Your living room: Small changes that make a big difference

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Our living room is the core of our home; the room we showcase for visitors and enjoy quiet family time in and therefore it is crucial that we ensure it is as homely and comfortable as possible. Whilst we would all love the most up to date, modern living room, it is essential this room reflects both your taste and your lifestyle.

Whilst some large changes such as; changing couches or adding new timber windows aren’t something we can all do on a regular basis, here are some smaller changes that are guaranteed to make a huge impact on your living room.

Improve your lighting

The lighting you choose for any room, particularly your living room can change the entire ambiance. If you are looking to have a living room where you and your family can relax; subtle, soft lighting can work really well and create a cosy atmosphere. However, if you want to create a space that is alert then harsher, brighter lighting will be more suitable.

Installing a dimmer switch is also the perfect solution as this will allow you to have brighter light during day time hours and a soft dimmer light for pyjama moments and those romantic evenings in.

Add an accent wall

If you really want to change things up and add a bit of the contemporary into your living room, why not add an accent wall? This wall is where you can add a bold statement in your otherwise quite neutral living room. This can be an extremely quick and cheap way of completely changing the entire look and feel of your living space.

Add some life

Believe it or not, the addition of a living and breathing plant can really enhance your living room. Whether that is an orchid or some herb pots; add them to random spaces in your lounge for a great effect.

Change your accent pillows

If you don’t currently have any accent pillows; get some! If you do have them, change them up a bit. This is a quick and inexpensive way of completely changing the colour or design theme of your living room. If you want to make sure your living space really stands out, add some brightly coloured cushions to your couch.

With these essential tips in mind, you can really enhance your living room this season without spending a fortune!

5 Cooking Tips For The Baker In You

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Baking seems so easy when you see it on cooking shows, but when you try it yourself, it does not always turn out the way you expect. Baking is a technical skill; some say it takes even more skill than cooking. If you want to be a good baker, here are some tips you should follow:

Preparation

Make it a habit to read through the recipe from the start to finish and make sure you have the right ingredients and materials before you start. Also ensure your ingredients are at room temperature before you begin cooking, unless stated otherwise. Be aware of different baking terms to make sure you are doing the right thing. For instance, melted is different from softened.

When using the oven

Always pre-heat the oven according to the temperature in the recipe before baking. Use an oven thermometer to make sure that the temperature is exact. In addition, you also need to have a timer handy. A few minutes or seconds can turn your cookies or cake hard. When baking, follow the times and temperatures exactly as seen on the recipe. You can also use your judgment and check the cookies or cake once in a while.

Types of ingredients

When baking, you will be seeing different types of ingredients – some you normally use, while others you may not have heard of. Recipes may call for salted or unsalted butter, different types of oil, a variety of sugars, and even different types of flour. Read about these varieties to ensure you know what they are good for and why a certain recipe needs it.

Use appropriate measuring tools

There are measuring tools for liquids and measuring tools for solids. When you are baking, you need to use the right measuring tools for the ingredients you are measuring. Another tip is to level off ingredients using a knife when measuring them. Use the straight edge of a knife to get the most accurate measurements. The smallest addition to an ingredient can make a huge difference when baking.

Practice, practice, practice

The first cake or batch of cookies you make may not turn out perfect but with baking all it takes is practice. The more you do it, the better you get. For beginners, it is best to stick to one recipe first before attempting to do others. Once you have perfected a recipe, you can move on to other delectable desserts you can serve to your family and friends.

With these tips, you are sure to be a better baker in no time. If you practice, you will soon be able to make all the desserts that you want including layered cakes, chocolate macaroons, cookies, muffins, and many more! Once you get the hang of things, it will be easier for you to prepare these wonderful offerings that are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth!

 

Some simple feng shui guidelines to help you transform your home

hshui-wealth.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.1280.960 Many people have recently chosen to take inspiration from the East when transforming their home – this has proven to be a popular interior design tool for many years now. Regardless of whether you own a contemporary or traditional property, feng shui helps to promote feelings of harmony, balance and welcome.

 What is feng shui?

