Even if you are not an industry pro, you can still score when it comes to the art of plate presentation. Use this post as a guide for a few quick Holiday How-To’s that will take you through the season and keep your plating game strong throughout the year.
When you want to gussy things up for the holidays or any other special occasion, remember we all eat with our eyes first. Think about your plate presentation ahead of the meal; and then take the time to add those extra little touches.
Rather than serve buffet – where guest’s pile it on each plate on their own; think about plating each course, with a little something special on each individual plate. If a buffet is your only option, that’s OK, too. You can use some of the same plate presentation tricks and tips outlined in this post for your larger serving platters, as well.
A simple sprig of parsley on top of your steak or a leaf of mint on that berry tart is fine, but if your really want the wow factor, its time to up your game. Use larger dinner plates for your desserts and first courses, so you have plenty of room. Don’t crowd it all in. Leave plenty of “white space”. Use edible garnishes and make your plate presentation fun and fanciful!
Your Presentation Starts with the Plate
All of the pottery pieces I will showcase in this post are from the talented group of potters in Seagrove, NC, just a short 90 minute drive from Charlotte. If you haven’t visited Seagrove, NC yet, put it on your bucket list. Many of these talented craftsmen and women are production potters, with a range from traditional pottery to the more contemporary, and have more plates and platters available for sale than you can shake a stick at.
In fact, if you are still in search of the perfect holiday gift, the pottery studios of Seagrove’s artisan community of nearly 100 talented potters and craftsmen and women is the answer you’ve been looking for. #TellThemHeidiSentYou
Yesterday, Wednesday Dec 12, it was my pleasure to appear on WCNC Charlotte’s Charlotte Today for a segment they so aptly called Holiday Plating Hacks. I shared several fun ways to help you plate like the pros. Upping your plate presentation game is easy. Just let me show you how.
Here is the video from the Charlotte Today segment. You’ll see I stuck mostly to plate presentation ideas that revolved around desserts…life is short so sweet things first. My the same tactics apply to the savory side. Once you watch the video, keep reading for all the how-to’s. Then, enjoy recipes for lemon pots de creme and chocolate mousse. I’ve also included some fun ways to plate individual portions of your favorite winter soup and bread. You’ll find those towards the end of this post!
Plate Presentation 101
Here we go. Video takeaways: swirl, don’t smear; and don’t garnish with poisonous plants, no matter how pretty they make the plate. Think of edible alternatives.
This is why I don’t like the classic “smear” used by chefs all over. While it might look good, its not really edible.
When a sauce or melted chocolate is smeared across a plate, it hardens or dries out. This makes it nearly impossible to eat. Sad not to be able to enjoy it all. Instead, put your sauce in a squeeze bottle and squeeze out a swirl, a line or a row of drops. Then, use a swizzle stick or a toothpick or skewer to draw through the drizzle. This creates a beautiful marbling or spider web affect. Every bit of your marbled or spider web sauce may be enjoyed with each forkful of food on the plate.
Fun Chocolate Bark makes your plate presentation all the sweeter
My second dessert tip here is probably one of my favorites. Its super simple and a fun way for little hands to help with the meal.
For this plate presentation, you’ll need bubble wrap and a pastry brush or good paint brush that you have dedicated for kitchen use.
Brush the bumpy side of the bubble wrap with a good quality melted chocolate. Work on a small square of bubble wrap 4×4 or 5×5 or a 3 by 5 or 6 inch rectangle. Simply paint the chocolate on the wrap, totally covering the soft, bumpy surface.
Gently press the chocolate side of the bubble wrap onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper. Refrigerate until firm, about 30-45 minutes.
Just before plating, carefully peel the bubble wrap off of the now firm chocolate. Remove the parchment paper and place the bark in the center of your plate or platter. Top your homemade chocolate bark with your favorite bite-sized cake, cupcake or pastry. Now dessert and your garnish are both totally edible!
A Tip on Melting Chocolate
If you ask a chocolatier, like my friend Blair Potts of Potts Chocolate, about melting chocolate, he will most certainly use the word “tempering”. Its true, if you are melting chocolate to make fanciful filled truffles, you need to temper the chocolate as it melts. Check out Potts’ latest holiday truffle in this recent Drink Local post. It’s the sweet surprise at the end!
