Recipe Review: Secret Ingredient Sugar Cookies

I’m a horribly socially awkward person. I spent the majority of my college years on a circuit that ran from my room to the gym to class before going back to my room. It’s not that I don’t like people—it’s just that being around 90% of them turns me into a babbling idiot. So, when I started my new job, I knew I need something to divert my fellow employees’ attention away from my inability to form a coherent sentence, and that “something” was a delicious, sugary baked good.

I wanted something simple (as, for all I know, everyone at the station could be riddled with allergies to random food products) and I also wanted to try a new recipe from my large stack of “recipes-to-try” (damn you, internet!). So, I picked up the recipe for Secret Ingredient Sugar Cookies that I had seen on Cookie Madness some time back and ran with it.

To begin, let me just announce that the “secret ingredient” isn’t anything weird, like sushi or ketchup or something else that would appear on Iron Chef; instead, it’s vanilla pudding mix, and for some reason I thought this would make my sugar cookies soft and cake-like, even though Anna says in her post on these cookies that they are, in fact, light and crispy. I am bad at reading, and indeed these cookies had the texture of a traditional peanut butter cookie: Crispy on the edges and a little crumbly in the middle. Personally, I prefer a soft, chewy sugar cookie, so I was a little disappointed in this regard, but the cookies were still good—just not my kind of cookie. Also, the taste was not super sweet. Instead, they tasted a bit like a combination of shortbread and a sugar cookie, with a little bit more emphasis on “richness” rather than “sugariness.” Regardless, my co-workers enjoyed them (I was in the kitchenette at 9 a.m., and the weather man was coming back for a second cookie already) and I would probably make them again if I were looking for a slightly more sophisticated sugar cookie.

Secret Ingredient Sugar Cookies – Makes approximately 42 cookies

1 stick (8 oz) salted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.7 oz. vanilla or lemon pudding mix (I used vanilla, as mentioned previously)
2 cups (8.5 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Sprinkles (optional)

1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, oil and sugars until the mixture is light and fluffy. (Note: I almost had a panic attack when I started making these cookies, as my mix looked like cake batter. This may have been because of the heat [it was very humid that day], but despite the fact that my batter never achieved a “light and fluffy” consistency, they still turned out fine.)

2. Add the egg, pudding mix and vanilla to the butter mixture.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cream of tartar and baking soda before gradually adding those three ingredients to the creamed mixture. Beat well.

4. Spoon the dough onto ungreased baking sheets so that the cookies are about two inches apart. If you’d like, flatten the cookies with your palm and sprinkle sugar or sprinkles on top of the cookies.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 to 15 minutes (Note: Mine only needed seven and a half minutes to bake) or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks.

Nutritional Information (per one cookie):

Calories: 90

Fat: 5.1 g.

Sat. Fat: 3.4 g.

Cholesterol: 10.9 mg.

Fiber: 0.2 g.

Protein: 0.8 g.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Hey dudes, GUESS WHAT

I totally didn’t count calories this week! WHOAH. It was pretty odd, considering I’ve counted points/calories/some kind of numerical figure connected with the patron star of food for the past … six years? But, it was really freeing to just kind of sit down for a meal and say, “OK, what do I want?” I’m not going to lie, though; on a couple of days when I had extra chomps, I freaked and tallied by day’s intake to say where I stood. However, at the end of the week, I had no idea how much I had eaten on most days/how many “bonus” calories I had left/etc. I do still a tally bit during the day, though—that is, at meal time, I might do some quick math to make sure my lunch falls within a certain range, just so I know whether to cut back a bit later after a particularly large meal. I think this is OK, though, as there’s a difference between nitpicky/obsessive calorie counting and ensuring you’re not overeating. I have, however, set up some rules for myself, since I didn’t want intuitive eating to turn into “eat whatever I want” eating:

1) I can eat as much as I want, but I can only eat when I’m hungry.

2) I can eat whatever I want, but desserts/sweets should be saved for after dinner. (This is mostly because if I eat a sweet thang mid-day, I tend to crave sugar for the rest of the day. Or, I crave sugar AND eat copious amounts of it for the rest of the day.)

3) Large desserts (e.g., a pint and a delicious Warm Delight product)/restaurant meals that I make/purchase for myself should be limited to once a week. (This isn’t me trying to be restrictive, but rather just trying to keep myself in a position to be flexible in case I’m invited out to dinner/given a delicious baked good spontaneously/etc.)

