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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Homemade taste from store bought packages and mixes

     Do you buy packages and mixes from the store for things like biscuits, muffins, cake, etc? At times, the mixes can be cheaper than baking from scratch (like when cake mixes fall to 89¢ each on sale.) You don't have to follow the mixing directions exactly however, and being a little creative can help the finished product taste more homemade. A few examples:
     Last week I made some banana nut muffins as an after school snack for my boys. I happened to have a couple package mixes in the cupboard. Each mix made 6 muffins. I mixed both up together to make a dozen muffins. The package called for nothing more than adding water to their mix, stir up, drop into a muffin pan and bake. Seeing as this was banana nut muffins, I added one banana for each package. I mashed the bananas, then added the mix. The package called for adding water. Depending on what's in my refrigerator I'll add milk even buttermilk. I added the amount of liquid called for on the mix but due to the added bananas it was still a little thick so added a couple more tablespoons of liquid til the consistency was right for the batter. Not too thick but not runny either. I added just a touch of mini-chocolate baking chips to the batter and stirred that in. Then filled the muffin tin and baked according to package directions. Tasted better than had I just added water as the package called for. In fact, my 3 sons loved them so much they ate the dozen muffins that same day!
    Today I'm using two packages of apple cinnamon muffin mix to bake up a dozen muffins. To boost their flavor and use up something in my pantry, I'm going to add a little unsweetened applesauce to the mix. I may need to reduce the amount of liquid called for due to the moisture in the applesauce. I'll sprinkle the top of the muffins with coarse Demerara Cane Sugar before baking.
    Do you have any leftover dry instant baby cereal? When my boys were little we got more infant cereal through WIC than they could actually eat. I googled online to see what others had done with the leftover cereal. If you're making muffins from scratch, you can replace about a third of the flour called for and replace it with the instant dry infant cereal flakes. It might be just slightly drier or heavier than usual, depending on how much you put in. Adjust the liquid in the recipe just a touch to compensate. Infant cereal is fortified with vitamins and minerals which you and your kids can take advantage of by adding them to the muffin mix. Infant rice cereal basically is tasteless so you can add it to anything. Infant oatmeal cereal works very well. My youngest is 6 and loves instant oatmeal with fruit for breakfast. However, if you make the oatmeal following directions (using either water or milk) it's always ends up with a runny consistency. I stir in just a touch of instant infant oatmeal cereal to thicken it up after it's cooked. The flakes dissolve almost instantly and thicken the oatmeal very nicely. And again, it adds those fortified vitamins and minerals to his breakfast.
    Last week when I prepared a mix for buttermilk pancakes, which called for mixing with water, since I had it on hand I used real buttermilk. I believe I had to add a little more mix than the directions called for to get the batter consistency right, but of course, they tasted great.
    You can add a little flavored extract to cake mixes. (Lemon or peppermint angel food cake anyone?) A touch of instant espresso powder will boost the chocolate flavor in cake or brownie mixes. Replacing the water called for with milk (skim, 2%, whole milk, even buttermilk) in biscuit or muffin mixes boosts the flavors. If you have a strip or two of leftover cooked bacon you could crumble it and add it to a biscuit mix when preparing it. Or you could put a little bit of shredded cheddar into the biscuit mix too for a bacon and cheddar biscuit. It just takes a little creativity and imagination to turn a prepared mix into something that tastes a little more homemade.

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