Home, home on the ranger cookie

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I know I put a lot of cookie recipes on this blog, but I have a great love for cookies. They are normally small, hopefully moist, and deliciously sweet. Unfortunately for me, too many cookies are far too sweet, and make not only my teeth but also my stomach hurt. Recently I have been a far greater fan of cookies which have more going for them than the simple fact that they are a cookie. That's why when I develop a cookie recipe, I try to use less sugar than similar recipes, so that the other flavors may come closer to the surface.

This being the case, I would have to say that one of my all-time favorite cookies has to be the ranger cookie. There is just something about eating a cookie that is half-way to being a granola bar that appeals to the more my more, shall we say, grown-up tastes. Really: there is so much good stuff in this cookie that I would definitely consider it a decent breakfast food.&nbspBy the way, we are just going to ignore the fact that I consider any cookie to be a good breakfast food. Deal?

Ranger cookies are another thing I can actually remember about my childhood. Back then it was mainly my mom or my brother who made them, and I remember enjoying pilfering what felt like fistfuls of dough to snack on, it was that good. To be honest, I was never completely successful making these cookies according to my mom's recipe, so I have made a couple changes of my own: halving the sugar, increasing the egg, and replacing butterscotch chips with chocolate chips.

I won't promise that these cookies are good for you, but they are definitely good for your cravings. Trust me when I say that every person I have made these cookies for has become addicted to them. They are unlike any other cookie I have tried, but I would try them again and again and again.

McCleary Family Cake

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Today I am going to write about the McCleary cake, which is my mom's family's special birthday cake. And, as with all family recipes, this one has a story behind it. What makes this one even better is that there is a little inter-family argument over it.

As far as I can tell, my Grandma Jane is the originator of this tradition. She told me that she had the cake for a church activity once, and liked it so much that she went home and made it. It was an instant success, and became the most requested (or maybe just the only) birthday cake for my mom's family. According to Grandma Jane, that was about 50 years ago. That's a lot of birthdays. To this day, it is one of my family's favorite cakes.

The McCleary cake is basically a 4-layer chocolate cake, with the layers separated by layers of "cream" and the entire cake covered in chocolate frosting. You would think that this would not be something over which there could be any confusion or disagreement, but there is a good reason why I put the word cream in quotation marks. It would seem that practically none of my mother's siblings can agree on what the true McCleary cake is made of.

My grandma says that her original recipe was Betty Crocker's devil's food cake mix separated by layers of Dream Whip and covered in chocolate frosting, with toothpicks to keep the layers from slipping off of each other. Later, when Cool Whip became available, she changed to using that instead of Dream Whip.

To see what my aunt's and uncles remember about the cake and how it should be made, click here. On the other hand, my mother swears that my grandma mixed the Dream Whip with chocolate pudding because she can remember snitching some of the mixture. Her version is souped up chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, and a mousse made up of chocolate pudding and whipped cream. Personally, I prefer it this way, so that is the recipe I will write here.

Easy Dinner Rolls

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A while back I posted about the versatility of a single bread dough. In the entire post I was going on about how a single bread recipe is easily modified to fit almost any application. I think I gave about 8 different ways the "master recipe" could be used.

Anyway, one of those applications was for dinner rolls. It had been a while since I wrote the recipe for those, and I have been wanting to make it again. Well, Sunday I got the perfect opportunity. My sister-in-law had done a roast in the Crock-Pot, and mentioned about 2 hours before dinner that she wished that she had asked me to make bread, because bread pairs well with roast. Enter the dinner rolls. I knew they wouldn't have tons of time to rise, but they would have enough.

Pasta Salad

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Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time while my wife and I were still at college, we were invited to a large potluck event at our church ward. In the weeks prior, we committed to bringing some type of salad, and didn't remember until the day of the potluck. As you can imagine, once we realized this we were frantic to figure out what type of salad we could bring without having to go to the grocery store to get things.

Our apartment was completely devoid of any type of green for a typical lettuce-based salad, but we did have a couple half boxes of pasta. So pasta salad it was. I called my parents and asked if they had any suggestions, which they did not, other than looking online. I didn't know who else I could ask, so an online search it was.

We decided that we wanted to do something a little different, that people would not have had often. Needless to say, after an hour of searching we didn't find any one recipe we liked, so we decided to improvise with what we had at home.
The following pasta salad is deliciously fresh tasting, and tastes amazing. It has become one of our new recipe standards for barbecues and family parties.

