"Why are these so flat?" my husband asked me.
He was talking about the pieces of cornbread that I had served with our dinner.
"I used a mix," I replied.
Let me explain. I was out of corn meal at home, and the store was out of yellow corn meal, and so I bought the "Jiffy" corn muffin mix instead. This particular dinner was a spicy stir fry, and I always like to have sweet corn bread with it to offset the spiciness.
I recently had another kitchen "crisis" involving a mix -- or rather, the lack of it. My daughter was coming home for her birthday, and I wanted to have a birthday cake waiting for her. I thought I had a yellow cake mix, but when I looked in my cabinet, I found that my only cake mix had expired six months ago. I didn't want to take a chance on it.
So I had two choices: go to the store and buy a newer mix, or go to my cookbook and bake a cake without a mix -- from scratch.
I have to admit that I almost always use a mix. It seems so much easier -- let Betty Crocker or Pillsbury do all that measuring of ingredients. Simply add a few things, only use one bowl, and it's done!
But I decided to consult my cookbook and proceed "from scratch."
As an English teacher, I started wondering what "from scratch" means. ... A little exploration on the Internet turned up an explanation that the phrase comes from "a line or mark drawn or scratched into the ground to indicate a boundary or starting-point in sports, especially cricket and boxing." So starting from scratch means starting from the start line, with no advantage. It came to be used in the cooking sense. ... from scratch, meaning without a pre-made mix.
But back to the birthday cake. I found I had all the necessary ingredients on hand that my cookbook required for "yellow cake" -- eggs, flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, milk and baking powder. I was a bit leery -- would I have a lot of dirty dishes? A lot of measuring cups and bowls? Would it take a long time to make? And would it taste OK, or would I put in all that effort for nothing, and wish I'd spent the time driving to the store for a mix instead?
Let me tell you: I was extremely, and pleasantly, surprised with the resulting cake. And so I'll let you in on a little secret that Betty Crocker and Pillsbury don't want you to know: baking a cake "from scratch" doesn't take much longer than using a mix. It isn't that difficult. It tastes delicious! And it doesn't have all those mysterious ingredients that you'd rather not read about in the small print on the side of the box containing the mix -- things like "propylene glycol monoesters" and "cellulose gum" and "polysorbate 60." As I said, it only took those seven ingredients. My Pillsbury expired mix had required three ingredients plus whatever was in the pre-made mix -- and I knew exactly what had gone into my from-scratch cake.
And the corn bread? Making corn bread from scratch requires only eight common household ingredients and not much more time than the "Jiffy" mix. And nobody complains that the corn bread "from scratch" is flat -- it rises nice and high and fluffy.
"Today it is a badge of honor to be able to say one made a culinary delight from scratch," Ask Yahoo tells me.
And so I'm wearing that badge of honor proudly. And it was incredibly easy to earn. Maybe next time I'll try making brownies from scratch, too.