Asian Chicken Chopped Salad

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Coming home from vacation is always hard, but it’s even harder when that vacation is centered around delicious food, as Alaskan cruises almost always are. This past week I’ve been missing my daily breakfast buffet, the mid-day tea and cupcake social, and the calorie laden 3-course meals that I became accustomed to on the ship. My waistline, on the other hand, is not. After a couple depressing attempts to fit into my summer clothes, I decided that it was time to undo all those lovely inches that I brought back with me from my trip. But how do you go from stuffing your face morning, noon, and night to eating like a rabbit and being happy about it? The trick is it to load up on lean protein and fiber-packed foods that will help fill you up quicker, and keep you fuller longer. Which is why I’ve been living off of my homemade chopped salad for the last few days. Continue reading

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Pesto Pasta Salad

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Well the Mid-West is finally getting those hot temperatures that we’re known for, which means that my stove will be getting no love for a couple months. I just can’t think of anything worse than sweating over a hot oven after spending the entire day sweating over everything else in the house. Now, it’s only been in the 80’s for a couple weeks, but I’ve already burned my family out on salads and grilled meats, making meal planning a challenge. In the mornings I find myself standing in my kitchen staring at my stove with utter contempt, thinking How can I avoid firing you up tonight? And that’s when a brilliant idea occurred to me: why not cook dinner early before the house heats up, then serve it cold come evening? Why not turn the pasta I was planning to make into a cold noodle salad? Why not? I said, and so I did!

Pesto Pasta Salad

Serves 4-6

  • 1- 1½ lbs. thin spaghetti, broken in half
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, tender parts only, cut into 2″ pieces
  • 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 4 cooked chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces (see recipe below) – omit to make this dish vegetarian
  • ½-¾ cup pesto (see recipe below)
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • Fresh grated parmesan cheese for serving

Cook pasta per package instructions, and at the end of the cooking time add asparagus to the pot and cook for 2 minutes. Pour pasta and asparagus into a colander and run cold water into the colander until pasta and asparagus are cool. Shake the colander to remove excess water from pasta and place pasta and asparagus in a large serving bowl. Add tomatoes, pesto, and chicken and toss to combine (now I like to use my hands because I don’t mind getting dirty and it’s easier to incorporate the ingredients without tearing the pasta, but a pair of cooking tongs will work as well). Season with salt and pepper. Either serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 days. Sprinkle with parmesan just before serving.

Lemon Chicken

  • 4-6 chicken breasts
  • ½ cup dry white wine, like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
  • ½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Fresh cracked pepper, to taste
  • Cooking spray

Place chicken and all remaining ingredients in a large resealable plastic bag and allow to marinate, refrigerated, for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.

Mist a large skillet with cooking spray and set over medium heat. Add chicken, cover skillet, and cook until brown on the skillet side and the chicken starts to become opaque throughout, about 5 minutes. Flip, cover skillet, and cook until the other side is brown and chicken is no longer pink in the center, about 3-5 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a plate and allow to cool before cutting. Chicken can be made and refrigerated up to 3 days prior to being added to the salad.

Homemade Pesto

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Homemade Pesto

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves, torn
  • ¼ Tbsp. pine nuts
  • ¼ Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • ¼ Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Add garlic, basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, salt, lemon juice, and 1 Tbsp. oil to a food processor. Process until just beginning to come together, then while the machine is still running, slowly drizzle in remaining oil and continue to blend until smooth and paste-like. Season with pepper and more salt if needed.

 

Stuff My Kid Eats: Roast Chicken Salad with Butternut Squash and Barley

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Lunchtime at our house can be a battle. Up until a few months ago I would change-up our lunch options rather frequently, and my daughter was usually pretty cool with it, but recently she’s discovered a new streak of independence and wants none of that. Most of the parenting books I’ve read say that toddlers should be allowed to make a couple decisions throughout the day, so I decided to let her choose her mid-day meal (within reason). But it’s always the same. “I want peanut butter sandwich – no jelly. Grapes. Carrots. Cottage Cheese. And milk, please…… Pretty please may I have it right now?!!!!” (The last part was added because it takes me longer than 5 seconds to make her lunch.) Now because I’m a mom, I always attempt to offer her a second option; “Mommy’s having blank, are you sure you don’t want some, too?” And this is where she acts as if her world is crumbling down (especially if I utter the word salad, which can single-handedly bring the child to tears). “No!” she cries, and repeats her original request in a quavery voice. I almost always acquiesce, but as we set down to eat, I notice her grubby little hand reach across the counter to steal some of my food. “Oh that’s good, Mom!” she’ll say, then abandon her sandwich and start eating off my plate. (This is why at any given moment you’ll find a neglected, half-eaten peanut butter sandwich in my refrigerator.) So, although my toddler strives so hard for her independence, she is still human, which means that the grass will always be greener on mommy’s side of the fence, and this is what’s on mommy’s side of the fence today…

