Smaller is Better- Take a cue from fancy restaurants and create smaller, more elegant portions. Slice vegetables like bell peppers into thin strips. Use plates with a smaller basin for food, but a larger rim to create the illusion of a larger portion. Arrange the food vertically or fan it outward from the center for more artistic arrangements.
Garnish- While this may seem obvious, only decorate with edible food. You want people's taste buds to respond to everything on the plate. Moreover, the garnish should correspond to predominant flavors in the dish. Garnish with sprigs of rosemary for a chicken dish with rosemary in it.
Sprinkle- If a food looks boring, sprinkle on some fresh chopped herbs, nuts, or finely chopped vegetables.
Squeeze Bottles- Forget the ladle! The big thing with sauces right now is to paint and drizzle designs over your food with a squeeze bottle. Drizzle thin lines of teriyaki sauce back and forth over dumplings, for example.
Curls, Roses, and other Edible Accoutrements
Carrots- Use a vegetable peeler to cut strips of carrot, roll each into a spiral, and secure with a toothpick. Submerge in ice water for several hours and the carrot strip will remain curled after removing the toothpick.
Cherry Tomatoes- To create a cherry tomato flower, cut a small X on the blossom side of a cherry tomato. Partially peel back the tomato skin in the four sections with a sharp knife to make four petals.
Cucumber/Zucchini- Create fluting along a cucumber or zucchini slice with a fork.
Green Onions- For green onion "brushes," cut the roots and most of the top portion from a green onion and make several cuts at both ends to produce a fringe. After being submerged in ice water for a couple hours, the onion ends will curl back like brushes.
Radish- Slice small triangles all around the radish and peel back the red skin to create flower petals. Or, make several cuts radiating out from the top center of the radish, soak in cold water, and the radish will "open" on its own. For a cute and simple trick, slice the radish very thin and use the round slices as petals for a flat flower.
Chocolate- Let a bar of chocolate come to room temperature and carefully draw a vegetable peeler along the bar to create long curling strips. Use the narrow side to create thin curls and the broad side to make bigger curls. To make chocolate leaves, find some nontoxic, broad leaves such as mint, rose, or lemon. Brush melted semi-sweet chocolate on the underside of the leaves, wiping off any that runs to the front of the leaves. Repeat layers of chocolate to make sturdier leaves. Place chocolate leaves, chocolate side up, on a baking sheet lined with wax paper, and freeze until hard. Then, simply peel away the real leaf from the chocolate leaf.
Fruit- Make strawberry fans with stemmed strawberries. Simply cut many, small slices into the strawberry almost to the green stem but not quite through and then fan out the strawberry. Or for an easier trick, brush fresh fruit with a mixture of water and meringue powder, and then immediately sprinkle with (granulated) sugar for a frosted look.
Sugar- Powdered sugar (or cocoa powder) can easily create designs on top of brownies or a cake. Cut out a design from a piece of sturdy paper, such as swirls or stars, and then lay the piece of paper over the dessert. Sift the powder on top and then carefully remove the paper. Voila!