February 9, 2010

The Art of Unprepared Cookery

Keene said to me last night, "You should host a cooking show called 'Cooking for the Unprepared.'" I am constantly getting the itch to cook or bake something specific, only to find I'm missing one or two crucial ingredients. Other folks may pop over to the grocery store first. But oh no, not me. I like to substitute. I google. "Substitute for eggs." "Substitute for milk." "Substitute for baking soda."

In my defense, if the results of these Dr. Moreau-like experimentations tasted badly, I wouldn't keep doing it. Well, I might not keep doing it.

One night, I was determined to make Christmas sugar cookies (using zoo animal cutouts since, naturally, I didn't have Christmas-themed cutouts). I started mixing before I checked the full list of ingredients. Sugar: check. Butter: check. Egg whites: check, though my inability to separate eggs (even though I understand the concept and have the tool for it) is unbelievable. Vanilla and flour: check and check. Cream of tartar: che--um, wait. Crap. "Substitute for cream of tartar". It says I can use lemon juice, but I don't have lemon juice. ::shakes fist at sky::

I figured, "Eh, it's just half a teaspoon. No one will notice if I leave it out." I skipped off to the cupboard to get the baking soda. No soda. Double-crap. On the bright side, we have two full cans of baking powder. Back to google. "Substitute baking powder for baking soda"?

Then I discovered if your recipe calls for both cream of tartar AND baking soda (which it does!), you can just use baking powder. "One teaspoon baking powder is equivalent to 1/4 teaspoon baking soda plus 5/8 teaspoon cream of tartar." My recipe called for 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar. I stared at that for a bit. I thought about asking my 9-year-old son to figure it out for me, but realized he wouldn't learn complex fractions until the following year. Fortunately, Keene seems to have a calculator in his head, so I enlisted his help. He looked as if he wanted to say something, but didn't. He figured out the answer, then went back to his computer. Good man, there.

After I mixed all of the ingredients together, I looked at the next step: "Roll into 2" balls." Huh, so apparently, these cookies aren't really meant to be cut into shapes after all. Well, that wouldn't stop me. I rolled them into little sticky balls, baked them a tad too long, pulled them out, THEN cut them into shapes. Take that, recipe!

That is a typical night of baking for me. My family has just learned to accept it. However, last night, I redeemed myself.

Keene made chili and I wanted to make cornbread to go along with it. I pulled out one of those $0.44 blue boxes of corn muffin mix. I happily poured it into a bowl, poured the 1/3 cup of milk in, then looked in the fridge for eggs. Crap. Who does the shopping around here anyways?! "Substitute for eggs." "Just add 150ml of milk for every egg." I hesitated, then said to Keene, "Eh, may as well try!" then poured in more milk.

Let me tell you: the corn bread turned out wonderfully. When cooked properly (which, contrary to popular belief, I have cooked many things the right way), the bread is dry and crumbly. However, when using only milk, it was moist and kept its form and didn't make your mouth feel as though you're chewing on sand. Huzzah! The kids licked their plates after eating the bread, then each asked for a second piece. I said repeatedly, "My, this is sure tasty, don't you think, Keene? Who needs eggs, anyways. Mmm..."

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