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Creating Garnishes: Easy Ways to Add Flourishes

Nothing transforms an ordinary plate into extraordinary more immediately than a garnish, yet many cooks remain intimidated by the flourish. They shouldn't be, as garnishes can be as simple as an arrangement of chopped fresh herbs or a rosette of butter on a dinner roll.

The good news is that with a few easy-to-follow instructions, you too can add excitement to your favorite recipes. The even better news is that there's no need for expensive implements or exotic ingredients — several attractive garnishes already reside in your refrigerator, and many of the tools you need can be found in your kitchen drawer:

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  • Vegetable peeler (swivel preferred)
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  • Paring knife
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  • Kitchen shears (or sharp scissors)
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  • Wooden toothpicks or skewers

One key tip: Be sure to match the flavor of the entree with your garnish. The garnish provides a hint to the ingredients of the recipe, so before creating your garnish, make certain it complements the flavor and style of the dish.

Citrus wedges

Citrus fruits such as lemons, limes and oranges are versatile garnishes for a variety of dishes. You can use them to decorate appetizer platters, seafood dishes, desserts or any dish that has a citrus element in the ingredients (they're particularly well-suited for Steamed Mussels, Seafood Puttanesca or Chicken Piccata).

- Cut the fruit in half lengthwise and place cut side down on the cutting board.

- Cut each half fruit lengthwise again, into quarters.

- Depending on desired wedge size, these wedges can be halved again.

Citrus Twists

Whether serving with a main course or dessert, these cheery rounds add a sense of whimsy to your
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  • Slice the fruit horizontally into very thin rounds.
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  • Place one slice flat on the cutting board and make a straight cut starting from the center of the round out through the rind.
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  • Holding the slice of fruit with your fingers, gently twist the ends of the round in opposite directions. Repeat with desired number of slices.

Carrot curls

Fresh vegetables can add pizzazz to salads, meat, chicken and seafood dishes and even dips and appetizer platters. For example, carrot curls in particular are a perfect garnish for Pasta Primavera.
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  • Cut paper-thin strips lengthwise from a carrot with vegetable peeler.
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  • Roll the strips tightly into curls and secure with wooden toothpicks.
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  • Place carrot curls in ice water for 15-30 minutes to chill thoroughly (this allows the carrot to hold its "curl").
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  • Remove from water and drain well. Remove toothpicks before using.

Green Onion Curls

These curls are versatile, and provide vibrant color. Try placing a few on appetizer platters, dips, or any dish that has onion as an ingredient.
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  • Cut off the onion's roots and tops to leave a 3 to 3 1/2-inch length of the green section.
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  • Using the tip of a paring knife, make a lengthwise cut through the center of the onion, starting 3/4-inch from the bulb end. Repeat 4 to 5 times, slicing the onion lengthwise into thin slivers.
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  • Place the onion in cold water (avoid iced water, as it may cause the onion to curl too tightly) for 30-40 seconds until the tips begin to curl. Remove from the water and drain well.

Tomato Roses

Few flourishes impress more dramatically than a platter of creamy Linguine Alfredo brought to the table garnished with a tomato rose. And no one has to know how easy it was to make!
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  • Use a firm, ripe tomato. With a very sharp paring knife, peel the tomato skin from the top of the tomato to the bottom in a continuous strip, being sure to leave it attached at the bottom.
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  • Repeat peeling strips from top to bottom around the tomato until fully peeled.
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  • To form the "rose," roll each strip up into a coil, then tuck the end under the tomato.
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  • Use small fresh basil or parsley to create the leaves.

Vegetable Knots

Vegetable knots look great on deviled eggs or spreads and are perfect for topping slices of bruschetta.
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  • Use a vegetable peeler to cut several thin strips of carrot, cucumber or zucchini.
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  • Using kitchen shears (or sharp scissors), cut each strip to 3-inch lengths.
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  • Then, cut each strip lengthwise into narrow strips about 1/8-inch thick. (If vegetable strips are too stiff, place 1 cup water in a microwave-safe bowl, microwave on HIGH 30-60 seconds, add vegetable strips, and let stand for 1 minute.)
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  • Tie each strip into a single knot. Use kitchen shears (scissors) to trim the ends to desired length.

It's always best to make garnishes just before serving; however, if making garnishes in advance, store like you would similar foods – cover with plastic wrap or place in an airtight bag or container and refrigerate. Carrot curls can be prepared in advance and covered with ice water until you’re ready to plate; just be sure to drain and dry well before using. Always store cut herbs, such as basil and mint, in a damp paper towel or in water in the fridge to keep them from turning black.