Monday, November 17, 2014

Adventures in Comfort Food: Fish Hash


Different dishes may represent comfort foods for various people, but at the end of the day, comfort foods are those that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. They fill your belly and make you smile. In some cases, they may take you back to a time in the past, perhaps reminding you of your grandmother's cooking. In other cases, they may warm you up on a cold winter's day after shoveling snow for hours. In any case, they are always welcome in my kitchen.

I was recently asked to participate in a blog tour for a new cookbook entitled Adventures in Comfort Food by Kerry Altiero, chef/owner of Cafe Miranda in Rockland, Maine. This small town restaurant features awesome food that really transcends gastronomical boundaries, bringing a little Asian flair into the same establishment as Italian dishes, American favorites, and so much more. If it's delicious and fresh, Kerry will find a way to put it on the menu. 

Chapters in the book range from Starters, Soups and Salads, Pasta, Vegetables and Sides, Dinners, Bread, Pizza, and Sandwiches, Party Food, and Components. The recipes within are reminiscent of the eclectic menu at Cafe Miranda, and so are the unusual dish names. Although there are many enticing recipes with titles that make sense (like Seared Scallops in Asian Broth, Chowder Guy, Lobster Rolls, Steak Bomb and more), there are many dishes with titles that are really off the wall (Don't Eat Me Again, Joel!, Aggablagga, Next Day Air, Simply Delish, and Whaddyagot, to name a few).

As much as I love the creativity of the dishes themselves, and the playfulness of their names, when flipping through a cookbook to select a recipe, having titles that don't really explain the dish can be really daunting, especially without photos for said dishes. I would have LOVED if there was a subscript to the title actually telling us what the dish is, or even just listing the key components. 

Example... Whaddyagot: Rigatoni with Chard, Peppers, Onions, and Proscuitto, or at least something more explicit. In fact, using the actual description from the menu for each dish would have been a simple fix. I basically have to read the entire ingredient list for most of the recipes to see what the dish even entails. It does make it a bit of a challenge. That's really the only negative thing about this book. 

The recipes really are super creative and intriguing. There are a lot of unique creations, as well as creative variations on classics that I'm really anxious to try. The recipes appear quite simple, and usually include relatively short ingredient lists with simple-to-follow instructions. The key  here is using fresh ingredients and treating them with finesse to really allow them to shine. This is how you can make "homey" comfort food into something extraordinary.

Also, I'd like to note that the serving sizes in many of the recipes range from 1 serving to 4, but most serve 1 or 2 people. I actually really love this. Personally, I don't think there are enough cookbooks that cater to single people, couples, or very small families. It's usually easier to double a recipe or multiply it for more servings than to divide it up to serve 1. If you have a huge family, this book may not really cater to your needs, but that doesn't mean you can't tweak the recipes to make more. 

I decided to try the Fish Hash, a truly creative take on breakfast. I made a few changes to the recipe when I created it, but the original is shared below. Instead of frying the sweet potato, I actually made oven fries by simply tossing the cut sweet potatoes in olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, and then roasting them at 450 degrees F for about 45 to 50 minutes, stirring occasionally to promote even cooking.

I also made my Hollandaise sauce the old fashioned way. I'm very comfortable making Hollandaise without taking shortcuts, and for me, setting up my stand mixer to make the short-cut Hollandaise was actually more work than just whisking it together in a double boiler. I added more hot sauce and more lemon juice than this recipe calls for (extra lemon is especially nice in context with the fish). I also like to add a little warm water to my Hollandaise to loosen it up a bit. It's also a great trick to fix a broken Hollandaise. You can make your Hollandaise however you like. My basic technique can be found here.

The oven temp called for in the recipe is too low in my opinion. I started my onions at the 325 degrees F it states, but quickly realized that my onions would never soften, let alone caramelize, at that temp for 10 minutes. I steadily bumped up the temp until I reached 425 degrees F and that is what I will recommend for this recipe, even for cooking the fish. Start out at 425, add the onions to the hot pan with some oil and stir occasionally.

