Tag Archives: wine

ACC’s Kitchen: Favorites from Trader Joes

Hello wall of cheese!  I hope most of you are lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s – I can hardly contain myself that one is actually opening in walking distance from my house!  For anyone who has survived a Trader Joe’s parking lot then you know how amazing that is.  The reason those parking garages are like the Hunger Games is that once you get hooked on Trader Joe’s you just want more.  I will admit that it is not the best store for everything – the produce can be iffy, same with the meat selection and you won’t be finding rolls of Bounty or boxes of Lucky Charms here.  However, for life’s important things – cheese, wine, croissants and fresh flowers – TJ’s is the best.  Shopping there can be a bit overwhelming, especially at peak times, so it’s easy to pass right by terrific items if you don’t know what to look for.  I have seen a couple articles on the best TJ items, all which left out some of my favorites and then my dad introduced me to their chocolate croissants which I had been missing for years!  Clearly it was time to share A Capitol Contessa’s Best of TJ’s to hopefully help you get out of there with all your limbs attached and a cart full of goodies.

Flowers

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Starting here since they are usually right by the door.  I love having fresh cut flowers in my house especially when it starts to get cold and nasty out but it’s an expensive habit.  TJ’s doesn’t have the biggest selection but the quality is good and the prices cannot be beat.  I like to grab a couple bunches of a single flower so it looks really bountiful – I will usually go with the alstroemeria (also known as Peruvian lilies), roses, tulips or hydrangeas.  If you like a little more variety they have mixed bouquets as well.  Grab some flowers and add them to your cart and they will bring a sense of clam as you enter the breach.

Produce

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As I mentioned, this is certainly not TJ’s strong point.  I have often found a giant pile of avocados just to discover that every single one is almost liquid inside.  Same for pre-washed lettuce – just don’t, the odds are about 99% that once you get home it will already be rotten.  However, there are a couple of notable high points where TJ’s gets it better than most grocery stores.  Jalapenos for instance, TJ’s sells them in plastic clamshell boxes so you get about a dozen or so and they are big, spicy and are always in good shape.  Perfect for making jalapeno chips.  Also terrific (random I know) are their bags of green scallions.

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I find that even in the best grocery stores often green onions are tiny, or totally limp, or half rotten.  The ones at Trader Joe’s are really good and keep for a while in the bag (pro tip – add a paper towel to the inside of that bag before you put it back in the fridge and they will last even longer).  You can sometimes get lucky with other fruits, veggies etc but these are the two that really stand out to me.  I am going to skip the meat section entirely because unless you are in a pinch and just need to grab chicken breasts there is really nothing to recommend there.

Refrigerated Dips and Pastas 

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I have never had a hummus from Trader Joe’s that I didn’t enjoy, and look at all the different varieties they have!  Great for taking into work as a snack (and yes they sell snack size too), their dips are also great for parties.  If you are hosting a ton of people grab their white bean spread or spicy hummus and just keep them in your fridge for back up.  Also delicious their fresh pastas that can be found right next to the hummus.  Don’t skip the Chicken Pot Pie Ravioli.

All the Cheese

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Now we are about to get serious.  If you go into Trader Joe’s for one thing and one thing only, make sure it’s a visit to their cheese wall.  For someone who makes a lot of cheese boards and has what some might qualify as a cheese problem, Trader Joe’s is the solution.  Extremely reasonably priced cheeses and a huge selection.  My favorites are the Dubliner Cheddar (which you will not find cheaper anywhere, ever), St. Andre, a brie like cheese, the Drunken Goat, Trader Joe’s brand Feta Cheese in Brine, their Goat Gouda, their fresh mozzarella…I could go on and on.  It’s a great place to grab cheeses that can get pretty pricey elsewhere like grueyre as they are sold in sealed packages so last for a long time until you have a french onion soup emergency.

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Also right next to the cheese is a deli meat display.  Please skip past all the sad looking pre-sliced turkey and go right for the prosciutto.  I like this brand in the picture better then their own Trader’s Joe brand but either way they are both very inexpensive and another great staple to have in your fridge (grilled cheese with prosciutto emergencies are a real thing too).

Nuts and Dried Fruit

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Make sure to hit the nut aisle before the holidays – the prices are out of this world.  I buy in bulk and then make my famous spiced nuts as gifts for people all season long.  I also make sure to have a bag of roasted and salted cashews on hand for any impromptu happy hour.  TJ’s also has a great selection of dried fruit like cranberries, apple chips and crystallized ginger.

