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orange + avocado salad

salad forever

I learned this salad about halfway through my college years. I lived in Cabot House at Harvard, where the residential quarters are divided into 12 houses, each with a professor in charge, and a number of graduate students and other scholars kicking around to keep an eye on the undergraduates. The professor in charge of our house was a faculty member who had a remarkable wife, a phenomenal cook, a brilliant host, and a lively spirit.

Though I had grown up in a house where we fed every soul who walked through the door, Emanuela taught me a lot about the military-drill precision involved in preparing for entertaining. While she had a genius for flavors, textures, and more than anything, technique, she also innately understood when things had to be ready and how to get them ready. Just as hordes of college students and faculty would push their way through the door, platters and bowls arranged themselves flawlessly on the table. There was never any stress involved; even though people overuse the word “effortless” in this sense, she really made it all seem effortless. Suddenly we would all be tamed, civilized. Perching on chairs, eating carefully, listening to the speaker who was invited, mulling the topic. Civilization.

platter

Civilization; that is what this salad represents, and it charmed me from the beginning. Before college, I had never eaten or prepared an avocado. And we certainly never used a knife to take the skin off of an orange, creating glistening, jewel-like slices. Emanuela would toss this with giant tubes of pasta for a salad, dousing it in just the right amount of olive oil. These days, I leave off the pasta and serve it on its own. I recently made it for a big party and loved the proportions of it on the platter. If you’d like to be the genius of your next party, give it a shot. It will all seem so effortless, and civilized.

gems

Orange + avocado salad

This is scaled for a big crowd on a huge platter. You can bring it all the way back to 1 avocado and 1 orange.

  • 10 ripe Haas avocados
  • 10 juicy navel oranges
  • 1/4 of a red onion, finely chopped
  • extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt for sprinkling

1. Peel the avocados and cut into 6 to 8 lengthwise slices. Use a sharp knife to take the skin and pith off of the oranges. First, slice off each end, then set up on one of the flat ends and cut with the knife just under the pith, rotating the orange and removing skin and pitch in sections. Flip to the other flat end and remove remaining pith with your knife. Slice in half lengthwise and remove the center of the orange. Cut each orange into 8 or so slices. Place slices in a bowl as you go. Collect up all the juices from the cutting process and reserve.

2. Arrange orange and avocado slices in alternate on a large platter, in concentric circles or however you like. Drizzle all the juice from the orange over the platter, making sure avocados are covered. Sprinkle onion over, and drizzle olive oil over. Sprinkle with just a little Maldon salt or fleur de sel. Taste. Adjust seasoning. Serve.

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apple + oat crumble

Every Wednesday and Saturday, I walk to the farmers’ market. Among my purchases this time of year is always a half-dozen or so apples. Something strange happens in the crisper of my refrigerator as late summer weeks pour over into late fall. It seems like about one apple from every trip isn’t eaten by the time the next wave comes in the door. By the end of October, my crisper looks like the land of misfit fruit. The apples are slightly shriveled, speckly, and generally neglected and miserable-looking. I would feel worse about this if it wasn’t the perfect excuse to make pie or crumble. As it is, I believe that I probably, subconsciously, buy too much fruit each week on purpose.

I started out wanting to make a recipe from SmittenKitchen, which makes a granola topping for the apples, with very little sugar. However, I have a slight intolerance for nuts and coconut, and then decided I wanted the topping to have a little more bulk and crumble. One thing led to another, and I wound up with this lovely dessert, which works equally well for breakfast with some Greek yogurt. It’s the perfect destination for your misfit apples. And it’s not too fussy, either. I cut each apple into eighths and then just cut each one-eighth wedge into two or three chunks. No delicate slicing is needed.

If you’re a big fan of the crumbly topping, you should double it. The amount below gives a nice, substantial coating to the dish, but isn’t overly dense. The other way to play it is to select a smaller pan (like an oval baking dish) and use fewer apples, but the same amount of topping. I had a good number of rag-tag apples to use up (six large ones) and so I used a 9 x 13″ pan and I thought it worked out perfectly.

Apple + oat crumble

Serves 10 to 12 in a normal family, serves 6 in my family; adapted from SmittenKitchen, so much so as to be unrecognizable

Filling:

  • 3 to 4 pounds apples, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup pepitas
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Butter a 9 x 13″ baking pan and set side. Toss all filling ingredients together in a large bowl and pour into prepared pan.