Then season the fish with salt and pepper (the recipe below doesn't include that step, but I think it's a good idea) and plop it on top of the onions. Continue cooking at 425, mixing it up at least once to break it up a little (it will also cook the fish a bit faster). Then add the oiled spinach, back into the oven it goes, and then stir at least once or twice over the next couple minutes to allow it to wilt. Finally, you'll be adding the fried or oven-fried sweet potatoes and allowing them to heat back through with the rest of your hash.

You can also poach your eggs slightly in advance and then put them back into the simmering water to reheat them. This is another great trick if you are trying to cook this on the fly, but worried about keeping all the components hot at the same time. My Hollandaise was finished and on the double boiler over low heat (I would occasionally whisk and add a touch of warm water if I noticed it thickening too much) and the hash in the oven when I poached my eggs. But then the hash took too long to cook because I started at a lower temp, and so I had to catch up. This is where reheating the poached eggs turned out to be a great trick, since the hash wasn't ready for me when my eggs first were.

Even though I tweaked this recipe a bit (once again, the recipe below is as it is written in the book--see my notes above to make it the way I did, if you prefer), I must say the flavors were phenomenal. Fish hash doesn't actually sound like the most appetizing thing in the world, but then think fish tacos. They sound kinda weird if you've never had one, but they are the most delicious thing in the world. This fish hash has a similar wow factor. You really don't expect it to taste as great as it does, even with all the delicious components. But it's really impressive!

One final note. I actually served this amount of hash to three people instead of two and just poached enough eggs for three servings. The Hollandaise is also enough for three servings, so you can definitely extend this dish to serve slightly smaller servings to more than two people if you prefer. Otherwise, it can definitely make two very delicious and generous servings to start your day. Either way, its a wonderfully creative spin on brunch that I will definitely make again.

Fish Hash
Serves 2
(From Adventures in Comfort Food: Incredible, Delicious and New Recipes from a Unique, Small-Town Restaurant by Kerry Altiero and Katherine Gaudet; printed with permission of Page St. Publishing)

This was one of the very first Miranda dishes: a hash of roasted haddock, caramelized onions, fried sweet potato and roasted greens, topped with eggs and hollandaise. It may be the best brunch dish you will ever eat, but it’s good any time of day. I came up with this while working at the East Wind Inn, circa 1988. The late Tim Watts was the owner, and was one of the mentors who got me where I am today. He was, shall we say, a traditionalist. I had a lot of ideas, and he thought they were nuts (correct, Mr. Watts). He kept me on a short leash with regard to supper menus, but let me go at it for brunch. Hence, Fish Hash.

Use the freshest eggs you can get. Yes, always, but with poaching it is crucial so you do not wind up with poached egg yolks when the whites swirl away.

For the Hollandaise:
2 large egg yolks
Dash Tabasco
1⁄2 cup/115 g butter
1⁄2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the Eggs:
5 large local eggs (You only need 2 per person, but you may break one while poaching)
Pinch salt
2 tsp/10 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the Fries:
Olive oil
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut like fries

For the Hash:
1 cup/132 g red onion, sliced
Olive oil
7 oz/198 g fillet of haddock
2 tsp/6 g garlic, minced
3 cups/90 g spinach, stemmed if needed, oiled
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Let’s do the hollandaise first. This a total cheater method. Easy, quick and highly idiot-resistant.

In the trusty stand mixer with the whip attached or the food processor with the “S” blade (the regular one), place the 2 yolks, Tabasco and a couple of pinches of salt. Beat until the yolks are pale, like a watercolor yellow.

Meanwhile, place the butter in a microwave-safe measuring cup that you can pour from. Zap it in the microwave to melt and get the butterfat and the whey HOT. As soon as the micro has scrambled the molecules, turn your mixing appliance of choice back on high speed. S L O W L Y pour the butter into the spinning yolks. This should emulsify to a shiny sauce of buttery richness. At the last second, add the lemon and salt. DONE. This is best held in a thermos. Really. I use one of the bigmouth ones that can hold a meal, and it does a great job.

