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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


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


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


Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #50 and Jammy Cookies

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There’s something wholesome about a cookie with fruit in it.

Maybe that’s because we don’t expect a cookie to have anything healthy in it. It’s a cookie, right? It’s supposed to be an indulgence, a free pass on the diet board of life, like a candy bar or piece of cake.

So what place does fruit have in a cookie?

Well, let’s take a more holistic view of the situation. Pie has fruit in it, right? So do cobblers, trifles, even some cakes. Fruit is good in desserts of all sorts, adding not only flavor but nutrients and texture as well.

So why not in a cookie?

Why not, indeed! These Jammy Cookies give you a chance to experiment with adding fruit flavors and textures to your cookies. You start by rolling out a shortbread-like dough then add fruit jam to the middle, fold, flip and bake. Try different kinds of jam until you get the one that suits your taste the best.

It’s an experiment–fruit in a cookie: what a novel idea!

homemade berry newton

Jammy Cookies

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons honey

1 egg white

2/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup jam of your choice

homemade fig newtons

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat, and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter and granulated sugar. Add the vanilla, honey, and egg white, and beat ingredients until well incorporated. Slowly mix in the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda until ingredients come together and form a dough. The dough will be wet.

Lightly dust the surface of your counter. Knead the dough a few times until it comes into a ball. Roll the dough into a rectangle, about 3 inches wide and 10 inches long. Spread your jam in the middle of the dough, making sure to leave about an inch border on each side. Fold each side of dough over the jam. Press dough together at the fold.

Gently lift the cookie (I had to use a spatula) and place fold side down on parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until dough just begins to turn golden brown. Remove the cookie from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Using a sharp knife, cut into 10 equal pieces. Place the cookies on a plate and refrigerate until set. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Makes 10 cookies.

homemade fig newton

{Adapted from Skinny Girl Standard}

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #50, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #50, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #46 and Swirl Meringue Cookies

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So we’re more than a month out from Christmas, and we at Reading and Recipes figure you’ve had a sufficient break from holiday decorating of everything from the house to your table to all those cookies (and more cookies and more cookies).

And looking at the calendar shows us that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, followed by St. Patty’s a month later, and Easter not far behind that.

So in the category of looking ahead at a wide-range of entertaining opportunities, we decided to try something a little different this week–Swirl Meringue Cookies. There are a lot of great things about meringue. It’s inexpensive, simple to make, low in calories, and easy to store and transport. But what we find most intriguing about meringue is that it is ready-made for decorating. Just take a little food coloring and swirl away–red for Valentine’s, green for St. Patty’s, blue or yellow for Easter. The resulting cookies are fun to eat and even better for decorating a dessert tray or a buffet table.

So unleash your creative beast with these Swirl Meringue Cookies. They will help you get through the long snowbound winter days.

And think warm thoughts. Spring isn’t really still two months away, is it?

swirl meringue cookies

Swirl Meringue Cookies

1 large egg white, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of cream of tartar

3 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar

4-5 drops food coloring, optional

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat, and set aside.

Add room temperature egg white, vanilla, and cream of tartar to a mixing bowl. Using a handheld mixer with a whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until frothy. Gradually add granulated sugar, 1 Tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition. Once sugar is added, continue to beat the egg whites until semi-stiff and shiny, or about 3 minutes. *Note: If you want thicker meringue cookies, beat the egg whites until they are very stiff, or about 5-6 minutes.

Add drops of food coloring to egg whites and fold two or three times, until you get streaks throughout. Do not mix too much! You want to see the streaks.

Using a tablespoon, spoon meringues onto cookie sheet. You should get about 10 meringue cookies. Bake the cookies in preheated oven for 45-55 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Turn the oven off and leave the meringues in the oven for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool completely on cookie sheet.

Store any leftover cookies in air tight container.

