Saturday, August 31, 2013

Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

I would never call myself a "baker" because I simply enjoy making savory foods more than sweet (which is especially odd considering I have a major sweet tooth). I've always felt like I could be more creative with the savory side of the culinary arts, and it's easier to avert disaster with a sauce than it is with a soufflĂ©. Baking is a more precise, get-it-right-the-first-time-and-you-won't-know-if-you-did-it-right-until-you-pull-it-out-of-the-oven science. I don't like to fail, so if I'm going to do something to relax and enjoy myself, I'm not going to set myself up for disappointment.

Therefore, when it comes to baking, I like to stick with proven recipes I'm comfortable with. My little binder is filled with recipes that my mother passed down to me. Chocolate Chip Cookies. Great-Grandma's Banana Bread. Lemon Love Notes. Oatmeal Cookies. Kitchen-tested and foolproof, the way I like them.

I have house guests coming tomorrow, and decided to bake some cookies to have handy for desserts over the next few days. Trying to keep it on the healthy side, I opted for Oatmeal Cookies (Mom's recipe), substituting sucralose (my sweetener of choice, better known as Splenda) for sugar. While raisins might be a common ingredient in oatmeal cookies, I am not a fan of raisins (aka "humiliated grapes"). So I decided to try dark chocolate chips (aka "the healthy chocolate"). My husband eagerly volunteered to be my test subject for tasting my spin on "healthy cookies", and declared them to be yummy.

Per my mom's recipe, this makes about 5 dozen cookies. However, I tend to make them on the large side, so I come out with closer to 4 dozen. Either way, it makes a lot of cookies. If my coworkers are lucky, there will be leftovers for me to bring into the office. ;-)

April's Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 Cup Crisco All-Vegetable Shortening (plus some extra for greasing your cookie sheets)
2 Cups Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
1 Cup Splenda (Granulated)
2 Eggs
1/2 Cup Water
2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
2 Cups Flour
2 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Baking Soda
6 Cups Uncooked Quaker Quick Oats
10 oz Nestle Toll House Dark Chocolate Morsels

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the shortening, sugars, eggs, water and vanilla extract. Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda, and add it to the shortening mixture. Mix well. Blend in the oatmeal, then add the chocolate chips and incorporate them as evenly as possible through the batter.

Grease your cookie sheets. (I put about a half teaspoon of Crisco on a paper towel, and smear it evenly on the surface of the cookie sheet for each set of cookies I bake on it.) Measure out a generous tablespoon full of the batter for each cookie and place them on your cookie sheet, spaced about 1-2 inches apart. If you like your cookies moist and chewie, cook for 12 minutes. Cook them 15 minutes if you like them crispier.

Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for about 5 minutes before you remove the them with a spatula and place them on a wire rack to cool. After they've been allowed to cool for about an hour or so, put them in a cookie jar or another sealed container for storage.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Sweet and Skinny Breakfast Beverages

Until my husband and I moved to Texas, it never dawned on us to consider iced beverages to be breakfast fare. OJ? Yes. A nice, steaming cup of coffee or cocoa? Yes. Colas? No.

Here we discovered that Dr. Pepper, Coke and sweet tea are as popular for breakfast with Texas natives as coffee is in any other place outside of the South. It's easy to spot the natives in the morning at work, because they're the ones carrying in a bag of breakfast from Whataburger or Chik-fil-A along with a large cola. Non-natives are the ones carrying hot coffee, regardless of the time of year.

For those who don't know what sweet tea is, I heard it described this way:

"Brew some iced tea. Then add sugar to it until the sugar won't dissolve any more. That's sweet tea."

We tried it once at a local restaurant not long after we moved to Texas, when we decided to go Southern and order hush puppies and sweet tea with our burgers. While I don't think they added quite as much sugar to the tea as the quote above would suggest, I felt like I was going to wake up with a half-dozen cavities in my teeth the next morning. Haven't had it since.

So a tip to my fellow transplants: If you're looking for a sugar rush, try the sweet tea. Maybe just try it once for the experience. But if you are like me and try to keep your sugar intake to a minimum, if a waiter or waitress asks you "Sweet or unsweet?", go for "unsweet" and add sweetener to your own taste.

Have I otherwise embraced cold Texas breakfast drinks? Well, to a point, yes. Now, when the outside temperature climbs in the summertime, I prefer my coffee iced. The Egg and I has a nice iced coffee that I have enjoyed with my Saturday breakfast lately. But I have a diet secret that I'd like to share with the Starbucks fans out there who are trying to lose some weight: The lowest-calorie coffee beverage on the regular Starbucks menu is the Skinny Vanilla Latte. Served hot, a Tall is only 100 calories, and a Grande is 120 calories. An Iced Skinny Vanilla Latte is even better--a Grande is only 80 calories, because of the additional ice. When my husband and I want to stretch our legs and go for a good walk, but the weather outside isn't ideal, we go to the local mall and walk each level several times. Then we stop and pick up an Iced or Regular Skinny Vanilla Latte (depending on if we want a hot or cold beverage) as a diet-friendly treat.

I still miss having a Caramel Macchiato once in a while, but when I'm at a Starbucks it's nice to know I have an option beyond regular coffee that won't pack the pounds back on me.