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.

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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: Parmesan Risotto from The Best Light Recipe

I’m always wary of cheese-based light recipes; I feel like every time I’ve made a low-fat mac and cheese or other such dish, I’ve just ended up a with bland plate filled with some kind of starch and an abundance of tasteless fat-free dairy with a consistency akin to cement. Not enjoyable. However, when a saw a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated‘s Best Light Recipe cookbook, I was more than willing to give it a shot—I trust Cook’s Illustrated (some of my best cake recipes have come from issues of  this magazine), and I want Christopher Kimball to live in my house and be snarky while making me things that are delicious. But, while Cook’s Illustrated has produced some tasty full-fat recipes, could it also produce equally-delicious lighter versions of its usual fare?

Of course it can! This Parmesan risotto was full of rich, cheesy flavor, and the risotto itself was cooked to perfection. Granted, the cooking process is a little more labor-intensive than most “set-it-and-forget-it” recipes (you have to stir the mix continuously for about half an hour, but I personally found this ridiculously soothing), but the product is well worth the effort. I should probably mention, though, that this was my first brush with risotto (let alone Parmesan risotto), but I can’t imagine actually wanting a fattier/creamier version than this; there was plenty of cheese, and there were no portions of the risotto where I said, “Boy, I really wish this had more flavor/Parmesan.”

Personally, I added about three ounces of baked chicken just for the sake of having some added protein, and the result was a filling, delicious meal for under 400 calories. This would make a delightful side dish, too, though, and I loved that it didn’t use an abundance of ingredients that I would use just for this recipe. Though, Arborrio rice is a tad pricey—a container cost me about $7, but it is also a large enough container that will last quite a while.

Parmesan Risotto

Serves Four

Note: I personally like to use a food scale for exact measurements while cooking, so I’ve included the weight in grams of some ingredients in parentheses alongside the normal measurements.

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 shallot, chopped fine

1 and 1/3 cups (245 grams) Arborrio rice

2/3 cup dry white wine

1 and 1/3 ounces (36 grams) grated Parmesan cheese

2/3 tablespoon (9 grams) unsalted butter

1. Warm the chicken broth in a saucepan over low heat.

2. Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the shallots, and cook for one minute.

3. Add the rice to the skillet and stir the shallots and rice until the mixture is coated in oil and the rice has taken on a pale, golden color (this will take about two minutes).

4. Pour the wine in the skillet and stir the rice mixture constantly until the wine is fully absorbed.

5. Add 1/2 cup of the warm broth to the rice mixture and stir until the broth is completely absorbed. Continue adding 1/2 cup broth at a time to the rice. Stir continuously and only add additional broth when the 1/2 cup added previously has been entirely absorbed.

6. When your rice is al dente and all the broth has been added (the process will take approximately 15 to 20 minutes), remove the rice mixture from heat and stir in the butter and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste (Note: I do not believe the recipe requires any additional seasoning and thus use neither salt nor pepper.)

Nutritional information:

Calories: 220

Fat: 6 g.

Sat. Fat: 3 g.

Cholesterol: 10 mg.

Carbohydrates: 27 g.

Protein: 7 g.

Fiber: 1 g.

Sodium: 750 mg.

Copyrights and Cooking

You guys, I only have four days left at University! Unless, of course, my school’s professors are horribly sadistic and enjoy springing failing grades on graduating seniors. Eep.

Anyway, professors/God willing, I’ll be home in a few days, and home means having a kitchen. Hooray! And, with access to said kitchen, I’m hoping to start a new blog feature; that is, recipe reviews.

However, I’m a little uncertain as to whether it’s OK to post recipes from books. Granted, I could probably find out with a little digging, but I am horrendously lazy and would rather ask you dudes, instead. So … does anyone know the policies regarding putting up a recipe from a cookbook on your blog site? Also, are recipe reviews a thing you dudes would enjoy? Personally, I really love buying cookbooks, but half the time I feel like the recipes in most books end up either a) using too many ingredients or b) just being not that good, so personally I would find this to be a helpful thing, but would you?

Product Review: Ben & Jerry’s “Hannah Teter’s Maple Blondie”

Product Description: Maple Ice Cream with Blonde Brownie Chunks & a Maple Caramel Swirl

[Source]

I hope you know how difficult my life became as a result of your lack of voting; it is SO HARD choosing an ice cream for yourself, I don’t think you understand this. Regardless, I made it through the difficult times and ended up with neither one of the options I presented, and I instead picked Ben & Jerry’s Hannah Teter’s Maple Blondie for myself. It is a “Limited Edition” flavor, and I hope that by the time you read this review they are no longer selling it in your area as punishment for your non-voting offenses, you lazy bastard.

