Date Night Dinners: June 2008 Archives

First impressions count. Would you greet a new friend with greasy hair and old sweatpants? Of course not. Then, why would you serve food that doesn't look neat and appetizing? Whether you put together your meal in 30 minutes or worked on your sauce for hours, the appearance is the final touch on the food. There are so many different ways to plate the food so that it looks as good as it tastes.
I am not a chef but I have learned from chefs in cooking classes and I noticed a few things.

Food Plating Example


1. Who framed the risotto?
The rim of the plate is like the frame of a picture. Many chefs like to keep the frame clean but some don't mind drizzling some sauce around to decorate. If you do , make sure to make it look neat and don't overdo it.

2. Good things come in all colors, shapes and sizes
Make sure to vary the colors on your plate. Don't use too many foods that are the same color. Sweet Potatoes and carrots will look boring. Sometimes a sprig of parsley is enough to liven up an item that is bland color. Don't put only round things on the plate, balance different shapes.

3. White is pure
I have noticed that using plates with busy designs tends to look messy. A nice big white plate is perfect for the pure, clean, appetizing look. If you can use busy plates and still pull it off, then do it.

4. Ring - A- Ding- Ding
Those ring molds that look like oversize cookie cutters are perfect for shaping a mound of rice. Just place the ring on the rice. Use a knife or something flat to level it out on top and remove the ring. Voila!

5. Roll your balls
Melon ballers are not just for fruit. Use them to carve potatoes into balls. Fry the leftovers for hash browns.

6. Let's twist again
For Pasta:
Pick up the pasta with tongs and give a little twist at the end for it to look nice.

7. Read up on Plating: Working the Plate: The Art of Food Presentation , Amuse-Bouche: Little Bites That Delight Before the Meal Begins

Braised black cod with green beans and Sichuan peppercorns

Black cod, also known as sablefish, is one of the few MSC certified fish widely available throughout the US, which means it's ecologically responsible in addition to being tasty. It is a mild flavored fish and practically fool-proof as it is hard to overcook. Black cod stays juicy especially when marinated and cooked with the method described here. I'm calling this "braised" because of the amount of liquid used during roasting; the high heat cooks the fish quickly, locking in moisture and the marinade reduces into a beautiful sauce.

The green beans make a great side dish and add a little spice to the meal (essential, in my opinion, for a successful date night dinner). Sichuan peppercorns have unique kind of spice that is not really hot, but numbing to the tongue. When combined with the texture of pork sausage and soft-crisp beans, the peppercorns create a palate party. These should definitely be served with your favorite rice; I chose a medium grain jasmine rice.

The wine (if so desired) should be acidic as this is a relatively sweet dish. Pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, and chenin blanc are all good choices. A Tsing Tao or Sapporo would be just as nice.

1 1/2# black cod w/skin (boned and portioned into 4 pieces)
Salt and black pepper (to season fish)
2 Tbl Chives
2 Tbl Toasted sesame seeds
Marinade:
1/4c Soy sauce or tamari
2 Tbl Mirin
3 Tbl Shaoxing wine vinegar (also spelled Shaohsing)
1 Tbl Sweet chili sauce
3-4 sliced, Green onions
3 cloves, sliced Garlic
1, 1" piece of Ginger, grated
Toasted Sesame oil, to season

  1. Prepare fish , combine marinade and refrigerate in a Ziploc for about 30 min
  2. Chop chives; toast sesame seeds over medium heat in a sauté pan till golden; preheat oven to 400 degrees
  3. Place fish and marinade in a baking dish (I prefer glass or stone ware with about 2" sides); bake for approx 10-15 min or till fish is almost flakey and sauce is bubbling. If necessary the sauce can be further reduced on the stove top.
  4. Serve garnished with chives, sesame seeds, and a few drops of sesame oil

Green beans with Sichuan peppercorns
3/4-1# fresh green beans, trimmed and cleaned
1/2 # ground pork
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 Tbl Canola oil
1 ½ Tbl Sichuan peppercorns
1 Tbl Red pepper flakes
3 Tbl Shaoxing wine vinegar
3 Tbl Soy sauce or tamari
Siracha (a few drops, or more if you want more heat)
1 Tbl Sugar
2-3 Green onions, sliced
2 cloves Garlic, sliced
1, 1/2" piece Ginger, grated

  1. Blanch green beans in salted boiling water (be sure they are still crisp); shock in cold water and set aside
  2. In a large sauté pan or wok on medium high heat, add oil and pork with salt and black pepper; cook till browned and small chunks; add sugar, shaoxing wine vinegar, siracha, and ½ the soy sauce; reduce then remove from pan and set aside
  3. Add more oil to the pan if needed, then add Sichuan peppercorns and red pepper flakes; sauté for a minute; add onions and garlic and sauté for a minute; add green beans and toss; add the remaining soy sauce and ginger along with the sausage
  4. Toss all together over high heat till sauce coats the beans and is no longer watery, approx 2 min
  5. serve with rice

Bruschetta is one of those really easy things to make that just tastes so good. It is pronounced Brus- ket- Ta in Italian. I especially like the taste of ricotta salata, a mellow tasting cheese made from Sheep's milk. Ricotta Salata is dense and has a salty flavor. It is similar to feta but is a lot more mild. Be sure to use tomatoes that are okay to eat (any tomatoes will work fine). For a list of tainted tomatoes, click here
Bruschetta

Bread( enough for 8 slices)
6- 8 ripe tomatoes(diced)
4 garlic cloves
Olive Oil
Ricotta Salata cheese
Basil

1. Heat broiler. Place toasts on broiler.
2. Rub garlic on bread.
3. Place tomatoes and basil on bread and grate ricotta salata on top.
4. Drizzle olive oil and place under broiler again for a few seconds if desired.

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I came up with this recipe for those days when you really don't have time to cook but the guests are on the way. It is simple and uses only ingredients that you have in your pantry.

Ingredients:

Puff Pastry
Tomato sauce (any kind will work, even spiced up canned tomatoes)
Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan (grated)
Oregano (fresh works better but you can use the spice)
A kitchen ring or a glass to make circle shapes
A mini muffin tin

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Defrost puff pastry according to directions.
3. Flour the work area.
2. Roll dough out thin and make circles using rings.
3. Place each circle in each hole of the mini muffin tin.
4. Use your fingers to stick the dough to the edges of the muffin tin.
5. Brush circles with olive oil.
6. Spread sauce on them.
7. Place an olive in each tin.
8 Cover with mozzarella
9. Cover with grated parmesan and oregano.
10 Bake for 12-15 minutes

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