Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Brunch at Jane in NYC


Brunch in NYC is an institution. People take it quite seriously, which is evident in the tremendous lines outside of just about every brunch spot in town. For the majority of NYC brunches I've experienced, it's simply a waiting game. You show up, put your name on the list, and wait. And wait. And wait some more. When you find a happening brunch spot that TAKES RESERVATIONS, you know you're onto something. With enough foresight, you will not have to wait to enjoy your eggs. And when you're this hungry, do you really want to wait for an hour? I certainly don't.

Raspberry Champagne Cocktail and The Best Bloody Mary

Jane hosts a busy Sunday brunch which not only allows you to make reservations, but also offers a free cocktail with your brunch order! As long as you order off a specific list (of amazing options) you also have your choice of cocktails. Everything from a bloody Mary to a white peach bellini and a passion screwdriver, these are not boring brunch cocktails. They have as much appeal as the rest of the unique menu.

A walnut raisin bread accompanies a simple white bread and strawberry butter as you sit and wait, watching drool-worthy plates pass. The strawberry butter was honestly too mild to really pick out the strawberry flavor, but we thought it was tasty nonetheless, and easily spreadable which makes all the difference in bread baskets.

I had wanted to try both the Benedict Jane and the Benedict Johnny (the menu features 5 Benedicts, also including a traditional version, Florentine, and one with lobster), and asked the waiter if I could get one of each. Absolutely not, I was told. The chef wouldn't do it. I was honestly disappointed. I understand that during a busy brunch rush the chef doesn't want to be bothered with specific requests, but for what it's worth, most restaurants SHOULD make an effort to do the small things to please diners (I've had restaurants split appetizers onto multiple smaller plates for diners to have their own share instead of picking off of one plate, even without us asking, just to make things easier for US). You never know who will be writing about their meal on the world wide web for everyone and their mother to read.

Benedict Jane - Poached Eggs, Crab and Crawfish Cakes, Spinach, Tarragon Hollandaise $16 (includes free cocktail)

Fortunately, my amazing friend was totally cool with us each getting one of the two and then sharing. A solution to our problem! I am eternally grateful :) The Benedict Jane features a crab and crawfish cake base, wilted spinach, poached eggs and a tarragon Hollandaise. I thought it was scrumptious. The cake itself was tender and flavorful, a great compliment to a runny poached egg with some extra oomph from the spinach and mildly herbed Hollandaise.

Benedict Johnny - Poached Eggs, Maple Chicken Sausage, Corn Pancakes, Roasted Tomato Hollandaise $15 (includes free cocktail)

The Benedict Johnny started with a cornbread cake base topped with a maple chicken sausage patty, poached egg, and roasted tomato Hollandaise. We truly loved this variation as well, and really loved the sweet element of the cornbread cake with the sweet and slightly spiced sausage patty (I always put maple syrup on my sausage... I love sweet and savory with my breakfast sausage especially).

We really got to experience the best of both worlds by going halfsies with our brunch picks. The fact that Jane offers so many Benedicts on their menu makes me really wish they had a mix and match option. But in lieu of that, I suggest going with a friend who doesn't mind sharing. We really enjoyed our selections, as well as the home fries laced with melted onions and red peppers that came on the side. Our cocktails were really enjoyable as well (and really, who doesn't love a cocktail with brunch?). Considering that an alcoholic beverage is included with your meal, the prices are especially fair (and don't forget, this is New York City... brunch can sometimes get seriously pricey depending on where you go). I LOVE that they take reservations too, and even though the chef couldn't make a simple substitution (even if I said pretty please), I would still happily add Jane to my NYC brunch hit list. And I know I'm not the only one :) Will definitely be returning...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Flex Your Mussels!