Canned Goods

There is usually one aisle next to produce that has various canned goods, condiments and the like.  I am a snob when it comes to oils and vinegars so I usually skip past those.  The canned beans and coconut milk are good and cheap but not really any better then what you get at a regular store.  What are great are these Yellow and Red Roasted Peppers.  Not only do I like that they use two different color peppers (presentation is everything!) but they are nicely charred, and are a great deal.  Another terrific pantry staple to turn into crostini or pizza topping.

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This aisle or perhaps the end of it, is usually where all the seasonal stuff is.  When fall hits I head straight to Trader Joe’s and buy all the pumpkin everything.  That Pancake and Waffle mix is incredible and I will be posting a recipe next week for a dip to go with their Pumpkin and Cranberry Crisps that would be perfect for Thanksgiving.

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Sweets

A lot of the stuff at Trader Joe’s is meant to support a healthy live style, organic, etc etc but they also have some really dangerous treats scattered around the store.  My friends Debbie and Toby introduced us to these Dunkers that are just awesome with coffee.  Usually they are in the frozen food aisle.

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Also in the frozen aisle are their incredible self rising croissants.  On a recent visit to my dad’s house he opened my eyes to these babies and as soon as I came back I had to get them.  They are sold frozen but you have to make sure to plan in advance as they rise over night.  Take them out of the packaging and place them on a baking sheet the night before and viola, the next AM they have tripled in size and are ready to bake off.  20 minutes later it’s like you have a French cafe right in your own kitchen.  They have plain mini ones, my favorite the chocolate ones and my dad’s favorite the almond ones.  They are the perfect thing to make when you have overnight guests.

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Unfortunately they didn’t have any of my favorite sweet treat last time I visited – the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels.  They usually carry them around Christmas, though this year they also did a pumpkin version for fall.  SO good – make sure to stock up this December to last you through the first nasty snow storm.

Wine and Beer

Now that you have all that cheese you are going to need wine to go with it.  Again low prices and a pretty diverse selection though you can run into some duds here.  The craft beer selection is always solid and usually features whatever is local (in DC is its a good spot to pick up Port City or DC Brau beer).  For wine I usually go with the Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc or the Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles but there are also some nice Italian reds and French roses.  Avoid the 2 buck chuck and go for those with the “staff pick” signs and you should be good.

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I am always on the look out for new great Trader Joe’s products so make sure to leave your favorites in the comments section.  I looked like a total ass taking pictures in the store but I do it all for you dear readers!  Luckily I had a couple nice bottles of wine and a whole cart full of cheese to help get over my embarrassment…

A Wine Soaked Dinner Party

Inspiration for my dinner party themes come from everywhere, including a bottle.  I was trying to think of an ingredient that I could build a whole menu around when it occurred to me that I not only like to serve wine with every course but I also love cooking with wine.  Why not use dishes that all have wine in them, and not just as a bit player but as the main event.  I tried to really stretch myself and use all kinds of wine – white, red, dessert, sparkling.  Invite your friends to bring over their favorite bottles to match the wine soaked meal and you are sure to have a great time.

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For decor I kept it pretty simple with fall colors and lighting.  Make sure to have wine glasses that match your wine (i.e. flutes for champagne, white and red wine glasses) at the ready so people don’t have to mix in their glass.

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Also try to pick wines that mirror, or are the same as those you put in the dish – I happened to have a magnum of my house white so I could use it in the Beurre Blanc dip as well as serve it on the side.  For the stew grab an extra bottle of red that you are planning on serving because a whole bottle goes into it.  The entire meal can be made in advance and then just reheated which means you will have plenty of time to hang and drink wine with your friends without having to worry about stirring or flipping anything.  Let the wine soaking begin!

MENU

Appetizer – Whipped Beurre Blanc Dip

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If you have never had beurre blanc sauce on something you haven’t really lived.  Luckily the geniuses at Food and Wine magazine came up with this incredible dip that tastes a lot like the rich buttery sauce.  It’s not easy to find an appetizer that uses 2 whole cups of wine!  By cooking it down, this dip looses the booze taste and just retains the delicious winey flavor.  Add in lots of creme fraiche and you have a rich creamy dip perfect for dipping salty potato chips.  I served the white wine that went into the dip along side as well as our favorite local sparking from Greenhill Vineyards – sparkling wine or champagne if you have it pairs nicely with the richness of the dip and the saltiness of the chips.  Also how beautiful is that dip with the shallots, lemon zest and chives on top?  A real show stopper.

