Simple Ways to Wake Up a Cake Mix

If I didn’t know better I’d swear that boxed cake mixes reproduce in the dark of night on the shelves of my pantry. One day I counted 18 boxes of cake mix.

Chocolate Cake

Here’s how that works: Cake mixes go on sale routinely. One week it will be Duncan Hines, then Pillsbury takes its turn and so on. The typical sale price for a cake mix is typically $1.50 or less. I hold onto my cake mix coupons until that particular brand goes on sale. With a $.75 or even $1 off coupon, rarely do I pay more than $.50 for a cake mix.

The challenge for me has been to find better ways to make a boxed cake mix taste homemade. 

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photo credit: BakedBree

Check these quick hits plus five of my favorite recipes that use a cake mix as one of the ingredients:

Forget the water. Use whole milk (or even buttermilk) in place of the water called for in the package instructions.

Devil’s food. Any kind of a chocolate mix will really perk up and take on that wonderful homemade taste when you use strong brewed coffee in place of the water, and toss in a handful of chocolate chips, too.

Counteract the sweet. Cake mixes are very sweet with a distinctive “cake mix” taste. Adding 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 or 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice to any white or yellow cake will counterbalance the sweetness and hide the tell tale taste of the mix.

Butter is better. Instead of the oil called for in the box mix instructions, substitute with melted butter.

One Recipe, Endless Uses

Last week, a friend called asking me to send her “That Recipe!” Of course I was puzzled, but it didn’t take long to figure out what she was talking about when she mentioned,  “homemade Biscuits with freezer jam.” Apparently, I served that for breakfast the last time she visited.

photo credit: flouronmyface.com

photo credit: flouronmyface.com

That Recipe is my Master Mix. The recipe below makes a lot, and keeps really well. Because it contains dry milk, all you add at baking time is water. And while it makes fabulous biscuits, it’s an all-purpose mix to make everything from dumplings to coffee cake and shortcake.

This mix makes a lovely addition to a Biscuits and Jam gift basket. Simply package a supply of Master Mix in a tightly covered container or bag, adding a tag that describes the contents. A nice idea would be to include the following options for how your recipient can use its contents. Your friend or loved one will probably appreciate the Master Mix recipe as well.

World-Class Gourmet Pasta on a Shoestring

A popular restaurant in West Hollywood, Calif., Hugo’s, has been critically acclaimed for one of its menu items, “Pasta Mama.” The first time I heard about it and what’s in it, I thought it was a bit odd. Pasta with eggs? I couldn’t imagine what would prompt people to drive many miles to get it. But they do, saying, it’s the best pasta they’ve ever eaten.

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I had to try it, and as you might imagine, I love it. I would describe it to you here, but it’s indescribable—indescribably delicious, that is. But I don’t drive the 40 miles to Hugo’s to pay $12.25 (plus tax and tip) for this dish. Instead I make it myself, from scratch. What a wonderful, simply satisfying dinner—or breakfast—entree.

Pasta Mama takes all of about 10 minutes start to finish and feeds two for a total cost of about $1.50. At that price you have very little to lose if you try it and don’t like it, and chances are really good that you’ll love it. In fact, I won’t be surprised to hear that you’ve added Pasta Mama to your family’s list of favorite meals. Serve it once a week and your grocery budget will love you.

Let Us Eat Cake!

What do Pat Benatar, George Foreman and I, your humble columnist, have in common? We share the same birthday.

photo credit: veryval

photo credit: veryval

I only know this because someone gave me a 797-page book titled simply, The Portable Book of Birthdays. Good thing too, or I’d never have known that Pat, George and I have socially savvy personalities and a keen ability to promote our ideas and to get what we want. We are intelligent, easily irritable and need constant emotional stimulation, too.

While the book doesn’t mention our favorite birthday cake, I feel confident in speaking for the three of us when I say that without a doubt it is coconut cake. But not just any coconut cake. It has to be 3-Day Coconut Cake that is so delicious it will knock your socks off no matter when you were born. But first a small explanation.

