I have been asked on countless occasions what I think makes a meal great.
I am definitely not a food snob and enjoy a thick juicy hamburger with all the fixings or a big ol’ plate of BBQ as much as foie gras and fine wine. I have been known to eat and serve all types of meals with the same gusto. Expense does not make a meal stand out. Some of the simplest meals can also be the most enjoyable (says the proponent of peasant food.)
What are keys to making any meal as good as it can possibly be?
The freshness of your ingredients and their quality. Animal products must be fresh (except for the ageing aspect…follow the three day rule.) Using good quality ingredients does not mean buying the most expensive thing in the store or special ordering freakily rare ingredients. It means picking good tomatoes, using fresh herbs whenever you can, springing for the cage-free eggs.
Flavor combinations need to be considered. High end restaurants with prix fix menus are well aware of this. Appetizer A flavors work with fish course B flavors work with meat course C flavors. This applies in everyday meals too. The previously mentioned BBQ (yup craving BBQ, don’t get it the same way here) the sweetness inherent in most sauces plays well with the high sugar content of creamed corn, the bacon flavors in baked beans and the hoppiness of ice cold beer. Classic flavor combos exist because they work.
Pacing a meal makes it more fun and more relaxing and enjoyable. Unless every person you know eats like a Hoover, then pace out your meals. You know it’s healthier to eat more slowly. But it also lets you enjoy the flavors of each dish more. Just like multi-tasking creates less than optimal results in work, multi-task eating creates less enjoyment. Relax over your meals and savor flavors.
Simple presentation. Once in while I like the artsy presentation of hard sugar decorations on my dessert plate, crisped sage leaves on my soup and decorative drizzles of creme fraiche. But for the most part, simple presentation works best. Clean design white plates, plain old white napkins that you can bleach, simple flatware and good, honest food.
Company counts. All food is more enjoyable when you share it with people you care for. Lively conversation will make a meal an event rather than a source of sustenance. Use this time to focus on asking questions and reminding yourself why you have these wonderful people in your life. The relationships with your family and friends should inspire you to create meals that you do not want to end. This is why there are such a wonderful array of after dinner drinks.
Did I forget wine? Of course not, sillies. I just think it goes without saying.