 While many believe feng shui to be something of a vague concept – a surge of Chinese investors in Britain have greatly increased its popularity in the UK. This cultural and spiritual belief involves pinpointing a location where you really belong, through the use of good energy. This energy promotes a feeling of wellness in your home, allowing you to feel at ease in every room in the household. To achieve the full benefit of feng shui in the home, your interior must feel serene and composed, with a sense of warmth and flow.

Go with the flow

 A house with good feng shui boasts a strong, smooth and unblemished energy flow to the front door – nothing should obstruct the door or pathway. Brightening your interior space using the likes of an open plan living concept will create a clean space with plenty of light and fresh air. Ridding the home of unwanted clutter and obstacles will not only free your mind, but also the many surfaces in your household. The main energy centres include the bathroom, the bedroom, the living room and the kitchen.

Good feng shui in the living room

A clutter-free home that is light and bright has the beginnings of a feng shui living space. Putting a clear organisation system in place is a must, especially if you wish to promote the correct energy. When choosing a good feng shui decor scheme for your living room, begin by creating an energy map of your home. This will help you to choose the correct colours, fabrics and shapes for key furnishings, including sofas and chairs. G Plan has a wide range of Stunning Fabric Sofas to choose from, which are guaranteed to create a welcoming and stylish focal point. Your aim is to provide a clear, unobstructed flow of energy, which can be achieved by placing your furniture in the right place. Although minimalistic in style, it’s still important to create areas of warmth to encourage cosy, social and centred environment.

Growing Your Own Salad

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It’s not exactly fast food. It could take most of the summer to get your salad (which seems to be roughly the speed of most pizza places) but it is well worth the wait. With only the most rudimentary of tools, a little space in the back yards, and some elbow grease, anybody can have a truly fresh salad.

Gardening is a rewarding hobby. Flower growers can see the beauty of their labors all summer long. The vegetable growers also get a great reward. They can hear the fresh crunch of home-grown lettuce and taste the mouth-watering tomato that just came off the vine minutes before you tasted it.

A gardener can grow his own salad, making it as simple or complicated as he would like. As with any salad the first thing he starts with is the lettuce. Any true vegetable aficionado will tell you that there is no such thing as lettuce. The leafy salad staple comes in a variety of tastes, shapes, sizes, and colors. Gardeners can grow iceberg lettuce (the normal kind you find in the grocery store), butterhead, romaine, or countless other lettuces. The produce section of the supermarket generally doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the types of lettuces out there. It’s best just to check what grows in your area and plant whatever looks good.

Next on the salad is the tomato – the ripe, red wedges add visual appeal as well as deep flavor. Tomatoes tend to be robust plants and can grow in a variety of climates. Its best to stake them to make sure that the tomatoes do not touch the ground. This can be anything from a simple wooden stake to an elaborate metal cage. Keep an eye on them, though. They’ll sprout up and ripen seemingly overnight. Pick them when they are plump and red, slice them into sections, and enjoy!

To add some extra color to the salad, not to mention some Vitamin A for good eyesight, shave some fresh carrots over the salad, or chop them into round pieces. The carrot is another hearty vegetable. Unlike the tomato, the carrot grows into the ground, thus it grows better in loose soil. When you are ready to make your fresh salad, simply go to the ground and pull out any carrot bigger than your finger. Slice it up and you are ready to eat!

One of the last things to add to a fresh grown salad is a few cucumber slices. Cucumbers are fast-growing plants – most varieties are ready to pick in 2 months. When you are ready for your salad, go to the garden and pull one of these off the vine, clean it, slice it and eat it.

A simple hobby is turned into a delicious salad – with its crisp greens, ripe tomatoes, crunchy carrots, and brisk cucumbers. And they eat their fresh home-grown salads, gardeners can definitely enjoy the fruits … or … vegetables of their labors.

If you need some more salad ideas and if you want to discover a whole range of delicious, refreshing and healthy meals you should check out Florette Salad recipes. You should follow Florette on Facebook too, I just love their activity there.

High Protein Energy Bars

Healthy munchies

Nowadays, everywhere you go you see different variety’s of these bars being sold. Protein bars have become a popular meal replacement for active people and serve as a healthier snack for people looking to add a few extra calories. I prefer the ones from Natural Balance Foods.
Generally, there are two types of these bars out there and they are those that contain a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat, and those that contain mostly protein and fat, with very little carbohydrate.

