Just as our political, environmental and social worlds spin at an alarming rate, so too does the culinary world.
While not underestimating the importance of global changes, the world of food has dramatically evolved on a number of fronts. In the past few years, organic, local and seasonal have become important buzz words often inspiring, or commanding, a moral commitment.
In this article, however, I want to talk about one of the current food presentation trends.
Who doesn’t adore stacks, regardless of where they might appear on a menu? Successful stacks bring together enticing layers of exciting ingredients. The combination of flavours, textures and colours can be outstanding. The visual effects can also be stunning, and that’s no small thing. After all, first impressions count and many of us eat first with our eyes. Once popped into our mouths, the crescendo of culinary magic begins as discerning palates recognize how various elements interact with one another. The result is more complex, thanks to the stacked style of presentation.
Appealing hors d’oeuvres can quickly be prepared by simply placing a bit of this and a bit of that in a layered effect on oriental porcelain spoons or spoons designed for this purpose. It is important to remember that these mini stacks must always be stable to avoid awkward moments. They may require touches of flavoured mayonnaise, cream cheese or something else to bind the layers in a secure fashion. And refrain from being too generous when filling spoons because they must be easy to handle and manageable in one mouthful. Similarly, stacks can be assembled on small hors d’oeuvre dishes and in glasses or demi-tasse cups when guests are able to set down their drink glasses as they’ll need both hands to manage. (Note: Cocktail forks or spoons may also be necessary.)
At the table, a sure way to impress your guests is to serve the appetizer course as a stack. Among our favourites are slices of smoked salmon, avocado and mango, garnished with drizzles of a mustard-herb type of vinaigrette and microscopic dabs of lemon oil. But the choices are abundant. You might decide on a creative multi-coloured stack of grilled vegetables. And there’s always the traditional stack of sliced tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella lightly bathed with basil-infused olive oil and sprinkled with roasted pine nuts. Stacks are always best presented as individual servings. To facilitate the creation of a stack, position a metal cylinder/ring (e.g., 4 inch or 10 cm in diameter) on a dinner plate and fill it accordingly. Carefully remove the cylinder, transfer it to the next plate and repeat the process.
Plated main courses are definitely tempting and very professional in appearance (although anyone can do it) when at least some elements on the plates are presented one on top of the other in a vertical manner rather than in one horizontal configuration. This could be the principal protein (e.g, fish, beef, chicken) perched on a bed of cooked vegetables and crowned with microgreens. Or it might be something quite different. My stack of decadent lamb medallions with seared pâté always draws immediate wows as it arrives at the table and then again when guests take those critical first bites.
More and more desserts are coming to the table as extravagant stacks of mousse, cake/pastry, fruit, cream, etc.
Indeed, stacks have convincingly invaded our culinary world. Next time you have a dinner party, impress your guests by preparing an ultimate stacked dinner for them. It will be great fun for everyone.
Now, from our table to yours “Bon Appétit”!
(This is the fourth in a series of six, highlighting themes from Margaret’s Table, her cooking and lifestyle series on Rogers TV.)
Decadent Lamb Medallions with Seared Pâté
Makes 4 servings
4 oz (115 g) pâté, cut into 8 squares (1 1/4 inches or 3 cm; thickness: about 1/3 inch or 0.8 cm)
2 tbsp (30 mL) all-purpose flour
8 lamb medallions (each: about 2 1/3 oz or 70 g), thickness: 3/4 inch or 2 cm
2 1/2 tbsp (38 mL) olive oil (preferably garlic-infused)
To taste, crushed black peppercorns
3/4 cup (180 mL) Balsamic Red Wine Drizzle (recipe follows)
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1. Coat all exterior surfaces of pâté squares lightly with flour; arrange on a wax paper lined tray and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (so that flour clings more effectively to pâté).
2. One hour before serving, rub lamb medallions with olive oil, season with crushed black peppercorns and leave at room temperature.
3. Just before serving, place medallions on a lightly oiled preheated (medium-high) barbecue grill; immediately reduce heat to medium. With lid down, grill medallions for about 2 minutes per side for medium-rare or longer for greater degree of doneness.
4. Promptly transfer grilled medallions to a baking sheet and cover loosely with aluminum foil (shiny side down.).
5. Meanwhile, in a preheated, medium-size, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, quickly sear flour-coated and chilled pâté squares (for a matter of seconds per side) until golden brown and slightly crisp; transfer to a plate.
6. For individual servings, place one lamb medallion on each of 4 plates; drizzle each with 2 tsp (10 mL) of Balsamic Red Wine Drizzle; top with 1 square of seared pâté. Add a second medallion and square of pâté, then drizzle entire stack with another 2 tsp (10 mL) of Balsamic Red Wine Drizzle. Pierce a sprig of fresh rosemary through the entire stack in a vertical manner.
7. Serve immediately. Pass remaining Balsamic Red Wine Drizzle at the table.
Balsamic Red Wine Drizzle/Sauce
Makes 4/5 cup or 200 mL
1 tbsp (15 mL) instant beef bouillon powder
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) hot water
2 cups (500 mL) red wine
1/2 cup (125 mL) honey
1/2 cup (125 mL) balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch
1 tbsp (15 mL) cold water
1. Dissolve instant bouillon powder in hot water and set bouillon aside.
2. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, combine wine and honey stirring until honey is dissolved.
3. Add balsamic vinegar; bring to a boil. Stirring occasionally, allow mixture to boil gently (uncovered) and reduce to 1 cup (250 mL).
4. Add bouillon to balsamic red wine reduction; bring mixture to a boil. Stirring occasionally, allow mixture to boil (uncovered) and reduce to almost 4/5 cup (200 mL).
5. Promptly, in a small bowl, combine cornstarch and cold water to form a smooth mixture. Add a couple of tablespoons (30 mL) of hot balsamic sauce to cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly until well blended.
6. Whisking constantly, quickly add cornstarch balsamic mixture to saucepan. Bring sauce back to a boil and cook until slightly thickened.
7. Immediately remove sauce from heat, cover and allow to cool.
8. If not using sauce until later, store cooled sauce refrigerated in a well-sealed glass jar for up to several weeks.
Margaret Dickenson is the author of the international award-winning cookbook, Margaret’s Table – Easy Cooking & Inspiring Entertaining, as well as creator and host of the TV series, Margaret’s Table. Visit www.margaretstable.ca for more.