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There are few things in life that I enjoy more than shopping for used books. It’s truly a thrilling hunt as you scour the piles of musty books in search of a real find.

(Let’s be honest I always find something. I will always make room on my already crowded bookcase for another book.)

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I used to feel guilty for my insatiable quest and overly abundant collection of books but I have come to realize that each one has a unique purpose and reason for having their coveted position on the bookshelf.

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There was one expedition that landed a real gem in the treasure hunt of used recipes. It was a day like most, cold, gray and wet. With coffee in hand, like a kid anticipating the inevitable trip to the candy store I approached the bookstore giddy with excitement.

There it was, re-covered in plastic protecting its dated rust orange cover. The LIFE Picture Cookbook… to date the greatest find in all my years of used book hunting.

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I resist the urge to cut out and frame every picture in this book. They are all so delightfully dated. The text beckons back to the days of yesteryear where men were in charge of grilling the steaks and women made liverwurst sandwiches with protein bread for the children’s lunches.

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Chapters include:

Man’s Job: Steak

French Lesson in Innards

Cooking on Ice

Luxury with Leftovers

and Elegant Picnics

There is even a section on dining out that includes some of the top restaurants from the countries biggest cities.

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Published in 1958 this classic is more than just an old cookbook. It is a snap shot of a life that was once lived. Food transcends the dinner table. It tells us so much about who we are and what our lives are like. It is culture and this book tells me more about this period of time than many history books ever could.

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I have to admit that there are numerous recipes that I am eager to try. Some look tasty, others – not so much. This one sounds intriguing. A retro twist on a Fall classic.

Acorn Squash Baked with Pineapple

3 acorn squashes, halved

1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained

2 tbl. dry sherry

2 tbl. brown sugar

6 tbl. butter

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1 tsp. salt

Scoop out squash seeds and fibers. Place in greased baking dish and put 1 tsp. each of sherry, brown sugar and butter in each half. Cover and bake in a hot oven (400*) for 30 minutes or until tender. Scoop cooked squash out of shells, leaving wall about 1/4 inch thick. Mash squash and combien with 4 tbl. butter and remaining ingredients, beating until well blended. Spoon back into shells and return to hot oven (425*) for 15 minutes. Serves 6.

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Have you ever come up with an idea so genius that you know you’re pretty much guaranteed fame and fortune just for conceiving such a brilliant concept?

Well, the other day I came up with said idea.

I really do believe that the world will never be the same once this revelation is unveiled. I am pretty convinced that once I push the publish button on this very post the food network is going to be pounding down my door begging me to have my very own show. Those poor TV execs are going to be pushed aside by the dozens of publishers who will be throwing contracts in my face urging me to sign on to write volumes of cookbooks. Or at the very least you’ll read the following recipe and think “that looks delicious! I must make that right now and devour it in it’s entirety because of how fabulous that looks.” Which really is all I truly want.

Now I know that everything has been done under the sun so chances are this isn’t my idea at all. But I have never heard of it and while asking around have not met any one else who has heard of it either. So with out further ado this may or may not be an original idea but it’s new to me and I want to pass it on to you.

Are you ready? Are you sure?

I call it Yams Brulee (or sweet potato brulee, depending on what part of the country you are from).

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The recipe could not be more simple.

Rub a yam with a hefty amount of softened butter and bake in a 350* oven until it is just about done. You should feel a touch of resistance when testing with a knife or fork.

Remove from the oven and cut in the middle lengthwise (hot dog style).

Sprinkle a touch of cinnamon on top of the yam. Add a pinch of salt then more butter to cover the exposed flesh. Continue to roast until completely tender.

Remove yams from the oven then let cool slightly. About 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle a fine layer of sugar over the top then TORCH IT until caramelized. Repeat with another fine layer of sugar.

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There you have it. An incredible sweet/savory (and simple) side dish perfect for your holiday table.

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In the past week I have sat down several times to write a post and my efforts were always halted due to some other pressing issue. For example “Mom, I need to go potty.” from the 2 1/2 year old. “wahhh ahhh blphhh” from the 5 1/2 month old. “bark bark woof” from the new puppy. And other technical issues such as computer deciding that it was tired of working and then the internet deciding to be like the computer and not work. Awesome.

I have so many wonderful things to post but no (or very little) time to write so I wanted to give something.

I, like so many others during this wonderfully chilly season, love the soothing warm and versitility that soup provides. Soup is a wonderful clean-out-the-fridge sort of a meal.

