The way something is presented to us can greatly effect our perceptions and responses. If an item is beautifully prepared, we pick up on the fact that an effort has been made to please us and to respect the food. A subconscious communication is made, "This food is worth it, and so are you." Food and drink that looks great also predisposes us to savor and enjoy each bite; if it looks this good, how could it taste bad? At times it may be more a matter of imagination than reality (does Schlitz really taste good in any receptacle?); in such cases, presentation is priceless.
But what's a girl to do if she has unexpected guests, or just wants a special late night snack to share with the hubby? Pretty presentation need not be a complicated or expensive thing. Let me share a few quick tricks based on simple items that are easy to keep on hand. Since each stays fresh for quite a long time when stored properly, there is no excuse to be caught empty handed!
Why shears? Because the first step to a lovely food experience is a pretty table. If you need one pronto, the easiest thing to do is head outside and cut some greenery. Here's a secret: Almost anything living and fresh looks great in a vase / pitcher / glass / jar / old bottle. Try hosta leaves, a single small tree branch, or even a bouquet of shrub branches (I do this all the time, and guests always admire and ask what this beautiful plant is. And I lie. Just kidding.)
Limes and Lemons
I can't get enough of lemons and limes. A slice of citrus can perk up even the most basic of beverages - a glass of water. They can be added to soda water, cocktails, lemonade, and ice tea for an injection of freshness and visual appeal. Many main dishes also benefit in flavor, aroma and appearance when served with a few bright slices of lemon or lime. Some that come to mind immediately are fish, shrimp, tacos, chicken, and nachos. Another wonderful thing about citrus - it stays fresh for up to two months if stored in the refrigerator (lemons usually last longer than limes).
I always keep a wedge of hard cheese, such as pecorino romano or asiago, on hand. A delicate shaving of a tasty cheese can make the simplest of soups, pasta, salads and even steamed vegetables look like something out of Bon Appétit. And guess what, many types of hard cheese (if properly wrapped) will stay fresh for up to a year in the refrigerator!
I try to keep some chocolate chips in the freezer (though they often fall victim to my chocolate craving...). Many desserts require special ingredients that most of us don't keep stocked regularly, so unexpected company used to leave me baffled when it came to dessert. Then I realized that most things look exquisite when drizzled with melted chocolate. In the past I've used basic pre-made baked goods such as short bread cookies or freezer pound cake (we buy these from a local baker), easy and cheap homemade oatmeal cookies, and fruit, but the possibilities are only limited by your pantry and imagination. Bonus: A little chocolate goes a long way!
Do you have any pretty presentation tricks? Oh, do tell!