Regardless, I was a little cautious this week with my eating … maybe a bit too cautious. Although, I always ate if I was hungry, and continued eating after finishing a meal if I wasn’t satisfied.

Last Week’s Weight: 127.2 (Yep, I was up a little bit last week after my binge, but I was OK with this, seeing as how I was still in the bottom portion of my range.)

Today’s Weight: 124

Loss/Gain: Three pounds

This Week’s Exercise Schedule:

06/11: 7-mile run/walk + 20-minute weightlifting session
06/12: Yoga
06/13: 5-mile run + 40-minute weightlifting session
06/14: 7-mile run/walk
06/15: 1-hour weightlifting session + 2-mile walk
06/16: Yoga
06/17: 45-minute aerobics tape

… derp. Dang, and I took an extra rest day this week, too! Also, I am not oblivious to the irony that when I’m not trying to lose weight, I lose copious amounts of el-bees. Jeeze. I’m not really sure what to do at this point, though; I know some people say that you can never be too rich or too thin, but when I start to drop below my range like this, it’s like there’s a little voice that goes, “Well, how thin can I get?” And, I don’t want to play that game, especially since I don’t like how I look when I start to get into my lower 120s. Also, I’d like to get back into my goal range, as otherwise I get too accustomed to being a lower weight and it’s disappointing when I get back up to a normal weight. It’s like my mind adjusts to seeing a thinner self, and any extra pounds (even when they still put me within my goal range) are, well … extra. Does that make sense?

Anyway, normally I’d go on a weight gain diet at this point (MMMMMMMM), but I don’t want to go back to calorie counting after just a week of intuitive eating. So, considering that there are several food-related events coming up (my birthday, a surprise party for a person who shall go undescribed and a week in which an aunt and her family are visiting from Texas), I think I’m just going to let things lie for the time being and worry about putting weight back on only if I find myself still below range after the aforementioned happenins’ … and quite frankly, I highly doubt I’ll have anything to worry about after the next few weeks.

Recipe Review: Debbie’s Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am of the opinion that the introduction of people to the Internet is one of the worst things to happen, ever. Have you ever played World of Warcraft or gone to 4chan? Seriously, it’s like anonymity just triggers something in people that makes them feel the need to say things like, “My balls are moist” every five minutes in a public forum. Would you ever go to the grocery store and yell, “MY BALLS ARE MOIST”? No! But, apparently, it is totally OK to do so on the Internet.

Every once and awhile, though, the Internet is responsible for something beautiful, like the union of myself and Debbie of Words to Eat By‘s recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I found this recipe back in the day, when I was still distrustful of anything/everything that came from culinary blogs, which I imagined were just written by people biding their time between food (or regular) porn sessions. Besides, I had been using the Nestle Tollhouse cookie recipe for years and didn’t really see any need to replace such a tried and true formula. But, Debbie had a lot of confidence in this cookie: She calls them “The Best Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies in the Entire World,” and after trying them, myself, I’m inclined to agree with the name.

These cookies fit my exact definition of a perfect chocolate chip cookie: Crispy at the edges, supremely chewy in the middle (I hate a poofy chocolate chip cookie) and rich in butter/vanilla flavor. Debbie produced the recipe by utilizing a few unique techniques, like chilling the dough before baking it. Look at these cookies; they’re gorgeous.

And they taste as good as they look (though, they taste much less blurry), so go make them right now.

Unbelievably Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies – Makes approximately 24 cookies

Adapted from Debbie’s recipe for The Best Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies in the Entire World

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
¼ pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
½ cup sugar
¾ cup tightly packed light brown sugar
1 ½ t. vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
5 oz. (140 grams) semisweet chocolate (Debbie uses 7 oz. of bittersweet chocolate in her recipe, but I prefer my cookies to be more batter- than chip-centric)

1. Combine the flour, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.

2. Cream the butter and sugars together in either a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer set on low speed (This is important: According to Debbie, the speed at which you cream these two ingredients makes the mixture hold the flour differently and consequently spread out less). Beat the ingredients until the mixture is lump-free (about three to four minutes), then stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. Add your vanilla and the egg to the butter/sugar mixture, and resume mixing until the addition is just incorporated (about 15 seconds). Stop and scrape down the sides of the paddle and/or bowl again.