Start the eggs: We are poaching here, so pay attention.

Use a shallow nonreactive pan, perhaps 3 inches/8 cm deep, with a 10-inch/25 cm or larger diameter. Fill with water, leaving some headroom so that it will not overflow when the eggs are added. Add a pinch of salt and the lemon juice. The acid will bind the egg whites so they will stay together. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan and leave it for now, without adding the eggs.

Cook the fries: Place 1⁄2 inch/1.5 cm of oil in a 12-inch/30 cm skillet over medium heat. Heat until a drop of water will sizzle. Add the sweet potatoes and sauté until tender and starting to brown. Drain on paper towels and keep warm. (You can save time in the morning by making the fries a day ahead and reheating them spread out on a cookie sheet. This works well with any hand-cut, self-cooked fries, not your crinkle-cuts or McD’s.)

Preheat your oven to 325°F/163°C. Start the hash: Use a heavy roasting pan or oven-friendly 10-inch/25 cm skillet, and preheat it in the oven. Put the onion in the hot pan with 1 tablespoon/15 ml of olive oil. Let it brown and caramelize in the oven, stirring so that it cooks evenly. This will take about 10 minutes.

Add the fish and garlic. Roast for about 5 minutes more, then stir. It’s OK to break up the fillet (we are making hash, after all). Add the spinach and roast until the color intensifies, a couple of minutes more. When you see the color change, remove the pan from the heat and put it on a trivet. Toss in the sweet potato fries and gently stir. Season with salt and pepper. Park it while you cook the eggs.

At this point we need to recognize the skill of multitasking that all cooks, especially breakfast cooks, possess.

Eggs, part 2.

Remove the lid from the pan of simmering water. Adjust the heat so there are just the tiniest bubbles rising. The water temperature ought to be around 205°F/96°C.

Crack an egg into a small bowl that can be submerged in hot water. You do not want to crack them directly into the water as this greatly increases the likelihood of the yolks breaking.

Sliiiiide the egg out of the cup into the simmering water. Easy does it!

And, if you broke one: Repeat.

Let cook until the whites are just set, the yolk still liquid, 6 to 8 minutes, depending on your runniness preference.

Spoon the sweet potato mixture onto the warm platter. Remove the eggs from the poaching liquid with a slotted spoon so the water stays in the pot. Place the eggs on the mixture. Pour the Happy Hollandaise over the whole pile. Grind some pepper.

I heartily recommend a lemonade or grapefruit mimosa as a quirky and sharp counterpoint.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Food Truck Road Trip: Be Lovin' Veggies + Giveaway


Nowadays, food trucks are all the rage in the culinary industry. Gaining more prestige with competition television shows like The Great Food Truck Race, food trucks are no longer considered only for their convenience (like a lunch truck near your office building), but people are actually seeking out food trucks, stalking them on Twitter, and gaining greater appreciation of the culinary delights provided in these mobile restaurants.

There is a huge variety in food trucks across the nation. From those offering comfort foods to others with elevated, gourmet dishes, and yet many more that span the globe with Internationally-influenced cuisine. Between taco trucks and all manners of Asian mobile kitchens, the sky is the limit.

I recently had the opportunity to review an exciting new cookbook entitled Food Truck Road Trip, published by Page St. Publishing and written by Kim Pham and Philip Shen. It includes recipes from food trucks coast to coast, as well as profiles of their chef/owners.

