I actually wrote this entry several months ago when I was writing under another blogging alias, The Frugal Student. However, I recently found the entry, remembered what a RIDICULOUS cooking experience this was, and decided to share it with all of you. I wrote this entry write after my undergrad graduation (about eight months ago), and I was cooking in my old apartment kitchen- which just makes me appreciate my new giant kitchen. Seriously, my new kitchen is a palace compared to the shoebox I cooked in for a year.
So in the weeks since graduation, I’ve been indulging in some of the finer things in life. Basically, I’ve been doing a lot of sleeping and eating. Mostly sleeping. But I’ve also been doing a fair amount of culinary exploration. Which brings me to my next point: Have you met the Hungry Girl?
Hungry Girl is the pen name and brand created by Lisa Lillien. From what I can gather, Lisa is just your average girl who’s been trying to create delicious, healthy food which tempt the taste buds without killing diet plans. Then, after becoming really successful on the internet(z) she decided to take her dog and pony show on the road, and voila! She’s created an internationally known brand. Since The Frugal Student is a true fan of the DIY spirit and all it entails, Lisa’s story is not just inspirational, but a good jumping off point for new recipe ideas. With that in mind, I decided to take a little bit of my grad cash and buy the Hungry Girl’s cookbook “200 Under 200: 200 Recipes Under 200 Calories.”
Ok, before I go any further, let me just say that anyone who knows me is well aware that I am the modern definition of a book worm. I actually collect copies of “The Joy Of Cooking”, and have a fiction collection which requires the purchase of a new bookshelf. However, while I absolutely adore large, franchise bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble (c‘mon, who doesn‘t love sipping overpriced coffee while looking at wall-sized imaginings of Oscar Wilde?), I would not recommend that the average broke student/person patronize stores like this when money is tight and there are so many other options available for the purchase of books. For example, your local used bookstore is the best source for new books and, depending on the store, movies and music as well. I mean, think about it: why buy a new copy of a book when you can just wait for someone else to read it, and buy their gently used copy? Used bookstores are basically the ‘middle man’ version of putting up posters around town saying, “Hey! I read this book and don’t need it anymore. Do you want it?” For example, I got my barely used copy of “200 Under 200” for the bargain price of 8.00, including tax.
Now let’s say I couldn’t find a copy of “200 Under 200” that day, and/or I didn’t live in an area with a rockin’ used bookstore. This a time for the wonderful world wide web, specifically half.com or Paperback Swap. These are basically the internet examples of getting used books on the cheap. Paperback swap is especially awesome, as you gain credit by trading your own books.
Wow. Even for me, that was a pretty ridiculous tangent. Anyway, back to the Hungry Girl: so a few days ago I decided to try out her recipe for cinnamon rolls. Now, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but every once in awhile I enjoy a bite of something very sugary. The Hungry Girl swears by a number of products I don’t typically use, but I decided to stretch my mind so I could try this recipe while maintaining some of its integrity. But of course, because I’m The Frugal Student, I did make a few adjustments.
HG’s Gooey Cinnamon Rolls With Cream Cheese Icing
1 package Pillsbury Reduced Fat Crescent Rolls refrigerated dough
16 sprays I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Spray
¼ cup dark brown sugar (not packed)
¼ cup Splenda No Calorie Sweetener (granulated)
½ tablespoon light whipped butter or light buttery spread, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup Cool Whip Free, thawed
3 tablespoons fat-free cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon Splenda No Calorie sweetener (granulated)
Ok, FIRST OF ALL: I don’t believe in only buying name brand products. And trust me, it’s not just because I can’t afford them. Ok, that plays a giant role. But also, there are many house brands which taste just as good as big name products. For example, I found the Harris Teeter brand crescent rolls to be just as tasty as Pillsbury, for a fraction of the price. Also, for those of you who don’t know, splenda is really F****** expensive. Also, I don’t typically buy no-cal sweeteners (I prefer to use honey and/or agave nectar.) But I did invest in a giant bag of Great Value no-cal sweetener. And I’m not convinced splenda is that much better*. The point is, there are some house brands (Great Value, Harris Teeter, Fit and Active**, Trader Joes) which rival the most commercialized products out there. So even if a recipe calls for a very specific brand, don’t be afraid to try out the less expensive alternative. Just for fun, I’ll include which brands I actually used as I go through the recipe so you can see what worked (and what should possibly be upgraded*.)
*Um, we’ll revist this topic later in the recipe review.
**Fit and Active is a great house brand at Aldi. There are a wide variety of Fit and Active products, and they are all really awesome (especially the dried fruits, and whole wheat pasta.)
Ok, so STEP ONE in this recipe: “Preheat oven to 375 degrees.”
Yes, I included this step because this is something I tend to forget about until I’m ready to start baking. Anyway, preheat your fracking oven.
