Iona styles and photographs everything that appears on our website and social media. And she styles it from frozen – so it’s exactly the same food that’s delivered to you at home – no cheating involved! She just uses garnishes, side dishes and a few clever stylist’s tips to make every dish look as mouth-watering as possible… Nothing we can’t all do in our own kitchen!
Here are Iona’s TOP 10 TIPS for turning Dinner Ladies dishes into a celebration feast.
1 SET A FESTIVE TABLE
Firstly, pick out some nice cutlery, crockery and serving plates. They don’t have to be a matching set – in fact, sometimes the quirkier, more mismatched the pieces, the better! Watch out for plates you love at garage sales and markets and slowly put together your own ‘dinner set’.
2 A SPECIAL WELCOME!
Make one special colourful drink to serve as guests arrive. If you have a large glass jug or tureen, serve in that, using a ladle to pour. Have great garnishes for every glass, and plenty of ice, if appropriate. See our drinks recipes here.
3 MAKE OUR FOOD YOUR OWN
Pop any Dinner Ladies bake into one of your own baking trays, making sure it’s a fairly snug fit. As it’s cooking, the lasagne or gratin will spread a little to fill the tray, looking just like home-made. You are an instant Christmas kitchen god/goddess!
4 IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SIDES…
Think about your side dishes and mix and match or pair up, to get a good range of colours and textures… try creamy potato gratin with colourful, bright and crunchy Christmas slaw (find the recipe here).
If you’re serving one of our salads that arrives with ingredients packaged separately (such as the quinoa salad), toss them together at the very last minute, adding some extra fresh leaves or herbs.
Serve the orange-glazed boneless ham, or a juicy brined roast chicken, on a bed of Brussels sprouts – the contrast in colour and texture is brilliant. (And use a serving plate that ‘hugs’ the ham, so it looks full and inviting.)
5 … OR ARE THE SAUCES THE STAR?
Actually, it’s not ALL about the sides… it’s about the sauces too! Add plenty of great-quality dressings, sauces, relishes and chutneys to the table to create colour and interest – as well as brilliant flavours! Group them together on a small tray with teaspoons on saucers.
6 BE A KITCHEN ARTIST!
As well as considering colour and texture, if you’re serving guests directly onto their plates, think about the food as being in layers. This creates dimension and adds height to the dish – a flat meal doesn’t ever look as appealing. Work that plate!
7 GARNISH, GARNISH, GARNISH!
Use chopped fresh herbs – the fresher the better. Sprinkle them over at the last moment. Micro herbs always look extra impressive and are widely available now. If you’re preparing in advance, refresh your herbs in iced water just before chopping and sprinkling.
Always toast nuts to give them extra flavour before adding to a salad. Either in a dry frying pan on the stove top, or on a dry baking tray in a hot oven. They only need 2–3 minutes to turn golden, so don’t walk away!
8 GO FOR A GOLDEN GLOW
When cooking anything with pastry – such as Dinner Ladies festive-spiced vegie filo pie – always give it a good brush with olive oil before it goes in the oven, so it turns a lovely golden colour. Then brush with a little more olive oil just before serving, so that pastry really glistens.
9 THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR PUDDING
When it comes to the Christmas table, people love an element of surprise. If you’re serving traditional pudding, pour a little brandy over it and flame it at the table. If it’s a pretty dessert with layers (such as our lemon curd and raspberry tiramisu), bring it to the table uncut and slice into it (with a hot sharp knife) as they watch.
Serve dessert sauces in mini jugs or glasses – perhaps even individually, so everyone can pour their own. And a trio of desserts always goes down a treat – literally!
10 GOOD FOOD COMES FROM THE HEART…
Above all, express yourself. It’s your table, and these are your friends and family (so they’re likely to love whatever you do!) If you want to add extra chilli because you love heat, then go for it! If you’ve something growing in the garden and you want to show off your green fingers – then enjoy yourself!