How About Something New? Lemon Cucumbers!

“Wow! What are those?” That was my exclamation to the man behind the Froggy Meadow Farm table at the Green City Market here in Chicago on Wednesday. He looked at me kindly, appreciating my enthusiasm and happily replied, “lemon cucumbers.” Clearly I was curious, so I asked him to give me the low-down. Turns out lemon cucumbers are actually an heirloom variety of cucumber. They are round and yellow like lemons, but taste like very mild cucumbers. He informed me that the best way to enjoy them was to cut them like a pie versus slicing them. My face must have look puzzled, so he further explained that cutting them this way gives you a better ratio of skin to flesh to seeds.

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That made sense to me, so then I asked him how to pick a good one and he instructed me that the lighter yellow cucumbers are younger and therefore have a thinner skin, but they are not as sweet as the older, darker yellow-colored cucumbers. “It’s a matter of preference,” he told me, if you like a thinner skin, go with the light yellow, but if you want a sweeter cucumber and don’t mind a thicker skin, go with the darker yellow-colored cucumber. I asked him to pick one of each for me. He rang me up and as I handed over my $1.50, I thanked him profusely then excitedly made my way home, eager to sample my new-found treasures.

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I couldn’t wait to get home and try these little guys. I dove right in, cutting them into wedges, then slices. I did notice the thicker skin when cutting the darker cucumber, but it wasn’t absurdly thick. A taste test revealed that I actually liked both versions. The thinner skin is nice, but I kind of enjoyed the crisp, crunch from the thicker skinned cucumber. It was a toss up for me, both were delicious! Now, what to do with them???

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Try my ideas below for lemon cucumbers or be creative and come up with your own!!!

  • Swap them for green cucumbers in Greek salad or other salad recipes that call for cucumbers.
  • Eat them like an apple and enjoy them whole.
  • Cut them into wedges and serve with other crudite as a great snack or appetizer
  • Grill them and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt and crushed black pepper

Greek Pasta Salad Recipe

I am trying something new. I know you’re busy, and there are likely times that you don’t even read my blog posts. Don’t worry, I’m not mad, I totally get it. You just want the recipe. I’m excited to start off  this series with a simple recipe for Greek Pasta Salad.

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Black Bean and Mushroom Tacos

I adore tacos. Besides pizza, no other food is better in my opinion. I love tacos because they are the perfect vehicle for so many other great foods. Just think about it. Tacos are delicious filled with grilled chicken and a simple pico de gallo. They are also fantastic loaded with spicy oven-baked tofu and a refreshing cilantro cabbage slaw. And how about fish? I mean, who doesn’t love a fish taco?

In my house, tacos rule and I am constantly finding new fillings for my favorite food. To honor “Meatless Monday“, I came up with a vegetarian taco recipe that earned two thumbs up from my little family. These black bean and mushroom tacos are bursting with flavor and umami, so even if you’re a meat-eater, you won’t miss the meat. They are simple to make and many of the ingredients can be prepped the day before so that all you have to do is cook and serve. You’re welcome!

Besides being simple and delicious, tacos are also a great, healthy option for any meal. Use a whole grain tortilla and fill it with lean meats or beans and top with plenty of fresh produce like sautéed peppers, shredded kale or romaine lettuce, chopped tomatoes and thinly sliced jicama. Or why not fill it with last night’s veggie stir-fry or leftover quinoa and grilled corn? Be creative and have fun with your tacos! The options are truly limitless.

In the mean time, try these black bean and mushroom tacos. They’re sure to make your Meatless Monday meal a success!

 

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Black Bean and Mushroom Tacos


  • Author: Sara Haas

Description

Perfect for taco night! A delicious sauté of mushrooms and black beans makes the perfect filling for tortillas.


Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and chopped (any variety is fine)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped white onion

Instructions

  1. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and the onion and cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring until golden, about five minutes. Season with salt and add the garlic, cook 1 more minute. Add the spices, stirring to toast them and prevent them from burning, another minute more. Stir in the black beans, water and lime juice and cook 3-4 minutes, until most of the liquid has been cooked off.
  2. To serve: Fill each tortilla with about 1/4 cup of the black bean and mushroom sauté. Top with cilantro and onions and serve.