A few times this season I have found myself with an abundance of beautiful locally grown broccoli. So with this abundance I have made numerous batches of Broccoli Cheddar Soup. I have started stock piling my broccoli in the freezer so that at any moments notice I can through together this hearty and satisfying soup.

This soup is chock full of broccoli goodness and because it is also packed full of cream and cheese my son loves it (so does the Mr.)

So please enjoy this soup while I try and find time to get you the post you deserve.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

  • 7 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 2 pounds fresh broccoli, stems and florets separated and chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 6 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 3 tbl flour
  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in heavy medium pot over medium-high heat. Add broccoli stems and onion; sauté until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and tarragon; sauté 1 minute. Add stock; bring to boil. Simmer uncovered until broccoli is tender, about 15 minutes. Process in a blender to get a smooth puree. Stir in cream.

Mix remaining 3 tablespoons butter with flour in small bowl to make paste. Whisk paste into soup. Add broccoli florets. Simmer until soup thickens and florets are tender, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 cups cheese reserving the remaining for garnish.

The other day I wanted something sweet. But this wasn’t my usual daily sweet craving….typically I long for treats that just hint at being sweet, where the complexity of taste is covered with layers of flavors… tart, slightly salty, and gentle whisper of sugary sweetness. But this day I wanted something super sweet… I mean milk chocolate, brown sugar, hurt your teeth sweet. That wasn’t my only criteria for my craving. I also wanted it to be something reminiscent of a cookie, chewy and classic. So as I entered these criteria through the dessert database in my head the search brought up blondies. 

A blondie is simply a variation of a brownie but contains no chocolate…. so it really is something quite different than a brownie. The similarity comes through in the method and also all the ingredients, excluding chocolate of course, are similar but the blondies primary flavor comes from brown sugar. As with brownies a multitude of mix-ins can be added and slight variations to the ratio of ingredients can be manipulated to alter the end product. You can cajole your blondies to be more cakey, chewy, crispy… or whatever you desire.

Usually I am a purist when it comes to blondies and brownies. Added ingredients are merely a distraction from the pure flavor and texture that I crave… but again this particular craving urged me to include milk chocolate chips. If you know me at all you know that milk chocolate is not typically in my vocabulary. Most often chocolate isn’t chocolate unless it’s bittersweet. I don’t know what came over me that day but it was super sweet blondies laden with milk chocolate chips that I desired and who am I to say no to my cravings?

One other note…. I made these two days in a row (don’t worry – I shared them with a multitude of people) The second time I made them I was short an egg…. since I am using my own chicken eggs they are quite a bit smaller than conventional eggs (they are also a beautiful blue/green color – I really must show you soon). So the first batch I used four of my eggs and the second time I only used three but I also increased the amount of butter. The second batch was my favorite. They were super chewy!

So if super sweet is what you crave… please try these.

Another add-in suggestion, which is what we would do at Spago. Once blondies are baked and cooled poke multiple holes in bars then fill the holes with caramel sauce. Warning – this version is ridiculously sweet!!! but so delicious.

Blondies with Milk Chocolate Chips

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter 

1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

2 large eggs (or four eggs from a bantam chicken)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup milk chocolate

For chewier version decrease eggs – I used three small instead of four so I don’t know exactly how much the recipe would change if you eliminated an entire egg… if you try this please let me know how it goes. I also increased the butter by two tablespoons bringing the total up to 12 tbl.

METHOD

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 12-inch square baking pan. Mix flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in medium bowl. Melt butter in large saucepan over low heat. Remove saucepan from heat. Add sugar and whisk to blend. Whisk in eggs and vanilla extract. Gradually stir in flour mixture (batter will be thick). Spread batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips  Bake blondies until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 25 minutes. Cool blondies in pan on rack. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.) Cut into squares and serve.

hmm…. I have managed to find a few spare moments where both children are quiet, fed and the house is somewhat in order. But in these precious moments my mind is empty. Here I sit eager to write a new post, (which I know is overdue) I don’t know where to start because apparently four hours of (interrupted) sleep a night is not enough for me. So I guess this is my… what’s that word? … disclaimer. (see what I mean… empty).


