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.

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.

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?