People who know me sometimes lament, “You love to cook—what about someone like me who hates to cook but loves to eat and has a family to cook for every day after work? I need to eat out or buy convenience foods to survive.”
Well, yes, we all do need time off from cooking from time to time and I am no exception, but with budgets tightening and health concerns rising and especially this covid-19 stay at home order, eating other peoples’ cooking is even harder. When we are back at work, convenience foods will once again send their siren song to us, but why not take this opportunity at home to make your own convenience foods for later?
I am talking about making your own convenience foods in the form of “mixes” for lack of a better all-encompassing word. By making your own mixes you can have scrumptious meals for less than half the price of store mixes, plus you have control over the ingredients you put into them. Most of them are a cinch to make and really don’t take much time—just a few hours set aside once a month and the quantities of ingredients needed for the mixes you are planning to make.
An old book (1978) called Make-A-Mix Cookery by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward and Madeline Westover has been in my possession since it was new and I was raising a family. I used it then to cut costs and yes, convenience as well. Later as our family size dwindled down I found that the mixes that I had been making made it easy to make a small cake or a small batch of cornbread—or any of the dishes I made huge batches of in the old days. A new and expanded edition of Make-A-Mix came out in 1995 and it is still a very good resource.
Then there is the matter of health—which has really come to the forefront since this book was written. Most everybody is trying to avoid the partially hydrogenated fats, the food colors, artificial flavors and preservatives that are listed on every box or package—most of them unpronounceable and foreign to us non-chemist types.
A perfect example of this is the ordinary cake mix. Most people who make cakes at home do use mixes and they are good! Plus, at anywhere from $.99 to 1.50, they don’t seem very expensive. But just compare the list of ingredients. First, Duncan Hines’ Moist Deluxe Classic Yellow Cake in order: sugar, enriched bleached wheat flour, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, propylene glycol mono- and di-esters of fats, mono and di-glycerides, leavening, wheat starch, salt, dextrose, poly-glycerol esters of fatty acids, cellulose gum, artificial flavors, xanthan gum, maltodextrin, modified cornstarch, colored with yellow 5 lake, red 40 lake. Now, the homemade mix: cake flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, 0-trans-fat vegetable shortening. Or, if you don’t want to use any vegetable shortening, you can substitute coconut oil or butter. The total cost for this mix, enough to make a 2-layer cake (same as the packaged) is $.40. The mix has you add three eggs, and vegetable oil; the cost of the add-ins of the homemade mix (eggs, milk, vanilla) are included in the $.40.
There are basically three kinds of homemade mixes: 1) Dry which are good for about 6-8 months; 2) Semi-Dry which can be stored for 10-12 weeks; using coconut oil or vegetable shortening. If you use butter, freeze the mix. 3) Freezer-Refrigerator (variable, long-term).
Here are a few examples of mixes you can make in each category:
Dry mixes: Hot Roll mix, Pancake Mix and Pudding and Pie Mix. Semi-dry: Wheat Mix, Basic Cake Mix and Gingerbread Mix. Freezer-Refigerator mixes: Braised Beef Cube mix, Mexican Meat mix and Moist Pie Crust Mix.
The most important factor, however, is taste—and these mixes really pass the test. The cake mix is fantastic and makes many desserts for which the recipes are in the book. There are actually 56 mixes and about 200 recipes.
Here is an easy, quick and delicious cake you can make in a jiffy; it’s small so it works well for the smaller family or a snack cake.
Master Cake Mix
8 cups cake flour (you can substitute 7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour and 1 cup cornstarch
6 cups sugar
¼ cup baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2-1/2 cups vegetable shortening, coconut oil or butter (see above for storage)
In a large bowl, sift together cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix well. With a pastry blender, cut in shortening until evenly distributed. Put in a large airtight container. Label. Store in a cool, dry place. Makes about 16 cups of basic cake mix.
Sunny Citrus Cake
1-3/4 cups basic cake mix
Scant 2/3 cup milk
½ tsp. vanilla
Orange Butter Cream Frosting (below)
Preheat oven to 375. Spray 8-inch square baking pan with baking spray. Combine basic mix ( if you used butter, bring mix to room temperature) and milk in mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed 2 minutes. Scrape bowl and beaters. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat 2 more minutes. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 25-30 minutes until tests done. Cool. Frost.
Orange Butter Cream Frosting
2 ½ Tbsp soft butter
1 ½ cups powdered sugar (sifted)
2 tsp. grated fresh orange peel
1 ½ Tbsp orange juice
Beat all ingredients until smooth and of spreading consistency, adding a few drops of hot water if necessary.
Everyone is familiar with “Bisquick”, a General Mills product, but your own is just a snap and even better. Here’s the recipe:
8 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 cups instant nonfat dry milk
2-1/4 cups shortening (butter, coconut oil or vegetable shortening)
In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients. Blend well. With pastry blender, cut in shortening until evenly distributed. Mixture will resemble cornmeal in texture. Put in a large airtight container. Label. Store in a cool, dry place or refrigerate or freeze if using butter. A variation: use 4-1/4 cups all- purpose flour and 4-1/4 cups whole-wheat flour. Increase baking powder to 5 Tbsp.
Fantastic Fudge Pecan cake
1-1/3 cups Quick Mix
¾ cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
3 Tbsp. butter, softened
¾ cup milk, divided
1 tsp. vanilla
Chocolate Coconut filling-frosting (below)
Heat oven to 350. Spray a square pan, 8x8x2” . In mixing bowl mix Quick mix, sugar and cocoa. Add butter, egg and ¼ cup milk. Beat on high 1 minute. Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread with 1/3 of frosting. Pour remaining batter into pan. Spread with 1/3 frosting and bake for 35-40 minutes. Immediately spread with rest of frosting.
Chocolate Coconut Frosting
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces, melted
2/3 cup water
4 cups coconut.
Mix all together.