how to make your cooking look as pretty as a picture [5 ingredients | 10 minutes]

fig tarts cropped-2
I don’t know about you, but for me a cookbook isn’t a real cookbook without a picture of each recipe.

While I love writing and words, I’m a visual person, so unless I can ‘see’ how a dish is going to turn out, I’m not likely to cook it. The downside of this is that sometimes I get confronted with that horrible sinking feeling when real life doesn’t stack up.

Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks to help my creations to look as delicious as possible. Even before I got into blogging and photography, I was interested in food presentation so I thought I’d share a few secrets to help you feel great about your cooking and get it looking as pretty as a picture.

1. Don’t ever actually compare your creation to the photograph side by side.
A trick I learned early on is to almost disregard the photo once you’ve finished cooking. Its job was to inspire you and to give you an idea of how the dish could be served, but it’s certainly not gospel. Once you’ve plated up, the picture in the book is pretty much irrelevant – I mean you can’t eat a photograph – so do yourself a favour and close the book or shut down that screen.

2. Choose simple crockery and tableware.
Anyone who’s been reading stonesoup for a while will notice that pretty much all my plates and platters are plain white. While decorative, flower patterned China can be beautiful on it’s own, to me it always looks a little sullied when it is holding food. Plain plates allow the food to be the star.

3. Don’t overcrowd the plate.
While it may seem more generous to serve plates piled high of food, it diminishes the chance of the food looking appealing. Think about how you can use the white space of the plate to make your dish look appealing.

4. Emphasise the natural beauty of the food.
This is a difficult one to explain. Try and think about what it is that makes a particular dish look delicious and then serve it in a way to flaunt it. For example I love the golden, cripsy skin of a well roasted chicken. Rather than carve the chook into individual slices with tiny slivers of skin, I would cut the bird into quarters and serve with the skin of the breast proudly intact and prominent.

5. Big platters usually look better than fussy individual serves.
It may be just me, but there’s something so appealing about a tray of roast potatoes or a big platter of salad shared in the middle of the table rather than just giving everyone a plate ladened with a little bit of everything. Even when I’m cooking for two, I tend to serve most things in the middle for us to share.

6. Garnishes must have a purpose.
The old 70s trick of putting a sprig of curly parsley on the side just for appearance seems a little naff. Whereas a finishing sprinkle of parsley chopped so fine it resembles moss to freshen up a risotto or even a roast can add visual appeal as well as lifting the flavour.

7. Always be on the lookout for ideas.
Inspiration can strike from anywhere. When you’re eating out or even just flicking through your favourite food mag, take note of what looks appealing and what doesn’t

I wrote a chapter on food styling for my ebook ‘HOW TO BAKE YOUR FAMILY COOKBOOK‘ – if you’re interested in taking pictures of food you may find this useful – even if you aren’t ever planning to ever actually write a cookbook.

fig tarts-3 fig tarts-13

[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
little ricotta tartlets with fig & honey

makes 8

The secret to these little tartlets is to find a good biscuit / cookie to use as the ‘shell’. I’ve used Butternut Snap cookies which are a sweet oat-based biscuit similar to an ANZAC. Feel free to substitute with your favourite oat (oatmeal) cookie.

One of the best things about Autumn is that it’s fig season which guided my decision making. But really you could use any fruit you like. Fresh berries would be lovely as would roast stone fruit. Or you could even go tropical with sliced mango and passionfruit.

And it’s not limited to just fruit toppings – praline, chopped nuts, even shaved chocolate. I need to make these tarts again soon.

Apart from their flexilibity, the real beauty of these tarts is that they are just so quick and simple to make but look and taste like you’ve gone to lots of effort – it can be our little secret.

You can either make these before the guests arrive and store in the fridge or whip them up while someone else is clearing the plates from main course. The longer they sit, the softer the tartlet shell will be, but it’s delicious either way.

If you’d prefer you could heat and soften the biscuits in the microwave instead of the oven.

250g (1/2lb) ricotta
2T sugar
8 Butternut Snap cookies or similar
2 large ripe figs, quartered lengthwise
honey

Preheat oven to 200C (400F).

Meanwhile, combine ricotta and sugar and stir until smooth.

Place cookies on a baking tray smooth side up and warm in the oven for approx 2 minutes, or until soft enough to bend. While they are warm, carefully mould a soup spoon into the flat side of each cookie to form a little tartlet shell. Allow to cool for a minute or so.

Divide ricotta mixture between shells. Top each with a fig quarter and drizzle with honey.

fig tarts-2

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Really excited about the positive response to my new eBook – HOW TO BAKE YOUR FAMILY COOKBOOK. Be quick and pick up your copy before they go to full price this weekend.
3D cover

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