Friday, February 19, 2016

Accents That Finish the Dish

Do you sprinkle Parmesan on pasta? Float croutons in your soup? Here’s how to take those finishing touches to the next level—to enhance and sometimes even surprise.

I think I began considering these items when I started taking photographs of my completed dishes to put with recipes on the internet, but if you make it look pretty you can also it taste pretty.

Using the adage of opposites attract you can come up with several ideas to place on a dish, layering a contract like a salty with a sweet or crunchy with a soft or even a neutral with an acid are great examples.

So instead of using croutons on a salad to add a crunchy punch, try healthy nuts like sunflower seeds, almonds or walnuts.  Sprinkle some cinnamon granola on your squash soup or even some pumpkin seeds. Check out some other ways to flavor build with Cinnamon here.

A squeeze of lemon or a pinch of citrus zest will brighten the flavors in soups and rich sauces. Float a lemon wheel in a bowl of chicken soup or add lemon, lime, and orange zest to traditional risotto. I also suggest a sprig of lemon balm whose bright green color will brighten up any dish.

Choosing dried fruits will add some intense sweetness and a different texture.  You can add them to salad, trail mix or steamed vegetables.

Cheese is another component you can add, but less is more.  A few crumbles of blue cheese has a lot of impact when sprinkled on a perfectly seared steak.  When using cheese try a pungent with a softer flavor or a soft light cheese with something that is more pungent.  You know you love gruyere or Fontina or even mozzarella melted on French Onion Soup.

And of course not mention of additions or garnishes would be complete without talking about using herbs.  Way beyond Parsley on the side of the plate, remember that herb flavors are lost during cooking, so adding a fresh herb after the dish is finished brings a brighter more powerful flavor and a splash of color.

Making a grilled cheese sandwich with a spread made from an herb flavored cream cheese will make a new taste you will wonder how you lived without.

If you make pesto, try adding it to something besides pasta.  Stir it into soup, or dab on top of steamed vegetables.  Fresh herbs sparingly added to salad will bring a bright flavor dimension to your salad and your dressing. Basil, Mint, and chives are all perfect in a fresh salad.  

Making an herbal butter is also a way to add herbs easily.  I love herb butter on vegetables, stirred into noodles as a side dish and added to toast or sandwiches.  To see some herb butter suggestions, see this previous blog post

You know the adage that food made by someone else is tastier, well this comes from you becoming nose blind to the scents when preparing the food yourself.  Adding herbs or other scented items at the end before serving will give your nose a wake-up and make the food you make taste even better.

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