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Roast Chicken Salad with Butternut Squash and Barley

This is a great lunchtime salad; it’s light, it’s healthy, and it has everything you need for a satisfying meal right in one bowl – not to mention it makes plenty of leftovers for the rest of week! Note: vegetarians, see VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS at the end of the post. (Recipe slightly adapted from Men’s Health magazine)

  • 1 cup pearl barley or farro, rinsed
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 4 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. cround cumin
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups roughly torn rotisserie chicken (bones and skin removed)
  • 2 small parsnips, peeled and shaved
  • 3 cups peeled and thinly cut butternut squash
  • 1 ½ cups red seedless grapes, halved
  • ½ cup chopped Italian parsley
  • ¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 3 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled

Place the barley or farro in a medium pot with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender, about 25-45 minutes (or per package instructions). Drain and cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, OJ, ginger, cumin, salt, and pepper.

Add the barley/farro, torn chicken, parsnips, squash, grapes, and parsley to the bowl; toss everything to coat with the dressing. Top with pumpkin seeds and goat cheese and serve.

VEGETARIAN MODIFICATION: Replace chicken with 1 15-oz. can of pinto beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed.

Stuff My Kid Eats: Lettuce Wraps

Stuff My Kid Eats

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“Lettuce tacos” is what my toddler calls this fun but healthy meal. She loves it when I set up all the serving dishes in the middle of the table, let her pick her own ingredients (with assistance), roll her own wrap (also with assistance), and eat with her hands (no assistance required – except for the sweeping I get to do after she lets everything spill from the open end of her wrap).

Lettuce Wraps

This is probably the healthiest thing I’ve ever made (EVER), yet you’d never know it because it’s packed with tons of flavor, texture, and hands-on fun. I mean who doesn’t love building their own “lettuce taco?” Nobody, that’s who. Another excellent thing about this dish is that it can be served warm or cold. (For cold, prepare all the ingredients, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.)  

Lettuce Wraps

Serves 4

  • 8 outer leaves from about 2 heads of Boston lettuce, separated and washed (reserve small inside leaves for another use)
  • 4 cups prepackaged broccoli slaw
  • 5 Tbsp. coconut oil, divided
  • 4 Tbsp. pineapple juice
  • 4 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1¾  cups coconut water
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 2 Tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. oyster sauce (vegetarians use soy sauce)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Choose one (or a couple) of the following proteins: 

  • 1 lb. ground turkey or chicken
  • 1 lb. uncooked shrimp, (peeled, deveined, and tails removed) coarsely chopped
  • 2 – 14oz. packages of extra firm tofu, cut into very small cubes

Preparation:

Arrange lettuce leaves on a serving platter. Set aside.

Place broccoli slaw in a serving bowl, then whisk together coconut oil, juice, vinegar, and green onions until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over slaw and let sit for at least 10 minutes.

Bring coconut water and a pinch of salt to a boil in a saucepan. Add rice and continue to boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Cover and reduce heat to low, simmer for 35-45 minutes, or until water has absorbed and rice is tender. Once rice has finished cooking, add mustard and stir to combine. Season with pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 Tbsp. coconut oil, garlic, and protein of your choice and sauté until cooked through. Add oyster sauce and black pepper, and stir until combined. Transfer to a bowl for serving. (Note: if you’ve chosen to use more than one protein, cook separately, wiping out the skillet between batches.)

Place all serving bowls on the table and let everyone assemble their own wraps.

To assemble: 

Fill lettuce leaves with a spoonful of rice, then a spoonful of protein, and top with broccoli slaw. Pick up leaves and eat like you would a taco.

Sidekick: Pair with a glass of Pinot Noir, Merlot, or Rosé.

Pesto Pastina Soup with Sourdough Grilled Cheese

I was watching the Weather Channel the other day (because that’s what plays in the locker room at my gym), and I noticed how divided the country is in terms of temperatures this month. The East Coast is still getting slammed with snow, yet the South is enjoying digits in the mid-80’s. The rest of us are somewhere in between; warm, sunny days immediately followed by cold, sleety days. So how, then, does a food blogger go about preparing a soup to satisfy our bipolar March climate? Well, it has to be versatile, that’s how. It needs to be a soup that’s substantial enough to take the chill off the brave souls on the Eastern Seaboard, yet one light enough for those of you already squeezing into bikinis (darn you!). I started rummaging through my dusty mental card catalogue of soup recipes, when suddenly it hit me: Ah ha! Pesto Pastina! Pastina, (literally meaning “tiny dough”) is any variation of small pasta. Pretty much any shape will work in this recipe, and I found some fun ones while perusing the pasta aisle at the grocery store (stars, the alphabet, little squiggly guys). The pastina adds a little bit of starch without making the soup too heavy, and the pesto adds a low-calorie punch of flavor. (Also, this soup can also be adapted for vegetarians, see VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS at the end of the recipe.) { Arancini di pepe pastina, or “little peppercorns” } Pesto Pastina Soup Serves 4-6