Chocolate Chips Cookies

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Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate chip cookies are, I would say, a truly American creation. They are also one of my most favorite recipes. I can remember eating chocolate chip cookies almost my entire life. Every family has their recipe, and rarely do they stray from it. My family was no different: making chocolate chip cookies meant making my mom's chocolate chip cookies.

Chocolate chip cookies are also, I would imagine, one of the first baking experiences many children have. If they aren't helping to crack the eggs (so many eggshells), or pour in the flour (I'm dreaming of a white kitchen), they are helping to scoop out the cookies or...um...remove the evidence. I know, I know, there is some risk involved, but come on. Eating cookie dough is one of those things that every child needs to experience.

Anyway, chocolate chip cookies are one of the few recipes that all of my siblings know how to make. A couple of my sisters have branched out and now have their own recipes, but we all started with my mom's. By the way, before I tell you more about my family's recipe, I need to point out that the following recipe isn't my mom's: this is. I love my Mom's cookies, and they will always have a special place in my heart. The only problem is that when I was younger, I could eat probably a dozen of my Mom's cookies, but now I can only manage one or two before I get sick. I think they are just too sweet for my current tastes. But hey, I've grown up. And my cookies have grown up with me.

I wish I could say that this post's recipe is one of my own devising, but that wouldn't be 100% truthful. To be honest, it is one of my own conglomerating. When I was little I used to read cookbooks for fun, and the habit never really stopped. So I have seen a lot of cookie recipes in my life. This recipe kinda combines some of my favorite things about a lot of those recipes, along with a few tips that I have learned along the way.

Andes Mint Cheesecake

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I have mentioned before that a few of the recipes on this blog were inspired by my Mom's baking. This recipe is one of those. We didn't have it that often, maybe only three or four times, but every time we did I remember loving it. It actually was one of my first experiences with cheesecake, and every cheesecake I have had since I compare to this one. After talking with my mom about it, I learned that the original recipe came from the (unfortunately) no-longer-in-print magazine McCall's, specifically from the December 2004 issue.

The texture is silky smooth, and the flavor divine. I love it because the mint flavor is just strong enough to be dominant, but subtle enough to not be dominating.

In fact, I love this cheesecake so much that I figured out how to make it in a smaller size just so I could justify making it for myself. If you are also so inclined, I will include the ingredient amounts for a 6-inch cheesecake at the end of the recipe.

As a note, the original recipe called for 1 1/3 cups coarsely chopped Andes mints. I don't know if you have ever bought Andes mints before, but to get enough for the recipe you need about 3 boxes, which will run you around six bucks. On the other hand, a 10 oz bag of Andes mint chips only costs around $2.50, and is more than enough for this recipe.

Trust me, if you make this recipe you will fall in love with it, and if you bring it anywhere don't expect to take home leftovers, because it will be completely gone.

Sugar Cookies

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For some reason sugar cookies just seem to evoke the feelings of childhood in adults. Maybe it's because I only can remember eating sugar cookies when I was barely tall enough to see over the table, or because stamping out sugar cookies reminds me of small hands. But for whatever reason, sugar cookies just seem to mean childhood.

A while back I worked for a bakery and learned some fun things about baking cookies, which when combined with what I learned during my food science classes in school, hopefully let me make a good recipe for you.

Feeding my Toddler

Pin It So I must admit that I have come to a realization over the past few months that Jayson has been eating solid foods by himself: kids are messy eaters.
Yes, I know that this goes without saying, but I don't think I realized how messy kids can get. Maybe it's because I always only saw kids who weren't messy eaters? I don't know. But I used to worry so much about keeping Jayson clean while he ate that we kept him from a lot of foods like soup, refried beans, and other messy foods like that. But those foods are also good for him to eat. So what is a parent to do?

Give up, that's what!

Chocolate and Caramel Chex Mix

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Bowl of Chex mix

This is another one of those recipes that I would love to claim for my own, but cannot: I stole it one from my older sister. February of 2011 my sister Delsa developed her own version of General Mills' Turtle Chex Mix. In her own words:

I love the turtle chex mix you can buy at the store, but it's expensive. So today I created my own recipe (pretty similar). I made it in a small batch,I think, but these are the approximate proportions that I used. Be warned, it is addicting, but delicious.

I have been making it for parties and for family ever since, but have made a couple changes to adapt it to my tastes. It's been a long time since I had the "official" version, but this one is tasty enough that I don't miss it at all.

