Wednesday, 26 November 2014

spinach, watercress, celery and pea pottage

...when we first bought Belleau Cottage we didn't really know how our lives would change but over the past 10 years the cottage has gone from occasional weekend retreat to permanent dwelling and back again as work down in London threw us a curveball or two... we're currently spending less time at the cottage with work going so well and whilst I really can't complain I have to say I do miss the cottage, particularly heading towards Christmas. You see whilst the summer is gorgeous with those long lazy days walking by the river, in winter the landscape takes on its own majesty and waking up on a frosty winter morning with the fields covered in a frozen blanket of ice and the sun gleaming down creating prisms of technicolour over the view is simply breathtaking. The knowledge that we'll be toasty and warm with the fire raging in the living room warms the soul as well as cold hands. of the teeny drawbacks of the cottage is the fact that we never had oil-central-heating installed. We simply thought we'd never need it as we wouldn't be here enough.  This means that the only source of heat comes from the wood-burning stove.  We do have radiators throughout the cottage and once the fire is roaring there is a clever pump that shoots the hot water around to all the rooms but if you want to be warm at Belleau Cottage you have to start a fire.  This means many things but one thing in particular is that we are obsessed with wood.  Wood we buy, wood we 'forage' and wood we already own that can be broken up to burn... you will often find us out on walks or rides in the car coveting large logs and wondering how we can get them back to the cottage without rising suspicion...

spinach, watercress, celery and pea pottage
this last weekend we had a particularly miserable cold snap and The Viking was determined to go 'logging' which meant hours of cold, wet and frozen hands, ears and noses... I love the hard work because it means we'll have warmth but there is nothing sweeter than getting in from the cold and eating a warm bowl of something glorious.  The Viking was grumbling about needing soup and using up veg in the fridge so I whipped this up... 30 minutes from nothing to bowl is pretty good going if you ask me...

...fortuitously I was sent some incredible Fenland Celery this week.  Fenland celery has become the first English vegetable to earn Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status from the European Commission, joining an exclusive club of quality British food products. To receive PGI status, an entire product must be traditionally and at least partially produced within a specific region to acquire qualities unique to the outputs of that region. In this instance, Fenland Celery gets its unique taste and texture from both the traditional production methods and the deep peaty Fenland soil it is grown in.

The celery really made this soup special and whilst I would have normally blended the finished ingredients I wanted to taste the quality of the individual ingredients it was actually quite lovely having something a little more substantial to eat... it felt like a proper meal and we were both suitably full and comforted after this...

1 small onion - finely chopped
2 sticks of celery - finely chopped
2 small potatoes - diced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 bag of baby spinach
1 bag of watercress
150g frozen garden peas
1 litre good quality vegetable stock
a dash of white wine
salt and pepper

in a large, heavy bottomed pan gently heat some butter and olive oil and sauté the onions and celery for a few minutes, then add the potatoes and fennel seeds, stir well and let them sauté for another 5 minutes, add the spinach and watercress and some salt and pepper, place the lid on and let is all sweat for about 8 minutes

add the stock and the frozen peas and let it gently bubble away for 20 minutes then serve with some crusty bread and butter

as we drive through the Fenlands every time we travel back and forth to the cottage I am entering this soup in the Shop Local bloggers challenge hosted by Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary... I am also sending this vegetarian soup off to Lisa from Lisa's Kitchen and Jac from Tined Tomatoes who host the No Crouton's Required challenge

eat and of course, enjoy!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

christmas cappuccino cream stuffed cupcakes

... like many food bloggers and I suspect most people out there, Christmas can be both a blessing and a curse.  I genuinely love Christmas.  Regardless of the commerciality of the whole shebang, when it comes down to it I adore the social gatherings of friends and family and of course I love the cooking but at the same time it can all become pretty stressful... i've tried my hardest to be clever and create 'make-ahead' and frozen options for everything but in all honesty when push comes to shove it's never going to be that simple so put a glass of something cold and alcoholic in my hand, surround me with friends and some festive music and i'm more than happy to be in the kitchen buzzing away...