I’d like to say that I picked this pint up in an act of good will (part of the sales from this flavor go towards Hannah’s Gold, Teter’s charity, which helps fund projects in Africa), but really I just saw it and decided that it would be the best weapon against combatting my craving for something tooth-rottingly sweet.

When I ripped off the lid, I was greeted immediately by a generous maple caramel swirl and a significant blondie chunk (if you look closely at the picture below, you can see said chunk lurking just below the surface of the ice cream in the bottom right portion of the pint).

Mmmm, so inviting.

I dug in, and was pleasantly surprised to find that this did not taste excessively of syrup: The ice cream is maple flavored, but not in a cloyingly sweet, Mrs. Butterworth’s kind of way. Basically, imagine sweet cream ice cream flavored with the most delicate, high quality maple syrup you’ve ever had—that’s what this ice cream tastes like. And, as for the maple caramel swirl, itself, it too was not excessively sweet; instead, it tasted predominately of the maple I just described but with with subtle caramel undertones. I had been expecting caramel akin to that which you’d find in a cheap candy bar, so the flavor of the swirl was unexpected, but welcome.

My only gripe with this ice cream was with the blondie chunks. They were a bit chewy for my taste, and while they had a nice brown sugar flavor,  it was difficult to detect at times as the blondies, themselves, seemed to have absorbed the maple syrup essence. So, rather than providing a nice flavor contrast, they instead blended into the background, taste-wise.

Also, if you’ve been reading On Second Scoop or any of several other food blogs, lately, you may have noticed that some writers went to the Ben & Jerry’s factory recently and received the following tip: In order to mimic that “just off the line” flavor/texture, you should leave your pint of ice cream out for a few minutes before eating it. Well, seeing as how it takes me twenty minutes to walk from the grocery store to my dorm, I inadvertently did this today, and I must say, it made a HUGE difference. Usually, I get on Ben & Jerry’s back for having ice cream that isn’t as creamy as other premium ice creams, but I think it’s just a matter of temperature. When I indulged in this flavor today, it was the creamiest pint of Ben & Jerry’s I’ve ever had, and I apologize for my previous attacks on the quality of their ice cream’s texture. However, I will say that twenty minutes probably isn’t necessary to achieved the desired effect (my pint was a little too melty)—ten minutes will probably suffice.

Choices, Choices

I love sugar. And, I would love to review more sugary products for you, so on Thursday I will probably venture out to get a pint of ice cream to soothe my final exam/essay oriented anxieties. But, there are two new products that I want to try that I can’t decide between, and I obviously can’t eat two pints of ice cream,* so instead I am going to let you choose. This way, I don’t have to put forth the immense amount of effort that would be required to choose which variety of ice cream to eat, and if I’m disappointed with said variety, then I can just blame my disappointment on the Internet. Yay!

POLL: OMG WHAT SHOULD I EAT?

Haagen-Daaz’s Pralines and Creme (This seems to be a flavor exclusive to the United Kingdom as it’s not featured on the U.S. website, but judging by the pint of said flavor that has mysteriously appeared in my local Walgreen’s freezer, I am guessing they are test driving it over here.)

OR

Ben & Jerry’s Milk and Cookies (Everyone and their brother seems to think this delicious. I WILL BELIEVE IT WHEN I TASTE IT.)

In conclusion: Leave a comment telling me what I should eat/review! I know you want to. Also, you are already on this blog and thus must have nothing better to do, you might as well just vote and humor me while you’re here.

* Well, technically I could; when I gained my “Freshman 15,” it was mostly as a result of my consuming two to three pints of Ben & Jerry’s in a day. Yeah, I know, right? Impressive.

Edit: Apparently, the Pralines and Creme is exclusive to Walgreen’s, and the U.S. version has caramel in it instead of toffee. Personally, I would prefer the toffee, but, whatevas. Also, no one is voting! Come on, help an indecisive lady out.

New Things Thursday: Potato Bread

[Source]

During the great Hight Fructose Corn Syrup purge of ’09, I neglected to check the ingredient list of one of my staples; my bread. For some reason, I just worked under the assumption that because my loaf of choice wasn’t particularly sweet, it must not have any wiggidy-whack sweeteners. Anyway, I came to the realization that my logic might be slightly flawed when, while home for break a while back, I found that my mom’s bread had the devil’s sugar in it and subsequently checked the ingredient list of my own loaf of choice. Le gasp! My beloved Pepperidge Farm Light Style Wheat Bread contained the dreaded HFCS! HOW COULD THIS BE?!