2. Place pepitas in a dry skillet and toast over medium-high heat until pepitas turn light gold and just begin popping and dancing around the pan. In a small saucepan, melt butter and honey together over medium-low heat. Pour pepitas into a medium bowl. Add salt, oats, flour, and baking powder to the bowl and combine with a whisk. Pour in melted honey-butter mixture and use a spatula to combine well, until dough forms a mass and then breaks into chunks.

3. Crumble the topping over the filling evenly. Place in preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes. Check to be sure top is a deep brown color and apples are juicy and cooked through. If not, bake for another 5 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature.

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french toast w pears + lemon

Say hello to the perfect Sunday breakfast for fall. For the past three or four weeks, we have been devouring obscene amounts of Bosc pears from Rose’s Berry Farm, who bring all kinds of produce to our downtown Wednesday market and our neighborhood market on Saturday morning. For whatever reason (divine providence?) the pears this year are sweet, crisp, and smell distinctly of honey when you slice into them. I have not put a single pear into a cooked dish until this weekend, simply because they are too darned good.

However, as I was mixing up the egg for a batch of French toast, the giant bowl of pears on the table caught my eye. A knob of butter was in the pan and next thing you know, I was cutting the pears into eighths, lengthwise, and sliding each slice into the warm, sputtering butter. As soon as you remove the pears from the pan, you can cook your French toast in the same pan. (To me a happy weekend breakfast is a one-pan weekend breakfast.)

I guess I have a few things to say about French toast in general. One is that unless you have a restaurant kitchen and sous chefs and tons of lead time, it’s best not to slice your stale bread too, too thick for French toast. For one thing, it is hard for really thick slices to properly absorb the custard mixture all the way to the center. For another, it is hard for us to cook the inside of the toast properly before the outside burns. I know it looks all glamorous and restaurant-y to make your French toast slices thick, but I would tend more to the 1/2-inch-thick slice. Make sure the pan you’re cooking it in is hot enough that the butter is sizzling, but not so hot that the butter is going to burn while the toast is cooking. And if you’re making more slices of French toast than you can fit in one batch in your skillet, keep the cooked slices warm in the oven (at about 140 F)  while the rest are cooking.

Pears, browned in butter, paired with a lemony, nutmeggy French toast? Heaven on a plate.

French toast w pears + lemon

Serves four

  • 2 Bosc pears, cut into eighths lengthwise and cored
  • 2 tablespoons butter, plus a little more if needed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 8 slices Italian bread or brioche
  • warm maple syrup for serving

1. Place butter in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When butter melts, add pear slices on one cut side and reduce heat to medium. When pears are browned on the first side, flip them to the second cut side and brown that side. Remove browned pear slices to a plate and keep warm. While pears are browning, mix up custard. In a pie plate or another shallow bowl, combine eggs, nutmeg, sugar, zest, vanilla, and half-and-half. Use a fork to whisk mixture together until a uniform consistency is achieved.

2. Add another tablespoon of butter to the skillet if needed, leaving heat at medium. Take as many slices of bread as will fit in one batch in the skillet, and add them to the custard, leaving them for a few moments to soak up the mixture. Then use a fork to flip the slices and drench them in the custard. Use the fork to pick up each slice of toast, holding over the pie plate until excess custard runs off, and then place in the skillet. Allow slices to cook until browned on the first side, and then flip to the second side. Remove to a warm plate, and repeat with any remaining slices of French toast.

3. Place two slices of French toast on each plate, top with four pear slices, and drizzle with maple syrup. Serve warm.

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whole-wheat blueberry-lemon scones

I don’t delude myself that these scones are good for you because they are made with whole-wheat flour. In fact, there was no intent to make anything healthy on Saturday, when I woke up realizing I should make something for Breakfast at Wimbledon. Scones, of course, would be just the thing, but I had no white flour on hand. (How did that happen?) I did have, lurking in the refrigerator, a respectable bag of whole-wheat pastry flour, milled super-fine, as well as a box of very fresh blueberries. And that is how we got here, with these faux-healthy scones that still contain quite a bit of butter and sugar. They are absolutely delicious.

The best scone recipes in my repertoire come from the Cheese Board Collective Works—the scones are craggy, just sweet enough, tender, flaky. In short, they are everything a great scone should be. It turns out that if you make scones using whole-wheat flour, you need to add extra liquid. The typical recipes in the Collective Works make twice as many scones; I cut the recipe back so that we didn’t have scones sitting around the house tempting us. But that means if you want to make more scones for more people, go ahead and double the recipe; it will work just fine.