I'm very happy to report that every single recipe in the book features at least one photo! Additionally, there are tons of really enticing recipes that I'm adding to my "to do" list, but some that particularly stand out include BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos, Maker's Mark Fried Chicken, Fried Chicken Sandwich with Fennel Slaw, Yolko Ono, Crab a Hold of Me, Spanish Pork Shoulder Chili, Beef and Bacon Chili with Corn Bread Waffles, Venezuelan Arepas with Muchacho, Brisket Barbacoa Empanada, Japanese Curry with Chicken Kara-age, Bulgogi Filo Bites, Crab Balls with Remoulade, Curry Garlic Portabella Mushrooms Fries with Mustard Aioli, Vietnamese Iced Coffee Pops, Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Pops, and Kiwi Mango Pops (Psssst, there's a whole chapter devoted to pops!).

The first recipe I tried from this really versatile cookbook is called Be Lovin' Veggies from the Melts My Heart food truck (they provide the Crab a Hold of Me recipe as well). It's typically made on sourdough bread, but I actually used Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Tuscan Pane for mine.

A medley of sauteed vegetables including chopped onion and mushrooms comprises a portion of the filling, along with cheddar, tomato, avocado, basil, and Sriracha for a little kick.

This is the ultimate veggie-centric grilled cheese. It's crunchy and gooey with acid from the tomatoes, richness from the avocado, pungency from the onions, earthiness from the mushrooms, and of course an herbaceous freshness from the basil.

It's a bit messy to eat, and perhaps in the future I will slice instead of chopping the onions. I also felt that using an entire avocado per sandwich was extreme, and even barely contained half an avocado within each sandwich I made.

I would definitely make this sandwich in the future. It's super filling and super satisfying. I don't miss the meat at all, giving me a wonderful meatless option with enough decadence and flavor to keep my family and me very happy. I'm looking forward to trying many more recipes from this book!

I'm pleased to announce that the folks at Page St. Publishing are offering a copy of Food Truck Road Trip to one lucky Mission: Food reader. The giveaway is open to US and Canada residents only. Post a comment below by November 17, 2014 at 11:59pm EST telling me your favorite food truck dish you've ever tried! Is it Korean tacos in the Big Apple or perhaps waffles in the City of Angels? Share your favorite and you just might win your very own copy of Food Truck Road Trip. I'll be selecting a winner at random. Good luck!

Be Lovin' Veggies
Melts My Heart - Wes Isip - San Jose, CA
Makes 1 sandwich
(From Food Truck Road Trip by Kim Pham, Philip Shen, Terri Phillips printed with permission of Page St. Publishing)

A visit to a popular grilled cheese truck in Southern California and a little market research convinced owner Brian Aflague that his love for grilled cheese was a universal love. “It’s such an easy concept: bread, butter and cheese,” Brian explains. “But what’s great about it is it has so much stretch, so much range and versatility. There’s so much you can do with it.” Brian displays this versatility at his Melts My Heart truck with sandwiches like the Be Lovin’ Veggies, a gorgeous blend of veggies and cheese kicked up with Sriracha. With the limited refrigeration space on a food truck, Brian goes through his ingredients pretty quickly. He shops every other day to ensure his veggies are as fresh as possible. Trust us, you’ll taste the difference it makes.

1 tbsp (14ml) olive oil
3 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1⁄4 yellow onion, chopped
1⁄4 red onion, chopped
1⁄4 tsp minced garlic
1⁄2 scallion, chopped
Salt and pepper
2 slices sourdough bread
2 1⁄2 slices mild Cheddar cheese
1 1⁄2 tsp (7ml) Sriracha sauce
2 slices tomato
3 small leaves fresh basil
1 small avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced (I used 1/2 an avocado per sandwich)

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the cremini mushrooms and yellow and red onions to the pan. Sauté for about 4 minutes, stirring frequently.

Reduce the heat to low, add the minced garlic and continue to sauté for about 2 minutes. Stir continuously to avoid burning.

Add the scallion and a pinch each of salt and pepper and stir for 1 minute. The sautéed ingredients should be tender and a little crunchy with a light brown color. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Raise the heat to medium-high. Butter one side of each slice of sourdough bread and set the buttered-sides down onto the pan. Spread the cheese over both slices of bread. In a zigzag motion from one side of the bread to the other, squeeze on the Sriracha sauce. Add more to taste for increased flavor and spiciness.