4. Set your mixing utensil/machine of choice to low speed and combine the flour with your butter mixture, and beat until just incorporated. Once the ingredients are combined, stop mixing, scrape down the bowl again, and add your chocolate chips until they are also just incorporated (If you’re using a hand mixer to make your cookie batter, mix in the chocolate chips by hand with a wooden spoon).

5. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour (Yesterday, I had the time to let the batter chill for seven hours, and I think it made for the nice, chew texture.)

6. When you’re to bake your cookies, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line your baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats. Spoon the dough  onto the baking sheets so that the cookies are about two inches apart.

Note: If you’re going to be placing more than one baking sheet in the oven at a time, make sure you adjust your oven racks so that they are in the lower and upper thirds of the oven.

7. Bake for around eight to nine minutes (I think my oven is a little hot, though, so you may want to go with Debbie’s baking time of 11 to 13 minutes) or until golden brown around the edges. Midway through baking, make sure to turn the sheets halfway through and, if there is more than one baking sheet in the oven, switch the racks on which they are situated.

8. Remove baking sheets from the oven and slide the parchment paper or Silpats onto a work surface. Once the cookies are sufficiently set, place them on a cooling rack. Cookies can be stored for up to three days in an airtight container, but you should wait at least 20 minutes before placing them in said container.

Nutritional Information (per one cookie):

Calories: 140

Fat: 5.9 g.

Sat. Fat: 3.5 g.

Cholesterol: 19 mg.

Sodium: 33.4 mg.

Carbohydrates: 23 g.

Protein: 1.4 g.

Fiber: 0.6 g.

Down the Hatch/Tubes

It was like the perfect storm, but with more candy and less water.

I was set to go out to breakfast on Sunday, and the day before, a bag of ill-bought Reese’s cups depleted the calories I had been saving for said breakfast. Sunday, my frustration over my lack of self-control combined with sleep deprivation combined with stress combined with PMS to form … the perfect binge.

Dudes, I had gone ten weeks without bingeing. I thought I was golden. Then, WHA-BHAM! I consume 6,000 calories in one day. WTH?

Even now, four days later, I’m still hell of pissed off about it. Now, I’m not mad about any weight I may have gained (I was below range the last time I weighed in, after all, and it was just one day), but rather the lack of intuitive eating I practiced/the random eating I did. Basically, I went back to cupboard diving and ended up eating random, non-worthwhile P.O.S. foods like slices of bread. Plus, had I not binged and just had ONE thing, I could have had a pint of ice cream every day this week for the amount of calories I ate that one day. And, trust me, I would have much rather have had a treat per day than one day of stuffing myself and subsequently restricting. BUT, I ALWAYS FORGET THIS ARBDFHSDFSDJFH.

Ah, well. At least it didn’t turn into a multiple-day binge. In light of this, though, and the fact that I’ve been feeling really weak/rundown lately (like, “going to bed at 9 p.m. and feeling sore all the time”-weak) I was thinking of doing one of a couple of things for the summer, or until I’m done with my very physically demanding job at the cemetery:

a) Eat a bit more on a daily basis. Of course, this sounds like the most fun option, but I don’t want to get accustomed to a certain culinary lifestyle, so to speak, only to have to cut back come fall.

b) Indulge a bit every day. Quix left a great anti-binge tip on my last post; that is, indulge a bit every day in something small to keep from over-doing it like I did. And, the fact of the matter is, I am pretty restrictive on a day to day basis. But, I definitely can’t keep some things—like candy, evidently—in the house. What are you favorite small sweets that you keep around/can eat in moderation?

c) Exercise a bit less. I’m kind of hesitant to cut back on my exercise (for reasons I’ll go into another post coming up soon), but I feel like it’ll be easier to increase my exercise again than it would be to decrease my chomps come fall. So, I’m 90% sure that I’m going to go with this option and have a “taper week” every other week rather than every three weeks. I’d also like to allow myself some more splurges, but now my trust in my self-control is kind of obliterated. And yet, I’m thinking of finally giving up calorie counting, cold turkey.

