Ever wonder why the platters and plates of food served up in magazines or on cooking shows look so tempting, even though you can’t smell them?
Often it’s in the presentation.
Think of chefs as designers of food, as are photographers who specialize in such pictures. Just as a well-appointed room’s appeal often is in the accents, so it is with food presentation.
An interior designer knows just which pillow shapes and colors make a sofa look extra-inviting, which heights and ornateness of lamps make tables into warmly lighted holders of artsy displays.
One of the easiest ways to give sophistication and eye appeal to holiday and other meals is the use of sauces. They give additional layers of flavors to foods and visual depth as well.
It’s as easy as looking at a holiday plate with sliced turkey; mashed potatoes (with no gravy or melting pat of butter; green beans with no sauce, butter or chopped nuts; and bread stuffing without colorful accents of chopped herbs and tempting gravy.
Much of the food is pale, almost monotone in color.
Now get to painting the plate --- adding sauces, gravy and other accents that boost flavor and add color, too.
Cranberry sauce’s rich burgundy color instantly draws the eye to turkey slices and suggests a bit of sweetness and tang. Gravy --- whether a cream recipe or traditional brown gravy --- fits perfectly into a well in mashed potatoes and drizzles over stuffing.
And a cheese sauce topped with shopped herbs gives a lift to green beans, broccoli or cauliflower.
As you plan this year’s holiday meals, look for ways to take things up a notch with the flavor and visual interest of special sauces and gravies. Both also help disguise any problems with dry turkey or sticky potatoes and can be big helps when you serve leftovers the next few days.
If your family often serves cranberries or cranberry sauce, you can add additional flavor with cinnamon, orange and other flavors.
The Associated Press has some suggestions:
Taking cranberry sauce to a new level is easy
By JIM ROMANOFF
Making cranberry sauce is almost ridiculously easy.
The traditional stovetop method involves nothing more than combining a 12-ounce bag of cranberries with 1 cup each of sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the cranberries burst.
Then, just chill it and eat it. It really is that easy. And it really is so much better than canned.
It also takes little additional effort to add other flavors. For example, for a spicy pepper cranberry sauce add up to three seeded and diced jalapenos before cooking. For a smokier version, use 1 teaspoon of ground canned chipotle peppers.
Since citrus complements cranberries, you could substitute orange juice for the water and add a few teaspoons of grated orange zest. Another option that will give you a similar flavor is to add a few tablespoons of orange or grapefruit marmalade.
Apples and pears make a nice addition to cranberry sauce and turn it into more of a compote. Before cooking, add 3 peeled and diced pears or apples to the cranberry mixture along with 1 teaspoon of minced fresh ginger and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
Or a simple cranberry chutney can be made by sautéing a large chopped onion, then adding a 12-ounce bag of cranberries, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of golden raisins, 1/2 cup of water, 1/4 cup of cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons of minced fresh ginger and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer until the cranberries burst.
The chutney will thicken as it cools.
Of course, if you’re feeling truly adventurous, you can skip the cranberries altogether and make a different fruit sauce.
To make a sweet and savory fig sauce, sauté 1/2 cup of chopped shallots and a tablespoon of minced fresh ginger in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add 2 cups of chicken broth, 1 cup of red wine, 1 cup of chopped dried figs (stems removed) and 2 teaspoons of soy sauce.
Simmer the mixture until the figs are very soft, about 15 minutes, then thicken the sauce with 1-1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water.
Or try this sweet and salty sauce of dried plums and olives simmered in chicken broth, white wine and red wine vinegar. A trio of oregano, thyme and parsley add a heady herbal aroma to this sauce, which goes as well with roasted pork or chicken as it does with turkey.
OLIVE & DRIED PLUM COMPOTE
Start to finish: 1 hour (15 minutes active)
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
14-1/2-ounce can chicken broth
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups pitted dried plums
1 cup oil-packed green olives, pitted
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the wine, chicken broth and vinegar, then bring to a boil.
Stir in the dried plums, olives, brown sugar, garlic, oregano and thyme. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 1 hour.
Remove the sauce from heat and let cool slightly. Stir in the parsley.
Makes 4 cups.
Start to finish: 20 minutes
12-ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup chopped dried apricots
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons brandy (optional)
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
In a medium saucepan, combine the cranberries, apricots, honey, orange juice and water. Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly.
Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook until the cranberries are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the brandy (if using) and orange zest. Let cool to room temperature before serving, or cover and refrigerate.
Makes 4 cups.
FAST SPICED CRANBERRY SAUCE
Start to finish: 15 minutes
12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
In a large microwave-safe bowl with a cover, combine all the ingredients. Cover and microwave on high for 7 minutes.
Uncover the bowl and stir thoroughly. Replace the cover and microwave on high for another 3 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. Serve warm or cover and refrigerate to chill.
Makes 3 cups.