Sunday, September 23, 2012

Granola Ranger Cookies

You know that indescribably wonderful, comforting feeling you get when you eat something that reminds you of your childhood?  Well, I got to experience that this weekend.

I think I'd been on a hunt to find a recipe for cookies my mom used to make for me and my brother and sister when we were kids.  I'd asked her about them a few times, but she didn't really remember them.  (Apparently they did not leave as big of an impression on her as they did on me.)  I remembered them as ranger cookies, but whenever I tried to find a recipe online for ranger cookies, the cookies had coconut and oatmeal and/or other things in them that the cookies I recalled certainly did not have.  My ranger cookies had granola in them, and when I looked for granola cookie recipes, they did not seem to match what I remembered, either.  (It turns out that had I just put the two words together and searched for granola ranger cookies, I would have struck gold.)

My sister was visiting from out of state last month.  When visiting Wisconsin, Jen and Glen stay at my parents' house for most of their visit, and usually sleep one night at my house.  When Jen arrived at our place, she showed me a couple of recipes she'd copied from Mom.  One of them was for Granola Ranger Cookies!  I just about chortled with glee!  This was the recipe I'd been looking for!  (And, as my luck would have it, Jen had requested it from Mom, who'd said she wasn't sure she still had the recipe......and then she'd found it 30 seconds later.  I probably could have had this recipe years ago......!)

So on Saturday I made the cookies.  The recipe is very easy; the dough is pretty similar to a chocolate chip cookie recipe (now realizing I could have just put granola instead of chocolate chips in my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe!)

Here's the recipe if you'd like to try it yourself.  We think the recipe first came from Natural Valley, who used to make a dried granola or granola cereal that inspired the recipe.  The Natural Valley loose granola is not made anymore; you can use your favorite purchased or homemade granola.  I used Kellogg's Low Fat Granola (without raisins) cereal. Break any clumps into smaller pieces before adding to the dough.

Granola Ranger Cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups granola

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Mix shortening, sugar, brown sugar, egg and vanilla thoroughly.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake 10-15 minutes.  Cool slightly, then remove to cooling rack to cool completely.  Yield: About 3 dozen small cookies or about 2 dozen medium cookies.

Note: Since these are made with shortening, the cookies do not spread much when baking and will remain rounded.  If you prefer a flatter cookie, flatten dough to about 1/2 or 1/3 inch thick before baking.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ree, I'm Sorry

I like to consider myself to be a very open-minded individual.  That said, sometimes I make my mind up about something when I really don't have all the information.  I'm human that way.

For example, I had, for whatever reason, come to the conclusion that Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman, was not for me.  I mean, I'm about as far as you can get from a pioneer woman.  For me, roughing it means that there's not a Target or a Barnes & Noble store nearby.  I'm not a "city" girl, but I definitely love my comforts.  I believed that Ree's way of life and my way of life had nothing in common, that perhaps her "pioneer" life and viewpoint would have nothing to offer me.

Still, I was curious about all the hoopla about Ree.  It seemed like I was seeing her all over the place.  Blogs I read mentioned her newest book, I saw her on TV a few times, both on her show, The Pioneer Woman, and as a guest on Paula Deen's show.  She seemed nice.  Accessible.  Funny.  Down-to-earth.  I borrowed her latest book, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier, from the library.  I was smitten.  These weren't just "pioneer" or "cowboy" recipes.  These were great recipes, ones that I would enjoy making and my family would enjoy eating.  I was captured by the style of the book; it was almost like looking through a scrapbook.  I loved reading the anecdotes and stories about Ree's life and family.  The Pioneer Woman WAS for me.  I was an instant fan once I gave her a chance!

I ended up buying her first cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes From an Accidental Country Girl, the other day, and I plan to purchase the one I have on loan from the library eventually, too.  I cannot wait to try her cinnamon roll recipe, as well as many others from the books.

