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Katie Davis

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Archive for June, 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010 @ 03:06 PM

pickle If you have been following PCC for a little while, or you are a friend of mine, I am sure you are well aware at my affinity for pickles.  I seriously have hardly come across a pickle I didn’t like (well maybe except for the super spicy ones!).  But seriously, I love them and if I am not careful could easily put down a whole jar in one sitting.  That being said, prior to moving to Texas, I’d really only had the standard jar variety, having tried almost every brand out there.  But, when we moved down south, I started noticing that that almost every restaurant you visit has them on the menu…as a FRIED option! 🙂 Needless to say, I was very intrigued.  I mean come on…what’s not to like? One of my most favorite foods ever, deep fried…umm yeah, sign me up!

Well since then, it would seem as though they have become a cultural phenomenon, because as of late, I have even heard of some northern restaurants beginning to bring them on board.  I think what is so great about the combination, aside from it being fried and all, is the added crunch to an already enjoyable crunchy treat.  The breading a lot of these places use also has seasonings which add some zest to that salty pickle. Finally, most also come with a great sauce to dip with, which is typically an added punch of yumminess.

I would say I could eat them daily, but I do try to restrain myself. However, as a special treat from time to time, there is nothing betta!  So it is very sad that we have moved away from what seemed to be the fried pickle mecca, but that might be better for my waistline. With that said, it was while reading my June 2010 issue of Food Network Magazine that my attention was caught by the “Recipe of the Month” contest winner…Pretzel-Crusted Pickle Chips With Mustard Sauce.  Sounds pretty good don’t it?  Well, from the looks of the picture, I was hooked, and I immediately tore out that recipe and put it on the list of things to try out myself.  Who cares if I have never tried to deep fry anything. I was not going to let that deter me from attempting to be able to create fried pickles in my own home.  So here we go…

Pretzel-Crusted Pickle Chips with Mustard Sauce

Recipe courtesy of Danica Preston for Food Network Magazine

Prep Time:
10 min
Inactive Prep Time:
Cook Time:
10 min
Level:
Easy
Serves:
4-6 servings

Ingredients

For the Sauce:
  • 1 1/4-inch-thick slice red onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
  • 11/2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Kosher salt
For the Chips:
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 6 large dill pickles, sliced diagonally into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 2 cups salted mini pretzels
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Celery salt, for sprinkling (optional)

Directions

Make the sauce: Mix the onion, both mustards, the mayonnaise, paprika, garlic powder and salt to taste in a bowl. Set the sauce aside.

Make the chips: Heat 1/2 inch vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Gently pat the pickle slices dry with a paper towel.

Put the pretzels in a large resealable plastic bag and crush into coarse crumbs using a rolling pin or heavy pan; transfer to a plate. Whisk the eggs in a shallow bowl and put the flour in another bowl. Dredge the pickle slices in the flour, shaking off any excess; dip in the beaten eggs, then dip in the pretzel crumbs, turning to coat. Working in batches, fry the pickles until golden and crisp, about 1 minute per side. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with celery salt, if desired. Serve warm with the mustard sauce.

Source

As the recipe describes, the first step was to put together the various ingredients for the mustard sauce.  This required finely chopping some red onion and then measuring out both types of mustards, mayo, paprika, and garlic powder that is added.  With a little stir and sprinkle of salt that was done and ready to go…Easy Peasy.

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Next, I cut up 6 large dill pickles into approximately 1/4” slices on the diagonal.  This is where I think I messed up a little, because I seemed to make my slices a tad on the thick side, which made it difficult later on in the frying process.  Once the pickles were sliced, I crushed 2 cups of small salted pretzels with a rolling pin, and prepped the other ingredients needed to fry these bad boys.