Add the sautéed vegetables, tomatoes, fresh basil and avocado on top of the cheese on one slice of bread. Add the other slice of bread on top of the ingredients, buttered-side up. Toast both sides of the sandwich for 2 to 3 minutes, until crispy and golden brown.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Psycho Stuffed Birds


"She's as harmless as one of those stuffed birds." - Norman Bates

This month's challenge for the Creative Cooking Crew involves making something inspired by Halloween, whether it's a creepy dish, one that's orange-and-black, or even something inspired by a horror movie. Being the film school graduate that I am, I couldn't resist creating a dish based on a horror film.

Selecting a film was the first challenge, but I quickly decided it needed to be something by Hitchcock, one of my absolute favorite directors. Although Hitch has a large database of suspenseful cinema, there is one horror film that is truly the pinnacle of his outstanding career. In his vast catalog, the most famous (or infamous) film is also the perfect selection for this challenge: PSYCHO.

I'm obsessed with Psycho. Cinematically, it was a game-changer. Movie-goers were not allowed into theaters after the film had begun. This was the first time in history that there was a rule like this in place that all movie theaters actually enforced! Psycho was shocking, even down to its smallest details. Did you know that Psycho was the first American film to ever show a toilet being flushed?

If you haven't seen the movie, I don't want to ruin it. I will say that you if you are a fan of cinema, then you owe it to yourself to see Psycho.

Now, how does my dish tie in with the movie, you ask? Well, you may note the Norman Bates has a hobby of taxidermy. He stuffs things, namely birds. His parlor behind his office is filled with these creepy stuffed birds, acting as voyeurs (much as Norman does) perched within his personal space.

Norman Bates sitting in his parlor

There are also portraits of birds in Marion's hotel room. The importance of birds in Hitchcock's filmmaking continues three years after the release of Psycho with another revolutionary film from the Master of Suspense: The Birds. You see, I just couldn't resist.

Stuffed birds were the obvious choice here. I not only stuffed them (deliciously, I might add) but I also created a somewhat red-hued gravy using a mixture of red wine and chicken broth. I splattered it all over my serving platter to mimic the effect of blood splatter, because you know, that happens in the movie too (SPOILER ALERT). PS Hitch used chocolate syrup, so his splatter wasn't technically blood red either.

Homemade corn muffins are broken into pieces to create the base for the stuffing. Along with sauteed onion, celery, and garlic, and a mixture of herbs, the stuffing is bound with a bit of chicken broth. Simple, but delectable. It's sweet and savory with a bit of crunch from the celery. I actually stuffed this stuffing into the birds, but in my ideal world, I prefer "stuffing" served as "dressing," meaning, I like baking it on the side and not in the birds. For the sake of this Norman Bates-inspired dish, I stuffed 'em!

Head over to Foodalogue on October 28th for a full round-up of recipes!

Psycho Stuffed Birds aka Stuffed Cornish Hens with Red Wine Gravy
Serves 2 to 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 red or yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, trimmed, halved lengthwise and chopped
1 tablespoons minced garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups cubed/crumbled cornbread (about 1-inch pieces), preferably stale or lightly toasted in an oven to dry out (I used 4 homemade standard size corn muffins)
1/4 cup chicken broth or stock
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

2 Cornish hens
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup chicken broth or stock
1 to 2 sprigs thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Start by making the stuffing. In a saute pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the onion, celery, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and the mixture is fragrant. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a mixing bowl add the chunks of dry cornbread, onion mixture, chicken broth, and herbs. Mix to combine and adjust seasoning as needed.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a roasting pan with foil and place a roasting rack inside. Remove giblets from the hens and wash and dry them thoroughly, inside and out. Trim any excess fat and remove any remaining pinfeathers.

