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MATCHA SPAGHETTI W/ CHILI AND CHEESE

It’s probably a bad time to say this but…

Listen, if you were making fresh pastas/noodles for the first time, or the first few times for that matter, chances are, they will probably fall short.

Yeah, this may sound counter-inspirational or perhaps even discouraging from someone who is at this very moment, and repeatedly for a number of times in the past, trying to get you to make one.  But I hope I did, as a diligent practice for myself as well, stressed the key-point, perhaps the only key-point crucial to the success of making fresh pastas/noodles and that is – the only way to be good at making fresh pastas/noodles at home is to acknowledge that it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a straightforward thing.  And whoever’s told you that it is, either sucks at it or…

Yeah, they suck.

WHOEVER TELLS YOU THAT MAKING FRESH PASTAS/NOODLES IS A STRAIGHT-FORWARD THING, EITHER SUCKS AT IT OR…

YEAH, THEY SUCK.

Hey that goes for me as well, as in if I had in the past in any way, made it sound like a failsafe dinner or advertised for any kind of one-dough-fits-all type of pasta-fantasy, like so many other recipe promoters out there, then let me tell you once and for all that – we were fucking lying.

No pastas/noodles are made equal.

Simple, yes maaaybe, if we were talking about the basic makeup of ingredients that doesn’t stray far from some kind of flour mixed with some kind of liquid, but the dummy section pretty much ends there.  What type of flour?  Typical wheat flours, yours or mine?  What type of liquid?  Eggs are largely made with water, too but yolks come with fat and flavor where whites come with proteins that strengthen the dough, and what is it that we want?  What shape is the pasta/noodle?  Thick fat boys may require a softer dough whereas thin, delicate ones may need a bit more build and in between them two, there are fifty shades of chew.

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GENERAL TSAO’S CHICKEN WINGS

This is a seriously, seriously great General Tsao’s recipe.  I was never a General Tsao’s fan but this, this I can really down a bucket.

The recipe is roughly based on The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook, which I have, as I always do, rendered almost unrecognizable.  Besides sugar and ketchup, almost none of the original ingredients has remained intact (see note at the end of the recipe) but something tells me that it can stand proudly on its own.  The chicken wings are impossibly crispy, and more importantly, stay crispy even if they are hopelessly coated with this fruity, tangy, sweet and spicy sauce under that rich and deep rouge color with an almost jewel-like gloss.  Really, this sauce, a reduction of pomegranate and cranberry juice with a layering of vinegars, chili paste and garlic .  I don’t even care if you did it justice by frying your own batch of crunchy jacket-ed wings.  I mean drench your McNuggets in it for all I care and I guarantee you that you’ll still want to bottle your own.

I don’t have much else to add, especially about the mystical emergence of General Tsao’s chicken in virtually every Chinese restaurant in the US (I mean Netflix has a documentary on it for crying out loud).  When things are looking good, just shut up and wing it.

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that spicy, sour Thai street noodle

 

Just came home from an extra long weekend-getaway from Bangkok, my second time visiting this feasting sanctuary and wow, it is even better than I remembered.  I’m not going to play expert and include a traveling guide with this post because when it comes to Bangkok, I’m not, yet.  But I will however, include some links (with or without photos) to some of the memorable moments we experienced on this trip.  It’s not a lot.  After all, it was a 2 1/2 day quickie.  Plus a noodle recipe that brings me back whenever I miss that city, which is to say, always.

JUST STICK WITH

THE DON AND THE HOLY FOURSOME

 

 

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PORK OFFAL SOUP WITH FLAT RICE NOODLE

TOM YUM SOUP WITH RICE VERMICELLI

SIAM PARAGON – shopping mall with an entire floor of food paradise

KITCHEN SUPPLY STORE WITH UNIQUE FINDS

THAT SPICY, SOUR THAI STREET NOODLE:

Before you say anything, you’re right, this isn’t authentically anything.  It isn’t a particular Thai dish, doesn’t even have a real title (the fact of the matter is, I didn’t have a clue what most of the dishes we ate were called), but what it is, is a recollected combination of flavours that brings me back to that plastic stool and folding table on a hustle-and-bustle street-corner in Bangkok, hitting the right notes.  The aromatic broth… the strings of supple and chewy rice vermicelli… the crunch somewhere in between… the zing, what’s that?… but wait there comes the heat, then savouriness, sweetness, one after the other, tangled but distinct at the same time, intriguing but too consuming to investigate.  That memory, to me at least, is not an absolution, but a chest of vibrant paints and crayons that splatters beautifully over a blank canvas, different every time but always a balance in perfection.

