A perfect table setting



  • Mini bouquets



When your garden is in bloom, cut small bouquets and arrange them in empty jam jars or glass water bottles. If you have a long table, line them up in the centre for a table decoration that’s colourful and cheery.




  • Colour coordinates your vases



Add another dimension to floral arrangements with a dash of colour. A few drops of food colouring in the water of a clear glass vase can add extra interest to an arrangement.




  • Can it



Many products these days come in beautifully decorated cans and containers. Once you’ve consumed the contents, use the cans to create a centrepiece. Set small, leafy green plants of different heights in three cans and arrange the colourful planters in the centre of the table.




  • The sit-down test



Before guests arrive, make sure that your centrepiece isn’t so tall that it will block their line of vision: place your centrepiece in the middle of the table, pull out a chair and take a seat. If the tallest flowers or other decorative items are taller than face height, shorten them so that guests will be able to make eye contact.




  • You’ve been framed!



Use small picture frames (matched or unmatched) as place card holders. If you have lovely handwriting, write each guest’s name on a piece of good-quality paper cut to fit the frame or simply choose an attractive computer font and print out your guests’ names. Slide each ‘card’ into its frame.




  • Mix and (mis)match?



When good friends are coming over for a dinner party, make things more interesting and unexpected by varying the place settings — a brightly coloured plate here, a rose-patterned fine china plate there. The result is not only eclectic, but also a great conversation starter.




  • Use the family silver



Gone are the days when silver was taken out only on special occasions; use it for everyday casual dinner parties as a reminder of life’s small luxuries. Don’t worry if it’s tarnished ... it will lend the table a bit of retro character!




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Ready to serve



  • No time to dust?



Let low mood lighting help out: make a beeline for all the candles you can find and place them (carefully and not near curtains) around the living room and dining room — votive candles on windowsills, candelabras on the mantelpiece, pillar and jar candles here and there. If the lights in both rooms have dimmers, set the lights to low and bask in the complexion-enhancing, dirt-hiding glow.




  • No-stick serviettes



Keep serviettes from sticking to the bottom of your drinking glasses by pressing the bottom of each glass in a plateful of salt, then shaking off the excess. However scant the coating, the salt should break the bond and keep serviette and glass separated.




  • Chill wine in a hurry



Here’s a foolproof way to chill champagne and other white wines quickly. Place the bottle in an ice bucket or other tall plastic container and add just enough ice cubes to make a 5-cm layer on the bottom. Sprinkle the ice with a few tablespoons of salt and continue to layer ice and salt up to the neck of the bottle. Now add cold water until it reaches the top of the ice. After only 15 minutes (about half the time it would take in a freezer), you will be able to uncork the bottle and pour properly chilled bubbly for your guests.




  • Wine bottle cork won’t budge?



Run hot water over a towel and wrap the towel around the neck of a stubborn wine bottle. This easy treatment will help the glass neck of the bottle expand just enough to make the cork easier to pull out.




  • A stylish salad



Dress up simple salads by lining wide shallow glasses with lettuce leaves and adding a scoop of chicken, tuna or egg salad. Pierce an olive with a toothpick and set at an angle, to garnish.




  • Dine alfresco



Don’t stay inside on a balmy evening. Cover a patio table with a cloth, bring chairs outside, light some candles and create a movable feast.



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Breathe life into leftovers



  • Surplus grilled tuna or salmon



If you have leftover salmon or tuna from a dinner party, use it as the basis for a tasty salad. In a large bowl, combine 350g cooked tuna or salmon, a 420-g can cannellini beans, 3 thinly sliced spring onions, 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, 1 crushed garlic clove and 1/4 cup (60ml) Italian dressing. Toss thoroughly and enjoy!




  • A long life for extra veg



Save all leftover vegetables for up to a week. Dice them; lightly sauté the mixture in olive oil with savoury seasonings such as oregano, basil and black pepper. Add some leftover rice or other grains. Use as filling for a quiche or to fortify a mince-based dish.




