COOKING 101: Dressed up for the holidays, food dazzles

COOKING 101: Dressed up for the holidays, food dazzles

You eat first with your eyes.

It’s a commonly held opinion. I believe it.

Would you buy a doughnut if it were hidden in a plain brown box instead of tempting you from the display case behind the coffee counter?

No.

There’s a reason why fish is artfully arranged on ice, why merchants fan out their produce in appetizing ways, why the dessert case tantalizes from a prime spot in a restaurant dining room.

Eye candy. Food art. Styling.

You like what you see, you buy it.

The same adage can be applied to the home kitchen: You like what you see, you eat it.

Home usually means empty plates on the table, with the food served family style from a nearby counter, often in the pots in which it was cooked. Like sweat pants and slippers, it’s fine for comfy nights at home.

But the holiday season provides the perfect opportunity to step out, to dress up your food and take it down the runway.

I know. The thought of suiting up your turkey in a pie-crust-tux is a little overwhelming with all the chopping, dicing, saucing and baking ahead of you. But maybe a few simple little stylish additions to the holiday table would be fun.

A friend once made her usual cucumber dip for an Easter party, but this time she served it in fresh bread shaped like a bunny. The body had been hollowed out and stuffed with an easy cucumber dip. She served it with fresh veggies and bread cubes.

Everyone raved about the rabbit. No one noticed it was the same old dip.

The feeding frenzy from Halloween to New Year’s is a colorful season. The vibrant oranges and yellows of fall foliage brighten the Thanksgiving table, while those vivid reds and greens that follow just shout Christmas.

What’s a cucumber dip bunny without ears? A cucumber dip snowman! Just use your imagination.

You really only need one “little black dress,” one signature bauble or pair of heels to transform your usual culinary wardrobe into dress-up mode.

Surfing the web quickly for food art turned up a photo of a cool-looking turkey with skewers of berries for tail feathers.

Hmmmm …

That turkey looked like it would make a pretty stunning salad for Thanksgiving served on small plates, maybe with a yogurt dressing and a wedge of blue cheese tucked under the pear.

More class than fuss.

My friend Linda makes a snappy-looking cheese torta with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. I can see it set out with crackers and eggnog before the big Christmas dinner. Or, build a similar torta with pumpkin cream cheese, apples and pecans and serve with pumpernickel pretzels and breads for Thanksgiving snacking.

I like to make cheesecake squares for the holidays. They can be made ahead and are easy to serve. For Thanksgiving, I make a pumpkin spice variety with a gingersnap crust. For Christmas, it’s spearmint with a chocolate crust. Pretty stuff. Tasty, too.

Bottom line: Presentation. Presentation. Presentation.

Why serve your homemade cranberry sauce in an ordinary bowl if you can stuff it into half an orange?

Styling. That’s the way to go.

Impress guests with this “turkey” with skewers of berries for tail feathers.  2 pears, halved and cored.4 chunks blue cheeseGreen grapes, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, clementine orange slices, bananasSkewersCut pears in half. Add 2 raisins for eyes and thin slices orange peel for legs and nose (see photo). Use eight skewers per turkey. Thread with a grape, then the berries, ending with a grape. Divide clementines into segments. Cut bananas in thirds and slice lengthwise.Drizzle plate with yogurt dressing. Place chuck of blue cheese in center and top with pear half. Layer bananas and oranges around pear. Then add the skewers as tailfeathers.Dressing: One container pear yogurt thinned with a little cranberry juice and spiced with a little nutmeg. Serve extra dressing at table.Serves four. Can be doubled or tripled.

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