Emmi CAFFÈ LATTE is an iced coffee drink that you can find in the chiller cabinet at most supermarkets. I'm not usually one for picking up something like this but only the very best ingredients are used from the sustainably sourced coffee beans from the best coffee-growing areas to the finest milk and it's all prepared immediately to lock in all the flavour. This means that you can actually taste that certain something from the selected ingredients in every single cup.  Of course the convenience of these cups is probably what's so good about them and now that i've tried their Cappuccino Iced Coffee with it's cute limited edition Christmas cup with a reindeer wearing a scarf on it i'm kind of hooked... which is useful because they've asked me to develop a little christmassy Advent recipe for their facebook page Christmas giveaway...

christmas cappuccino cream stuffed cupcakes
since baking my jam-filled rose cupcakes back in the summer I've wanted an excuse to create another one, this time filled with something rich and creamy and luxurious and it seems Christmas is the perfect answer... I imagine these would be ideal for a naughty little treat on Christmas morning or would work equally well served with a Christmas cocktail or two...

for the cupcakes
110g slightly salted butter at room temp
225g golden caster sugar
2 large free-range eggs
275g plain flour sifted with
2 teaspoons baking powder
120ml Emmi CAFFE LATTE Cappuccino
1 teaspoon coffee extract
1 tablespoon kahlua liquor Optional)

for the coffee and kahlua cream filling and icing
110g unsalted butter at room temp
60ml Emmi CAFFE LATTE Cappuccino
1 teaspoon coffee extract
500g icing sugar - sifted

pre-heat the oven to 160C fan assisted and line a 12 hole cupcake tray with paper cases

in a large bowl using a hand-held electric whisk, cream the sugar and butter for about 5 mins until it is light and fluffy then add the eggs one at a time, beating for a few minutes after each egg is added

weigh the flour together with the baking powder and then sift one third into the batter and whisk in followed by a third of the Emmi CAFFE LATTE Cappuccino whilst beating, continue until all the flour and Emmi CAFFE LATTE Cappuccino has been used

carefully spoon into your cupcake cases until 2/3rds full and then bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden and risen.  Let them cool in the tray for 10 mins then remove and place on a wire rack until completely cool

next, make the cream icing... in a large bowl beat the Emmi CAFFE LATTE Cappuccino, butter, coffee extract and half the icing sugar until smooth which can take several minutes with a hand-held electric whisk, then add the remaining icing sugar and beat until the icing is smooth and creamy.

to assemble the cupcakes... take a cupcake corer and core out the centre of each cupcake, then fill each hole with the cream.  Then liberally cover each cupcake with cream in a frothy swirl - sprinkle with something suitably sparkly...

eat and of course, enjoy!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

mince pie flapjacks

... I thought i'd give you a little update on Audrey the Cat or Millie the Cat as she is now known.  As you know, the very lovely Elaine and George have taken her into their home and she's spent the last fortnight in a very chic and contemporary loft apartment outside in the garden to ensure she gets used to her new home... oh and the dog, the chickens and the grand children.  Last week she was given her first taste of freedom and she's been tentatively exploring her surrounding but happily going back into her hutch at night... it seems as though she's settling in beautifully and as you can imagine The Viking and I are over the moon that she finally has a good home full of love... and of curse we don't miss her one bit... what do you mean there's a tear in my eye... darling that's just a bit of dust causing my eyes to water...

mince pie flapjacks
yes... it's barely the end of November but today is Stir Up Sunday, the traditional Sunday before Advent that one is supposed to start preparing food for Christmas, particularly the Christmas Pudding... the whole family takes turn stirring the ingredients for the pudding and making a wish... although make sure you stir clockwise or you'll be in for trouble!  There must be something in the air because i've already been thinking about Christmas snacks.  I can't help it.  I think the aroma of cinnamon stirs something inside me and mentally clicks my brain into Christmas... I have even more baking treats to come later this week but for now I have these naughty little chaps.  last year I made some very popular Christmas Cake Brownies and I wanted to create something similar that has all the essence of christmas but in a little treat... and I think these flapjacks hit the spot...