For the plate presentations I have described here and for my chocolate mousse recipe to come, don’t sweat the tempering. Just put good quality chocolate blocks, bars or chocolate chips in a glass bowl. Pop the in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. Take a look and give the chocolate a stir; Repeat for another 30 seconds, if needed. In my older microwave at home, its takes a minute total. Keep in mind that, in a microwave, chocolate chips hold their shape even after they have melted. Stir the chips to check if they are melted, before adding on another 30 seconds of cooktime. Once the chocolate is melted, continue with your recipe as directed.
Edible Garnishes make Plate Presentation Deliciously Good!
Sometimes, it is just so tempting to cut a few sprigs of whatever is in our gardens and bring the beauty back to our tables. Great idea if we are talking herbs or perhaps a flower from a vegetable plant or fruit tree.
Bad idea when a plant might be poisonous. During the holiday season, you’ll want to take particular caution when it comes to seasonal plants like holly leaves and berries. Instead, carve or cut out your own.
Use the peel of a cucumber or zucchini squash from the grocery store to cut out your own holiday holly leaves. You can cut with kitchen scissors or a pairing knife. You don’t need a pattern. I have confidence that you can do this free-hand. Then, use fresh or dried cranberries in place of the real thing. Keep it all in place with a tiny little blob of cream cheese.
Just A Dusting…
Here’s an easy way to take on the world of plate presentation. Simply dust powdered sugar or cocoa on the plate. But as I mention in the video, dust with caution.
Covering the plate with powdered sugar is as lovely as they fresh fallen snow, but its also messy and hard to serve. As soon as your guests touch the plate they will be covered with powdered sugar – and dark cocoa is even worse!
Instead take my tip on using a larger plate and then keep your dusting of cocoa or powdered sugar contained to the inside of the plate or platter. Take care to leave a margin of white space around the edges.
A fun and easy way to create a bit of drama is to place a paper doily or perhaps a fork or spoon on the plate. Then lightly dust powdered sugar or dark cocoa ( which ever coordinates best with the color of your plate) over the fork or doily.
When you are done, gently lift the fork or doily – which will be covered so be careful – and voila! You have the impression of a cool design or a figurative fork on the plate. For savory dishes you can do the same thing with tomato powder available from my friends at the Savory Spice Shop.
Check to see that plates for presentation are food safe…
Not all plates and platters are created equal and just like your garnishes, you want to be sure that the plates and platters on which you serve are food safe.
In selecting the plates and platters for this post and televised segment, my eyes were drawn to lots of the decorative art pottery from some of the potters in Seagrove, NC. I really wanted to use a red plate or platter and I knew that several Seagrove potters feature a red glaze. What I didn’t know, before I spoke to sixth generation potter, Boyd Owens of The Original Owens Pottery, is that these traditional bright red glazes, albeit gorgeous, are not food safe.
The problem is not in the pottery itself but with the fact that some foods might leach the lead in the glaze. So, if you want to use these plates on your table, you’ve got to get creative. Go ahead and serve on those stunning plates, but use a doily or a fun mirror to separate the food from the decorative plate or platter.
All of the other pottery featured in this post and that from other production potters in Seagrove is food safe. If you are not sure, ask.
The same dilemma applies if you are using old flea market finds. Take caution with bright red, bright yellow or orange china or glass. Err on the side of caution. The tiny mirrors I used are a fun addition to the table and are readily available in big box stores or candle shops.
With this layering technique, use can still use and enjoy the artisan platters and keep foods safe to eat as well.
When your Plate is a Bowl
Hard to dust anything on a bowl of food, save a bit of cheese on top, but you can get more creative than that!
Use handcrafted, oven-safe pottery bowls and mugs you’ll find among the Seagrove pottery studios to bake in. Hot dips can all be made and served in the same beautiful bowl or mug in which it was baked.
Prepare individual portions of soup or chili into stoneware bowls. Top each with a dollop of cornbread batter or biscuit dough. Place in the oven; bake according to the bread directions for results that will really wow your guests.
