The Building Blocks of Cooking Food: Part 5- Setting

Hi Honies!

Hello Dear Heart! I do hope you are well and happy. I’m so glad to have the opportunity for us to chat and to continue our discussion about the building blocks of a successful food dish.

The past few months have been a very busy time for Ole Rose. I have closed up my seasonal home in Palm Beach and have returned to my Midwest summer house in time to plant the garden, all while absorbing some of the deliciousness of the season. Spring came late this year, Dear, and I had started to wonder if there would be any summer vegetables at all. Well, while waiting for the weather to decide which season it wished to be, I did spend time touring the lovely countryside with my dear friends. How wonderful it was to travel about and visit other’s gardens. There are so many kind folks who graciously let me in their precious private gardens and I am so very grateful to them. Each garden had its own darling charms and I so wished I could have taken each of them home with me! Not to worry, Dear Heart, I am not one who takes things that do not belong to me, so their gardens are allperfectly safe. But, I am so inspired with new ideas, I cannot possibly contain my enthusiasm, especially what these ideas will mean to my own kitchen garden.

On to the next chapter in our discussion about what makes a successful food dish. Draw close, Hon, this time I will talk to you about the food setting. Now, I don’t mean where the food is set, but the setting in which it is presented; in effect, the context. Dear Heart, consider this example- if you prepare the most beautiful and sumptuous food course and serve it on a chipped plastic plate accompanied by disposable utensils, well, it is putting the dish into a setting it doesn’t deserve. Those who are regaled with such a confusing presentation will believe that your sense of appropriateness is impaired! An artfully crafted food deserves a setting that enhances its enjoyment, not distracts from it.

There are some basic guidelines (never rules, Dear) that you can follow to reliably present your thoughtfully-prepared food. Some are safe guidelines for those who are more unsure and some are for the more adventurous. Before defining the guidelines, we first need to talk about the basics of food presentation.

A food dish can be thought of as belonging to a certain level (or status) ranging from comfort foods to haute cuisine. Comfort foods are simple, homespun recipes; these dishes arose from the kitchens of working class families and preparation methods are relatively simple, involving commonly-available ingredients. They may not be beautiful to look at and may not require great culinary skill to prepare, but they are delicious, soothing and substantial. The comfort foods include things like pickled salads, stewed collards, chicken pot pie, roast beef or lamb, grilled cheese sandwiches and the perennial favorite- macaroni and cheese. The comfort foods are an expression of a culture and are often found in a myriad of variations. At the other end of the spectrum are the haute cuisine foods. Their preparations are complex and ingredients are less commonly found on grocery store shelves; they are created as one would a piece of art. Examples of haute cuisine include some types of sushi, dishes with complex layers of flavorings and spice combinations, and one-of-a-kind gourmet dishes. Comfort food and haute cuisine require different presentation settings.

First, begin with the food. The serving itself must be attractive. The amount being served and how it is presented go hand-in-hand, both are to be decided by common sense and the restrictions of the serving dish size. Start with a serving dish that is appropriate to the course, in size and style, then arrange balanced portions of each serving on it, being careful not to overwhelm or underwhelm those being served. For a main course, you must present at least three individual food groups together: a starch (potatoes, rice, starchy tubers or starchy beans), a protein food (meat, high protein beans or other vegetable protein), yellow or red colored vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables (if not already served in a salad) or other types of vegetables. Protein foods are always included in the main course and the others vary or can be combined with the protein food into a menagerie (a stew or soup, for example). These three main course offerings should be arranged separately on the same dish or skillfully combined into a meaningful display. No single food group should dominate the serving dish or the meal itself.  My Dear, you want them to enjoy every bite and to want more rather than become tired after the fiftieth forkful and groan with relief when they are finished. A garnish of some kind helps break up the boredom of monotoned food. Zesty garnishes, sauce drizzles or salsas can brighten not only the plate, but the taste. These guidelines are appropriate for comfort foods, haute cuisine and all other foods in between.

Comfort foods can be presented in either informal or formal settings. Fine china or everyday dinnerware are acceptable (please, leave the plastics hidden away). But haute or more special types of cuisine require serving dishes and plate compositions that are in concert with the food being served. Brightly colored foods should be served on dishes with a muted color palette. Foods with less pizzaz should be served on dishes with some interesting designs or colors, but never on extravagantly ornate dishes. The key, Dear Heart, is to have the serving dishes complement, but not compete, with the food presentation. The serving dish design, colors and decoration should never be equal to or more than that of the visual appearance of the dish. Haute and specialty cuisines almost always have some kind of accent (garnishes that are edible and add an artistic touch) or the food itself is composed in such a way as to be decorative. They are also served on simple (monotone, usually white or some value of gray) colored dishes that are pleasantly geometric.

Well, Hon, I think that will be enough for this time. I do hope I have given you some things to consider when planning your next dinner party. I am away to the lakeshore today, Dear, for some quiet time. The breezes are rather refreshing, especially in the afternoon heat. Until next time we chat, Kisses to you!


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