For me, the most formidable technique in all of food is baking. The balance of ingredients, cooking time and temperature, moisture levels, finished look...it had always been just a bit too much for me.
I decided, however, that I needed to push myself and conquer my fear of baking. I began my quest at www.splendidtable.org, because Lynne Rosetto Kasper is on my shortlist of people I would choose to have as a mentor. My gut told me she'd have some great ideas.
And she did! I must have had a sweet tooth that day because my eye immediately went to a photo of a cookie on the Splendid Table homepage. So, cookies it would be. But for whom? I had just lost 40 pounds and wasn't about to undo all that work as my own test audience.
The answer was obvious: my soccer team. I can be a dictator on the field, and have doubtless ruffled a few of my teammates' feathers, so I figured a great way to redeem myself -- if even a bit -- was to bring home baked cookies to every game.
Lynn's chocolate chip cookie recipe (http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/recipes/dessert_chocchip.shtml) was not only easy to follow and produced excellent cookies (I'm still on the team!) but it helped me be more comfortable with the idea of baking because it helped me do what I love to do best in the kitchen: screw with the rules.
I'm willing to bet that 90% of available cookie recipes call for all-purpose flour. Kasper's recipe calls for half cake flour and half bread flour to create an unequalled texture. I've used this equation in every cookie I've baked since that first batch.
When I was ready to expand my baking repertoire, the muffin seemed the next logical step as it, too, lent itself to extraordinary experimentation. Because of my success with the cookies, I had the confidence to immediately go "off recipe." The blueberry muffins pictured here feature 50% more berries than the recipe indicated. I also added a 1/4 teaspoon of essence of anise and a 1/2 teaspoon of orange water. I used buttermilk instead of regular milk. These just seemed like choices that would bump up the excitement of the finished product, and they did.
After muffins will come bread. Not bread-machine bread. Handmade, kneaded, risen, formed, baked bread. The kind that fills the house with a scent of the most elemental sustenance. Of home. Of safety. No other food can duplicate this effect.
I'll keep you posted.