Tag Archives: plating

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. (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!


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” (www.LosBarrios1.com) 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” (http://www.sailusfood.com/2006/06/03/mudda-pappu-tur-dal-red-gram-lentil/).


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” (http://www.haystackgoatcheese.com/last-minute-gifts-for-the-turophile-in-your-life/) 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” (http://www.followmefoodie.com/2014/02/graze-vegetarianvegangluten-free-restaurant/) 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 about some Stir Fry?

Hi folks.

Welcome to 2014!  Been on vacation visiting the family and wound up under the weather for a good chunk of the holidays as a bonus.  For me, it made a good deal of sense to not publish lousy posts in the interim.  That’s all past now, so let’s get back to some killer plating.

In my experience, plating stir fry is VERY “guy friendly” because it’s one of the types of meals that you can really put on a variety of plates, and still have it really POP on the dinner table.

The GF and I took a stab at making a simple chicken & vegetable stir fry with a lemon sauce, and we plated it on our basic white plates, as you see below.  We have both an individual serving (which we served on salad plates for some reason), and the larger family-style dish.

Stir Fry (Single)Stir Fry (family)

They were quite delicious and I won’t bore you with the intricacies of the recipe here.  Oh, BTW, the sauce on the plate…store bought (GASP!).  I know, you’re shocked.  🙂

I like the plating because it only used a biscuit cutter to make the rice look cool.  I thought the GF did a better job with her plating than I did, so no pic of my dish this time.  Hey, when the GF is right, she’s WAY right!

Up next are samples of plating a similar dish (chicken & veggie stir fry).  The different colors of the vegetables means that you can really put this dish on almost any color and shape of plate, and it will match up and not look odd.

And guys, I’m talking to YOU here!  Some of you, if you were anything like me, inherited a mashup of different kinds of plates once you got out of college.  Some stuff you may have picked up when you got “into” Asian stuff (be it furniture, plates, wall hangings, etc.).  Or, maybe your sister got married, her friends gave her higher-end plates from a somewhat fancy schmancy store like Sur la Table or Pottery Barn, and you wound up with her leftovers.

It’s cool!  With a basic stir fry recipe (and yeah, you can buy a stir-fry-in-a-bag thing from the grocery store’s frozen food section), and almost any kind of plate, you’re going to look fantastic.  So here are a few examples of plating this dish on different plates.  Some of the stir fry images are Thai, Chinese, and I think there’s a pic of a chain in here.

5f5b47b5-2629-4d04-bc01-3554aea1d73d orange chicken chinease resturant food with stir fry vegetables and brown rice with words picqngYu8 stir-fry-3

My apologies to the “orange chicken” image owner.  I think that one belongs to a chain, but I’m having trouble finding the link again to give proper credit. If anyone can find that pic and give me a link, I’ll happily insert it here to give proper credit.

But do you see what I mean about the different KINDS of plates here?  Some are squared, some are curved, and another is rectangular. The very cool thing is that because of the wide color variety in the dish itself, it is very easy to put it on different plates, and since many bachelor’s are in the shoes I wore in my 20’s & early 30’s…guys, trust me: THIS type of dish will pop, no matter what plate you put it on.

So bring your gorgeous date over for a home cooked meal, even if it started in a bag. You’re going to look like a BOSS when you plate it up.

By the way, I totally recommend using a biscuit cutter or a bowl to portion and then serve the rice (inverted) on your plate if you’re not going to use the rice as a ‘bed’ for the stir fry!

Thanks for not going away on me and please help spread the word for this blog so we can grow it together in 2014!


Chicken Parmesan, Pesto Pasta, & Panna Cotta



Welcome back everyone, and Happy Friday! 

Today is another home cooked meal, and clearly with the holidays in full swing, it was time for some indulgent cooking.  What we have today on our menu is some homemade chicken parmesan served with basic pesto pasta (linguini, I think) and followed up with a great looking vanilla panna cotta.

The chicken parm recipe is one off the Food network site.  So it’s straight forward and full of flavor.  The pesto pasta?  Store bought pesto sauce (GASP!), thinned with a little of that great olive oil I have on hand (Ojai Olive Oil).  My GF and I don’t always have that extra time to whip up the side (pesto) completely from scratch, despite it being only a handful of ingredients.  We take the occasional short cut, and that’s totally cool!

Now, plating can be very simple and straight forward as seen in the pic below.  It’s colorful food, and the plate is filled with a delicious meal, and I’m sure it’s quite tasty.  But I think the presentation lacked a little something


So the GF and I decided to break out the biscuit cutter again.  We used it for the pasta.  The chicken was cut in thick slices, at a slight angle.  I wouldn’t call it “on the bias” just yet.  Our chicken crust was deliberately thinner than the recipe called for, as our goal was to keep the meal as light as possible while keeping to the spirit of the meal.  That’s why a bias cut wasn’t the best play. 

In the middle of the plate, we set up the biscuit cutter, and lay in some fantastic tasting pesto pasta.  Then we carefully fanned out the chicken across the pasta.  Throw in some chopped parsley for garnish, and you’re set. 