The bars that are balanced with protein, fat and carbs are more of an energy type bar and are popular with active people. The bars that are mostly protein and fat are popular with people looking to lose weight and who are following a low carb diet. But, what are the benefits or the drawbacks of these bars and how can they fit into your diet as part of a healthy eating plan?

Advantages
Energy bars have one main advantage, they are very convenient. They fit into your briefcase, purse or pocket making them easy to take with you anywhere and to eat anytime. A lot of them do have a good amount of protein without the high cholesterol and saturated fat contained in other protein sources. They are usually fortified with vitamins and minerals as well making them a healthier choice than a fast food option or a convenient store meal.

Disadvantages
Despite popular beliefs, energy bars do not take the place of a well balanced, nutritious meal. While a lot of these bars are fortified with vitamins and minerals commonly found in fruits and vegetables, they don’t contain the phytochemicals, bioflavonoids and fiber fruits and vegetables have so their benefits are not quite the same. A lot of these bars also contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated palm oil, meaning that the saturated fat content of these bars can be as much as 50% of the fat content.

Some point to have in mind
You are better off with one of these bars verses a trip to the nearest fast food place, but they still don’t have the same health benefits as fresh fruits and vegetables and other whole foods. If you do like to use these bars, you can make them part of a healthier meal by adding a piece of fruit or a raw vegetable, as opposed to making the bar itself the meal. They are alright by themselves as a pre or post workout snack but always try to keep in mind that they should be considered a snack rather than a meal.
Look at the labels and choose bars that are low in saturated fat and have no palm oil or any hydrogenated fats or at least have very little of these fats. Look for bars that contain vitamins and minerals if you are using them for meal replacements from time to time to keep some of the nutrients sacrificed from the meal you are replacing in tact.

Protein bars are indeed a good thing if you choose the right ones and you always keep them in mind as a healthy snack more than an actual meal. When you use them as a snack, remember that a lot of them do pack a good amount of calories so be careful if you are trying to lose weight.

 

Low Calorie Cooking And Exercise – The Miracle Diet?

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With all the fad diets taking over our televisions, bookstores, and pantries, many people have forgotten the basics of healthy living. When you are busy counting carbs, calculating fat grams, and popping diet pills, perhaps you should consider that the “miracle” diet may very well be the oldest one in the book. Low calorie meals and exercises may very well be the secret to weight loss and healthy living. You can find on British Lion Eggs site some great recipes, all have less than 350 calories per serving and are guaranteed to be light, healthy and fresh.

A few decades ago, few people knew what a carb was. However, everyone knew that you were supposed to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Now, however, low calorie cooking has been replaced with complicated recipes with hard-to-find ingredients, all in the name of weight loss. How did this get so complicated? Is it possible that you can lose weight without an advanced degree in physics?

The real key to weight loss and healthy living is low calorie cooking and exercise. Most people have one of two problems with this method. One, it seems too easy, or two, it does not magically make weight disappear.

Although people may say they want an easy solution to weight loss, the truth is the complicated methods make people feel like they are accomplishing something. If it is as simple as lowering calories, people are not constantly reminded of what they are doing, so it seems like they are doing nothing. This coupled with the second reason, it does not make weight magically disappear, makes people assume it does not work. People want to look in the mirror the day after starting a diet and see a difference. They want a manifestation of the hard work and effort they are putting forth. However, few long-term solutions make a difference that quickly. Low calorie meals and exercises are not capable of getting you into skinny jeans in a week, but the real goal should be long-term health and fitness.

How do you incorporate low calorie cooking into a diet based in deep-fried food and sweets? The first step is to reduce the grease and sugar. You do not have to give it up completely, but make it a rare treat instead of a staple in your diet. When cooking your regular recipes, replace ingredients with healthier alternatives or low calorie counterparts. For example, use low fat cheese and milk and veggies whenever possible.

You can also get exercise into your everyday activities. Park in the far parking places at work or at the grocery store and opt for the stairs instead of the elevator. Every little bit helps get you into shape.

 

The Well Stocked Kitchen

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Every cook dreams of having a kitchen like those you see on TV complete with a pot rack full of gleaming cookware in every shape and size. While this daydream probably isn’t entirely realistic, it is possible to have a well stocked kitchen that will fit your every cooking desire. Before you run out and purchase a set of pots and pans, get a working knowledge of what types of cookware are best suited to your needs. Use this handy checklist to see what your kitchen is missing.