175g butter
250g soft brown light sugar
6 tablespoons golden syrup
200g mincemeat
350g rolled oats
50g ground almonds
2 teaspoon cinnamon

pre-heat the oven to 180C and lightly oil a traybake tin - I used a classic Swiss Roll tin.

melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan and then once melted take it off the heat and add the oats, ground almonds, cinnamon and mincemeat and stir well

pour into the baking tin and bake for 20-25 mins until golden but watch them like a hawk... there's a lot of added sugar from the mincemeat and they will go very dark very quickly...

cool on a wire rack but cut them into squares whilst they're still a little warm... a little dusting of icing sugar never hurt anyone...

eat and of course, enjoy!

Friday, 21 November 2014

my #top10 store-cupboard ingredients

... I know that many people like a good cupboard clear-out in the Spring but for me, November marks the time when I like to pull everything out of my food cupboards and assess what's there... I guess i'm thinking about Christmas and ultimately planning for what what I'm going to need to get in and stock up on so that I don't have to be rushing to the shops over the festive period. It's quite amazing what you find when you root around in there, for instance this year I found a packet of chestnuts that I bought last year for Christmas (still miraculously in date) and believe it or not there was also one of those mini Heston Blumenthal Waitrose Christmas Puddings... just sitting on the bottom shelf!

Of course I always have my favourite store cupboard items, they're always in there and get refreshed as and when they run out... these are the key ingredients and items that I simply could not be without and we all have our favourites don't we?  Some, like the Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon stock, has been handed down to me by my mum and others such as the LittlePod Vanilla Extract have been recommended to me by blogger friends and then of course the very basics such as strong white bread flour have come from my keen love of baking home made bread... and it's funny how we are loyal to some brands (I could only ever use Maldon Sea Salt) but are not bothered about others, for instance I really don't care about my brand of Extra Virgin Olive Oil as long as it's a good quality single origin...

the good people at Tombola Times have created a survey to reveal the most popular store-cupboard food products worldwide and they need lots of response from foodies, bloggers, blog readers and general cooking fanatics to help reveal the ultimate top 10... everybody who takes part in the survey will be entered into a prize draw to win the contents of the Ultimate Store-Cupboard which will be delivered to you in the form of a hamper... so it's fun to take part and you could win a little something too.. what's not to like?

if you could choose only 10 kitchen store-cupboard must-haves, what would they be?
my list looks a little like this - although it's not a completely static list and in fact even compiling this list made me realise that my tastes change quite frequently... but enough of me waffling...

Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon
This is the original and the best... it goes into everything that I need stock for and if you read my recipes where I say stock this is what I use.  It also makes a very tasty quick cup-a-soup style drink if you're in a rush...

Maldon Sea Salt
The UK's best-selling and beloved sea salt flakes... I use it in all my cooking and go through it at an alarming rate...

Billingtons Golden Caster Sugar
Billington's just happens to be my current favourite brand but in fact there's always a packet of golden caster sugar in the house... I bake most of my cakes with it as I love the texture it gives and the whilst the golden taste is subtle I know it's there...

Arborio Rice
if all else fails I know I can whip up a damn fine risotto in 25 minutes for any friends who may have arrived suddenly in the darkness of the night... rice, wine, onions, stock, cheese and love is all you need to make a bowl of gloriousness...

Strong White Bread Flour
this is one of the products that whilst I probably should have a favourite brand, in fact I will use any strong white bread flour and have done to create gorgeous bread... I really think you can't be fussy about these staples... what if you were in a pickle and needed to bake bread... think of the impending apocalypse!

Fast Action Dried Yeast
Obviously to make the bread you need the yeast and I should take out shares in Allinson...

Lincolnshire Honey
I would eat this stuff with a spoon if I could and sometimes I do... it goes on toast, with cheese, in cakes, in sauces, with lamb and roasted with vegetables... it tastes of god.

LittlePod Pure Bourbon Vanilla Extract
this was a product that was reviewed widely on a few of my favourite blogs a number years back and I went out and purchased some immediately.  The stuff is by far the best tasting vanilla I have ever tried and it's just so handy, packed with seeds and easy to pour you just grab and shake... they do a mean coffee extract too!

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
again this is one of those products that I should probably think more about when I purchase and I do always ensure I go for a good quality single origin if I can.  I use this for most of my cooking; salads, roasting, frying... I know I shouldn't but I do.