After this weekend’s binge incident, which was essentially inspired by a “lack of calories” that should not even have been taken into consideration, because being at my maintenance weight means any calorie-oriented limits are merely guidelines, I’ve come to the conclusion that calorie counting while at my maintenance weight is keeping me from truly eating intuitively. I’m a little hesitant to give it up, though, as I feel like calorie counting is kind of like a speedometer—without it, I wouldn’t know I was eating too much/driving too fast until I gained weight/got a ticket. But, if I’m truly eating intuitively, I shouldn’t gain a massive amount of weight in between weigh-ins, anyway. And, getting rid of calorie counting would set me up to eat more according to true cravings/needs rather than according to numbers. But, I’m scurred. How will I know if I can consume certain “extras” in a day, like a glass of milk, an extra serving of rice or a cookie from a co-worker?* I know how to eat, though; it’s not like I’ll eat donuts on Monday, forget about it, and eat a pint of ice cream on Tuesday. I’ve also maintained my weight for about two months, now, and for most of that time I haven’t been calculating how many calories I’ve eating during the day until the end of the day.

What do you dudes think? Have any of you spent years calorie counting, only to give it up? I’m wondering, though, if I shouldn’t set up some rules for myself if I do give up calorie counting (e.g., only one “indulgence” per day, which I should be following, regardless—if I had followed this rule on Sunday, I’d be a lot better off, that’s for sure). Any suggestions?

THIS POST NEEDS MORE BOLD TEXT. OK, I’m done, now.

*OK, I would probably not eat this cookie regardless, unless it was a commercial cookie and I saw the package it came out of it. Homemade, though? Lord knows where that cookie has been/what the kitchen it was made in looks like. Gross.

Positive Reinforcement

PHEW. OK, I finally have a few moments.

Post-graduate life has been hell of busy. Shortly after starting my job at the cemetery, I began my journalism job and immediately picked up a few extra shifts. The result was working 12 days in a row, and even now I’m still feeling a bit overwhelmed, having not quite gotten into the groove, yet. Anyway, I’m not really sure how I feel about my radio position, still, but that’s a post for another time.

Anyway, here’s today’s weigh-in results:

Last Week’s Weight (which I didn’t post about—oops): 126.3 (Weight Watchers Scale)/125.7 (Tanita)

Today’s Weight: 126.6 (WW)/125.8 (T)

Average Daily Caloric Intake: 1,830

Funny, when I don’t eat all my calories and am very active, I actually gain a bit. Though, according to the Tanita scale, my body fat percentage went from 22.6 to 21.3, though who knows how accurate that measurement is. But, maybe the gain is from over-exercising? In addition to my regular exercise routine, I’ve been doing approximate two hours of weed-whacking a day three times a week. Hm. Not only that, but I’ve been lifting/running and I really don’t feel like I’m getting any more fit.

Regardless, I am bidding adieu to the Weight Watcher’s scale, as I am convinced that it steadily weighs you heavier than you actually are in order to convince you that you still need the help of Weight Watchers. Yes, it is a conspiracy. BUT, when I first bought the WW scale, it weighed me a pound lighter than the Tanita scale! So, how do you explain that it now weighs me 8/10 of a pound heavier AND says I gained 3/10 of a pound this week, while the Tanita says I gained only 1/10 of a pound? Eh? EH?! IT’S A RACKET, I TELL YOU.

Anyway, in the last few stressful weeks, I’ve realized that good habits kind of need to be reinforced when you relocate. It sounds odd, but it’s like I had learned not deal with school-related stress through food, but I need to reinforce that good habit after moving back home and encountering a new kind of stress. For example: After being through into the radio realm, going without a day of rest and not exactly loving my new job, I was ready to eat the shingles off the house. One morning I got up with a raging appetite, and I basically gave myself permission to binge. By 8 a.m., I already had in mind what noms I was going to chomp/make myself sick on. Keep in mind that at this point, I had last binged about nine weeks ago—I thought I was golden, having made it through the (even-more) stressful time that was the final exam/paper period. But, here I was back home, ready to binge. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, as my binge eating originated at home during high school. Still, I am now less than pleased that I gave myself permission to self-treat with food, even though I ultimately ended up not doing so; fortunately, it seems some intuitive eating instincts have developed and kicked in that day, as when I went and got a sundae for lunch, I consumed it and said, “Oof, I’m full/satisfied.” And the rest of the day was healthy.

Moral of the Story: Bad habits never seem to be entirely banished. I feel like I did myself a really big favor, though, by not going back to binge eating as a way to deal with stress, even the one time, because that one time is never just one time.

Blergh, work tomorrow—what do you dudes have planned for your weekend? Sunday, I’m hoping to just sit on my ass and play video games. I hope it’s not sunny that day; whenever I stay inside on the weekend, I always feel guilty if the sun is out.