I'm really glad I gave Ree a chance.  Doing so has introduced me to a woman who I will enjoy learning from and about through her books, website, and Food Network Show.  I'm sorry, Ree, that I pre-judged you, and I'm glad I took the time to find out the real story.  Thanks for all you do.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Back to Club Baked: Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie

It's been a looooong time since I participated in Club Baked, a group of bloggers that are baking their way through Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.  I don't know how someone so excited to join such a group could just let it go.  I could make excuses, but I won't.  Let's just say I was a bad girl.  I needed to get my priorities straight.  Imagine my surprise when I realized that, even though Club Baked has gone on without me and the group had baked a lot of the recipes in the book that I was most interested in, there were still a lot of great recipes to try.  When I checked things out recently, I noticed that Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie was up next.

Now, I was familiar with this pie.  I'd seen it featured on Throwdown with Bobby Flay a few years ago.  Since I am a big fan of Matt and Renato, I was very displeased when they lost the Throwdown.  Not surprising, however, because their version of banana cream pie is not what you'd expect.  It's not the classic banana cream filling topped with whipped cream, it's more like banana pudding meets fluffy peanut butter.  Both pies are wonderful, and I was happy to try out Baked's Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie.

Preparation started many days before I was going to make the pie.  Yes, I purchased all the necessary ingredients that I did not already have, like the Nilla Wafers for making the crust, the small block of cream cheese, the bananas.  I already had some Penzeys vanilla beans for making the vanilla pudding layer, and this house is never without peanut butter.  I put a Post It note on the bananas, "Save 4 bananas for pie" so they would not get eaten.  When the bananas were the stage of ripe that I like, nicely spotted but still relatively firm, I made the pie.

The first step was making the crust, which is made from Nilla Wafers, butter, and a little bit of sugar.  The crust is baked, then set aside to cool while the banana pudding filling is made.  I was a little nervous about making the pudding, but the vanilla bean had me at hello when I split it open and scraped the seeds.  Vanilla extract has nothing on real vanilla beans.  When the cooked vanilla pudding was done, I poured it into the cool crust.  Then I licked the spoon.  Then I swooned.  Then I licked the spoon again.  Then, even though I am lactose intolerant and this pudding is made with whole milk and heavy cream, I got out a spatula and got every last bit of that pudding out of the saucepan and into my belly.  Then I got a clean spoon and, risking stomach discomfort, took a dip out of the pie for another taste test of the pudding.  Seriously, it was all I could do not to bury my face in it.
I put the pie in the refrigerator to chill.  Matt and Renato's recipe has the baker slice a few bananas and toss them in a little orange juice to prevent the bananas from turning brown (lemon juice works, too.)
I put the sliced bananas on top of the luscious vanilla pudding, then made the peanut butter topping, which is simple.  It's just a little cream cheese, vanilla, and powdered sugar blended with a mixer.  The next step is to beat some heavy cream until it's whipped, then gently fold the cream into the peanut butter mixture until it's smooth, creamy, and uniform in color.  (Doing this a little at a time is best.)  The  peanut butter layer is then spread over the bananas, and the pie should chill for at least 3 hours or up to 8 hours.
We could not wait that long.  Because of the time of day that I started making this pie, we had this as a late evening snack, and it had only chilled for about 2 hours.  Before serving, 1 more banana was sliced and tossed in OJ and placed around the outer edge of the pie.  Since it had not chilled as long as it should have, our first slices of pie were soft and maybe a little extra messy, but that did not affect the flavor or the reaction of the taste testers.  My son Ryan promptly called it the best dessert ever.  My daughter Katie also loved it.  I was not going to let my lactose problem stop me from eating this pie, so I took a Lactaid tablet and got my fork.  The pie was wonderful; creamy vanilla pudding and soft bananas, topped with this wonderful fluffy peanut butter cream.  I really enjoyed the banana and peanut butter combination.  This recipe won't exactly suit your needs if you want a conventional banana cream pie, but it is definitely a wonderful pie that is worth making, over and over again.  And making a double batch of the vanilla pudding isn't a bad idea, either!
I am not a pie person...but I loved this pie.  I will definitely make it again.  (And we already know how I feel about that vanilla pudding!)

Today's Club Baked recipe is hosted by Natalie of Just About Food.  Other posts about this Club Baked recipe will be posted here.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie?