The recipe that follows calls for “frozen coconut.” As many times as I have made this cake (I wonder if Pat and George make their own birthday cakes) I have yet to find such a thing where I live in California. I’ve looked everywhere, asked store managers and anyone else who might be handy. No where to be found. I do understand, however, that frozen coconut is readily available in other parts of the country in the grocery frozen food case. Someone suggested recently that I try an Indian market and I will do that as soon as I, well, locate an Indian market. In the past I have tried fresh coconut with excellent results, but it was a real pain to crack, pry, smash, break, drain, peel and grate. So, I will continue to use Angel’s grated sweetened coconut that comes in a bag and can be found in the baking aisle of any food market.

Of Fitness Bars and Baby Formula

I want to thank all of you who’ve taken up writing to me. I love to hear from you and I get a real charge out of the tips, questions and other fun stuff you send. Even though I cannot respond personally, believe me when I tell you that nothing goes unread.

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In an effort to respond to so many of you who’ve written asking for alternatives to high-priced protein bars and infant formula, I’ve come up with some cheaper alternatives for your frugal consideration.

First the infant formula. Without a doubt you will never find a more nutritional or economical formula for a newborn than mother’s milk. When that is not an option, commercial formulas should be your second choice, because they are highly regulated as to nutritional value for a baby’s developmental needs. Having said that, here is a recipe that goes back many years that may be appropriate as a replacement for commercial formula once Junior graduates to solid food.

Baby Formula
(as a supplement to solid food)

Place all ingredients in a very clean glass or stainless steel container and mix well. Pour into bottles that have been thoroughly sterilized. Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 9 six-ounce bottles.

Survey Says: Eating Out is Our #1 Financial Temptation

What is your greatest financial temptation? That’s one of the question I asked in a poll at DPL Central. Answer choices: accepting more credit, vacation, clothes, new car, stuff for house, eating out or none-of-the-above.

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I enjoy predicting how my reader polls will turn out, but I was way off on this one. I thought “stuff for the house” or “clothes” would win. The runaway winner at 41 percent was “eating out.”

Whether eating out is your top temptation or it comes in second or third, you can deal with it more effectively if you make eating at home more convenient and more delicious than going out.

You know by now that I am a big fan of the slow cooker. Just throw the ingredients in before the demands of the day wear you down, turn it on and forget it. You’ll come home to the aroma of a home cooked meal. You’ll have it on the table and ready to eat in less time than it takes to drive-thru.

Turns Out it IS Easy Being Green

Have I got a story for you about the Hubs and me. I don’t like to think that we cave easily to peer pressure, but apparently that is the case.

We have these friends who are way into healthy lifestyle—clean eating and extreme exercise. I call anything with the words running, jogging and cycling in it, extreme. They’re so into these things, they don’t even think about taking a short hiatus when we visit. Oh, no. We’re talking green smoothies all around, every morning. No question, no excuse.

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Let me just say right here that my husband has never met a vegetable he enjoys. He’s just not into them. Never has been. But he’s kinder than he is finicky, and so in the interest of friendship, he (OK, me too) would put on a happy face and down the green whenever we visited our friends Carol and Steve. And Harold would kind of shudder in a way that only I was aware—the way kids do when they have to eat something they think is really gross. This always made me laugh but I tried really hard not to show it.

I cannot fully explain this, but after several of these occasions, something went off inside of both of us suggesting that perhaps, just maybe we might think about doing this ourselves. At home.

One thing led to another—and by that I mean we started with bananas, apples and one teeny tiny leaf of baby spinach—until without quite knowing what hit us, we were actually making smoothies every morning that turned out the color of wet concrete.

Solving the Breakfast Dilemma

Mom was right. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Medical research says we cannot afford to miss it for many reasons:

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1. People who lose weight and keep it off are breakfast eaters.

2. People who eat breakfast are better equipped to fight off colds and flu.

3. Breakfast boosts metabolism all day and fires up your brain cells for faster, clearer thinking.

Breakfast guidelines:

Eat when you can but within two hours of waking.

Eat what you enjoy. You are more likely to create a lifelong habit if it’s something you enjoy.

Have “grab and go” breakfast items available that are healthy, tasty and affordable.