When I was a kid, before I started writing, I wanted to be a chef. I even watched Food Network back in its infancy (remember Ready, Set, Cook?). To this day I still watch a lot of Food Network and Cooking Channel – Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, Unique Eats/Sweets, etc. Unfortunately though, since I never had a kitchen of my own, I didn’t really carry over that hobby into adulthood outside of my television viewing. I can make a mean grilled cheese or egg breakfast, but I was always “too busy to cook.” It was easier to let my mom make her twenty- or thirty-minute meals for dinner since that’s what we were used to eating. Perfectly tasty, don’t get me wrong, but she rarely goes outside her repertoire.
So now that she’s had jury duty for three weeks, I’ve been cooking her usual meals. Bolognese using jar sauce, linguine and clam sauce (from a soup can), breading chicken cutlets and throwing them into the oven – all simple stuff even I couldn’t mess up. It’s gone over pretty well so far since no one has any expectations of my cooking ability. Naturally, whenever I get the slightest bit of confidence in any department, I decide to get a little creative. Why not bake cupcakes from scratch for Mom’s birthday? We’re typically a “box mix” family (immediate family at least – my cousin is an actual pastry assistant), but how hard can it be to throw together a simple vanilla cupcake?
A simple recipe gets much more complicated when you don’t have all the ingredients. Much like a game of Chopped, I spent a good amount of time reviewing what ingredients I had and figuring out what to do with them.
Here’s how my experience went.
Step 1: Pick this vanilla cupcake recipe from FoodNetwork.com.
Step 2: Do we have baking powder? Mom has to have baking powder somewhere, right?
Step 3: Spend half hour looking for baking powder. Find all the way in the back of last cabinet I could have checked.
Step 4: Gather other ingredients. Holy crap, we’re almost out of sugar. How can we be out of sugar? That’s a staple! Well, there’s some in here, maybe I have 2/3 cup…almost…close but no cigar. How bad would it be if I threw in some confectioners sugar to make up the difference? Probably bad. Do we have sugar packets?
Step 5: Round up every sugar packet I can find. Still short of 2/3 cup. Thanks to all my food TV viewing, I think about using a substitute to use with the sugar. Honey? For once we don’t have any, of course. Wait, maple syrup! That could be good!
Step 6: Google for another recipe that uses maple syrup and less than 2/3 cup of sugar. Success! I don’t have “imitation maple flavoring,” but what the hell, I’ll improvise.
Step 7: Hesitantly prepare all my ingredients. Wet ingredients look good, mix together flour and baking powder (leaving out salt because we have salted butter – thought of that thanks to a comment on the Food Network recipe).
Step 8: Hit next obstacle. Recipe did not clarify at first to mix milk and syrup in third bowl, so I put them both in with the dry ingredients. Oops. It looks like the beginning of a cookie dough. Well, I’m not wasting the flour, so this goop is going in the wet mixture whether it likes it or not. I’ll just go to town with the electric mixer and hope for the best.
Step 9: Brute force works. The batter is smooth. Cupcake liners go into tins, batter into liners (with a good amount of spillage that I clean up after), trays into the preheated oven. Yay! Set the timer and clear out of the kitchen before I’m cooked along with the cupcakes. Maybe I’ll wait until the fall before I try this again.
Step 10: Remove trays from oven, test with a toothpick. They look presentable!
Step 11: Taste test. Moment of truth time.
And it’s good! Not bad at all, I can definitely taste the maple syrup. Since it’s still very hot in my house I decide not to frost them until later. We have Cool Whip so instead of frosting I mix it with some vanilla extract after dinner.
The End! I might try some new recipes next week, so if those turns out to be anything like this, I’ll make some more culinary-themed posts.