It’s that time again to start making your lists and checking them twice. For cooks and those knowing they’ll need to do some baking and cooking with all the upcoming holidays, this is a good time to take stock of your shelves.
October, November and December bring holidays and events that require most of us to go into our kitchens to make things for special events – school bake sales, parties, tailgating, and of course, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas and other holidays you may observe.
You may be saying, “Oh, my. Don’t remind me.”
But this is the perfect time to take stock of what you have and what you don’t and perhaps even time to find sales going on that will help you gather things you will need.
Plus for those growing herbs outside, it’s time to cut and dry them. The frosts of October will kill many like basil and mint.
My sage, thyme and rosemary usually hang around these next few months and allow me the benefit of using them fresh.
I’m giving you a list today of items you will need to have on your shelves for your baking needs.
You’ll notice these are only the items that have staying power; no milk, buttermilk, or eggs. You’ll usually remember to have these on hand when needed.
My biggest pet peeve – the one that can stop me dead in my tracks and take me out of the mood when I start cooking anything – is not having the ingredients I need. Even though my local grocer is just blocks away, I don’t want to “run” to the grocery.
Always purchase the best ingredients that you can. No imitation flavorings or chocolate and other flavor chips. Always use real vanilla and real chocolate. They do make a flavor difference.
Former Mansion chef Ree Wilson always told me that dishes are only as good as the ingredients you use.
I found that out this summer when I purchased an off-brand brown sugar at a definitely cheaper price. I was not familiar with it and figured brown sugar is brown sugar.
Wrong. It did not give my cookies the flavor they normally have nor did it stabilize the cookie. It seemed to break down and make the cookie run as it cooked.
Lesson learned for me. I’ll stick with the brands I know and like.
Let’s examine what’s inside those cabinets and spice racks.
If your flour is three months old and has been sitting open in a cabinet, time to pitch it. If it has been sealed in a container or plastic bag, your chances are better for freshness.
The same goes for sugars – granulated, powdered and brown. You know those boxes you pull out and they have hardened. They are difficult to bring back to life and if nuked too long in the microwave, can turn to syrup.
As for that powdered and granulated sugar, if it is has been around for a while, be sure to sift it to take out any clumps.
The same thing goes for baking powder and baking soda. If these have been sitting in the cabinet since last fall, pitch them and buy fresh.
Think about that baking soda. It makes me mad that it comes in a box that can’t be sealed. I have found the plastic canisters of it and I prefer them, but they are not always in all stores. Plus if the baking soda will absorb odors in your fridge, it will absorb other odors. Pour it down your drain or put it in your refrigerator, but not in your baking.
Even though baking powder normally comes in little cans, it can lose its “oomph” over time. Spend the money for fresh so it can do its job as a leavening agent.
If you keep yeast, check its expiration date. Yeast keeps better in the fridge.
So does shortening. Many keep it in a cabinet. It can turn rancid or develop a yellowish color. Shortening keeps better when stored in the refrigerator.
As for those spices, anything a year or older may not be at its best. I’ve had my paprika I know for at least two years. It’s going out this week.
Canned milks can also break down, especially sweetened condensed milk. Have you ever opened a can and realized it’s light brown instead of creamy looking? Toss it. An expiration date can be found on the can, check it.
Hopefully you’ll be armed and ready to go into the coming months with wonderful results if you take this less hectic time to get prepared.
Checklist for Holiday Baking
>Flours: all-purpose and self-rising
>Sugars: granulated, powdered, brown
>Fats: shortening, butter, oil
>Canned milks: evaporated and sweetened
>Additions: nuts, raisins, fruits
'BEEF BASICS' PROGRAM SET FOR OCT. 4
Cooks and shoppers should welcome the information on all things beef at “Beef Basics,” a free program planned for Thursday, Oct. 4, 6-8 p.m., at the Franklin County Extension Office, 101 Lakeview Ct.
Certified chef Tanya Priddy of the Capital Plaza Hotel will bring information about buying, cooking, nutritional information and cuts of beef. Also on the program are Extension agents Tamera Thomas and Keenan Bishop.
The workshop is free, but registration is encouraged so materials can be prepared for attendees. Call the office, 695-9035, or email Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you know from your own shopping, the cuts of beef now offered can be confusing. Deciding on which roast will be tender, has less fat or whether the size will feed your family can keep you lingering at the meat counter trying to make that decision.
Or perhaps you would like information on how to prepare the perfect steak whether it’s on the grill or on the stove. Or maybe you would like to know more about cuts of steak and how to cook and serve them.
Or what is best – grass-fed or grain-fed beef – and how does the feed affect the taste and tenderness of the meat.
This should be an interesting night, whether you’ve been cooking for years, a reluctant cook, are looking for recipes or would just like to be better informed about bringing beef to the table.
I hope to see you there.