I went with a cheated version starting with store-bought chicken stock which I then built flavours on top.  But you can of course, applauded, start with pig bones, beef bones, or any combination of broth-builder that you prefer, keeping in mind that as long as you get a grip on the major aromatics and template of flavours, chances are, your noodle just can’t taste bad if not delicious.  Aromatics like lemongrass, galangal, pandang leaves, star anise, kaffir lime leaves… they are, together, a proven equation for a damn good reason.  But what the hell is the “template of flavours” you ask?  Which brings me to say…

Just stick with The Don and The Holy Foursome.

On every tables of every noodle-stalls in Bangkok, almost always and if not you’re entitled to get angry, are a fixed collection of condiments, the paints and crayons if you will, which ultimately determines the flavour profile of every individual bowl of noodles, different and deeply personal to every patron’s preferences.  I call them, The Don and The Holy Foursome:

The godfather himself, kiss his hand, is a bottle of fish sauce – SAVOURINESS.  Then, toasted and crushed chili flakes – HEAT.  Blended fresh chili in vinegar – ACIDITY.  Toasted and crushed peanuts and fried garlics – AROMAS and CRUNCH.  A jar of sugar – SWEETNESS.

Always.  Always.  Respect them, but be playful.  I always like mine with high pitch in heat and acidity, with a good dose on aromas and crunch, then subtle on sweetness, but I’ve also seen others dousing sugars over their noodles like it’s breakfast cereals.  And, of course, a dash of The Don is always an offer you can’t refuse.

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THAT SPICY, SOUR THAI STREET NOODLE

Serving Size: 6~8 depending

Ingredients

    TOASTED CHILI FLAKES:
  • 3 tbsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • BLENDED CHILI VINEGAR:
  • 5~6 (21 grams) mix of red and green Thai chili
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) white rice vinegar (not Japanese sushi vinegar)
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • FRIED GARLIC AND ROASTED PEANUTS:
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts
  • THE BROTH:
  • 7 cups (1750 grams/ml) chicken stock
  • 3 lemongrass, roughly chopped
  • 1" galangal, roughly chopped
  • 2 frozen pandang leaves, roughly cut
  • 2 " cinnamon stick
  • 4~5 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • 1 large handful of cilantro stems
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 tbsp garlic oil
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 8~10 Asian pork or beef meatballs
  • MINCED LEMONGRASS CHICKEN:
  • 2 (340 grams) skinless boneless chicken legs
  • 1 (30 grams) lemongrass, white parts only
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2~3 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • TO ASSEMBLE:
  • rice vermicelli, variety depends on your preference
  • Thai basils and bean sprouts
  • sugar and fish sauce to season
  • MSG

Instructions

  1. MAKE TOASTED CHILI FLAKES: Mix chili flakes and vegetable oil together in a skillet until it resembles wet sand. Set over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they turn darker in color and smells fragrant. Transfer immediately into a bowl to cool (it will burn quickly and become bitter).
  2. MAKE BLENDED CHILI VINEGAR: Over stove-flames or with a torch, char the skins of the chilis until completely blackened, then scrap away the black skins and seeds with a small knife and discard. Blend the chilis with vinegar and sugar in a blender until coarsely pureed. Set aside until needed.
  3. FRIED GARLIC AND TOASTED PEANUTS: Combine finely minced garlic and vegetable oil in a small pot over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the garlics start to turn light brown in color (this will take a few minute)(*don't let them turn dark brown or they'll be bitter*). Drain immediately through a fine sieve and let cool. Reserve the oil. Once the garlics are cooled, pound them together with roasted peanuts in a mortar until coarsely ground.
  4. MAKE THE BROTH: Blend a couple cups of chicken stock with lemongrass, galangal and pandang leaves until coarsely blended. Transfer into a large pot with the rest of the chicken stock, along with cinnamon stick, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro stems, star anise, reserved garlic oil, dark soy sauce, ground white pepper, light brown sugar and ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 min, then add the fish sauce and meat balls, and cook for another 10 min.
  5. Meanwhile, make the minced lemongrass chicken: Cut the chicken into small pieces then set aside. In a food-processor, blend lemongrass and ginger until finely chopped. Add the chicken, fish sauce, ground white and black pepper, and pulse until the mixture is finely ground (like sausage consistency). Add 2 tbsp of the reserved garlic oil into a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kaffir lime leaves and cook until fragrant, then add the chicken-mixture, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and cook until slightly browned on all edges. Set aside until needed.
  6. TO ASSEMBLE: On the table, arrange a bottle of fish sauce, a small jar of light brown sugar, toasted chili flakes, blended chili vinegar, fried garlic/roasted peanuts, and a couple bunch of fresh Thai basils.
  7. Cook the rice vermicelli according to instructions and divide into bowls, with a small handful of bean sprouts and a good pinch of MSG (that's how it's done, ok? that's how it's done). Pour the broth into the bowl through a fine sieve, then add a couple of meatballs and a good large spoonful of minced lemongrass chicken into each bowls. Adjust your own season with the condiments then slurp.