Whole-wheat blueberry-lemon scones

Adapted from The Cheese Board: Collective Works; makes 6 large (5-inch diameter) scones

  • 1 and 3/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 stick cold butter, cut up into small pieces
  • zest of 1 large lemon
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Sift flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add kosher salt and sugar, and whisk to combine. Add butter and cut it into the dry mixture using a pastry blender, or two knives. If you have difficulty making this into a coarse, crumbly mixture (which still has some pieces of butter the size of peas in it), use your fingertips to rub and pinch the butter into the flour mixture.

2. Add lemon, blueberries, half-and-half, and vanilla, and use a spatula to combine lightly. Do not overmix. The mixture should be mostly uniform, with just a few dry bits of flour in the bottom of the bowl. Scoop batter by half-cups onto the prepared baking sheet. Scones should be piled high (they spread out) as well as rough and craggy. Leave 3 inches between them. Sprinkle the tops with more sugar and bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly brown on top.

3. Cool on a cooling rack for at least 10 minutes before attempting to eat the scones.

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pear, ginger + orange marmalade

At the farmers’ market here, you can now buy giant bags of wrinkly pears, past their prime, for $3. When I see a bargain like this I can’t pass it up. But what is a girl to do with a half bushel of pears? After you’ve made a few of these, it’s time to make preserves. My mom loves ginger, and I had a navel orange in the refrigerator. I thought I could make something of this, and pulled my Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving off the shelf and found a few options. I merged a couple of the recipes and came out with this wonderful winter marmalade, which is great for gifting.

I think people who haven’t canned a lot get a bit nostalgic about this process and bite off more than they can chew. In particular, when making fruit preserves, don’t underestimate how much work it is to peel and core, for example, a peck of pears. By the time you have the chopped pears together for this recipe, before you have even cooked a single thing, or sterilized a single jar, your hands will be sore and aching. Also, pears are slippery. You have to be careful. And patient.

It’s taken me a long time to return to preserving jams and jellies, applesauce or mincemeat. We were canning hundreds of jars of food every summer when I was a kid. It was hot in the kitchen and there were often at least me and two women in there. I particularly remember two summer days of making pepper relish out of bushels and bushels of onions and peppers. I stood in that kitchen and cried and cried from the onions for hours. Not fun! But the pepper relish is so delicious. We haven’t made it in years, and I miss it, dripping down the side of a fresh burger.

If you are afraid about the process of canning, you shouldn’t be. (And you should buy the Ball book as a guide. Even my mom and grandmothers, deeply experienced canners, were never without their Ball Blue Book nearby during the summer.) However, if you don’t want to give it a whirl, you can still make this jam and put it in small jars in the refrigerator. They’ll keep for a couple of weeks. Particularly if you’re planning to give the jars away as hostess gifts and you know the recipient will use it right away, you’ll be fine.

So this recipe, while a little more high maintenance than your usual jam, due to the pre-cooking of the orange rind, turned out to be just what I wanted. My mom the ginger-lover was pleased with it, too. And we have a nice little supply of preserves to get us through the winter and spring. I use the small (6-ounce) Ball jars for making jam, because I really hate having even a half-pint jar of preserves open in the house. It takes us so long to use them! But if you are a more inveterate spreader of fruit preserves on toast, by all means use larger jars, and even double the recipe. If you wander out to the local orchard or farmers’ market and find big bags of friendless pears for next to nothing, this is a great weekend project. And given the time of year, if you need hostess gifts or stocking stuffers, this could be a big winner.

Pear, ginger + orange marmalade

Adapted from multiple recipes from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry

  • 6 cups chopped pears (about 4 1/2 pounds whole fruit weight)
  • 1 navel orange
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced finely
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 cup water

1. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, remove just the orange part of the rind from the orange. Using a very sharp knife, slice it into the finest possible pieces. (See photograph above.) Cut the orange in half and juice both halves. Reserve the juice. In a small pan, bring 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar to boil. Add the finely, finely slivered rind and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. In a large, nonreactive saucepan, put the pears, juice, rind, both gingers and the remaining sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally just until sugar melts. Cook until you can insert a cold metal spoon into the pan and dip out a small amount of the preserves. When you tilt the spoon to drop the preserves back into the pan, and the liquid drips over the edge, three drops consolidate and form a sheet. (If you have a candy thermometer, this is marked as the “jelly” stage.) This can take from 15 – 35 minutes, depending on your fruit’s water content, the heat level, and the pan.