I was angered, but neglected to find a HFCS-free replacement for my bread; for one thing, I refused to pay more than 40 calories for a slice of bread, and for another, I just couldn’t find a single brand of bread that didn’t have HFCS in it. WTH?

As you may recall, though, I recently began to turn my back on low-fat, “weight management” foods, and I decided the HFCS-laden monstrosity that was my “Light Style” bread had to go. But, what to replace it with? Most other breads were—as I mentioned previously—afflicted with an ingredient list that contained HFCS, and many regular loaves had no nutritional value whatsoever. One day, however, I paused in front of the potato bread.

The brand carried by my grocery store invited me to “Compare [Their] Nutrition!”, and at the time I was pretty sure this was a challenge, so, affronted by the audacity of this bread, I accepted their duel invitation.

For your convenience, here’s my new bread’s basic nutritional statistics (for, I did take home the potato bread of the whole wheat variety that day) versus those of my old bread.

Per 1 Slice of Whole Wheat Potato Bread:

Calories: 70 calories (+30 calories)

Fat: 1 gram (+ .67 gram) – Note: This bread, like my old bread, has no saturated fat. So, this really doesn’t matter.

Fiber: 4 grams (+2 grams)

Protein: 6 grams (+4 grams)

So, basically the only drawback of this particular bread is the higher calorie count. But, I find it to be much more satisfying (probably because of the higher fiber/protein stats.) than light bread, and also much tastier, as potato bread is dense, hearty and a little bit sweet. Granted, I love carbohydrates in almost all of their forms, so when I say “I LOVE THIS BREAD” it doesn’t really mean much, but let me say this: While I used to make sandwiches with my old bread, I now take the slices of potato bread and eat them alongside what would have been my sandwich filling. Even when I eat my pre-workout snack of half a nutbutter sandwich, I take the time to peel off the non-nutbuttered crusts.

Mmmm, satiating.

Side-effects

Greetings from spring break, intraweb. No, I am not flashing dudes in Tijuana; instead, I am chillaxin’ while fully clothed in the homeland. It is nice.

I almost made it six weeks on plan as per my original goal, but my splurge day ended up coming a day early so I ultimately fell short a day. Still, in between now and my graduation I have an additional six weeks to lose any weight I gain over this week/get started on maintenance, so I am pretty pleased about that. And, seeing as how I kept my splurge day to, you know, only one day, I am hoping I’ll be back down to my maintenance weight by next Friday and able to take another shot at intuitive eating/maintenance. Yay! To be honest, though, this is my last shot at maintenance; if I can’t keep the weight off this time (give or take a few pounds—everyone’s weight fluctuates sometimes), I’ll just take it as a sign that 128 is too low a weight to maintain, and I’ll stop trying to stay at that point.

But, I’m much more confident in my ability to maintain my weight after this last splurge day: Like I already said, I kept it to one day and immediately got back on plan the day after the splurge, and—for having decided ahead of time I wouldn’t have to count calories that day—I didn’t do too terribly. Usually, I would be all up in my cupboards/the grocery store on a “no-calorie counting” day, but the only additional thing I purchased was a pint of ice cream, and the only thing I ate out of the cupboards was half a serving of tortilla chips. Everything else was Easter-oriented* and given to me or consisted of a restaurant meal with family. Anyway, I definitely feel like making an effort to break the bingeing habit over the past several weeks improved my overall self-control and made it so I didn’t want to binge on my splurge day, either (though I did definitely overeat; I’m up four pounds at the moment [Oops], but knowing how my body retains water, I’m not too concerned.)

Now, I’m off to enjoy this incredibly, laziness-inducing rainy day.

*Because spring break ends right after Easter, we decided to celebrate this weekend instead of next weekend.

Product Review: Ben & Jerry’s Mud Pie Ice Cream

When Ben & Jerry’s discontinued their “Vermonty Python” flavor, I just about flipped my shit.

No more “coffee liqueur ice cream with a chocolate cookie crumb swirl and fudge cows?” Like hell! And so, every day for approximately a year, I sent a letter to the company DEMANDING that they bring back my tasty, tasty treat.

“ARE YOU MAD. VERMONTY PYTHON WAS YOUR BEST FLAVOR.”

“WHY DO YOU KEEP PUTTING OUT NEW FLAVORS WITH CARAMEL. ARE YOU IN CAHOOTS WITH THE CARAMEL COMPANY I AM ON TO YOU.”