Main Course – Parker’s Beef Stew

An Ina classic, this beef stew takes an entire bottle of red wine to make.  She really puts the wine to work by using it as a marinade for the beef first and then as part of the stew.

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What you end up with is incredible slow cooked flavor that also has that tart edge of wine. Make sure to use a nice bottle that you would want to serve along side the dish.  I went with a Cabernet Savuignon, Ina suggests a Bordeaux but really any medium to heavy body wine with lots of flavor will do.  Best part is that it’s a one pot wonder with meat and veggies included so you can serve it on its own for the main event or with some crusty bread to sop up the sauce.

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Dessert – Poached Pears

Last but definitely not least we come to dessert made out of what else but dessert wine.  Another whole bottle goes in (if you are counting that is now almost 2,000 ml of wine in this meal!) and poaches the pears as well as becomes the sauce.  For those of you who think you don’t like dessert wine and have a dusty bottle hanging around somewhere that was gifted to you this is the perfect dish to use it in.

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The fresh ginger and tart pears counteract the sweetness of the wine.  Best part the pears can be made way in advance – just take the ice cream out 20 minutes before you want to serve it to let it soften.  More dessert wine would pair great with this as would port or another bottle of bubbly.  I hope you guys enjoy this menu with your friends – just make sure to have a DD or Uber handy following the meal!

Portuguese Dinner Party

Patrick and I recently took an incredible class on Portuguese wine at our favorite local wine shop, DCanter.  Neither of us know a ton about wine, basically just what we like and don’t like, but wine classes are a great way to learn more about certain regions and what they are known for.  One you know you like certain varietals from a certain country it makes shopping a lot easier!  We love the classes at DCanter (what a cute name right??) and this one was no exception.  We stopped in Portugal over our honeymoon and drank some great wine while we were there so the class really helped us identify different labels that we like.  Of course we brought several bottles home that were part of the class (the Marcolino Sebo QP Colheita Seleccionada Red and the Quinta da Raza Grande Escolha Alvarinho white).  I decided that a dinner party was in order with Portuguese foods to match the wine.  I already had some great Portuguese olive oil on hand and Spanish chorizo sausage which is very close to the chorico that they serve in Lisbon.  I found these great almonds from a region called Douro (that also makes great wine) at Whole Foods so I was on my way to a menu!

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It was a lovely night out so we decided to do the first course out on the deck.  The chorizo thinly sliced served along with some Spanish cheeses (no luck on Portuguese cheese!) and those lovely Douro almonds.  I also marinated some green olives and set those out which went really nicely with the crisp white wine.

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Shrimp Mozambique

In addition to the cheese board I knew I wanted some seafood on the menu.  Portugal has gorgeous fish markets all over and the influence on their food from global trading is really evident.  These shrimp are the prefect example – they get their name and flavor profile from Mozambique which used to be a Portuguese colony.  This recipe is incredibly easy to make and actually comes from a restaurant in Fall River, Massachusetts where there is a huge Portuguese community.

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Portuguese Style Garlic Roasted Pork

Arguably the most famous person to come out of Fall River, MA is Emeril Lagasse.  Most people assume that he is from New Orleans but actually he is a proud son of Massachusetts.  Listen to his cooking shows and every once and a while you will hear his accent!  While he became famous for his Southern cooking, he has many family favorite Portuguese recipes that he has made very accessible.  This pork dish is unbelievably flavorful.  It takes forever to make but it’s really hands off and the smell of your house will be incredible.  Also the left overs made an amazing sandwich.  I served this along fluffy white rice.

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Sauteed Kale

Kale is ubiquitous in Portuguese cooking, especially their famous kale soup.  This quick side comes together at the last minute and is a good foil to the rich pork dish.

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Strawberry Marscapone Tart with Port Glaze

If you are having a Portuguese dinner party then you have to end it with port right?  We had a great time when we were in Lisbon trying out different ages and styles of port at their Solar do Vinho do Porto, an actual institute of port.  To serve with a nice glass of port this dessert also makes use of it in the sauce drizzled over the strawberries.  Absolutely delicious and the perfect way to end a tour of Portuguese wines and food.  Where to next??

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House Wine Part Deux – Rose and Sparkling

This is part two of a post I  did on choosing your own house wine back in May of last year.  It is still one of my all time most viewed posts (even though back then my photographs and formatting were a little struggles!).  People really responded to the idea of keeping on hand some classic, go with anything wines that were affordable.  It makes life really easy and entertaining a breeze if you know you have a half case of a favorite red and white in your basement that you can pull out at any time.  Well since that post I have finally settled on a house rose and a house sparkling so I wanted to share those with you as well.  Perfect summer sippers, they are a great addition to your “house” collection.