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Now from here on, unfortunately, my camera and I didn’t see eye to eye, considering at this point in time, all the pictures I took of the preparation, frying, and final product will not upload.  That being said I can still describe for you what I did and provide a lovely Food Network test kitchens image of the final product…so that is what I’m going to do. 🙂

In preparation for frying, I had the various ingredients on dishes in an assembly line to make it easier on myself.  The order went: pickle slices, flour (for dredging), egg, pretzel crumbs, and finally the hot oil in a pan on the stovetop.  I continued to dredge pickle slices in flour, egg, and then the pretzel mixture with about 8 – 10 chips at a time and then placing them in the oil before I would repeat the process with another batch.  I made approximately 3 full batches, or 30 – 40 pickle chips.

What I found hard was my slices were awfully juicy and they were not allowing much to stick to them, including the pretzels themselves that just did not seem to want to cover the pickle.  I found they didn’t make the adequate crust I thought they might, and definitely not anything that looked like the picture.  Additionally, having to dredge and fry up that many slices is a bit time consuming and tedious.  Maybe I’m just not cut out for that type of cooking ;).  Anyway, although this is not exactly what mine looked like, these are pretty darn close.

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They look so tasty don’t they? And to be honest, mine did not look that much different. Unfortunately, they just didn’t have all the zip I thought they might, and don’t know if the final product warrants that I make them again.

TASTE: I have to say that I was sort of disappointed with these pickle creations. The final chips tasted ok and I was able to enjoy the fried, salty, pickley combination, but they were definitely lacking in overall flavor.  We each ate a few, but threw the majority out, which would never happen if we ordered them in a restaurant. When I mentioned before that I enjoy the zest a lot of restaurants add to their seasoning, I think these were majorly lacking in that department.  That would have been fine if the pretzel taste was strong, but too be honest, it was really hard to tell at all that the breading was made of pretzel.  I think that is because the pretzel pieces just didn’t want to stick well to the slices and therefore it did not create and adequate coating or crunch.

However, what made up for these babies was the mustard dipping sauce.  Holy cow it was pure zesty amazingness, and we have been putting it on everything since! 🙂  It wasn’t enough to save these chips or warrant making THEM again, but the mustard sauce was truly a great combination of flavors and something I WILL make again, just to have on hand.

EASE OF PREPERATION: Although I complained about the tedious nature of frying these chips, overall it was not a terribly complex recipe.  The sauce required the most ingredients, but it was simply a matter of measuring and stirring.  Also, coating the pickle chips, once all the dredging plates were out, was just a step by step process.  I just chose to dredge in batches and then fry in batches to save myself some time. Finally, looking back, it comes to mind that I also could have saved some time with the chips themselves if I would have just gone with pre-cut pickle chips from the store instead of the large whole pickles that I had to cut. I think that would have helped with the size and coating of my chips and possibly the end result, as well. Oh well, you know what they say about hindsight.

COST: It was a very cheap dish to make, most of the ingredients being typically on hand in most kitchens.  Since we just moved, we actually had to purchase almost every item on this list, but given different circumstances, I think we would have had everything already.  So given that, easy to whip up at any given moment.

COMPLEXITY: As I mentioned above, it was all pretty self explanatory, and even though I had never fried anything before, I was able to get the hang of it without any major problems.  The only thing I ran into was the oil getting too hot with one batch. So, if your stove is touchy, I would say it is a matter of trial and error.

PORTION SIZE: The recipe says it yields 4-6 servings. However, I would say that the size of these babies and how easy they are to simply pop in your mouth, I would double the recipe if I were going to make enough to feed 4 – 6.  Heck, Adam and I almost finished them all by ourselves! 😉 I think when they created the recipe they assume people stop after only a couple of chips; but let’s be honest…likely not going to happen.

So although I had such high hopes for this dish, I think it is only worthy of 3 ‘Little Piggies,’ taking a big hit for taste.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010 @ 01:06 PM

008Summer is in full force and it’s hard to believe we are already half way through June. I have a feeling this one is going to fly by.  I have been a crazy person attempting to get settled in our new home. Between the home projects and figuring out my new career path, it’s hard to sometimes think about the other joys in life…like great food. That is why I love it when the time of the week comes around when I get to touch base with you loyal PCC fans and put out good reviews and possibly even feature places you will want to visit on your summer travels.