Plated Desserts for a Crowd
Sometimes its more fun to create a sense of community and let everyone eat from the same plate. Use what are often labeled as chip and dip bowls to create a large deconstructed, of your will, s’more or lemon meringue dessert dip and let your serving bowl or deep dish platter be the star of the show.
My recipe for lemon pot de creme , from a summer cooking with cucumbers post, is perfect for this. Bake it in the pottery bowl and then top it with whipped heavy cream or whip up six local egg whites with a quarter cup of sugar to make a meringue. Toast the top of the meringue with a brulee torch. Surround with biscotti or hard Italian lady fingers and enjoy.
For a platter of deconstructed s’mores. Make the following recipe for my easy-peasy chocolate mousse. Top with mini marshmallows and brown with a brulee torch. Serve with graham crackers for dipping.
Don’t put either of these dip-able desserts under the broiler to brown the topping. The idea is for the creme and mousse to be cold, while the “toasted” topping is still slightly warm.
Heidi’s Chocolate Mousse
2 cups organic semi sweet or dark chocolate
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup of your favorite local liquor or liqueur
2 Local egg yolks
1 1/2 cups heavy local or organic cream, whipped to stiff peaks
Melt the chocolate or chocolate chips and butter in a bowl in the microwave for 1 minute. Stir to insure all the chips are melted. Blend in 1/4 cup of your favorite local Liquor or Liqueur ( for suggestions check out my Drink Local lists here and here. Or blend in local elderberries from Norm’s Farm in Pittsboro by using Norm’s elderberry syrups or Norm’s spiced Wellness formula.
Scoop out a fourth of the whipped cream and blend it into the melted chocolate. Then, take a third of the whipped cream that is left and gently fold it into the chocolate mix. Stop folding when the chocolate and whipped cream are just barely blended. You will still be able to see some white streaks of the whipped cream. Repeat with the remaining whipped cream doing half of what remains at a time. Spoon into bowls or stemmed glasses. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and enjoy.
To make Heidi’s deconstructed s’mores. Spoon the chilled chocolate mousse into a hand crafted pottery bowl. Top with your favorite marshmallows or marshmallow cream. Carefully use a handheld brulee torch to toast the marshmallows golden brown. Serve with graham crackers or your favorite cookies for dipping.
This Plate Presentation Post with thanks to…
Thanks so much to my friends at The Heart of North Carolina, for partnering with me to sponsor this post. I am always delighted to write about brands I believe in and am excited to share their stories.
The Heart of North Carolina is the official source of Randolph County Tourism. Seagrove, NC is just one of the many cities in Randolph County located just 90 minutes from Charlotte on one side and 90 minutes from Raleigh, NC on the other!
When you go to visit the potters and artisan’s in Seagrove, NC, why not spend a night or two and take in all this wonderful part of the state has to offer, including the NC Zoo in Asheboro, NC. It’s a day ( or two) long adventure you will love! Betcha didn’t know that our NC Zoo is the largest natural habitat zoo in the world?
Where to eat and what else to do in Randolph County
Be sure to plan to eat at the Zoo, as there are wonderful restaurants on the property. Among them I would heartily suggest BillyD’s Fried Chicken and Iron Hen Cafe Express. Then, while you are in Asheboro, be sure to make plans to enjoy the many area restaurants. My two don’t miss suggestions: The Table and at Magnolia 23 ; and if you want to stop along the way for a spot of tea ( to sample and buy to take home) and some local art, take some time to pop in at Carriage House Tea.
Also in North Carolina’s Randolph County, look for U-Pick apples ( in season) at Millstone Creek Orchards. Millstone, located in Ramseur, NC also offers apples, baked goods and fresh pressed cider as well as lots of family friendly adventures available all year round.
Randolph County is also home to the Richard Petty Museum and the Petty’s over the top Victory Junction. A camp established in memory and honor of Adam Petty, Victory Junction provides year round camp experiences for children with serious or chronic medical conditions at no cost to families. It is a camp where these children can be free from the confines of disease, illness or disability, and discover that they can just be kids!
So much to see, do and eat in The Heart of North Carolina! Its a part of our state with something for everyone and I, for one, can’t wait to go back!
When you go to visit, tag me in social media posts and photos of your adventure.
Be sure to #TellThemHeidSentYou!