You spend hours creating a special dinner for your special someone, then you plunk it down on a plate and there you go. Sure, it’s going to taste fantastic, but why can’t it look fantastic too? You can elevate the curb appeal of your dish with a few simple tricks, and stuff you already have in your kitchen:
— The Tuna Can: Seriously? Seriously. Use a can opener to take both the top and the bottom off the can, so you’re left with just a ring– now you have a ring mold. Ring molds are essential for creating stacked food, and for some reason stacked food looks cooler than plunked food.
— The Squeeze Bottle: They sell these all over, but you can recycle a mustard bottle (the kind with the pointed tip) right from your fridge. Instead of serving your sauce poured over your food or crusting over in a gravy boat, swirl it, dot it, or make designs around your plate with it. Using a toothpick (or chopstick or skewer- whatever is handy) you can even create designs in your sauce– swirl a few circles around the plate and then drag your toothpick out from the center creating a spiderweb design. Or put dots around the plate, and connect them by dragging the toothpick from one dot to another. You can do anything with the squeeze bottle!
— The White Plate: If you’re really going for haute cuisine and not homestyle, white dinnerware is essential. You’re not showing off your china here, you’re showing off your food. Think of a big white dinner plate as the canvas for your dish. While you’re at it, put down a white tablecloth and white cloth napkins. Suddenly your kitchen table is a four-star dining room. And the best part? White dishes and tableclothes are cheap. We’re talking less than $10 for a complete place setting, and I’m positive you can do better than that at your local thrift store or Ikea.
— The Garnish: It’s more than just a sprig of parsley these days. A few chive fronds. A curl of lemon peel. A few edible flowers. Crushed black peppercorns. A little nest of fried rice noodle. The key to garnish is to not overdo it– don’t put a big hunk of chives so it’s covering all your food, instead arrange three chive fronds over the top. (For some reason, I feel like odd numbers work better than even, so three is better than four. But that’s just me- you do whatever you think looks hot). Voila, your dish is finished. Or shall we say, your dish has been composed. 🙂
A few other things to keep in mind– cook with the very best ingredients you can afford. Do not cook a $30 steak and serve it with boxed mashed potatoes! It’s just not right. If you’re spending all that time and money on the steak, you can peel a few potatoes. A note about wine also– never cook with anything you wouldn’t drink. That means stay away from the “cooking sherry” and “cooking red wine” you see in the salad dressing aisle! Any wine you cook with should come from a good vitner, or at the very least, the wine/beer department at your local grocery. And remember this ratio– every time you add wine to your dish, pour yourself a glass. You deserve it, you gourmet you!
But wait a second! You’ve got the keys to the gourmet kingdom, but you can’t quite envision how this meal is going to come together– it can’t be that easy, right? But it is! Take the standard steak and mashed potatoes dinner. Family-style you’d just put your steak on the plate, pour a little of the reduction on top, and pile a nice portion of mashed potatoes next to it. (Nothing wrong with that at all, by the way). But you want to make it shine. Here’s what you do (and there are any number of ways to do this using the tools above, this is just one method): Slice your steak on the diagonal (instead of using your knife to cut while it’s vertical, angle it slightly into the meat). Put your ring mold into the center of your white plate. Spoon in mashed potatoes to fill it up, then carefully lift/jiggle your mold off the top (this might take a little practice to get right, but that’s okay- they’re mashed potatoes. If it doesn’t work right on the first try, wipe off your plate and try it again). Next, fan out your sliced steak on top of the mashed potatoes– be delicate, you don’t want to destroy your ivory tower! Fill up your clean mustard bottle with the red wine reduction or gravy you made to go with your steak. A funnel is useful here– it helps you sauce get into the bottle and not all over the counter; you don’t want to waste it. Use the bottle to squeeze the design of your choice around the perimeter of the plate, maybe a few swirls? Again, if it doesn’t look right to you, just use a dampened towel to carefully wipe the plate clean and do it over. You can also clean up errant drips and smudges from the plate with your damp towel before you serve it. As your final touch, snip a few fresh chive fronds and arrange them on top of the steak. Voila, a sexy steak dinner ready for the table. Don’t forget the glasses of wine, and certainly don’t forget to toast the chef!