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Posts Tagged ‘brunch’

Call me crazy, but for about two weeks now, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about muffins.


 
I know. I’m sure there are more productive ways to use your brain power, but for some reasons, muffins just wouldn’t quit.
 
It all started when I received a Women’s Health Daily email newsletter that touted six healthy muffin recipes after the jump. Muffins – healthy? Maybe I have a hard time wrapping my head around this because whenever I think about muffins, I picture those giant blueberry crumb muffins that always fix me with their minxy, seductive stares from within the Starbucks pastry case, just beyond the sign that reads 400 calories and infinity grams of fat. Getting the occasional free Starbucks muffin was one of the greatest perks of the month I spent working there, and forever more will they be the decadent standard to which all other muffins must live up to.
 
So you see, this whole healthy muffin madness didn’t make all that much sense to me. I didn’t really buy that these Women’s Health muffins could taste like anything more than glorified packing peanuts, and so I went about my life and forgot all about them.
 

But then, whilst perusing some springtime menus on Epicurious, I once again came face to face with a healthy muffin recipe. Twice in one week? This time, I stopped dead in my tracks. Epicurious, in my mind, is a fairly reliable source. It’s recipes come from well-regarded food magazines, where professional recipe developers spend painstaking hours perfecting their recipes until they are just right and nearly impossible for any home cook to mess up (at least, that’s how my fantasy goes). And when Epicurious told me that a delicious ginger-pumpkin muffin could be all mine for just 200 calories, and 41 other readers had corroborated this via their own review, well, it was on.

This is probably a good time to mention that I don’t actually own a muffin tin.

For those who are shocked, appalled, and disappointed, let me reassure you this is a solvable problem. Sure, muffins are great. Phenomenal, even. As everyone who’s ever seen a Seinfeld episode or eaten a muffin can vouch, muffin tops are quite frankly one of the best damn members of the carb family.

But, you know, bread isn’t too bad either.

What I do own (read: Cara owns) is a loaf pan. A 9″ x 5″ tin that gets the job done. So when I saw this recipe and immediately fell head over heels for it, there was no need to turn back. I plowed full steam ahead into the wonderful world of “un-muffins”!

In essence, it’s the difference between going out on a date with a boy in a three-piece suit, or one in jeans and a button down. As we all know, looks aren’t everything, and at the end of the night it’s all going to come down to enjoyment and personality.

Joy + personality = Pumpkin Ginger “Un-Muffins.” Let’s do this.

Pumpkin-Ginger “Un-Muffins” – makes 16 muffins or one 5″ x 9″ loaf

Adapted from Epicurious.com

Ingredients:

  • 5 1/2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 tablespoon of grated or minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1 cup sifted unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sifted whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie or cake spice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons skim milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light golden honey
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Start by preheating your oven (set to 325°F for a loaf, and 375°F for muffins). If you’re opting to make muffins, god bless you, and line sixteen 1/3-cup muffin cups with paper liners. Then mix 2 1/2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, raisins, grated ginger and brandy in small bowl.

Combine your dry ingredients by sifting the whole wheat and AP flour, ground ginger, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt into medium bowl. In another small bowl, whisk pumpkin puree, milk and vanilla together. In a much larger bowl (this will be used to combine everything) beat egg whites and egg until foamy using an electic mixer. To the beaten eggs, add 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar; beat until light and frothy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the honey and oil until well combined.

Then add in the dry ingredients and pumpkin mixture, alternating back and forth between each type in 3 additions each. Mix until smooth, and then stir in the raisin-brandy mixture.

If making muffins, divide batter among prepared muffin cups. If not, grease your 9″ x 5″ loaf pan with butter or cooking spray, and pour batter in. Mix 3 tablespoons crystallized ginger and 1 tablespoon brown sugar in small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over the muffins or loaf.

Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean; for muffins, about 25 minutes; for a loaf, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool on rack. Then stuff your face.