“SERIOUSLY YOU HAVE NO OTHER COFFEE FLAVORS BRING BACK VERMONTY PYTHON.”

And, yes, they were in all caps. I really like ice cream. Also, I am 90% sure there is someone at Ben & Jerry’s who is now mentally scarred because of my demands. I am OK with this.

Anyway, when the company recently released “Mud Pie,” I was pretty FRICKIN’ EXCITED, since the product description strongly resembled that of “Vermonty Python”: “Mud Pie” is described as “chocolate and coffee liqueur ice creams swirled together with a chocolate cookie swirl,” which is pretty much just “Vermonty Python” but with chocolate ice cream instead of fudge cows (which I wasn’t too fond of, anyway).

Unfortunately, “Mud Pie” failed to achieve the same delicious heights as its fallen brethren. To begin, the mixed ice cream flavor falls victim to “flavor disproportion” syndrome, which entails having much more of one flavor of ice cream than the other. In the case of “Half Baked,” another Ben & Jerry’s flavor that features two types of ice cream, this means the pint is always predominately chocolate ice cream (rather than an equal mix of chocolate and vanilla), and with “Mud Pie” it’s the same deal: There’s way more chocolate ice cream than the coffee liqueur variety. This wouldn’t be a huge problem except a) I’m not a huge fan of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate ice cream (it’s kind of bland for my taste; not especially rich or creamy, but more like chocolate milk that has been made into ice cream) and b) I bought “Mud Pie” because I wanted coffee liquor ice cream—if I wanted chocolate ice cream, I would have bought one of the many other flavors that have chocolate ice cream as its base.

I was even more disappointed, though, when I found that the “coffee liqueur” ice cream didn’t taste anything like the coffee liqueur ice cream that comprised “Vermonty Python.” Instead, it tasted more like the irish cream liqueur ice cream in Ben & Jerry’s “Dublin Mudslide” flavor, and when the coffee liqueur ice cream was eaten with a bit of the chocolate, “Mud Pie” essentially tasted JUST LIKE “Dublin Mudslide,” but without the latter flavor’s coffee fudge swirl.

I have to admit, the crisp, bittersweet chocolate cookie swirl in “Mud Pie” was quite tasty and plentiful, but I didn’t buy “Mud Pie” ice cream for the cookies and ultimately they weren’t enough to convince me that I should buy this flavor again. Indeed, I eventually put half the container in the trash, just because I didn’t feel like the remaining servings were worth the 270 calories a pop.

Ah, “Vermonty Python”—will no flavor be able to fill your delicious shoes?

New Things Thursday: Oat Bran

I’ve always been a cold cereal kind of lady; I don’t know why, but there’s something about crunching through a bowl of the stuff in the morning that gets me ready to seize the day. Like, OM NOM NOM I AM CRUNCHING YOU CEREAL LIKE I AM GOING TO CRUNCH THE WORLD TODAY. Alright, perhaps not. Still, most mornings I opt for cold cereal rather than hot. However, when I started lifting weights on a regular basis, I started including oatmeal with protein powder more frequently in my breakfast rotation. I’m a big fan of novelty, though, so when Tina mentioned on her blog that she had recently swapped out oatmeal for oat bran, I decided to give it a try myself.

And, I really like it. Oat bran is prepared the same way as oatmeal and tastes exactly the same as it’s breakfast-food brethren (i.e., it tastes kind of like nothing—oat bran is one of those “choose your own adventure/flavor” type of foods), but the texture is different and that’s what I’m really enjoying about it: Oat bran is chewier than oatmeal, and has smaller grains. It’s almost like eating quinoa or rice.

Anyway, here’s my evening snack of oat bran with milk and cinnamon/sugar:

… OK, this is a terrible picture and gives you no idea of the size/texture of oat bran. Just go look at Tina’s blog, she has a camera and photography skills.

ANYWAY, as and added bonus, a serving of oat bran has 30 fewer calories, two more grams of protein and two more grams of fiber than a serving of oatmeal that is the same size. Not a huge difference, but it adds up, ja? Also, I personally picked up the Hodgson’s Mill variety of oat bran, but I’m sure there are other tasty brans out there.

Ugh, weigh-in day tomorrow, and I really have my hopes up, which makes it worse; I’m really pulling for a number in my 120s, but we’ll see! I should really be focusing on non-scale victories, though, like not bingeing, rather than letting myself get wrapped up in a number. But, I just want to be DONE.

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