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Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #10 and Frosted Sugar Cookie Bars

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So you want to have a celebration but not make a big deal about it. Maybe it’s the end of the school year, or a promotion at work, or a non-biggie anniversary–of your first date, maybe; or of thirty-two years together (I know, hard to count that high). You want to mark the occasion with something less than a $300 meal for two or a forty-guest party. But you just don’t know what to do.

Well, click on Reading and Recipes and we’ll give you a hand.

First, turn a regular sugar cookie recipe into a pan of bar cookies–that goes a lot faster and tastes just as good (even better since there are no individual cookies to get dried out). Then jazz those bar cookies up with a quick and easy and colorful frosting. And voila–you’ve got your celebration: Frosted Sugar Cookie Bars.

These work anytime of year, for any holiday or occasion. Our red, white, and blue this week are a nod toward the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, but school colors work for graduation, green for Saint Patty’s, red for Valentine’s, and so on.

Tuck this recipe and idea away for future reference, right after you mix up a batch for this weekend. And enjoy your quiet (and easy) celebration!

frosted sugar cookie bars

Frosted Sugar Cookie Bars

For the bars:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon cornstarch

For the frosting:

1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

1-2 Tablespoons milk or cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of salt

food coloring, optional

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 5×7 inch pan, and set aside.

To make the bars, add the butter and granulated sugar to a mixing bowl. Beat the ingredients on high until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and mix until the ingredients are fully incorporated into the batter. Slowly mix in the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cornstarch until all ingredients are just combined. The dough will be thick!

Press the dough into the prepared pan. For an chewy, cookie-like texture, bake the bars for 15-17 minutes; OR, for more of a cake-like, crumb texture (as shown in the pictures), bake the bars for 18-20 minutes. The top should only just begin to turn golden brown and the bars will look underdone. Remove the bars from the oven and allow to cool completely in the pan. The middle will sink significantly while the bars are cooling.

Once the bars have cooled, make the frosting by whipping the butter until it is fluffy. Add the powdered sugar in three increments, beating into the butter after each addition. Mix in 1 tablespoon of milk. If the frosting is still too thick, add one more tablespoon. Stir in the vanilla and a pinch of salt. If you have food coloring, add one or two drops and stir into the frosting.

Frost the cooled bars. Cut into squares and serve at room temperature.

Makes 6-8 bars.

frosted sugar bars

{Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction}

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #10, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Before the Mellowing Year, Serial #10, text © Jeffrey Anderson

Enjoy!

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #45 and Fluffernutter Blondies

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Who dreamt up the combination of peanut butter and marshmallow creme? Probably someone wanting to sell more peanut butter or marshmallow creme.

But whoever it was should have a statue set up in my front yard and a national holiday set aside on the calendar. The combination is delicious, and the resulting boost of energy (give me sugar! give me protein! give me fat!) surely rivals the rocket fuel used to put astronauts on the moon. You don’t need one of those high-energy drinks–just grab a spoon and dip it first in the peanut butter jar then the marshmallow creme jar. You’ll be up there with the International Space Station (but watch out for all those pieces of orbiting space junk!).

This week at Reading and Recipes, we’ve taken this match made in Heaven (or in some marketing associate’s cubicle) and repurposed it into bar form–Fluffernutter Blondies!

This may be the perfect way to eat this perfect combination. Easy to make, easy to cut and serve, easy to transport–as in a school or work lunch. One of the biggest disappointments of my grade-school life (second only to being snubbed by a certain unnamed blonde classmate) was looking forward to my fluffernutter sandwich on a warm spring day only to open my lunchbox and find the fluff in a white blob at the bottom of the sandwich bag, all run out of the two slices of bread, leaving the peanut butter in there all alone. No need to worry about that with these Fluffernutter Blondies. The peanut butter and the marshmallow creme stay together inside the blondie, not separated at the bottom of the lunchbox!

fluffernutter bars

Fluffernutter Blondies

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1 egg yolk

6 Tablespoons brown sugar

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup marshmallow creme

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 5×7 inch pan.

To a mixing bowl, add the melted butter, peanut butter, egg yolk, brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Beat ingredients together until well incorporated. Slowly mix in the flour, careful not to over mix the batter. The batter will be thick. Last, drop tablespoons of marshmallow creme into the batter; fold into the batter just slightly. Make sure to leave some streaks of marshmallow creme.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and press until even. Bake in preheated oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and center is just set. Do not over bake! Allow the bars to cool completely in the pan before slicing.