And the best part? 1 muffin (or a 1/16th-sized slice of the loaf, which is a 4″ x 2.5″ x 1.25″ slice) is only 195 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 2 grams of fiber. While that was enough to satisfy me, I got this rave review from my roommate, Cara:

“I had one of your slices of muffin bread for breakfast. Sooooo good… It was definitely really hearty and lasted in my belly for a while!”

S0 there ya have it – a non-empty calorie, actually filling and nutritious muffin (bread)! Great as part of a perfectly balanced breakfast, or to replace your daily on-the-go granola bar. Take that, Starbucks!

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With culinary school slated to start in just a few days (!!!) and the onslaught of recipes that will surely be posted over the course of this new endeavor, I thought I would spend the week before school starts sharing a restaurant review instead. Fortunately for the blog, this past weekend provided ample source material. Unlike my usual haunts, the gastronomical outposts I visited last weekend were from a different land, a somewhat-far-away city, one that is very near and dear to my heart: Washington DC.

The first sort of higher education I ever experienced was down in the DC-metro area, in College Park, Maryland. UMD was an amazing place to spend three and a half years; somewhere where I made friends that would last me a lifetime, and connections that have continued to enhance my life even now, more than two years after graduation (terrifyingly, yes, it has been that long). UMD is also where my love for food and cooking was truly cultivated; it was in the apartment that I lived in junior & senior year that I made a lattice-topped apple pie from scratch, turned a pumpkin into french fries, cooked a medium-rare filet mignon on a searing hot panini press, and roasted red peppers by hand over an electric stove. Yes, college was a wonderful time during which these interests grew and blossomed, and visiting DC always reminds me of those simpler days. It’s no surprise that I love going back to visit any chance I can get.

This weekend, while reminiscing and catching up with old friends, I learned that DCers and New Yorkers aren’t all that different. In fact, what we have in common just might be a universal truth: we all love brunch. I mean really, who doesn’t like brunch? In a 48-hour trip we got in not one, but two deliciously indulgent brunches, complete with alcoholic beverages and high-calorie goodness. One friend enjoyed brunch so much (as he always does) that he proposed we create a new Food Network show where we drive across country and capture all of our mind-blowing brunch adventures from coast to coast. The eggs, the hollandaise, the waffles… ah, but I digress.

The last meal of the trip was on the fashionable M Street in DC’s Georgetown, which one might compare to New York’s Fifth Avenue, or I supposed now, SoHo’s Broadway. It’s an enticing medley of fantastic retail, quirky off-the-beaten-path shops, cupcakeries, and of course, restaurants. These restaurants all seem to have that certain one-of-a-kind unique appeal, in a place where words like “bistro” still have a somewhat exotic effect on passers-by.

One of our gracious hosts of the weekend proposed a group brunch at a restaurant on M Street called Mie N Yu, just a few blocks up the road from our hotel. The proposition was as follows: a three-course brunch, with a cocktail included, in a decently fashionable restaurant, for twenty dollars. Honestly, a twenty-dollar price tag will sell me on most things, and a three-course meal plus cocktail was definitely near the top of the list. Hence, Mie N Yu it was.

Now, I had never been to Mie N Yu before this weekend, but I’d heard of the restaurant back in college when a girl who lived in my dorm sophomore year was whisked away to Mie N Yu by her older, more sophisticated senior boyfriend for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner. Left only with her vague recollection of the restaurant’s wonders, Mie N Yu had always held a bit of a mystique for me, and I was glad to be able to visit the restaurant for myself.

Upon entering, we were greeted by a friendly older host, who took our coats and pointed us to the bar where we could wait for the rest of our party. But fifteen minutes later, the rest of our party had yet to appear, and the host returned. He asked us if we would like a tour of the restaurant, which to my own eyes seemed mostly in sight. Still, my two other friends graciously accepted Carl, the host’s, offer.