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3-4 celery stalks, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups chicken stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • ⅓ cup dry pastina, any shape
  • 2 cups pre-cooked chicken (either reserved from chicken stock recipe or store bought)
  • 3 Tbsp. pesto (see recipe below or use store bought)
  • Fresh grated Parmesan for serving
  • 4-6 lemon wedges for serving

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add celery, carrots, and onion and sauté until soft and onion starts to become translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to low. Add pastina, partially cover, then continue to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, add chicken and pesto and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle soup into pre-heated bowls and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with a wedge of lemon for squeezing. VEGETARIAN MODIFICATIONS:

  • Replace chicken stock with vegetable broth (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • Replace chicken with a 15-oz. can of cannellini beans, drained

Pesto Homemade pesto is delicious and easy to make. This recipe yields a little more than you need for the soup, but that’s okay, because you can use the extra to add flavor to other dishes: spoon a tablespoon or two into cooked pasta, or smother some on chicken for a quick and tasty meal.

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 2 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • 3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Add garlic, basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, salt, lemon juice, and 1 Tbsp. oil to a food processor. Process until just beginning to come together, then while the machine is still running, slowly drizzle in remaining oil and continue to blend until smooth and paste-like. Season with pepper.  *Tip: To freeze, line individual compartments of an ice cube tray with small pieces of plastic wrap  (allow a little extra to hang out the top). Fill compartments with 1 Tbsp. of pesto, and place in the freezer until solid. To release, pull on the ends of the plastic wrap, and peel it from the pesto cube. Place cubes in a freezer bag and freeze for 3-5 months. When ready to use, drop 1-2 pesto cubes into hot pasta and stir until dissolved, or thaw and spread over grilled meat or bread.

Sourdough Grilled Cheese Grilled cheese is an awesome partner to soup, but why settle for the plain old white-bread-American-cheese version when you can easily prepare something more interesting. Switch up the bread to sourdough, and use a few different cheeses. Follow the directions below for ooey-gooey greatness! 

Sourdough Grilled Cheese

Serves 4

  • 8 slices sourdough bread
  • 4 slices Colby Jack cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Gouda cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese, divided
  • 4 slices Provolone cheese, divided
  • 4-6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

Heat a large skillet or grill pan over medium heat. Butter both sides of each piece of bread. Working in 2-3 batches, place bread on hot pan, and grill until golden brown. Flip one piece of bread and place a slice of each kind of cheese on top. Take a second piece of bread and place it grilled side down on the cheese, creating a sandwich. Repeat with other pieces of bread. Grill until golden brown, then flip and grill the second side of the sandwich until golden brown and the cheese has melted. Repeat with all sandwiches. Sidekick: Pair with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or a Gewürztraminer.

Stuff My Kid Eats: Broccoli and Basil Panang Curry

Stuff My Kid Eats

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“Ew, that’s so yucky!” is my toddler’s new favorite phrase. This has been her mantra of late and she uses it in response to pretty much anything she’s offered, be it food, clothes, or a new activity. She turned 2½ a couple weeks ago and has developed an opinion about everything. EVERYTHING! So it was no surprise to me that she turned up her nose at this dinner. “But it’s made with peanut butter,” I told her. She looked at me sideways, calculating her next move. “Peanut butter? Hmm…” She ate a bite, and then another, and another. “It’s very yucky, Mommy,” she said quietly and with much less conviction, then she slurped the last piece of meat out of her bowl and reached across the table to snag more off my husband’s plate.

Broccoli and Basil Panang Curry

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This delicious, easy-to-make Thai dish can be adapted to fit any eater and is sure to become a new family favorite! I usually prepare it with beef (pictured above) and serve it over rice noodles, but it can also be made with chicken, shrimp, or tofu and spooned over long-grain white rice or brown rice. 

Broccoli and Basil Panang Curry

Serves 4

For the Panang

  • 1 13.5-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk (do not stir)
  • 2 Tbsp. Panang or red curry paste
  • 2 Tbsp. almond butter or extra-crunchy peanut butter
  • 5 tsp. fish sauce
  • 4 tsp. dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, sliced lengthwise very thinly
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced lengthwise very thinly
  • 1 bunch broccolini, cut into 2-inch long pieces, stems included (regular broccoli would work, too, just cut each floret into quarters)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade (*see How To)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice (from about 1 medium lime)
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • Optional: 1 tsp. hot chili paste, such as sambal or oelek (omit if you don’t like heat)

Choose one of the following proteins:

  • 1 lb. ribeye steak (*see Note)
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (*see Note)
  • 1 lb. uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed
  • 2 14-oz. packages firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes

*Note: Place the steak or chicken in the freezer for 15 minutes to make it easier to cut. With a very sharp knife, slice meat against the grain, no thicker than ⅛-inch.

