Friday, September 23, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies For the Cheapskates

I adore cookies.  I love making them.  I love eating the dough.  I love the reaction my family has to a freshly baked batch of cookies.  I love eating a cookie straight out of the oven.  Cookies are Love.  (And my thighs and backside show how much love I have in my life.)

Here's the recipe, with a story to follow about the ingredients and how I cut costs without cutting flavor.

Cheapskate Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup margarine
2/3 c vegetable shortening (butter flavor is nice too if you have it)
1/2 c white sugar
1 1/2 c brown sugar
2 t vanilla
2 eggs
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
3 cups flour
1 1/2 c chocolate chips
1/2 to 3/4 c nuts (optional)

Cream the margarine, shortening, and sugars.  Mix in the vanilla and eggs until well blended.  Stir in the baking soda, salt, and flour.  Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.  Drop 2 T size balls onto ungreased baking sheets and bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 12 minutes.   Remove from oven when edges are golden brown and the very center looks just a little doughy.  Let rest on cookie sheets for five minutes, then put on cooking racks.  Try not to burn yourself eating them hot from the oven.

The story:
  My favorite cookie recipe over the last few years has been the chocolate chip cookie recipe from ATK.  It painfully calls for half a pound of butter and four eggs.  That's on top of the package of chocolate chips, nuts, and the other ingredients that all recipes call for.  That makes a batch of cookies cost around $7 these days.  As much or more than I budget for dinners.  Sadly, with the recent price hikes at the grocery store and the lack of paycheck hikes going on our household, I had to rethink our food budget and pricey cookie recipes just don't work for us anymore.

Something had to change.  My first step was to go back to my old favorite from years ago that called for margarine.  I can hear you screaming from here.  Yes, I know that butter is healthier and it's nicer and it makes babies happy and brings you kittens, rainbows and happy thoughts.  Butter is nice.  Butter is also $3 a pound for the store brand.  $4 a pound if you want something with actual flavor.   Margarine is 1/3 to 1/4 the price.  Since cookies aren't that healthy for you anyway, I don't sweat the margarine.

I also use Crisco.  Purists and foodies can leave now.  The rest of you stick around.

My second step was to stop buying chocolate chips at the grocery store.  I have my mom pick me up a huge bag of semi-sweet chips at Costco.  This is the industrial size bag in a brand I've never heard of before, Ambrosia.  They are good chips, no Ghiradelli's but we're trying to save money here.  When I get these chips I have to measure them out for each batch of cookies.  If I leave them all in the big bag, they get eaten (by my husband.  Not so much by me.  I'm a milk chocolate girl.)   Instead of doing 2 cup portions, a full 12 oz. size, I do 1 1/2 cup size portions.   It gets me several extra portions of chips out of the package. I promise, I don't miss that extra half cup of chocolate chips. Last time I had 17 sandwich bags of chips from one big bag. It worked out to be less than $1.50 per baggie.  That's about $3 less than brand name chips per batch. I throw the sandwich bags back in the resealable original bag and put it in the freezer for long term storage.  It's probably not the way you'd treat premium chocolate, but it's great for chocolate chips.

I also use imitation vanilla for cookies.  There's almost no difference in flavor in baked items between imitation and the real deal.  If you consume cinnamon you aren't allowed to pull the "imitation vanilla is made from tree bark" argument.  Food comes from all parts of plants.  I'm ok with that.

The ATK cookies are still part of my cookie line up, but they are reserved for special occasions and guests.  For the occasional after school snack, Cheapskate cookies are just fine.  I figure my less expensive cookies cost approximately $4 less to make than the ATK version.  They still taste like Love even without the butter.

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