Along the Grapevine


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Homemade Ketchups

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Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

If I were permitted only one type of recipe to work on, it would have to be for condiments. Even the simplest dish can be greatly improved with a good quality sauce, chutney, spice mixture or yes, even ketchup. Ketchup has a bad rep among foodies, no doubt as a result of the association with the over-processed, overly sweet products we find in the grocery store. Maybe we should call it ‘sweet and sour sauce’ instead, but the fact remains that a home-made ketchup has so many uses besides tarting up our macaroni and cheese or burgers. It can be used in dressings, marinade, added to sandwiches, soups, stews and vegetables.

I have already given a recipe for wild grape ketchup in a previous post, and I regularly make my own tomato ketchup. Instead of making a big batch of it in tomato season, I just freeze tomato puree, made by heating whole tomatoes, passing them through the food mill and then cooking them down to a thick sauce, to be used throughout the winter as needed. Now I can make tomato ketchup in a few minutes, and change the recipe according to how I plan to use it. Recipes vary according to the spices used: hot and spicy or sweet and tangy. For my recipe here I used sumac powder, but of course you can add any spices or herbs according to what you have around or what kind of flavour you are looking for.

This ketchup is not very red, because I used all varieties of tomatoes, including some yellow ones. If colour matters, then use red tomatoes, or even tinned puree if necessary. I have also made yellow ketchup  with yellow tomatoes, tumeric and mustard.

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Tomato Ketchup with Sumac

Tomato Ketchup with Sumac

1 cup tomato puree

2 Tbsp sugar (any kind)

1/4 cup cider vinegar

pinch of salt

1 Tbsp sumac powder

Mix all the ingredients together in a pot, heat and simmer until the right consistency, about 10 minutes.

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Frozen Highbush Cranberries

I have still quite a few highbush cranberries in my freezer to use. So far, I have used them to make liqueur, cranberry sauce and candied fruit. The good thing about them is, besides being easy to pick, they freeze well and are even better after being frozen because they become juicier. I was concerned they might be too runny, so decided to add apple sauce, but in fact after I strained them, they were pulpier than expected. I also decided to try a few sweet spices so that I wouldn’t need to sweeten them with too much sugar. Again, other spices can be used, but I was looking for sweet so came up with a mixture of licorice root, cinnamon and fennel seeds. This was made by putting 1 stick of licorice root, 1 stick of cinnamon and 1 Tbsp of fennel seeds in a cup of water, simmering it until there was about 2 Tbsp of dark syrup.

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Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

Highbush Cranberry Ketchup

2 cups highbush cranberries

1 cup sugar

2 Tbsp spiced syrup

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce

Put the cranberries and sugar in a saucepan with the spiced syrup and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer until the berries are really soft and appear cooked. They will get a little dark. This will take about 15 minutes

Strain this through a food mill or a sieve using the back of a spoon to press it through. Return to the pan, add vinegar and apple sauce. Continue to simmer until the right thickness, another 15 minutes.

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Falafel Burger with Pickle and Cranberry Ketchup


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Candied Squash or Kabak Tatlisi

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Kabak Tatlisi with black walnuts

This blog is about wild food, which means I have to use a little imagination to incorporate the wild edibles with recipes I am eager to share. This dessert is a recipe worth sharing, with or without the wild element, but it does highlight the black walnuts in a spectacular way. If that sounds a bit of exaggeration, I can honestly say this is my all time favourite dessert.

I first discovered it in South America where it is called ‘zapillo en almibar’, and consists of cubes of squash in a sweet syrup. The addition of pickling lime, or calcium hydroxide gives it a firm exterior while keeping the interior beautifully soft and smooth.

I later discovered that this sweet originated in Turkey and is called Kabak Tatlisi. I have been making it for years, but just now learned its name. I found many recipes on line for it, a few even in English, but they are a little different from the way my Turkish friends taught me. Most of the recipes I found added some water, and they cooked it in a pot on the stove. I am sticking with my Turkish friends’ recipe, which is simple and fail-proof – no water and poached in the oven. Instead of using cane sugar, I used maple sugar, which should appeal to anyone who likes maple, which is to say Canadians. But any sugar is good. I also used black walnuts, which are a great contrast to the sweet syrup. You can use any walnuts, or other toppings such as sesame seeds, pistachios, filberts. I even saw it with a tahini sauce on top.

