Your Guide to Reading Between the Tines

Tangerine Spice Pancakes: Kitchen Odds and Ends At Work

This morning, the Unicyclist and I had an impromptu and very delicious breakfast of pancakes.  I started with the Honey-Wheat Germ Pancake recipe in the Recipes from the Moon cookbook (from the Horn of the Moon Cafe), but (as often happens when I wind up in the kitchen) that recipe was just a skeleton for the pancakes I actually made.  See, when it comes to me and recipes, I’m something of a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” sort of personfolk.

I love recipes.  I love cookbooks.  I love reading them, looking at pictures, imagining delicious dinners to be.  However, I am both an incurable meddler and a thick-skulled pragmatist.  Specifically, whenever feasible, I believe in adapting recipes to what you have on hand rather than going shopping for missing ingredients.  This is exactly how I wound up with some golden, citrus-infused, wheat-germ-free pancakes this morning.  I still don’t know what the Honey-Wheat Germ pancakes from Horn of the Moon taste like, but I had some durn good breakfast.

I adapt for different reasons, but it’s mostly to use up what I have on hand.  The purpose of this post today is to help you figure out how that works, and how you might start using up odds and ends in your cooking.  Shall we dive in?

This particular December morning, I had on hand two egg whites from the cookies I made last night, a couple tablespoons of milk solids from the clarified butter I made a few days ago (which the recipe suggested to just throw out, something that made no sense to me—it was just part of the butter, after all), and a few tangerines from a neighbor that were already close to a week old.  Plus, the chichequelite bush outside the door had a couple dozen tiny purple berries ready for picking.  And the Unicyclist was working from home, which meant we could do a more leisurely breakfast.  Since I have a weakness for pancakes anyway, that was my first inclination.

Here’s my paltry accumulated wisdom from baking: you can’t mess too much with the wet to dry ratios, the acidity and leavening agents, or the binding agents if you want food that turns out okay.  I am no Julia Child, and I don’t understand all the science behind food preparation, but I am willing to make mistakes in the kitchen in the name of personal progress.  Unless you’re a picky eater, it’s pretty hard to get something inedible.  Mostly, if you mess up, texture is off: chewy, overly heavy, or undercooked in the middle, but it’s nothing disastrous if you’re just feeding people who already love you.  In any case, pancakes are more forgiving than muffins or cakes (after all, if the pancake is a bit flatter than normal, a lot of people won’t even notice), but I tried to keep those rules in mind when creating my pancakes this morning.  Here are the shifts I made, along with my rationale for doing so.  This is not intended to be a primer, just an example of the thinking process I used to modify a recipe.  To be frugal and efficient in the kitchen, a thinking cook is essential…even if the logic isn’t recipe-book-perfect 100% of the time.  Arm yourself with a spatula and take some risks.  Be fearless in the face of food!  Are you with me?!?!  LET’S DO THIS BREAKFAST THING!

  • Original recipe: 1/4 c. wheat germ, 1 c whole wheat pastry flour, and 1/3 c. all purpose flour
  • My version: 1 c white whole wheat flour, 1/2 heaping cup regular whole wheat flour

With the flour, I was mostly trying to keep the total amount of dry ingredients the same.  The reason I used more white whole wheat flour is because its a more tender flour which is also more finely ground.  Regular whole wheat flour (bread flour, which is what I have) can sometimes be bitter or heavy in baked goods, though grinding your own fresh certainly helps eliminate those problems.  I honored the amounts of baking powder (2 tsp) and salt (1/2 tsp) called for in the recipe, but I played with the liquids quite a bit, as you’re about to see.

  • Original: 1.5 T oil, 1.5 T honey, 1 T plain yogurt (or one egg), and 1.25-1.5 c milk
  • My version: 1/2 T olive oil, 2 T honey (just because I wanted some extra mesquite honey flavor), 2 leftover egg whites mixed with 1 T freshly ground flax seeds, leftover milk solids (probably 1.5 T), 1.25 c milk, and the juice from one tangerine

I stayed on the lower end of the milk recommendation because I was adding in the milk solids and the extra liquid from the tangerine (which also helped make up the missing acidity from the yogurt I didn’t have).  Because I was using up leftover egg whites instead of adding the yogurt or whole eggs, I added both whites, along with a good tablespoon of ground flax seeds.  Since egg whites tend not to be as effective at binding as yolks, I thought the flax would provide an extra boost.

To top off the recipe, I added the following ingredients that were completely my own:

  • the zest from the tangerine, some fresh-grated nutmeg, a pinch of cinnamon, and a couple dozen chichequelite berries

Both of us were pleasantly surprised by the results: a substantial, whole-grain pancake with a light, citrus flavor and a touch of warming spices.  A drizzle of real maple syrup made it into a truly wonderful breakfast.  Although this recipe was intended to feed two people, it was somewhat over-generous.  It could easily have fed three, and very affordably.  The tangerine and berries were free, the milk solids were a byproduct of clarified butter, and despite rising prices, both flour and eggs are still among the most affordable food items to have on your grocery list.  The spices and syrup cost more, but you also use them in small amounts. We’ve had our eight dollar bottle of maple syrup from Trader Joe’s for about six months now.

Best of all, in addition to having a full and happy tummy, I am currently very smug about managing to use up my odd kitchen leftovers in such a delicious way.  Learning to tie up the loose odds and ends in your kitchen is an indispensable skill for a household, particularly if budgets are tight.  It goes way beyond pancakes, people.  Consider the following:

  • If you eat meat, use picked-over ham bones, beef bones, and turkey or chicken carcasses to make soup stock after the meat has been mostly eaten
  • Use celery nubs, shriveled carrots, potatoes past their prime, and tough shiitake mushroom stems as part of a vegetable broth for soup
  • If lemons are starting to dry out, juice them, pour the juice into ice cube trays, and freeze for later use in recipes as needed
  • Make an egg-white omelet with egg whites leftover from holiday baking

So, let’s hear from you: what odds and ends do you use up in tasty ways in your kitchen?  Made anything particularly good lately?  Do tell!

1 comment

1 Comment so far

  1. MangoChild December 21st, 2008 7:40 am

    OH MY!!! Those sound perfectly delicious pancakes! I had to laugh while reading it because you sound so much like me with playing around with ingredients in recipes :-) It hardly happens that the recipe is the same as the original – or even the same as I made myself before, hee hee. Jealous that you can get tangerines/citrus.

    As for other ways to mix things up and use leftovers, the classic is a stew. I often make a bean and veg stew on Saturday when I am trying to make room for new produce for the week. Each time it is a bit different because of the particular mix, and with some crusty bread it is perfect this time of year.
    I also find pizza to be a good way to use up those little bits – toppings!
    Like you, I’ve found that many flours can be interchanged fairly equally, though buckwheat flour doesn’t take water as well and develop that smoothness as others do. But once getting the hang of it, its fun to see how the bits of flours give different flavors to the same basic bread.

Leave a reply