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Monthly Archives: April 2016

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #6 and Mini Lemon Berry Cheesecakes

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Give me an “S.” Give me a “P.” Give me an “R.”

I’m not going to waste your time or mine finishing the word, but I trust you get the idea. It’s spring!!! And I feel like cheering about it.

O.K. So you’re probably thinking–Get a life. It’s been spring for over a month.

Yes, that’s true. But until the fresh berries start showing up at the farmer’s markets, it’s not really spring. And just this week, the pick-your-own strawberry farm down the road opened its gates–earliest opening on record!

So it’s spring! Give me an “S.” Give me a “P.”

How ’bout give me a recipe?

O.K. Try this out for size–Mini Lemon Berry Cheesecakes. Doesn’t that just cry out for spring (and summer)? Lemon! Fresh berries! The cool richness of cheesecake! The baker, who lives a little farther north than this writer, used blueberries for this batch. But fresh-picked strawberries would work just as well. And they’ll be coming your way soon, because it’s spring!

Give me an “S.” Give me a “P.”  .  .  .

Hey, don’t throw your shoe at me. I’m not some howling dog!

mini lemon cheesecakes

Mini Lemon Berry Cheesecakes

For the crust:

4 honey graham cracker sheets

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

2 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg, room temperature

1 large lemon, juiced

For the topping:

6 Tablespoons berry jam* 

1/2 cup fresh berries*

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard muffin tin with 9 paper liners, and set aside.

Add the graham cracker sheets to a food processor and process until they are fine crumbs. Add the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and melted butter, and process until ingredients come together. Divide the mixture between the 9 paper liners, pressing and packing the mixture into the bottom of each liner.

Next, make the filling by adding the cream cheese and granulated sugar to a mixing bowl. Using a handheld mixer, beat the ingredients on high until smooth. Add the flour, salt, vanilla, egg, and lemon juice to the mixture, and beat until all ingredients are well incorporated.

Divide the batter between the 9 paper liners. Bake the cheesecakes in your preheated oven for 25-27 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden brown and the centers are just set. Allow the cheesecakes to cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Once the cheesecakes are cooled, the centers will have sunk slightly, leaving room for the fruit topping. In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave the berry jam on high for 10-15 seconds, or until warmed. Mix the fresh blueberries into the jam. Spoon this mixture on top of each cheesecake. Return the cheesecakes to your refrigerator until ready to serve.

Makes 9 mini cheesecakes.

*Any berry jam or berries will do. I used blackberry jam and fresh blueberries, but any variety of berry jam and berries will work. The possibilities are endless!

mini lemon berry cheesecakes

{Adapted from Chelsea’s Messy Apron}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #6, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #6, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #5 and Soft Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

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What’s to say about this week’s Soft Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie? Seems like it’s all in the title–they’ve got chocolate and peanut butter and their soft, which is good if you don’t want crumbs all over your desk or your couch. And they’re rich and yummy, but that pretty much goes without saying at R&R. Yup, this week’s intro is all in the title–of the recipe, that is.

But what’s to say about Before the Mellowing Year? Quite a lot, really. The title comes from the first stanza of John Milton’s great pastoral elegy, “Lycidas,” and refers, ironically, to the author pushing his literary talents beyond his current ability in the quest to eulogize a college friend’s untimely death by drowning, summoning rhymes and allusions and metaphors ahead of their due season–“before the mellowing year.”

This phrase in turn refers to the novel’s main characters, Zach Sandstrom and Allison Mayes Sandstrom, endeavoring to lead adult lives and make adult choices and commitments while still adolescents (Allison is eighteen and Zach twenty). As a result, they get caught up in the riptides of emotional development and life’s challenges and changes. And the novel follows them through these struggles.

In last week’s serial, the two managed to find the common ground of affection in a stark and beautiful wilderness setting. This week’s serial describes how that setting, and their individual and communal outlook, can reverse in little more than an instant.

Check it out and see what you think, while eating your Soft Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie.

pb choc chip cookies

Soft Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

heaping 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

To a large mixing bowl, add the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Beat the ingredients with a handheld mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract, and beat into creamed butter. Mix in the peanut butter until well incorporated. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl and ensure all ingredients are well mixed. Slowly stir in the flour, baking soda, and salt until just combined, careful not to over mix the cookie dough. Lastly, fold in the chocolate chips. Cover the cookie dough and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Once the cookie dough is chilled, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.

Scoop 2 tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball. Place each ball of dough onto prepared cookie sheet. You should get 12 cookies.