Gabe went to the grocery store the other day and came home with an array of strawberries. It is that time of year after all – mid-June. The succulent northwest red gems SHOULD be flooding the stores right about now. But what Gabe came home with wasn’t the intensely flavored northwest-grown beauties I know and love. Instead they were the oversized conventionally California grown, somewhat flavorless duds that manage to be present on the grocery shelves are year round. Now I know that California can create outstanding berries as well… but I think we all know the huge, white-centered variety I am referring to?


Sadly those Cali imposters are all that are available to us right now because of the sad showing of a spring we have had. Just yesterday I was sitting in my home listening to the rain thrash against our windows. The sky was a perilous gray color and the young leaves on the trees were being beaten by the strong winds. Where are the long days filled with nourishing sunshine? The evenings that were made for campfires (perfect for s’mores I might add)? and what about having one day that is not overflowing with the kind of rain that makes you feel as if you just stepped into a shower… a cold shower at that?


I am not typically the kind of person that complains about the weather around here. Don’t get me wrong, I love sunshine but I see the value of the rain in the beautiful green setting that surrounds us. I appreciate the clean air that we breathe and the smog-less sky that hangs above us. But when the weather starts to mess with the seasonal fruits that I look forward to all year round then I start to get a little upset.


I can’t wait to fill dozens of pie shells with the sweet sun-kissed fruits. There is nothing better than standing directly next to the plant and eating a perfectly ripe berry. The kind that nearly falls off in your hand being so heavy from the sweet juices that are inside. Well, if you are like me and are also having weather issues that are hindering you from having the sweets of the summer or you don’t live in the northwest where our berries shine, then I have a little trick that will make even the berry imposters taste like heaven.
There is something magical that happens when a good quality aged Balsamic meets a less-than perfect strawberry. Somehow the vinegar manages to encourage the small amount of sweetness that is hidden deep within the berry to emerge. This combination makes the dull berries sing and when you add a generous amount of lightly whipped cream you have yourself a delicious and ridiculously simple dessert that will make any berry lover shriek with glee.


So as I sit inside my house with the heater on and watch the rain beat up the earth I can still enjoy a small taste of summer with a cup of berries that have had the sweetness persuaded out of them. I hope most of all that wherever you are that the sun is shining but if not then I hope you try this magical combination. It’s a taste of summer when summer is not looking so tasty.
The recipe here is simple. Slice up your strawberries then drizzle on the best quality Balsamic vinegar you can afford. If your berries really need some help coaxing the sweetness out then add a touch of white sugar.

It has been seven days since Roman entered the world. Seven days of recovery, rest, restlessness, craziness, confusion and complete joy.
If you had been following my Twitter at all you would know that I was done with pregnancy. I had had enough aches, plenty of restless nights, more than enough outbursts of uncontrollable sobbing, I was tired of being tired… I was just over it. So when my due date came and went I was willing to try anything and everything to encourage this baby to GET OUT!!
I ingested some horrible tasting tincture of Blue and Black Cohosh sold to me by a Doula at the Farmer’s Market. I ate pineapple, black licorice and enjoyed a glass of red wine. I even visited an Acupuncturist for some sort of electro-something procedure and did acupressure. (There were a few more things I tried but will keep this post G rated).


We had a date scheduled to be induced but was really hoping and praying that it would not come to that so when I woke up on Friday morning at 4:30 a.m. to some pretty intense contractions I was thrilled. I had never been so excited to be in pain. I grabbed Gabe’s iPhone, which had been our tool for timing all the other “false alarms”, and began to time them. I layed in bed just hoping that another contraction would come and sure enough like a faithful friend they kept coming back. I got out of bed and went to the couch and they were still there. They weren’t very regular but they were painful.
After timing the contractions for half an hour I thought I should let Gabe know what was happening. At first I was a little hesitant and didn’t want to alarm him. So I told him that I think we should start to get ready as we will probably need to go to the hospital soon. He didn’t even open his eyes. I asked if he heard me, “uh huh”. Again without opening his eyes. I let him sleep a little longer until I really knew that this was the real thing. I approached his side of the bed got down right to his face and said, “it’s time”. That got him.
If you ever been pregnant you probably had the perfect labor and delivery imagined in your head only to have it vanish when the reality takes the place of that dream. Well I can honestly say that this labor was exactly and at the same time more than what I could have imagined.


