Tag Archives: Dessert

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!




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. (http://thecocinamonologues.com/2012/04/03/freak-out-for-frico/)

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!


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!




Dusting good stuff on your plate (Part Deux)

Hi guys/gals!


Short post today, but it was important to follow up the last one that had several nifty ideas.  Here’s a post from the lovely and talented Beti Vanills (http://betivanilla.blogspot.com/2012/01/tiramisu.html).  She takes adding a dusting of good stuff on your plate one step beyond.




This is such a great idea, and so easy to pull off.  You guys should give it a try for dessert tomorrow!  Okay, I’ve got to get going for the evening.  Posts the next 2 weeks will be sporadic as I’m in the home stretch of training for my Krav Maga black belt test.  It’ll be 40 hours of serious pounding in the days leading up to (and including) Groundhog Day this year, so I’ll be a little preoccupied in my waking hours until it’s done.  Once that’s over, we’ll get back to more frequent postings about plating.

The GF & I are working up some great recipes and will be stocking up photos of our meals to share with you, so stick around!





One FINE Panna Cotta

Big Jones Chicago is the supplier of a beautifully plated Panna Cotta dessert today.  They’re also good enough to provide a recipe as you go down the page.

It’s so good, I’m likely going to revisit this page as I build up the blog to house a dessert, lunch, dinner, and other related pages in addition to the main blog page.

The dessert features a fruit called the “paw paw.”  I’m not exactly sure what it is, other than the author described it as highly perishable, which limits how long the fruit is available during the year.  My guess is that this dessert would work wonderfully with any other brightly colored jam or preserve.  You’re really just looking for something that would contrast nicely with the creamy white color of the Panna Cotta.

I like their recipe included on the page.  As strange as this sounds, there is a way to make it more palatable to vegetarians, at least those willing to indulge in cream (I’m talking to YOU, Wisconsin ‘vegetarians’ who do cheese, milk, & butter).  You can substitute Agar for gelatin, in just about a 1:1 manner. The texture difference, in my experience, is that Agar sets up a little firmer than gelatin, which for this dessert, means you can leave it out of the fridge a little longer, if needed.

If you have ramekins or martini glasses, you can definitely pour the Panna Cotta mixture in different containers to give your dessert some added ‘oomph.’  So you have 3 different ways now to plate Panna Cotta so that it is as appealing to the eyes as it is to the taste buds!

Someone remind me to post a pic of Panna Cotta in those two containers so you can see what I’m talking about.

Since this week is typically ‘leftover’ week for most of us in the US, I’ll do a special plating in the next few days showing you that leftovers don’t have to be boring sandwiches alone.

Now, go have yourself a great Monday!