Mussels, mussels, mussels. This phrase, emblazoned across the top of the menu, suggests the obvious. You will find lots of mussels at Flex Mussels. With two locations in Manhattan, Flex Mussels not only has a hilarious and awesome name, but it is a Mecca for mollusk-loving New Yorkers. The heavily mussel-focused menu offers about 2 dozen flavor profiles (and not much else in the non-mussel arena). I like to think of it as a closet full out "outfits" for these beautiful and plump mussels. International cuisines far and wide are represented here, and narrowing down is a serious challenge. A friend and I selected two different kinds and split them both. That's a smart way to go if you are okay with sharing :)

Little Neck -  Fresh Chopped Clams, Bacon, Red Pepper, Breadcrumbs, Herbs $20

We selected the Little Neck, which consists not only of mussels, but also little neck clams, bacon, red peppers, breadcrumbs, and herbs. The breadcrumb component was an appealing factor, as we're both fans of the texture, and it added a really unique element to a dish of steamed mussels (usually breadcrumbs find their way onto baked mollusks, but not those in a broth). The breadcrumbs did start to get soggy as they fell into the broth, but this is an obvious side effect put to rest by the fact that there were plenty of breadcrumbs to go around. The bacon was in large chunks and offered a really smoky element to the dish, which overall was very enjoyable and had a great, flavorful broth.

Bisque - Lobster, Brandy, Tomato, Garlic, Cream $21

My favorite of the two was actually the Bisque option, with featured chunks of lobster, brandy, tomato, garlic, and cream. It had all the flavor of a really delectable lobster bisque, with the added dimension of lots and lots of plump mussels. Soaking up the broth with bread was absolutely divine, but I was also completely okay with taking a spoon to it, just like a soup. Very very flavorful. Would easily order it again.

Flex Donuts - Georgia Peach, Strawberry Shortcake, S'mores, and Cinnamon Sugar with Vanilla Bean Dipping Sauce $9

Perhaps the most exciting part of the meal came with our dessert. We had ordered 4 donuts to share: cinnamon sugar, s'mores, Georgia peach, and strawberry shortcake. Our platter of donuts was actually delivered to our table by none other than Executive Pastry Chef (and Top Chef Just Desserts contestant--and my personal favorite) Zac Young! He brought over our donuts with an apology, stating that they were having problems with their fryer. As I looked up at the bearer of our dessert, I exclaimed, "I know you!" I asked if he could stay and he said they were really backed up because of the fryer, but promised to return later. For what it's worth, these were the most amazing donuts we had ever had. They were fluffy, still hot from the fryer, and absolutely perfect in every way. The fillings were delicious. The strawberry jam in the strawberry shortcake donut was one of the best jams I think I've had... soooo fresh and fruity. It's the real deal.

Zac did as he promised (after apparently spending some time Facebook-ing on his phone by the bar) and we chatted it up for a while. He joked to us about having his intern stir the huge pot of strawberry jam (which along with marshmallow fluff comprised the filling of the strawberry shortcake donuts) non-stop for 5 hours. He made some more jokes (which might be inappropriate to share in case she ever reads this post), and agreed to take photos with us! He was so much fun, and later asked me "Are we Facebook friends?" to which I responded, "No, but we will be by the end of the night." And sure enough we were :O)

With Executive Pastry Chef (and Top Chef Just Desserts star) Zac Young

What a seriously fun and delicious meal. As a mussel lover from way back, I can officially say that Flex Mussels is a great spot to get your mussel fix. The many varieties do not come with fries, but you can easily add on an order as you wish. Dessert is an absolute must! And if you're lucky, Zac will hand deliver your order as well! Next time I've GOT to try his donut bread pudding... it sounds like a sure thing!

Flex Mussels
174 E 82nd St
(between Lexington Ave & 3rd Ave)
New York, NY 10028
(212) 717-7772

154 W 13th St
(between Avenue Of The Americas & 7th Ave)
New York, NY 10011
(212) 229-0222


Monday, September 12, 2011

Secret Recipe Club: Red Velvet Brownies!


