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One reason people decide that it's a good idea to know how to cook -- even just a little -- is money. There is no motive more basic. What about all the boxes and frozen packages of food advertised to come to your aid? Will they take care of the cooking for you to make your life more comfortable so that you'll have time to do other things? Unless you use the 30 minutes or so you'd presumably gain for making back the money you overspent on someone else's culinary efforts, many of these costly products aren't much of a bargain. Nor do they achieve cooking results much better than you could cook yourself. To me, most of them are actually worse than what my kid (who's six years old) is capable of.
Pancakes are a small example of how money is wasted on simple food that when homemade costs pennies. Yes, I agree that packaged pancakes are quick to pop in a toaster or microwave. But your trip to the grocery store takes longer than stirring the batter for homemade pancakes, which once made also can be frozen in zip-style baggies to pop in the toaster for mornings to come. Zap them in the microwave with the bag partially opened, for 30 seconds.
The math for homemade pancakes comes to about 60 cents a batch, from which you get 12. Buying the same number of pancakes premade and packaged obviously costs more.
Here is my recipe for super pancakes. They've got sour cream in them to make them rich and tender. The baking powder helps the pancakes to rise a little once the batter comes in contact with heat. Heat has this kind of effect on baking powder. You can easily convert these pancakes to Yogurt Pancakes by replacing the sour cream with the same amount of yogurt.
Don't let a long list of ingredients scare you off. Combine a bowlful of dry ingredients (the flour, baking powder, salt) with a bowlful of the wet ones (the milk, eggs, and butter). Give a few stirs, and your batter is ready for the skillet. If you need that security of a boxed mix, measure and stir the dry ingredients the night before. The next morning when you're adding the eggs, milk, and butter you'll feel like Aunt Jemima's already in the bowl. You will be pleased with the appearance of these pancakes. Because I ask you to pour the batter into the skillet from a 1/4-cup measuring cup, every pancake will be the same size -- a very professional touch!
Elaine's Sour Cream Pancakes
Makes about 1 dozen
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Get out 2 mixing bowls. Into one, measure all the dry ingredients. Into the other, measure all the wet ingredients. Combine the two in whatever bowl is largest. Stir with a spoon just until blended -- please, no power tools.
Melt the butter and oil in a little cup in the microwave. Get out your biggest skillet. Get out serving plates.
Smear some of the melted butter on the bottom of the skillet, or use a pastry brush. Heat the skillet over medium-high.
When the skillet is hot (a drop of water sizzles hard) dip your 1/4-cup measuring cup into the pancake batter and pour a number of pancakes into the skillet, about 3 or 4. Reduce the heat to medium.
When to flip: When you see sinkholes, turn with a spatula. If the pancakes are too dark, lower the heat. If they're too light, raise the heat slightly. If they're golden-brown, they're just right.
Stack on the serving plates, smear a little more melted butter into the skillet, and pour another round into the skillet, until the batter's used up.
Elaine Corn is a Sacramento-based freelance writer and cooking teacher as well as the author of two books, Now You're Cooking for Company and Now You're Cooking