Makes 4-6 bars.

fluffernutter blondies

{Adapted from Bakerita}

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #45, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #45, text © Jeffrey Anderson

Enjoy!

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #26 and No-Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars

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So it’s back to work or school or tending the kids or tending the parents or whatever it is you do in the real world. I mean, just how difficult is it to get back into the daily grind after the long holiday weekend which may have been extended by a week or two with a summer-ending vacation at the beach or lake or hilltop retreat?

Kind of tough, isn’t it?

Then to top it off, your week is shortened by a day but you still have five days’ worth of responsibilities to fulfill and everybody wants it done yesterday!

Yep, it’s the week after Labor Day, the annual letdown from the summer high that may or may not have been everything we’d hoped but it sure was better than this jumbled mess!

So you need a little boost, a jolt of energy to get you through these challenges. And we’ve got you covered here at R&R (with a little help from our friend at Sally’s Baking Addiction). These No-Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars take that match made in Heaven of peanut butter and chocolate and put it into an easy to prepare, easy to cut and serve and transport (as in a bag lunch or car snack pack) form that will allow you to take this energy-booster anywhere you need to take it.

Because we’ve got to get through this post-holiday week. Fall lies just around the corner! (Think apples and pumpkins and cool crisp weather!)

pb choc bars

No-Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars

6 honey graham crackers (full sheets)

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup powdered sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

peanut butter chocolate bars

Line a 5×7 inch pan with aluminum foil and set aside.

Using a food processor, process the graham crackers until they become crumbs. Add the butter to a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds or until butter is completely melted. Add the melted butter, powdered sugar, and salt to the food processor. Pulse until mixture comes together into a ball. Add the peanut butter to the food processor and process until fully incorporated into the dough. Press this mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.

In the same microwave safe bowl you used to melt the butter, melt the chocolate chips on 50% power in 20-second increments. Be careful not to burn the chocolate. Once the chips are almost completely melted, stir them until smooth. Spread melted chocolate over peanut butter layer.

Cover and refrigerate for an hour, or until completely firm. Cut into bars. Store any leftovers in refrigerator for up to one week.

Makes 6-8 bars.

chocolate pb bars

{Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction}

Click below to listen to or read Serial #26 of “Two Sisters Times Two”.

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #26, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #26, text © Jeffrey Anderson

Enjoy!

Two Sisters, Serial #22 and Black and White Gooey Butter Cake

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So we’re headed into the season of Christmas parties. And some of these parties are formal affairs–women in black evening gowns, men in black tuxedos with white shirts, everyone dressed up and looking sharp.

But guess what? We’re not going to those stuffy affairs. Instead we’re going to stay at home, slip into our favorite casual clothes or pajamas, mix up a yummy and decadent dessert, and download a copy of Two Sisters, Serial #22 (which is actually about a fun, though not especially formal, dinner party).

But in a nod to the formal parties happening out there somewhere, this week’s special dessert is in a black-tie theme, as in Black and White Gooey Butter Cake. It’s really a yellow cake with a chocolate cheesecake frosting. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

So let all those poor suckers in their evening gowns and starched shirts stand around trading small talk and eating tiny and awkward appetizers with names you can’t pronounce and ingredients you never heard of.

We’ll brew a cup of tea or pour a glass of wine, slide a slice (or two or three) of this cake onto a plate, and curl up with a nice read.

And send our condolences to those at the formal affair down the street.

Chocolate Ooey Gooey Butter Bars

Black and White Gooey Butter Cake

Crust:*

1/2 cup granulated sugar

10 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons)

pinch of salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg yolk

1 Tablespoon milk

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling:

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1 egg white

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup powdered sugar

2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Chocolate Gooey Butter Bars

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×5 inch bread pan and set aside.

To make the crust, combine the sugar, flour, salt, and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Beat in the egg yolk and melted butter until you get a uniform batter. Press the crust into the bottom of the prepared pan.

To make the filling, beat the cream cheese with a handheld mixer until it is light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat into the cream cheese. Slowly stir in the powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Lastly, stir in the melted butter. Make sure all of the ingredients are well incorporated.

Pour the filling over top of the crust. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. The cake should start to set on the sides, but be slightly jiggly in the middle. Remove the cake from the oven and let cool completely in the pan before cutting into bars.