It's time for another Secret Recipe Club adventure! This month I was assigned to create something delicious from Sweet as Sugar Cookies, host of Sweets for a Saturday, which is how I was first introduced to Lisa. She definitely prefers baking in her repertoire, which can be seen from the vast variety of dessert recipes on her blog, as well as her weekly link up :) I obviously would be making something sweet from her blog.

The Red Velvet Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies looked like the perfect choice! I love red velvet and enjoy finding new ways to experience the flavors and bright vibrant color! I think my red food coloring may not be quite as red as others (I got it in Canada, could this make a difference? It may be a bit more diluted), but regardless of the lack of bright red color, these brownies were really tasty! They had the flavor of red velvet, with the texture of a brownie that had babies with some cheesecake. You gotta try it to know what I'm talking about ;-)

The changes I made were mostly in the method of prep. I just changed up the order of ingredients to follow a more standard method I'm used to when baking. I also didn't reserve any brownie batter for the topping to swirl, I just spread on the cream cheese topping and swirled and I think it came out nicely that way as well. Once again, loving the Secret Recipe Club and can't wait to discover even more in the blogosphere :)

Red Velvet Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies
Makes 9
(Adapted from Sweet as Sugar Cookies)

Red Velvet Layer:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Pinch kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon red food coloring

Cream Cheese Layer:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch baking pan, and set aside.

Brownie layer: Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt and set aside.

Add softened butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachmend. Add the sugar and beat until well-combined. Beat in the eggs, vinegar, vanilla, extract, and food coloring, making sure to mix completely before each addition. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan.

Cream cheese layer: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, sugar, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Gently spread the cream cheese layer on top of the brownie batter in the pan. Using a skewer or the tip of a knife, drag the tip through the cream cheese mixture to create a swirl pattern. Bake the brownies for about 30 minutes until set. Remove to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely before cutting.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Whole Hog Cookbook: A Delicious Review (and Recipe)


I personally own 6 stuffed pigs and a piggy bank which I painted with a diagram of the primal cuts of pork. I have always considered pigs to be some of my favorite animals, both since I find them adorable and seriously delicious. Libbie Summers shares this love affair with pigs. As Paula Deen's culinary producer (and a chef in her own right), she is releasing her first cookbook on September 13th entitled The Whole Hog Cookbook. This book ain't kosher, and I'm totally on board :) Libbie introduces the book with a story from her childhood and her grandmother's farm. She describes her youthful disregard for her grandmother's prized pigs by riding them like horses, and then realizes her wrong-doings. These animals deserve respect. Respect in life and in death. This is why she offers this cookbook to lovingly (and deliciously) utilize every last part of the pig, to pay the utmost respect to one of God's most flavorful creatures.

Most chapters begin with a "Pig Tale," an in depth introduction to the first recipe. I can honestly say that The Whole Hog Cookbook is filled with love. Love for pigs and all of their beautiful parts. Starting with the loin and then moving onto the Boston shoulder (or Boston butt), bacon, spare ribs, picnic shoulder, leg, and offal, and then finally a chapter entitled slices which shares pork-infused dessert recipes (these are mostly limited to the use of bacon or lard as pork ingredients). Each recipe features a heading which points out the primary pork cut that is used in the recipe, and every single pork ingredient is bolded as well. This is as pork-centric as a cookbook could get!

Aesthetically speaking, this cookbook is also one of the most funky, modern, and colorful I have come across in regard to the layout and illustrations. Full page photographs are interspersed with pages quartered and devoted to four photographs, and always in the cross-hairs is juicy, meaty pork. The photography setup for this book really allows for the sharing of illustrations of almost all of the dishes in the book. It makes the most of the picture pages, and even includes many photos of Libbie with a variety of pigs, and even Libbie's hands showing off some of her creations. The photography is professional, but playful. It mirrors Libbie's personality perfectly, and really captures how personal these recipes and stories are. They are down home and honest. They truly come not only from the farm, but from Libbie's heart.

