Pantry Raid: The Virgin Takes a No-Recipe Challenge

Categories: Cooking Virgin
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"So, you've made a few recipes without burning anything. Big deal! Bet you can't make something without a recipe, using just the ingredients in your pantry!"

I have a lot of friends who cook well. One stay-at-home mom is always whipping up soft, chewy chocolate cookies from scratch every time I throw a party. A male buddy smokes his own BBQ, Kansas City style, and has a pantry of vacuum-sealed herbs and dry goods that rivals Martha Stewart's. So it was no surprise that one of these well-meaning friends would eventually issue a challenge to the Virgin Cook.

I scoured the three-shelf apartment cupboard that serves as my poor man's (or in this case, woman's) pantry for ingredients that might combine to make something edible. Baking powder, flour, rice, tomato sauce... nothing seemed to make sense together, until I found a lone can of pumpkin left over from Thanksgiving.

Judge if you want, but it wasn't past the expiration date.

Combine that with milk, butter, flour, baking powder and spices and you've got The Virgin's Pumpkin Spice Pancakes!

Will the Virgin stumble without her recipe crutch? Find out after the jump...   

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It doesn't measure up
Without my usual recipe in hand, it was time to devour, or be devoured. I'd seen a few cookbook recipes for scratch pancakes before, so I had a general idea of the ingredients and measurements.

I began with 1 1/2 cups of flour, tossed in a pinch of salt and cinnamon, a tablespoon of sugar, some orange blossom honey for additional sweetness and a half can of organic pumpkin.

Baking soda vs. baking powder
Crap. What the heck is the difference between these two products? I knew that both are leavening agents; they help make your bread products rise. Past that, I made my best guess and tossed in three teaspoons of baking powder, bracing for some sort of yeasty mess.

Turns out that was a good move. The main difference is in the flavor produced -- baking soda is pure acid, with a bitter taste, while acid and base combine in baking powder to produce a neutral taste.
 
Score one for The Virgin.

Calculated risks
Unfortunately, I was less successful with the liquid ratios. Not having buttermilk on hand, I combined a few teaspoons of melted butter with a half cup of milk and an egg. I figured the water in the canned pumpkin would help make up for any liquid deficiency. Yeah, not so much. I whisked everything together and spooned the thick, sticky batter into a pre-heated skillet over medium heat.

The results:

 

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The first batch were as lumpy and unappetizing as a twenty-year-old mattress.

 

My first batch of pancakes turned out lumpy and dense. I added another half cup of milk, whisked until smooth and tried again, this time producing a near-perfect pancake. My technique was a little shabby -- the pancakes were too thick and a little undercooked in the middle -- but the crisp outer texture and savory-sweet pumpkin flavor made for a seasonal treat. Next time, I might add additional sweetener, but the whipped cream and maple syrup from my fridge helped to alleviate any blandness.

 

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Baking soda is a base with a salty taste. Baking powder often has a bitter metallic aftertaste due to one of the acidic components.

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