Introduction to a GastroPorn Menu

Some people find it odd but one of my hobbies in creating menus. I love the whole process of going through mountains of ideas, coming up with a common theme, and putting it all together. My favorite menus are for sit-down 5-course affairs but there are many different types of menus that can be just as much fun (and are a lot easier to handle when it comes down the actual cook/serving part of the meal).

As a GastoPorn addict I find it a lot easier to use pictures or visuals when creating menus. There are a couple different reasons for this. First, it is a lot faster to look at a picture and see the whole meal in my head and how it will flow together. Secondly: Color. One thing a lot of people forget when planning a meal or a menu is the play of colors on the plate. One of the first parties I ever planned for a large crowd (about 40 people) my mom and I started by drawing the two plates we would offer our guests. Since a lot of our friends and family members are vegetarian (including my mom and brother) we always make sure to have a vegetarian option (and in rare cases a vegan option) for large parties. Drawing what food will look like on a plate and noting what colors the foods are helps to show (1) whether you have a balanced plate that includes proteins, starches, veggies, etc. and (2) also helps you see if you have varied your plate enough to look visually appealing. This method, however, only helps for plated servings and buffets (family style meals, with all the dishes on the table can be considered this way. Just think of the table as one super huge plate). For multi-coursed served meals you will have to consider all the plates and how they balance each other out while also considering how they work individually.

As a semi-successful cooking instructor I’ve found that teaching basic menus is very good for putting The Basics to use. Here is a selection of some of my menu templates:

Basic Menu #1
Salad/veggie
Starch & Protein
Dessert
Drink

Basic Menu #2
Appetizers & Drink
Salad/Veggie
Starch & Protein
Dessert & Drink

Basic Menu #3
Appetizers & Drink
Salad
Soup
Starch&Protein
Dessert & Drink

[Note: I should mention here that these menus were made with guests in mind. Personalized menus tend to run a little differently]

These menus are probably better labeled as Dinner Menus, although Menu #1 could be used for a lunch. But keeping basics like this in mind and then filling in the details will help you begin the planning of a meal. For a Gastroporn Menu the best way to create for menu would be to do some internet research on menus that coordinate with the time of year, holiday/occasion, type of event, etc. This will help you begin to think what sort of ingredients you will want to use as well as cooking methods. For example, if you want to have a soup course but it is summer and the weather is hot you will want to look for ingredients that go well in a chilled soup. Searching for “chilled summer soup” will get you a lot farther than just “soup” and will also save you a significant amount of web-overload.

The following is an attempt at creating a GastroPorn Menu following Basic Menu #2.

Step 1:
It’s summer, think summer ingredients and cooking methods. I’m thinking “grilling”, cool fizzy drinks, and probably no hot drinks with dessert (although it’s always a good idea to know if your guests will want this).

Step 2:
Decide how many people. For this menu lets say 8.

Step 3:
Decide on some main ingredients and brainstorm. If you know what ingredients you want to start with you can use that as a part of your search to narrow it down. Something to keep in mind while searching is that getting more recipes than you need is OK. Having ideas in your back pocket for future menus is always a good thing.

If we do a simple menu search on various sites (One of these days I will do a full list of the best sites and rate them for various needs) we come up with the following menu and recipe ideas:

Freshest Farmers’ Market Menu

Bobby’s Healthy Cookout Menu

Grilled Pizzas

“Summer”/”Grilling”/”Side Dishes”

17 Great Summer Desserts

Step 4:
Sorting. Now that we have a massive pile of ideas to choose from we can start being picky. The first set of recipes has a Watermelon Cooler and Purple Potato Salad that I like. I also liked the idea of a grilled pizza from the second set so I looked up several different ideas for that. The fourth set has several ideas for grilled veggies including tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini. Out of the last set of dessert recipes, the one that seems to go best with the “Fresh” theme that seems to be coming out of the selection so far is the Peach and Raspberry Parfait.

Step 5:
Putting together the Menu. After going through all the ideas and recipes it’s a good idea to go through all the recipes and ingredients to make sure you aren’t missing something important like a starch or a veggie. For instance, out of the recipes I chose, I just realized I have no main protein item and 2 items that count as a starch. So I’ll swap out the potato salad for something like a edamame appetizer or a bean salad.

After a little looking I found the following: Edamame Salad with Ginger Vinnaigrette

Now all there is to do is to put your pictures together. These are the recipes I picked out (Click on the photos to see the original web page and recipe):

Appetizers & Drink:

Watermelon Cooler

Salad/Veggie:

Grilled Baby Eggplant & Plum Tomatoes with Fresh Basil

Starch & Protein:

Grilled Pizza with Spicy Hummus, Vegetables, Goat Cheese and Black Olives

Dessert & Drink:

Peach and Raspberry Parfait

Et voila! Your GastroPorn Menu! I’d be interested to see what others would create based on their personal taste and color preferences. I’m also working on getting my scanner back so that I can get some better quality photos that what I was able to get out of these.

I will work on a proper set of menus for the month of June. I’m not a huge summer party person (mostly because I hate summer weather) but I’ll try and keep an open mind. The produce in my area (and in the garden) will get better better in July and August so I’ll try and incorporate more of those items in later menus.

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