05/11 2011

Ways to Dress Up Dinner

I hope you enjoy Starting from Scratch, my second book, published each week online, one chapter at a time. Before the book’s final publication, I hope to sprinkle readers’ thoughts, opinions and advice throughout. After all, you each have helpful systems and solutions in the kitchen worth sharing. By making a contribution, your comments will be printed, crediting you and/or your blog, and you’ll get free copies of the book. In addition, for each section, I’m consulting an expert – for this excerpt, it’s Aimée Wimbush-Bourque, writer and editor for Simple Bites.

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When the Martha Stewart genes were handed out in my family, I was not the lucky recipient. I’ve always said I could make something taste good, but making it look pretty is another story. Except on the occasions when I accidentally throw together a nice mix of red, green and yellow, all at the same time, my meals definitely fall in the category of “tastes great but could often look better.”

I loved reading the story of Mildred Council, owner and head chef of Mama Dips Country Cooking Restaurant in Chapel Hill, when she was first asked to appear on national television. Several food stylists called her to offer their assistance, though she couldn’t understand how anyone could make fried chicken, collard greens and mashed potatoes look pretty. I hear ya’, sister!

Despite my lack of cooking and decorating artistic talent, I will readily admit that a nice looking meal is not only pleasing to the eye, but also to the palette. Here are a few simple ideas to help dress up any meal.

Look at pictures. My husband Rob is an art director, and the design of his dishes can rival anything found in a magazine or cookbook. In fact, we often talk about getting the camera out before we dig in. But even if you aren’t an artist, looking at how an accomplished chef prepares a dish can help you with arrangements, too.

Color it beautiful. If you plan for a balanced meal, there is a good chance you will have a mix of greens and yellows and whites anyway. Green, for example, not only looks pretty, but it usually means something on the table is rich in vitamins. A variety of colors always makes a meal more scenic to watch and flavorful to eat.

Ditch the paper. Cloth napkins save money, save paper and look nice, too (even if you don’t iron them).

Freshen things up. Though I don’t have time or budget for fresh flowers every night, sometimes a little effort can go a long way. The night I prepared a whole salmon, my mother-in-law decorated magically turned a $6 bouquet of flowers on sale at Albertson’s into something special by adding greenery from our yard. Not only did the yellow flowers make everything look more festive, but we got to enjoy them on our table for another week, too.

Involve the kids. Invite your children to decorate the table with placemats, plants, candles or possibly even toys. My favorite table setting is one that is personally designed by Luke. He often creates home-made name cards. And one time we worked together to paint a blue football field to celebrate dinner and another Boise State win.

Aimee suggests reading children’s books to create a healthy food culture. Not only can kids learn about sustainability, preserving the harvest, trying new foods, hospitality, local eating, and growing your own food, but they can look an illustrations to give them ideas for dressing up dinner.

Carve out more time. Meal planning not only saves time and money and cuts back on stress and waste, but it frees up time for meal presentation. Check out Aimee’s new way to menu plan.

Use more parsley (and other fresh herbs). Ever since I went to the Basque country in Spain, I have been in love with the taste of this herb. But a little bit chopped on top of just about any dish makes it look prettier. But so does every fresh herb!

I often have the “30 minute meal” mentality that I have to hurry, hurry, hurry, get a meal on the table, the dishes cleaned, the children bathed and put to bed and the laundry done – all in record speed. This does not leave a lot of time for decoration, celebration and relaxation (I can usually squeeze in libation, however). My goal is to slow down a few minutes and think about ways to make something look as good as it tastes.

Even if the meal isn’t picture perfect, welcome the imperfections and get ready for a one–word toast.

About Aimée Wimbush-Bourque

Aimée Wimbush-Bourque is the editor and writer for SimpleBites.net, a family-oriented community dedicated to all things food and drink. She believes in the importance of bringing the whole family together around the table on a daily basis, sharing her experiences of cooking for a close-knit family of four.

After attending culinary school, Aimée spent nearly 10 years in the professional cooking industry in Quebec. She then fell in love with motherhood and wanted to stay at home with her babies, trading her tongs and chef whites for cloth diapers and a laptop, thus marrying her two passions as a food/mommy blogger.

Image courtesy of All Free Crafts.

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