Transform an ordinary meal into a feast for the eyes and taste buds with these ideas for fast finishing touches.
Spiff Up Your Soups and Salads
Croutons can be made in minutes to add a crunch to soups or salads. Cut slightly stale bread into small cubes and fry them with a little olive oil and a few slivers of garlic for extra flavour.
Fresh herbs like basil, parsely, and rosemary can add flavour and colour to an ordinary soup. If you are putting herbs in your soup, reserve a few sprigs of the herb to place on top of the bowl.
Do Up the Main Course
Watercress makes a bright, peppery garnish, and is more unusual than a sprig of parsley. A handful of watercress can take the place of a separate side salad, and tastes especially good with grilled meat as it blends with the juices on the plate but retains its crispness.
Breadcrumbs can be quickly fried in very little oil or butter until golden, and used to top a vegetable or pasta dish, adding both flavour and colour. They are easily made in a food processor.
Nuts and seeds such as flaked almonds, pine nuts, or sesame seeds, dry fried or toasted for a few seconds until they turn golden, add a pretty speckle and rich flavour to many dishes, and they also provide a good helping of protein in vegetarian recipes.
Onions can be sliced and quickly deep fried to add intense flavour as a garnish over the top of rice or egg dishes.
Bacon, fried until it is crisp and dry, can be crumbled over salads, grain dishes, and creamy soups.
Orange and lemon rind, finely grated or taken off with a zester, can add a splash of fast colour to grills and fried meat, and looks pretty on creamy desserts. If you like, blanch the shreds, or put them in a sieve and pour boiling water over them, to make them less bitter.
Dress Up Dessert
Cookies, nuts, and citrus rind all make an attractive topping for ice cream.Use crushed almond praline, peanut brittle, macaroons or any almond cookies, raisins soaked in hot rum, toasted nuts or the thinly cut rind of an orange, lemon or lime. Curls of dark chocolate shaved off with a vegetable peeler are also very effective.
A fine dusting of icing sugar or cocoa, sifted gently through a tea strainer is an elegant way to decorate dessert. Because so little sugar is used, it will not over sweeten the dish, but icing sugar does melt quickly, so make sure you add it just before serving. Fresh fruit, such as sliced mango with a squeeze of lime looks appetizing frosted lightly with icing sugar.