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Shelled black walnuts

This same method is used for figs, green walnuts, eggplant and tomatoes. I have tried the first three but not the tomatoes. Squash is still my favourite. The traditional squash, I have read, is butternut, but any squash which is firm when cooked works well. I used a hubbard squash.

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Hubbard squash

The recipe is simply this:  Chop or slice the squash and cover it in a bowl with sugar. Let it sit until the sugar turns into a syrup, several hours. You can hasten this a bit by stirring it gently, especially if using a coarse grain sugar like maple. Put the whole lot into a baking dish. I baked it for about half an hour at 325 F, until the squash feels soft when poked with a sharp knife. Serve with walnuts sprinkled on top.

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Squash after a few hours of soaking in maple sugar

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Squash in syrup ready for the oven

My Turkish friends told me equal weight of sugar and squash. So my first recipe, pictured above, I did exactly that. The next time, pictured below, I used only half the sugar and mixed cane and maple. The important thing is to have enough syrup that it doesn’t harden before the squash it cooked. One way to ensure that does not happen is to use a pan which will not spread out the syrup too thinly. I prefer to use more rather than less sugar, since  left over syrup can always be used in baking, on pancakes, ice cream etc.

It occurred to me to serve it with whipped cream, but did not bother. I am now wondering if there might be an ice cream dessert there somewhere.

Note: You can cut it in slices or cubes. Just be sure the pieces are all the same size so that they cook evenly. Also, if in slices, it should not be too thin, no less than half an inch, because the creamy texture of the squash would be partly lost.

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Reduced sugar version


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Jerusalem Artichoke, Mushroom and Black Walnut Soup

I only recently considered walnuts as an ingredient for soup, so when I looked on line for some recipes was surprised by how many are out there – bouillons, thick vegetable soups, Chinese dessert soups, even a few which featured my theme of the week – black walnuts. I did try one from a blog I follow which made good use of the strong flavour of black walnuts with squash. After that first success, I made my own with ingredients I happened to have on hand, namely Jerusalem artichokes, cremini (brown) mushrooms and walnuts. The combination of these local flavours worked really well, although I would not discourage anyone from coming up with other ingredients, maybe cauliflower, turnip, cabbage or whatever. There is no need for stock in this soup, as the flavours of the nuts and vegetables are strong enough on their own.

The artichokes were the last of the ones I dug up in the fall. I intended to cover my patch with mulch, and just rake it back over the winter months for some freshly dug ‘chokes. With all the snow we have had and the super low temperature, just as well I did not bother. All  the more for spring.

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Jerusalem artichokes

Cremini are of the same family as the white button mushrooms and are often sold next to them, at a little higher price. They are simply white mushrooms which are allowed to mature, which means they are sturdier and have a stronger flavour than the ‘babies’. If allowed to grow even larger, you get the portobello. These ‘browns’ keep well covered in the fridge, and although any mushrooms will work in this recipe, I was glad to have these on hand.

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Cremini mushrooms

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Chopped mushrooms

Further to my last post on walnuts, I managed to photograph one walnut cut open. You will see the difference between it and other walnuts.

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A cracked open black walnut

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Pieces of black walnut extracted from shell

The nut is lighter in colour, with a much darker skin covering.

It is smaller, and because of the tough shell, it is difficult to remove all in one piece. But a little goes a long way, and chopping helps spread them around. By the time you extract the nut from the shell, the chopping is all done.

Jerusalem Artichoke, Mushroom and Black Walnut Soup

1 lb Jerusalem artichokes

2 Tbsp oil

1 onion, chopped

1/2 lbs mushrooms, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup walnuts

1 tsp salt

3 cups water

Boil the artichokes until soft and peel them. Blend them in a blender or food processor with half the water.

Fry the onions in the oil until translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue frying until they are cooked.

Add the walnuts, Jerusalem artichokes, salt and the rest of the water. Simmer to heat through for about five minutes.

Garnish however you like, if at all. I put some sumac powder on it for a bit of colour and flavour.

