I know the Muffin Man: Strawberry Banana Almond Muffin

Written by Meena Agarwal on April 17th, 2014 | 1 Comment


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

As a kid, I loved sleeping in. Obviously, with school on weekdays, it was hard to keep my eyes shut with Mom screaming from the kitchen for me to get dressed. But not weekends. Aah… weekends were when I could get as much shut eye as I wanted – or rather, as much as my parents allowed me! There was a time when my Dad had to scan the markets to find an alarm loud enough to break my sweet slumber. Alas, even then Mom would come running to my room to shut it off before the neighbours heard the deafening shrill. But me, I did not even twitch a muscle. I truly believed that had I been Sleeping Beauty, the fairy tale would’ve ended very differently! But who am I kidding? That was eons ago, in a time when sleep for me was more of a sport than a luxury. I think all moms reading this can nod their heads in agreement that once the home has welcomed its first baby,  our sleep and life as we know it, takes a completely different turn!

Baby Dear is a morning person in every sense of the word. He wakes up bright-eyed and bushy tailed every weekend when the sun comes out and announces his rising through the baby monitor as loud as he possibly can. Either Hubby Dear or I will then, in our dazed half asleep state, bring him into our room and put him in the middle of our bed under the covers with the cartoons turned on. Then, we fall back to sleep. In the meanwhile, our Tarzan baby who has learned that no amount of coercing will wake up his sleep-deprived parents, will entertain himself with the TV, reading his books or playing – all the while nestled between the both of us. But this will only last a few minutes till he realizes that its no fun talking to yourself and not getting any responses back. And Baby Dear is nothing if he can’t talk and be talked back to.

So there we are, up and early on a Saturday morning at the kitchen table. And that’s exactly why I tend to always have a stash of some delicious baked goodies to tie us over till I’ve had my first sip of coffee and can actually start thinking of what to feed my family. This recipe is one of our favourites, and one that I’ve made upmteen number of times. It’s perfect to take with you on the go for a quick morning bite. Or, if you’re fortunate like us and have a happy early riser to shake you off your deep, sweet slumber, then it’ll feel like a godsend to have them at arm’s length!

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Ask Meena: Confused Cook

Written by Meena Agarwal on February 13th, 2014 | 1 Comment


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Here is an email I received a few weeks ago that got me thinking, testing and dreaming recipes. Until last night, when I finally saw the table clearly laid out in mind waiting for hungry mouths to dig in, I was seeing ginger, garlic and onions everywhere! I tell you people, the things I do for the love of cooking!

Dear Meena,

I have a co-worker from India who is Jain. I’d like to invite him and his wife to dinner one of these days. Now the problem is I have no idea how to make anything without onion, ginger, potato etc! They are very strict about their food. Help! I want to serve at least three entrees and rice and/or roti. Can you give me suggestions and/or recipes?

- Confused Cook

Dear Confused Cook,

Truth be told, I’ve never attempted to cook Jain food, much less ever had a chance to eat it. So the scary thought of creating a menu for you without any ginger, garlic and onions, without which my kitchen would seem barren and in need of a desperate makeover, turned me into a mad woman that surprised even sweet little Hubby Dear. Ever little thing I cooked and ate over the past few days was scrutinized in hopes of finding a way to recreate it without the bare essentials of my cooking. But as they say, prespiration gives way to perfection (I can swear I heard that somewhere!), and I’m happy to note that your very first Jain dinner party will soon take shape.

- Meena

The menu I designed for this dinner includes the classic favourites like Pulao, Dal, and Rotis. The vegetable dishes I’ve picked for this menu are either traditionally cooked without onions and garlic, or can easily be made without them, without compromising much on flavour.