Pack the cavities of the hens with the cornbread stuffing. Any leftover stuffing that doesn't fit the hens can be baked separately in a ramekin.

Truss the hens, making sure to tie the legs together to help keep the stuffing intact. Rub the hens with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 45 to 60 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 165 degrees F. Remove hens from the oven and allow them to rest for about 10 minutes, loosely covered with foil, before carving.

Meanwhile, make the gravy. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and then add the flour. Whisk until smooth, and cook for a couple minutes. Slowly add the wine and broth, whisking constantly to keep the mixture smooth. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to keep it at a simmer, add the thyme sprigs and season with salt and pepper. Allow the gravy to simmer for about 5 minutes until thick and fragrant. Remove the thyme sprigs from the gravy and serve alongside the hens.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bouchon Bakery Corn Muffins


I'm a big fan of the Bouchon Bakery cookbook. Although many of its recipes are time consuming and challenging, some of my favorites are actually the muffin recipes--simple but delicious. So far I've made three of the muffin recipes, and I've made them multiple times!

Previously, I've created the pumpkin muffins and the banana muffins, but I recently needed some cornbread for a stuffing recipe (stay tuned this Thursday) and decided to throw together these easy-to-make corn muffins. Not only were the freshly baked muffins perfect for breakfast, but I used four of them (the standard size) for my stuffing.

These are incredibly moist--just like all the other Bouchon Bakery muffins I've made--due to the fact that the batter is made at least a day in advance to give the flour (and in this case cornmeal also) time to really absorb some of the liquid and soften before baking, yielding very tender-crumbed muffins.

These muffins aren't too sweet, making them perfect for either savory or sweet applications (heck, I used them for stuffing!). You could easily add a little jalapeno and grated cheddar to the mix to make them even more savory, but they really are perfect just as they are. I love having extra little bites of corn in there too.

Stay tuned for a fun recipe this Thursday utilizing some of these corn muffins (it's inspired by a scary movie, and just in time for Halloween). This is an excellent go-to recipe for any lover of corn muffins! The Bouchon Bakery cookbook never fails to impress me, from the seemingly simple but exceptional muffins to its more complex recipe offerings.

Bouchon Bakery Corn Muffins
Makes 6 jumbo muffins or 1 dozen standard muffins
(Adapted from Bouchon Bakery)

201 g (1 1/4 cups + 3 tablespons) all-purpose flour
51 g (1/3 cup) fine cornmeal
12 g (2 1/2 teaspoons) baking powder
135 g (1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons) granulated sugar
7.2 g (2 1/2 teaspoons) kosher salt
168 g (2/3 cup) whole milk (I used buttermilk)
90 g (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) eggs
90 g (1/4 cup + 2 1/2 tablespoons) canola oil
72 g (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) frozen corn kernals

Place the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk. Sift in the cornmeal and baking powder. Rub any lumps of cornmeal left in the strainer to break them up and add to the bowl. Add the sugar and salt and mix on the lowest setting for about 15 seconds to combine. Add the milk and eggs and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, until just combined. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the oil, then increase the speed to medium-low and mix for about 30 seconds to combine. (I actually did this entire mixing process by hand in a mixing bowl with a whisk and it worked just fine).

Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients that have settled there. Fold in the corn. Transfer the batter to a covered container and refrigerate overnight, or for up to 36 hours.

To bake the muffins: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line either a standard muffin pan with 12 muffin papers or line a jumbo muffin pan with 6 jumbo muffin papers. Spray the papers with nonstick spray.

Spoon the batter evenly into the papers (I used an ice cream scoop), stopping 1/2 inch from the top (135 g each for jumbo muffins and about half that for standard muffins).

Place the pan in the oven, lower the temperature to 325 degrees F, and bake for 35 to 38 minutes for jumbo muffins or 24 to 26 minutes for standard muffins, until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.

The muffins are best the day they are baked, but they can be wrapped individually in a few layers of plastic wrap or stored in a single layer in a covered container at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 week.


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