Skillets: A skillet is simply a low sided, long handled pan often called a frying pan. Generally skillets come in four sizes, extra large (12 Inches), large (10 Inches), medium (8 inches), and small(6 inches). Cookbooks often refer you to certain size skillets, so it is important to know the measurement of each one. Occasionally you will have a recipe that requires you to place a skillet in the oven, so it is important to purchase skillets with handles that can withstand the heat of baking. You can also purchase skillets with removable handles.

Saucepans: Saucepans come in three sizes (1-, 2-, and 3-quart) and it is a good idea to have a few in each style for warming soups and making sauces. Saucepans have long handles and tight fitting lids.

Dutch oven or Kettle: A Dutch oven or kettle is a large heavy stock pot with a tight fitting lid. Unlike a sauce pan, these pots don’t have a long handle; rather they have two tight fitting handles along the rim on opposite sides. Dutch ovens are perfect for soups, stews, and braising meats. Kettles are good when you have a large stew or pot of soup to make or if you enjoy home canning.

Vegetable steamer: A vegetable steamer is a perforated basket that holds food over boiling water in a pan in order to steam it rather than boil it. They are available as collapsible units or solid baskets.

Double boiler: A double broiler is two pans doing the job of one. When using a double broiler, simply place one on top of the other. Water in the bottom pan simmers gently to cook or melt the contents in the top pan. This is a great piece of cookware for preparing delicate sauces or melting candy to make chocolate.

Griddles: A griddle is a flat, rimless pan that converts your stove burner into a smooth surface for preparing things like pancakes and crepes. The rimless design also makes flipping pancakes an easy task.

Omelet pans: An omelet pan has specially sloped sides that help to form your egg into the right shape. This pan also comes with a nonstick surface make it easy to fold and slide your omelet right from the pan onto your plate.

Grill pans: A grill pan is a special skillet that has deep groves that allow fat to drain away from your food. The grooves also add lines to the items you cook, making them look like they have been seared on the barbeque grill. A grill pan also comes in the flat rimless shape of a skillet.

Woks: A wok is a pan with deep, sloping sides that help keep food pieces in the pan when you are stir-frying. They are available with rounded or flat bottoms, and sometimes come in electric versions.

What Is Organic Food And Should I Buy It?

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Organic food is the food derived from animals and plants that have been grown and raised in accordance with the strict guidelines associated with government’s definition of the term, “organic.” In order to be certified as an organic food, food must be grown without the use of products such as manufactured fertilizers, synthetic or man-made pesticides, additives that control or modify growth, antibodies, and/or and livestock feed containing additives.

Organic Foods Once Just a Niche Market

It wasn’t that long ago that “eating organic” was something only a relatively small number of people did. Back in the 1960’s, life was changing. Women were beginning to work outside the home and the trend then was convenience. Processed foods meant a good meal could be delivered to the table in a fraction of the time. The market for frozen and processed foods literally took off.

Organic food was definitely not something that most people gave much attention to especially since there no longer was enough time to visit the butcher, the produce vendor and the dairy farm. A quick trip to the supermarket could now provide a family with enough food for several days. And that’s how life continued, fueled by the need for speed and convenience.

Organic Foods Go Mainstream

Lately, people’s feelings towards the foods they eat are changing once again. This time, the change is being fueled by the feeling that people no longer know what they’re putting into their bodies. The news today is filled with stories of E. coli outbreaks, genetic food engineering, the potential dangers of eating foods that are shot up with growth hormones to make them bigger and better, and other frightening information. Tired of feeling out of control, eating organic has become chic and has definitely become the latest trend in eating among people from all levels of society.

True organic food is more expensive than non-organic food, but the trade-offs are well worth the additional cost. Not only is organic food better for those who consume it, the people who eat organic foods claim these foods actually taste better than those grown and raised without this strict definition. In fact, eating organic is the best way and really is the only way to feel 100% confident about the foods that are consumed.

