Most of the time I don’t have time to make my meals look fancy schmancy. I work full-time, until recently I also studied full-time (yay, graduation), and I have two kids. My life is full on. The fact that I am 21 days behind in writing this blog and it is already past New Year should give a clue to the fact that tarting up the presentation of my meals is not high on my list of priorities.
That and…you’ve seen the photos. Like I said when I first started writing this blog — this ain’t Pinterest.
But sometimes, I want to make things look pretty, because I have people coming over, or because I feel like making an effort for the people I love. All of the things I listed above remain true however, so I have to come up with fast (and cheap) ways to make things look Pinteresty without having to put much effort in.
These have to be simple because I am also artistically-challenged. When they were handing out the genes for making stuff look arty, they passed me by, and then handed my share to my younger sister. She can take a handful of newspaper, a piece of recycled ribbon and a toilet roll and voila! homemade Christmas wreath.
Give it to me and it goes in the recycling bin.
So, here are my ten, simple cheap ways to tart up your dinner without driving yourself bonkers. No #pinterestfails, I promise. Coz this shiz is so simple, it wouldn’t even make it to Pinterest in the first place.
- Colour co-ordinate. Things don’t have to match exactly, but if you have plates and bowls that are the same colour, use them. I have been collecting bits that all roughly match in colour, even if they don’t match exactly in style. That way when I need to set a table for more than the four of us (say, at Christmas), everything looks like it was meant to go together. And if someone breaks something, I can just get another white or red bowl/plate/cup.
- Use a board. Jamie Oliver started this trend of serving things on rustic looking wooden boards a couple of years ago, and now you can’t go into any homewares shop or even K-Mart without spying a wooden board. My daughter made this cute little centrepiece with candy canes and little (mismatched) white condiment bowls at Christmas. The photo isn’t great (of course) but you catch the drift. Suddenly butter, mustard and cranberry sauce look like a rustic board of festive pleasure. Or something.
3. Serve it at the table. On a board.
Serving your dish to guests ‘family-style’ so that they can help themselves makes them feel included and again gives that rustic, peasant feel.
4. Put a herb on it. We grow a lot of our own herbs because we have a big garden, so we can use all the herbs we want. I realise this is not the case for everyone, but happily for us it is. So this Christmas we turned a pretty bog-standard Christmas platter into a very lah-di-dah affair by using a mix of flowering herbs like sage, rosemary, thyme, and mint, interspersed with purple carrots. It looked amazing but was actually free because we already had these herbs in the garden, and it was easy because all I had to do was pick and wash them.
5. Use little bowls. I have a vast collection of little white bowls (see point 2 above) that I use for condiments, dips, olives, butter, cream, jam and anything else I can think of. As I mentioned in point 1 above, they don’t need to match – they just need to be the same colour. There is something much nicer about butter in a little white bowl than a tub of butter whacked on the table, or a little white bowl of jam rather than a jar of IXL on the table. It even tastes better. I noticed this one day when I was out for breakfast and they offered me ‘compote’ with toast. I swear it was bog standard strawberry jam from the supermarket, but because it was served in a little white ramekin, they could tell me it was ‘berry compote’ and charge me seven bucks. Lesson learned, peeps. White bowls = tarting it up.
6. Use good cheese. Even if you are making the simplest pasta dish in the world, or you are serving homebrand Jatz, if you are serving a good cheese, no-one will care. However if you are serving handmade pasta made with free range eggs, but putting powdered parmesan in a can on it, people will only taste that. Even good cheeses have dropped in price so you can buy a good feta or bocconcini nowadays for about four dollars, and it will make your pasta dish look and taste like a million bucks. I would rather have one nice piece of cheddar on a cheeseboard than five average cheeses any day, and when it’s gone – well, I like homebrand Jatz anyways.
7. Slice the bread yourself. I know it’s easier and quicker to get Baker’s Delight to slice your bread medium-thick and not to bother to do it yourself, but if you have a good breadknife, get them to bag it for you in paper. Then take it home and slice it in front of your guests and present it on (yep) a wooden board with butter in a (you guessed it) little white bowl. It will look almost as good as if you made it yourself.
8. If you are making it yourself, and you have no allergies, seed it up. Homemade bread is amazeballs, and if you sprinkle some nice chunky seeds on it – like pepitas or sunflower – it will look a million bucks for a lot less than a million bucks. In general making homemade bread makes you look like a superstar (weird, considering humans have been making bread for hundreds of years, so it can’t be that hard), but adding that little touch of an eggwash and some seeds takes it up a notch. Not sure why. Must be the visual.
9. Ditch the disposables. I know, I know – they make life bearable if you don’t have a dishwasher and you are having lots of people over. I’ve used them myself lots of times when I have been in that boat. But if you have a dishwasher, invest in some good quality reusable plates and cutlery, and it will be much nicer (and cheaper in the long run). And better for the environment. And you won’t break a cheap knife on a steak, which is really annoying.
10. Go vintage. I have a collection of little vintage dessert plates that I bought for – literally – 50 cents for the lot at a garage sale. I treat them like hell (throw them in the dishwasher etc) because they cost me nothing. I don’t mind little kids using them because if they break one – well, it cost me less than ten cents. But I love to eat dessert from them because they look so pretty.
I’ll probably discover after they have all been smashed to bits that they were worth $50 each. Oh well.
The point is, it doesn’t cost a lot or take a lot of effort to make your meals look much fancier than they are. The fact is that your friends and family will mostly remember that you put in effort to cook for them and won’t recall the details of whether you had a nice plate or butter in a little bowl, but sometimes it is nice to make an effort.