Family meal times are always important but during lockdown cooking has become more pivotal than ever before. We're making more of an effort to eat together, and creativity in the kitchen is also keeping us busy with a third of us cooking a new dish once a week. Have you ever wondered how other people make their dishes look so appetising for Instagram? If you want to show off your new-found culinary skills online, it's a great idea to follow some expert food styling tips.
Need some photo-ready pointers? Gousto (opens in new tab)’s top food stylist Jenny Brown and senior recipe developer Jordan Moore have teamed up to share their do-it-yourself tricks.
Jenny and Jordan show us four mouthwatering dinner party dishes below and reveal how they would style each dish, ready for that video call close-up or Instagram snap.
1. BAJA-STYLE FISH TACOS WITH CORIANDER MAYO
Whip up these super-tasty Mexican-inspired fish tacos FOR the perfect Friday night dinner. You'll coat tender fish fillets in spices, and cook until golden and crisp. Wrap up the dish with warm tortillas, sweet roasted pepper and tangy coriander mayo!
You can easily make these Baja-style tacos vegan by switching the fish to tofu and swapping the mayo to vegan mayo. Simple and tasty. See the full recipe here (opens in new tab).
Jordan's tip: Before coating the fish pat dry with paper towels - a dry surface will help the spices and cornflour adhere evenly onto the fish.
Jenny's styling tip: 'Don't be afraid to leave a little mess, allow the filling to fall out of your taco. These mishaps are styling gold, remember you want it to look tempting and as realistic as possible.'
2. GARLICKY CHICKEN KIEV WITH GREEN BEANS
This easy chicken Kiev recipe is an all-time classic, and it doesn't take long to prepare. Smother your British chicken breasts in breadcrumbs, and pan-fry until golden and crispy - serve with a dollop of rich garlic and herb butter, green beans and potatoes. Delicious. See the full recipe here (opens in new tab).
Jordan's tip: 'When breading, use one hand for dipping your chicken into the wet ingredients (egg) and the other hand for dry (flour and breadcrumbs) to prevent getting sticky fingers.'
Jenny's styling tip: 'Your homemade garlic and parsley butter and crispy chicken are the star of the show so try rotating your plate until they are in an area your eye is naturally drawn to.'
3. CREAMY TWO-MUSHROOM RISOTTO
This classic mushroom risotto ticks all the right boxes, with intense chestnut, and portobello mushrooms and plump arborio rice. You'll caramelise not one, but two mushroom varieties to add to the creamy risotto, and top off with a sprinkle of chives and a grind of pepper. Mouthwateringly delicious, and the ideal Friday night treat.
Swap out the mushroom suggestion to use up what you have leftover in the fridge, any mushrooms will work well - parsley or basil is a good substitute for chives. See the full recipe here (opens in new tab).
Jordan's tip: 'Arborio rice is naturally high in starch, but it does need a helping hand to release it. The more you stir, the more starch will be released, leaving you with a naturally creamy risotto.'
Jenny's styling tip: 'Capture the perfect risotto shot by placing your plate in natural lighting - try near a window or in a garden.'
4. 10-MINUTE MEDITERRANEAN VEG GNOCCHI WITH BASIL
Rustle up this Mediterranean-inspired gnocchi with courgettes and olives in just 10 minutes. You'll chop courgette, cherry tomatoes and olives, chuck them in your gnocchi, then sprinkle with basil and cheddar - super simple and super tasty.
For a vegan alternative swap out your cheddar cheese for nutritional yeast or vegan cheese. Or make your meal coeliac-friendly by swapping your gnocchi for a gluten-free alternative. See the full recipe here (opens in new tab).
Jordan's tip: 'If your sauce is starting to look a little dry, add a splash of the reserved starchy gnocchi water to the mix.'
Jenny's styling tip: 'Filling your plate with too much gnocchi will look messy, keep it simple. Place a small portion in the centre, and add the remaining elements on top to finish the dish; you can always go back for seconds!
'Also, don't forget your garnish. The pop of green here contrasts against bright red tomato sauce and makes your dish look more appetising.'
Top food styling tips to elevate your lockdown cooking
Need more styling inspiration? Jenny's shared her expert food styling tips to make your virtual dinner party creations look extra delicious, whatever you're rustling up in the kitchen.
Take your foodie photos in natural lighting. It's all about lighting, when getting that perfect dinner shot - try placing your plate down next to a window, and never use your built-in flash. Natural lighting shows all the delicious details, and highlights the vibrant colours of your dish.
Don't overcrowd your plate. Piling your plate up will look messy, keep it simple. Find a focus point on the plate and add ingredients around to complement. Looking a little basic? Have a change of scenery and introduce your dish to a jazzy table cloth or tea towel to balance the shot.
Pick the perfect plate. From size to colour, your plate should complement your food - choose a high-contrasting colour like white for your colourful dishes. And pick matte over glossy, we want to avoid a shiny surface.
Experiment with layers and height. Transform a basic dish by introducing different levels and layout of food. Try stacking different elements of your dish, to create that wow factor.
Surround your dish with complimentary props. If your dish is looking a little lonely, try placing related ingredients and cooking utensils around the plate such as herbs, jars, tins and cutlery. Reveal the tools and ingredients of your dish, to set the scene and reveal how you achieved your tasty meal.
Have a play around with angles. Achieve that dinner party shot by moving around the plate and taking a variety of different images - this way you can see which angle your dish looks the best from. Every dish will have a preferable angle.
Be prepared. Although you want to achieve that perfect shot, eating it is far more important - don't let your dinner go to waste, always have props, table setting and lighting set up in advance. Keep your herbs in cold water, to keep them fresh before the final shot.
Don't forget the garnish. A sprinkle of chives or a pinch of parsley can add life to a dish. The finishing touches will transform your meal into a virtual dinner party-worthy plate. Make a little mess to show how raw and real your dish is.
Presentation is key. Mop up any spillages with kitchen paper - just like restaurant chefs, wipe around the edge of your plate for final touch-ups. And finish off with a drizzle of olive oil to keep things looking glossy.
Ruth Doherty is an experienced digital writer and editor specializing in interiors, travel and lifestyle. With 20 years of writing for national sites under her belt, she’s worked for the likes of Livingetc.com, Standard, Ideal Home, Stylist and Marie Claire as well as Homes & Gardens.
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