So, although I am well aware that seafood is available year round, I typically tend to start craving this area of cuisine in the summer time…and I know I’m not alone here.  I think there is something so fresh and light about a wonderful seafood dish that just seems just like summer.  Or, it could be that the dishes I crave (my mom’s dripping in buttery goodness peal n’ eat shrimp) are really ones that don’t require a fuss to prepare and you can just sit back and enjoy the weather and each other’s company.

Now I know many people are angered over the oil spill in the Gulf and the havoc it is wreaking on the wildlife there, and to be honest…I don’t blame you. However, in an effort to shed some light on that area, this week I’m once again highlighting one of our favorite cities and one of its more famous restaurants…New Orleans and the king of oysters in the Big Easy…Drago’s.

Drago’s Seafood Restaurant has been a Louisiana staple as far as seafood is concerned since 1969.  That is was when Drago and Klara Cvitanovich set out to provide good seafood and a fun atmosphere for all their guests. Little did they know then that it would gain the notoriety it has today.  It was at their original location in the “Fat City” section of New Orleans (Metairie, LA) where they invented a dish that would forever write the seafood history books…the ever so delicious dish of chargrilled oysters.  Now many of you may remember me mentioning this dish before when Adam and I first tried them at the Acme Oyster House on our first visit to New Orleans.  You also may remember that we were not overly fond of Acme, however, the chargrilled oysters were the lone highlight. They were absolutely delicious! So after talking to many friends of ours who are New Orleans natives and learning that Drago’s was in fact the originator of this dish, we knew this was a place we had to check out; and we couldn’t wait (especially Adam) to have them at the place that invented the dish.

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On this particular trip to New Orleans we were traveling with our good friends Garrett and Audra. Garrett is a New Orleans native and a great source for what to do and see in the city. He mentioned having been to original Drago’s Metairie location years back and really enjoying it, and that they had recently opened up a new location downtown near the French Quarter, where we were staying.  So, being our first night in the Big Easy, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to try it.

The downtown/French Quarter location is located in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, which was a little bit of a walk from our hotel, but we didn’t mind after being in the car all day.  However, I did not consider what that could mean “being located inside the Hilton.”  Sadly, it was exactly how it might sound. Instead of being an attached restaurant set apart from the lobby of the hotel, it was literally the whole bottom dining room floor of the hotel, complete with spectacular views of guest rooms, hotel shops and beautiful lobby (sarcasm…drip…drip ;)).  This would not have been so bad, except it looked exactly like any other hotel dining room, even down to the table linens and place settings which were branded as ‘Hilton.’  I guess we were just disappointed because it just didn’t seem very authentic.

Still, one aspect that was extremely unique and I am sure comparable to the original location was their chargrill oyster bar.  Let’s just say it was a charbroiling…smoke and flames galore!

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Yes my friends…those flames are literally the oysters!  They just char those babies until they are buttery and uber-crispy; and seeing as Adam enjoyed that dish so much at Acme, he knew he wanted to try the original creation, so an order for a dozen chargrilled oysters was put into the bar.  I, on the other hand, ordered something more up my alley after perusing a pretty impressive menu… ravioli, which were fried and covered in a creamy crawfish sauce…right up my vacation alley; and being that lobster is another dish they can charbroil and specialize in, Garrett went in that direction (with a starter of chargrilled oysters, of course :)). Lastly, Audra ordered their crab cake.

Now, before our meal came, we were presented with what seemed to be some yummy French bread.  Sadly, we were mistaken.:( Although it was French bread, it was super dry and stale…not a very appetizing way to start off the meal.  Also, to start Adam ordered a cup of their shrimp chowder and my meal came with a house salad, which sadly was just some lettuce tossed on a plate with some dressing…nothing to write home about or even worth photographing.  Adam had the same review of his soup. He enjoyed it, but was kinda disappointed by the lack of shrimp. I think he found 2 in the entire cup that ended up being not much more than a simple bowl of cream soup, not what you would hope from a famous seafood joint.