Makes 6-8 servings.

*You can also make the crust using a boxed cake mix. To do this, mix together 1/2 of a box of yellow cake mix, 1 egg yolk, and 3 tablespoons of melted butter. Press into the bottom of a 9×5 inch bread pan and proceed with directions.

Black and White Gooey Butter Bars

{Adapted from Dessert for Two}

Click below to listen to or read Serial #22 of “Two Sisters”.

Two Sisters, Serial #22, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters, Serial #22, text © Jeffrey Anderson

Enjoy!

Two Sisters, Serial #18 and Peanut Butter Fudge Bars

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I call this power food.

There’s a big movement out there toward energy snacks, as you well know from any trip through the natural foods aisle of your grocery store. These high-energy (and high cost) prepackaged snacks promise to pick you up from those low-energy lulls during the day. And to read their labels, you’d think they invented the idea.

NOT! Power food has a long and fabled history, and all samples I can think of include peanut butter. Remember saving half a pb&j sandwich from lunch for the bus ride home so you’d have the energy and the nerve to stand up to the bully kicking your seat from behind? And what about the famous Fluffernutter (peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich)? That rocket ship between two slices of bread got me through more than a few overnight shifts at the loading dock.

So now R&R is proud to add another power food to your arsenal–Peanut Butter Fudge Bars! Guess what? It has peanut butter in it! Even better– chocolate! (Give me caffeine, give me sugar, give me cocoa butter!) Mix in a little butter, a little condensed milk–and cake mix? Well, got to hold all that good stuff together and keep it from blasting off out of the pan!

I’m writing faster just sitting here thinking about Peanut Butter Power Bars–I mean Fudge Bars. Mix yourself up a batch today–quick!

peanut butter chocolate fudge bars

Peanut Butter Fudge Bars

1/2 box  yellow cake mix*

1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, divided

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1 egg

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

7 ounces sweetened condensed milk**

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

peanut butter fudge bars

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly spray an 8 inch baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Pour the cake mix into a large mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup butter and 1/2 cup peanut butter to a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently until the ingredients are melted. Pour the melted butter and peanut butter over top of the cake mix and stir ingredients together. Add the egg and mix into cake batter. Press half of the mixture onto the bottom of the prepared baking pan.

Add the chocolate chips, remaining 1 Tablespoon butter, and sweetened condensed milk to a saucepan over med-low heat. Stir frequently until all of the ingredients are melted and mixed together. Remove the melted chocolate from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour this mixture over top of the peanut butter cake layer. Smooth melted chocolate to completely cover the cake layer. Break up and sprinkle the remaining peanut butter cake batter over top of the fudge layer.

Place bars in the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cake just begins to turn golden brown. Remove the bars from the oven and let cool completely before cutting. Store any leftovers at room temperature for a more frosting like fudge layer, or in the refrigerator for a denser, harder fudge layer.

Makes 9-12 bars.

*You can easily double this recipe if you don’t want to only use 1/2 box of cake mix. Instructions, baking temperature, and baking time are the same–just use a 9×13 baking pan.

**Make our Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwich with the leftover sweetened condensed milk!

pb fudge bars

{Adapted from Cooking to Perfection}

Click below to listen to or read Serial #18 of “Two Sisters”.

Two Sisters, Serial #18. audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters, Serial #18, text © Jeffrey Anderson

Enjoy!

Two Sisters, Serial #12 and Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookie Bars

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O.K. So the last five or six weeks we’ve been a little adventurous and had a little fun here on Reading and Recipes. Call it our end-of-summer/start-of-fall fling–you know, like when you had a big end-of-vacation bash that turned into a start-of-school bash and you didn’t even open a book until three weeks into semester. (I’d like to say I remember those week-long parties, but actually I don’t.)

So we’ve been partying here at R&R–dabbling with pumpkin, a new kind of apple pie, peanut butter ice cream (in the middle of the world’s best ice cream sandwich), quick and easy cinnamon rolls, frozen yogurt! If you missed any of these adventurous treats, they’re listed there to the right under Recent Posts or the September and August archives.

But now it’s October, the heart of fall; and it’s time to crack open the books, so to speak.