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Jerusalem artichoke, mushroom and black walnut soup


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Black Walnuts

Black walnuts are another one of those local delicacies which have been largely ignored, or even avoided in the belief that they are inedible. But once I learned that they are indeed edible, and that there are lots of them growing in my own neighbourhood, I wanted some. We have none on our property, but a friend kindly offered me some of her harvest, and I eagerly accepted. Thank you Brenda.  And here they are, fresh off the tree, in October.

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And so began my black walnut project.

1. Peel. This is fairly simple. Just score the nut around the equator with a sharp knife and twist off the outer layers. It is essential to wear impermeable gloves to protect your hands from the black goo underneath which stains terribly. I found it took two weeks for the stain to wear off my one unprotected hand.

2. Wash. You can swirl them in buckets of water, a few times, still wearing the gloves, but we used a pressure washer and it did a super job in just a few seconds.

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3. Dry. Too large for my dehydrator, I put them in the oven at 175 degrees F for a few hours. Because they are so large and I wanted to do it slowly, I turned off the oven a few times, and extended the drying period to about 8 hours. When they felt lighter, I figured (hoped) they were ready. The wonderful scent peculiar to this kind of nut was my first experience with their distinctive, pungent flavour.

4. Set aside to age, for at least three months, in a cool, dry place.

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5. Shell. This is by far the most daunting of all the tasks. They are the hardest nut to crack that I have ever come came across, and I wasn’t too sure if I would be able to continue with this project. We did a few using a vise, but that required more strength than I possess, and this was my project I wanted to do on my own. So finally, I wrapped one at a time in a tea towel, and took a mallet to them on the basement floor.  A rock would also work, as you need a really hard surface beneath. I would not recommend doing it on your furniture or kitchen counter. The towel was supposedly to protect bits of shell from flying into my eyes, but with my gentle approach that was not a problem. The tea towel did help to hold the nut in place while I cajoled it open. It took only a few not very powerful taps with the mallet until I felt the shells collapse. After the first few, I was able to gage the force required to break it into a two or three pieces but not so much that the entire nut was in smithereens.

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If all this seems like a lot of effort, take note that these nuts have such a strong flavour that only a few are needed in any recipe. It is difficult to describe a flavour, but to me these walnuts are to the more common ones what pumpernickel is to white bread. I will soon be publishing some of the recipes I have come up with to make the best use I can of these precious nuts.


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What is Za’atar and How to Make it?

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Naan with za’atar

As part of my promotion of sumac, I would be remiss not to write about za’atar, a tangy Middle Eastern mix made of herbs, sesame seeds, sometimes spices, and often sumac, the latter being indispensable in my mind.

I was introduced to it as a topping on pita bread, but it is also served with plain pita, dipped first in olive oil and then in the za’atar. I have since learned to use it in dressings, with vegetables, meat, fish, sprinkled on hummus or yogurt, in short just about everything but dessert. It makes a pretty amazing addition to bread and butter too, especially a good, fresh, home-made variety.

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Hummus with za’atar sprinkled on top

It is easily found in any Middle Eastern shop, and each time I have bought it, it has been a little different from any other. That is because the mixture can have only a few ingredients or many, dried or fresh herbs, with or without spices and with or without sumac. The za’atar I have bought keeps very well for as long as most dried herbs, which means it has probably already lost a lot of its flavour by the time I buy it.

So I decided to make my own mixture with what I had on hand. The result was recognizable, but much zippier than any I had bought, and a much prettier colour. You can actually taste the different ingredients, but the overall flavour is unlike any other. If you use dried herbs, it will keep longer, but I think if you have some fresh ones, use them. Make as much as you can use in a week, and keep it in a sealed container in a cool place. This amount I was able to use easily in two days, and I look forward to my next batch soon.

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Ingredients for za’atar

Recipe for Za’atar

2 Tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted

2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped

2 tsp ground sumac

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp coarse salt

Mix all the ingredients together.

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Za’atar

You can also use dried or fresh marjoram or oregano as well as thyme, and in any proportion you like. This recipe just serves as a base – no need to follow it slavishly!


