Slapdash Souvlaki

May was an INTENSE month here at the Ali Does It household. LongJohn went to daycare a month earlier than scheduled and I had a whole four weeks to get all the stuff done on the house I hadn’t had an opportunity to do when we moved in … because of the whole having-a-baby thing. Some of those projects are still in progress but I have SO MUCH to show you when they’re ready to be shown. If May was intense, then June is even more so. I went back to work full time AT A NEW JOB. And on my first day, I had HAND surgery. Today I’m having hand surgery on the OTHER hand. So things are a little nuts, to say the least. Luckily I have a bit of a backlog of posts for you guys. Let’s start with this one for the barbecue, now that we’re officially into grilling season.

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The Pie is a huge fan of souvlaki. We’re fortunate that some of the best souvlaki in town is only a short drive away. But it’s actually pretty easy to make your own souvlaki at home, provided you have some time to prep. Here’s how you can do it.

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First, let’s start with that most essential of condiments: tzatziki. You can always buy this but it’s easy to make as well. I rarely measure my amounts because I find they vary depending on my mood but here’s an approximation for you. Start off by grabbing about 1/2 cup plain yogurt and plopping it in a few layers of cheesecloth in a colander. Wrap it well and put something with a bit of weight on top. Place the colander over a bowl and shove it in the fridge for a few hours. I use Balkan style yogurt for this, but if you have Greek yogurt you can skip this step.

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After your yogurt has been pressed and some of the water has drained out, you can unwrap it and give the cheesecloth a bit of a rinse. You’re going to need it in a second.

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Grate up about half a cucumber. Plop the cucumber bits onto the cheesecloth, wrap it up, and give it a good squeeze over the sink and get rid of excess water.

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Now, tip that into a bowl together with the yogurt, some minced garlic, chopped fresh dill, salt, pepper, a few drops of lemon juice, and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Stir, stir, stir! Shove that back in the fridge for a few hours (preferably overnight) to let the flavours mingle.

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For the souvlaki we’re going to create a marinade. Start by finely chopping up a small red onion. I’m being smart here and using a large red onion because I’m making the recipe twice and chucking half of it in the freezer.

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Throw the onion bits in a large Ziploc freezer bag and tip in about 1/2 cup olive oil,

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2 tablespoons red wine vinegar,

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and 4 tablespoons lemon juice.

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Next plop in about 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 teaspoons dried (or fresh) oregano, and of course salt and pepper to taste.

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Wrangle yourself a decent-sized pork tenderloin (you can do this with chicken breast too). Don’t be tempted to use a pork shoulder or any other cut for this, as they’ll be too gristly when cubed. Trust me. I did it once when they were on sale and I regretted it. Pull the tough membrane off the tenderloin and trim any excess fat.

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Cut it into cubes.

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Chuck those cubes into your freezer bag.

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Seal the bag carefully, give it a good smushing together, and bung it in the fridge for several hours. While you’re waiting, grab some wooden skewers and plop them in a tray of water to soak for at least thirty minutes before you grill.

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When you’re set to start, shove the cubes of marinated meat onto your skewers (I like to use two skewers per so that they’re easier to flip) and grill until cooked through and at an internal temperature of about 145°F.

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Serve over rice with a hefty side of your fresh tzatziki and enjoy the summer!

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Creole Okra with Chicken and Tomatoes

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I don’t really know that much about southern food except that I like it a lot, and whenever I’m down south (I’m talking the southern US states here) I eat as much of it as I can. This dish started because I found okra at a good price at the grocery store and is more Creole-inspired than actually authentic (because again I don’t know much). It is adapted from something I found on The Kitchn. I doubled the amounts, prepared half this recipe in the pan and then chucked half of it in the freezer for later, like the clever person that I am†. Not that this recipe isn’t dead simple. I’m just lazy.

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I accompanied this one-dish meal with another dish: steamed beet greens.

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Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Zest 1 lemon.

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Gather your spices. Creole spice blends tend to run to mixtures of the following, so make one to suit your own taste (this one is about 1 teaspoon of each): onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, parsley, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne. The recipe I was looking at didn’t use creole spices; instead it called for a bit of cumin and coriander. So I just used everything. Set that aside for a few minutes.

