We taste with our eyes. If food doesn’t look good, our eyes tell our stomach it probably won’t taste good either. Then we smell it. Or sometimes smell comes before it’s seen.
Who can miss the aroma of an apple pie baking even before it comes out of the oven? Close your eyes and you can see it — crusty and brown, glistening with sugar crystals on top and a little juice running over the edges. That’s art. It looks wonderful, doesn’t it?
We can all put a little art into our food. It doesn’t take long or cost a lot. We need color and texture. And, thanks to the fields of Florida, we have plenty to work with.
Start with colors. Look in the pantry and fridge for inspiration. Like a contrasting throw pillow brings out a room, a few small pieces of colorful food can bring out a dish. Bright yellow/orange macaroni and cheese with a lightly browned crumb topping looks appetizing. A few bits of green pepper and red or yellow pepper mixed in make it pop with color, texture and make it even more appetizing.
Take a quick inventory of tasty art elements you might have in the crisper: Green peppers, yellow peppers, orange peppers, red tomatoes, green tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, green broccoli, white cauliflower, light green celery, purple eggplant, orange carrots, green snow peas, green okra, purple turnips, white and yellow corn, a slew of different greens, tiny Datil peppers, white mushrooms, brown mushrooms, green and white cucumber, green zucchini, yellow squash, red radishes, white onions …
Fruits vary with season, but just imagine the tasty works of art you can create with oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes, starfruit (carambola), blueberries, persimmons, watermelons, cantaloupes, leechee, rambutan, mangoes, avocadoes, peaches, nectarines …
Now look at texture. A vegetable peeler is your friend. Cut long strips of carrot and put them in ice water to curl, or pile the wide strips and cut them into long, thin strips before soaking. Now that you have long, square strips, cut them crossways to make miniscule tiny cubes. That’s called brunoise. They can go anywhere something small and intriguing is needed.
Peel a tomato in one long strip. Wrap the piece around a shot glass and fasten with a toothpick. Remove the glass and put something tasty in the tomato rose.
Cut the tops off green onions. Cut the white part into strips as far as about the middle. Cut the green the same way. Drop these in ice water and they will curl. You can cut them in two (one green and one white) if you like. These are onion brushes and used to spread hoisin sauce on mandarin pancakes for Chinese moo shoo dishes.
Kids will think you’re an artist if you make Smiley Pancakes. A couple of banana slices make the eyes and some blueberries form the mouth. And speaking of kids, they can use their creativity for tasty art, too. Give them a cucumber, tiny tomatoes, bits of red pepper, and some of the thin carrot curls. Slices of cucumber are arranged to form a tree and the rest of the bits and pieces become the ornaments.
How about a wreath salad? Start with a large platter or square of strong cardboard wrapped in foil — the size depends on how many people will be sharing it — and arrange torn greens in a circle. Decorate the greens with tiny Florida tomatoes, slices of radish, curls of citrus peel, and pecans or peanuts. Dust it with shredded coconut for snow.
Here’s a piece of art that’s always a hit with kids. Start with small yellow squash that have a definite crook to the neck — one per person. Cut a small slice off the bottom so the squash stands up. Poke two holes in the crook and insert cloves in the holes. These are the eyes. You can make a slit under the eyes and slide in a thin piece of carrot for a beak. Feet are slices of carrot placed in front of the body.
Anyone can be an artist with food, and if you mess it up, you can eat it.
For another artful creation at your holiday meals, try this CUCUMBER, TOMATO AND RADISH SALAD WITH CITRUS DRESSING from the chefs at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services:
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped fine
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped fine
3/4 pound radishes, trimmed and chopped fine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, mashed to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
1/3 cup cilantro finely chopped, or to taste
6 scallions, sliced thin
In a large bowl, whisk together the juices and garlic paste, add the oil in a steady stream, and whisk the dressing until it is emulsified. Whisk in the chopped cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, and the scallions, toss the salad to combine it well, and garnish the dish with the leftover cilantro sprigs.
article by TRENT ROWE
Trent Rowe is the food editor of Central Florida Ag News.