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Pulled Venison with Wild Grape Ketchup

At this time of year, our hunter friends often regale us with a good supply of venison –  a real treat. I have learned how to cook it through experiment. As all game, it can be tough and needs some special care and attention, especially if it is not a young animal.  I  learned that an acidic marinade of wild fruit and berries, sometimes beer or wine is what it really needs as a tenderiser. So when I decided to try a pulled venison and found no suitable recipe on-line, I used my wild grape ketchup I made in the summer. As it is already rich in flavour, I added only some juniper berries as a spice along with garlic and onion. My own junipers are buried in snow, so for the time being cannot experiment with them. I used some commercial ones which you can find in most good shops selling spices.

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If you don’t have any wild grape ketchup on hand, you can use the recipe I have given and simply use a dark grape juice.

Pulled Venison

1 venison roast (approx. 4 lbs)

1 1/2 cups wild grape ketchup

2 onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

juice of 1 lemon

2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

10 juniper berries, crushed

1 Tbsp liquid smoke (optional)

1 tsp salt

Cut the roast into four pieces. Place it in a slow cooker. Mix the remaining ingredients and pour over it. Turn the slow cooker on to high, and once it is good and hot turn to low and cook for 6-8 hours, until the meat can be pulled.

Remove the meat from the sauce, pull it with two forks. Meanwhile, continue cooking the sauce while pulling the pork. Remove about 1 cup to be used as a sauce, and put the pulled meat into the remaining sauce and heat through.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you could do it in a heavy, covered pan in the oven 325 F to begin with and then when hot lower it to 275 F for roughly the same amount of time.

This can be used as a sandwich filling, but I served it on a bed of mashed turnip, potato and parsnip with sauteed brussel sprouts on the side. It was every bit as tender and tasty as I expected it to be.

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Jerusalem Artichoke Biscuits

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sumac berries

First of all, I made a jelly from sumac and crabapples. This was pretty simple. I used 1 cup of each ingredient: crabapples, sumac berries, sugar and water. I cooked the fruit together in the water, covered, till all were soft. After straining it through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, I added the sugar and cooked until it thickened enough. With all the pectin from the crabapples, this is not a problem. Rather, be careful not to overcook it. I find the best method is to take a small sample, put it in saucer and if it thickens as it cools it is ready.

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crabapple and sumac jelly

Then I needed something to taste this jelly with, so I came up with this tea biscuit recipe as the first in my experiments in baking with jerusalem artichoke flour. The artichoke flour is pretty concentrated, so you don’t need much. I did not add sugar so that I could use these with sweet jams and jellies, and also with savoury. It was equally good with the jelly and with pesto (I used dandelion pesto I made last spring) with some parmesan on top. It is a light biscuit, and not as dry as many of the gluten-free ones I have tried. It was enough of a success that I have made it a few times since.

Jerusalem Artichoke Tea biscuits

2 Tbsp jerusalem artichoke flour

1/3 cup tapioca starch

2/3 cup rice flour

1/2 tsp guar gum

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 Tbsp oil

2 Tbsp milk (or almond milk)

1 egg

Mix the egg and oil together and add to the dry ingredients. Mix just until blended. Spoon out the batter, flatten slightly, place in a baking dish and bake at 350 for 20 min. This recipe makes 6 biscuits. This recipe can be doubled.

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Sumac Recipes

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Since I posted my first recipe for sumac in the early summer, I have had time to figure out other ways in which to use this lemony goodness. The sumac I refer to is the Staghorn Sumac. Unlike the sumac with white flowers, it is not poisonous. However, try a little at first, as some people may have allergies to it.

First, I made dried sumac powder. I have been buying this for years from Middle Eastern and Asian shops, and always wondered if I could duplicate it with our own sumac.  So that is one puzzle solved. I generally use it in place of lemon in spicy curries, tagine, soups etc, but always parsimoniously because it is hard to find. Now I can use it with abandon.

To make the powder, simply pick or scrape off the berries, and place them on a cookie sheet in a 175 F oven until they feel completely dry.  This will take probably 4 to 6 hours, depending on how much space they have. I prefer to err on the side of too long, and keep an eye on them. Then put them in a food processor or blender and chop them up as finely as possible, and pass them through a sieve.