Bisto Best Caramelised Onion Gravy Powder
and finally for me this is the ultimate guilty pleasure... it has its obvious original uses but it's also great to add to vegetarian stews for a bit of a richer, darker depth of taste plus it also helps thicken which can be very helpful... the flavour has much improved over the years so if you haven't tried it for a while I'd recommend it.

so what goodies are in your top ten?

eat and of course, enjoy!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

chestnut, mushroom and ale pie with homemade oven chips

... last weekend I had a funny couple of days developing Christmas recipes.  As always, my lovely editor from Lincolnshire Life Magazine allowed me to explore something a bit fun at this time of year but my deadline was last week - which is actually really late for many publications so I should count myself lucky I'm not baking festive treats in the middle of the summer - and so on Saturday and Sunday the house was filled with the aroma of three types of Christmas stuffing and oh how intoxicating the aroma of bacon, onions, sage and apples baking in the oven is... the recipes come out in the magazine later in the month and I will of course share them with you closer to the big event but all that cooking got me in the mood and had me thinking about that special something vegetarian for Christmas Day... a nice deep-filled pie with some thick and luscious all-butter pastry, some classic ingredients and plenty enough for seconds and left-overs...

and if Christmas baking wasn't enough our work at The Persuaders saw us in the Blue Water Shopping Centre working for Duracell and Barnardos on a really cute festive event with the Duracell Bunny and an interactive 'green-screen' sleigh-ride! You can check-out the fun videos we made on youtube and if anyone's in that area we're there until Sunday... I spent much of last night decorating Christmas trees and scattering fake snow and now I feel thoroughly Christmassy almost to the point of feeling like I don't need Christmas any more... but you know me, i'm bound to come around again eventually!

and on a final note, apologies for no internal pie shots... I have no idea what happened.  One moment it was out of the oven and the next moment it was gone!

chestnut, mushroom and ale pie with homemade oven chips
of course we couldn't have pie without chips... for some reason I had an overwhelming urge for some crispy oven chips, it was as though I was craving carbs and salt and the only way to satisfy this itch was to bake some chips... I like using big fat baking potatoes for my oven chips as you can get them nice and thick-cut and they hold their shape in the oven... plus the little round ends become so gloriously crispy it's hard not to resist!

for the pie filling I've used a vegetarian quorn mince which I really like but you could use regular mince or lentils

for the shortcrust pastry
360g plain flour
170g butter
1 egg - beaten
a pinch of salt
a little cold water to mix

for the pie filling
1 large onion - finely chopped
3 large flat field mushrooms - halved and then thickly sliced
300g quorn mince or vegetarian mince
150g cooked, peeled chestnuts - roughly chopped
1 pint of stock made up from 1/2 pint of dark ale and 1/2 pint good quality vegetable stock
1 tablespoon cornflour
fresh thyme

for the oven-chips
3 large baking potatoes
olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh rosemary

you will need a metal pie dish 25cm round and roughly 5cm deep - butter it liberally.

start with the pastry... I used my classic shortcrust pastry which i've used before in many a quiche but added a little egg... place the flour and butter in a large bowl and crumble together into breadcrumbs, then add the egg and a tablespoon of water and bring it together with a knife, it should start to form a dough at which point use your hands to bring it into a ball, add a little more water if you feel it's a little dry.  Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for at least an hour.

make the pie filling in a deep heavy bottomed pan by gently sautéing the onions in a little olive oil and butter until they are soft and have a little bit of colour, then add the mushrooms and thyme and sauté for a further 8 minutes... add plenty of pepper, stir and add the quorn mince and chestnuts and let it cook off for another few minutes

make the stock and take out a cupful then add the stock to the filling in the pan, turn down the heat and let it gently bubble away for 15 minutes

add the cornflower to the cup of stock and stir to get a thick paste then stir this into the pie filling then set aside whilst you make your oven chips

cut the potatoes into thick chips... I never peel my potatoes but feel free to do as you wish.  Par boil the potatoes for 4 mins just to soften them a teeny pit then lay them out on a baking sheet.  Season with plenty of salt and pepper and sprinkle with fresh rosemary, then drizzle with plenty of olive oil or use one of those clever oil sprays which makes the chips cook more easily