“You’re standing in the Hong Kong bar,” Carl explained at once, motioning around the room with one hand.

“You’ll notice that the bar is shellacked with these Mahjong tiles that are covered in Chinese characters and symbols. Mahjong is a traditional game played in Hong Kong, not all that different from the American game of solitare.” We all stepped forward to get a closer look at the small white tiles covered in green and red swooshes that were inlayed in the black, shiny bar. They not only looked, but also felt exotic and mysterious. “A lot of the different decorations that you’ll see throughout the restaurant are completely authentic,” Carl continued. I suppose we had all fixed him with curious gazes, because he stopped, and then explained further.

“A lot of people assumed that Mie N Yu is an ‘Asian-Fusion’ restaurant, but it’s not. The restaurant was conceptualized off of the Ancient Silk Road that ran from Southern Europe, through the Middle East, to Asia. Mie N Yu is more of a mélange of different cultures and types of food than fusion – North Africa, what you might call Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Southeast Asian.”

He took a step backward and continued back into the restaurant, leading us into another space that was set up on a floor, raised about two feet above the ground. The entryway to this room was hung with thick layers of tapestry and drapes of beige and deep burgundy.

“Traditional Turkish wedding tent drapes,” he told us, reaching out to stroke the drapes with one hand. “These were actually sourced all the way from Turkey by our interior designer. We call this room the Turkish Tent, and it can be reserved for private parties.” He leaned casually on the black velvet rope partitioning the room off from the rest of the restaurant. “When this room is full of people, and the smells and sights of food, it’s hard to feel like you’re not actually in Turkey, experiencing this for real.”

We were still staring over our shoulders at the Turkish tent as the host turned a corner on the first floor and led us into the main dining area, which as he explained, transitioned from a daytime theme to a nighttime theme as one walked from the front to the back of the restaurant, the lighting and blue color of the walls darkening as one descended. He drew our attention to the way each booth was set beneath a draping, colorful sheath of striped fabric, propped up on poles, just like a traditional Moroccan bazaar.

We then walked up to the second level of Mie N Yu, where our hands grazed a wrought-iron banister that was hand-forged on the other side of the planet, hanging under the seemingly misplaced decadent crystal chandelier of the building’s original owner. “Her,” Carl said, pointing to the wall opposite the chandelier where a larger than life oil painting depicted the portrait of good Lady Mie-N-Yu, the original woman of the assumedly wondrous house this restaurant used to be. Upward, we went.

Upstairs were even more rooms, but these were more private in nature. There was the Venetian Lounge, where one wall was covered in tens of mirrors, all of different shapes, sizes, and colors, all from the legendary sinking city of Venice.

Beyond that was the Tibetan Lounge, most commonly used for private parties or Mie N Yu’s weekend “In The Cut” dance party events, but which was currently being used for a quite serious looking photo shoot, which we breezed past. I had the sudden sensation that I was on a movie set, floating eerily past extravagant decor where neither the people nor the artifacts they meandered past took notice of my presence.

Finally, we came to the show stealer, which Carl had clearly been saving for last. The Bird’s Nest.

A wrought iron masterpiece that hangs, suspended between the first and second floors of Mie N Yu, accessible only via a gangplank-ish pathway. The Bird’s Nest is perfectly round, with a smaller round table inside the larger spherical confines. The benches surrounding the table are covered in super-plush silk pillows (I know because, of course, I had to sit in it). Carl easily informed us: “Anyone can rent out The Bird’s Nest for their own private party. It goes for about $500 on a weeknight, and starts at $900 on the weekend.” We immediately began plotting various occasions for which we could rationalize renting out this awesome dining space.

Back on the main floor, my mind was slightly blown by all there was to know about this restaurant, when the executive chef walked by. He was in a hurry, and didn’t respond when our host greeted him. Carl merely smiled, and said to us with a knowing grin, “That’s the executive chef. Sometimes you say hello, and sometimes you don’t.” Carl chuckled, and I faked a grin. This wasn’t the first statement of the weekend that left me with a sense of foreboding about my academic endeavors to come, but I shook it off upon catching a whiff of some food from the kitchen.

