10 Cheap Ways to Add Pizzazz to Everyday Meals

View as:


When you take the time to create a delicious meal, be sure to present it thoughtfully. Presentation is integral to gastronomy, which is why popular food competitions give considerable weight to the category when computing scores. Many people won't even try food that isn't visually appealing. Garnishes are an easy way to ensure any dish looks as good as it tastes. With the right garnish, even a cheap meal can resemble fancy restaurant fare.


The classic approach of adding a sprig of parsley or a few chives probably comes to mind right away when thinking of garnishes. Fresh herbs deserve their status as garnish royalty. Entire sprigs strewn about lend a creative, whimsical feel, while a sprinkling of chopped herbs has a bright and traditional appeal. For cooks who grow their own herbs, a few leaves or sprigs are free, and even a $1 store-bought bunch is enough for multiple dishes.


This beautiful garnish is a good one for beginners, because (believe it or not) it is easy to make. Simply cut the skin off a tomato and roll it up into a rose shape. A short video tutorial on YouTube uses a cherry tomato to make mini roses, but any tomato will work. A few well-placed tomato roses add finesse and creativity for just pennies. Be sure to save the inside of the tomato for other culinary uses.


For those who want to master a few basics of garnishing, a simple citrus star is a repertoire essential. Step-by-step instructions posted on Snapguide include a few other ways to garnish with a lemon, such as twists and spirals (which work well for cocktails). Lemon and lime stars make the perfect edible garnish for seafood and crudité platters, where they can be used for their juice, as well. At less than 50 cents apiece, each citrus fruit can be turned into at least two garnishes.


The nice resistance of radishes makes them ideal for cutting into shapes. They also come in a variety of colors, allowing artistic cooks to create multilayered designs. A video tutorial takes a fun-loving approach to radish garnishes by transforming them into mushroom toadstools from Mario Brothers. There are endless ways to feature radishes, including star cutouts, geometric shapes, and flowers. A bunch of 10 to 12 radishes typically costs about $2, which means each decoration costs just a few cents.


An inexpensive spiralizer (typically less than $30) can transform inexpensive seasonal produce into raw, nutrient-dense noodles to soak up a favorite sauce. Spiralized vegetables can also be used to decorate plates and platters. A tight spiralized carrot or daikon provides an enticing pop of color and sits beautifully as a single spiral or clustered in the center of a plate. Spirals can also be draped over the side of glasses to decorate drinks. Spiralizers add considerable volume to veggies, and a single carrot, which costs just pennies, can easily garnish six to eight plates.


Spice addicts will love this vivid flare, which doubles as an easy way to add a bite of heat to any meal. A video shows just how easy it is to make edible flowers from inexpensive chilies bought at the store -- or free ones harvested from a garden. Wash hands thoroughly after handling chilies or use gloves to prevent skin irritation caused by naturally occurring capsaicin.


Turn a humble and inexpensive fruit into an impressive swan garnish with a few simple cuts. It may take a bit of practice, but once mastered, this trick can greatly enhance an dish. A YouTube video provides easy-to-follow instructions. This nutritious decoration is also a great way to make eating fruit fun for children.


Layering leaves on a platter to serve as the base for a dish is a simple yet powerful approach to food presentation. Take leaves right from the yard or garden and place them on the bottom of a plate or board before setting down cheeses and accompaniments. Leafy kale can be used to rim a platter of meat or roasted veggies. Using leaves from the garden is free and a few leaves of kale upgrade the look of any dish for less than $1.


These dramatic, voluminous, and sweet decorations are classic garnishes at fancy restaurants and surprisingly easy to make at home. Recreate the experience of fine dining by making your own delicate sugar cages to spruce up simple desserts such as a scoop of vanilla ice cream or fresh berries and cream. Each cage uses just a few cents' worth of ingredients, making them much less expensive than they are impressive.


One of the hallmarks of a good garnish is color contrast. Sesame seeds provide a pop of black or beige against many foods. A sprinkling of white sesame seeds on a dark kale salad or a scattering of black sesame seeds on white noodles creates depth and visual intrigue. A little goes a long way; half a teaspoon is more than enough for most dishes and amounts to just a few cents a serving.