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December 29, 2008

Styling food at home



Awhile back Lissa posted this comment, and after I finished laughing out loud, I got to thinking about what I do at home:

[M]y idea of styling food is making sure there is no dog or cat fur on whatever I'm serving other people.

When I entertain, which doesn't happen all that often anymore, I always pay attention to the looks of the plates I serve my guests, although I never go so far as to decorate my poultry with flowers. ...

But there is something fundamentally different about how a plate looks at a fine-dining restaurant and how it looks at my house.

If I tried an artistic squiggle of raspberry coulis on a dessert plate, it might seem a wee bit precious to me. But if I served -- say -- a spoonful of chocolate mousse on a plate, I would arrange it artfully (I hope) with another spoonful of softly whipped unsweetened cream by its side.

I go for the artfully natural look, or maybe the naturally artful, at home.

Or maybe I'm just jealous that I don't have the time or patience anymore to pay attention to detail in the kitchen the way I used to.

Is that true of the rest of you (Bucky and jl, you may not respond to this post in any way), or do you enjoy the bells and whistles? There's nothing wrong with that, it's just more trouble than I'm willing to go to these days.

(Amy Davis/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 7:46 AM | | Comments (31)


That is one handsome platter. I have never thought to decorate poultry with fresh flowers, but I have been known to throw edible flowers into a salad or float them on soup. Doesn't everyone?

I detail presentation only when serving guests.
I tend toward minimalism because it suits my temperament and pleases my eye.
My favorite ornaments are stuffed nasturtiums and good black olives, but of course they don't fit with every plating (drat!).
I dislike stacking food. I'm glad that trend is waning.

Dahlink? I don't.

I can't remember the last time I actually served more than 1 guest. Pot luck. buffet table. shrug...

As for in-house dates (the one guest I'll serve), I've never used flowers. I've never used garnishes. I'll keep the plate clean and arranged pleasingly. that's about it.

Way to go. Now Bucky is just moping around the office and snapping at people who ask him questions. First the Maui Fun Hogs (his fantasy football team) lose the championship, then the Broncos get blown out and now he is banned from Dining@Large. 2009 can't get here too soon.

By the way, he does great little radish flowers. He even has a special tool to make them, that he got from the "As Seen On TV" store.

Since we work most weekends we don't entertain hardly at all (once every other year?). For the three or four of us who show up for family meals the rule is "Thou shalt not do anything that would cause the food to cool before its time." If I have prepared a hunk of protein, it will generally be rested on a board and cut at table from the board, rather than sliced and arranged on a platter. Most everything else is served in the thing it was cooked in. We have over the years collected many pans or dishes are attractive as well as functional, so it's not all bad. (We once saw samples of the Litton microwave cookware that we have used every day for over 20 years in the Smithsonian Museum of Industry.)

No comment.

Clearly, I've missed some drama here. Why is Bucky banished?

I shudder to think what his and jl's idea of food styling is. EL

Hey Bucky, sorry about the Broncos...But now you can focus all of your positive vibes towards the Ravens!

I would imagine that in order to even contemplate plating flights of fancy, one must first be able to coordinate the cooking so that everything to be plated comes out at more-or-less the same time. The best I am usaully able to do is to try to ensure that the individual foodstuffs (meat, vegetables, starches, sauces, etc.) do not impinge on one another. Of course, when you're plating pulled pork in barbeque sauce on top of a splayed-open baked potato topped with shredded cheese, along with green beans in garlic sauce, as my DW wanted tonight, fancy plating is not an option.

* * * * food styling: getting that Dairy Queen curly thingy on each Ritz to which you have applied cheese from a can.

I could see jl plating a chocolate cake done in a tire mold, with chocolate sauce done like oil drips and "Pirelli" in white chocolate on the side.

Bucky...I think his plates might go more to squirrel skulls (buffalo skulls are too big for most dishes) and little marzipan footballs.

I shudder to think what his and jl's idea of food styling is. EL


RiE, the best thing I ever did for getting food plated and served simultaneously is my food-warming drawer. It's also great for those nights my husband works later than usual and dinner must be held, but not overcooked.

I was thinking Bucky's food styling would be Hostess cupcakes decorated as footballs.

I can prove that food styling is not genetic. My mom recently sent me a recipe for a smoked salmon and onion cheesecake and said that to top it off I should make a little rose from smoked salmon to rest in the center after baking. And I'm sure that's what she does. I just laughed at the idea. Even if I was more coordinated and thought I was capable of making a smoked salmon rose, it would never occur to me to do it. I'm sure it looks lovely, but if I can manage to serve my guests within 45 min. or so of the time I had planned to I consider us all lucky. No time to spend prettifying on the way to the table.

Onion cheesecake?

KristinB, we threw a party years ago when my in-laws were around to help, and my mother-in-law garnished everything on the table. My favorite overheard remark was "Was this party catered?" No, just mother-in-lawed!

I’d defend myself against these scurrilous attacks but I’ve been, you know, banned.


I think its one dish, smoked salmon and onion cheesecake. Why anyone would put fish and onion in cheesecake puzzles me.

Owl, I think that's someone's homemade version of Hostess cupcakes. I actually think they look really good! But, that may be because I've gone cold turkey from the goodies.

PCB Rob, I've made a savory pesto cheesecake for a holiday party before, and it was yummy. I can see onion cheesecake, but am having trouble imagining how the smoked salmon would work in it.

It isn't New Year's yet, Joyce. Just one more cupcake.

Do a Google search for smoked salmon and onion cheesecake, and you'll be surprised at the number of recipes among the search results. Some of the recipes credit Emeril Lagasse, whose version is available at the Food Network website.

Haven't had the smoked salmon and onion cheesecake (yes, one dish), so I can't vouch for it, but mom and sis both rave over it. I have made a pretty tasty savory bleu cheese cheesecake before, so I'm happy to try another savory one some time. Just need an occasion when what basically amounts to a really large cheese ball is needed . . .

Surely I remember being served onion with smoked salmon before, don't I? But I can't swear to it, as I don't like raw onion and wouldn't have eaten it.

Bucky, I think you should submit willingly. In fact, I think all the more opinionated regulars should submit to the equivalent of a dunking tank once in a blue moon. Builds humility. I'm still smiling over the anonymous person who was pissed that I got into his head when he saw a dumpster that said Owl Metals on it and called me a pretentious bastard. That's just red meat for an attention whore like myself.

Onion and smoked salmon cheesecake makes perfect sense to me, as long as it doesn't have a graham cracker crust. That would be gross.

But, cream cheese and onion are what one puts on a bagel with lox, so this is basically a lox cheesecake. Sounds good to me.

I've also had (and made) southwestern black bean cheesecake. Definitely no graham cracker crust. And very good, too!

Lox and onion are definitely a legitimate pairing. Lox and onion with cream cheese on a bagel, as Lissa mentioned and scrambled lox,onion and eggs are wonderful too! If you've never been to Suburban House, I totally recommend that as the place to try it. Ask them to scramble it loosely though as they tend to make it a bit dry and "tight". Heaven on a fork! Have with the home fries or hash browns or whatever they are calling those things; and a toasted bagel with cream cheese and you will not eat again for hours.

Savory cheesecakes. Who knew? I sure didn't.

Dahlink, that pesto cheesecake sounds good as does Joyce's southwestern black bean cheesecake.

I have several savory cheescake recipes and they go great on a buffet table.

This was partly covered last May when I (under a previous pseudonym) posted about my Fiesta Cheesecake.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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