Makes 10 cookies.

swirl meringues

{Adapted from Taste of Home}

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #46, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #46, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #40 and White Chocolate Molasses Cookies

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Bing Crosby may be dreaming of a white Christmas, but I’m dreaming of these White Chocolate Molasses Cookies!

Don’t get me wrong, I love all kinds of chocolate chocolate–bittersweet, semisweet, milk chocolate, and all the variations in between. But for me there’s something exotic, almost regal, about white chocolate. It’s sweet, of course, but also has a subtle richness that’s hard to describe but unmistakable.

Now let’s put those regal chocolate bits inside a molasses cookie! And there you have it–that regal chocolate combined with the spice of Christmas: dreams of gingerbread houses and sugarplum fairies and in a small-batch quantity that’s just right for one or two.

Let Bing have his white Christmas. Give me these cookies and a cozy couch and a good read. If you’re looking for the latter, click on the links below to hear or read Serial #40 of Two Sisters Times Two.

molasses white chocolate cookie

White Chocolate Molasses Cookies

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

3 Tablespoons brown sugar

2 Tablespoons molasses

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

1/3 cup white chocolate chips

granulated sugar for coating

molasses cookie dough

Add the butter and brown sugar to a mixing bowl and cream the ingredients together. Beat in the molasses and vanilla until all ingredients are incorporated. Add the flour, baking soda, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, and salt and slowly stir into the wet ingredients. Do not over mix the dough. Gently fold the white chocolate chips into the batter. Cover and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat. Roll two tablespoons of dough into a ball. Roll the cookie dough in granulated sugar and then place on prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. You should get 5 cookies.

Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the cookies are just set. Remove the cookies from the oven; allow to cool on cookie sheet for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 5 cookies.

molasses white chocolate cookies

{Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction}

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #40, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #40, text © Jeffrey Anderson


Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #36 and Microwave Chocolate Chip Cookie

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Hey, did your mom ever yell at you for eating the chocolate-chip cookie dough because it had raw egg in it and might make you sick? Yeah, you know what I’m talking about! But you snuck a few spoonfuls from each batch while she wasn’t looking and never got sick once except that one time you barfed at school but I think that was from the manicotti they served for lunch in the cafeteria. There was a line of kids throwing up that day. Boy, did it stink. Haven’t been able to eat manicotti since.

But I started out talking about the guilty pleasure of eating uncooked chocolate-chip cookie dough. It’s so decadent and naughty and half the fun is knowing you shouldn’t be doing it. But then there is the slight risk of picking up a case of food poisoning.

So Reading and Recipes has the perfect answer: Microwave Chocolate Chip Cookie! This cookie is gooey and dense and full of all those wonderful cookie dough flavors and textures, but it is sufficiently heated to make it safe to eat. Furthermore, you can customize the cooking time to suit your personal preference. The only hard part is waiting a few minutes for it to cool down before indulging yourself–don’t want to trade the risk of illness for burning the top of your mouth. Save that rare pleasure for your next slice of too hot pizza!

choc chip cookie in a mug

Microwave Chocolate Chip Cookie

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

1 Tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of salt

1 egg yolk

3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons chocolate chips

Add the butter to a microwave safe mug or bowl. Microwave the butter on medium power until it is completely melted, but not boiling. Remove the butter from the microwave and add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla and salt. Mix ingredients together until completely combined. Using a fork, whisk the egg yolk into the batter. Slowly stir in the flour and mix until just combined. Scrap sides of mug if needed. The batter should resemble cookie dough at this point. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Place mug back into the microwave. Microwave the cookie on high for 40 seconds. Check to see if the cookie is done. If not, microwave an additional 10-20 seconds. Do not exceed 60 seconds. Remove the cookie from the microwave and allow to cool slightly before eating.

Makes 1 cookie.

microwave choc chip cookie

{Adapted from No. 2 Pencil}

Click below to listen to or read Serial #36 of “Two Sisters Times Two”.

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #36, audio © Jeffrey Anderson

Two Sisters Times Two, Serial #36, text © Jeffrey Anderson