1. Plan your meals
Think about your week ahead and the meals you want to have (it’s much easier to eat healthy this way too). Then plan your dishes and shop wisely for your ingredients.
FYI, don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry – you end up with everything and anything, and usually all the worst things! Don’t just get staples like potatoes and bacon. The priority is to get what you need to make planned dishes.
2. Invest in the one gadget that will save your bakes
...i.e. an oven thermometer. Lots of people don’t ensure their ovens are at the right temperature, then blame them when their cake burns.
Make sure your oven is pre-heated right by using a thermometer to monitor when the optimum temperature has been reached. This is especially important when you’re baking cookies or anything with a raising agent in it.
3. Use dinner-party smarts
If you’re having a bash at home, make sure some dishes can be prepared in advance. You can do one or two elements at the last minute (stir-frys or tossed salads are the best) but sort out the other courses first.
For example, a stew can be made the day before and will keep and taste even more delicious on D-day. Ultimately, you don’t want to be a stressed host - you should be having fun.
Also, don’t repeat ingredients across dishes (such as a tomato-based starter followed by a tomato-based main course). Don’t serve creamy dishes throughout a multi-course meal, either. Always start fresh and light, otherwise you’ll do your guests in.
4. Have fun with colour and shapes
Make sure your food isn’t all orange or brown! Tableware-wise, it’s down to the cuisine. I tend to like colourful plates, which are great with Mexican or Guatemalan food. With Indian food, I go with colourful plates too, or metal ones to hold piles of food or chutney.
I also have a thing for big white plates in the centre of the table, with Middle Eastern-style food. And I think square plates don’t work for Western food. They do for Asian food though, especially sushi because of the symmetry. Angular plates work well with round food. Roast chicken needs to go on a round plate, as do stews.
We eat with our eyes first, so plating is important!
5. Drink to it
At the beginning of a meal, mojitos and martinis are always a good idea. I love classic champagne cocktails (served with a sugar cube that’s sprinkled with drops of brandy or bitters) or a good negroni, which is equal quantities of Campari, gin and red vermouth, topped with orange peel.
Try to have something interesting for those who don’t drink, such as an elderflower cordial or a lime and gingerade, as opposed to just iced water. And at the end of the meal, serve a grappa or schnapps. Or you can’t go wrong with an Irish coffee! It’s a great digestif.
Learn to create tasty desserts with Rachel Allen in her new series, All Things Sweet, every Friday at 7.10pm on BBC Lifestyle (StarHub Channel 432).
Photos: BBC Worldwide Channels Singapore
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