Libbie's voice is also a great highlight of this cookbook. She has an incredible sense of humor and is very knowledgeable about the topic of pigs and pork. I don't know about you, but whenever I hear the words "Pork Chops and Applesauce" my mind immediately flashes back to an episode of the Brady Bunch. It is my #1 memory related to this dish and this phrase. Libbie Summers doesn't miss a beat. She refers to the exact same episode in her recipe introduction for Pork Chops and Applesauce. Although the book contains many classics such as this one, there are countless recipes that are new to me and probably to you as well. Mouthwatering creations along the likes of Prosciutto Pretzel Knots with Stout Mustard, Bacon Beignets with Lemon Thyme Curd, Sweet Tea-Brined Pork Roast with Lemon Mint Mashed Potatoes, Hot Pickled Pork Sandwiches with Cool Apple Slaw, and Country Ham and Buttermilk Biscuits with Clementine Prosecco Marmalade. Do I have your attention yet?

The book even contains "How To" guides for preparing a double rack of pork ribs for a crown roast, making green grass refrigerator pickles, wet-curing bacon, removing the pork rib membrane, making breakfast sausage, carving a fresh ham, preparing hot peppered pickled pig's feet, rendering leaf lard, and finally a very special "parting gift"... instructions for making the three little pigs out of marzipan. Oink oink. This book is too much fun!

Although Libbie does an excellent job highlighting pretty much everything there is to know about pigs and pork, including a great source guide in the back of the book, I was so excited to find out more. An interview was in order. Thanks to one of the publicity managers at Rizzoli, I was in touch with Libbie before I could say "deep fried bacon." Not only did she answer my questions, but we chatted on the phone for about half an hour about pork, her book, bread pudding, our respective jobs, and most importantly how much we LOVE cooking. She even shared with me a sacrifice she made that only the biggest cookbook lovers can understand. She slightly reduced the weight of the paper in the book (which even after the fact is incredible quality) just so she could add 10 more pages of love. I hope to meet my new Southern friend the next time she comes up north. I see lots of delicious eats in our future.

How long have you been a culinary producer for Paula Deen and how did that translate into writing your first cookbook?

Paula has been one of my clients for 3 years. I've been so blessed to work with a saucepan full of great clients. With Paula, I've been fortunate enough to style a few images in one of her books as well as worked on two of the delicious Deen Brothers books and two books from her fabulous cousin Johnnie Gabriel, so I was introduced to the true bones of doing a cookbook. The good the bad and the ugly...there's always something to learn and I've tried to be a sponge to it all. Paula was kind enough to write a wonderful foreword for me as well as taking a day out of her schedule to have a pig roast photo shoot. In the fast paced world she works in, this was a super big deal and for this, I'll be forever grateful.

Has this cookbook always been something you wanted to do? Other than your obvious love for pork, what inspired you to write it?

I LOVE cookbooks, and have been collecting them for years...It's a ridiculously delicious obsession and I don't even want to know how many I have. I actually make pieces of furniture out of them –to justify the purchases! Since part of what I do is write for a living, it was a natural progression for a book and I'm told that's the bonus people will get out of the book –the stories that make you laugh. The pig connection? That is all about my childhood. My grandparents had a small boutique farm in rural Missouri and some of my most colorful memories (grandma cussed, smoked and changed her hair color constantly) took place on that farm. Also, some of the best meals I've ever eaten were around that farmhouse table.

Why do some recipes call for Smithfield pork specifically while others don't?

The folks at Smithfield have been very supportive of my work and I've used their products when developing recipes for them in the past. This was my way of saying thank you for their support AND more importantly showing that using a cut of pork found in most grocery stores makes a great dish when the recipe is good!

