I’m going to admit this straight off: I can’t cook. I love watching the Food Network, but after I turn off the TV, I’m no closer to being able to compete on Iron Chef America. The thing is, I’ve never really wanted to learn to cook. My culinary expertise stops at eggs, which I commonly overcook. I’ve happily resigned myself to being the master of the five-minute meal and the queen of take-out.
What I do know, however, is that food always tastes better when it looks better. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s called presentation. You know what I’m talking about. The melon placed to the side of your poached-egg-and-toast breakfast. The bed of pesto polenta with sautéed crimini mushrooms in a roasted red pepper sauce, cradling your seared scallops. When your food comes out on its plate looking like a team of skilled architects built it, it just tastes better.
I’ve learned this lesson, downsized it, and applied it to everything I eat—so every meal feels like it’s worthy of four stars. No matter what I’m serving—be it turkey sandwiches, cereal, or minute rice, I dress my food up so that eating is always an event, not just a meal.
Just because you’ve popped some leftovers in the microwave doesn’t mean they can’t become your most fabulous dinner yet. It’s all in the presentation. Don’t you think leftover spaghetti will taste better when wound in a neat little nest atop a plate lightly sprinkled with oregano and Parmesan? I’ll answer that for you—YES. I know, because I had it just last night and it was scrumptious.
Here are a few tips for each meal that can help bring a little Fodor’s to your kitchen.
Breakfast: Start the day off right with a pretty little bowl of cereal. Add sliced strawberries or blueberries to any cereal and it’s bound to be a better day. When making a plate of eggs, garnish them with a sprig of parsley if they’re plain, chopped green onion for a Mexican taste, and cut-up strips of basil for a hint of Italian. Grilled tomato slices add a burst of color and taste to an egg breakfast and require little time or expertise. Even a frozen waffle or a Pop-Tart have the potential for greatness. Try a little jam on the top instead of just butter or syrup. You can still take it to go, but a little color on that toasted brown delight will lighten up the dull commute.
Lunch: Usually you eat in the lunchroom at work with friends. Well, here’s an opportunity to make them jealous—just like in the middle school cafeteria. If you’re like me, you love sandwiches, and when you make one, the success-to-failure ratio is heavily in your favor. Well, sammy time is about to get a whole lot better. Introduce your turkey-and-Swiss to arugula. It’s ten times tastier than plain old lettuce, costs the same, and looks very gourmet. Arugula also makes a great bed for the chicken or tuna salad that’s usually smooshed between two pieces of boring old white bread. If it’s a salad you so desire, add feta and almond slices for a noontime pick-me-up. The white and green colors contrast beautifully, and are sure to bring out similar colors in your eyes. If you’re on the soup diet, crumble feta cheese on top.
Snacktime: A mid-afternoon snack is not limited to the five-and-under crowd. Grownups need afternoon sustenance, too. Place cheeses in a fan shape on a plate. Put a bunch of grapes and almonds in the middle—instant modernist masterpiece. Use a knife to cut carrots in half. Give them a zigzag pattern. Arrange them in a bowl of hummus or ranch dip. Oh so funky! Arrange olives, roasted red peppers, and artichokes (all from jars) in a bowl. Sprinkle feta cheese on top and serve with pita bread. Mediterranean mama!
Dinner: Where do we start? Well, any plate is truly a blank canvas when it comes to dinner. My all-time favorite technique is to mix pesto (pre-made, from a jar, of course) with a little more olive oil to make it less clumpy, put it in a Ziploc bag, then cut off one of the bag’s corners and squeeze it to decorate your plate. You can put a leftover piece of pizza on a plate like that and it looks like a forty-dollar dinner. The same can be done with a can of tomato paste, mustard, BBQ sauce—just about any food or sauce with a medium-thick liquid consistency. Sprinkle fresh or dried herbs around the perimeter of your plate and—voilà! Food-in-a-frame. It may only be Big Burrito Night, but when it’s on a plate, circled by red pepper flakes, you’ll be instantly transported to Tijuana. Arriba! Arriba!
Every meal you eat is an opportunity for white-linen-napkin service. Think about how much fun a restaurant experience can be and recreate it in your kitchen. It’s all about color and style—and you’ve got plenty of that. You don’t need to be skilled in making crèmes or consummés, just channel your creativity, and mealtime will never be boring again.