I felt plenty of pain which for me is gratifying and just part of being a woman and the process of giving birth. But I also felt the relief of pain with the wonderful modern invention of the epideral. Because of this numbing drug I was able to enjoy the actual birth of my baby as I was fully present and aware and could experience that joy without pain with the select few who were present in the room with Gabe and I. I was so eager to really experience Roman’s entrance into the world that I asked to have a mirror so I could see all that was happening. I apologize if this really grosses some of you out (believe me, my husband thinks I’m insane and had to have his back turned just so he could stay in the room) but it was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced.


I won’t go into to much detail as again I am trying to keep this rated G but I will say that apparently I had the biggest smile on my face as I watched the very moment that my baby’s head exited my body and entered this world. I watched as each arm and leg made there way out and as soon as he was completely exposed I held him so tight and kissed his sweet little face and promised to love him for the rest of his life.
During both hospital stays with each delivery of my children I was very well taken care of by the wonderful nurses. A couple in particular were like angels to me as they satisfied an intense craving when they brought me graham crackers. I know, strange right? At no other time in my life do graham crackers taste as good as they do after I give birth. It’s my comfort food. They are sweet and satisfying and always remind me of many happy memories of either topping the tasty crackers with chocolate and fire toasted marshmallows or crumbling them up in a bowl and topping with milk like my dad taught me.


As I continue to recover from the latest birth and as the weather slowly creeps towards Summer temperatures my desire for these crispy crackers continues and even grows stronger. You can be sure that as I begin to bake again soon (once standing up for long periods of time is tolerable again) I will be making these graham crackers and smothering them in a hefty portion of Valrhona 70% chocolate and a toasty, gooey homemade vanilla bean marshmallow.

Graham Crackers
Adapted from French Laundry

8 tablespoons softened butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons honey
1 cup flour
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
½ tsp vanilla (or ½ vanilla bean with seeds scraped)

Make graham crackers
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cream the butter, sugars, and honey in a mixer on medium speed until soft and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Sift together the flours, salt, and baking soda, and pour into the mixing bowl. Mix on slow speed until just combined. Turn out the mixture onto a clean surface. Press the crumbly looking dough together with your hands until it just holds together.

Press the dough onto a 12 x 16-inch piece of parchment paper. Shape the dough into a rectangle and cover it with another 12 x 16-inch piece of parchment. Roll the dough out very thin by rolling from the middle of the paper outward. If the dough is difficult to roll, add a tiny bit of flour between the parchment and the dough on both sides. Transfer the dough onto a baking sheet, patching it to make an exact rectangle.

Bake the dough until the top is golden brown, slightly blistered, and dry-looking, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Use a fork to mark rows of holes, 1/4 inch apart, all over the dough.

We recently celebrated Baron’s 1st Birthday!!! Everyone always warns us how fast they grow up…. well I guess they were right! I can’t believe my baby is a year old.

Gabe and I decorated paper cups for the festivities.

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In these festive cups we served…

Banana Orange smoothies

1 frozen banana

1 1/2 c. whole milk

1/3 c. frozen orange juice concentrate

2 c. ice

Blend in a blender until nice and smooth. Serve with a straw and paper umbrella.

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As a pastry chef it warms my heart to see my son thoroughly enjoying his very own chocolate cake.

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Baron gives the camera a chocolate kiss.

For the game portion of the party I supplied each guest with an ample supply of play dough and pipe cleaners. They had the length of the party to create a monkey.

Here is the winner….(warning.. it’s PG-13)

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This work of art was really a team effort by my brothers. One created the monkey while the other added the nice little yellow fountain (and no, my brothers aren’t 12 – in fact, they both have children of their own… scary :))

And for the adults… our very own monkey cake. Dark chocolate layers sandwiched between whipped ganache, fresh bananas and whipped cream. Mmmmm!!!

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On a quest for a little adventure my sister-in-law and I decided to drive to the orginal Cascadian Farms. We went out in search of the last blueberries of the season. So with her two kids and my one we piled into her car and set out with very vague directions. Turns out it was more of an adventure than we bargained for. Thinking it was just a couple miles off of the freeway we quickly realized it was further than we thought. 40 miles later we arrived. Cascadian farms is set below the magnificent Cascade mountains and across the street a river flows. We set out to pick our berries but they had just picked the last crop. With three kids we would have only had the chance to pick 1/2 a pint anyway. So instead we enjoyed homemade blueberry ice cream and bought 4 lbs of frozen berries.

An adventure was had and we walked away with bellies full of delicious ice cream and blueberries waiting to be baked into something wonderful.

