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an assortment of simple, useful tips and suggestions

Foil the Grease!

  Baking trays and tins are a given, but after being in a hot oven they can be difficult to clean properly. Non-stick especially can be easily damaged by scouring, even if the scourer is reputed to be quite okay. One way to avoid baking on grease that was impossible to remove previously is to ensure you don't get it on the baking tin in the first place.
  Aluminium foil is that way. Roll sizes are generally wide enough to cover most items; but two sheets overlapping will cater for extra-large. Pull out the foil far enough to go over the edges and lips, then gently stroke into the base, up the sides, over the edge and tuck under the lip. Replace the foil protector when it gets torn or too soiled.
  One go will last an age, particularly if you use baking paper as a partner under casseroles and ramekins.

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Night Lights
LED lights

  These LED lights have a range of uses such as illuminating dark areas like cupboards; but they are really handy when the power goes off at night. Left in convenient spots near exits or walkways, they provide instant light with a simple push of the lens. They are small enough to carry around (while searching for the candles, maybe); and most have self-adhesive pads on the back so that they can be stuck on walls and cabinets. We have one on the outside door frame so that, if we return home after dark we don't have to stab around blindly with the key trying to find the lock. Available from hardware stores and some supermarkets, they generally come in multi-packs and are pretty cheap.
  A word of warning though - young children might view them as toys, but harmless they are NOT. The light is extremely bright and could damage eyesight if held too close; and the case is easily removed to access the batteries. So please make sure they are out of the kids' reach.

Oven Temperatures

  All of our latest recipes give oven temperatures for fan-forced and conventional appliances. Some of the earlier ones, however, are only for conventional. Then there are the really old cookery books and Granny's favourites (written on yellowing lined paper with a fountain pen) which sometimes don't even specify temperatures except in terms like: "a moderate oven, or cook on Gas Mark 4." This can be confusing and may result in under- or over-cooking. Following are a few basic conversions:
oven temperatures
  The conversions are only estimates and can vary depending on the energy supply (gas or electric), plus the idiosyncrasies of the oven itself. Rule of thumb with temperatures: fan-forced is approximately 10% lower than conventional.
  Cooking times also need to be adjusted. When unsure, I would suggest erring on the side of caution by setting a timer for less than the recipe time. For example: "Cook for 45 minutes on 180°C, or until golden." I'd take this to mean the 180°C is for a conventional oven, so fan-forced would be set to 162°C with a timer reminder to check progress at about 30 minutes.

Chopping Parsley

  You've seen the TV chefs choppity-chopping stuff on a board with a huge knife. It looks impressive, and maybe it's necessary in their opinion, but for my money I don't see the point if there's an easier way. With this in mind, we bought a gizmo like a mini-mincer for cutting parsley and even that was a pain.
  One day I was in a rush. I pinched some sprigs off the parsley plant and took them to the kitchen. Then it was onto the cutting board, gather up the leaf-heads in the fingers of one hand and a quick slice across with a sharp knife until the bunch was reduced to a pile of parsley bits. I didn't bin the mincer because it cost good money, but I won't bother using it for parsley in future!

Herb Flowers for More Flavour

  Whether fresh or dried, herbs add flavour to food; but in most cases, the leaf is the part that is used. Freshly chopped, the taste is obvious and can be quite strong; when dried, however, many like parsley and basil lose their flavour; and after a period of storage even in airtight containers, most can end up bland and smelling like tea.
  The flowers of the plant can change this, but always check to make sure that they are edible. They can still be used straight from the plant and will add a new dimension to any dish. The new buds which haven't yet opened are especially fragrant. To dry, simply cut the flower stalks complete with buds, then lay them in a shallow container, cover with paper towel and put this out of the way somewhere. Depending on the water-content of the herb and ambient temperatures, drying may take 2 or 3 weeks. After this, strip everything from the stalk by stroking down from the tip with the fingers. Now chop or grind (we use a coffee grinder), put in a small glass jar with an airtight lid, then you have a better-than-average herb for use whenever you need it. We've tried oregano, basil and rosemary and all seem to work well.

The Parsley Revival - rejuvenating potted parsley

parsley plant

  Parsley plants seem to last longer in pots than in the ground; however, they all eventually go to seed. Usually that's the time to bin them, but there is life in the old plant yet. While the leaves are still green, cut the main stem about an inch above the soil with secateurs, then continue to water as before. In a few days, small shoots will spring from the old wood, and soon enough you'll have a revived parsley plant that should last as long as its former self did.

Put "ICE" on your mobile phone

  There may come a time when you have an accident and are unable to communicate with whoever has found you. A simple, Internationally recognised word on your mobile phone could save your life and inform others of your predicament.
  Enter "ICE" in your phonebook, adding details of a person you wish to be contacted in case of emergency. Include their phone number, name and their relationship to you. If you wish to include more than one emergency contact, list them as: ICE1, ICE2, ICE3, and so on.
  Part of the standard procedure for Emergency Personnel is to check your phone for this vital information.

Spice up with Cinnamon

  Cinnamon is often associated with buns and cakes, but did you know that it has many health properties?
  Researchers have found that this aromatic spice can improve brain function, help reduce triglycerides (fats in the blood) and increase antioxident levels. It is also said to lower the risk of heart disease. Although further claims that it cures most illnesses may be pie in the sky, we can verify that taking it daily has made discomfort from indigestion a rarity.
  Obviously there are many uses for this versatile spice in cooking, but a sprinkle of cinnamon in coffee, or a quarter teaspoon in the coffee grounds before percolating adds an exciting new dimension to an old favourite. For a bit of variety, try a few drops of vanilla essence as well. That's what we do after our evening meal. Now, even when we've made absolute pigs of ourselves, we still get a good night's sleep minus the reflux.

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