Because yes! After all of that, a tour through the gastronomical Silk Road, there was still, after all, a meal to be had, and at that precise moment the rest of our party arrived, and we were seated. To my delight, we were escorted to a booth directly below the famed Bird’s Nest – also perfectly round and lined with the most comfortable pillows ever (which we would later learn, were quite dangerous in encouraging a post-brunch food coma).

Now it was time for laughter, light conversation, undoubted banter, but most importantly, food! Almost immediately we were offered brunch cocktails – either a mimosa, or a Bloody Mary. While Bloody Marys aren’t usually my thing, I was feeling risky on this particular morning, so I went for it. And boy, am I happy I did. This was by far the best Bloody Mary to ever hit my lips. It was light and refreshing, served on a ton of rocks, rather than thick and gelatinous like terrible Bloodies can be. It had just the slightest hint of pepper and spice, and other than adding a hint of sweetness, the alcohol was virtually undetectable. A great start to the meal.

Next up was the first course: The Good Morning Sunshine. I was a bit skeptical of how an Eastern Mélange restaurant, as we’ll call it, could pull off a regional yogurt parfait, but they did it. Something about the way the dried apricots were mixed in with fresh strawberries, crunchy granola, and extremely tangy Greek yogurt gave this dish a distinct far-away feel – something an All-American parfait surely would not do. I would eat one of these every morning for the rest of my life if I could.

Mie N Yu also offered a delicious Bombay Peanut Salad made of mixed greens tossed in a toasted cumin and yogurt vinaigrette. Probably the first time in my life I’ve turned down an interesting salad (no regrets, clearly), but I did snag a bite and it sure was tasty. I can’t wait to recreate this dressing at home!

Then we were on to the main course. Mie N Yu offers two breakfast options – Eggs Benedict, and Banana Walnut Pancakes (not sure which stops on the Silk Road these were, but it sort of seemed rude to ask) – as well as one lunchier option. Since it was already two in the afternoon, I opted for the Korean Bulgogi Sandwich, and never looked back. After one bite I realized that despite already being somewhat full from the parfait, and knowing that a third dessert course lay beyond, I had no choice. It was me and this sandwich, on a journey, and I was destined to finish every last bite. Yep, it was that good.

Imagine meat as soft and tender as pulled pork, but with that amazing soy sauce tang of the best Chinese beef you’ve ever had. Then think of it, resting on a soft, floury roll, with layers of tangy cabbage and radish forming the kimchee around it. Throw in a spicy kick from the aioli, which will be running down your fingers with the beef’s juices in just a second, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a sandwich. Oh, and with a side of fries. No big deal.

Needless to say, I was pretty quiet during this portion of the meal. I always feel the sign of great cuisine is when everyone at the table just shuts up and eats. Some find silence awkward, but I kind of feel like there’s no time the ancient “silence is golden” proverb is more true than at that moment when the food is set down.

Dessert was probably the least impressive part of this meal; that’s not to say it wasn’t very good, it’s just to say that the kitchen ran out of one of the two dessert options – tiramisu, failed to replace it, and that at this point everyone was too stuffed and suffering from over-stimulated taste buds to care much. We all enjoyed the Asian Pear Strudel, which was pretty much a mini apple turnover, but with pear. The one exciting element of the dish was the “pomegranate creme anglaise,” which we decided was most likely a pomegranate balsamic reduction and added an tangy tart bite to each morsel of the strudel, which was buttery and sweet. What can I say? I ate all of that, too.

Most of the remainder of my day, including one four-hour bus ride back to New York, was spend with a serious case of the “fulls” – like, “so full I can barely move” full, or “I should probably take a nap til I digest” full. But honestly, it was one-hundred-percent worth it, because not only did I discover a restaurant that I came to know and completely love for its food and its concept, but I also know this: DC is for foodies. Move over, New York. You have East Coast competition.