Gourmet Boiled Cookies

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I can remember making boiled cookies for a long time. They were always delicious: moist, chewy, peanut buttery, and just a little bit sticky. And to me, they were always "boiled cookies." It wasn't until I got to college that I found out that the rest of the world had a different name for one of my favorite cookies: no-bake cookies.
Then when I was in Switzerland serving my mission for the LDS church, I got a real craving for the cookies, but didn't have the recipe. So I borrowed one from a friend, and tried it out. The result was not anything like what I remembered. They were grainy, hard, and overloaded with chocolate.
After I got married, there arose the occasion to make my beloved boiled cookies for some friends, and just for fun I decided to spruce the recipe up a little. The following recipe is the result.

Summer Garden Soup

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One night after my wife and I were newly married, we were looking through our cookbooks to decide which recipes to make, and we saw a recipe for a vegetable soup that looked appetizing. We tried it, along with a few changes of our own, and decided that it was a keeper. I love this recipe because it is so different from other soups that I make. It's very light, but very flavorful. It has a fresh flavor from zucchini, tomatoes, and a splash of lemon juice. And, as I recently discovered, it is filling without being Calorie-dense. The entire batch of soup has fewer than 1000 Calories!
Another reason my wife and I love this soup is that it doesn't take all day to prepare. It's not quite as fast as cooking up a packet of Ramen noodles, but few things are. We always have this soup with Cheesy Garlic Biscuits, which remind me of the Cheddar Bay Biscuits sold at Red Lobster.

Cheesy Garlic Biscuits

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Did you know, the word biscuit is derived from a French word meaning "twice-baked." Those original biscuits were more like hardtack or Zwieback, and could last for very extended periods of time without going stale. Then again, they probably wouldn't taste very good when fresh, so the point was moot.
These biscuits, on the other hand, are soft and delicious, and make a perfect accompaniment to soup.

Creamy Italian Shells

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Skip the story and go straight to the recipe.
This is probably one of my wife's favorite meals, and we have it 2 or 3 times a month. I have to admit, I am not the original creator of this recipe concept, but it's so simple that I feel that I can post it here. (I also make a couple changes, enough that I think I can call it my own.)

The story goes that my wife wanted something for dinner, but wasn't really sure what. I went through my kitchen, and came up with this:

We have had it before, and really enjoyed it, so I thought, here goes. I looked on the package for the directions, and my eye fell on the recipe printed on the back for “Creamy Garlic and Roasted Pepper Pasta.” It had garlic, red bells peppers, and chicken. Sounds good, yes, but my wife was anti-chicken at the time. The idea sounded good though, so I went through my fridge and came up with a bell pepper (purchased for cheese steaks), and some mushrooms (about 6) nearing the end of their life.
 I diced the half the pepper and tossed them into a skillet with a little oil and a pinch of salt, then turned my attention to the mushrooms. From those I removed the stems (which are really woody), and cut the caps into little wedges. Once they were all dispatched they too went into the pan. When the mushrooms were done I took the pan off the heat and turned my attention to the pasta.

Red Velvet Drop Cookies

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Last week I was asked by a co-worker to make some cookies, specifically red velvet cookies. I agreed, because who can say no to a change to bake some cookies? Anyway, after some consideration, I decided that I didn't want to go through the hassle of rolling out and cutting cookies at work because I would have to bring additional flour, a rolling pin, and my cutters, not to mention only having a half hour for lunch. So being the food scientist that I am, I was confident in my ability to convert a rolled cookie dough into a drop cookie dough, so this morning I weighed out all the ingredients, stuck them in my lunch box, and went to work.
While driving, I thought about the best way to make a drop cookie dough, and came to the conclusion that I would just increase the amount of buttermilk until the consistency was right for scooping. It turned out that I needed 4 times the amount of buttermilk, but the cookies was pretty tasty. Oh, I also baked them in a convection oven set at 350°F, but I think that it would also work the same in a regular oven set at the same temp.
The result was a moist, puffy, cake-like cookie that would be the perfect accompaniment to a tall glass of milk. For a picture tutorial, please see my red velvet cookie recipe.

Versatile Bread Dough

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This post is to enlighten readers on the versatility of bread dough. I am not talking about the stuff that you buy in the freezer section of your favorite grocery store, but rather making minor changes to a master bread dough recipe to fit any of your needs. This isn't as complicated as it may sound, and knowing these tricks will change your bread baking experience forever.

I have been baking bread as long as I can remember (which is only about 8 or 10 years old). I started following recipes exactly, and needing a new recipe for every type of bread or roll I attempted to make. This is how most bakers start out: following recipes as written, making few (if any) changes. I baked like this until I read a Swiss bread cookbook, and my baking was changed forever.

What made such a difference, you may ask? Well, it was quite simple: the author used one bread recipe to make 8 different types of bread, another recipe for 6 types of bread, and a short "textbook" on bread-making in general. It wasn't until then that I realized that all bread recipes are basically the same, with a few minor modifications based on the target application.