Meeting the New Demand

Today, organic food is big business and an ever-growing segment of the food industry. Farmers are changing the way they grow their foods to take advantage of this increased demand. Unfortunately for produce growers, it can take up to 2 full years for the land to cleanse itself of the synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that have been applied during all the years prior to growing organic. But the wait is a worthwhile trade-off as well.

Organic foods are so popular that it’s no longer necessary to shop for them at specialty stores. In fact, large grocery store chains are constantly devoting more shelf space to meet the ever-growing needs of organic food devotees.

 

Barbeque Techniques: Two Methods to Consider

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When it comes to barbecuing, there are two main schools of thought for the techniques that you can use.

The first of these techniques – and the most popular method for those who grill in their back yards – is the style where the food is cooked directly over the source of heat. This way, the food is rapidly cooked on a hot grill suspended directly over the charcoals, the wood, or the gas burners. Rarely is the lid ever closed. Any foods, including the most tender cuts, hamburgers, steaks, kabobs of all kinds, chicken, and even vegetables are quickly seared and cooked to perfection using this technique. If sauces are desired, they can be added before hand, during the cooking process, or even after the food comes off the grill. These choices will all create different and enjoyable tastes and flavors.

The second barbeque cooking technique uses heat indirectly. This is more appropriate when you’re cooking much larger or whole cuts of meat, such as especially thick steaks, roasts, a whole hog, or a pork shoulder. When you’re cooking using this method, the food is cooked away from the actual source of heat. This usually requires a water pan of some kind in order to maintain the moisture level of the food. The temperatures generally sit in around 250ºF. During this cooking method, the lid of the barbeque remains closed most of the time, and the length of the cooking is much longer than in the first method. When you’re using an indirect barbeque cooker, there is usually an additional fire box that allows you to combine charcoal and wooden logs for burning. This allows the heat and the smoke to rise through the cooking chamber where the meat is, so that it is heated perfectly. The rule of thumb of this technique is a low temperature for a long time.

No matter which method you use, it’s important not to cook your meat too quickly. If the internal temperature of your meat rises too quickly as you cook it, the water and the fat within it will be expelled before the collagen is able to melt. This means that your cut will be dry and tough. However, you cannot cook too slowly or you will risk a bacterial contamination. Though there is a fine line for barbecuing properly, it’s important to find that line and stick to it.

If you’re already dealing with a cut of meat that is tough, such as a brisket or a pork roast, consider cooking slowly as the collagen adds flavor to the meat. If you buy a less tough, more expensive cut, you can cook at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time. This is why ribs and steaks take such a short time to cook, while pork shoulders or beef brisket can run up to 20 hours.

As a final note, it’s important to have fun while you barbeque! Your pleasure will come through in your cooking as it will leave you motivated, and willing to try new and interesting things.

 

A Beginners Guide to Chinese Cookery

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When I first ate Chinese food in the UK, it was really quite unappealing. Everything came in a gloopy sauce and seemed to taste the same, due to the overuse of monosodium glutamate, supposedly a flavour enhancer but in reality, nothing of the kind.  Consequently, I thought how nice it would be to cook Chinese food at home but I had no idea where to start until BBC TV came to my rescue in the shape of Ken Hom, the USA-born chef of Cantonese parents.

Ken presented Chinese cuisine in such an easily-understandable way, demonstrating techniques and suggesting alternative ingredients should the originals not be available in your local supermarket. The book which accompanied the series, Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery became my bible and I still have my copy, pages stained with oil drips and smears of sauce.

To help you on your way to cooking Chinese food at home, I’m going to briefly describe the basic equipment, ingredients and techniques which you need to know so that you can produce some simple and tasty dishes. I hope you enjoy the article and that it inspires you to get cooking!

Equipment

Although there are many implements and pieces of equipment you can buy, to start on the road to cooking your own Chinese food, you really only need a good knife or two and a wok. Woks come in all shapes and sizes, they can be non-stick, flat-bottomed, they can even be electric these days but I still prefer my old carbon steel wok with it’s rounded bottom and one wooden handle. This is a Pau wok. These are readily available in Chinese supermarkets and are much less expensive than other varieties. There is one important task though, before you will be ready to cook with such a wok and that is to season it. You will need to scrub it with a cream cleaner to remove any residues of machine oil and dry it carefully. Put the wok on the hob over a low heat. Rub the inside of the wok with two tablespoons of cooking oil using kitchen towel. Let the wok heat slowly for 10 to 15 minutes then wipe the inside with more kitchen towel. The paper will come away black. Carry on coating, heating and cleaning off until the kitchen towel comes away clean. Your wok is now ready to use. After use, wash only in water without detergent and dry thoroughly over a low heat. You may also apply a little oil if you wish. This should prevent the wok from rusting but if it does develop rust, just scrub and season again.

