I just got back from spending a couple days in California's Santa Ynez valley, up near Solvang. It is just as beautiful as everyone says, and I'm dying to take Nate and the boys back!
Some blogger friends and I were hosted by ALDI, a German-based food market that has over 10,000 locations in over 18 countries. It's brand new to us over here in California, and I was SO excited to partner up with them after hearing tons of chatter about the store from my East Coast pals. We'll be checking out our local grand opening and sharing more details soon, but I really enjoyed the sneak peek orchestrated by their corporate team in conjunction with professional chefs from places like Bon Appétit.
Here's what I learned.
Food Presentation Tips from the Experts
Ask your guests about personal preferences. The team made a point to note allergies and diet restrictions and then offer up signage so we could easily tell what was vegan, gluten-free, nut-allergy-friendly, etc (a lot of in-store signage at ALDI points out similar things – they have a whole gluten-free line called liveGfree that's just divine). Such a nice touch that can be make all the difference in dinner enjoyment!
Have snacks at-the-ready. Whether they live five hours or five minutes away, guests are bound to arrive hungry. Life is hectic. Throw out some cheese and salami on a simple platter to buy yourself a few extra minutes of prep time. The ALDI team had a cheese board with a scrumptious selection, including my favorite Specialty Selected Havarti Cheese along with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and caprese skewers.
Flowers for the win. No big, over-the-top decorations are needed. Simply intersperse flowers in key spots throughout the event for an easy, elegant presentation. Each ALDI store has a fresh selection of local picks.
Level up. Use serving dishes and blocks in a variety of heights to place food at different levels so it's all accessible. We listened to a super-helpful presentation from Chef Brigitte Nguyen, and this was one of her big tips for cooking videos. If you're preparing some items fresh in front of guests, it's also a good idea to have containers opened, fruit peeled and veggies pre-washed.
I nabbed the recipe for Brigitte's beautiful, delicious salad in case you're looking for a quick fix dish that you can quickly prep in front of anyone from coworkers to neighbors:
Fresh Fruit & Avocado Salad
- 2 navel oranges pre-peeled and segmented
- 1 grapefruit pre-peeled
- 2 tablespoons Carlini Olive Oil
- Pinch Stonemill Essentials Iodized Salt
- Pinch Stonemill Essentials Ground Black Pepper
- 1/4 red onion minced
- 3 ounces Little Salad Bar Spring Mix
- 1 avocado pitted and sliced
- 1/4 cup blueberries
- 3 Tbsp Happy Farms Preferred Blue Cheese Crumbles
- 1/4 cup Southern Grove Chopped Pecans
- Make the dressing by squeezing the juice of one orange and half the grapefruit together with the olive oil, salt, pepper and red onions.
- Toss the remaining ingredients together and drizzle with dressing.
Place fruit in water carafes on the table. So pretty. So simple. So self-serve.
Make it a one-dish dinner. Okay, so you should have multiple servings…but consider mixing it up with vegetables, meat and sauces all on one platter. I've gone to many dinner parties where the buffet line or even family-style dishes are segmented into a plate of lettuce, a plate of protein and a few different flavors to be drizzled on top. Yawn. Minimize the hassle and maximize the WOW factor of each platter by plating multiple foods together. See the dash of yellow lemons and drizzle of olive oil on this plate of Specially Selected Jumbo Scallops from ALDI? It makes it so much more appealing to the eye than if they were separated.
See? Meat. Greens. Contrast. Easy-peasy. This chile-rubbed USDA Choice Flat Iron Steak was one of my favorite bites of the night.
Know your wine pairings. Taste is obviously just as important as visual appeal. Do a little research on wine pairings to make sure you're serving complementary items together. Not sure where to start? Look on the back of the bottle. There's almost always a note about flavors that go well with your pick. ALDI served Grandi Mori Valdobbiadene Prosecco with our appetizers, Earth's Harvest Chardonnay with our kale salad, Rolling Mist Fume Blanc with the seared scallops, Crimson Roots Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel with the steak and Moiselle Sparkling Moscato with our almond-cream cheese chocolate cake dessert.
And last but not least, have some non-alcoholic options around. I'm not drinking because I'm pregnant, and Nate doesn't drink because he simply chooses not to. I can't even tell you how many times we've gone thirsty at events! Please-oh-please, offer up some soda in an ice bucket. It looks pretty sitting on a counter, and it's totally appreciated. As long as we're discussing drinks, I should also mention that after-dinner coffee is a super-classy touch that people might look for if your shindig happens to go late into the evening. Kick off the evening in style with matching creamer and sugar cups!
Every family has a different serving style. What are your go-to food presentation tips?