Make your Valentine’s ready meal Insta-worthy with our helpful hacks
by Sarah ▪ 09 Feb, 2021

It’s all in the presentation

You only have to watch one episode of Masterchef to realise that what separates a good home cook from a chef isn’t just how fancy the meal, but how it looks on the plate. And with good reason – scientific studies show that the appearance of a meal directly affects how diners experience its flavours.

According to a study by Michel et al. (2014), a meal that has been artfully plated will be rated up to18 per cent more tasty than precisely the same ingredients presented in a pleasant, but non-artistic, style. So it’s worth taking a few minutes to get your food looking its best – especially on Valentine’s Day.

Whether you’ll be clinking glasses with your partner of 40 years, gazing into the eyes of a new love, feeding titbits to your fur baby or enjoying the guilty pleasure of a cheesy film alone in your jim-jams, you can make your Valentine’s dinner a gourmet experience thanks to our quick and easy tips.

Through the lens

In honour of Valentine’s Day, when we feel everyone deserves to treat themselves (and partners, too, of course!), we asked one of our in-house food photographers, Abi, for some trade secrets about beautifying your servings. Here’s what she told us:

It won’t help your photos, but heating the plates keeps your dish warmer for longer and on winter evenings makes a meal even more of a cosy comfort. And your oven’s on anyway, so why not?
A drizzle of oil adds another dimension and a bit of shine to the food. Depending on what you’re serving, simple olive oil may suffice (especially for dips and sides), but you can also add a hit of flavour with garlic, chilli or other infused artisan oils.

Know thy meal

Meals such as stews, tagines, chillis, pasta sauces and curries are easy to plate up, because you can simply ladle out as much as you like. A wide-rimmed, shallower dinner bowl is ideal for these dishes. Not only does it make eating them easier, but it looks more stylish when presented. Use your side dishes to create a wheel of colour. Try this out on our Je T’aime, It’s Getting Hot in Here or Cheesy, Peasy, Lemon Squeezy Valentine’s hampers – all with 20% off!

Meals with toppings and crusts are a little trickier but there are still some tricks to pull off a pristine plate. A quick solution is to use a turner utensil that fits the whole width of the tray (if, like me, you’d not heard of these, they’re wide-based spatula-style implements, and your largest slice or spatula may suffice) to gently lift a meal out of its tray. To make the meal look even more professional, prepare a bed of roasted veg or salad on the plate and nestle your meal carefully on top. This method is easier with smaller portions!

The other option is to use an attractive oven-proof dish which can be placed directly onto a plate alongside neatly portioned sides for a real restaurant experience. If you’re using a ready meal such as Gourmade’s butternut lasagne which features in the Sweets for your Sweet vegetarian Valentine’s hamper, you can remove its tray while still frozen and place in a similarly sized dish of your own to cook. The meal will settle into the dish while it cooks and make for a fancy finish. Try Cheesy, Peasy, Lemon Squeezy for this option, too – both Mac n’ Cheese and lasagne work well served next to garlic bread or salad, which both look great next to a separate serving dish on a plate.

Garnishes galore

Fresh herbs and baby salad leaves add colour, flavour and goodness to a meal. However, you don’t want wilting or soggy leaves, so wait until you’re just about to dish up before sprinkling a handful over the dish. If you’re not sure which herbs to choose, a basic rule of thumb is: coriander to top curries coriander, rocket or basil torn over lasagne and pasta dishes, and sliced spring onion or red chilli to garnish Thai curry.
The crisp freshness and vivid colours of these veggies will add flavour, texture and interest, as well as making them worthy of a quick snap!

last-minute finish

Wipe the splatters off your plate or bowl with a piece of kitchen towel before serving – just as they would in a restaurant. It takes seconds but really makes a difference.

Souped-up sides

Don’t forget the sides when plating up a treat. While our Valentine’s hampers come complete with side dish and dessert, a standard ready meal does not, so it’s worth spending your energy making the accompaniments extra special.
Jazz up plain rice for a curry by adding half a teaspoon of turmeric, a cardamon pod and seasoning to your water while it cooks. The rice will take on a lovely yellow colour and this is much simpler than cooking pilau rice from scratch!
Garlic bread is easy to make and delicious to eat. I like to use half-baked baguettes and slice them lengthways to maximise the buttery coverage! Simply soften butter in the microwave, then stir in crushed garlic and spread over the bread. Bake for 8-12 minutes and then slice diagonally and sprinkle on some herbs for a stylish presentation. For vegans, this plant-based version is fantastic.
Mix Greek yoghurt with grated cucumber (remember to squeeze out excess liquid first!), finely chopped mint, a squeeze of lime juice and a dash of garam masala for a brilliant and versatile raita dip for curries, tagines and chillis. Or try a tomato salsa which is wonderful with chilli and can also be mixed with feta chunks for an accompaniment to Turkish, Moroccan or Greek dishes – such as Gourmade’s Lamb Moussaka or Lamb Tagine.
You can also use shop-bought sides to add spice and colour to your dishes. A dollop of tasty mango chutney and oven-cooked samosas or naan breads make any curry more of a feast, and Gourmade offers a great selection from Dauphinoise Potatoes to Posh Peas!
If in doubt, a side of fresh green vegetables – especially if you mix them to create a range of shades – always brightens a dish. A small knob of butter melted over them will add shine and an extra level of indulgence.
It’s really quick and easy to make a dessert look extra-special. Sprinkling some icing sugar over the top using a small, fine sieve works for almost any pud, and you can add grated chocolate, a dollop of whipped cream or fresh fruit (raspberries and sliced strawberries are always favourites) for an extra wow factor. For kids, mini marshmallows or hundreds and thousands make for a special treat!

Heavenly hampers

This Valentine’s season, Gourmade have created hampers with some of our favourite mains, sides and desserts, so you can practise restaurant-level plating up without the faff of making dinner first. Make your ready meal an incredi-meal with our incredi-deal! We have no fewer than six Valentine’s hampers to choose from, all with a whopping 20% off. I’ve already mentioned our four couple’s choices (including two for vegetarians), but we haven’t forgotten singletons! I’m planning on wooing myself with the Me, Myself and I hamper, which includes two of my absolute favourites – the Macaroni Cheese & Bacon and Beef Bourguignon plus two scrummy sides and an indulgent dessert. There’s also a veggie option for one – the Je M’adore which is equally mouth-watering. There’s simply no excuse not to treat yourself this Valentine’s – and with these tips, any meal you serve is bound to look and feel like an intimate restaurant experience, in the comfort of your living room!

We’d love to see your ready meal presentation! Try out the tips from this post and tag us in your photographs, or send them through to hello@gourmade.com and the best looking meals will get a special deal from us! Happy styling!