GOSHEN, IN -- The holidays are so much about food and family traditions that have special foods in them. There are just certain foods that family members always expect someone to prepare. There is all the extra stress and many times the only time of the year that you prepare these recipes is the holidays. I know that it is important that you use your family favorite recipes, now is not the time to try new ones as the extra stress is just not worth it.
So once you have the favorite recipes organized you need to make sure you have all of the ingredients. I know from the calls that I receive that you have been in the middle of preparing a recipe only to discover that you are missing one or more ingredients. So make your shopping list and check it twice as you sure don't want to have to go to the store in the middle of a recipe because you don't have the flavoring or another ingredient.
You will also find it most helpful to do a freshness test, check your baking soda, powder and yeast if you are baking breads. Spices have dates but you need to give them a gentle smell, some become weaker as they age in your cupboard and others become stronger. So for me what this means is some of them I use more of and others not as much. It is also a good idea to consider the other ingredients you use like butter and cream cheese. I suggest you watch the sales and plan ahead, both of these products will keep a long time in the back of the refrigerator where it is extra cold and can also be frozen.
Planning ahead really reduces the stress in the kitchen and can make a difference in the success of your baking. When you are working with butter you want to get the temperature right. If butter is too cold, your cake won't rise; too warm and the cookies will spread way too much. If you are making extra rich pie crust with butter it should be very cold. Keep in mind if the recipe calls for room temperature butter, it should have some give to it when you press on it. If you are in a hurry place it in the microwave for 5 seconds on defrost and then let it set.
I also recommend that you buy an oven thermometer and check the temperature. Once you know what the temperature is you can begin to adjust accordingly. Also the placement in the oven can make a difference, such as the top, center or lower part. I finish this with what is a time saver for me and that is the making of and using pan grease. I use this for all my baking and also in the crock pot. Mix together equal amounts of flour, oil, and solid shortening, mix together till smooth, keep in the refrigerator and brush on any kind of pan when baking.
Baking is different that a lot of other cooking in that the measuring of the ingredients really can help determine the success. You really need to use the proper cups. When you need to measure dry ingredients, use a cup that is designed for them; for liquids use a liquid one. Being accurate when you measure is a must so place a dry measuring cup on a counter, then spoon the flour, sugar, or other dry ingredients and level off with a knife. What you don't want to do is use the measuring cup as the scoop in the ingredients, this can over pack it. When measuring your liquids set a liquid measuring cup on a counter and pour in the ingredients.
There are many cookie, pie and other recipes that call for measuring. If the recipe says the dough should be ¼" thick, measure to be sure. If it's thicker, it will take longer to bake, you won't have as many of the finished product and the results could be doughy rather than crisp.
Enjoy the preparing of special holiday foods, remember to ask others to help out so all can enjoy, happy holidays.