Notes

  • Additional optional toppings: salsa or hot sauce, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, low-fat Greek yogurt

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 6
  • Calories: 229
  • Sugar: 3
  • Sodium: 121
  • Fat: 4
  • Saturated Fat: 1
  • Unsaturated Fat: 3
  • Trans Fat: 0
  • Carbohydrates: 42
  • Protein: 9
  • Cholesterol: 0

Watermelon Cooler with Basil Lime Simple Syrup

Bored with water? While I never tire of it, I know there are plenty of people out there who do. My advice? Make yourself a pitcher of what I call “fancy water” or simply water that’s been flavored. Yes, pretty fancy indeed. To make your experience with fancy water fun, I’ve come up with a recipe that’s perfectly light and refreshing. Watermelon is a great base and the simple syrup is a sophisticated little addition that’s sure to please the adult palate.

But don’t forget the kids! They like this one too and you can skip the simple syrup if you don’t want the added sugar. Just prepare as described below and toss in some crushed ice and shake it in a glass until it’s kind of fizzy on top. Your kids will think you’re pretty cool…or not, but who cares because they’ll drink it up regardless!

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Watermelon Cooler with Basil Lime Simple Syrup


  • Author: Sara Haas

Description

The perfect drink to cool you off on a hot day. Fresh watermelon is blended smooth and sweetened with a light touch of lime and basil infused simple syrup.


Ingredients

For the simple syrup

  • 3/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 lime, zested
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water

For the watermelon cooler

  • 3 cups diced, seedless watermelon
  • 1 cup water

Instructions

For the simple syrup

  1. Place the basil and lime zest in a bowl.
  2. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Let mixture come to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and pour over the basil and lime zest. Let cool.

For the watermelon

  1. Place the watermelon in a blender and pulse a few times. Add the water and puree until smooth. Work in batches if necessary.

For the cooler

  1. Pour the watermelon mixture into glasses. Add 1-2 teaspoons of the simple syrup. Stir, add ice and serve.

Notes

  • Makes about 3 cups.
  • There will be extra simple syrup. Store it covered in the fridge and use it to mix into still or sparkling water.
  • You can a little more water to dilute for a milder watermelon flavor.
  • Add jalapeno slices to the simple syrup for a little kick.

Nutrition

  • Calories: 338
  • Sugar: 79
  • Sodium: 18
  • Fat: 1
  • Saturated Fat: 0
  • Unsaturated Fat: 0
  • Trans Fat: 0
  • Carbohydrates: 86
  • Protein: 3
  • Cholesterol: 0

Lemon Garlic Quinoa with Grilled Vegetables

Summer means simplicity. On a 90 degree day here in Chicago, the last thing I want to do is heat my house up with the oven. So, that means I need to be cooking creatively. For moments like these, I turn to the grill. Sure, it’s hot, but that heat’s outside, where it belongs.

While some people use their grill mostly for steaks, burgers and brats, I tend to use mine more for vegetables. Sure, I love a good flank steak or turkey burger, but grilled vegetables are just plain good food. Plus, they are the perfect addition to almost any meal.

Which brings me to my Lemon Garlic Quinoa with Grilled Vegetables. It’s a recipe that starts with a dual purpose marinade. Yes, it’s a marinade, first and foremost, adding tons of flavor to the vegetables, but it’s also used to season the quinoa. Who doesn’t love making something once and using it twice!?

Here’s the best part! This is a dish you can feel good about serving your family and guests. It’s a nutritious food gift from me to you. All wrapped up in vitamin-rich vegetables, fiber-rific beans and perfect-protein quinoa. So grab a bowl and fill it up and put a bow on it. Enjoy your gift (but don’t eat the bow!)!

 

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Lemon Garlic Quinoa with Grilled Vegetables


  • Author: Sara Haas

Description

A simple summer meal that satisfies.


Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated or finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed seeded and cut into planks
  • 1 zucchini, cut into planks lengthwise
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into planks lengthwise
  • 1 red onion, cut into 1/2 inch round slices
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-15 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed, or about 1 3/4 cup cooked garbanzo beans 1/2 cup basil, thinly sliced

Instructions

To make the marinade

  1. Combine the mustard, lemon juice, garlic, black pepper and olive oil in a jar. Screw on the lid and shake well to combine. Alternatively, place the mustard, lemon juice, garlic and black pepper in a small bowl and whisk together. Stream in the olive oil, whisking until fully incorporated. Pour half of the mixture into a re-sealable bag and add the pepper, zucchini, squash and red onion. Cover the remaining marinade and refrigerate. Re-seal the bag and massage marinade into vegetables. Place in the refrigerator and marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

To cook the quinoa

  1. Place quinoa and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Season with salt and reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered for about 15 minutes. Drain off any excess liquid. Set aside.

To grill the vegetables

  1. Preheat grill to medium high heat. Clean grill grates and brush lightly with vegetable oil. Remove the vegetables from the bag. Place the vegetables on the grill and cook vegetables on both sides until grill marks form, about 5-10 minutes per side. Remove from the grill.

To make the dish

  1. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and toss with the reserved marinade. Chop the grilled vegetables and add to the quinoa, along with the lemon zest, chickpeas and basil. Stir and serve.

Notes

  • Makes 8 cups

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 6
  • Calories: 378
  • Sugar: 7
  • Sodium: 176
  • Fat: 16
  • Saturated Fat: 2
  • Unsaturated Fat: 13
  • Trans Fat: 0
  • Carbohydrates: 48
  • Protein: 13
  • Cholesterol: 0

Pe-anna-berry Smoothie

Some people don’t see over-ripe, bruised fruits as having any potential. Not me! I see them as an opportunity! Case in point, I had a peach (leftover from my last post) and a banana sitting on my counter looking quite sad, but still viable. Knowing I needed to act fast, I did a little brainstorming and heeded the warning from my growling stomach, and decided upon a smoothie.

Luckily for me, it was fit the bill for what I was craving. I love the subtle flavor of the peach and the sweetness of the blueberries and banana. Adding the flax seed was a way to get some healthy fats and additional fiber in. And spinach just seems like an easy thing to add and I always enjoy the thought of drinking my spinach. For some reason, I think that’s fun. Yes, I am a little quirky like that.

I have to say it was a hit at my house. I enjoyed mine and had even more fun watching my 2 1/2 year old enjoy hers. So next time you see fruit on your counter and you’re considering tossing it, I challenge you to use it instead. Most fruits make a great base for smoothies, and if you happen to have a peach and banana lying around, try my recipe for Pe-anna-berry Smoothie!

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Pe-anna-berry Smoothie


  • Author: Sara Haas

Description

A delightful way to start the day or finish a workout. Bursting with fruit, flax seed and even a little spinach. Why not make what you’re sipping a little more nutritious!


Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond milk (or any other milk, preferably low-fat)
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon flax seed
  • 1 ripe peach, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 1 ripe banana, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup ice
  • 1 tablespoon honey (if desired)

Instructions

  1. Place the milk, spinach, flax, peach, banana and blueberries into a blender and pulse until combined. Add the yogurt and ice (and honey, if desired) and puree until smooth.
  2. Pour into a fun glass and enjoy! (Fun glass is of course optional)

Notes

  • Makes 3 cups.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 2
  • Calories: 219
  • Sugar: 30
  • Sodium: 59
  • Fat: 5
  • Saturated Fat: 1
  • Unsaturated Fat: 3
  • Trans Fat: 0
  • Carbohydrates: 41
  • Protein: 7
  • Cholesterol: 4

Recipe Redux: Lacinato Kale Salad with Peaches and Maple Vinaigrette

July is an amazing time of year in Chicago. The parks are bursting with activity, the pools are packed with every kid in the neighborhood and it seems like everyone is outside, enjoying every ray of sunshine. It’s a magical time of year here, and I love it. That energy always inspires me in the kitchen. I’ve long forgotten about those hearty winter dishes because my “palette” has been replaced with fresh, beautiful, summer produce.

That brings me to this month’s Recipe Redux theme, which is simply, use the beautiful produce that surrounds you to create a delicious dish. Challenge accepted! Seeing as I love a good salad, I turned my sights to one of my favorite greens, kale. Not just any kale though, dark green, dinosaur or lacinato kale. I love this type of kale, not just because it’s nutritious (that dark green color means it’s laden with good-for-you antioxidants!), but because it’s a bit sweeter and a little more tender than it’s conventional counterpart. It also makes a lovely salad when sliced into fun, thin little ribbons.