  • Get a head start on gravy



Did you know that you can whirl almost any kind of leftover soup that has no bones, in a blender or food processor to make a quick sauce or gravy for vegetables or meat?




  • Liven up salsa



Add leftover corn kernels to a jar of spicy salsa or pickle. Stirring in corn will not only make it look more colourful but will also tone down an accompaniment that is too hot for your taste.




  • Oat-based muffins



Don’t throw out unused porridge left in the pan when breakfast is finished. Instead, add it to batter when making muffins. Add the baking powder, eggs and other ingredients as the recipe directs and you may find you like the result.




  • Overripe fruit = great smoothies



Don’t relegate overripe fruit to the compost or bin. Freeze it and use the frozen bananas, strawberries and peaches to make a delicious smoothie with yogurt or your liquid of choice. These smoothies may even taste better, thanks to the concentrated sugars in overripe fruit.




  • Leftover wine makes great salad dressings



Don’t pour leftover red or white wine down the sink. Put it in an airtight jar and store it in the fridge. When it’s time to make vinaigrette, you can combine the wine in equal quantities with vinegar for a dressing with extra punch.




  • Freeze leftover wine



If a little bit of pinot grigio or chardonnay remains in the bottle at the end of a party or meal, don’t let it go to waste. Pour it into an ice-cube tray and the next time you’re making a sauce, casserole, soup or risotto that calls for a splash of white or red wine, you’ll have it to hand. The cube will melt very quickly, so no defrosting is required.




  • Use red wine to tenderize meat



If you have some leftover red wine, put it to work as a meat tenderizer and marinade. Simply put the meat in a self-sealing bag or lidded container and pour the leftover wine over it. Whether grilled or fried, the meat on the plate will have a juicy, tender texture.




  • Remember the croquette



If you have lots of chicken, ham or turkey left over, there’s no need to let it go to waste; make your own tasty croquettes. Mince the leftover meat or poultry very finely to make around 450g, add a tablespoon or two of prepared white sauce and a beaten egg, shape into tightly packed, small logs and refrigerate for an hour. Remove the croquettes from the fridge, roll them in fine breadcrumbs, heat up a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a nonstick frying pan, and then lightly fry until golden brown. Perhaps the best bit comes last; if you don’t finish these leftovers, they will freeze perfectly for up to six months.




  • Leftovers from a stew?



Turn it into a homemade ragu that’s so good your family will think a professional is in the kitchen. Chop up the leftover meat into small pieces, return it to its sauce, add 2 cups (500ml) red wine and two cans of crushed tomatoes. Blend well, bring to a simmer, cover and continue to cook for 30 minutes.



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Storing bread and cakes



  • Biscuits on tissue



Keep crisp biscuits crisp by crumpling plain tissue paper (the kind used as gift-wrap) and placing it in the bottom of the biscuit jar. It will help to absorb any moisture that may seep in.




  • The birthday cake’s in the bag



If you want to bake a sponge cake for a special occasion down the road — like your daughter’s 21st birthday or your parents’ golden wedding anniversary party — you can actually bake it several months ahead of time and freeze it. The trick is to triple-wrap the layers. Here’s how:



1. After taking three layer-cake tins out of the oven, let the layers cool completely.



2. Wrap each layer separately in plastic wrap and then in aluminium foil, making each package as airtight as possible.



3. Place all three layers into a large freezer bag and seal it, squeezing out the air as you do.



When the day of the party arrives, defrost the layers before removing the plastic wrap. Then assemble the cake and ice it, secure in the knowledge that your creation will taste as fresh as if it were baked yesterday.




  • Instant cake dome



If you don’t have a fancy cake plate with a glass dome, you can keep your cake fresh and the icing intact by covering it with a large bowl turned upside down.




  • Well-bread cake



Once you cut into a scrumptious three-layer cake, the exposed part of what’s left goes stale quickly. Here’s a way to keep it moist for longer. Place a slice of bread over the cut surface of the cake and hold it in place with a couple of toothpicks. As the bread dries out, the cake will stay moist and taste better for longer.