Here at R&R that means breaking out the oatmeal and the butter and the eggs and, of course, the chocolate (got to have a little fun in our back-to-basics emphasis). See–it’s all right there in the picture below: our R&R survival kit! Mix them all together along with a few other odds and ends then press it into a pan before you eat all the dough and throw it in the oven and voila– Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookie Bars!

Now you have some munchies for those long nights of studying or snacks for those afternoons at the park with the kids or sweets to put in that bag lunch for work.

Work! Where’d that come from?

Hey, can’t always be fun and vacation. Sometimes you just got to get back to basics. But we’ve got you covered here at Reading and Recipes, work or play.

Now get back to work.

oatmeal choc chunk cookie bars

Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookie Bars

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats*

1/2 cup chocolate chunks (I used a mixture of milk and dark chocolate)

oatmeal chocolate chunk cookie bar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 5×7 inch baking pan and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and both sugars until the mixture becomes light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract, and beat these ingredients into the creamed butter mixture. Slowly stir in the ground cinnamon, flour, baking soda, and salt, until all of the ingredients just come together. The dough will be very thick. Fold in the quick cooking oats and chocolate chunks until evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Spoon the dough into the prepared baking pan and gently press to the sides of the pan to make an even layer of dough. Bake the bars in the preheated oven for 16-18 minutes, or until they just begin to turn golden brown. Remove the bars from the oven and let cool until warm to the touch before cutting. (The bars may sink slightly in the center–this is ok.) Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Makes 4 bars.

*If you only have old-fashioned oats on hand, measure out 1/2 cup of old-fashioned oats and place in a food processor. Pulse the oats 4-5 times or until they become about half of their size. This can be substituted for quick-cooking oats.

oatmeal choc chunk cookie bar

{Adapted from Baking Bites}

Click below to listen to or read Serial #12 of “Two Sisters”.

Two Sisters, Serial #12, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters, Serial #12, text © Jeffrey Anderson

Enjoy!

Two Sisters, Serial #10 and Apple Pie Bars

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Everyone loves apple pie, right? Well, most everyone–there may be one or two people out there that don’t like it.

But perhaps those who don’t like it feel that way because the crust is too hard to make or too flaky or too doughy, or the filling is runny and that makes it hard to cut and serve and eat.

Well, here at Reading and Recipes, we want everyone to be happy. And what better way to start than to come up with an apple pie recipe that is easy to make, easy to serve, easy to eat, and easy to store. Enter (drum roll, please) Apple Pie Bars!

With the start of fall just around the corner, fresh-picked apples are starting to flood the farmer’s markets and the grocery stores. And it’s time to incorporate this wonderful year-round fruit that is perfectly suited for fall into our menus.

So why not start with these Apple Pie Bars? Whether you’re an apple-pie fanatic or one of those rare apple-pie avoiders, we think this recipe is well-timed and right up your alley. So give it a try to see what you think.

Oh, and Happy Fall! (Or Happy Spring to our Southern Hemisphere followers. You’ll like these Apple Pie Bars too–spring or fall!)

apple pie bars

Apple Pie Bars

For the crust:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

pinch of salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)

For the filling:

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons light brown sugar

2 firm apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (such as Granny Smith)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the topping:

1/2 cup oats

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold

sauteed apples

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 5×7 inch pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Make the crust by beating together the butter and granulated sugar. Once this mixture is well combined and fluffy, slowly mix in the flour and salt until all of the ingredients come together. Press this mixture into the bottom of your prepared pan. Bake the crust in preheated oven for 13-16 minutes, or until the crust starts to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

While the crust is baking, make the filling by adding the butter and brown sugar to a skillet over medium heat. Once the butter is melted and mixed with the brown sugar, add the sliced apples and cinnamon. Continue to cook over medium heat until the apples are tender and caramelized, or about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the topping by combining the oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut the cold butter into this mixture with a pastry cutter or two knives until the butter is about the size of peas and mixed throughout.

Once all of the layers are prepared, assemble the bars by spreading the apple filling over top of the baked crust. Sprinkle the crumble on top of the apple layer, and gently press it into the apples. Bake the bars in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the topping turns golden brown. Remove the bars from the oven and let cool completely before cutting.

Makes 4-6 bars.

apple pie bar

{Adapted from My Baking Addiction}

Click below to listen to or read Serial #10 of “Two Sisters”.

Two Sisters, Serial #10, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters, Serial #10, text © Jeffrey Anderson

Enjoy!