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So after a lackluster start to the meal, we were very excited and hungry when they presented us with our meals.

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I mean…they look pretty darn tasty don’t they?  Unfortunately, look and taste are two very different things.  My ravioli, although good, were not all that exciting in flavor…pretty bland.  The crawfish sauce barely had any crawfish to speak of and the cream sauce lacked flavor itself.  The fried ravioli were typical or many appetizers of that nature, and the portion, although I did not finish it all, was not worth the almost $20 price tag.

Perhaps the saddest part was the reason we went to Drago’s…the oysters. Adam was not impressed in the least…his high hopes definitely not fulfilled. For this place being the birthplace of chargrilled oysters, it left him very disappointed.  According to him, they were so charred that it was hard to tell if they had any taste at all. All he could taste was butter and charcoal; and to use his words, “You might as well have served me a plate full of charcoal briquettes!”  I tried two of them and considered them to be fairly tasty as far as oysters go…but again, still not my favorite; and for being the originator of the dish, I am not sure I see how they gained the notoriety.  That being said…I guess we still managed to enjoy our time with one another.

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I think what was most disappointing about our trip to Drago’s was that I will always wonder if the experience would have been better if we had been able to visit the original.  There is something to be said about taking a concept that has worked for years and then expanding it to too large of a scale due to popularity.  I think given different circumstance we may have enjoyed our meal better.  Also, it didn’t help that not 24 hours later, Adam came down with a flu-like bug that kept him in bed for much of the remainder of the trip, which so far we have only been able to equate to the two meals prior to his getting sick, this being one of them.  Although it may have not been the direct culprit of his illness and consequent miserable time this trip, you can be sure we won’t be jumping in line to try those Drago’s oysters again anytime soon! 😉

SIGNATURE DISH: As the creators of the first chargrilled oyster, I would say it is definitely their signature.  However, they are also well known in the area for Lobster, and it is one of their signature dishes and restaurant mascot. In fact, one whole page of their menu is practically devoted to just their oysters and lobsters. I would say they make it pretty clear what they want you to order, but not sure if it would make a difference in my case. 🙂

TASTE: This was probably what Adam and I were disappointed with the most.  Maybe it was the high hopes we had, but had I gone to any other seafood restaurant, I would expect that all their seafood dishes would be flavorful, especially if “SEAFOOD” is in the name. Unfortunately, what I got was neither flavorful nor tasty.  As I said, it was not inedible. It simply lacked flavor or excitement.  As for the famous chargrilled oysters…Adam could not get over how “chargrilled” they were and I would agree that if there is no flavor outside of the char…what’s the point?

AMBIANCE: I hate to be “Debbie Downer,” but this was another area where we were very disappointed.  I understand wanting to have a bigger location to cater to more patrons in the tourist section of New Orleans, but at least make it seem authentic or close to the original.  True…I have not been to the original, but based on what locals have told me, I can almost guarantee you it ain’t no high fallutin’ hotel dining room complete with hotel branded china and linens!  That fact alone makes me wish I could have gone to the original instead.  In my view, a location has to fit the menu and occasion. I was expecting a normal backyard down home Louisiana shop and what I got was a staunch hotel setting.  It was void of color or character and just felt off.

PRICE: Their prices are a bit high in my opinion.  I know seafood typically is more expensive, but I am sorry…$18 for cheese filled fried pasta with a sauce that is lacking on the seafood, not cool!  And on top of that, it was not an overly large portion.  Had it been something you might see at any normal joint, I might not object so much, but let’s be real…it was an appetizer masquerading as an entrée for $20…and barely any crawfish!  Their other dishes (including the oysters), were also pretty pricey. It is clear that the name has driven up the cost and that is always a bit disappointing, especially when the cost does not equal the taste. In the end…not worth the cost.

SERVICE: This area of our dining experience I have to chalk up to the sheer size of the restaurant.  Taking up almost the entire base floor of the Hilton, each waitress seemed to have a large station to cover.  So although we were attended to within reasonable amounts of time, we were often left waiting a little longer than we would have like to; and for the prices we were paying and being the type of restaurant they are trying to be, I would say their service was not up to par.

