Styling Your Starters

Small touches can make a big difference when it comes to the presentation of food. These easy tips will help you make even a simple appetizer look gourmet.

You're probably familiar with the adage, "You eat with your eyes first." What you might not know is how quickly, easily and inexpensively you can make your own preparations look professionally executed. Use these three tricks to impress the guests at your next party.

Cucumbers

Use a mandoline

A mandoline is a handy kitchen tool that allows you to slice or julienne quickly and uniformly. It will also likely slice much more thinly than you would be able to with just a knife. Here I've sliced cucumbers (to be vessels for hummus) using a mandoline so that every slice is the same thickness. It also works well on potatoes, carrots, radishes, peppers, cabbage and more. You won't regret a small investment in a mandoline and will probably find yourself using it on a regular basis to efficiently prepare food for your family. I suggest the Progressive International Adjust-A-Slice and Julienne Mandoline. (Amazon, $30)

Pipe it

Pipe it

Piping your spreads adds polish to your appetizers and is deceptively straightforward. All you need is a piping tip and a piping bag or a large zip-top bag (with a bottom corner cut off to create a hole large enough for the piping tip). You can get fancy with technique, but all you need to know is how to create a simple swirl. Fill your piping bag halfway and use one hand to hold the top of the bag closed, with the other hand by the tip. Start in the middle of your appetizer and work your way out to create a border, using the top hand to push out the filling and the bottom hand as a guide. Circle inward and upward to complete the swirl. Here I've used a French tip to pipe herbed cream cheese. Piping is also great for hummus, guacamole and most spreads and dips. You can pick up piping bags and a piping tips set for less than $20. I like the Ateco Pastry Bags (Amazon, $6) and Ateco 6-Piece Pastry Tube and Tips Set (Amazon, $10).

Find the right garnish

Find the right garnish

A thoughtfully selected garnish can serve multiple purposes. While it's often used to add a splash of color, this finishing touch can also work for you by contributing another flavor element or contrasting texture. The yogurt and dill in the pictured borscht (a cold beet and yogurt soup) complement its vibrant color, and the dill enhances the flavor complexity. This would also be a great way to top a simple carrot or potato soup.

Top picks for quick garnishes

  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Crispy bacon pieces
  • Citrus zest
  • Toasted nuts or seeds
  • Drizzle of cream
  • Colored sugar
  • Sliced fruit

More gourmet ideas

15 Gourmet gifts for guests
The best gourmet foods for spring entertaining
How to make gourmet coffee drinks at home

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