  • Dal: Cook your choice of Dal in the normal way, omitting the addition of onions, ginger and garlic. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
  • Kadhi-Pakodi: This wonderful dish, prepared from yoghurt and gram flour is a personal favourite of mine. While in most cases onions are used in the end as a tempering with dried chillies, it can easily be avoided to accommodate a Jain diet. Bring a mixture of 2 tbsp gram flour, I cup yoghurt and 2 cups water to a boil, stirring occasionally to avoid forming lumps. Season with salt, turmeric and chili powder. Add in pakodas made with vegetables of choice, and stir in a tempering of cumin seeds, dried red chillies and a pinch of dried fenugreek leaves for added flavour.
  • Paneer Tak-a-tak: recipe follows
  • Dahi Bhindi: Follow the recipe avoiding the addition of onions and ginger powder.
  • Fried Baingan
  • Peas Pulao: Again, omit the addition of onions.
  • Plain Rotis and/or Puris

Add in a Raita, salad and Papad, and there you have it CC, a wonderful, Jain accommodated hearty meal! For dessert I suggest the usual favourites, kheer, gulab jamun or halwa.

Do you have any trouble planning a menu or fixing a meal? I’m only a few lines away

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The Fast and the Famished: Jeera Pulao

Written by Meena Agarwal on January 4th, 2014 | 4 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

When it comes to cooking a fulfilling dinner on weeknights, my keyword, or should I say keywords, are QUICK and SIMPLE! I have many a times blogged on how much I love easy recipes that hardly take any of my time and effort and yet seem to please our over-demanding palates. Truly, coming home in the evening after a long and tiring day doesn’t leave me even in the slightest mood to cook anything. But eat we must and that’s where I make use of my instincts. A little bit of this, a splash of that, and dinner is on the table!

I always wonder why people look at cooking Indian food with such disdain. According to so many non-Indians I’ve come accross, they all have the same thing to say – it takes a lot of time and many more ingredients to cook a traditional Indian meal! Well, all I can say yet again is that you, my dear are mistaken! Now, if you are one of those who thinks that the traditional Indian meal comprises of exotic dishes such as, Briyani, Butter Chicken, Dal Makhani and Naans, then, well, I think you need to invite yourself to an Indian home for a simple dinner.

When it comes to food, we Indians know how to make a gala of the mere act of eating. But at the same time, we have our home-grown secrets of making a simple “Dal-Chawal” meal seem fit for a King, or Queen of course! One look at my long list of recipes and you can easily see that many of them are simple to the touch. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook. Infact, I am known to spend an entire day in the kitchen cooking for parties a day in advance. But sometimes, I just want to take it easy. After all, even the greatest rulers of all-time needed to take a break!

This recipe for a simple Cumin-scented Pulao will do just that! Pair it with a side of Dal and some spiced Jeera Alu, maybe a salad, and you’ll have a delicious well balanced, nutritious meal. At times when I’m in a real crunch, I’ll quickly whip up a mixed veggie Raita and call it day – no other sides needed! Try this for your next dinner party and watch your guests swoon over the aroma and flavor.

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A Thanksgiving Feast: Rajma

Written by Meena Agarwal on November 20th, 2013 | 3 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

This year, Thanksgiving just whizzed by me. Mostly because this time around, Canadian Thanksgiving, which normally falls on the second Monday in October, plopped itself right on Baby Dear’s third birthday! So while the rest of the country feasted on mouthwatering seasonal fare, we folks in the HoH household celebrated the tiny tot’s big  day with things that made him most happy – cake, toys and Biryani.

I’ve always loved the idea of Thanksgiving. After all, what’s there to complain about? A whole day dedicated to spending time with loved ones and eating good, comfort food – count me in! Roasting an entire bird large enough to feed half of my neighbourhood has never been my kinda thing, so I always went for something else. Over the last couple of years, my sister volunteered roasting a whole chicken (something I can never manage to do successfully, no matter how many kinds of recipes I tried!), while I’ve been more than happy to lay out a spread of delicious sides ranging from luscious pulaos, creamy rich curries and a variety of assorted vegetable dishes.