Does using self rising flour make a difference for breading as opposed to all-purpose? (for example in the recipes for the tenderloin sandwich and the deep fried dills)

Self-rising flour is all about Paula Deen. When I started working with her, she taught me the difference in the crispiness on chicken when you dredged in self rising flour versus all-purpose. Why would I ever argue with the queen of Southern fried chicken, right! From that day on, I've only used self-rising flour when I "down home" fry! This tenderloin sandwich is so simple and so freakin' amazing. The Kick-Butt Ketchup... girl, you will think you died and went to Southern Fried Heaven.

Smoked shoulder roll is an unfamiliar cut to me (and I did study meatcutting in culinary school). Is this commonly found or should it be special ordered?

Okay Victoria, I definitely want you on my meat cutting team!! The smoked shoulder roll is really nothing fancy, but is full of flavor. It's a cured and smoked boneless eye of pork shoulder blade from the Boston shoulder retail cut. It's widely available, I just think most people don't know about it, so they don't look for it. I use it in three recipes in my book: Cuban Pork Roast, Midnight Pork Tamales and West African Pork Stew. All cook low and slow... I hope the Midnight Pork Tamale story makes you smile too!

A lot of mom and pop butcher shops seem to be disappearing in smaller cities and towns. Supermarkets are the common location for most people's meat purchases. For less common cuts of meat (or heritage pork) would it be best to order from online vendors? Or simply substitute what is available?

Of course, I would encourage sourcing out local heritage pork farmers and using local butchers, but sadly that is not always an option. In that case, I use ordering online as one option. Actually, my favorite pork farmer is Emile DeFelice in South Carolina at Caw Caw Creek farm. I order directly from him. Sometimes, the next best thing is a great pork chop from Piggly Wiggly! I'm not that kind of cook who is above buying a cut of pork from a local grocery store. Luckily, the recipes in my book are DE to the licious with either choice!

A charcuterie fashion show... the most beautiful kind :)

It was nearly impossible to narrow down a single recipe to start off with, but my very first impression of this book was from the first recipe, the Colossal Pork Tenderloin Sandwich. I knew that was where I should start my pork-filled journey. I'm pretty sure Libbie planned it this way. The pork tenderloin itself is prepared just like a chicken fried steak, so it's kind of like a chicken fried pork tenderloin :) It's sensational. Super duper tender pork with an amazingly flavorful and crisp crust. The ketchup is the best ketchup on Earth. For real. My ketchup-hating-friend couldn't stop eating it. I recommend making it for every ketchup requirement. I know all of you gardeners out there have millions of pounds of tomatoes at this point in the summer, so definitely don't let this ketchup recipe pass you by!

The mayo is super flavorful and definitely worth the extra effort to make yourself (and whisk by hand). I have had a love/hate relationship with making homemade mayo. This mayo came together perfectly! And when married with the ketchup, it takes on a life of its own. For breading the pork, I actually cut the seasoned flour ingredients all in half and still had plenty for breading my tenderloins, so use your judgement. I just hate wasting flour if I don't need to. We also opted for wheat buns instead of plain white buns, and our sandwiches were still super tasty. Next time I may actually toast the inside of the buns so they don't get as soggy with the massive amounts of ketchup and mayo that just beg to be poured atop this oh-so-colossal and delicious sandwich. Serve with plenty of napkins!

The Colossal Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

Colossal Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
Serves 4

Peanut oil for deep-frying
2 cups self-rising flour (I used all-purpose flour and added baking powder and salt to make it like self-rising flour)
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 large eggs, beaten
1 lb. pork tenderloin, cut into 4 equal pieces
4 sandwich buns (the cheap kind)
Homemade Mayonnaise (recipe follows)
Butt-Kickin' Ketchup (recipe follows)

In a Dutch oven or deep skillet, heat at least 4 inches of peanut oil to 360 degrees F (I only used about 2 inches and it was still plenty of oil to fry these babies). Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set aside.

In a shallow baking dish whisk together the flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. In a separate shallow baking dish, put the beaten eggs.