  • A trick for keeping pies fresh



Perhaps you’ve eaten two slices of a luscious peach pie and start to wrap the remainder with plastic wrap. Stop. If you cover the pie first with an upside down paper plate or aluminium foil pie plate and then wrap it in plastic, you’ll give the pie a little more breathing room and it will stay fresh for a week or more.




  • Storing a meringue-topped pie



When storing the remains of a meringue pie in the fridge, how do you cover it without ruining the meringue? Rub a large piece of plastic wrap with a little butter, making sure that it is greased completely. Fit it over the pie plate, butter side down. The next time you want a slice of pie, the wrap will peel off without sticking.




  • A crisp bread freshener



To keep sliced bread fresh for longer, just place a small, fresh stalk of celery in the bag with the bread. Celery has high water content but stays dry on the outside, so what better moisturizer could you use?




  • An apple every two days



The moisture from an apple will keep soft biscuits or cookies soft. Just place the biscuits in an airtight tin and put an apple slice (skin side down) on top before closing it. Replace the apple slice every two days to keep the treats inside at their very best.



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Keeping fresh food fresh



  • A surplus of spuds?



If you have peeled too many potatoes for a potato salad or casserole, don’t get rid of the uncooked extras. Put them in a bowl, cover with cold water and add a few drops of vinegar. Now they will keep in the fridge for three to four days.




  • Bag your lettuce



Lettuce will keep longer if transferred from a plastic bag to a larger paper bag before storing it in the fridge. Lettuce likes a little air, but you don’t need to remove limp and discoloured outer leaves; they may not be edible, but these leaves help to keep the inner leaves crisp.




  • A gentle touch in the crisper



Line the crisper drawer of your fridge with paper towels, which will absorb the excess moisture that stops the vegetables inside from staying fresh. Replace the towels as they become damp. Another way to dehumidify the drawer is to tuck two or three brand-new kitchen sponges among the vegetables, squeezing out moisture as needed.




  • Toast freshens lettuce



You can keep lettuce crisp in the fridge for longer if you store it in a sealed plastic bag with a slice of almost-burned toast. The ultra-dry toast will absorb some of the excess moisture that would otherwise cause the lettuce to wilt. As long as you replace the toast when it becomes soggy, the lettuce should stay crisp for up to two weeks.




  • Keep greens fork fresh



Keep kale, spinach and other greens fresh for longer by storing them in the fridge along with a stainless-steel fork or knife. Just open the storage bag, slip in the utensil and reclose.




  • Special care for celery



It’s crucial for celery to be crisp, so when it starts to go soft try this: put limp stalks in a bowl of cold water with a few slices of raw potato. After an hour or so in this starchy bath, the stalks may be restored to their crunchy best. To stop celery from going brown, soak it for 30 minutes in 1 litre cold water mixed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice before storing — a trick that will also crisp celery just before it’s served.




  • Get the most out of a lemon



When a recipe calls for just a few drops of lemon juice, simply puncture the rind with a toothpick and gently squeeze out the small amount of juice you need. Then cover the hole with a piece of tape and store the lemon in the fridge for later use.




  • Oiled eggs



Prolong the life of fresh eggs by dipping a paper towel into vegetable oil and rubbing the shells before storing in the fridge. The oil will keep the eggs fresh for an extra three to four weeks.




  • Vinegar and cheese



To keep cheese fresh, wrap it in a piece of soft clean cloth dampened with vinegar. It should come as no surprise that washed cheesecloth is ideal for the purpose.




  • Store potatoes with ginger



Unused potatoes will last longer if you add a piece of fresh ginger root to the bin that you store them in. It’s said that one root vegetable helps to keep another root vegetable fresh — and a potato tuber is a kind of root.




  • Longer-lasting milk



If you buy more milk than you can use before the use-by date, extend its life with a couple of pinches of bicarbonate of soda. Bicarbonate of soda reduces the acidity of milk and will slow down the rate at which it goes off. But don’t add too much or you’ll notice the taste of the bicarb in your milk.



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