 

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If I had unlimited funds, for sure my house sparkling wine would be Veuve Clicquot.  It is my favorite champagne, so much so that we visited their caves while on our honeymoon.  However, until I win powerball, the Vueuve is going to have to wait for special occasions.  Luckily I stumbled across a terrific cava that is light and crisp with just the right amount of bubbles.  Dibon Cava Brut Reserve can be drank on its own or mixed in a cocktail or mimosa.  I have found some of the cheaper sparkling wines really must be mixed with something but this one stands on its own.  The price point cannot be beat – I have found it for as low as $9 a bottle, usually its around $11-12.  I have seen it at Wegmans, Total Wine and even Harris Teeter.  For folks that are on Capitol Hill you can also find it at P&C Market on Lincoln Park.  Even better, it has a very similar color label to that of Veuve so if you just sort of squint your eyes you can pretend its the real thing!  No really, having a couple of bottles on hand is great for the impromptu brunch or when something unexpected comes along that you want to celebrate.  Add this to your house collection and you won’t have to wait for New Years to be popping corks.

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It took a while to finally nail down my house rose.  To me a good rose is dry, slightly fruity and light in color.  It should be drinkable on its own but also have enough acid to be paired with food.  Finding all that with an affordable price was not easy until I found Famille Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone Rose.  It has nice subtle berry flavor but is also really crisp.  Many of you are familiar with Cotes du Rhone reds from France and this family run vineyard produces those as well.  However, with their rose they use stainless steel tanks to give it a lighter body.  I often find this at World Market – if you wait until their White and Rose sale that they have several times a year you can pick one of these up for as low as $7 a bottle.  With the chic French label and its drinkability people will never know you could buy a whole case for less than $100.  I really like this rose paired with French cheeses of course but it also really pairs well with light summer foods like my summer Chicken and Rice Salad dish or my corn risotto.  Also since France has finally gotten on the screwtop train this becomes the perfect picnic wine.  If you already have a sparkling wine and rose that you really love no worries – these are just my favorites.  Either way make sure to stock up and your summer will be spent sipping stress free.

 

French Dinner Party

Since today is my mom’s birthday (happy birthday mommy!) I thought I would post an easy French dinner party menu that I whipped up when she was in DC visiting.  The soup, peppercorn sauce, vinaigrette and meringues can all  be made in advance so it is pretty stress free (unless you screw up the dessert like I did!).  This menu includes all the great French comfort foods but isn’t really heavy.

Petit Trois’s French Onion Soup

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I have tried at least a dozen french onion soup recipes, as it is one of Patrick’s favorites but this is really the best.  Petit Trois is a French bistro in LA that I desperately want to try, but lucky for us they shared their recipe with Bon Appetit.  I usually just make it with canned beef stock but it is definitely is better with homemade – I suggest making up a big pot one rainy weekend day and just keep it in the freezer for when you want to make this soup.

Green Salad with Vinaigrette 

A fresh green salad is the perfect accompaniment to the steak.  I like this vinaigrette because of the double punch of the dijon and shallot but any dressing will do.  Use pre-washed mesculn greens to make this even easier.

Filet Minons with Green Peppercorn Sauce

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I linked to Ina Garten’s method of cooking filets here but if you have a way of cooking them you prefer, by all means.  I like the nice crust that searing in a cast iron skillet gives the steaks and then they get cooked through in the oven (a pat of butter on top doesn’t hurt either!).  The roquefort sauce in that recipe is delicious but even better is Michael Richard’s Green Peppercorn Sauce, published years ago in the Washington Post.  Richard is a world famous French chef that has made Washington his home.  Central, his bistro downtown, is one of my favorite spots in the city, especially for a luxe lunch.  This sauce is nice and creamy but the real star are the brined green peppercorns.  They come in small cans and can last in the fridge forever really.  I prefer the ones from Madagascar by Moulin (can below) – they can be sort of tough to find, I have seen them at Dean and Deluca and some Whole Foods.  You can also order them online.  If you cannot find them don’t try to just use regular green peppercorns – the brine softens them and mutes the pepper taste.