Place one piece of tenderloin between two pieces of plastic wrap. Use a meat tenderizer, wooden mallet, or rolling pin to beat the tenderloin to 1/4-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining tenderloin pieces.

Dip one piece of tenderloin into the flour mixture to coat, and shake off any excess flour. Next, dip the lightly floured piece into the beaten egg and return it to the flour mixture. Slide the breaded tenderloin into the hot oil and fry for 4 to 6 minutes, turning, until it is golden brown. Remove to the prepared baking sheet to drain, and season with more salt and pepper. Continue cooking the remaining pieces of tenderloin until all are fried. Serve each tenderloin atop a hamburger bun (the meat should be larger than the bun), and spread with Homemade Mayonnaise and Butt-Kickin' Ketchup. Fries are optional.

Homemade Mayonnaise and Butt-Kickin' Ketchup

Homemade Mayonnaise
Yields 3/4 cup

2 large egg yolks
1 tsp. distilled white vinegar
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. dry mustard powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Combine the egg yolks, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard powder, cayenne, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk for 1 minute, or until the mixture is well combined and bright yellow in color. Add 1/4 cup of the oil a few drops at a time, whisking constantly. It's important not to rush this step, because the oil must be fully incorporated after each addition. This step will take about 5 minutes. Continuing to whisk fora bout 8 to 10 minutes more, gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup oil in a slow, steady stream until the mayonnaise begins to thicken and lighten in color. The mayonnaise will keep for 2 days, covered and refrigerated.

Butt-Kickin' Ketchup
Yields 1 1/2 cups

4 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole allspice berries
4 black peppercorns
2 lbs. tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, or more to taste
1/2 cup cider vinegar, or more to taste
1/3 cup light brown sugar, or more to taste
1 sweet onion, roughly chopped
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, roughly chopped (I used about 1 T. chipotle sauce instead)
1 clove garlic, smashed

Make a spice bundle of the cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon, allspice, and peppercorns, using a cheesecloth.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the tomatoes, salt, vinegar, brown sugar, onion, chipotle, garlic, and the spice bundle. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Remove the spice bundle and puree the sauce in a blender, covering the blender top with a towel, until the sauce is smooth. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve over the saucepan, pressing on the solids to get as much of the pulp and sauce through as you can. Return to low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the ketchup begins to thicken. Season with more sugar, salt, or vinegar depending on your tastes. Let cool before serving (the ketchup with thicken as it cools). Butt-Kickin' Ketchup will keep, refrigerated, in a sealed jar, for up to 3 weeks.

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

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Farfalle with Zucchini Sauce


Tomatoes are so last year. Don't get me wrong. I love a good tomato-based pasta sauce, but this year I have been really discovering pasta sauces using other vegetables. I have made a lovely sauce with carrots for curry fettuccine and a delicious balsamic-laced red peppers sauce which I tossed with penne. Zucchini and I go way back. It just seemed wrong if I didn't include it into the club. And let's just say, zucchini is a great member. A very simple and vegetable heavy sauce utilizing pureed zucchini and onions is tossed with playful farfalle (bowties) for a really fresh and herbacious pasta dish.

Farfalle with Zucchini Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 lb zucchini, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb farfalle (bow-tie) pasta
1/2 cup packed fresh basil
1/4 cup Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese

Heat the olive oil to a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute for about 5 minutes until softened but not completely translucent. Add the zucchini, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes more until the zucchini is tender but not overcooked.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Generously salt the water and add the pasta. Cook until al dente, reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water and then drain the pasta.

Add the zucchini and onion mixture to a blender or food processor and add the 1/2 cup pasta water, fresh basil, and cheese. Puree until smooth and adjust seasoning as needed. Mix most of the zucchini sauce with the farfalle until well-coated, adding more sauce as needed. You may have some leftover sauce, but it can come in handy if you need to reheat any of the pasta later (and re-moisten it with more sauce) or if you want to water it down with some broth for a serving of pureed zucchini soup.


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