bake for 25 - 35mins on 170C

you should have enough pastry to roll out a lining for your pie dish and a lid with trimmings left for the layered star effect.  my pastry recipe is very short so be gentle with it and use plenty of flour... start by halving the pastry and rolling out the base which you line the pie tin with, then pour in the filling.  Roll out the lid and lay this on top, sealing the edges as you trim

so make the layered star effect you will need a star-shaped cutter... brush the pastry lid with a mixture of beaten egg and milk then started by placing the stars around the edge of the pie, letting them hang over slightly, then brush these stars before adding another ring of stars slightly overlapping the first.  Continue this way until you reach the middle... don't worry about it looking too neat, I always think a little lopsided pastry work looks more 'artisan'

bake on 170C for 20 mins until the pastry is golden and the filling is pipping hot

eats and of course, enjoy!

Monday, 17 November 2014

chilli chocolate and clementine marble cake with a chilli chocolate custard

... contrary to the contents of this and many recent blog posts i'm actually on a bit of a health kick at the moment.  With work being so busy recently I've found myself too exhausted at weekends to haul myself down to the gym, oh and the fact that our local gym burnt to the ground last month didn't help... but after running for the bus the other day and finding myself not able to breathe with my heart pounding against my chest it was a little bit of a wakeup call.  Even though i've spent my entire life slightly overweight i've always considered myself fairly fit and active but in the last few years I seem to have let this slip and if I want to continue eating cake and blogging about cake I need to balance this with some decent cardiovascular and a day or two with reduced calorie intake... probably the wrong time of year to start this kind of thing but then i've never been one for convention...

chilli chocolate and clementine marble cake with a chilli chocolate custard
i've always adored marble cake... neither my grandma or my mum made it but I had a girlfriend who's mum made it and it was the best.  Even though it's quite plain I think it's a really glamorous looking cake with the dark chocolate swirls twisting into the lighter vanilla sponge.  It is exceptionally easy to make and is quite robust which means you can play around with the flavours quite a bit and find complimentary additions to each bit.  I've gone for a classic orange flavour from the clementines with a hit of heat from the chilli... it's a great combination.  The chilli chocolate custard is an indulgent extra as the cake is perfectly good without it but the bonus (other than the fact that's it's custard and doesn't need any excuse for its existence) is that it turns the cake into a brilliant pudding which is fabulous served warm from the oven or gets even better after it's chilled in the fridge!

for the marble cake
225g butter, softened
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour
3 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
the zest of one clementine

for the chilli chocolate custard
4 egg yolks
350ml milk
2 tablespoons Total Greek Yoghurt
60g golden caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
vanilla extract

pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 20cm cake tin

to make the cake place the butter, sugar, eggs, flour and milk into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer for 3 to 4 minutes until beautifully creamy then add the vanilla and mix again

halve the batter into a second bowl and add the cocoa powder and chilli powder to one bowl and mix well... to the other bowl grate in the clementine zest

using tablespoons, dollop alternate spoonfuls of batter into the bottom of the tin ensuring there are no air gaps and keep going with a second layer making sure you alternate the batter, then with a knife or skewer run it through the batters blending them in swirls

bake for 35-40 mins until well risen and firm to the touch - set aside to cool whilst you make the custard

in a large bowl beat the sugar and cornflour with the egg yolks until light and fluffy

heat the milk or cream in a pan and when it's just beginning to simmer take off the heat and whilst whisking the eggs and sugar, gently pour the milk onto the eggs in a steady stream

whisk in the cocoa powder, chilli powder and vanilla then place back on a very low heat and whisk for 5 minutes until it starts to thicken - pour over the cake whilst it's still warm before you serve.

... I am of course entering this gorgeous cake into one of my favourite bloggers challenges - we should cocoa... founded by Choclette from the Chocolate Log Blog and hosted this month by Shaheen from Allotment 2 Kitchen as the theme is chilli!

eat and of course, enjoy!

