Deconstructed v Non Deconstructed plating

One of the more interesting trends in food over the last decade or so (possibly longer), is the idea of a deconstructed meal.  In short, it involves taking all the resident components of a dish, say a chicken parmesan, and leaving one or more components separated.  In an effort to keep pushing boundaries, many top chefs began moving components of a meal from an aggregated whole, to separate components on the same, or even different plates.

Here’s an example of such a meal from the great people at The Seasonlist (

Chicken Parmesan with Lemon Fettuccini & Asparagus

And now, here’s a more traditional version we did late last year.

chicken parm

You’ll note the plating in the second pic generally incorporates all the items typically seen in a classic chicken parm dish appropriately.  Both meals plate up quite well.  The deconstructed meal also gives the host/chef an opportunity to draw equal attention to both key components of a classic chicken parm:  the chicken, and the accompanying pasta.

Here’s a clever one for a classic down south experience – the shrimp seafood boil.  First the constructed, and then the deconstructed version.


deconstructed shrimp boil

That first pic came from the lovely and skilled Kathy Marker over at “Hungry Again” (  Tell you what – I want an invitation to her next party!  I’ll say the same thing about the second pic, which comes to us from the equally lovely “DC Ladies.”  You can get a ton of great ideas at their site with pics of this specific dish at the following link:

Done hors d’oeuvre style, it’s a nifty spin on the original deep south classic.  Of course, done THIS way, you can also adjust for the spiciness of the dish, in case you have guests with different heat tolerances, especially young kids. This dish also tends to adhere to a common serving point with food, in that the content of a well plated dish will have three like items plated.

Going to share one last deconstructed dish before calling it a day.  Serving up a classic spinach and sausage lasagna here from “Deliciously Declassified” (


Sometimes, a dish with this much color and ‘oomph’ just needs to sit by itself on a plate.  Also it’s done in the classic style of a full meal serving.

Going for hors d’oeuvre sizing once more, we have this version from “Glow Kitchen” (

deconstructed lasagna

All of us that do quality home cooking should use some of these images as inspiration to play with your food…before plating it. 



Organic inspiration…..sort of

Hi Gang.


Been a little cooking-free for a while.  Life does have a way of mucking up plans!  There have couple of times where cooking DID happen, but there was no real inspiration to jump into plating adventures.  I blame everything from mud runs, to late nights out with friends, etc.

The good news is that the GF and I were finally able to spend some quality time in the kitchen again recently.  We tried to recreate a meal we had at a tapas bar.  The meal was cubed steak, seared, and served in a cherry glaze.  Well, what we wound up making was stir-fried steak in something closer to a teriyaki sauce.

Every now and then your experiments go off into left field and don’t work out quite the way you want.  The good news for US is that she also had an idea for making poached pears, which I’d never tried to make before last weekend.

It is a very simple recipe:  Take about 2 cups of simple syrup (equal parts water/sugar), a 750ml bottle of moscato (you can use the inexpensive stuff), a bit of honey, a cinnamon stick, and a split vanilla bean.  We happened to pick some large, mutant pears to poach instead of more modest pears. Needless to say, dessert took about twice as long to make.

I noticed my GF had some small dipping bowls available so I was suddenly inspired to try a dessert version of a Japanese Bento Box.  I wasn’t thrilled with the result, but I’ll post it anyway, just to show you the scale.  I think this plating format might work better with a baked dessert that can be garnished/adorned with a bit more color.  

Oh, before I forget, the light sauce is the poaching liquid, the dark sauce is dulce de leche, thinned a bit with heavy cream, and french vanilla ice cream is in the 3rd mini box.


It’s not terrible, but it wound up being a little more plain than I anticipated.  I think I’ll try this again another night, with maybe a tres leches cake, or perhaps some other baked good, with other dipping sauces.  The look is good, but didn’t quite work with the poached pear.  No harm no foul.  This is what learning is all about!

We did manage to find one nifty idea.  Combining a bit of the Bento Box motif, I also used the mini bowls to serve some accompanying ice cream. I started thinning out the dulce de leche with a bit more cream to drizzle on the plate.  I started off with some curved lines, and wound making something of a crude eye motif.    


 The next time I go for this, I’ll definitely make the ‘eye lashes’ more uniformly curved. By the way, I dipped the poached pear back into the thickened poaching liquid in order to get a bit of it to ‘stick,’ so I was able to recreate the flavors of the full sized Bento Box from the picture above.  

I think you’ll find your dinner guests will like the idea of being able to dip their food at their leisure.  The mini bowl and the poached pear are stabilized by a dab of non-thinned dulce de leche. It’s an easy ‘cheat’ to help keep things from sliding around. Summer is here and it’s time to get back in the kitchen regularly so we’ll dust off the blog and kick this back up again with fresh ideas for you!