3. Sterilize jars and lids and keep warm. You will need enough jars to hold up to 60 ounces of marmalade. (My batch used 9 of the 6-oz. jelly jars.) Heat water in a large stock pot big enough to hold jars and cover with water by an inch or two. (Follow instructions on your canner to process the marmalade.)

4. When marmalade has reached the jelly stage, fill the sterilized jars with hot marmalade leaving 1/4″ to 1/2″ head space. Wipe rims with a clean, hot cloth. Add dome lids and screw tops. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes (or follow instructions on your canner). Remove hot jars carefully to a wooden board to cool. You should hear all the dome lids seal shut; they make a popping noise. Let stand for 24 hours.Test the seal on each jar by pressing down on the dome. There should be no movement.

5. Store and use all winter. The preserves should keep for at least one year.

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hats’ applesauce cake

Certain recipes contain worlds of meaning. Most such recipes I possess, handwritten, on a set of “Peanuts” themed recipe cards (3 x 5 inches) someone must have bought me as a gift when I was about six years old. Granny always made me sit at the kitchen table and “write out” a recipe if I wanted it after I made it with her. Then we would get a roll of Contact paper (that transparent sticky plastic you could laminate things with) out of the broom closet, carefully cut a piece twice the size of the index card, and laminate the recipe. This was because Granny perceived very early on that I have a gift for maximizing the amount of batter and cooking detritus I could get onto 15 square inches of recipe-card surface.

Granny’s applesauce cake is one such iconic recipe for me, but I have lost my laminated copy in my 8-year-old cursive handwriting. Last weekend I had to call my sister and get her to e-mail me her copy. By the way, this interchange, in which I discovered that Hope’s copy is handwritten on an index card by Granny herself, proves yet again that the youngest child in the family doesn’t have to do anything for herself! Granny had even drawn a little smiley face with sticking-up hair at the bottom of Hope’s copy. To think, having recipes written out for you, with illustrations.

I know there is a tremendous bias against shortening these days, but I do urge you to use at least part shortening when you make this cake. It stays so moist, for days and days. In fact, even if you make it with all butter—perhaps especially if you do—you probably should wrap it up very tightly after it’s cooled and only open and serve it at least 48 hours later. Also, this cake freezes like a dream. It is present in our family for every major holiday from October through March. It has in the past been served as a birthday cake for winter birthdays, we all love it so much. It is flexible and forgiving. For example, try using a little whole wheat (maybe up to 1/2 cup) flour, or use 3 cups of applesauce instead of 2. And I urge you to make the spices heaping when you measure them! Granny always does.

Hats’ applesauce cake

  • 3/4 cups shortening or butter, or a mixture
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 to 3 cups applesauce
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoons cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups dried fruit or nuts (raisins, nuts, dried cherries)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two loaf pans. Line the bottom of pans with a piece of parchment cut to fit. Grease again on top of parchment. Nonstick cooking spray works well for this. (You can also make this in a Bundt pan. Grease the pan very well and flour it.)

2. Sift together in a large bowl the flour, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt.

3. Cream shortening or butter in a stand mixer at medium speed, or a hand mixer at high speed.  Add sugars slowly, beating well. Add dry ingredients alternately with applesauce at low speed. Add raisins, nuts or other dried fruit at low speed.

4. Pour half of batter into each of the prepared pans. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center of one cake comes out clean. Let rest in pan for 10 minutes. (If using a Bundt pan, bake for 1 hour or more, until a toothpick inserted near the midpoint of the cake comes out clean.) Carefully dump out of the pan and cool right-side up on a cooling rack.

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pear + dark chocolate breakfast cake

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the only felicity superior to a cake that requires no mixer is a cake that requires no mixer and tastes better the next day. This is such a cake. I spotted a version of this recipe on Food52 (newly redesigned this week—love it!) and decided to simplify the instructions a bit and max out the amount of dark chocolate and pears the structure of the cake would hold. This recipe is the result.

In my experience, cakes made with oil are often better the next day. Also, cakes loaded with diced or shredded fruit are often better the next day. This cake has both and I think that contributes to its keeping qualities. I made it on a Saturday  morning and served it at breakfast on Sunday, and the cake had really become more lush and the flavors of pear and chocolate had distributed more uniformly throughout the cake.

