Skillet baked corn cakes. Maple bacon. Cheesy eggs.

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I called it the Vantry.  A pantry in the van.  A few pans, a cutting board, a good knife, a wooden spoon, salt, select spices, dried pasta, canned tomatoes, dried masa, hot sauce, and a tortilla press.  You know, the basics.  On tour, the vantry allowed my band and I to eat a home cooked meal every so often, something to buoy us between weeks and weeks of near endless crappy fast food.  Also, it was cheaper.  I remember one morning in Hattiesburg, Mississippi I woke up on a stretch of stained carpet in the living room my band had played in the night before, and, with a few hours until we had to leave, I set out to make breakfast.  At a nearby supermarket I bought a few potatoes, a dozen eggs, a jalapeno, and an onion, then back at the house where everyone was still sleeping (it was still a very early, pre-dawn 10am), I got the vantry out, cleared a space on the beer can cluttered counter, and in a half hour or so had potato and egg tacos on fresh tortillas for the whole band.  Total cost: $5.  

After a show was cancelled last minute our first time through Salt Lake City, we set up in a gas station parking lot and made spaghetti from vantry supplies and a hot-pot plugged into a cigarette lighter converter.  We used the money we saved to buy beer and a single, cheap hotel room on the roadside in the vast expanse of nowhere between SLC and Denver.  

Point being, the vantry was a crucial for sanity and/or monetary reasons.  Simple, homemade food kept me grounded, and the money saved kept my debt from skyrocketing.  But the vantry we ended with was not what we began with.  It evolved, growing more complex with each tour.  The first vantry, before it was even known by that name, was one simple thing: a bag of just-add-water pancake mix.  

Just-add-water pancakes are crazy cheap, tasty, filling, and don't require buying butter, eggs, or buttermilk.  That last part was especially important on tour because we didn't have a way to store perishables, and all of those necessary ingredients are sold in portions larger than what we'd need for a single meal.  The pancake mix allowed us to inexpensively fill up on carbs and sugar in the morning right before sitting in a van for 4 to 8 hours.  Perfect!  

But here's the thing: if you're not on tour or backpacking or some other situation where you can't buy staple ingredients, there's absolutely no reason to buy pancake mix.  At best it saves you maybe two minutes in the kitchen, but it also completely limits you to one style of pancake and exists mostly as an extra bag of ingredients you already have in your kitchen.  And if you're like, "but I don't have these so-called staple ingredients", well then go out and buy them.  We had a pantry in our van.  You can have one in your pantry.  Be an adult.  

As much as the makers of Bisquick would like you to believe otherwise, pancakes are incredibly easy to make from scratch.  The basic ratio is: 

  • for every cup of all-purpose flour add a teaspoon of baking powder, a quarter teaspoon of baking soda (if using buttermilk), a pinch of salt, an egg, a couple tablespoons of melted butter, and enough buttermilk (or milk...or soy milk, or, I don't know, Mt. Dew?) to make a batter.  

That's it.  There's some basic techniques that you can employ to make your pancakes better, but those aren't difficult either.  

The benefit of cooking from scratch is that once you understand the basic recipe, you can start swapping out ingredients to make new variations of old standards.  For example, one of my favorite brunches to make right now is corn cakes cooked in a skillet and topped with eggs and bacon.  It's basically a southern skillet cornbread but as a pancake, a great idea I have "borrowed" from a previous employer.  

Here's how to make it.

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First thing: preheat your oven to 400F. 

Next, get your flours together.  You'll need: 

  • 80g all-purpose flour
  • 30g masa harina (i.e. tortilla flour
  • 15g corn meal

Note that one cup of flour weighs 125 grams and the above represented flours total 125 grams.  That's for all you non-scale owning luddites. 

To this flour mixture add: 

  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 T sugar
  • a pinch of salt

Whisk all that together. 

 

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Meanwhile, get out some bacon.

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Put it in an 8 inch skillet.  Cook the bacon over medium heat, flipping regularly.

On a braggy note, that skillet belonged to my great grandmother.  I have no idea who first bought it and there's a chance it could have been passed down to her.  I like the idea of making breakfast on 100 years of family history.   

Moving on.  

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Make a well in the center of your flour mix and add an egg.  If you want to get really fancy you can add only the yolk, whip the whites, then fold those in later.  I wasn't that fancy.   

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Melt a few tablespoons of butter.  Reserve.  