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Start with your okra, about 1lb, and slice the tops off before cutting it in half lengthwise. Apparently people either love or hate okra, because it’s a bit slimy. I am ambivalent so far.

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Lay that on your baking sheet and sprinkle with about 1 cup (canned/drained/rinsed) black-eyed peas.

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Next, slice up a small white onion.

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Sprinkle that onto the pan, together with a few cloves crushed or minced garlic.

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Give that a good drizzle with some nice olive oil.

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Now here’s where I kind of diverged from the recipe. This dish is a good meal all in itself as a vegetarian option, but I feed boys (boys who are not vegetarians) so I had to chuck some meat in here somehow. In a large bowl, I threw 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs together with a 14oz can of diced tomatoes and your lemon zest.

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Then I chucked in all those lovely spices and gave it a good mixing.

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Spread the chicken and tomatoes evenly across the top of your peas and okra and shove it in the oven for about an hour. Give it a stir once or twice to make sure everything is browning evenly.

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We served ours over rice with the beet greens and it was pretty good. The Pie thought the okra was a little slimy (#1 reason why many people dislike it) but I thought it was pretty good!

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If you plan to freeze this recipe for later, I would recommend freezing it in two parts: in one bag goes the okra, peas, garlic, rice, and oil, and in the second bag goes the tomatoes, chicken, and spices. It just seems like a logical thing to do to tenderize the meat and prevent the peas and okra from getting too soggy.

Slow Cooker Texas Beef Chili

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Do you hate beans but like chili? Do you like beans but also like chili that’s a little different? Do you like chili? If you answered yes to any of the previous questions then this chili is for you. It’s beanless and beefy and incredibly satisfying, which is good because though it may be spring SOMEWHERE, in Ottawa we’ve had some major flooding and on Monday it stopped raining enough to SNOW. ALL. DAY. So we kind of need something cockle-warming. This chili is adapted from one my parents found on the internet and printed out and that I stole off their fridge in Florida and smuggled across the border.

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Start with 2lbs cubed beef chuck or stewing beef, and huck that in a non-stick skillet on high to sear all the sides. Chuck the browned beef into a large slow-cooker pot.

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Next, add in 2 tablespoons Worcestershire (“wooster”) sauce, 1 cup beef broth, a 28oz can of diced tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons tomato paste. Now, the recipe did not say to drain the tomatoes so I didn’t and I found my chili ended up a bit on the watery side (I also added twice as many tomatoes as the recipe asked for). I thickened the sauce with some cornstarch later on and it turned out super awesome, but I’ll leave it to your discretion to either drain the tomatoes or use a smaller can.

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Dice up the following: 1 white onion, 2 red bell peppers, 2 large carrots, 2 celery stalks, and a couple large green chilis. I used Anaheim chilis because they are huge and not too hot and I wanted to be able to feed this to LongJohn. Gather as well 1 tablespoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons paprika (ours is smoked), 1 teaspoon onion powder, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Chuck all that in the slow cooker.

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Don’t forget to give it a bit of a stir.

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Cook that sucker on low for 8-12 hours, or on high for about 6.

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Before serving, juice 1 lime and add the juice to the mix.

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Serve garnished with either grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, or chopped cilantro (or all of the above, who are we kidding?).

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Avocado Chocolate Mousse

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The other thing I made while we were in Florida was this amazingly simple (and kinda sorta almost healthy?) dessert. It was truly one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while. Now, here’s a caveat: I made it again once we got home to Ottawa and it was NOT as good.

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The avocados up here just aren’t as sweet as they were down south. So make sure you’re making this with the sweetest, ripest avocados you can find.

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But before that, rustle up some chocolate. I have here 7oz dark chocolate. This stuff has a touch of sea salt in it. If you don’t use salty chocolate I’d recommend adding a pinch of the stuff to the recipe. Bust up that chocolate and melt it in a double boiler. Set it aside for a few minutes to cool a bit.

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Grab yourself 4 ripe avocados.