Choose one of the following for serving:

  • 1 cup uncooked long-grain white (such as Basmati or Jasmine), cooked per package instructions
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice, cooked per package instructions
  • 8 oz. dry rice noodles, cooked per package instructions

Cook rice/rice noodles per package instructions.

While rice/rice noodles are cooking, heat a large, straight-sided skillet over medium heat. Spoon the thick coconut cream from the top of the can into the skillet. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring until fragrant and beginning to dry, about 2-3 minutes.

Stir in the remaining coconut milk, almond/peanut butter, fish sauce, brown sugar, ginger, and water and bring to a simmer. Stir in the red pepper, onion, garlic, and broccolini, cover and cook until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.

Add the protein of your choice and half of the basil, cook uncovered, stirring often until the protein is cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the lime juice and season with salt and pepper.

Divide cooked rice/rice noodles among 4 separate plates. Spoon Panang over rice/rice noodles, dividing evenly, and sprinkle with remaining basil chiffonade.

*How To:

Chiffonade Basil

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Stack 4-5 leaves on top of each other.

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Tightly roll the stack lengthwise (another selfie of my thumb).

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With a sharp knife, cut the roll perpendicularly into very thin ribbons.

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Repeat with remaining basil leaves.

Sidekick:

  • If you choose to add heat (hot chili paste) to this dish, then you’ll want a nice cold beer, either an Ale, Pilsner, Singha, or Weiss; or a glass of Riesling, either an off-dry or Spätlese.
  • If you prefer the safer, less spicy version of this dish, add a non-oaky Chardonnay to the beverage list above.

Leek and Potato Soup

Leek and Potato Soup

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Here it is, folks, the last of the last of the St. Patty’s Day meals. Although I’ve enjoyed the Irish recipes that we’ve dished up this month, I’m ready to retire my potato peeler for a while – and so is my waistline. This soup is a lighter version of the standard “potato leek” but it’s heavier on the leek than it is the potato, offering more flavor for less calories – and no cream added! If you like your soup super creamy (is that homophone getting old yet?) you can blend it to be smooth (like in the photo above), or leave bits of potato, leek, and celery. Regardless of how you dish it up, I think you’ll enjoy this tasty Irish soup. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! ♣

Leek and Potato Soup

Serves 4

  • 2 Tbsp. oil, such as grapeseed or vegetable
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 3 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 medium sized russet potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 3 celery stalks, with leaves included, roughly diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed and roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf, crumbled
  • 3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks), depending on preference of thickness
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. sour cream thinned with milk for serving (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped, for serving (optional)

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(I decided to add the garlic and bay leaf at the last minute so they didn’t make the family photo, sorry.)

Leeks: I always leave a hint (just a hint) of dark green parts on my leeks because it makes the soup greener (is that right?) Greener? More green? Anyway, you should use about this much leek…

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Leeks can hide dirt in their super thin layers, so after you slice them, it’s a good idea to swish them around in water to release any grim hanging on, like so…

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Celery: Nothing special about these guys, just chop them and include the leaves.

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Potatoes: Peel them, then cut them into ¼-inch slices. Cut the slices again into ¼-inch sticks, and finally cut the sticks into cubes. (I do the potatoes last so that they don’t turn that weird pinkish color as the sugars oxidize.) The progression of the potato…

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And the gang’s all here!

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Add butter and oil to a large soup pot set over medium-high heat, and cook until butter has melted. Add the vegetables and the crushed bay leaf, and sauté until soft, but not brown, about 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add 3 cups of the stock, bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Partially cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are easily pierced by a fork.

Purée soup with an immersion hand-blender right in the pot; or in two batches, purée soup in a food processor or blender until you’ve reached the desired consistency, either smooth or chunky. This is chunky…

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Return to pot and taste for seasoning. Thin with more stock if needed.

Ladle into preheated bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of chopped chives and a drizzle of sour cream (or a sour cream shamrock – see How To below). Serve with dark Irish soda bread, or another hearty bread.

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How To: 

Making a sour cream shamrock is easier than it looks, here’s how you do it.

1) Thin sour cream with a little milk and stir until smooth.

2) With a small spoon, place 4 dots of sour cream in the middle of the bowl.

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3) Using a toothpick or bamboo skewer, drag one of the dots into the middle of the circle.

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4) Follow suit with the other 4 dots, dragging them to the center of the circle, forming the body of the shamrock.

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5) Continue to pull the sour cream downward, creating the stem of the shamrock.

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And violà!