I am an infrequent baker. This is not because I don't like baking. I happen to love baking. It's because baking is time consuming and one thing I don't have a lot of is time. But more importantly and perhaps more truthfully, it is because I like to eat baked goods. If I come home from work and am faced with the option of making myself salad or eating a plate of cookies I will more often than not eat the cookies. So, I don’t give myself this option and do not bake.
When I do have to make the occasional dish to pass I am usually faced with a few ingredient obstacles. Here are some tips for an infrequent baker like myself:
How to soften hardened brown sugar: If you notice signs of hardening but the sugar is still somewhat pliable, place an apple slice in the bag and leave it for a couple of days. If it has already reached the concrete state place the brown sugar in a glass dish, cover with a small piece of waxed paper, then top with a slice of bread to provide a bit of moisture, then loosely cover the plate or bowl with plastic wrap and microwave until softened about 30 seconds.
How to test baking powder for freshness: Baking powder loses its ability to leaven with time; if it's older than 6 months to a year you will need to test it for freshness: Mix 2 teaspoons of baking powder with 1 cup hot water, if there is an immediate reaction of fizziness and foaming the baking powder can be used. If the reaction is at all delayed or weak throw it away and buy a new can.
Substitutions I have used in a pinch:
Cream: For one cup use 1/3 cup butter, plus ¾ cup milk.
Sour Cream: Substitute an equal amount of plain yogurt.
What to do with unused evaporated milk: Instead of leaving the unused portion of evaporated milk sit in the refrigerator for weeks eventually to be tossed, freeze the unused portion in an old ice cube tray, thaw and use the cubes as needed.