Early on this year, without glancing at the calendar of course, I had decided that I wanted to host a wonderful Indian-inspired Thanksgiving feast.  Well, Thanksgiving came and went. And now here I am still caressing the desire to feed my family and friends.  So like I always do in most cases, I just decided to throw caution to the wind and host a dinner anyway. Folks in the US can say I celebrated with them, while rest of the world can take this as my pre Holiday Season bash. The menu I had in mind definitely resonates with a traditional Thanksgiving feast seasoned with an Indian touch. Here is what my ideal Indian-inspired Thanksgiving dinner table will look like, good enough for a gathering of 12-15 hungry tummies:

Appertizers

Mini Samosa Puffs with Tamarind and Mint-Coriander Chutneys

Tandoori Chicken Pops with Minty Yogurt Dipping Sauce

Dinner

Indian Roast Chicken Legs

Rajma (recipe follows)

Paneer Makhani

Baingan Patiala

Spinach Saag

Mushroom & Peas Pulao

Garlic Naans

Cucumber Raita

Chopped Salad

Dessert

Gajar Halwa

Vanilla Ice-cream

What does your Thanksgiving menu look like? I’d love to hear some of your favourite dishes and traditions around this holiday, so please do share!

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A is for… Achari Mushroom

Written by Meena Agarwal on November 13th, 2013 | 2 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Over six years ago when I first introduced the Intro to Indian Cooking series of this very blog, I had no idea I was about to start a cult following. What started as a simple desire to help a few of my friends and readers learn the basics of Indian cooking, enabling them to enjoy good food cooked in the comforts of home using fresh, readily available, and healthy ingredients, turned out to be one of THE best decisions I ever made in my writing/blogging career. The series was soon picked up by The Mississauga News as a monthly feature in their food section. Over the years, I’ve received  a ton of emails and comments on those posts from folks eager to learn more, much more, about Indian food. And it has been a true pleasure for me responding to each and every one of those queries.

Since the past few weeks, I’ve been reading through a lot of feedback from you guys on the kind of content you’d like me to showcase more of on HoH. Let me just say that I have a couple of fun features/ideas that should take off soon that I’m sure you’ll enjoy very much. One of them that makes me giddy with excitement is a spin off from my Indian 101 series. I know that a lot of you have asked me to bring that back,  but I think I can offer you something a step further. Join me, as I cook my way from A to Z of Indian Home Cooking. Each post in this series will showcase a recipe of a dish that begins with a letter from the alphabet. I’ll try my best to pick a variety of vegetarian, non-vegetarian and vegan recipes – both restaurant favourites, and simple home cook secrets.

Today we will start with the first letter: A. And with that, the lip-smacking delicacy Achari Mushroom comes to mind. Growing up, I was hardly ever exposed to fresh  mushrooms much. In fact, when I think of all the ways we ate it when I was kid, this is what I remember – drained from a can, sliced and generously topped on a homemade pizza with lots of cheese! Funny as it may seem, I loved every bite and always requested my Mom to add more the next time she made pizza again. Imagine my surprise when I tasted a fresh mushroom for the very first time. Needless to say, it was succulent, absolutely delicious and coated in a delightful sauce that with slightly spicy and tangy at the same time. There was no turning back back then. I never went near a can of mushrooms again!

Achari Mushroom is one of those splendid dishes that is perfect to serve when you want to impress. It is simple enough to whip up in a moment’s notice (provided you have all the ingredients on hand, of course!), yet the flavours are so profound that those eating will praise you for slaving over the stove. It also works great as a weeknight meal and apart from Panch Phoran (a blend of spices traditionally used in Bengali cooking), uses pretty much all other ingredients that can be found in an Indian pantry. Trust me when I say this, do not hesitate when buying a packet of Panch Phoran. This spice blend can make a simple stir-fry of potatoes taste divine, and is now a staple in my spice box. It’s totally worth that extra jar space in the spice cabinet.

