Presentation goes a long way to making simplicity elegant
You can take simple ingredients that are easy on the wallet and transform them into an elegant dish simply by how you choose to place them on a dinner plate. Presentation plays a most important role in the appeal and impressions you will make on your guests.
Although the sense of smell is the first recognition of what may soon present itself at the dinner table, sight is the affirmation of whether or not the nose was correct in its assumption. After all, most of us get the first taste of a meal with our eyes; hence the phrase, "we eat with our eyes". The food industry spends millions each year making everything from junk food to gourmet items look appealing and enticing enough for you to go out and purchase those products. Careful attention is paid to how foods are placed, the quantity plated, and color. Our eyes gloss over the professionally edited photos and the imagination of how good the food pictured must taste. The nose is nowhere to be found.
A case in point, the dinner plate pictured above was by no means shot by a professional photographer, nor was the editing performed beyond the average reader's capabilities; however, pay close attention to the ingredients, quantity, placement, and color. The ingredients are simple and limited to 3 or 4 including sauce. Next, you see the plate is not filled to overflowing. As far as elegance in the beholder's eyes are concerned, less is more. Notice how the food has been plated, with some items overlapping, others placed in different areas of the plate, in this example, the baby potatoes. There are no rules that say all like items have to be grouped together. Also notice there is no overabundance of sauce, just enough to compliment the flavors of the main ingredients. Finally, color provides the final touches and accents to the dish, giving the presentation dimension.
The baby green beans are steamed for about 7 minutes and gently tossed with butter (cost approx. $0.80 per serving.
The baby Yukon Gold potatoes are lightly boiled for 20 to 25 minutes, 4 to 5 per person (cost approx. $1.00 per person @ $3.99/lb. and are about 1 inch diameter).
The meatball (top round beef, Italian sweet sausage, parsley, garlic, egg, salt, pepper, and a bit of bread crumbs (1 level teaspoon per meatball) and is sauteed in olive oil over medium high heat until browned, then pan is place in a 350 oven, baked for another 30 minutes. Each meatball is approximately 3 inches in diameter and is 3 oz. (approx. cost $1.10 per person).
The sauce is a simple sauce made from the pan drippings of the finished meatballs. Meatballs are removed from pan, then pan is deglazed with a bit of red wine and beef broth in equal portions and reduced by half, using burner setting at medium, then medium low. Once reduced, add a level teaspoon of tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter until melted and sauce has thickened (approx. cost $0.55 per person).
The cost for a dinner of 4 comes to approximately $3.45 per person and another 30 cents for sundry items like butter and spices. At $3.75 per person, this simple dinner, well presented, not only exudes elegance, but at a bargain price and your guests won't even know.
Remember, presentation is very important here as it can make a world of difference. But isn't that true for other things in our lives, the way we wear our clothes and decorate our homes? The word here is style - at a bargain!