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Monthly Archives: March 2016

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #2 and Mini French Silk Pies

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Sometimes pampering is called for. And if you have a dessert with the words “French” and “silk” in the name, it probably falls in the category of pampering–as in rich and smooth and decadent.

But this week at Reading and Recipes we’re going to go you one better in the pampering department with your own personal dessert in these Mini French Silk Pies.

Now a slice of pie is great. Pie anytime, any way works for me. But there’s a problem with a slice of pie–the other guy or gal’s slice always looks bigger! So here you are with this yummy dessert in front of you, a rare and special treat; and all you can think of is that the person across the table got more than you. Kind of takes the fun out of eating that special treat.

But with these mini pies, you don’t have to worry about someone else getting more because you’ve got the whole pie! Now that’s what I call a special treat!

And that’s real pampering, R&R style!

mini french silk pies

Mini French Silk Pies

6 pre-made mini graham cracker crusts

1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 pasteurized eggs, room temperature*

whipped cream for garnish

Unwrap the mini pie crusts and place on a cookie sheet. Set aside for now.

To make the filling, place the unsweetened chocolate into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on 50% power in 30 second intervals, until the chocolate is melted. Allow the chocolate to cool.

Meanwhile, add the butter to a mixing bowl and beat on high for 2-3 minutes, or until really fluffy. Gradually add the granulated sugar, beating after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat in the vanilla and cooled chocolate. Beat mixture another minute or two until ingredients are well incorporated and mixture is light and fluffy. Add one egg and beat on high for 2 minutes. Add the second egg and beat on high another two minutes. This is a lot of whipping and beating the ingredients, but it is the only way to get a fluffy filling! Scrape the sides of the bowl one last time and make sure all of the ingredients are well mixed. You know your filling is done when it is a very pale brown and not at all granular.

Divide the mixture between all 6 mini pie crusts and spread evenly. Refrigerate the pies for an hour. Serve chilled with a dollop of whipped cream or chocolate shavings. Cover and store leftover pies in the refrigerator.

Makes 6 mini pies.

*I recommend using pasteurized eggs since the eggs will not be cooked. Using pasteurized eggs reduces the risk of food-borne illness.

french silk pie

{Adapted from Pillsbury}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #2, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #2, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #1 and Fresh Strawberry Ricotta Muffins

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So it’s SPRING!!!–three days now, as I write this. What’s your resolution?

It has always struck me as odd that we make resolutions in early January, in the depths of winter and still hungover from too much holiday good cheer (sometimes way too much holiday good cheer, if you know what I mean). Yeah, it’s a new calendar year and that might seem a good occasion for resolutions. But everything else about the timing is awful. What kind of resolutions can you make in the middle of winter and hungover? To eat less, drink less, and maybe hibernate for the next three months? What kind of resolutions are those?

But the first week of spring–now that’s a time for resolutions: warmer weather, longer days, flowers budding or in bloom, green reappearing after nothing but brown for the last six months. Ahh, give me spring and hope and optimism.

And resolutions. At Reading and Recipes our springtime resolutions are to start serializing a new novel and give you still more fun and easy and (maybe sometimes) healthy recipes for desserts or snacks to eat while reading or listening to the serial.

To fulfill the first resolution, we’re starting a novel called Before the Mellowing Year. The title comes from a poem by John Milton. And the story is about Zach and Allison Sandstrom, newlyweds embarking on a new life in the mid-1970s, adventures both outward and inward turned as they explore the vast world around them and the even more perilous worlds within.

To fulfill the second resolution, this week’s recipe is Fresh Strawberry Ricotta Muffins, an easy to make and bake muffin that is both healthy (as desserts go–hey, our nickname is “Sweets and Stories”) and unique in its flavors and texture (dense and rich).