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A Day in the Life: Quick Fried Rice

Written by Meena Agarwal on March 20th, 2013 | 1 Comment


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

As much as I’d like to show to the world what a Super Mom and Power Girl I am, having everything under control all of the time is far from it. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are the days that Baby Dear is whisked off to daycare bright and early in the morning. These are the days where I can run errands, get most of my freelance work done and enjoy a cuppa ‘Joe with my feet up at 3PM. Tuesdays and Thursdays, we take it easy and have fun by going to the library for story time, watching a lot of Disney Jr., and just playing and doing mundane things around the house! Of course, no two days of mine are ever alike. Here is just a glimpse of what my Monday looked like:

7:45 – Drove Baby Dear off to daycare.
8:45-9:45 – Headed to the gym and worked out for an hour while watching CityLine.
10:00 – Took a shower, made the bed, started a load of laundry and prepared breakfast.
10:30-1:30 – Sat down to a working breakfast while catching up on emails and other blog related things on my to-do list.
1:30 – Made a quick bite to eat from last night’s leftovers and watched some Food TV.
2:00-3:00 – Quick clean up around the house, another load of laundry, checked on emails and a to-do list for tomorrow.
3:00-4:00 – Sat down to my afternoon cup of coffee with some delicious homemade chocolate-oatmeal cookies, while I worked on a few blog posts for the upcoming week.
4:00-4:30 – Prepped for dinner.
4:45 – Off to pick up Baby Dear while battling the crazy weather!
5:30 – Finally home, changed into jammies and settled Baby Dear with his toys while I prepped his dinner.
6:30 – Fed Baby Dear his dinner of Spinach Parathas, Dal and Baingan Bharta.
6:45-7:30 – Snuggled on the couch with Baby Dear; he watches some TV and I read a new cookbook I just received in the mail.
7:30 – Hubby Dear swoops in, Baby Dear jumps to greet his daddy and follows him upstairs to get changed while I heat up andset the table for dinner.
8:00 – We all sit down to a family dinner. Yes, Baby Dear is on dinner #2!
8:30-9:30 – Hubby Dear and Baby Dear are whisked away from the kitchen and spend some quality play time while I clean up the kitchen, pack Hubby Dear’s lunch and run the dishwasher. I almost never turn off the lights until my kitchen counters and sink are empty and clean; makes starting off the next morning so much more peacefully!
9:30 – We’re off upstairs to read Baby Dear his bed time story and tuck him in.
9:45 – We drag out feet to bed. Hubby Dear does a final check on his emails for the nightand I catch up on some TV or Youtube. We both then pick up our reading material of choice, he’s currently on a Sherlock Holmes kick and I go through my never-ending blog feeds. Within minutes, it’s lights off!

Wow! Just typing that out makes me want to take a nap. But it’s Wednesday today – Baby’s day out and Mommy’s day to attend her weekly cooking class. It’ll probably be mid-afternoon by the time I’m home and not much time left to prep a big dinner before I have to leave to pick up my ‘lil prince. Day like these are perfect for a quick one-dish meal that’s got a little of everything in it. This Fried Rice is what’s for our dinner tonight. This is another easy breezy recipe that hardly takes anytime at all and can be put together in minutes. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve cooked this up at the end of a long tiring day. And it never fails to please me!

So tell me, what do you feed your family on a busy day?

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From One to Another: Peanut Noodles

Written by Meena Agarwal on March 13th, 2013 | 3 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

I taught my first hands-on cooking class last night at one of the amazing LCBO kitchens. The class was called ‘Tasty Bites’, and comprised of mainly finger foods and appetizers – my absolute favourite kind of meal! Some of the recipes we worked on during the class included Skewered Chicken Tikkas with Raita, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus with Spiced Pita Chips, Mint Kebabs with Tatziki and the ever-so-popular Ginger-Chilli Shrimp served along side a Tangy Corn Salsa.

Throughout the class, as I was giving tips and tricks on how to cook a quick, healthy and delicious meal on a busy weeknight, it suddenly dawned on me that it would be very easy to turn any one of the recipe pairings being taught in the class into a complete and nutritious meal. For example, the Mint Kebabs could be rolled into a pita with a dollop of Tatziki and some lettuce and tomato, to make a delicious Mediterranean-inspired sandwich. The Chicken Tikkas could be served along side some rice and Raita, for a delicious Indian flair. Throw in some chopped cucumbers and tomatoes into the Corn Salsa, top it with the Shrimp and you’ll have a filling and tasty salad in a jiffy. The best though, is that each and every recipe does not take more than 30 minutes from start to finish – prep time included!