STEP TWO: “To make filling, combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring well to make sure the butter gets mixed in evenly. Set aside.”
Ok, prepare yourself for my first screw up (the first of many, might I add.)
Now, in my opinion, I have a very well stocked kitchen and “pantry” (the term pantry is being used loosely to define the singular cabinet into which my roommate and I cram all of our dry ingredients.) I have multiple forms of sugar, but guess what I don’t have? Dark brown sugar. However, I do have light brown sugar. Which, of course, is hard as a rock because it’s been sitting in the back of a cabinet for several months. Hm. What to do? Well, I’ve actually read extensively about salvaging crunchy brown sugar from a life of crystallized rock-hood, and after a bit of reconstructive work (hyperlink), I brought my bag of sugar back from the dead and was able to use it in this recipe. The result? Um, I’m not a pastry chef or any sort of food scientist, but I am of the personal opinion that there’s a distinct reason why recipes call for a specific type of ingredient. In fact, this is not the same as substituting store brand ranch for Hidden Valley- ultimately, light and dark brown sugar are molecularly different and can’t be used interchangeably. I’m not saying this caused a huge problem, but in the future I will definitely be using the correct type of brown sugar.
Also, I made this recipe before I invested in my bag of no-cal sweetener. I’m sure you can guess that the results of this recipe had something to do with my decision to buy a new product. Just for the record,
DOES NOT EQUAL
However, my filling did eventually come together, in spite of my haphazard ingredient renovations.
STEP THREE: “To make icing, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix until smooth and blended. Place in the fridge to chill and set.”
Time for the second screw-up- No, the problem wasn’t the Harris Teeter fat-free whipped topping I used (which, in my opinion, is just as good as Cool Whip brand.) It was the DEFINITELY NOT room temperature cream cheese I attempted to beat with it. If a recipe calls for something to be room temperature, take it out of the fridge more than five minutes before you need it. Also, again, agave nectar is not the same as splenda. Texture is more important than I can say. Now, after my very interesting experience with the filling, I knew I couldn’t get away with the agave method again. So instead I decided to use ½ tablespoon regular sugar combined with ½ tablespoon agave nectar. First of all, the addition of agave nectar and regular sugar dramatically alters the caloric intake of this recipe. But also, the texture of the icing was slightly off. Not really ‘bad’, but definitely different.
STEP FOUR: “Prepare a dry surface by sprinkling it with a small amount of flour to prevent sticking. Remove dough from package and kneed into a ball. Using a rolling pin dusted lightly with flour, very firmly roll out dough into a thin sheet about 8 inches by 12 inches. Spray the dough’s surface evenly with butter.”
This went smoothly enough. Since our kitchen space is about 5’x3’ (I wish I were kidding), there’s not nearly enough counter space for me to roll out dough without risking the dough touching other non-dough items. Therefore, I always use these awesome, super cheap cutting boards from ikea as a rolling surface. Oh, and my rolling pin? Definitely came from target, at the price of $2.50. I’ve had it for quite some time, but before that I’m not ashamed to admit I swore by the canned food rolling pin. I have to say, though, an actual rolling pin is a serious upgrade. Also, I used Parkay spray instead of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! and couldn’t tell a definite difference.
STEP FIVE: “Spread filling out evenly over dough, leaving a ½ inch border around the edges.”
STEP SIX: “Starting with a long side of the dough, roll it up tightly, forming a log. Once dough is completely rolled up, pinch the long seam to seal.”
STEP SEVEN: “Turn the log over so that the seam is facing down. Using a very sharp knife, cut log into 8 even pieces, being careful not to squish dough.”
STEP EIGHT: “Spray a baking pan with nonstick spray and arrange pieces of dough in the pan with swirl sides facing up. Use your hands to firmly press down on the tops of the pieces. Pinch the side seams to seal, if necessary.”
So do these look a little extra gooey to you, like maybe the filling is oozing out of the top a little too enthusiastically? Uh, yeah. Once again: don’t use agave nectar AT ALL.
STEP NINE: “Cover pan with aluminum foil. Bake in the oven for 8 minutes. Remove foil and return pan to oven. Bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until cinnamon rolls have risen and are slightly browned on top.”
During step nine I whipped up an easy egg white omelette to enjoy with my cinnamon roll.
STEP TEN: “Evenly distribute icing over cinnamon rolls and then enjoy!”
All in all, I thought the rolls tasted pretty delish, even with my slight recipe malfunctions. But trust me, the fun wasn’t over after I’d put my cinnamon rolls in some regifted tupperware and stored them in the fridge. Then I had to deal with this:
I don’t know if you can tell, but the pan is absolutely coated in cinnamon roll filling which oozed from the rolls into a hardened glaze on the baking sheet. Damnit. Damn, Damn, Damn.
I bet the Hungry Girl doesn’t have to put up with s*** like this.