Dried sumac

My next project was sumac molasses. Not really molasses, but I wanted to replace my pomegranate molasses with something made from local ingredients. I used 6 cups of firmly packed fresh sumac berries, covered them in water and pressed them tightly down so that I would need the minimum amount of water. I simmered them covered for about half an hour to an hour. I strained off the liquid and added it to 1 cup of brown sugar, then simmered it until all the sugar was dissolved.

The purpose for this ‘molasses’ was for use in some Middle Eastern recipes, and in particular a Persian recipe called Fesenjun. I was first introduced to this by my father when he returned from working in Iran, and I later learned to make different versions of it myself. It is simply a sauce made of walnuts and pomegranate juice (or molasses) cooked with duck, chicken, and I believe other meats.

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I used a whole chicken because that is what I had to work with, but pieces or fillets would work just as well. Just adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Fesenjun

1 chicken

oil for frying

2 onions, diced

1 cup walnuts, coarsely ground

1 cup sumac molasses

salt and pepper to taste

Brown the chicken on all sides in some oil in a roasting pan. Remove the chicken, pour out any excess oil except a little to which you add the onions. Fry until soft and add the walnuts. Fry for another two minutes. Add the sumac and salt and pepper. Return the chicken to the pot, cover, and place in a preheated oven at 325 F. It took about two hours, and the last half hour I removed the lid.

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Traditionally this is served with rice, but I had potatoes, pickled plums and mixed steamed greens from the garden. I am pleased to report that the sumac molasses worked very well with this recipe. All the ingredients, except the walnuts, were locally grown, but I hope soon to gather some local black walnuts which will make this a truly Ontario, albeit Persian-inspired, dish.

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Jerusalem Artichoke and Fennel Soup

100_0653In the midst of dehydrating jerusalem artichokes, I decided to put a few fresh ones aside to make a soup. I also have an abundance of fennel in the garden, so the two ingredients seemed to make sense.

Just remember that if you are not accustomed to eating the artichokes, go easy at first. It is because of the inulin that some people have difficulty with them, but I read that if you cook them at a low temperature, it makes them more digestible. I don’t want to put you off – just want to be cautious.

My recipes are usually just a suggestion for how to use the not-so-familiar ingredients. There is no reason you can’t substitute whatever other than the main ingredient. If you don’t have fennel, celery, celeriac, turnip etc. would all work well.

Jerusalem Artichoke Fennel Soup Recipe

1 lb. (2 cups) chopped jerusalem artichokes

1 large potato, chopped

oil for frying

1 small fennel bulb, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups stock (recipe follows or use your own)

1 cup milk (I used almond, but any milk or even cream would work)

juice of 1 lemon or lime

Method

Boil the artichokes and potato in the stock until tender. Blend, roughly if you prefer. Fry the onion, garlic and fennel. When they are cooked, but not browned, add the vegetables in their stock along with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the milk and heat through. Just before serving, add the juice.

For the stock

A bouquet of fennel greens, stems and flowers. Put them in a pan with 2 cups of water, bring to a boil and cover, then simmer for about 15 minutes. Strain.

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Note: I prefer soups not to be over blended, so I blended the potato and artichokes separate. The fennel and onion I just chopped finely enough for soup. If you like a velvety consistency, you can cook and emulsify everything together.


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Beets with wild grape glaze

This is a quick and easy recipe using the wild grape ketchup from my last post. You could do it equally well with other berry preserves or chutneys, but I find the flavour and colour of the grape goes particularly well with the beets, which are now ready to be picked from the garden.

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You can vary the ingredients and quantities as you like, but for those who like clearly written recipes, this is what I did.

6 medium beets

4  onions

1/4 cup oil

2 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp wild grape ketchup

salt and pepper to taste

Cut the beets and onions into wedges or rings. Fry them together on a medium heat in the oil until the onions are soft, but not brown, about 10 minutes.

Add just enough water (about 1 cup, depending on the surface are of the pan you are using) so that they will not dry out completely. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally and checking that there is enough liquid. Add the ketchup, honey and seasoning and simmer another couple of minutes.

This recipe can be made ahead and reheated in the oven. The extra cooking improves the glaze.

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