As well as the wok, you will need a wok stand, particularly if you have an electric hob. This keeps the wok stable if you are using it for braising or deep frying.

You will also need something to stir with – any spatula, slice or slotted spoon will do – metal for a metal wok and plastic or wooden for a non-stick wok.

Ingredients

Before you rush out and buy up the whole Chinese section at the supermarket, bear in mind that some ingredients don’t keep well if left unused. Just select something simple from your chosen cookery book and buy the things that you need for that then you can expand your selection as you progress through different dishes.

Some common store-cupboard ingredients that you will almost certainly need are dark and light soy sauce, some sort of cooking oil and sesame oil, cornflour and rice wine or sherry. For more information, see my article Chinese Cooking – Ingredients and Equipment.

Techniques

Stir-Frying

The most well known Chinese cooking technique is stir-frying. This is where your wok comes into its own as it’s shape and size (at least 14 inches diameter with deep sides) is ideal for quick cooking. The secret to successful stir-frying is to have all your ingredients ready in advance.

Meat should be cut according to the recipe but normally in thin strips. Vegetables likewise but in any event should be of similar shapes and sizes to ensure even cooking. Long thin vegetables such as spring onions, carrots or asparagus are often cut on the diagonal so that more surface area is exposed for quicker cooking. Measure out sauce ingredients – check the recipe – if they are all added to the dish at the same time, you can put them all in one small bowl. If cornflour is included, don’t forget to give it a good stir before adding to the other food.

Once you have everything prepared, heat your wok until it is very hot then add oil and using your chosen stirring implement ensure that the oil is evenly distributed over the surface of the wok. Before you add your ingredients. the wok should be so hot that it is almost smoking – this will prevent the food from being greasy. The exception to this is if you are flavouring your oil with garlic, chilli, spring onions, ginger or salt – these will burn if the oil is too hot.

Now add your other ingredients in the order stated in the recipe and toss them over the surface of the wok ensuring that nothing rests in one place for too long and moving the food from the centre of the wok to the sides. I suggest that you wear an apron or other protective clothing for this operation as the food often spits due to the high temperature it is cooked at.

Deep Frying

You can use your wok for deep frying but be very careful that it is safely balanced on its stand. Under no circumstances leave it unattended. Deep frying in a wok uses less oil than a deep fryer or saucepan but you may find these safer and easier to use.

When deep frying, make sure that the oil is hot enough before adding ingredients or the food will end up very greasy. Test it by dropping in a small piece of prepared food or a cube of bread. If the oil bubbles up around what you dropped in then it’s hot enough.

Make sure that food to be deep fried is dried thoroughly on kitchen paper or drained of its marinade before cooking otherwise it will spit.

Shallow Frying

This is the same as the Western technique. Fry food on one side, then the other and drain off any excess oil before adding sauce ingredients. A normal frying pan is fine for this.

Steaming

Steaming is widely used in Chinese cookery. You can use a bamboo steamer in a wok, a heat-proof plate placed on a rack in a wok or other large pan or you can use a normal European steamer.

If using a bamboo steamer or plate in a wok, bring about 2 inches of water to a simmer. Put your rack into the wok (if the bamboo steamer is big enough and will sit on the sides of the wok without being in the water, you don’t need a rack) and balance your plate or steamer of food on it. Put the lid on your steamer or wok and check occasionally to see if the water needs topping up (use water which is already hot).

Whichever method you use, make sure that the food is above the water level and isn’t getting wet.

Braising

As with Western cooking, braising is used for tougher cuts of meat and involves gentle cooking of meat and/or vegetables in flavoured stock. Red-braising is the technique where food is braised in a dark liquid such as soy sauce which gives the food a red/brown colour. This type of braising sauce can be frozen and re-used.