The reason why this revelation changed my baking so dramatically was that it allowed me to focus on my bread-making technique instead of worrying about following the recipes. Now, I rarely look for a recipe when I want to bake. Instead I just take my master recipe and modify it a little to make what I want. What follows is my master recipe, followed by some of my modifications.

Red Velvet Cookies

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I have a bone to pick with red velvet. One does not simply make red velvet by adding red food coloring to an otherwise vanilla batter and call it good. Red velvet is so much more than it's color. Of course, I can't really blame anyone for this mistake because there is so much misinformation out there on what red velvet actually is. So, to set the record straight, and for my own peace of mind, I am going to set in stone (or bits and bytes) what I firmly believe red velvet to be.

After searching the internet for many red velvet recipes in an attempt to come to some sort of consensus, I concluded that red velvet is a mildly chocolate cake with background notes of both vinegar and buttermilk, also containing some form of red food coloring to heighten the already-present red anthocyanin present in the cocoa powder. There, I've said it. Red velvet is first and foremost a chocolate product. True, it is not as chocolaty as an Oreo©, but it is chocolaty nonetheless.

Well, on to the point of this post. The internet is riddled with red velvet in the form of cakes, cupcakes (shudder), brownies, crepes, pancakes, waffles, cake-mix cookies, etc. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with these things (except for the cupcakes. I don't like cupcakes), but I don't have a great love for any of them. What I really wanted was a cookie that I could roll out and cut into shapes, like sugar cookies. And don't you dare tell me that I can just put red food coloring into a sugar cookie. Didn't we already go over the fact that red velvet is chocolate at heart? No, I discovered that if I wanted a rolled red velvet cookie I would need to make my own recipe from scratch. So I did.

One more comment before I begin; it took me many tries to come up with this recipe, mainly because I wanted to get a good amount of chocolate flavor without making the cookie too brown. The solution is to use black cocoa, which is highly dutched or alkalized cocoa, in conjunction with natural cocoa powder. If you don't want to buy black cocoa you could probably get away with just using normal dutched cocoa, but please do not just use natural coca by itself. The flavor just isn't the same.


Pita Bread

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The other day I was talking to my older sister, and somehow the conversation turned to baking, and from there it turned to the topic of tonight's recipe: pita bread. I only really have one memory of pita growing up, and it just so happens to be of my sister eating a pita stuffed with sprouts and other stuff. A stuffed sandwich: I thought it was the coolest thing ever. In the years that followed I didn't give pita much thought, until I served an LDS mission in Switzerland, and was introduced to the Turkish food Doener Kebap, which is very similar to a Greek gyro. Both of those sandwiches are a pita stuffed with meat, vegetation, and sauce, and are some of the most delicious foods in the world.
So, back to the point of my story. My sister shared with me a recipe for pita, which has since become one of my favorite bread recipes, and I made it five times within the first 3 weeks. Each batch makes 10 discs of deliciousness.

Pita Bread

Step 1:
Dissolve 2 1/4 tsp yeast and 1 tsp sugar in 1/2 cup lukewarm water.
Allow to sit for 15 minutes, or until very foamy.

Step 2:
In the bowl of your mixer combine 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour and 1 tsp salt.

Step 3:
Add the yeasty water to the flour, along with the remaining 1/2 cup water. Mix well with dough attachment.

Step 4:
Knead on medium speed for 10 minutes.

Step 5:
Gather dough into a ball, cover, and let rise for 2 hours.

For pictures and further instructions on making dough please refer to my pizza dough recipe.

Before you start working with the dough, preheat your oven to 500°F. It may seem like a very high temperature, and it is, but it is the key to making your pita have a pocket in them, which is what we want.

After rising, the dough will look like this.

Step 6:
Gather the dough into a ball.
I often weigh the dough when I am going to be dividing it so that each piece is the same size.

Step 7:
Divide the dough into 10 equal-sized portions and roll each one into a ball. Store the balls under a plastic bag so they don't dry out.

Step 8:

On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball into a 5" disc, 1/4" thick.
Resist the urge to make larger pita by rolling the ball into a larger circle. Doing so will make the dough too thin, and will create a cracker upon baking.

Step 9:
 If you are using a pizza stone, move it to the bottom rack.
Arrange three dough discs on the stone (my sister does up to 5 on a cookie sheet).

Step 10:
 Bake for 4 minutes, then flip and bake for another 2 minutes.
After about 2 minutes, the pita will seem to inflate. This is good: this is what creates the pocket in the middle of your pita. Mine often then pop and deflate while in the oven, but they still have a pocket.