Break up the egg with a whisk, then slowly pour in 250g (about a cup) of buttermilk into the center of the bowl, whisking constantly, first in small circles then in larger ones.  Halfway through adding the buttermilk, stop and dump in the melted butter, then go back to pouring in buttermilk, whisking until all the flour is incorporated and you have a thick but pourable batter.  This whole process should happen quickly.  Like under twenty seconds quick.  Once the batter comes together, stop stirring.  The temptation here is to over-stir, but keep in mind a liquid has just been added to flour, and thus the proteins gliadin and glutenin have now set about joining together to form gluten.  The more you stir, the more gluten you help form, meaning, the tougher your finished pancakes will be.  So to get light, fluffy pancakes rather than tough, rubbery, dough pucks, stop stirring as soon as possible.  Don't worry about a few lumps.  

Another key to making your pancakes nice and fluffy is to cook them as soon as possible after making the batter.  The leavening agent (i.e. what makes the pancakes rise) is primarily baking powder here.  Baking powder (as discussed in the biscuit recipe), creates gas twice: first when combined with a liquid and then when heat is applied.  If you let your batter sit around you'll lose the first charge of baking powder and your pancakes won't rise as well.  This is why you can always make better pancakes at home than what you get in a restaurant.  Restaurant batters are made before service, thus, they're half gassed out.  

The baking soda in this recipe also creates gas, but only in conjunction with an acid.  In this recipe the sour buttermilk fills that role.  If you don't have buttermilk, you can sub plain yogurt and water/milk.  If you use entirely plain milk or cream, you don't have to add the baking soda.  

 

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Your bacon should be done now,  Take it out of the pan and drain it on a paper towel.  Do your best not to eat it all.  Trust me, it'll get better later.  Now, assess the amount of fat in the pan.  Pour all but a tablespoon in a container that you can keep in the fridge and use it some other time.  Dump half of your batter into the hot, bacon fat covered skillet.  Place the skillet immediately in the 400 degree oven.  It will need about ten minutes to bake.

This recipe actually makes enough batter for two skillet portions, so make two if you want.  Or dump all the batter in one 10 inch skillet (it'll need a few more minutes to cook).  You can also quickly make some pancakes with the leftover batter and save them in the freezer.  Reheat frozen pancakes in the toaster.   

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While the corn cake is baking, cut up a chile, reserving the seeds. 

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Put the seeds in a pan with some maple syrup and bring to a simmer over a medium heat, kill the heat, let the pan sit around for a few minutes, spoon/strain out the seeds.  You just made chile infused syrup.

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Sauté the diced chiles in butter for a few minutes until they begin to soften.  Take the pan off the heat.  

Crack two eggs in a bowl, add a pinch of salt, and a spoonful of sour cream.

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Beat the eggs and grate some cheese. 

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When the pancake is almost done baking, place the reserved bacon that you showed some much restraint in not eating into the pan with the infused maple syrup.  Put that in the oven to heat up for a minute.

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Pull the corn cake from the oven after ten minutes or when it looks like this.  Feel free to use a knife to peak into the center to make sure it's done.  Turn off the oven.  Take out the bacon/syrup pan.

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Take the pan with the sautéed chiles and set it over a medium/low flame.  Add a bit more butter and the egg mixture.  Stir constantly with a spatula.  After a few minutes you should have super soft eggs that are just barely set.

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Stir in the cheese.

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Place the eggs and bacon on the corn pancake then pour the chile syrup over the whole thing.  Top with some sliced green onion or cilantro or chives or whatever.  

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A beautifully fluffy corn cake done in less time than it takes to put on pants, drive to some restaurant, and order.  

Feel free to scoff at pancake mix the next time you're in the supermarket.  

Oh, and if you're even in Portland, OR, go to Tasty N Sons and order the steak and eggs.  It should look familiar.

In summation: 

  • Heat your oven to 400.
  • Commit the pancake ratio to memory.  For every 125 g (i.e. a cup) of flour: 1tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp baking soda (if using an acidic liquid), a pinch of salt, an egg, enough buttermilk to make a batter (about 250g).  Sugar and butter are optional but encouraged additions.  Experiment with this foundation forever.  In this case, sub out some of the AP flour for corn flours.
  • Add the batter that you didn't over-stir to a hot skillet that has a tablespoon of bacon fat in it.  Bake that for 10 minutes or until done. 
  • Chile seeds + syrup + heat = chile infused syrup
  • Your reserved bacon got cold.  Oh look, there's some spicy syrup.  Put the two together and put them in the oven for a minute before serving. 
  • Sauté diced chiles.  Let the pan cool down.  Whisk two eggs with a pinch of salt and some sour cream.  Add to the chiles in the skillet and set it over medium/low heat.  Stir constantly with a spatula.  In a few minutes, when just set, add cheese and stir until melted.
  • Assemble.  Feel good about it.

Questions?  Comments?  Need some clarification?  Let me know either below or send me an email at brett@fourchordkitchen.com and I'll get back to you asap.  

Make food.