So join us as we dive into spring, resolutions and all; and check back weekly to see how we’re doing with these resolutions!

strawberry ricotta muffins

Fresh Strawberry Ricotta Muffins

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg white

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 Tablespoons ricotta cheese*

1/3 cup plus 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

3-4 medium strawberries, hulled and finely diced

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with 6 paper liners, and set aside.

Add the butter and sugar to a mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until mixture becomes light and fluffy. Beat in the egg white and vanilla until the egg white is fully incorporated into the batter. Stir in the ricotta. Be sure to scrape the sides of the mixing bowl. Slowly mix in the flour, baking powder, and salt, until just combined; do not over mix the batter! Fold in the diced strawberry pieces.

Divide the batter between the 6 paper liners, filling each about half full. Bake in preheated oven for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Makes 6 muffins.

*If you don’t have this on hand, you can use plain Greek yogurt or sour cream in place of the ricotta.

fresh strawberry ricotta muffins

{Adapted from Life, Love, and Sugar}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #1, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #1, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #53 and Super Crumb Yellow Cake

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“What’s a super crumb?” you might ask. Is it like a super-conductor or a super-computer? Or is it one of those little specks of dust you spend fifteen minutes chasing around and still can’t get into the dustpan? (“Can’t catch me!” it shrieks as it scoots under the couch or hides behind the bookcase.)

No, these super crumbs are not of the evasive dust type or a possible means to solve the world’s energy dilemma. I could be coy and respond, “Bake the recipe and find out for yourself.” But then those folks in Human Resources might get the idea that they could phase out my job of writing intros to these recipes, so let’s not go there.

This Super Crumb Yellow Cake is “super” not only for its “crumbs”, which are extra buttery and have the delicate tang of cinnamon and there are lots of them, but also for the cake, which is richer and yellower than the typical crumb cake base. These two qualities make this entire crumb cake “super” in that it is more colorful, flavorful, and substantial than a normal crumb cake, and therefore appropriate for a wide range of occasions–as a lunch or dinner dessert, or on a brunch or party buffet (or as a yummy evening or late night snack).

So you see, the prefix/adjective “super” modifies all three of the words that follow. It’s a Super-crumb Super-yellow Super-cake Super Crumb Yellow Cake (I had to say that to justify my expensive degree in English and keep those headhunters in R&R‘s HR department sufficiently confused that they won’t put my job on the chopping block.)

Speaking of degrees in English, this week’s serial from Two Sisters Times Two is the final serial for this novel. Next week we will start the journey through a new novel. Be sure to stop back and check it out–and finish up Two Sisters Times Two in the meantime, while eating a piece of Super-super-super Crumb Yellow Cake!

yellow crumb coffee cake

Super Crumb Yellow Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour, divided

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

1 egg yolk

2 Tablespoons milk or cream

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 5×7 square baking dish, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup of flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the egg yolk, milk, and vanilla and whisk ingredients together until combined. The batter will be thick. Do not over mix the batter.

Pour this batter into the prepared baking dish. To another bowl, whisk together the remaining 2/3 cup of flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Stir in the melted butter until crumbs form. Sprinkle crumbs over batter.

Bake cake for 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool before cutting.

Makes 4-6 squares.

crumb cake

{Adapted from Baked Bree}

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #53, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #53, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #52 and Hot Chocolate Bread Pudding

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O. K. So maybe some of you have jumped the gun and are already in spring mode–T-shirts and shorts and flip-flops and suntan lotion. And maybe your weather (at the moment) is encouraging this anticipation.

But I’ve got a little warning for all you early birds–it ain’t spring yet. The vernal equinox is still more than a week away; and even once it occurs, there’s likely to be some cold and blustery weather ahead.

So with that distinct possibility in mind, we’re posting our last wintertime, warm you to the bones and the tips of your toes recipe: Hot Chocolate Bread Pudding. As the name suggests, this recipe combines the warmth and sweetness of hot chocolate with the comfort-food richness of bread pudding. There may be no better afternoon warm-up or late-night around-the-fire indulgence than this dessert in a mug as you sit cozy and warm with the cold north wind howling outside and snowflakes dancing beyond the windows.

