Monthly Archives: February 2014

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!




NO WAIT….that’s too much!

Hi everyone.


Back again.  I finished up my ‘bucket list’ item from about 10 days ago, and have mostly recovered from the experience.  The event was a 4-day beat-a-thin where I attempted to earn my Krav Maga Black Belt.  For those unfamiliar with the fighting system, it’s tough as nails, seen by most as the system most effective for street fights, and is exceptionally hard for one to earn the rank of Black Belt.  The test was 30+ hours of a barely controlled street fight over 4 days, featuring a variety of weapons (baseball bats, handguns, rifles, shotguns, knives, etc.).  That’s where I’ve been; in the land of overindulgence.

That’s why I thought today’s post might be a good way to talk a bit about portions.   We’re going to use soup for that.  The dish is a homemade recreation (by my GF) of that Italian chain restaurant’s famous pasta e fagioli soup.  This one featured turkey instead of beef, and was made to be a tad lighter.  Otherwise, you pretty much can find a good recipe online.

I plated it two ways, and you’ll note based on the asymmetry of the placemats on the table, it was done quickly.  It’s served with a mixed green salad, some breadsticks, and an Arnold Palmer beverage.  This is one of my favorite dishes that my GF makes, and I was exceedingly hungry, which is why I rushed the presentation on the table!  🙂

Here’s the first plating, and is a smaller portion, for the times where you’re going to serve the soup as a straight appetizer.



The soup is served in a nifty square bowl (I think I got them at Macy’s), and just by putting it on a diagonal on another plate, you have some interesting things happening to make the dish look a little fancier.  It’s an easy way to add something else to the food itself.  Not much garnish was necessary.  I just added a touch of shredded romano cheese for a little savory flavor to cap off the soup.

Now, if you’re planning on soup being ‘the meal,’ you’ll want to plate up a bit more.  I reached for my GF’s main soup bowls which are beautiful, simple, and elegant.  You could also do the same thing, and add a plate underneath the one holding the food.  When mixing geometric shapes, you’ll have to play it by instinct.  Some people don’t like mixing shapes.  You do whatever you want!  It’s your food, and your home!  If it feels right, plate it up!


Same setup with the salad, breadsticks, and Arnold Palmer.  But its definitely a bigger plate.  That’s the cool thing about having slightly different plates available to you.  You don’t need to buy everything at once, either.  I learned a good tip from another blogger.  If you want to show off your food, or plating skills, buy a pair of whatever dishes you want, and really use them on your table, or in your photos for a few months. Then if you like how they work for you, splurge and complete a full set for 4-8 adults, as you desire.

Now get out there, do some good cooking, and make it some soup this week.  It’s getting cold again out there for most of us in the US.  Soup is an excellent way to keep everyone warm and comfortable!