It was fun watching the guests getting busy in their work stations, eager to perfect the recipe picked out for their respective table. I’ve taught a number of cooking classes, all in the format of a demonstration, but never a hands-on where the students follow the recipes and make it themselves. All in all, it was fun time had by all – the food was devoured, cooking techniques were learnt and perfected, wine was paired with every course, and I came home with a happy heart. And a rumbling tummy.

Taking cue from all the wisdom I had just shared mere minutes ago, I decided to whip myself a big bowl of yumminess. The noodles were set to boil while the sauce warmed up in the microwave and the veggies were being chopped. 20 minutes in, I was snuggled on the couch with my feet up, enjoying my well-deserved hot dinner.

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Take-out Cooked-in: Vegetable Hakka Chowmein

Written by Meena Agarwal on July 6th, 2012 | 12 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Until a few years ago, I adored Indian-Chinese cuisine. So much so, that I would gladly stop by our nearby Hakka joint to pick up an order of Chowmein, Chilli Chicken and Spring Rolls, every other week. But over the past two years or so, nothing I’ve tried from their menu has seemed to tantalize my taste buds. I don’t blame the particular restaurant however, since I’ve had the same disappointing feeling no matter which Hakka restaurant we go to – and no matter how highly recommended it comes. Almost anything we’ve ordered has been a flavourless, salty plate of mush. I’ve come to realize that since I’ve started to reduce our salt intake through healthier cooking and eating habits, a lot of the take-out options we used to love don’t quite appeal to us anymore. Just goes to prove that if you reduce the amounts of oil and salt in many of these fast-food items, there’s not much left to be desired.

Now that Baby Dear is an independant ‘lil brat who chooses to entertain himself by nosying around the house, I find myself with enough time to whip up a delicious wholesome dinner almost every evening. Almost. The last couple weeks had been a whirlwind of hot summer days outside, impromtu BBQs, and lawn maintainence. So when this past weekend rolled by as a long one for Canada Day, we were delighted to take it slow and make full use of the heat advisory warning by chilling indoors with the AC cranked up and a bunch of fun movies. It was the perfect excuse and occasion for me to spend some quality tiime in my kitchen. Baby Dear is a big fan of noodles made anyway, and we were craving some Hakka food ourselves – that definitely called for some wok time!

This recipe is simple, quick and delicious. It’s a definite crowd pleaser and can surely be catered to suit your tastes. I kept it vegetarian since I had a wonderful stock of fresh veggies in my fridge and served it along side some Honey-Garlic Chicken Wings. If you’re up for it, toss in some sliced chicken or shrimp to take this a step further. I’ve also kept the heat level on the mild side since Baby Dear was eating it as well; but if you’d like a slight kick, then add in some finely chopped green chillies. On a lazy weekend afternoon or a busy weeknight, this would make a wonderful meal served by itself. Try it, and I hope you enjoy it as much we did.

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No Can Do – Masala Mushrooms

Written by Meena Agarwal on October 22nd, 2011 | 11 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Growing up, the only mushrooms I ever had were the ones my Mom drained out of a can to spread on pizza. It may sound completely appetizing, but I loved it. So much so, that I would actually fish out and pieces I could find on leftover slices of the pizza. And yes, sadly, pizza was the only time my Mom opened the can of mushrooms. It wasn’t until I actually moved to Canada that I had my first taste of a real, fresh mushroom. One bite, and I was blown away. The canned stuff felt like rubber and I was instantly obsessed. Still am, to this day, mushrooms remain a favourite vegetarian option for me. Only second to the humble eggplant, of course!

