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Originally published October 3, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 3, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Turn blah into mouthwatering

Garnishes are to a dinner plate what accessories are to fashion models: They set off attributes to their best advantage. But making food look...

Special to The Washington Post

Garnishes are to a dinner plate what accessories are to fashion models: They set off attributes to their best advantage. But making food look nice — the "halo effect" of plate presentation — doesn't require foam machines or truffle shavers. Here, a three-element plate gets a simple, effective makeover.

One caveat: Because we tried to show as many techniques as possible on one plate, this comes dangerously close to overdone. Learn to stop garnishing at the first moment of satisfaction — or even before.

Before: The dish is divided into equal thirds, like a prison or cafeteria tray, with a case of the monochromatic blahs.

• The sugar snap peas have vibrant color of their own, but even they need some help.

• The sauce sits in a dollop on top, inert and sad.

• The chicken breast idles blandly — and flatly — on the sidelines.

• The couscous, a drab beige, cries out for color.

After: The chicken takes center stage, and garnishes break up the visual monotony.

• The sugar snap peas gain attention when a few of them get pulled onto the rim in a pattern.

• The sauce, once it's squeezed from a cut corner of a food storage bag, creates a sense of movement.

• The chicken breast, cut in half to create an illusion of abundance, nestles on the side dishes and makes the plate three-dimensional.

• The couscous gets color by being prepared with a quarter-teaspoon of ground turmeric, turning it a bright yellow without affecting flavor.

Other garnishes: A sprig of flat-leaf parsley (the curly kind is hackneyed) sits off-center. Red bell pepper strips enliven the sugar snaps, while black sesame seeds and chopped scallions set off the yellow of the couscous.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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