In Pictures: Christmas Cookies

You Can Probably Eat More Christmas Cookies than You Think

Patricia Smith and Jay L. Zagorsky wrote . . . . . . . . .

It’s that time of year when cookies, cakes, candy and treats show up at work, home and every place in between.

As researchers who have investigated obesity, people’s body image, and fast food and other nutritional topics we often get questions from people concerned about their weight and how they can avoid eating too much.

When we analyze Food and Drug Administration data, however, we find something surprising and possibly heartening: Many people underestimate how many calories nutritionists estimate they should consume each day.

Put another way, we think we’re overeating when in fact we may not be.

Know your caloric benchmark

One of the most important things to know during the often food-centric holidays if you want to avoid gaining weight is how many calories you can consume each day.

On most packages of food you will see a box listing nutritional facts. The majority of these boxes show values for fat, cholesterol, sodium and other nutritional information based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet. Although the label is currently undergoing a redesign, the 2,000 daily calorie figure will not change.

Based on these labels, consumers often think that 2,000 calories is the recommended amount they should consume each day. Yet it is wrong for most people.

Caloric breakdown

In fact, the U.S. government releases more accurate guidelines stating how many calories different types of adults should consume.

The government separates adults aged 18 and over into many categories based on age and how active a person is each day.

In general, the younger and more energetic you are, the more calories you can consume. For example, active 18-year-old men need 3,200 calories per day, while women with the same characteristics need only 2,400. Sedentary men in their 50s require 2,200 calories, while sedentary women in the same age group need just 1,600 calories.

At the extreme end, elite athletes like the swimmer Michael Phelps consume up to 12,000 calories during training periods.

In the government’s table, some categories cover only a single year, like being 18 years old; some cover a five-year range, like 36 to 40; and others cover many years, like 76 and up. On the whole, however, fewer than 20 percent of the categories have recommendations for exactly 2,000 calories, a standard that appears to have been chosen because it was in the general ballpark for many people and, well, it was easy to use.

If you don’t want to pore over the table to figure how many calories you should consume a day, websites exists with online calculators that will help you pinpoint your personal caloric goal.

Few people know accurately

One of the more interesting things we noticed while doing our research is that most people don’t know how many calories they can consume without gaining weight.

It is hard to know whether you can eat another holiday treat if you don’t know your daily calorie recommendation. Or, for that matter, how many calories are in that delicious-looking ginger snap – about 28 – or slice of apple pie – about 300.

The Federal Drug Administration periodically runs nutritional surveys with randomly selected people aged 18 and over in the U.S. The most recent survey was given to more than 1,200 individuals in 2014. In that survey, the FDA asked respondents: “About how many calories do you think a man (or woman) of your age and physical activity needs to consume a day to maintain your current weight?”

Using their answers and their demographic details, it is possible to calculate how close people’s estimates are to the actual levels recommended by the government. Even without knowing how much respondents exercised, the answers were stunning.

Forty percent of respondents thought people like themselves should be consuming fewer than 1,500 calories per day, which is less than lowest caloric recommendation for any age and activity group in the U.S. dietary guidelines. Another 10 percent or so offered a figure higher than 1,500 but still underestimated the correct value for someone of their age and gender who lives a sedentary life.

An additional 5 percent overestimated their recommendation, going even higher than the suggestion for an active person of their age and gender. And 10 percent of respondents said they didn’t know how many calories a person like him or herself should consume. The remaining 35 percent provided a figure that was exactly what the FDA recommended or quite close.

In other words, about two-thirds of respondents didn’t know how many calories they should consume a day – and most of those assumed it’s lower than what it actually is.

That so many adults in the U.S. have mistaken perceptions is important because it is hard to lose or gain weight if you don’t know how much you should eat. People who don’t know their caloric target cannot hit it.

Moreover, the target is likely more generous than many people think. This is at odds with the fact that over two-thirds of all people in the U.S. are either overweight or obese. This means there is a wide gap between the perception of how many calories should be eaten and how many calories people actually are consuming.

Can you eat that cookie?

The next step after learning how many calories can be consumed is to track how many are being eaten each day.

This is just like spending on holiday gifts. The simplest way to avoid overspending is to first set a financial budget and then track spending to ensure you stay on track.

So can you eat one or two of those delicious looking holiday cookies? Maybe “yes” today, if you haven’t already consumed too many calories.

Source: The Conversation

Infographic: What 100 Calories of Holiday and Christmas Cookies Looks Like

Source: Consumer Reports

Easy Recipes with Hot Chocolate

Deena Shanker wrote . . . . . . .

Few winter-time pleasures are more basic (in a good way) than a cup of hot cocoa — although if you’re sipping on something that started as a powder, you are missing out. Making hot chocolate from actual chocolate is neither difficult nor ingredient intensive, but the rich, luxurious results will shame every last packet of Swiss Miss sitting in your pantry.

Below are four recipes for at-home, made-from-scratch hot chocolate. The key for each is to start off with high-quality chocolate. Do that, and you’ll never use a powder again.

Water-Based Drinking Chocolate

Despite having only two ingredients—just dark chocolate and water—this recipe is not for the faint of heart. The purity of the combination makes for an intense, decadent experience that those accustomed to traditional cocoas might find too rich. Cookbook author Megan Giller got this recipe from Aubrey Lindley, co-owner of cult chocolate shop Cacao in Portland, Ore. She recommends it as a way to try different kinds of single-origin or blended chocolates, because the water base won’t distract from their flavors the way a milk or cream base would.