I follow the blog Brown Eyed Baker and she recently posted a recipe for Salted Espresso Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.  They sounded (and looked!) divine, and I was all ready to make them when I realized my big canister of oats did not have very many oats inside of it.  Her post mentioned a previous recipe she had posted for Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, so I thought I'd give that a whirl instead.  I've been quite happy with my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe of late, Jacques Torres' Chocolate Chip Cookies (there's actually a much better photo of the finished cookies here), but I figured I'd give this one a try for a change of pace.

I'm really glad I did.  This recipe produced large, soft, perfectly craggy cookies.....I don't yet know how well they keep/how chewy they are after a few days, because the last cookies are still baking in my oven, but I don't imagine long-term storage will be necessary.  I expect these to be but a memory by tomorrow.  The recipe only yields about 18 or so large cookies if you follow the directions for measurement/disbursement of the dough.  I highly recommend doubling the recipe.  You will not be sorry.  This recipe was a lot quicker to put together than the Torres recipe, so I think this is my new go-to cookie.

I used half Nestle Semi-Sweet chocolate chips and half Nestle Dark Chocolate chips in the recipe.  Next time I may rough chop the two types of chips or chop blocks of semi-sweet and bittersweet baking bars instead.  With the two Nestle chips, the dark chips are larger than the semi-sweet, so you get two different sizes and types of chocolate in the cookie.  Using chopped baking bars or chips, you'll get even more variations in size, including little flakes and slivers of chocolate.

But forget the chocolate for a minute.  To me, the perfect chocolate chip cookie needs to taste wonderful even without the chocolate; sometimes my favorite parts of the cookies are the plain parts without chocolate.  For as long as I can remember, every time I've baked chocolate chip cookies, I've baked at least one or two "naked" cookies, cookies that use the dough that was stuck to the sides of the bowl and to the cookie scooper or spatula after all the chocolate chips are gone.  These babies are all mine - my husband and kids know better than to eat these.  (As if they even get the chance; they are usually gone 10 minutes after they come out of the oven!)  The cookie dough from this recipe was delightfully sweet and tasty when fingers (my daughter's and my own) swept the inside of the bowl for a taste (or four.)  It was even better when all baked as one of my infamous naked cookies.

This recipe originally came from the book Baking Illustrated by America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated.  It's a definite winner, and I hope you try it today.  Please follow the link to the recipe on the Brown Eyed Girl blog.  I'm sure you'll find several other recipes there that you'll want to try, too!

Happy Baking!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Cakexperiment: Oh My Stars

I was trying to think of some special cake to make for July 4th.  I follow a lot of baking blogs, and the bloggers have wonderful, creative food styling and gorgeous photographs.  Until I'm able to shell out some cash for a fancy camera, I'm stuck with a Canon PowerShot that takes photos of dubious quality.

Still, I am relatively creative.  I'm a cake decorating instructor, so I certainly have all the tools I need.  I'm pretty handy with a piping bag.  I was sure I could come up with something interesting for Independence Day.

I had looked at some photos of cupcakes with hearts baked inside them, by baking one color of cake (pink), cutting out hearts from it, and placing those hearts inside another color of batter (white) so that when the cupcake was sliced correctly or bitten into from the correct side, you'd see a pink heart inside the white cupcake.  Cute, but I wasn't going to do that for my cake.  I'm also familiar with cakes made with specialty pans to create a special shape inside the cake when using two different colors of batter.  Also cute, but I didn't have such a pan to create a star inside my cake, and I definitely wanted to do something with stars for the 4th.

A little exploring in my basement (where I keep all my non-essential baking pans, cake decorating tools, etc.) uncovered the Wilton Star Pan I'd purchased a while back and never used.  I also found several different bottles of star/patriotic sprinkles.  I decided to make a special 3 color (red, white, and blue, of course) star cake for July 4th.  I whipped up some French Vanilla cake mix and then got my colors out.  I baked three thin layers of cake, one at a time, in my star pan after dividing the cake batter into thirds and coloring one with Americolor Super Red and the other with Royal Blue, and leaving the other white.

Then I used two different sizes of star cookie cutters to make some cut-outs in each cake.

