way of lowering food cost and increasing dish recovery or turnover.

I was once a fan of Fish & Chips, up until I encountered some realy nasty deep-frying experiences at work. My first taste of an authentic Fish & Chips was in London nearly thirty years ago. I was about 13, and never realized I was having a major treat at my hands. At that age, I only wanted two things: toys and any books related to the martial arts; anything other than that was insignificant.  Academics was also off the radar, but I managed to pass my courses just to please my strict parents.  Of course, pretty and highly adorable ‘girls’ remained in my list and they still mesmerized me to this day, even though they weren’t exactly ladies yet at that time.  Phoebe Cates was my dream prom date as was with my peers.  It was part of growing up in a co-ed school whereby terribly attractive ‘girls’ constantly roamed around the four-story HS building with open corridors set for me and my barkada to enjoy and to discuss nonsense during recess. It was like watching a pageant set for adolescents who were studying in a very inhibitive and outdated educational curricula. We had our classes at the fourth floor on our senior year and, it felt like heaven!  I still often recall those moments, and as an adult, wouldn’t have had it in any other way.

Anyway, fish, particularly Filipino fried fish (Tilapia) with vinegar is just so plain and so boring. Filipinos seem to have it in no other way.Well, actually, with another way: Fish Escabeche.  I’ve checked out several Filipino Escabeche recipes and all played around with this combination of ingredients:  vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, catsup and bell peppers. I tasted this mixture growing-up and the house helpers did a fantastic a job of removing the dry and plain characteristics of the Fried Tilapia by turning it into Escabeche. I ate the Tilapia with gusto. It had the feeling of eating Sweet & Sour Pork without the crunch and the heavy, gingery thick sauce so common to many Sweet & Sour dishes.

My goal for this blog was to make the fish as crunchy as a Sweet and Sour Pork and  the sauce as addicting as any dimsum (particularly chicken feet). This is my take on Escabeche. I didn’t follow the usual Filipino ingredients and used fillets instead of a whole Tilapia. I just don’t like picking through a whole fish when fillets are readily available in the market.  This is a sort of a follow through to Iska’s Sinigang ng Isda; taking the fuzz out of eating something delicious without the hassles of deep-frying or picking through fish bones which can somehow ruin the enjoyment of the meal itself.

Ingredients:

  • Wild Cod Fillets
  • Sweet Rice Flour
  • Olive Oil
  • White Balsamic Vinegar or White Wine Vinegar
  • White Wine (Chardonnay)
  • Red & Green Bell Peppers, finely diced
  • White Onions, finely diced
  • Garlic, minced
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Lemon Rind
  • Lemon Juice
  • Dried Oregano: Optional

Season the fillets with salt and pepper and roll the fillets with a slice of lemon inside. Secure the fillets with a skewer or a toothpick.

Coat the fillets with sweet rice flour inside out and leave them in the fridge for about half an hour.

Heat a pan with oil and pan-fry or deep-fry the fillets until golden. Start dicing the bell peppers, onions and garlic while frying. Pat dry the fillets with a towel or let them sit on strainer while finishing off the sauce.

Saute the bell peppers, onions, and garlic in another pan. Add the herbs and the lemon rind and season to taste. Pour the White Balsamic Vinegar  into the pan followed by the White Wine. Let it boil to simmer and squeeze lemon juice at the final stages of cooking.

Set the fillet at the center of the plate and pour the sauce on top of the fish. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, and garnish with finely diced green onions.

The White Balsamic Vinegar and the White Wine combination were the killer ingredients. Indeed, quality products can make food stand out.

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Chicken in Tomato Sauce (Afritada)

I probably have had the chance to work as a cook with three different old women who, as managers and grandmothers, also owned and operated their restaurants. All three were ethnic, and unfortunately, all were horrible experiences. My first ever experience with these owner ‘types’ was with a Filipino family in the suburbs seven years ago. I was new in the food service industry and in the country, and had no idea how restaurant operations spun.  I jumped in at every opportunity that was available just to earn the much needed experience.  I also felt that I had to know more Filipinos after living in my new adopted country for the last two years and the only way was to join a Filipino restaurant.

That experience expanded my network and for that short stint in that Filipino restaurant, life-long friends were developed. I needed that boost given that working dual jobs was isolating me from reality and universal existence.  It was not healthy and very, very stifling.   The Filipino restaurant I worked with served typical ‘turo-turo’ dishes as so with many other Filipino restaurants in the city.  ‘Kare-kare,’ ‘Kalderata,’ and ‘Adobo,’ were the typical fare; nothing really fancy and a bit overpriced.  That eventually led to its downfall and before that even happened, I was out.  It was a ‘fine dining’ restaurant; supposedly, but all I saw were usual Filipino food which, during my shifts, I completely avoided after seeing how it was prepared. Everything came from the package or packet and sauces were diluted to cut corners and save money.

Once in a while, the head cook will make some ‘Chicken Afritada,’ which I also didn’t touch nor try. It was drowning with oil and the tomato sauce from which it was braised in was very pale and looked extremely inedible. Moreover, ‘Chicken Afritada’ was a mainstay in my family dinner table as much as adobo and sinigang. It’s definitely an easy go-to-meal and easy meals as such can sometimes turn out bland as only enhanced by condiments like salt, chilis, fish sauce and ground black pepper.

This is my version of ‘Chicken Afritada.’ I didn’t exactly braise the chicken, which unlike beef, can be pan-fried and be finished off in the oven.  It didn’t come out as oily as I was introduced to and  Rosemary  and red wine were included for that extra bold flavour missing or lacking in many typical Filipino tomato sauce based dishes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Chicken Breast (cut with wing bone-in)
  • Red Bell Pepper
  • Green Bell Pepper
  • White Onions
  • Garlic
  • Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Fish Sauce
  • San Marzano type canned Tomatoes (blended or pureed)
  • Red Wine
  • Rosemary

Pan-fry the chicken breast, skin side down first, until golden brown and shove in a 350’C preheated oven.

Boil some potatoes and carrots until tender. Set aside to cool.  Cut into rings and pan-fry.

Dice some white onions, green and red bell peppers and mince a clove of garlic. Sauté the vegetables and Rosemary in olive oil and set aside.

Check the doneness of the chicken, and remove from the pan.  Using the same pan, sauté some finely diced onions, and deglaze the pan with red wine before adding some tomato sauce, ground black pepper and fish sauce  into the pan. Adjust the sauce with some water and strain.  Finish off with ground black pepper, a little more salt and fish sauce. Add more tomato sauce to attain the desired consistency; adjusting it with stock or water along the way.

Drizzle the sauce around the chicken breast alongside the vegetables. Sprinkle with olive oil and fish sauce before serving.

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