So, sure–pull out the picnic blanket and the beachwear for a trial run. It’s fun to look ahead and dream. But bookmark this recipe and keep the ingredients handy. Winter has a growl or two left in store.

hot chocolate bread pudding

Hot Chocolate Bread Pudding

1 packet hot chocolate mix

1 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of salt

1 egg

2 1/2 cups cubed stale bread

2-3 Tablespoons chocolate chips

1/3 cup mini marshmallows

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 large (12-ounce capacity) oven proof mugs, and set aside.*

In a large bowl, whisk together the hot chocolate mix, milk, vanilla, salt, and egg. Make sure ingredients are blended. Add stale bread cubes and chocolate chips to the mixture, making sure to coat all of the bread. Allow this mixture to sit for 15 minutes.

Divide the bread pudding between the two prepared mugs. Place mugs on a cookie sheet. Bake in your preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until bread pudding is set. Remove the bread pudding from the oven. Divide the mini marshmallows and place on top of the bread pudding. Return bread pudding to oven and turn oven to broil just until marshmallows turn a golden brown. Be careful not to burn the marshmallows!

Remove the bread pudding from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Serve warm. Cover and store leftovers in refrigerator.

*If you do not have mugs of this size, bake bread pudding in a greased 5×7 inch pan. Increase cooking time to 35-40 minutes, or until the bread pudding is just set.

hot chocolate mug bread pudding

{Adapted from The Cookie Rookie}

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #52, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #52, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #51 and Chocolate Turtle Cookies

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I’ve always loved turtles–that is, the four-legged kind with the built-in shelter like a mobile home. I especially like the small turtles you occasionally see in your backyard or garden, the painted and box turtles that once were so common but less so now, the ones that would hide in their shells till the dog stopped barking and moved on to something more interesting (and mobile), freeing the turtle to quietly (and slowly) plod off into the weeds.

Where have those turtles gone?

Well, in honor of those garden turtles and in recognition of (and hope for) the approach of warm spring days and the accompanying greenery of grass and leaves, we’ve named this week’s recipe Chocolate Turtle Cookies. They look like little dark-shelled turtles with their legs and head withdrawn into the shell. But don’t worry. There’s no turtle inside, just peanut butter and a vanilla wafer: good stuff.

These cookies actually mimic a certain type of popular girl-scout cookie with a trademarked name we won’t use here. But I think Chocolate Turtle Cookie is a better name than that other anyway. You see, I always liked turtles and miss seeing them in my yard. This recipe is for them, and in hopes of their return–this spring and all springs.

copy cat tagalongs

Chocolate Turtle Cookies

9 vanilla wafers

3 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter

4 ounces milk chocolate chips*

1-2 Tablespoons milk

Lay vanilla wafers on a plate lined with parchment paper. Top each with a teaspoon of peanut butter. Place the cookies in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Put the chocolate and 1 tablespoon of milk in a small sauce pan and melt over low heat, stirring constantly. If the melted chocolate seems too thick, add 1 more tablespoon of milk. Once the chocolate is completely melted, turn the heat off. Place one cookie on top of a fork. Spoon melted chocolate on top to completely cover the peanut butter and cookie. Gently shake excess chocolate off. Place chocolate covered wafer back on a plate lined with parchment paper. Repeat with remaining vanilla wafers.

Place cookies back in the freezer. Allow the chocolate to set on all of the cookies. Place hardened cookies in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

Makes 9 cookies.

*If you can find milk chocolate candy coating, that will result in a shinier, harder outer coating. My local store did not have this product, so I used milk chocolate chips, as indicated in the recipe. If you can find candy coating, use 4 ounces and follow instructions on package for melting and dipping.

homemade tagalongs

{Adapted from Back For Seconds}

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #51, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #51, text © Jeffrey Anderson