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Snow days are great for many reasons, one of which is the opportunity for a weekday breakfast at home. Usually my Monday to Friday breakfasts consist of whole rolled oats, cinnamon, sliced banana, and some raw almonds. It  might sound boring, but somehow I never get sick of oatmeal, and it always keeps me full until lunch – a no brainer!

But this past Thursday, mother nature decided to slam us with yet another winter storm, and the resulting inches of snow meant an extra hour or so of sleep for most of us, who were able to work remotely from the comfort of our own couches. It also meant morning access to more than just a microwave and hot water spigot for concocting breakfast; an actual stove, oven, and fresh ingredients were available. Let’s face it – what more reason do you need to mix up your typical breakfast routine?

Eggs are always a staple in my diet, whether it be for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Few things are as simple, fresh, and filling as a well-prepared egg, be it poached, fried, or scrambled, and I’m constantly searching for new ways to make eggs outside of the typically “sunny-side-up on toast” stand-by.

Enter the Baked Egg. I came across this concept while perusing my weekly slew of food blogs and articles, casually dropping into one blogger’s dialogue as though this weren’t a completely revelationary food concept. Sure, we all make eggs on the stove top regularly, and baking them into other dishes is pretty standard. But baked eggs alone? Somehow this concept had never even occurred to me, but I was instantly intrigued. When my snow day breakfast opportunity rolled around, I quickly skimmed the internet for some basics on baked eggs, and then got to work.

What follows is a recipe for baked eggs, and yes, you’ll need a cupcake tin. Ramekins would work, too. While was my first endeavor into the world of baked eggs, it will certainly not be the last, and though I’m happy to provide the specifics of how I prepared mine, a baked egg is really a blank canvas for a variety of flavor palettes. You could go Tex-Mex, or mediterranean, or minimalist, or sweet-and-savory. Like an omelet, this dish allows you to satisfy any craving by incorporating you favorite ingredients while still enjoying a rich, savory, and filling favorite – the egg!

Parmesan Baked Eggs with Peppers and Thyme (Serves 2 – 3)

Get yourself set up with the following ingredients:

  • 6 whole eggs
  • 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
  • Non-stick cooking spray or butter for greasing the cupcake tin

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

To start, prepare your base for the baked egg – in this case, a saute of red peppers, onions, and fresh thyme. This is going to go in the base of the cupcake tin, and the egg will go over it. You can really use anything here – hash browns, chopped up sausage and peppers, a pancake or english muffin round – you get to choose! I was trying to keep things fairly healthy on this Thursday, so I went with the fresh veggies (but cheese on top, so obviously not too healthy).

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the chopped peppers and onions and saute, stirring often, for about five minutes or until soft. Add the thyme, as well as sea salt and pepper to taste, and saute until fragrant – another 30 seconds or so. Remove from heat.

Once your cupcake tins are greased, put a small spoonful of the “base mixture” in the bottom of each round, and press it down so it just covers the bottom of the tin in a thin layer. You want to leave enough room in the tin so that the egg will rest evenly, without the yolks rising up above the egg white. Then, crack an egg into each round (or into a bowl first, if you are worried about shells). I’m sure this would be just as delicious if you scrambled the eggs first, sort of like a mini-quiche, but I left mine whole.

Then, into the oven these go for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until the whites are puffy but the yolks are still bright yellow and a bit runny. I yanked them out of the oven about 5 minutes before they were done and sprinkled each egg with a little parmesan cheese, and then popped them back in the oven to finish cooking. The cheese formed a salty, crunchy topping to the fluffy egg and savory peppers-and-onions base, and it all came together nicely with a little fresh thyme sprinkled on top.