Kale is a good start, but then, what should I top it with? Well, of course more gorgeous produce! How about a bell pepper and oh, what about a delicious, ripe, juicy peach? And for a little crunch (and to get some healthy fats in there), how about some walnuts? Then, to keep things simple, a vinaigrette made with only five ingredients, all of which are kitchen staples. Success! (I forgot to mention the goat cheese, a definite necessity, don’t leave it out!)

Enjoy this lacinato kale salad with peaches and maple vinaigrette as a meal by topping it with grilled chicken or tofu. Or scoop it into bowls and serve it on the side with any summer meal. It can make a great appetizer too, a perfect starter that’s refreshing and just happens to be nutritious too!

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Lacinato Kale Salad with Peaches and Maple Vinaigrette


  • Author: Sara Haas

Ingredients

For the dressing

  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallot
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

For the salad

  • 1 bunch (about 12 ounces) lacinato kale, thoroughly washed
  • 1 ripe peach, pitted and thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1/2 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, stemmed and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. To make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar and shallot. Continue to whisk while streaming in the olive oil, mixing until combined.
  2. To make the salad: Remove the stems from the kale and reserve for another use (slice and use in a soup, for example). Thinly slice the kale leaves and place them in a large mixing bowl. Give the kale leaves a good massage with your hands to help soften them. Add half of the dressing and toss to coat. Let sit for about 10 minutes then add the peach slices, walnuts, shallot, pepper, goat cheese, along with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Add the remaining dressing and carefully toss everything together. Serve immediately.

Notes

  • This recipe makes about 8 cups of salad.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 6
  • Calories: 195
  • Sugar: 5
  • Sodium: 78
  • Fat: 15
  • Saturated Fat: 3
  • Unsaturated Fat: 12
  • Trans Fat: 0
  • Carbohydrates: 13
  • Protein: 6
  • Cholesterol: 5


Caramelized Onion and Fennel Pizza

Everyone has a favorite food, right? Mine just happens to be pizza. I mean, is there really another food that’s more perfect? Doughy crust, tangy, tomatoey (yup, I’m using that word) sauce, divine vegetables all topped with flavorful, umami-bursting cheese? Yes, please!!! Thus, the birth of the caramelized onion and fennel pizza.

As a food-lover, it’s a dish that constantly pleases me. From the myriad of toppings to the simplicity of a delicious pizza crust, it’s an ever-evolving food that can surprise, yet also elicit the feeling of familiarity and comfort. The dietitian in me, loves that pizza is the perfect platform for the wide assortment of delicious, nutritious foods out there. The combinations of those foods is almost limitless. I love whole wheat pizza dough topped with wild mushrooms or an array of broccoli, tomatoes, onions and peppers. Heck, you can even put fruit on top or what about grilled barbecue chicken or Thai-style pizza with cilantro, jalapenos, carrots and peanuts? See what I mean?

I’m always trying new things on my pizza and since I happened to have some extra fennel laying around, I decided to try that on my pizza. Caramelizing it with some onion, brought out a delicious sweet flavor and tasted amazing with fresh tomatoes and spinach. It turned out to be a winning combination that even my 2 1/2 year old loves. Try it now and let me know what you think!

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Caramelized Onion and Fennel Pizza


  • Author: Sara Haas

Description

Slow cooked onions and fennel make the perfect topping for pizza!


Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup sliced)
  • 1 fennel bulb, core removed, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound refrigerated pizza dough (preferably whole wheat)
  • 1/4 cup marinara/pizza sauce
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Instructions

  1. Coat a large bowl with non-stick cooking spray, remove dough from packaging and place inside. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and rest on the counter while you prepare the caramelized onions and fennel.
  2. Preheat the oven to 420’F and place the rack in the lowest setting of the oven. (Don’t skip this pre-heating step! It’s important that your oven is nice and warm before putting your pizza in there! If you have a pizza stone, use it!)
  3. Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel. Cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. Turn down the heat to low and cover with a lid or foil. Cook until onion and fennel are tender, stirring occasionally, about 35 more minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt.