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Scoop ’em out of the skin and plop them in a food processor. I had to use the baby food processor because that was all I had so I did everything in batches. If you have a normal-sized one then you can do everything in the one container. Tip in a couple tablespoons honey, to your taste. This was lavender flavoured honey and it was quite good.

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Add in as well a teaspoon or two of vanilla, just for flavour (people who think that chocolate and vanilla are binaries and can’t go together are crazypants). BLEND THE CRAPOLA OUT OF IT until you have green smooth lovely goodness.

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Now if you have a regular sized food processor, you can pour the melted chocolate into the avocados and blend, blend, blend. I only had a weenie baby food processor and I ran out of room.

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So here I am folding and whisking all that green and brown amazingness together. NBD.

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If you’re feeling fancy, before you serve the stuff, you can chill it and then whip it with a hand mixer to make it fluffy and moussey. And pipe it into cold pudding dishes.

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That missing spoonful was my uncle doing some Quality Control.

If you’re me you’ll dump giant spoons of it into room temperature dishes, top with whatever berries were in the fridge, and chill until dessert. You can see that my wee baby food processor didn’t do a super amazing job of making the pudding really smooth, but you can do better, right?

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This recipe serves four GENEROUSLY. Like, if you really like rich pudding you’ll eat your serving and love every second of it but kind of want to die afterwards. So maybe make it for six? Also keep in mind that this is best served the same day – we found that the next day the avocado flavour came through too strongly, but that was with the less-sweet avocados so what do I know?

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Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Still Amazing Angel Food Cake

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We’ve made this cake before. Many times. But I thought I’d make it again for a dual birthday celebration we had a few weeks ago. This cake was for the Pie’s grandmother, who recently turned NINETY. The next cake on our list I made for Papa John, her son, who turned SEVENTY at the same time. The Pie’s grandmother is a celiac and she’s also lactose-intolerant, so making her a special treat for her birthday was going to be a challenge I looked forward to.

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And why not actually go through the old traditional way where you make an angel food cake the same day as a devil’s food cake, so that you can use up all the yolks? So the devil’s food cake will be in my next post – stay tuned!

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Begin with your egg whites. Separate 12 eggs, saving the yolks for the chocolate cake coming up (you can freeze them), and bring them to room temperature. Normally I do this by leaving the bowl in a patch of sun on my counter but if you’re in a hurry, you can set the bowl in warm water and that’ll do the trick too. Don’t try to use pasteurized egg whites from a carton: they will not whip at all. I’ve tried.

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Plop your 12 egg whites in the bowl of your electric mixer with 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar and 2 teaspoons vanilla (or however much a generous dollop is. I never measure vanilla).

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Beat that with the whisk attachment until it’s nice and thick and foamy, and then slowly tip in 1 cup granulated sugar while you beat it some more. It’s the sugar that makes the meringue here stiff and solid, so don’t skimp on it!

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The meringue should be stiff enough to support the weight of the beater if you took it off the armature and set it on top.

Once that’s ready you can set it aside for the moment and whisk together your “flour.” In this case, our tried-and-true combination for gluten-free gorgeousness is 1 1/3 cups icing sugar, 1/2 cup tapioca flour/starch, 1/4 cup cornstarch, 1/4 cup rice flour, 1 teaspoon xanthan gum, and 1/4 teaspoon (a pinch) fine salt.

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Fold that flour mixture into the meringue mixture very carefully. You have to be gentle enough that you don’t smush the bubbles in the egg white, but thorough enough that you’re not leaving pockets of flour in the batter.

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Good enough.

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Smooth the batter into an UNGREASED angel food pan (can’t stress that enough, never grease your angel food pan or it will fall out on you).

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Pop that in the oven for 35 minutes, until the top is golden-brown and dry to the touch. If you see cracks, that’s good.

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Fantastic. Now take it out of the oven and invert it over a bottle or if it has feet, stand it on the feet. This keeps the cake from collapsing under its own weight as it cools. Once it cools it’s a lot more firm. The gluten-free version is always way squishier than the gluten-y one so this is very important.

