As far as I know, most people really get into the baking spirit around Christmas time... Never one to follow the trends, I think I feel the most like baking during the summer. It probably has something to do with the fact that I should not be baking on a hot summer afternoon - but there really is nothing like a fresh peach pie with vanilla ice cream on a summer evening.
This afternoon, to try assuage my desire to be baking, I figured I would round up my top kitchen tips. These are handy pieces of info that have either been passed down to me by the women in my family or things that I have probably learned the hard way.
1. First, I have three words: Full Body Apron! Speaking of learning things the hard way... If I had a quarter for every time I managed to splash some form of kitchen grease onto a nice shirt, I'd be able to buy a whole lot more shirts. Trust me when I say, it is never worth it to cook without a full body apron. Those short waist and down aprons won't do either - I don't know about you, but right above belly button level is where I usually manage to splash myself. If you're feeling like breaking out the sewing machine here is my simple chef's apron tutorial.
2. Get to know some common cooking and baking substitutions. This is a huge time saver, and for those of us who aren't near a grocery store that is open at all hours cooking substitutions can save your whole recipe. These are my most used substitutions.
3. Find a no-fail recipe that always works for you and make it your signature. This can be anything from salad, to cookies, to a great way to make potatoes. There will inevitably be events where you are required to bring some sort of dish; these events will be made a million times easier if you have something that always works for you.
4. Cornstarch makes everything better. That may be a little bit of an overstatement. But when it comes to baked goods such as cookies and muffins, nothing will make them as soft and moist as cornstarch. I add 1-2 tsps (even though most muffin and cookie recipes won't call for it).
5. Even though margerine is an appropriate substitute for butter, butter will always be better for baking. I try to buy a lot at once and freeze it (it freezes really well) so I always have some on hand.