To make the pizza

  1. Dust your counter or other clean work surface lightly with flour (any flour will do). Remove dough from the bowl and place on your work surface. Using a rolling pin or your hands, shape dough into a 12-inch circle.
  2. Transfer dough to a piece of parchment paper. Spread the pizza sauce over the crust and top with the spinach, caramelized onions and fennel, tomatoes and the cheese. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning.
  3. Keep the pizza on the parchment and either transfer it to the oven directly onto a pizza stone or set it on an inverted cookie sheet before placing in the oven.
  4. Bake for about 15 minutes, until cheese is melted and crust turns golden brown.
  5. Remove from the oven, cut and enjoy!

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 6
  • Calories: 349
  • Sugar: 8
  • Sodium: 1101
  • Fat: 17
  • Saturated Fat: 5
  • Unsaturated Fat: 10
  • Trans Fat: 0
  • Carbohydrates: 39
  • Protein: 11
  • Cholesterol: 13

Bulgur Breakfast Bowl with Minted Lime Yogurt

Tired of your usual bowl of cereal in the morning? It’s no wonder if you are! You’re taste buds are likely bored after eating the same thing every day for breakfast. Yes, it’s reliable, but is that bowl of flakes filling your “nutritional bucket?” Meaning, is it offering a myriad of nutrients that keep your body fueled to function at its best? Instead of filling that bowl with cereal, why not give yourself a meal that tastes good, fills you up and gives you the energy you need to start your day off right?

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Grilled Chicken with Lemon Parsley Marinade

When it’s warm outside, I want to grill. I grew up in a household where summer meant almost every meal was made on a hot charcoal or gas grill out in our backyard. I never got much experience manning the grill as a kid, but I did have a nice moment where I backed into one in a swimsuit. Ouch! That’s one way to discourage you from grilling!

Flash forward and now I am officially my father’s daughter. While I could never top his grilling skills, I sure do try. I’ve grilled just about everything and you know what, so many things just “work” on the grill. It’s a great little cooking tool, one that can handle lean cuts of meat as well as vegetables and even fruits. I love it’s versatility which allows me to create healthful meals for friends and family.

I’ve created this Grilled Chicken with Lemon Parsley Marinade as tribute to all of those early grilled chicken meals. And I opted for a marinated chicken that could serve many purposes. This one does just that, because it’s great on top of salads, as a filler for pitas and wraps and even just enjoyed as it is.

The marinade serves two functions. The first function of course is flavor. Chicken breast is pretty bland and this marinade packs loads of flavor. The second is that it helps protect against some of the harmful carcinogens that can form when grilling meat.  I’ve also recommended to pound the chicken thin. This creates a chicken breast that’s uniform in size, which allows for even cooking, preventing underdone or overcooked chicken. Don’t skip that step!

Enjoy and let me know how you like it!

 

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Grilled Chicken with Parsley Lemon Marinade


  • Author: Sara Haas

Description

A quick, simple marinade that adds just the right amount of flavor to any piece of chicken.


Ingredients

  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 pound chicken breasts
  • 1 cup parsley, leaves and stems, washed
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced

Instructions

  1. Place chicken breasts in a re-sealable plastic bag. Seal the bag and using a meat mallet or rolling pin, pound the chicken until it’s a 1/2-inch thick.
  2. Combine the garlic, oil, parsley, water, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour marinade, along with lemon slices into the bag with the chicken and seal the bag. Toss to coat. Remove any excess air from the bag and place chicken in the refrigerator to marinate. (I recommend putting the chicken in another vessel, like a bowl or dish, to prevent any cross-contamination in your fridge.) Marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours.
  3. When ready to cook, remove chicken from the refrigerator and preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Clean the grill thoroughly and brush grates lightly with canola oil.
  4. Once the grill is hot, add the chicken. Grill until chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165’F, about 8-10 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking time. Let rest before slicing.

Notes

  • This chicken is delicious on top of salads or pastas. It can even be used as a base for chicken salad, gyros or other sandwiches.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 4
  • Calories: 319
  • Sugar: 0
  • Sodium: 241
  • Fat: 18
  • Saturated Fat: 3
  • Unsaturated Fat: 14
  • Trans Fat: 0
  • Carbohydrates: 3
  • Protein: 36
  • Cholesterol: 96
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