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Here’s my issue: my angel food pan is actually NON-STICK. So as I was inverting it, the bottom segment shifted away from the sides and I bobbled the whole thing, dropping it with a clatter. KABOOM.

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At precisely that moment and not ten feet away, the Pie had just put his elbow down on LongJohn’s plate, spectacularly spattering his lunch all over the floor and wall. Windows too. That’s the kind of day we were having.

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So I made another one. Which meant that we had not just 12, but 24 egg yolks. And a busted cake. “I guess that means we’re having trifle for dessert tonight,” said the Pie as he scrubbed hummus off the wall.

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So that’s what we did. But that’s neither here nor there. I made the other cake. And it turned out even better than the previous one.

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You can see that the pan is trying its best to screw me over by separating. Jerk.

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Once the cake has cooled you can decant it from the pan and decorate it as you see fit. I usually whip up some cream and slather it all over with some fresh berries, but the Pie’s grandmother is also lactose intolerant, so I decided to try whipping coconut cream instead.

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Coconut cream is a bit harder to find in Ottawa than regular coconut milk, but I eventually tracked some down in the local health food store. I was told by the cashier that the trick in getting it good and whippy is to make sure the cream, beaters, and bowl are all extremely cold. So the 2 cans coconut cream went into the fridge overnight and the beaters and the bowl went into the freezer.

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I tipped the cream into the ice cold mixer bowl together with a few tablespoons icing sugar and a dobble or two of vanilla bean paste and gave it a whirl with the whisk attachment.

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It takes a while, and it doesn’t get as stiff as whipped dairy cream, but it sure tastes good.

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Slather that all over the cake. It’s a bit slippery so make sure to keep it in the fridge until you’re serving. Does anyone know if there’s some kind of stiffening agent you could add to make it stay put?

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Pop some berries on top and in the hole in the middle and we are good to go!

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Apple-Citrus Cranberry Sauce

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Oh hey, do you have a recipe for cranberry sauce for this weekend yet? I’ve been resting on the laurels of my chipotle cranberry mix but this year I wanted something a bit different and now this is my new favourite. This one is easier, too, which makes life better around the holidays.

Start with 2 12oz packages fresh cranberries, 2 large apples, and 2 large oranges. If you’d like a bit of extra zip, replace the oranges with grapefruit and go from there.

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Wash the cranberries and set them aside to drain.

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Peel the apples and cut them into small pieces (whatever size you would like to find dropped across your turkey).

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Zest and juice the oranges into a medium saucepan.

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Tip in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and give it a good stir.

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Tip in the apples and cranberries and heat over medium, stirring often.

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The liquid will simmer up and the cranberries will make very satisfying soft pops as they break open.

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Once you’re happy with your ratio of broken cranberries, remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to chill.

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This makes about 2 quarts, so plenty of sauce for dealing with leftovers!

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PB & J Gooballs

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These are a great little snack when you’re on the go and need some protein. Or when you are pacing around your house with a small baby and have only one hand to get sustenance. Also good for children as a wee treat when they come home from school (although if you’re going to feed these to children under 1 year of age, replace the honey with maple syrup or something else, because botulism ain’t a joke). They were called “snack bites” on the website where I got the original idea but I think GOO BALLS is a way better term. So gooballs they will be. These ones taste like a peanut butter and jam sandwich, but you can pretty much customize these however you would like.

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Your basic ingredients are as follows: 1 cup oats, 1/2 cup peanut butter (or sun butter, or whatever), and 1/4 cup honey. The rest is up to you.

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I added in a few tablespoons ground flax, for health reasons.

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And a handful of Reese peanut butter chips, for non-health reasons.

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And some freeze-dried raspberries, because I had them on hand and they’re tasty as heck. Any dried fruit will do, provided you cut it up pretty small.

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Assemble all your dry ingredients. I crumbled the raspberries in my hand so they were smaller.

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Tip in the wet ingredients.

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Stir!

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Chill that for about 30 minutes, then take it out and roll a couple tablespoons’ worth of it into a ball. Repeat until you run out.

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Store these suckers in the fridge to keep them firm and less sticky. ENJOY!

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