Notes

This broth can be built on store-bought chicken stock, or from scratch with pork bones and water.

http://ladyandpups.com/2016/06/15/that-spicy-sour-thai-street-noodle/
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THE EGG YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU NEED – PART II, SALTED YOLK TARTAR SAUCE AND SPICY FISH STICKS

This is Idea No 2 for incorporating what I call the red diamond of foods, salted duck yolk, into your everyday cooking regimen (check the previous post for a new age of carbonara!), and that is, it makes an over-the-top, creamy and decadent base in mayonnaise or aioli which goes on to become thousand different sauces with limitless possibilities.

In this case, an incredibly rich tartar sauce which is worlds away from those pale-assed, loose-fitted watery blah that we’ve gotten too used to to question its legitimacy.  This tartar sauce, using cooked then pureed salted duck yolks, has a creamier and velvety mouthfeel with a hidden depth of richness that whispers its secret through its beautiful orange-yellow hue.  Yes, this tartar sauce uses 2 extra salted yolks for the amount that’s made (the yolk-to-oil ratio), and you may be inclined to suspect that the difference may simply just be a result of the extra yolks, regardless whether it’s salted or fresh.  But I can’t sss this loud enough – salted duck yolks do not taste like plain egg yolks!  They just don’t, ok?  Does fresh pork belly taste like bacon?  Huh?  Does milk taste like cheese?  Huh?  We y’all female homo-sapiens but do I look like Giiiiiisele?  Huh?  I think you get my point.  Do not think of the cooked salted duck yolks as an emulsifying agent such as fresh yolks (no seriously, it will not emulsify with oil because all its moisture has been extracted through the curing process), but think of it more as a seasoning, a salty… oily… and almost nutty flavor that is unique on its own.

Of course, this is a sparkly fuse for you to fire up that imaginative brain of yours, because the possibility is limitless.  A herby and garlicky base for your summer potato and pasta salads?  A secret weapon for your weekend brunch hollandaise?  That burger is never going to taste the same with this added flare, and if you like battered fish… oh my friends, if you like battered fish…  Crispy, shattering, and slightly spicy beer battered fish sticks, piping hot out of the fryer to find a pool of cooling and creamy concoction of flavors and textures to wrap their heads around.  If that sounds good to you, this is only a start.

AN INCREDIBLY RICH TARTAR SAUCE WHICH IS WORLDS AWAY FROM THOSE PALE-ASSED, LOOSE-FITTED WATERY BLAH THAT WE’VE GOTTEN TOO USED TO TO QUESTION ITS LEGITIMACY

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SALTED YOLK TARTAR SAUCE AND SPICY FISH STICKS

Ingredients

    SALTED YOLK TARTAR SAUCE:
  • 2 salted duck eggs, raw or cooked
  • 1 fresh egg yolk
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • 1/2 tbsp minced capers
  • 1/2 tbsp minced baby cornichons
  • 1 tsp caper brine
  • 1 tsp tabasco sauce
  • salt and ground white pepper to season
  • SPICY FISH STICKS:
  • 250~300 grams catfish fillet, or any firm white fish preferred
  • 3/4 cup (105 grams) all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup for drenching
  • 1/4 cup (26 grams) cornstarch or potato starch
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp fine chili flakes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (228 grams) light beer, really cold
  • 2 tbsp finely minced herbs, like basil and mint
  • canola oil for frying