Enjoy your long holiday weekend with friends and family!



Color as an element of plating

I’ll admit it. I’m still troubled by not being able to seriously plate something more than a couple of ingredients in height. Keep trying, but not yet succeeding. There was a slightly different plan for this plating, and I tried to replicate something I saw in a restaurant in Malibu recently. That dish was seared ahi tuna on a bed of green beans, surrounded by a ‘moat’ of mashed potatoes.

That WAS the plan, but it didn’t work out quite the way it was intended. The GOOD news about the failure, is it provided an excellent opportunity to showcase how color contrast on a plate can lead to an eye-catching meal for you and your guests.

Tonight, we have a meal the GF & I cooked a couple of weekends ago. (Yes, the vertical plating thing has been bugging me a while) The meal was a turkey, feta cheese, and sun-dried tomato meatloaf with mashed sweet potatoes and a ginger/orange marmalade on the green beans.


The meal was as good as it looks. Wasn’t completely sure whether to add the gravy to the plate, for fear of covering up the beautiful colors featured in the meal. We have creamy white (cheese), red (tomatoes), green (beans), and orange (sweet potatoes) featured on the plate. It’s a great combination of color, and the palette really excites the palate. 

The fanciest tools can certainly make the plate ‘pop,’ as I often elude to with my use of molds, swirls, and such. But sometimes, it can be equally effective just to let the food speak plainly for itself. Seemed like a good idea to do just that since “PLan A” didn’t work out. “Plan B” sure did, though! Don’t worry, I’ll keep trying the vertical plating. Thinking the GF and I will try another tasty dessert next.

Get in your kitchen at least one night this busy week, and take the extra 30 seconds to plan how the food will look on your plate. Everyone enjoying your delicious food will thank you for it!



Essential Tools For Plating

You know, after this bit of a layoff in writing, I was planning to come back and discuss ‘vertical plating.’  From a plating standpoint, its really the key thing I don’t “do” well just yet.  Vertical plating is what the name implies: Your food is stacked, to some degree. I haven’t figured out how to do it consistently, so my efforts are only about 2 layers high, as seen below.


That’s the salmon with a homemade Thai chili sauce and the creamed broccoli/corn.  The salmon is served over a molded ’round’ of basmati rice, and thus, its vertical. What I can’t figure out is how Chef’s integrate multiple ingredients in a way that is, as my GF says, “artfully happenstance.”

This next example of vertical plating is so bad, its why I still started this post with the idea of plating. I won’t even tell you where it came from, mostly to protect the innocent.  Believe it or not, its a Caesar salad.


Okay, THAT’S lousy vertical plating.  I’m done, and its out of my system. Changing topics!

I’ve spent the last several months of this blog obliquely talking about good plating, and showing some of my ideas of plating, but I haven’t often told you what tools you should consider getting for good plating, beyond my trusty ring molds, and my new pyramid mold. Yes, I’ll be doing some nifty desserts in the future with that, to be sure…so stand by.

I want you to read this blog post from “The Chef’s Tool Box.” Its about the essential tools needed for restaurant quality presentation.

I won’t crib photos from this one, since these are the real pro’s and you should see it for yourself. The first image on the post is an nice example of vertical plating, and is much more attractive than the Caesar salad seen above.

The essence of the blog post describes the various tools you’ll need in your kitchen to really pull off a lot of great tricks to make your dishes ‘pop.’ The good news for all of us aspiring Chef’s is that most of these items are inexpensive. Interestingly enough, the first one the Chef lists is a tool I don’t have, which is an emulsifying blender. I call them ‘stick blenders’ or ‘boat motors.’ Thinking I should get one this weekend.

Up next on the Chef’s blog is something you’ll need for desserts especially: a “silpat.” It’s a silicone-based baking mat that’s non-stick. These used to cost a fortune, but you can score one now for around $20 bucks. While they’re fantastic for desserts, the one cool thing I really want to make with these is a ‘parmesan cookie.’

The lovely Cara over at “The Cocina Monologues” shows what I’m talking about here. (

She calls them “frico,” or “parmesan chips.”


This works with the stuff in the green container from the grocery store, too. She explains how to bake them so you get these nice ‘cookies’ to either plate with a nice steak (my idea) or crumbling it over a salad to give it some great texture.

Another item mentioned in the blog post that I’ve used regularly is a zester/grater, sometimes referred to as a ‘microplaner.’ It’s a neat tool for either the main meal or dessert. A great idea is to zest an orange with the microplaner to add some killer flavor to your batter for a chocolate galette or basic lava cake.