Just like a fried or poached egg, this was great over an english muffin. The baked egg has the same light, fluffy interior of a poached egg, but with the crispy exterior of a fried egg. Not to mention, it doesn’t get much easier than crack egg, bake egg, eat egg. Wanna bet? Give it a shot, and get back to me :)

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I Left My Heart in Belgium

Saturday Morning, something amazing happened. Despite getting to bed at an ungodly hour, I rose, bright and early, full of energy, and with only one thing on my mind.

Shocking, I know.

After the cast iron pan, this is one of the top Christmas wins this year. This cookbook, updated from the original home cook’s bible, The Gourmet Cookbook, is essentially an anthology of anything and everything one could desire to create in their home kitchen. From cocktails to casseroles, five course dinners to puff pastry, Gourmet Today has it all.

And that includes one hell of a breakfast section.

As kids, Saturday mornings spelt leisurely hours passed by watching the best cartoons that TV had to offer, staying in your pajamas way too long, and eating the “good” breakfasts. No frosted flakes and chocolate milk on weekends – no, Saturdays meant chocolate chip pancakes, french toast, fried eggs and bacon. Stuff that took way too long for mom and dad to whip up before school on a Wednesday. And so this Saturday, as I lay in bed, meandering through pages filled with Ricotta Cornmeal Crepes and Deep-Fried Poached Eggs, my mind wandered back to those good ol’ days.

Then I stopped. I had come across a recipe for crispy belgian waffles, and I couldn’t look away. Thoughts of powdered sugar and maple syrup filled my mind, and I sighed – we didn’t have a waffle iron. But then, I remembered a small device I had spotted in the back of our closet a few months earlier while digging for Christmas decorations. It’s probably a panini press, I thought. But on a whim, I got up to check, and sure enough, it was an old, dusty, cracked waffle maker from Cara’s college days.

One quick trip to the market downstairs and an aggressive scrub of the waffle maker later, I plated up these puppies for the guests in my apartment. They are fluffy, sweet, and have a crunchy crust on the outside. The homemade syrup was an on-the-fly creating that can be made with nearly any type of berry, and proved to be a delicious addition. And don’t be deterred by the use of seltzer, the “secret ingredient” – the effervescence is what you can thank for that crisp shell and fluffy inside, having the same effect as beer used in beer battered anything.

Belgian Waffles with Sweet Blackberry Sauce

This recipe takes about 25 minutes, makes about ten 4-inch Belgian waffles, and requires the following:

For Waffles 

  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Slightly rounded 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups seltzer or club soda (a new bottle)
  • And, of course, a waffle iron

For Sauce

  • 2 cups of berries (blackberries, preferably)
  • 1 rounded tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tbsp packed brown sugar
  • Water

To make the waffles, preheat the waffle iron, and at the same time, preheat the oven to 200 degrees – you’ll store the cooked waffles in here to keep them warm while the others cook up.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and eggs and whisk until smooth. Then add the seltzer, and stir well until combined. Be careful not to over-mix, however, or the seltzer will flatten.

Brush the waffle iron lightly with oil or spray with some non-stick cooking spray. Spoon the batter into the iron, using about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter for each 4 inch waffle. Cook until light golden brown, then transfer to the rack in the over to keep warm.

While your waffles are cooking, or after they’re made, you can make the berry sauce. This is very simple – you just add the berries, white and brown sugar to a small saucepan, and add enough water to cover the berries about halfway . Let this simmer over low heat until the berries start to break down. If you want the berries to maintain their shape, you can remove them once they start to soften (blackberries will turn from black to red as they cook; once they are red, you can remove them). If you want the berries to break down completely, creating a thicker sauce, leave them in the pan. Then, allow the remaining liquid to simmer, stirring often, until it thickens into more of a sauce or syrup. Add the berries back in, and spoon the entire mixture over your waffles. Serve with powdered sugar, and if you really feel like going the extra mile, a little more butter can’t hurt.

What better way to start your day? There’s a reason why they say breakfast is the most important meal…

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