Instructions

  1. MAKE SALTED YOLK TARTAR SAUCE: If using raw salted duck egg, wash clean under water (if they come encased in black salted sand) then place in a small pot and fill with water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 6 min, then transfer into cold water to cool down. If using pre-cooked salted duck eggs, omit this process.
  2. Crack open the cooked salted egg then scoop out the yolks. Place them into a food-processor or blender, along with fresh egg yolk, garlic and Dijon. Start running while slowly, SLOWLY, pouring 1/2 cup of vegetable oil to form an emulsion. Once all the oil is added, you should have a sauce with mayonnaise consistency. Transfer into a bowl and add minced shallot, minced caper, minced cornichons, caper brine, tabasco sauce. Mix well, then season with salt and about 1/8 tsp of ground white pepper. Cover and let sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or best overnight before serving.
  3. MAKE SPICY FISH STICKS: Pop your beer in the freezer for a few min while you work. Add enough canola oil into a frying pot until it reaches 2" deep (7 cm), and bring to 340 F/170 C over medium heat. Cut the fish fillet into long strips about 3~4" long (13 cm) and 1/2" (1.5 cm) thick. Season LIGHTLY with a little salt and ground white pepper, set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup flour, cornstarch, ground white pepper, baking powder, baking soda, chili flakes and salt. Pour in the cold beer, add the minced herbs, and stir with a fork gently just until it comes into a loose and lumpy batter (lumps are fine. don't overwork it).
  4. Drench 3~4 pieces of fish in plain flour, pressing the flour into the fish so it sticks well and dusting off excess, then transfer the fishes into the batter. Once the fishes are coated with a thin layer of batter, transfer gently into the frying oil. ADD THE FISH ONE AT A TIME and fry for 10~15 seconds before adding the next, so the batter has crippled up and won't stick together. If the fish is sticking to the bottom of the pot, give it a gentle nudge on the bottom with chopstick to release it.
  5. Once the fish sticks are golden brown and crispy, drain well and set aside on a cooling rack. Repeat with the rest. Serve immediately with salted yolk tartar sauce.
http://ladyandpups.com/2016/06/07/the-egg-you-didnt-know-you-need-part-ii-salted-yolk-tartar-sauce-and-spicy-fish-sticks/
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THE EGG YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU NEED – PART I, CARBONARA 2.0

I understand what it’s like.  It’s totally okay.  Happens to everyone.

We venture into unfamiliar, “exotic” markets coming from strange corners of the world, seeing bewildering ingredients for the very first time of our small existence, feeling intrigued, curious, excited even, and then at the end of a good thorough lap we walk out of the markets with our sparkly eyes wide open and our shopping bags, utterly empty.  Hey, I do it all the time, like last week in an Indonesian grocery store, and then again yesterday in this “sports goods” shop?  It’s no fault of our own, actually if anything, only human nature, to take caution with unfamiliarities.  It’s survival instinct 101.  As far as I know, no one has ever died from tomato sauce in a jar or freezer-section pizzas, right?  I guess I’m just trying to say, I can relate.

NESTED WITHIN, IS A JEWEL, DENSE AND COMPRESSED WITH THE ESSENCE OF ITSELF, HIDDEN TO BE EXCAVATED FROM THE BLACK SALTED EARTH

A RED DIAMOND

But growing up from two distinctively different backgrounds and cultures also means that, I too, relate to the other side, perhaps from your perspective, the scary side, the side that is teeming with strange and unfamiliar ingredients, flying pig-parts and deeply rouge sauces that hurt.  Being a Taiwan-born, Canada-fed then New York-aged piece of mind, one foot half-in half-out on all sides for as long as 25 years, naturally, you know for my thighs’ sake, I want to find ways to close the distance between each, a distance that is all but illusions and narrower than anyone thinks.  Because I’m also from the other side that knows stuff that you don’t.  The other side that tries to shout “Hey there’s good stuffs here, really good stuffs, and you should try it!”, but often times in inaudible volume with a world that is too busy to investigate.

It’s not anyone’s fault.  We didn’t shout loud enough.

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ULTRA SOFT STRINGY, STICKY RICE BREAD

  

Is it going to be blue or purple, this wall, or perhaps, a minty green?  Should I tile the bathroom, covering it in organized shines, or leaving it as is, a rustic plaster of diffused grey?  Those clusters, years of emotional settlements that are solidified in actual physical forms, are bothering me, a lot, and I want to dump them all away and start over, as if it could work both ways.  Did I mention these walls here where I stand, damn it, made of fucking concrete, are mockingly strong and defeating and apparently, impossible to drill through by whatever strength and tools I have left.  What’s happened?  I used to be able to drill through lots of things, now apparently, not anymore.  Now I can only paint shit over.  Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, that it’s just life bitch, but the mirror that came to us from an obliviously happy time of my life from a wholesaler in Jersey City, broad, reflective and inescapable, is now helplessly laying against the ground, catching things ruthlessly from a low and unnatural angel, a woman standing with her head cut off.  The mere wish to just to get it 3 feet up in perspective, to frame things, once again, rightly, seems now both realistically and psychologically, difficult.  I have been dragging my own weight for months, defended no longer by excuses because they, if I had any, are peeling off by now like old paints, revealing the raw surface that has always been behind, staring at me only through a thin mask of pigments that I couldn’t even decide the color of.  Perhaps the problem is not the color.  Perhaps these walls, damn it these fucking walls… have something to say.  And I gotta listen… listen bitch… before moving forward.

