By Kayla Butts
Certain occasions call for heightened culinary elegance: a first meal with the in-laws, an anniversary dinner, or a very special date. The art of the dish elevates the beauty and sophistication of the atmosphere.
Presentation sets the tone of the meal, just as candles and subdued lighting create a certain ambiance. The beauty fosters conversations around the table that can lift the mood and engage the diners until the wine does its work.
In fine restaurants, presentation is as important as preparation, and sometimes takes as long. However, creating art on the plate does not have to be an ordeal. A little attention to color, shape, and form goes a long way.
Dragon fruit can transform a tame, white tres leches cake into an exotic and evocative dessert. In addition to its vibrant pink skin, dragon fruit has startling white flesh speckled with black seeds and is loaded with antioxidants and subtle flavor. The delicate pink hues of this dessert balance nicely with the airy flavors and subtle coconut finish.
Artichokes are an artist’s delight of form, color, and texture. The lines and curves are rhythmic and sensual. The gorgeous, earthy green tones of an artichoke are versatile and fit easily into the color palette of any fine tableware. This preparation of artichokes with roasted garlic dip is as delicious as it is beautiful.
Plantains are a lovely fruit not used nearly enough in the kitchen, which gives them a slightly exotic feel. For campfire dinners, we love to mash plantains into masa, fill with pork carnitas, and steam by the fire in a banana leaf. But for this lovely presentation, we brighten these beauties with cool green colors.
Plantains are barely sweet, much lower in sugar than bananas, which makes them an excellent side. This savory version is deep-fried and served warm with a cilantro cream sauce – a stunning dish with its green and golden colors, and the flavor will win over even the most discriminating food critic.
It is true that we eat with our eyes. A sophisticated presentation certainly enhances the appreciation of the dish. Even better, your guests will look at you with a new appreciation for the art and beauty and elegance you create.
Grilled Artichokes with Roasted Garlic Dip
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
2 fresh artichokes
1/2 cup fresh herbs (recommended:
rosemary, basil, oregano, or parsley)
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 head garlic, halved width-wise
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
Juice of 2 lemons
Preheat oven to 400°F and grill to medium-high heat. Trim the tips of the leaves from each artichoke. Cut artichokes in half lengthwise, and remove the chokes. Brush artichoke and garlic halves with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper.
Place garlic on a baking sheet and transfer into preheated oven. Meanwhile, grill artichokes for 7 minutes on the cut side. Transfer artichokes to the baking sheet that garlic has been roasting on and cook for an additional 20 minutes, until artichokes and garlic are tender.
Blend garlic with herbs, olive oil, salt, red pepper, and the juice of one lemon. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on artichokes and serve with roasted garlic dipping sauce.
Fried Plantains with Cilantro Cream Sauce
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
3 plantains, peeled and
cut into 1/2” slices
1 cup peanut oil
1 tsp fine salt
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Cilantro Cream Sauce:
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 tbsp whipping cream
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Juice of 1 lime
Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Mix salt, paprika, pepper, cumin, and garlic powder together in a small bowl. Fry plantains for 3-5 minutes, until golden and tender, and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Season with salt mixture. Continue in batches until all slices are fried.
Add ingredients for cilantro cream sauce to food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Serve plantains warm with cilantro cream sauce.
Makes one 9”x9” Cake
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Inactive prep time: 2 hours
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
5 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
Tres Leches Mixture:
1 13.5-oz can coconut milk
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 12-oz can evaporated milk
Dragon Fruit Filling:
1 fresh dragon fruit, peeled
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp corn starch
1 pint heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp coconut sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8”x8” or 9”x9” cake pan. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients for the sponge and whisk until combined.
Separate eggs, placing whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and yolks in a medium-sized bowl. Add sugar, coconut oil, milk, and vanilla to yolks and mix well. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
Stir yolk mixture into dry ingredients until smooth. Fold in egg whites carefully to achieve a light, airy batter. Pour batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating cake 180 degrees 15 minutes in.
While the cake cooks, combine three milks in the tres leches mixture and stir well. Transfer sponge to a cooling rack and prick the surface of the sponge liberally with a fork. Pour tres leches mixture over cake and transfer to the refrigerator for about 2 hours to let the liquid absorb.
Meanwhile, pulse peeled dragon fruit in a food processor. Combine ingredients for dragon fruit filling and whisk well, cooking over medium heat. Continue to stir regularly until filling starts to thicken, for about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Beat cold whipping cream and coconut sugar on high until stiff peaks form. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and cover with dragon fruit filling. Finish cake with whipped cream and toasted coconut. Store in the refrigerator and serve chilled.