You’ve seen my use of a ring mold, so I won’t spend anymore time on that here. The Chef also mentions using ‘brushes’ for food, which is a neat idea.  I’ve used it a couple of times cooking with the GF. Oh, and pick up some squeeze bottles from Amazon!  You’ll need these for sauces like the caramel one below!! That was the homemade cheesecake the GF & I made a few weeks back.


Finally, there’s the “garde manger” which is explained in the blog. Basically it’s the swiss army knife toolkit for a chef to get fancy with food. Now, you know I don’t want to get overly fancy with the presentation. My objective with this blog, as you know, is to show you how to plate quickly, but effectively, for your home cooking needs! But I will admit, the little melon baller in the “garde manger” is something I could use for desserts.

Again, go check this blog posts here for more information on what you’ll need to add to your kitchen to plate great. Now get out there and do some good cooking, and Happy Friday, everybody!


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

In this case, the beauty of the dishes is quite obvious. One thing that’s been a struggle for me with vegetarian dishes up until recently, other than the fact that there’s no meat on the plate, is that often it’s difficult to make the plate really “pop” without the meal looking like just a bowl of succotash or some kind of meat-less stew.

Those of you that have followed this odd little blog for the last few months know one of my early homemade dishes was a great vegetarian ravioli (cheese/mushroom) with a fantastic homemade pumpkin sauce. For those that missed it, it’s the main pic of the blog, and the entire dish is shown below.


I learned from that meal that plating a killer vegetarian dish CAN be done.  After last weekend’s indulgences over the Valentine’s Day weekend, it’s time to get back to the ‘root’ of things, so to speak.  There’s a place in one of my favorite cities in the US (San Antonio) that puts a delicious and savory spin on classic Tex-Mex. Here, the folks at “Los Barrios Restaurant” ( have outdone themselves with a beautiful quesadilla of sauted mixed vegetables and a flavorful avocado salad.  Image

The dish itself is easy to plate. It features one of my favorite ‘cheats’ by using a biscuit cutter or ring mold to plate up the rice to keep it from taking up too much room on the plate. I bought a pyramid mold for things like rice and starches.  You can look forward to some nifty meals featuring that food-mold in coming weeks.

The well cooked tortillas add some nice browning to the plate, and the vegetables add considerable color for eye-appeal. Throw in some delicious charro beans, and it’s a fantastic meal that’s easy to get on a plate.

There are some cultures that naturally lend themselves to the idea of vegetarian dishes, and one belongs to the great people of India. More often than not, the plating I’ve seen of Indian cuisine is somewhat utilitarian, and not always dramatic, although easy to pull off at home.  I’m going to show you a meal that’s presented on a gorgeous banana leaf and is still somewhat utilitarian. The dish is called “Mudda Pappu” and the dish itself comes from “Sailu’s Kitchen” (


It’s a very creative way of using a cooking ingredient to plate a classic lentil-based meal.  Several cultures use banana leaves to cook food, from Asian, to Mexican, to Indian.  This is a great example of how to use an ingredient for cooking as a method to plate.

Another creative way to plate an appetizer is to use slate.  As seen below, you can buy yourself a piece of slate, some chalk you can borrow from your kid’s school kit, and you’re set.  “Haystack Goatcheese” ( offers up a great way to showcase your opening course for a dinner party.


This is another one of those items you can have your kids help plate up.  It’s straight forward, Mom & Dad can slice up the different cheeses, and your kids can plate the complementary items (dried fruits, jams, & nuts) and write the names for you. Everyone wins with this appetizer, and you can give your kids credit in front of your guests.

Last idea for the day is a classic favorite: the perogie. Yes, I know it can be spelled many different ways, depending on which Central/Eastern European country your favorite recipe comes from. “Follow Me Foodie” ( offers a beautiful review of a perogie dish served at a Vancouver restaurant called “Graze.” The meal is a yam & eggplant perogie with some incredibly complex flavors.


This one is a little tough for me to cook up at this stage. The plating isn’t “fancy for fancy’s sake” which you know always bugs me. But there are some dishes that are beyond my skill level to create in my own little kitchen. For example, if I were to try something like this, I wouldn’t make the dough from scratch. I’d probably buy a pie dough and try to adjust the flavor, and the thickness to more correctly match what’s expected for a perogie. The presentation is simple, colorful, and makes me hungry just looking at it.

Vegetarian meals from Mexican, Central/Eastern European, and Indian cultures were up today, and clearly show it’s possible to create and plate a robust, and delicious vegetarian, or vegan dish! Get in your kitchen this next week, and make something a little out of your comfort zone.  You might surprise yourself.


How do I love thee?

Hi everyone.


