The other day I found myself in a quandary. I was in need of cupcakes, but the pantry was without a box of cake mix. I didn't want to go to the store so was left with but one option — to bake from scratch.
I'm not a baker. Mostly because I lack a penchant for measuring and exact oven temperatures. But when your kid needs cupcakes, you deliver cupcakes — in this case, from scratch.
I didn't think much of it.
Until a few days later when I related the experience to a few friends. They all had the same reaction — disbelief and shock.
"I'd never bake from scratch," they said. "Too risky."
I got the same response from my family a week later when we ran out of pancake mix. They assumed being out of pancake mix meant we couldn't make pancakes.
Ha! There's a Google solution for that.
I stirred together some flour, eggs and assorted baking sodas and powders and flipped out a batch of from scratch flapjacks. My family was impressed with my culinary magic. Who'd have ever thought you could make pancakes without a mix?
The kitchen and food can be mysterious and complex, daunting even. And we are busy. Let's not forget that. Convenience foods and mixes make our complex and hectic lives easier. I'm all about making life convenient and my freezer always contains some sort of premade waffles and pizza.
But in a pinch, I've found that going back to the basics isn't really that hard and we shouldn't forget that making things the old-fashioned way is doable. Many things in life seem mysterious and complex, until you understand them. Then they become simply a few ingredients waiting for you to mix together in a bowl.
You don't have to stop with pancakes. There are other typically pre-made food items you can create at home from scratch without scratching your head in frustration because they are really, truly easy to do.
Whipped cream made at home is so much better than the stuff in the plastic bowl or metal pressurized thingy. The ingredient list is short — cream, powdered sugar and air, which you whip in with a hand or electric beater. It takes just a few minutes. Any longer and you'll have butter, which you could also make at home. If you want a magnificent versus a great outcome you can add a dash of vanilla (to the whipped cream, not the butter). Why buy the cool or ready stuff when you can have real?
If you're feeling the love, you might want to try making yogurt. It's made with milk and a small amount of yogurt containing active cultures. Temperature and time are key, so if you're interested, you'll want to get the details through the Google.
Cheesecake is cream cheese (or the lower fat stuff), eggs and sugar. For every block of cheese (usually about four for an entire cheesecake), use one egg and a quarter cup sugar. You can add vanilla if you are feeling generous. After that, get inventive and add other flavors and ingredients — chocolate, berries, etc. Use whatever you like for the crust. Graham crackers are popular, but almost any cookie will do.
That's about all I have room for, but I could go on about mozzarella cheese, ice cream, corn dogs, chicken soup and so on.
Cooking from scratch — it's like having a magic science lab right in your own kitchen. And the best part is you get to eat the results.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.