Food & Drink

Food can be as pleasing to the eyes as it is to the palate

The addition of sweet potatoes brings color to the layers of a potato gratin with Gruyère cheese and cream inside a pie crust flavored with rosemary.
The addition of sweet potatoes brings color to the layers of a potato gratin with Gruyère cheese and cream inside a pie crust flavored with rosemary. Lexington Herald-Leader

As summer rolls around, you're likely to entertain more often. Outdoor cooking reigns when the days are warmer, but there also are bridal showers, graduation parties, picnics, and holiday celebrations where you can show off your entertaining skills.

A party is a perfect time to make dishes that are stunning to look at and delicious. Thinking about pretty food, we found desserts, salads and entrees that are made in layers and, when sliced — or served in a clear bowl or dish — make a very attractive display.

These recipes are all about "eating with your eyes."


Potato gratin with rosemary crust

1 package (14.1 ounces) refrigerated pie crusts

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese, divided

11/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes

11/2 pounds sweet potatoes

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2⁄3 cup heavy cream

1 garlic clove, minced

Fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Unroll pie crusts on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle rosemary, pepper, and 1/2 cup cheese over 1 pie crust; top with remaining pie crust. Roll into a 13-inch circle. Press on bottom and up sides of 9-inch springform pan; fold edges under. Chill.

Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice Yukon gold and sweet potatoes. Layer one-third each of Yukon gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, and salt in prepared crust. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat twice, pressing layers down slightly to fit.

Microwave cream and garlic in a 1-cup microwave-safe measuring cup at high for 45 seconds; pour over potato layers in pan. Sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese. Cover pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place on baking sheet.

Bake for 1 hour. Uncover and bake 25 minutes or until potatoes are done and crust is richly browned. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully transfer to a serving plate, and remove sides of pan. If desired, carefully slide gratin off bottom of pan using a long knife or narrow spatula. Garnish, if desired.

From Southern Living

A mille-feuille, also known as a napoleon, is composed of puff pastry layered with a filling. If you don't have time to make the crème pâtissière, or pastry cream, you can make vanilla pudding from a box.

Summer fruit mille-feuilles (or napoleons)

1 package store-bought puff pastry

1 cup heavy cream

14 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled and cubed

Confectioners' sugar for dusting

For crème pâtissière :

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup cornstarch

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1¾ cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle baking sheet evenly with cold water. Roll out the pastry on a floured work surface to a rectangle larger than the baking sheet and about 1⁄8-inch thick. Roll around the rolling pin and unroll onto the baking sheet so the edges overhang. Chill 15 minutes.

Prick the pastry all over with a fork. Cover with parchment paper, then set a wire rack on top of it. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until it just begins to brown. Gripping the baking sheet and rack, invert the pastry. Slide the baking sheet back under and continue baking for 10 minutes until both sides are browned. Remove from the oven and slide the pastry onto a cutting board. While still warm, trim the edges, then cut lengthwise into 3 equal strips. Let cool.

Whip heavy cream with electric hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold into crème pâtissière. Spread half the cream filling over 1 pastry strip. Sprinkle with half the fruit. Repeat with another pastry strip to make 2 layers. Put the last pastry strip on top and press down gently. Sift the confectioners' sugar thickly over the top of the mille-feuilles and serve. Makes 8 servings.

To make crème pâtissière: Beat sugar, cornstarch, eggs, and vanilla extract in mixing bowl. Pour milk into heavy bottomed saucepan, bring it to a boil, and take it off the heat just as it begins to bubble. Pour hot milk into egg mixture, whisking all the time. Return crème pâtissière to pan and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. When mixture thickens, reduce heat to low and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let cool completely.

From Cooking Season by Season from DK Publishing

Slices of red and yellow tomato between layers of chicken salad filled with nuts and cheese make a nice presentation. To make a neat column of stacked salad ingredients like chefs do, layer the chicken salad and tomato slices inside a lightly-oiled 3-inch metal ring, made from an empty, clean tuna fish can. After layering the mixture, slowly pull off the can, and the layers will be trim and intact.