Valentine’s Day was a good success at the hacienda, as my sweet baby and I did some great cooking at home.  Now, she still won’t let me cook the salmon in the dishwasher (its a thing…..Google it!). But we did a great job broiling it. Not sure what was in the marinade beyond the top couple of ingredients, but I will say it was sweet, with some smoky heat. It was a sweet Thai chili sauce with loads of grated ginger and some soy sauce. Beyond that, I don’t know what voodoo my GF used to make it. I CAN tell you it was outstanding with the salmon.


It was as delicious as it looks. We recycled my homemade creamed corn from an earlier post and added the very top of about a pound of broccoli florets, for a little contrast on the plate. I didn’t want to make the plate too bland in color. The little flecks of green in the corn also liven it up and is an easy ‘cheat’ for parents trying to sneak in some green veggies into their children’s plates.

The salmon fillet is sitting on top of a round presentation of Basmati rice. Again, we used a simple biscuit cutter to make that happen. Then we added a bit of extra marinade to the plate for color contrast, and to dip the salmon into. Throw in a touch of parsley for garnish, and I think this plate stands up pretty nicely to what you’ll find in restaurants on most nights.

“Well that’s great, Mario, but it isn’t necessarily ‘Valentine-ish.” Then feast your eyes on these variations:


First, its a basic chocolate lava cake. Nothing too fancy there. Its a perfect dessert for a man because its simple to assemble, quick to bake, and leaves you with loads of options to plate effectively. I threw in a few examples that my GF and I tinkered with after dinner.

The top photo is a quick effort at total symmetry.  We took one of her cookie cutters, covered the top in tin foil, put a sheet of paper at one point on the plate to create a sharp line, and dusted some cocoa on the cutter which left that cool highlight on the plate. I rotated the plate 180 degrees and did the same thing. I took some really thick caramel and ‘loosened’ it with some heavy cream until it got to a consistency I liked. Then I just ‘swooshed’ it on the plate using a spoon.  Topped it off with a quenelle of ice cream and a hint of the cocoa.  

Second version was the GF’s favorite. She’s a big fan of fruit overall, and certainly in her desserts. I think I’m going to buy her a couple of mint plants to keep around. We never seem to have fresh mint for garnish, and these desserts are absolutely screaming for it. Lesson learned!

For the second version, we added some thinly sliced strawberries on one end and used the cocoa dusting technique on the spoon you see highlighted on the plate. Finished off the spoon with a little bit of the thinned caramel. After I plated the second version, I began having second thoughts on adding the caramel sauce to the spoon. I’d welcome feedback on that one.

Finally, we used raspberries, took out the cocoa, and added just a light dusting of powered sugar. I think we also took a picture of a similar dessert we plated, but on a round plate. I’ll look for that, just for reference.

The key here is to see how many different variations of a great dessert you can plate using the following tools:  Spoon, sifter, cookie cutter, biscuit cutter. We had more fun imagining the options for plating than it took to actually plate. I’m telling you guys & gals, excellent plating doesn’t take long! 

Have fun this weekend, see if you can find a way to incorporate some of these techniques, and most importantly, have a GREAT time doing so!




Keep it simple, and your sweetie will love you

This can be the toughest of holidays to get right, from a culinary standpoint.  I’m here to tell you that if you keep it simple, you’ll look like you’re the cat’s meow.  Today, we’ll share one dessert that’s appropriate for this weekend’s holiday, and start out first with what I mean by keeping it simple.

Plating 101 right here:  If there’s a color that goes with the meal, be sure it makes an appearance, but won’t detract from the food.  What do I mean by that?  Well, there’s red on this plate, but I promise, it won’t distract from the food!


Those romantics at “Entertaining Thoughts” bring us this basic plating to start off your meal just right.

You can leave off the bauble and the ribbon around the silverware if you like.  I certainly don’t keep stuff like that around.  But if you have any remaining ribbon from wrapping your Christmas presents a few weeks ago, here’s a place where that bright red can come back and make a killer appearance.  Throw in a nice red napkin, and you’ve got some pizazz on your plate.

Let’s actually look at a romantic dessert plated up nicely. 


Individual chocolate brownies with some ice cream on the top with a cherry garnish.  Simplicity itself.  The beautiful Lindsay Ann over at the Dollhouse Bake Shoppe brings us this indulgent beauty:

Can’t think of too many ways to improve upon this dessert.  If you can make 2 quenelle quickly enough, you might try that instead of just a scoop of ice cream.  But you can’t argue much with her approach. You’ll notice she doesn’t dust the plate with any cocoa.  In this case, that’s a good thing.  Less is more in this case!

You could also leave the brownie in the ramekin it was cooked in.  That might give you an opportunity to stabilize the quenelle in the plate so it doesn’t slide off. 

Go tinker with dessert tonight so your final plate looks amazing this weekend!  Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!