Our pic shows both an individual plate and a family-style plating with some mixed greens to finish soaking up the oil from the chicken.  The cherry tomatoes lent a ton of color to the plate, and served as an easy way to make the plate “pop.”

Dessert today features a homemade panna cotta, which I’ve shown before in another neat presentation.  I’ve wanted to show one of my versions of plating the dessert, but I think it’s best to start with one from the GF.  I made the panna cotta the day before from a basic interweb recipe, and you can see the vanilla bean flecks in the image below.


I took a couple of ramekins over to the GF’s place as she was having one of her college girlfriends over for a few days of sightseeing.  Thought it would be a good way to score some points with some of her friends.  ALWAYS a good idea, fellas!

She threw in a few berries, and a bit of contrast with the tiny mint leaf.  It’s gorgeous!  She wins!

The next pic is my own plating of a panna cotta.  If you’re going to do something like THIS, be sure to cover the panna cotta with some plastic wrap on the glass. This is a delicate dessert that can pick up flavors and odors from your fridge.  As soon as you’re poured it, get it cooling, and cover it so it remains a funk-free zone!

When I was ready to plate, I added some berries, and threw in a thin wedge of a peach for a little extra color.   It was definitely a delicious idea!


Thanks for stopping by to read!




Go Beyond The Plate for great Carbonara!


Hi everyone!

Today, I found a great looking plate of pasta carbonara.  Thanks to Danielle Tsi over at “Beyond The Plate” for the image.  As usual, if you clink the title of this blog post, it’ll link right over to her blog that features the recipe.  I liked her post and image, because it does two key things:  Focuses on making a (typically) indulgent meal, a little healthier.  Second, her post stresses the importance of finding time to make good meals at home, despite the challenges that life tends to throw our way. I can get behind that sentiment on any day!

Spaghetti is one of those dishes that can easily get out of control on a plate.  The temptation is to drain it, slop it into a bowl, throw the rest of the toppings on it  (eg some type of sauce), and be done with it.  Danielle makes it look easy, because it IS easy.

Her plate is a single-serve bowl of pasta, but could become a family sized serving in a larger bowl.  You can use salad tongs, a large serving fork, or even a dinner fork to start making these individual portioned sizes ready for combining into a family sized plate.

Her process was as easy as twirling a fork (serving, or dinner sized) around a bit of pasta, and then moving it from one plate to another. If you have a large serving bowl, this will look beautiful as a grouping of small stacks of deliciously plated pasta.

You’ll notice Danielle garnishes with chopped parsley and cheese, which are both great options.  The thing I want to point out about her recipe is that it isn’t the carbonara you’ll find in Italian chain restaurants (looking at you, Macaroni Grill, Carrabba’s, Olive Garden, etc). There’s nothing wrong with their recipes, because they’re ridiculously indulgent.  But note how there’s no heavy cream or massive amounts of butter in the recipe Danielle references.  It’s a pretty light meal, even with the bacon included.

When the dish is combined in your plating dishes (remember to buy white dishes so as not to draw attention away from the food), you’ve got green, white, brown, and a creamy yellow color.  It’s great for the eyes and the tummy!

If carbonara featured sun dried tomatoes, you would almost have the colors of the Italian flag.  Suddenly wondering if there’s an opportunity to find great dishes that feature colors you’d find in the flag of the country where that meal came from.  (filing that thought away for a future blog post)

Please go read Danielle’s post, and do your best to make at least one great home cooked meal per week.  You and your loved ones are worth the extra couple of minutes it takes to Plate Great, so do it!


Thanksgiving at the Hacienda

Thanksgiving dinner for 2…..yes, there were tons of leftovers!  🙂

This was a lot of food we made this past Thanksgiving! My sweet baby and I were looking to make the meal as beautiful as it was delicious.  The more we spend time in the kitchen together, the more we are finding that the key to making any meal visually engaging is to keep the plate, and what’s on it, simple.

That’s the point of this on-going adventure.  We will look at various dishes across the spectrum: Meat, vegetables, sides, soups, desserts, breakfast, etc.  I’ll demonstrate examples of both badly plated dishes and fantastic plates, in an effort to show you how to “Plate Great!”

Don’t worry, we’ll also include interesting subcategories like pure vegetarian dishes, athletic-centric dishes (eg “Paleo” Friendly), Vegan, and holiday-friendly food.  You’ll see some common mistakes made in taking unattractive plates filled with really good food to the table and some incredibly well done plates of good food that totally make the meal “pop.”

What we WON’T be doing is showing food that’s fancy for the sake of being fancy.  Everything you’ll see here is easy to cook, and easy to plate.  As we go on, I’ll share my philosophy on plating simply and beautifully.

Starting on a holiday dedicated to food and family is an excellent way to start sharing our enjoyment of well plated food.  All of that food you see above was made from scratch, including the little place settings.  Those would be the candy turkeys you see in the upper left side of the pic.   I’ll show you a close up pic of those another time.

Have a great day!