When my parents were visiting during the early months of Baby Dear’s birth, my Dad had a craving for mushrooms. Like many people from Indian households back home, where mushrooms were a very rare sight at the dinner table, he wanted to know what they were like. He had often heard and read of recipes where mushrooms were cooked in a thick, almost dry masala base. He asked me to cook up a batch for him. I was more than than eager too!

It was almost too simple to put together. Like most Indian recipes, I started with a base of onions and tomatoes, slowly sauteing it till all moisture evaporated and the flavours of the various spices had a chance to deepen. Next came the mushrooms, a few more minutes of slow cooking, and voila! Dinner was ready. My Dad had waited a long while to eat mushrooms cooked this way, and his expectations were pretty high. He took a bite, looked at me, and said that I HAD to teach my Mom this recipe. My Mom’s retort – they didn’t sell mushrooms at the vegetable market she shopped at!

This is a recipe I often fall back on on days when the heart desires something meaty, rich and lip-smackingly good! I’ve made it for fancy dinner parties, used it as an extravagant side for a simple Dal-Chawal, and also as a filling for sandwiches and wraps. I chose white button mushrooms since they easily take on robust flavours and shine through. I suspect creminis and oysters would also work well, but honestly, I have yet to try them this way.

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A Change of Heart: Black Bean Chili

Written by Meena Agarwal on October 7th, 2011 | 4 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

The past weekend we had some of our closest friends and family join us to celebrate Hubby Dear’s b’day. It was a surprise party I managed to pull off for him at the very last minute. And that was after I sent him 3 big, fat helium balloons and a box of chocolate covered strawberries to his workplace. Yes, I know, I AM the most awesome wife there is. But don’t worry, I more than let him make up for it on my b’day by making sure I am showered with a boat load of presents! Ladies, if you want to know how I do it, it’s simple – give him a list of all the things you want and make sure to let him know where to get them at. And if your hubs is super busy trying to get multi-million dollar deals for his company like mine is, then just give him a hand by shopping for yourself. With his credit card. Like I do.

Anyway, where was I? Right, awesome wife! Who gave him a fabulous surprise party! And might I add he had no clue. Even with a fridge full of food. But most importantly, even with a clean, pristine home on a Saturday. With Baby Dear around. Yup, he sure didn’t see it coming! Needless to say, it was fun and of course, a tad bit tiring for me too. But to see a large crowd gathered in our home, over delicious comforting food – I’d do it again, in a heart beat!

There was a time when we would have large dinner parties like it was nobody’s business! I would cook a lavish buffet of food, making sure there were at least a few of everyone’s favourite dishes. I have been told that some skip their lunch knowing that sitting down for dinner at our table would totally be worth it. I have also been told (by Hubby Dear, of course) that when I entertain, I turn into this crazy cooking monster who has all the burners on her stove working at once while the food processor’s running and the oven on full steam! Yes, I admit, I do tend to go a bit overboard – most times making twelve different dishes for ten people. And that’s not including appetizers and dessert! But alas, that was all pre-Baby Dear.

Which is why I have no idea what possessed me to send out that email ten days before D-day to a collective group of fifteen. And the fact that I actually pulled it off, has me even more stunned. What I have learnt from it though, is that I have in fact, changed. I’m no longer the Kitchen Hitler who shuns away anyone wandering in while she’s cooking. I do however, blame that on the tiny apartment kitchen we had. Our kitchen now, in our new home, is literally the center of it all. It’s bang in the middle of the main floor, connecting both, our dining and family rooms. It’s open, with an island in the middle where Hubby & Baby Dears often sit while I rustle up something yummy. The island is also where some our friends sat and munched while I continued getting dinner ready at the b’day party, all the while making me feel part of the festivity and not a short order cook!

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, and while there will be some among us who won’t let anyone tip-toe into the kitchen until all the food is perfectly set in their respective serving dishes on the table, I encourage the rest of you to accept all the help you can get and be thankful for those hands that do. As for me, I’m making a large pot of spicy chili in my beautiful red dutch oven, and serving it up alongside some chips, roast potatoes and fixin’s. After all, I’ve never been one to serve a turkey. It just takes too much time!

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