Layered chicken salad with blue cheese and toasted pecans

11/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast

1 quart water

1 teaspoon salt

2⁄3 cup toasted pecan halves, chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1⁄3 cup finely chopped red onion

1⁄3 cup grated carrot

1/2 cup prepared blue cheese dressing

1/2 tablespoon cider vinegar

8 large slices fresh tomato, preferably yellow and red

Parsley sprigs for garnish, optional

Pecan halves for garnish, optional

Cut chicken into 2-inch chunks. Heat water to boiling. Add salt. Stir chicken into boiling water, immediately reduce to just below a simmer and cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let chicken stand in cooking water 5 minutes. Drain and rinse chicken under cold water to stop cooking process. Pat dry.

By hand, shred chicken into bite-size pieces and place in mixing bowl. Add pecans, celery, onion, carrot, blue cheese dressing and vinegar. Mix until well combined.

To serve, mound a scant 1/2 cup chicken salad in center of each serving plate and spread slightly to flatten to a round the same width as tomato. Top with a slice of red tomato. Mound another scant 1/2 cup salad mixture on top and arrange a yellow tomato slice on top. Garnish, if desired, with parsley sprig and pecan; serve. Makes 4 servings.

From Georgia Pecan Commission

Sometimes called a mille crêpe cake, or "cake of a thousand layers," this no-bake confection stacks thin, lacy crepes and a creamy bananas foster pudding. It's topped with caramelized bananas to create a truly impressive dessert.

Bananas Foster crepe cake

20 crepes (recipe follows)

For the filling:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1⁄3 cup plus 3 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed and divided

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 bananas, peeled and sliced

11/2 tablespoons rum

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

21/4 cups whole milk

4 large egg yolks

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the topping:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed

1⁄8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 banana, sliced on the diagonal

1 tablespoon rum

To make filling: Melt butter with 3 tablespoons brown sugar and the cinnamon in a skillet over medium heat. When butter is melted and sugar is dissolved, stir in banana slices. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until bananas are softened and beginning to brown. Stir in rum and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Let cool to lukewarm; mash with a fork or potato masher.

In a saucepan, whisk together remaining 1⁄3 cup brown sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in milk and cook over medium heat, continuing to whisk, until mixture begins to thicken and just starts to bubble, about 5 to 7 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks. Slowly whisk in warm milk mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, until about half of milk mixture has been incorporated and yolk mixture is warm to the touch. You want to do this gradually, to temper the egg yolks rather than cook them. Pour yolk mixture back into saucepan and return to medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick, 2 to 3 minutes more. Stir in mashed banana mixture and vanilla extract. Press pudding through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any lumps; cover and refrigerate until completely cool, at least 1 hour.

Place one crepe on a plate or serving dish. Spread a thin layer (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) of filling on top. Top with another crepe. Continue layering filling and crepes until you run out, ending with a crepe on top. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.

To make topping: Just before serving, combine butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a skillet over medium heat. When butter is melted and sugar is dissolved, add banana slices. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until bananas are softened and beginning to brown. Add rum and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Arrange banana slices on top of cake; pour remaining caramel sauce over top.

Simple sweet crepes

11/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups whole milk

4 eggs

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled to room temperature, plus more for skillet

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Mix on medium speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until mixture is smooth and uniform, with consistency of heavy cream; if it is too thick or too thin, mix in a bit more milk or flour, respectively. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Heat a 6-inch-diameter nonstick skillet over medium heat. Brush with melted butter. Ladle 2 to 3 tablespoons batter onto center of skillet; tilt pan to swirl batter evenly around pan and form a thin, uniform layer. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until bottom is lightly golden brown. With a large thin spatula, carefully flip the crepe and cook for another minute. transfer to a platter or baking sheet to cool. Repeat with remaining batter. Makes 20 6-inch crepes.

From Breakfast for Dinner

Smoked salmon parfait is an individual appetizer that may be prepared ahead.

Smoked salmon parfait with avocado

2 Hass avocados

Juice of 1 lime

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 package (4 ounces) smoked salmon

1 tub (8 ounces) crème fraiche (recipe follows)

Zest of 1 lemon, juice of ½ lemon

Juice of ½ lemon

2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped

Mash avocados with lime, salt and pepper. Cut salmon into small bite-size pieces. Mix crème fraiche, lemon zest, lemon zest and dill.

To make the parfait, layer two tablespoons each of avocado, salmon and crème fraiche mixture. Repeat, ending with crème fraiche. Add a sprig of dill.

Crème fraiche

1 pint heavy cream

2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk

Combine cream and buttermilk in a non-reactive container. Cover and allow to rest at room temperature until thickened to desired texture, about 12 hours. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Makes 2 cups.

From Students Go Gourmet