Blue or purple, or perhaps, soon hopefully, a minty green?

 

BEFORE YOU GUSH OUT UNGODLY THINGS LIKE “OMG, IT’S GLUTEN-FREE BREAD!”…

SHUSH, IT’S NOT.

  
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HONG KONG’S CURRY FISH BALLS OVER RAMEN

Drifting over moving chaos, under the clouds of settling dusts, weeks… have passed.  It’s been almost a month since my last post, the longest it has ever been.

This posting gap was considerable in blogging years, unplanned nor welcomed, and in many ways in fact, nerve-wrecking.  But I wanted to do the first “official” post properly, to wait, to get all the shit that needs to be done in our apartment, one that we renovated ourselves 6 years ago before moving to Beijing, so I could include a proper introduction of our new life to your all in this post.  Kind of…  Friends, apartment.  Apartment, friends.  Now help yourself at the buffet.

But turned out, as it seems, that there is more work involved behind those House And Garden variety of apartment showoffs that I used to take completely granted for.  After 4 weeks of grinding constructions, big and small, to touch up those little imperfections that, really, bothered nobody but myself… the apartment, is still not there yet.  So I decided not to wait any longer.  This post may not include apartment therapy – maybe in another week – but worry not, it’s still got food.

Now, for the first “official” post marking a new beginning in Hong Kong, I thought it was only fitting that we start with something iconic to this city.

Every city needs a hero.  Best yet, an nourishing one, dependable, non-judgmental, and accessible to all under its shelter, big or small, rich or poor.  One that doesn’t care if you were hustling sober through the high traffics or stumbling drunk on the stone-cold pavement, always and forever, as the city promises, the rescue that is steaming just around the corner.  Dirty water hot dog in New York, jian-bing in Beijing.  Here, this thing called curry fish balls is the food-hero that bonds between Hong Kong’s identity and its people who hold it dearly.

The fish balls, pre-fried, are boiled in a large tank of neon-yellow water which gets replenished as more fish balls are removed from the water, and served with a spoonful of curry sauce and hot sauce to standing customers huddling around the booth.  This boil-and-sauce technique, I suspect, is catering more to a streamlined service with higher turn-overs than say, optimising flavours.  The fish balls, without actually being cooked in the curry, are slightly bland and therefore have to draw all their flavours from the topical sauces instead of being a single, together, perfect entity.  This makes sense for street vendors, of course, especially in this relentlessly expensive city where any means necessary to speed up services are justifiably, if not rudely, executed.  But if we were to recreate this dish at home – and I would argue that it’s in the best interest to honor its complexity – we shall do things a little differently.

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Your Next Perfect Porchetta Sandwich is from Chinatown

I guess I am currently in the middle of what one would call, a blogger limbo.

We have “officially” moved out of Beijing, so to speak.  But in the next 3 weeks when our apartment is under renovation, we are going to be staying in a hotel where the closest thing to a cooking vessel is the bathroom sink with hot tap water (hotel sous vide?).  How do I create something delicious when the mere act of making fruit smoothies posts challenges?  Then I realised, the answer lies just around every corner in this city.

Cantonese-style roast pork.  Something as abundant in Hong Kong as Starbucks are in New York.  This awesome thing, is everywhere.  Even if you didn’t live here, chances are you’ve seen it in your nearest Chinatown, a staple in Cantonese cuisines.

Typically served with rice, which I’ve always had my doubt on.  I mean, it is a great piece of roast pork, with salty yet juicy flesh and gloriously blistered skins.  But on its own, and paired with yellow mustard, in my opinion, it just isn’t the most flattering companion for steamed rice.   It is however, the most perfect yet most under-utilized sandwich candidate, practically an half-way porchetta sandwich.

Here’s what you do.  You chop up a whole box of these porky awesomeness, then you make a “dressing” out of minced scallions, ginger and red chilis, with pungent savouriness from fish sauce and a tang that cuts through the grease from red wine vinegar.  You let this “dressing” seep through the nooks and crannies of an unapologetic pile of the chopped roast pork, into the thirsty holes of a toasted crusty roll that catches it all.  Then you cap everything up with a few slices of provolone cheese, and you draw your finishing touch with a smear of yellow mustard.

Porky, crispy, drippy and zero-cooking involved.  What can I say?  Hotel meal.

YOU LET IT SEEP THROUGH THE NOOKS OF AN UNAPOLOGETIC PILE OF CHOPPED ROAST PORK, INTO THE THIRSTY HOLES OF A TOASTED CRUSTY ROLL.

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