Bake the cookies in your preheated oven for 11-13 minutes, or until just set and the edges just begin to brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 cookies.

peanut butter choc cookies

{Adapted from Averie Cooks}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #5, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #5, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #4 and Creamy Chocolate Pudding

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So now that we’ve reached the ripe old age of three, it seems like a good time to get back to basics.

And one of the most basic dessert skills is making home-made pudding. We’re not talking about the powder in a box/slosh in some milk pudding mix. We’re talking about eggs and corn starch and tempering and raise the heat slowly so as not to scorch it pudding.

I bet there are a lot of people out there who have never made pudding from scratch, either because they are intimidated by the idea or because they think using a pudding mix is a whole lot easier. But home-made pudding is not that difficult, and the results are worth the effort.

And for this back-to-basics exercise, we’re going to sweeten the pot (so to speak) by giving you a recipe for Creamy Chocolate Pudding. This pudding is so rich it is delicious by itself, or it can be used in a pie or a parfait or mini-pastries. See, that’s the thing–once you’ve made home-made pudding, you’ll be looking for excuses to use it in all sorts of recipes.

Or just make a batch and eat it all right out of the pot. That’s O.K. too.

creamy chocolate pudding

Creamy Chocolate Pudding

2 large egg yolks

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 Tablespoons cornstarch

3 cups whole milk

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

pinch of salt

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

whipped cream to garnish

Add the egg yolks and granulated sugar to a mixing bowl. Whisk the ingredients together, then stir in the cornstarch. The mixture will be pretty thick. Set aside.

Add the whole milk, semisweet chips, and salt to a pot and place over medium heat. Stir the mixture constantly until the chocolate melts. Temper the eggs by scooping 1/4 cup of the chocolate mixture and whisk into the egg yolk batter. Once this is well incorporated, whisk in another 1/4 cup. Once the egg yolk batter is warmed, pour it back into the melted chocolate and whisk all ingredients together. Continue to whisk this mixture constantly, over medium heat until mixture is thickened, or about 5 minutes. Once the mixture begins to bubble, stir constantly for 1 more minute. Remove the pudding from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Divide this mixture between 4 cups. Place plastic wrap directly on pudding (to prevent a skin from forming) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Serve pudding chilled with a dollop of whipped cream.

Makes 4 1-cup servings.

homemade chocolate pudding

{Adapted from Recipe Girl}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #4, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #4, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #3 and Caramel Cupcakes

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So did you ever get to pick your flavor of birthday cake? You know, like a yellow cake with chocolate frosting or a red velvet cake or an Italian cream cake.

Long time ago when I was still little (“Were you always that tall?” they asked. “Not when I was little,” he replied.) I would ask for devil’s food cake with a whipped white frosting–nice and messy and very sweet. More recently, I’ve been asking for Boston Cream Pie, which is really a cake in case you were beginning to think I was weird for asking for pie on my birthday.

Well, here at Reading and Recipes we get to pick our cake on our birthday. And (drum roll, please) since it is our THIRD birthday this week, we polled all the staff at R&R and (surprise, surprise) came up with a unanimous choice: Caramel Cupcakes!

Caramel is all the rage right now, and these cupcakes are double caramel–in the cake and in the frosting. And if you feel like it, pop one of those salted caramel bits on top of those cupcakes, making it a triple caramel treat in honor of our third birthday!

Because it’s great to be able to pick your birthday cake and have someone nice enough to actually make it for you. To all those birthday cake bakers out there–thanks!

caramel cake and buttercream

Caramel Cupcakes

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup buttermilk

For the frosting:

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed

2-3 Tablespoons heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with 7 paper liners, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, or about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg until fully incorporated. Mix in the vanilla. Slowly stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt until almost completely mixed into the batter. Continue to slowly stir in the buttermilk, until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Be careful not to OVER MIX the cake batter.

Divide the batter between the 7 liners, filling each about 1/2 full. Bake the cupcakes in the center of your preheated oven for 22-26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the cupcakes from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting by melting the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of heavy cream to the butter, stirring constantly. Once the sugar is dissolved, stir in the salt. Allow the mixture to bubble for 2 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool at room temperature for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, beat in powdered sugar, 1 /2 cup at a time, using a handheld mixer. If the frosting is too thick, beat in 1 more tablespoon of cream. Frost the cooled cupcakes.

Makes 7 cupcakes.

caramel cupcakes

{Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #3, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #3, text © Jeffrey Anderson