Friday, 14 November 2014

hot smoked trout mac n cheese

... as a lover of food I often get asked about the kind of wines I like to drink with different meals and over the years, depending on who's doing the asking, I tend to fudge my way through what hopefully sounds like an intelligent answer. I dislike the fact that people assume you're a wine lover or have any wine knowledge just because you care about the food you make. As it happens many of my family and friends are quite knowledgable about wine but I always shy away from the conversation because I fear some kind of horrible wine-snobbery chat will ensue and I simply don't know enough. I am still quite naive when it comes to choosing wine but the best piece of advice ever given to me was by a sommelier at a chateau in France that we went to visit when staying with my aunt in Bordeaux. He asked me what I thought of his wine and I tried to answer as if I knew what I was talking about but after much fumbling with the ridiculousness of words such as 'gravel' and 'earthy' he simply asked me if I liked it or not. He said that the only reason for choosing a wine is if you like it. End of.

When the good people at Brancott Estate asked me to develop recipes to work alongside some of their most popular wines I was of course very excited about tasting the wine and then thinking about what food I could pair it with but my mantra was always 'keep it simple and make something you like' don't stray too far from what you know... I really don't want to alienate anyone with anything that makes me seem like a know-it-all. It has to be 'everyday' good quality, down to earth food, and perhaps adding my own unique Belleau Kitchen twist...

hot smoked trout mac n cheese
so to begin with, this month we have a delightful bottle of Sauvignon Gris. The Sauvignon Gris grape is actually an ancient variety brought over from Bordeaux and thanks to Brancott Estate, Sauvignon Gris has found a new home in Marlborough where, like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, it is producing intriguing wines that are simultaneously fresh and rich, capturing the unique characteristics of the variety as well as the distinctive flavours of Marlborough.

The founders of Brancott Estate were true pioneers, the first to start as the pioneers of the Marlborough wine industry and so I wanted to create a dish that reflects not only the fresh citrus nature of the wine but the pioneering essence of the brand too. There just so happen to be three pioneering local producers close by to Belleau Cottage who I have proudly advocated on this blog in the past, The Belleau Bridge Trout Smokery, the Lincolnshire Poacher cheese company and the Cote Hill Cheese company and so I thought that bringing them together in this delicately creamy dish would be the perfect accompaniment to the wine...

…now as I mention above, I am no expert on wine but I found that my nice, cold glass of Sauvignon Gris worked really well alongside the mac n cheese. The smoked trout, whilst delicate, has a subtle deeper flavor which I thought was nicely complimented by the fresh fruitiness, almost pear-like quality of the wine plus the rich and creamy sauce was balanced well with a delightful zesty grapefruit hit….

for the mac n cheese
4oz Cote Hill Yellow – grated
4oz Vintage Lincolnshire Poacher – grated
350g penne or macaroni pasta
150g hot smoked trout
250g cream cheese or a tub of hot smoked trout pate
a bunch of chives – finely chopped

for the béchamel
750ml full fat milk
75g unsalted butter
2oz plain flour
salt and freshly ground pepper

to make the béchamel sauce, heat the milk until hot but not boiling, then remove from the heat

in another saucepan, melt the butter, then remove from the heat and stir in the flour. Put the pan back on a gentle heat and cook the flour, stirring continuously for about a minute

take the pan off the heat again and add a little of the milk, continuing to stir. Adding the milk slowly and stirring like this will ensure no lumps form. Continue to add the milk a little at a time until it is al encorporated, then return the pan to the heat and cook until the sauce comes to the boil, season and gently cook for a few minutes more

now very gently, on the lowest heat, let the sauce bubble away for at least 20 minutes… it should begin to go a more golden colour but watch it like a hawk and stir regularly, then add the chesses and stir

cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water until just soft and then drain thoroughly, stir in the tub of cream cheese or, preferably a tub of smoked trout pate.

heat the oven to 180C

take a shallow baking dish and spread a little of the cheesy sauce on the bottom, then add the pasta and finally pour over the rest of the sauce. Flake in the smoke trout, keeping the pieces of fish as large as possible. Bake for 30 minutes until the pasta at the top begin to turn a gorgeous golden cheesy colour

eat and of course, enjoy!



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