I don’t often cook with chocolate—in fact, I’m not sure there is a recipe involving chocolate on this site yet. But I do keep bars of Lindt 70% dark chocolate to smash into thin shards for purposes like this. (It’s also the chocolate I use when I make chocolate-chip scones or chocolate-chip cookies.) I use the non-business end of a wooden spoon and smash the chocolate on the counter to break it up. This type of chocolate keeps the cake from being too sweet. I think you could use chocolate chips, but they may tend to sink to the bottom of the cake a bit more. This is the same reason you want to dice your pear (unpeeled!) as finely as possible—so it stays distributed evenly throughout the cake.

The reviewers on Food52 note that this cake is a little insidious. You can justify eating it at breakfast, lunch, tea time, and as an after-supper snack. In fact, I had to give it away to my beloved house guest—it was imperative to get it out of the house. If you decide to give yours away, I doubt anyone will have to be asked twice.

Pear + dark chocolate breakfast cake

Adapted from “fiveandspice” at Food52

  • 2 cups (9 oz) pears, cored and cut into small dice (not peeled)
  • 3 oz dark or bittersweet chocolate (I used Lindt 70%), smashed into shards
  • 1 1/2 cups (7.5 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3  eggs (6.25 oz)
  • 1 cup (7.5 oz) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (5 oz) greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup (3 oz) buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup (3 oz) oil

1. Butter or spray a 9″ loaf pan. Cut a piece of parchment the size of the bottom of the pan and smooth it into the pan bottom. Butter the top of the paper or spray again. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. In a small bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt.

3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar. Whisk in yogurt, buttermilk, vanilla, and oil.

4. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients 1/3 at a time, mixing well with a spatula after each addition.

5. Pour 1/4 of batter into bottom of pan and tilt the pan so it covers the bottom. Sprinkle in 1/3 of the diced pears and 1/3 of the chocolate shards. Pour another ribbon of about 1/4 of the batter over this, sprinkle in another 1/3 of the pears and chocolate. Pour another 1/4 of the batter over, and sprinkle most of the pears and chocolate that are left, reserving a few for the top. Scrape all remaining batter into the pan and sprinkle the last few pears and chocolate on top.

6. Pop into the oven (use a baking sheet underneath the loaf pan to catch any drips) and bake for 50-55 minutes. Test center with a toothpick to be sure it’s done inside. Rest pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Then use a straight metal spatula to loosen the sides. Dump the cake out, turn it right-side up, and let it cool. Serve just warm or at room temperature.

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blueberry crumb bars

It may be that I have a slight obsession with crumbs. Crumb cakes, crumb buns, crumbles, coffee cakes all figure in my repertoire. I don’t think this fixation is terribly unusual. Whenever I bring any of the above-mentioned items into work, there are always plenty of takers. When you think of what makes a great crumb—great butter, sugar, a little flour—it’s no wonder people love them. It’s all the flavor of a crisp butter crust but with that lovely cakey “give” in the larger crumbs when you bite into them.

One of the earliest recipes in my childhood repertoire was lemon bars, which are not technically crumb-based, but when you think of the crust you press into the bottom of the pan, they are at least crumbly. I saw this recipe originally at SmittenKitchen and loved how it took the concept of the lemon bar (mix up a crust, press half in the bottom of the pan, crumble half on top) and combined it with blueberries, a fruit still plentiful in Connecticut the first week of September. (And, with any luck, a few more weeks.)

I altered the SmittenKitchen recipe a bit, mostly to make it fit into a 9×9-inch square pan. (I shudder to think what I would have done with the entire 9×13-inch pan!) These really seem more like cookies to me than anything else. They’re a little bit fragile, but would work well in a lunchbox if they were well protected. And as I told people the next day, they’re healthy, they have blueberries!

Blueberry crumb bars

Adapted from SmittenKitchen

Crumbs:

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (1 stick or 4 ounces)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • pinch salt
  • zest of one lemon

Filling:

  • 1 pint (2 cups) fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • juice of one lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter an 8×8- or 9×9-inch pan.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, baking powder, flour. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry blender to cut in the butter and egg. The dough will be quite dry and crumbly. It won’t look like it’s going to work, but press half of dough into the pan anyway.

3. In another bowl, make the filling. Stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice.  Mix in the blueberries. Pour the blueberry mixture over the crust and spread it out to the edges. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into triangles.

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