Two of my recent cookbook purchases have centred around presentation... and before you say anything, let me tell you that a) I haven't had the time to read them properly and b) from what I see they're not the answer to all things either, rather showing you one or the other nice technique, but not transforming you into a food stylist in a matter of five minutes (which is roughly the amount of time I've had to devote to them). Plus, they don't help me over the fact that I tend to take pictures on my way from the kitchen to the dining room (yes, I do eat my food, so don't tend to play around with hairspray, blow-torches and nail varnish to make things look good), rather than spending the morning semi-cooking and dressing up the dish, and the afternoon setting up all the paraphernalia for an hour-long photoshoot.
But I did leaf through both books and found some nifty ideas. Rori Trovato's "Dishing with style" did not exactly deliver on what I understood the content to be... I would have called it something like entertaining with style, without too much effort. Clearly not the catchiest title for a book. This one does not give you the how and why of food styling I thought it would, but it does contain a set of lovely ideas for dinner party entertaining, allowing you to have that wow!-factor you're after, but also letting you enjoy the ride.
One of the ideas for an unusual presentation of a dessert or cheese course I simply had to nick at the first opportunity that presented itself: this pear "napoleon" (which has become a synonym for mille-feuille especially in the US) mimicks the pastry composed of alternate layers of puff pastry and cream/fruit filling, using elements that you would often find in a cheese course in an entirely new and unexpected way. The pear is cut into thin slices and caramelised in butter and honey, the cheese is crumbled between the layers where it forms a happy union with the nuts. It is such a perfect dinner party idea because it is quickly prepared and can be arranged in advance, if necessary, although making it there and then will let the flavours, especially of the freshly caramelised pear slices, shine even more. Just what you need to impress your guests without breaking out in a sweat!
Caramelised pear napoleon with blue cheese & pecan
50 g pecan nuts (roughly chopped)
3 medium pears (firm)
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp runny honey
100 g blue cheese (I used gorgonzola)
First, toast the pecans in a dry pan (without oil) until they're browning and fragrant. Remove from the pan to prevent burning and set aside until ready to serve.
Cut the pears lengthways into slices about half a centimeter thick, leaving the stem intact. Carefully and sparingly remove the core from every slice. Keep them lying on top of each other to prevent from browning.
Heat a tbsp of butter in a pan, then add the slices of one pear. Try to keep them in the right order, to enable you to put them back together neatly.
Cook for ca. 4 minutes, then turn over and add 1 tbsp honey to the pan. Cook for another 4 minutes until soft and browning. Turn off the heat.
Assemble the napoleon by alternating layers of pear, crumbled blue cheese & pecans, then drizzling with the caramelised juices in the pan.
Repeat with the other pears.
Serve immediately or leave to rest at room temperature until ready to serve.