From Bean to Bar Chocolate: America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution by Megan Giller

Makes 2 servings

1-1/2 cups water
8-1/2 ounces dark chocolate (68 percent to 75 percent cocoa), chopped

Bring the water to a boil in a small pan. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Cover and let sit for 30 to 45 seconds.

Whisk gently and scrape the bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula to make sure the chocolate isn’t stuck to it. Put the pan back on the burner (keep it turned off) and let it rest until the chocolate is completely melted, 2 to 3 minutes.

Whisk vigorously for a minute or two to emulsify completely. Check the consistency by seeing if it sticks to the back of a clean spoon. If it is lumpy, keep mixing. If it sticks and is smooth, you are finished. Don’t confuse bubbles for clumps; small air bubbles are OK. Some bits of chocolate will stubbornly remain at the bottom of the pan, but don’t worry about them.

Serve warm. The flavors and texture will evolve as it gradually cools and rests.


Simple Chocolate Sauce for Hot Chocolate on the Go

For those looking to make easy hot cocoa again and again, or who just like a milder beverage with a milky base, this recipe is the one for you. Make the sauce once, stick it in your fridge, and use it over the next few weeks at your leisure. Nate Hodge, co-founder of Brooklyn’s luxe bean-to-bar Raaka Chocolate, recommends 2 tablespoons of sauce per cup of warm milk or milk alternative, although you’re free to add more (but probably not less, let’s be honest) as you like.

From The Art and Craft of Chocolate by Nate Hodge, forthcoming in 2018.

Makes 2 cups of sauce

1 cup of purified water
1 cup of sugar
7 ounces of dark chocolate

To make sauce:

Put the water and sugar into a small saucepan and put on medium high heat. Allow the liquid to come to a boil. Keep it at a boil for 5 minutes. Cut the heat on the stove, move the pan to a cool burner, and slowly mix in the chocolate with a whisk. Mix until the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is smooth.

Pour into a jar and allow to cool. If kept in an airtight jar in the refrigerator, the sauce should keep fresh for 3-4 weeks.

To make hot chocolate:

Add 2 tablespoons of chocolate sauce to a cup of warm milk or milk alternative. To jazz it up, grate an ounce of dark chocolate on top using a microplane.


Mission Hot Chocolate

This more advanced recipe from Dandelion Chocolate is an homage to San Francisco’s Mission District, where Dandelion has its cafe and whose Mexican American population has made the neighborhood a center of food, culture, music, and murals. Spicy and rich, it could be its own dessert course and adapts particularly well for vegans. Simply replace the nonfat and whole milks with unsweetened almond milk. Dried pasilla chiles can be found in the Latin food section of your supermarket or in specialty shops.

From Making Chocolate: From Bean to Bar to S’more by Todd Masonis, Greg D’Alesandre, Lisa Vega, and Molly Gore

Makes 5 servings

1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon ground pasilla
1 cup nonfat milk or unsweetened almond milk
1-1/4 cups 70-percent chocolate chips
1 vanilla bean
4 cups whole milk

Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne, and pasilla in a small bowl, whisking to combine. Set aside.

Using a paring knife, gently slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the beans from the inside of the pod using the back of the knife blade. Set seeds aside.

Heat the nonfat milk in a very large heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. When milk is steaming (hot to the touch), add the chocolate to the bowl. Whisk chocolate and milk mixture together until the chocolate is fully combined and the ganache is thick and shiny.

Add the brown sugar spice mixture and vanilla bean seeds to the ganache and whisk until incorporated, continuing to heat the mixture over the pot.

Add whole milk to the ganache, whisking to combine. Heat hot chocolate for another 5 minutes, whisking occasionally, until steaming. Remove bowl from pot and serve immediately.


Molten Chocolate Cookies

Just in case you or your loved ones are not the hot chocolate types (gasp!), this cookie serves a similar purpose. It’s rich, it’s delicious, and it’s best savored slowly (good book optional). Thanks to their large size—only 8 cookies on each baking sheet—and their dramatic, gooey centers, think of it as a cup of hot chocolate in cookie form. Just be careful not to overcook, which will ruin that fudgy center.

From Guittard Chocolate Cookbook by Amy Guittard

Makes 16 cookies

2-1/4 cups Guittard Semisweet Chocolate Baking Wafers
3 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate wafers and butter together using a hot water bath or the microwave oven (see Note: Melting Chocolate, page 51). Stir until completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the water if you used a hot water bath and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, with a hand mixer, beat together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla until pale yellow and slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cooled melted chocolate mixture. Gradually stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, or up to overnight.

Scoop 2‑inch (5‑cm) mounds onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches (5 cm) between the cookies; the cookies will spread as they bake.

Bake for 12 minutes, or until crusty on the outside but soft in the center. Leave the cookies on the baking sheet for 3 to 5 minutes to firm up, then serve immediately.

Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Reheat to achieve the molten chocolate gooeyness by microwaving them for 10 seconds.

Source: Bloomberg

Video: Cast Iron Chocolate Chip Cookie

The popular dessert served by the New York City gastropub Boulton & Watt is a fresh baked-to-order cookie in a mini cast iron skillet with a frosted pitcher of strawberry milk.

Watch video at Business Insider (1:18 minutes) . . . . .