I used a jelly roll pan as my cake platter and started assembling my cake.  I picked the red layer of cake as the bottom, and filled in the empty star spaces with the cake stars in the other two colors.
Then I slathered it with frosting and added the white layer,

more frosting, then the blue layer.

When assembled, the cake looked like this from the side:

How was I going to frost this cake?  With star tips, of course!  I used Wilton large star tip #1M for the white frosting on the top, and Wilton star tip #21 for the blue and red.  I also used tip #1M and white, red, and blue frosting in the same bag to do the sides of the cake.  I added jumbo stars in red and blue from Wilton Jumbo Stars Sprinkles and finished it off with a sprinkling of Wilton Silver Stars Edible Glitter.

When we sliced into the cake, it looked pretty cool.  I knew the star pattern/cut-outs wouldn't be visible, but I just wanted the multi-color effect.

As you can see, some of the pieces end up looking like a haphazard checkerboard pattern.  It was fun to play with cake and frosting today.  Usually I'm so burned out with making cakes for my classes that I don't like to do anything more than using sprinkles on cupcakes or cakes at home.  This was a fun change of pace.  And I didn't stain anything!!!

Happy Independence Day, Cookie Dough for Everyone

One of the books I recently purchased as a birthday present for myself was The Cookie Dough Lover's Cookbook by Lindsay Landis.  Lindsay's blog, Love and Olive Oil, became very popular, especially one particular recipe, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles (recipe here.)  If you're familiar with cake pops and cake balls/bites/truffles/cruffles, you'll get the concept.  Cookie dough truffles are just balls of chocolate chip cookie dough (safe, no egg) that have been dipped in melted chocolate/candy coating.  My kitchen has seen it's share of cake pops, balls, etc. and I generally always have some Wilton Candy Melts hanging around, so my daughter and I decided to whip up the egg free cookie dough recipe this evening.  We popped it into the frig and made a quick trip to the grocery store for cookout food for July 4th (brats and my "world famous" homemade macaroni and cheese, which is actually Patti LaBelle's recipe.)  By the time we came home, the dough had chilled enough and was ready to be rolled into balls.  We did so, popped them in the freezer for a while and got my Wilton Chocolate Melter going, and before long we were dipping those babies in the melted chocolate.

They weren't picture perfect pretty, but they sure were tasty.  We did not make a whole batch; we made maybe about 20 or so, and put the remaining cookie dough back in the frig.  I'm sure it will disappear tomorrow, as my daughter will quite openly be "sneaking" tastes from the container.

Next time I'll make them with (egg free) oatmeal or peanut butter cookie dough; these recipes are also in the book.  I'm looking forward to making a lot of the other recipes in the book; it's hard to decide where to start!  Perhaps tomorrow I'll mix up some Cookie Dough Brownies for our Independence Day dessert....

Happy Baking!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Things I Learned This Month

This month brought about several discoveries.  Some were good, some....not so much.  Here they are listed in random order.

  • Homemade marshmallows are not difficult to make, and rather tasty.
  • When one makes homemade marshmallows, one should have some plan for what to do with all of them, or many will be wasted (thrown out).
  • It is easy to forget about one's blog if one does not put forth an effort.  Before one knows it, it's been 9 months since the last post.  (And one has not been THAT busy.)
  • Not collecting regular paychecks sucks.  One should plan better next year for being off work during the summer.
  • Not being able to regularly teach cake decorating classes because the store where I teach is remodeling (and therefore I cannot earn summer income) sucks.  Finding out that one may be able to resume teaching cake decorating classes earlier than anticipated doesn't suck.  Finding out the new classroom is a lot smaller than the previous one was sucks.
  • Needing a plumber for the one working full bathroom in the house sucks.
  • Homemade doughnuts are very tasty, but there is no good way to store homemade doughnuts without them either getting stale or soggy.
  • One cannot own too many baking cookbooks.  One should always purchase oneself a cookbook (or three) for one's birthday.
  • Turning 43 isn't so bad, even if it's closer to 45 than to 40.  Whatever.
I plan to post again very soon (maybe even tomorrow) with some mini-reviews of the new cookbooks I mentioned.