Step 11:
 Remove to a rack and consume, or let cool and bag for up to a week at room temperature.

Pita Bread
1 cup lukewarm water, divided
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

Dissolve the sugar and yeast in 1/2 cup water. Let sit for 15 minutes, or until very foamy. Combine flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast mixture and the remaining water and mix with dough hook until combined, then increase the speed to medium and knead for 10 minutes. Gather dough into a ball, cover, and let rise 2 hours. Preheat oven to 500°F and move rack to lowest position. Divide the dough into 10 equal-sized pieces, and roll each piece into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball into a 5" disc, 1/4" thick. Arrange 3 at a time on a pizza stone or cookie sheet. Bake for 4 minutes, then flip and bake an additional 2 minutes. Remove to a rack. Enjoy warm, or place in an airtight container for up to a week.

Pizza Dough

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I remember one of my favorite family traditions growing up was having pizza practically every Friday night. As long as I can remember, one of my parents made the pizza dough and, after letting it sit for a few minutes, formed it into the pizza pan. The pizza pans would go into the oven, and 15 minutes later we would eat. The pizza was warm, gooey, and delicious. Ever since I was old enough to learn not to burn my mouth on nearly molten cheese, pizza has been my favorite food.

This is not to say that my parent's pizza was the only pizza I had ever experienced: occasionally we would buy pizza, and I found that pizzeria pizza had an amazing crispy, chewy, yet thin and not at all hard crust. Actually, it reminds me more of a bagel crust than a bread crust. Anyway, this became probably my favorite crust, and what I imagine all pizza should aspire to have.

You all know the proverb about teaching a man to fish and he will eat for life, right? Well, eventually I became responsible in my family for making the pizza dough, and for years I was content to simply follow in the footsteps of my parents and use their recipe and method. But somewhere in the back of my mind I had made it my goal in life to make a pizza dough that fully emulates the pizzeria pizza I remembered eating as a child.

When I moved to Utah to attend college, this desire came more to the front of my mind, as I couldn't find acceptable pizza anywhere. Before long my pizza pangs were getting so bad that I succumbed to buying a pie from Pizza-Hut. But alas, it wasn't enough. I knew I had to teach myself to fish, so to speak. In my opinion, the secret to good pizza dough is near-excessive kneading of a wheat-flour based dough. Many bread recipes I have read only require you to knead the dough for a few minutes, generally less than 5. While this may produce tender sandwich bread, which is okay, it won't make the chewy yet supple pizza dough I desire.

By the way, because I learned the recipe for this bread in Europe, the majority of the measurements are in grams. I could convert everything to cups for you, but it would be far better for you to go out and buy a kitchen scale. They aren't terribly expensive and will make all your baking that much better.
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Okay, fine, I will put the US measurements in at the recipe at the end of the post.

Sugar Cookie Frosting

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Dinner in the Life of a Dad—Sugar Cookie Frosting. Fluffy butter-vanilla frosting for sugar cookies.

I am not a frosting fan. Really. I prefer my desserts unadulterated because frankly, I can't stand the sweetness. However, I do realize that there are those who cannot eat a sugar cookie unless it is accompanied by a thick layer of rich, sugary buttercream-style frosting. For all of you people out there who fit into this category, don't despair: this recipe will fulfill your needs.

Before I get into how to make it though, a couple comments first. You may notice that while most recipes call for using only butter, I use a combination of butter and shortening. The reason for this is because of fat melting points. Butter melts at a relatively low temperature, which means that on a warm day your frosting will begin to melt and "curdle." Shortening melts at a higher temperature, much above body temperature, so it will allow the frosting to hold it's shape even on warm days. So if shortening is so much better, why use butter? FLAVOR!! Even the best shortening can never beat butter for taste.

Secondly, this recipe differs in that it doesn't require the sifting of the powdered sugar. The way I see it, you will whip the frosting until smooth, so any possible lumps in your sugar will get beaten out anyway. And sifting powdered sugar just makes a huge mess.

Third, this recipe does not include food coloring. I have a good reason for this, and it has nothing to do with any possible health effects of food coloring. I didn't include it because I don't know what type you will have, and the type of food coloring plays a huge role in the final texture of the frosting if you don't know what you are doing. I prefer using powdered food colors because they huge only a marginal effect of the final frosting, and it is easier to get a vibrant color from a powder. Gels and liquids mean that you will have to either add more sugar to the recipe or reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe. So, any will work, but you have to pay attention to what you are doing.