I want to end with a little disclaimer to follow up that review.  There is a part of me that feels bad about panning them so much. I really would have liked to try the original, and feel in my gut that if we had only gone there, the experience would have been more “original,” quaint, enjoyable, and therefore an overall better experience.  That being said, we were unable to venture to that original location, so their sister restaurant will have to take the brunt of my review. So, apologies aside, and until I have the opportunity to try the original location to make up for this Drago’s experience, I accordingly give Drago’s Seafood Restaurant (Hilton New Orleans Riverside location) a meager 1 Little Piggy.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010 @ 09:06 AM

frontofrestuarant Well it’s official…we are Midwesterners again; and after one very long day of packing a truck and two vehicles, 17 plus hours of driving with two cats over two days, and unpacking the truck at our new home, we have arrived back home in Indiana!  That being said, we still have our work cut out for us as far as unpacking, home renovations, and the other unforeseen things that come with owning a home arise.  Still, even with all we have left to do, we are getting settled, and just in time for another installment of PCC. 

Although we are thrilled to be back up north and are loving the surroundings and the friendliness of everyone, there are certain things we are going to miss about the south.  One thing that I know was both a blessing (and curse) when living in Dallas was when deciding on a place to eat there was a never ending amount of options when it comes to restaurants…especially Mexican cuisine.  To be honest, most of the time we would just fly by the seat of our pants and give a new place a try or if we were just in the mood for chips & salsa and margaritas, we had a few local favorites we frequented.  However, a lot of the best hole in the wall places we ended up finding were discovered due to our love of all things Food Network, Travel Channel, and pop culture cuisine.  In Fact, I have already featured two lovely locales we found, Mariano’s and Hula Hut.  Both of those locations were definite hits in my book and I was so glad we were able to learn of their existence.  This next spot was visited the same weekend as Hula Hut during our whirlwind culinary tour of Austin…an extremely popular local breakfast spot called Juan in a Million.   

Opened in 1981, they have been widely known around town as serving authentic Mexican food and is still family owned and operated; and we first heard of this famed breakfast diner on an episode of Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food” and later saw it featured as number 53 on Travel Channel’s “Chowdown Countdown (100 Tastiest Places to Chowdown).”  What caught our eye about this place was the seriousness of their now infamous “Don Juan” – El Taco Grande.  Although it seems like your basic breakfast taco with potato, egg, bacon, and cheese on a tortilla, what sets it apart is its sheer size!  This thing is massive and when we first saw it, Adam Richman was attempting to put down 7 of them!  Here is the video clip to prove it…

 

I guess it’s needless to say that they look pretty insane, huh?  I mean I could hardly imagine putting down 1, much less 7!  However, although I would never think of entering the challenge, from watching that episode they looked pretty darn tasty.  So when we knew we were planning a trip to Austin, we asked our friends Dario and Jaclyn if we might add Juan in a Million to the “must visit” list.  They were totally happy to oblige and warned us that especially on the weekends their will be a wait, due to its local popularity.  So we all ventured out that Saturday morning to wait in line to take on these behemoth tacos…which at the time sounded like the perfect remedy for the late night out before. 😉

047 Lucky for us the wait was not outrageous and it was a beautiful day outside, so I was happy to take in some of the sunshine.  Being fairly late morning when we got there, I was definitely one “starvin’ marvin,” so I was happy when after we were seated they presented us with a heaping basket of chips and salsa.  That first basket definitely did not last long, as we all had a bit of a need for some food.  They were not my most favorite chips ever, but I was hungry so they did the trick. 

049The inside is fairly small and they really pack ‘em in for sure…so much so that it would be easy enough to have a conversation with the table next to you, if you catch my drift.  But it’s cool…Juan’s is the type of place that has that authentic charm, which I enjoyed; and oddly enough, after looking at that video clip again, we were seated at that exact same table as Adam Richman from “Man v. Food”…so that’s cool! 

