Even if you're not a chef, you can make your bar bites look like they came from one—almost effortlessly. Whether you're serving a few guests or just yourself, eye appeal is the magic ingredient that makes all food taste better. When making the recipes from Kate Heyhoe's Great Bar Food at Home, or your own classy little bar bites, consider these tips.
Use your barware for food as well as drink. Stick a handful of grissini in a highball glass, or long pretzels in a beer mug. Serve olives in a tall martini glass, with cocktail picks in skinny shot glasses. Rim an old-fashioned with a ring of shrimp. Pour nuts, wine buttons, or bite-size cheese biscuits into a wide mouth tumbler.
Take the famous Emeril Lagasse approach: Pitch a hefty pinch of spice right over the food. (Hollering "Bam!" is optional). Simple but effective. Use your fingers or sprinkle the garnish on through a shaker or a sieve. This works well with pepper, paprika, grated parmesan, and for sweets, confectioner's sugar and cinnamon. Don't just dust the food, dust the whole plate (lightly).
I keep a small pot of chives growing just for instant garnishes. Snip two long chives and balance them decoratively on the food or edge of the plate, crossing them near the stems if you like. (Fancy restaurants get to charge more just because of the crossing-chive garnish, or so it seems.) Cutting chives into thin rings, like teensy confetti, works well too.
You can keep this garnish on hand (in fridge or freezer), and unlike the chives, it doesn't require watering. If the nuts are small, like pine nuts, leave them whole. Chop toasted pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts into pieces, before sprinkling them on. (Or go lavish, and garnish with the Ghee-Toasted Almonds in Great Bar Food at Home.)
Another darling of hip restaurants, black sesame seeds add an elegant, exotic touch. You can also mix black and white sesame seeds together, or go for all white sesame.
Take a tip from Asian cooks and slice green onions on the diagonal, in 1/2- to 1-inch lengths, then toss over the dish as a colorful contrast and flavor punch.
Dress the plate with a couple of tender, fresh herb sprigs like thyme, dill, rosemary, parsley, and such. Or chop them and sprinkle over the food and plate.
Arrange a handful of mesclun or other baby greens on the plate, and voila! Sprouts and micro-sprouts also work well as garnishes on top, or accents on the side. Microgreens are pricy but all the rage (grow your own, if you like).
A few capers on the plate add visual interest, and the large caperberry, with stem attached, makes a bold statement, as in the Martini-Butter Steak with Cocktail Onions and Caperberries recipe in Great Bar Food at Home.
You can peel the zest (just the colored part, not the bitter white pith) using a vegetable peeler, then slice into thin strips with a knife. Or, use a zesting tool to instantly peel the zest into superfine strips. Finely grating the zest with a grater is another good option.
Head to a Japanese market if your local gourmet store doesn't carry furikake. It's a blend of sesame seeds, nori, and seasonings with great flavor and texture, and comes in a shaker jar. (Kyoto Chips in Great Bar Food at Home tosses hot potato chips with furikake.)
You can get fancy with squeeze bottles, but a regular teaspoon works fine for drizzling a sauce as a garnish. What to drizzle? Colorful flavored oils (like basil or red pepper oil), dark balsamic vinegar or soy sauce, a broken salad dressing, a thinned down mayonnaise, or pureed raspberries or mango. Like a Jackson Pollock, it's the randomness that makes the effect interesting.
Eye appeal is important, but you shouldn't need to spend more than a few seconds for a stylish presentation. You could carve a radish or twist a tomato peel into a rose. But these quicker, simpler tricks can put their own "come hither" look into the little dishes you set out. Just remember that garnishes must be edible, and they should taste good with the other flavors on the plate.
Kate Heyhoe, author
Great Bar Food at Home
[This outtake was originally written for Great Bar Food at Home, but was cut out due to limited page count. To read more, buy Great Bar Food at Home, by Kate Heyhoe]
This page created September 2007
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