First of probably quite a few blueberry recipes.

Blueberry Muffins with Cinnamon Crisp Topping

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, cubed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Sift dries. Set aside. Combine wet ingredients. Toss blueberries in dry ingredients then gently stir in the wet.

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Topping: Combine sugar, flour and cinnamon. Add butter. With your hands break up the butter clumps and blend until pea size clumps form.

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Fill muffin pan 3/4 way full and sprinkle with topping. Bake 350* 15 min for mini muffins 25 min for larger size.

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NOTE: I followed this recipe word for word!!! (Wonder why this is such an accomplishment? Click Here) But there are changes I would make and will try soon. First I would use brown sugar instead of white for more moisture and flavor. I would add a touch of orange zest for more depth of flavor. Then I would use either buttermilk or sour cream instead of the milk. Changing that then I may have to experiement with adding some baking soda to balance out of the acidity of the buttermilk or sour cream. Also I would decrease the sugar in the topping and make it slightly more like a crumble rather than a sugary, crispy topping.

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…what Baron was doing while the muffins were in the oven.

164026255_82b800c1ff.jpgI have a habit, whether it be good or bad I have not decided. I simply can not follow a recipe. How as a baker can this be? Well, a couple reasons… 1. I have a foundational knowledge of the science of baking and can slightly tweak recipes with an understanding that most likely the recipe will come out. 2. I have a lot of failed baking attempts. 3. My wanderings from recipes may be ever so slight.

So now I ask myself why do I do this?…1. Just as an artist does not consider a painting their own if they simply copied someone else’s work so I too do not consider myself a true pastry chef if I am using another’s recipe. But this is silly isn’t it? All chef’s use the recipe of another and then they may tweak it to suit their own needs but only after they have examined, tested and studied the original recipe. Am I right on this?

Well, obviously I am unclear on normal protocol, but what I am clear on is that everytime I go to bake I wander from the recipe and then once the finished product reaches my mouth I wonder…. “if I would have stayed with the original recipe would it be more moist, more flavorful, less chewy, more tender, sweeter, lighter, denser”… and so on and so forth. So then I am left to wonder if it was my alterations that caused the good/bad outcome or if I would have stayed with the original recipe would the results have been the same?

Take for example my bread baking experiences over this past week. When I go to make bread I love having the freedom to throw in some flour, water, yeast/starter and salt and then a few hours later have bread. But the thing is some days it’s perfect and then the next day it’s not. If I were to follow a recipe than my results would be more consistent and I would become more familiar with the product and once I have mastered that recipe it is then that I may tweak and know exactly what has occurred due to the deviation from the recipe. (Sorry for the run on sentence but it is late and I am trying so hard to make sense of this conundrum.)

So now the question is… should I devote myself to the discipline of following recipes so that later, when I have a better understanding of baking and the science involved, I would have more luck tweaking and creating my own recipes?

I am curious how others in the pastry business feel about this. Please let me know your thoughts on following/creating recipes.

Although she will probably never see this I just wanted to give a big sweet thanks to my Grandma for sharing her pie crust recipe with me. It has changed my pastry perception. In the last week I have made four pies (two peach, an apple and a chicken pot pie). Tomorrow I will be making the pie crust but skipping the filling. Nothing better than straight pie crust baked with a little cinnamon and sugar.

The recipe itself is not really in exact written form. Grandma had to make it in front of me to show me the texture and the feel of it to know if it was right. So if you are ever in my area I would love to share the technique.

I truly love the way Grandma’s bake. Every single baking book you buy now always stresses the importance of accuracy when measuring, the precision needed with mixing and the need for a scale, all that I agree with, but I love seeing older women in the kitchen who are so comfortable with their recipes that they just know how it is suppose to “feel”. In a sense that is more accurate than any scale because outlying conditions exist as such that even if you have the flour exact to the nearest tenth of a gram the moisture content due to weather conditions or other factors, may still alter the product. But if you know how the mix is suppose to feel and act then you can rely on your instincts more than technicalities.

All that to say, Thanks Grandma! What a cherished memory I will always have from the day I learned how to make the most perfect pie crust.

Grandma’s Pie Crust

2 cups All-Purpose flour

pinch salt

1/2 cup oil

1/4 cup milk

Combine all ingredients. Can either be pressed into the pan or rolled out between two sheets of parchment. Grandma uses this for a double crust but I often double this recipe as I like my crusts pretty thic.

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