When it came time to order (menu), none of us really needed to think twice…we all knew we were headed in the direction of the “Don Juan.”  Also, the Carne Guisada taco caught my eye, largely due to it being an item I had never tried, so I went ahead an ordered both. ;)  However, I must have eaten my weight in chips before they even showed up, largely due to their salsa that, although super spicy, still had a very nice flavor I couldn’t seem to get enough of.  But, luckily before I could eat 45 baskets of chips by myself, this was placed before me…

050053 Yep, that crazy pile of meat, potato and cheese is one taco!  Honestly, it is pretty humorous once they set it down too…to think that THIS is only ONE taco.  Now I was not about to try and pick this whole thing up and take a bite, and luckily they provide you with extra fresh tortillas so you can portion out multiple tacos if you wish.  I chose just to tackle it with a fork and eat the innards by them self.  Again, when they set this down in front of me my mouth was definitely watering.  I thought this combination not only sounded great, but look at it…it’s going to taste wonderful, right?  Unfortunately, I was sort of disappointed.  While I would not describe it as “I can’t eat this” awful or anything, I could not really describe it as anything, because it tasted like just that…NOTHING!  And as mouth watering as this dish looks, it had zero flavor in my opinion, and was a really dry (my guess is from all the potato).  My husband (Adam) unfortunately felt the same way, which I know he was disappointed about because he as so looking forward to this place in particular.  I suppose I could have ladled on the salsa, but I want my taco to have a describable flavor all on its own, and this just didn’t; and the Carne Guisada was really just beef stew on a tortilla.  Although tasty, it was nothing terribly unique.  So in all honesty, I did not leave all that full, because I really am not one to stuff myself with something that I don’t enjoy. :(  (I figure if I’m going to indulge, it better be worth it!) 

Still, I was able to enjoy looking around following our meal and was able to find some mementos from “Man v. Food’s” visit…

059 060 This wall represents all the record holders in several different categories for the “Don Juan” challenge.  I’m pretty sure the current record holder overall is 8 1/2 tacos…wow!

061 Although I was disappointed with the meal, I still enjoyed the experience.  It is always fun to be in a buzzing atmosphere; and when you have great company with you it makes it even better.  Still, at the end of the day, I have to give an honest review.

SIGNATURE DISH: Yes…I would say they are pretty widely known for their breakfast tacos, most specifically the “Don Juan.”  This major taco seems to be the most popular dish to order, and with it being featured so often on television, it has become even more widely known.  Also, their taco eating competitions have become ever more popular among celebrities and locals alike.  In the end, it appears that the popularity of this one item alone will keep growing.

TASTE: As I said, I was not overly impressed with the taste at all.  In fact, I (and Adam) was quite disappointed. :(  This would be one of those cases when the dish was completely deceiving; and I will continue to be baffled by how delicious this taco looked and how little flavor it had.  I mean…I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was just so bland that I would have given anything for a little flavor, which is hard to believe given it’s ingredients.  So, sorry Juan…your famous taco is definitely NOT One in a Million!

AMBIANCE: This is one area that I enjoyed.  I’ll admit it was nothing out of the ordinary, but it had the charm of a family owned place.  It was small and quaint, yet buzzing with people that made it fun and energetic. 

PRICE: The price was great.  That big ass taco only cost a whopping $3.60, so even though I did not enjoy the taste, I did not feel overly upset that we spent to much on it.  The only thing to consider is if you want a soft drink there, you do have to pay each time as they only have cans, so that can add up.

SERVICE:  I was impressed that although they get really packed, were seated within about 15 minutes.  However, past getting seated, I was not overly impressed.  Our waitress was not very friendly and got a bit impatient when it took us a minute to order.  She also did not seem to like that we were ordering more than one beverage.  I mean…the nerve of us. ;)  Anyway, our food was delivered pretty quick, which I was thankful for, but outside of that I did not think we were treated with the utmost southern hospitality. 

Although I’m glad to say I have tried the infamous “Don Juan”, I’m sorry to say that I have to give Juan in a Million 2 1/2 ‘Little Piggies.’

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