  Madagascar Green Peppercorns in Brine by Moulin 3.5 oz

Ile Flottante (sort of)

As I said the last time I made this meal my mom was in town visiting so I wanted to do something special.  Ile Flottante is one of her favorite desserts so I thought I would try my hand at it.  If you have never tried it, it’s basically a cloud of puffy meringue floating in a pool of creamy vanilla sauce, usually with caramel or praline crumbled on top.  Not bad, right??  Ina has a great recipe that I have used before and fast tracked it by using melted vanilla ice cream as the sauce instead of making creme anglaise.  However, here is when getting wedded to a menu item can come and bite you.  Even though it was October, DC was experiencing one of those weird fall heat waves and it was pretty humid out.  Humidity plus meringues equals no go.

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They never get nice and crunchy, they basically weep all over the place and are gooey and tough.  Luckily my mom is a good sport and we had the ice cream with the praline crumbled on top instead.  Pretty delish but not exactly as planned!  A good reminder to always have a back up in mind.

The good news was that because it was so nice out we were able to eat outside under our pergola with the bistro lights on so it felt like a lovey French cafe right there in Washington.  This is a great menu for any time of the year – just remember to stock up on some French wines are well.

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In honor of National Wine Day – pick your own house wine

Several years ago I decided to undertake a wine cork project just as most craft inclined drinkers have.  It was a wine cork wreath modeled after a cute one I saw at Screwtop Wine Bar in Arlington, VA.  Thinking that I couldn’t drink enough wine to produce that many corks in time

The dreaded cork project complete

The dreaded cork project complete

for the holidays I enlisted my mom to save her corks too.  When I got her rather impressive sized bag of corks I noticed that 75 percent of them were from the same bottles.  When asked she casually explained that those were her “house wines.”  Brilliant!  Only my mother would know to appropriate such a term and make it so chic in her own home.  Pick one red and one white that you really like, doesn’t have to be expensive, actually better that it’s not, that goes with most things and stock up.  Then you will always have a bottle or two squirreled away that you can pull out for guests and not have to worry.  Also over time people sort of naturally start to associate your home with that wine, good food, fun memories and being well taken care of.  Like a good restaurant if the customers leave happy and full you are likely to have them back.  Now for those of you who associate “house wine” with jammy yucky stuff poured out of a jug please know that I am referring to is akin to the lovely wine usually sold by the carafe in France or Italy.  This stuff is just amazing, local and so cheap.  More and more American restaurants are getting into this notion, especially with the advent of wine on draft so I suspect house wines will be coming to more menus over time.  If it helps think about the wines sold by the glass sold at your favorite restaurants.  Sommiliers always suggest you look towards that list if you are unfamiliar with wine or are

And yet another wine craft

And yet another wine craft

nervous about what to order by the bottle because usually its a list of wines that are easy to drink, not outrageously priced and tasty.  The theory being that if something isn’t well liked they won’t sell enough of it to warrant selling it by the glass and it will disappear from the list.  Ok if I have sold you on having your own house wine the logical next question is – which ones?  Well of course you should pick wines that you really like but also make sure they are crowd pleasers.  Don’t pick anything too strong or controversial (looking at you oaky chardonnays and heavy cabs).  My advice is go to a place with a good selection of mid priced wines and buy a bunch to try.  This kind of research is pretty fun so enlist some friends and figure out the crowd favorite.

wpid-20150520_190316.jpgFor my white selection I totally cheated and picked my Mom’s.  For years we just called it the “green wine” and still do – but its official ridiculously long name is Les Costieres de Pomerols Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet.  Years after we started drinking it we discovered that the Inn at Little Washington serves it so we must be doing something right.  It’s light, with a hint of citrus and is delicious on its own (especially when its hot) or with food.  The bottle is just so French and gorgeous – how about that color???  Also the price is right – in D.C. I can find it for $8 a bottle at most Whole Foods and Wegman’s but you can also get it on sale sometimes at World Market or Total Wine dropping the price as low as $6 a bottle.  In Boston it seems to go for a bit more but for a French import you really cannot ask for anything better.  Some of you may have noticed that it has a screw top – this is a recent change and one I embrace.  Don’t turn your nose up at screw tops – they actually keep oxygen (the enemy of wine) out better than cork.

For reds I just sort of instinctively go towards Italy – their lush, balanced reds are so drinkable.  If I had the budget people would be drinking barolos every time they come over but alas it’s not to be.  I haven’t quite picked the perfect one yet but there are a couple of contenders at Trader Joes.  So celebrate National Wine Day and kick back and have a glass or two – I just heard the pop of a bottle of bubbly that I am going to share with my BFF.  I hope everyone has a great long weekend – let me know if you end up picking your own house wines so I can add them to my cellar.

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