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Chinese, again? How to upgrade your takeout

Dialing for dinner again? Lifestyle expert Elizabeth Mayhew shares clever tips on how to  put a new twist on greasy restaurant meals.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Who doesn’t love takeout? It’s convenient, hassle-free, mess-free and can usually be delivered directly to your doorstep within minutes (worst-case scenario, you have to drive to pick it up). It’s the perfect solution for when you're pressed for time or just too tired to get dinner on the table. But takeout for entertaining?

Let’s face it, serving pizza and a bucket of wings frat-style is not everyone’s idea of a presentable buffet, but what if you could entertain in style by just dialing for dinner (and I don’t mean calling a caterer)? It is possible — just add one of six staple ingredients, do away with the disposable cartons and  put a twist on takeout that will leave your guests wanting to take your takeout home.

Top six ingredients to upgrade takeout

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fresh herbs
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Good-quality cheeses
  • Fresh lemon juice or good-quality vinegar
  • Fresh garlic

Recipes for the most common types of takeout

Fried chicken dinner
Fried chicken: Immediately remove warm chicken from the carton and place on either a serving platter (if serving room temperature) or on a cookie sheet (if serving warm). If you don’t transfer the chicken from the carton, it will loose its crispiness. If warming or “crisping” the chicken, do so in a preheated 400-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes before serving. Remove and transfer to a platter.

Mashed potatoes: Fold one package of Boursin cheese (any flavor) into 4 cups of hot mashed potatoes. Transfer to baking dish and drizzle top with olive oil. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until top is crispy.

Coleslaw: Add just enough chopped red cabbage to give the prepared coleslaw some color and added crunch. Tame the sweetness with a squeeze of lemon juice or one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per cup of slaw.

Corn: Sprinkle warm corncobs with grated Parmesan Reggiano, dust with cayenne pepper, and serve with lemon or lime wedges.

Biscuits: Mash freshly chopped parsley into several tablespoons of room-temperature butter. Split biscuits, spread insides with butter, replace tops, and warm in a preheated 350-degree oven. Transfer to basket or serving dish.

Chicken, seafood and/or beef entrees:
Try not to order items that taste or look too similar. Warm entrees in oven or toss in a skillet. Transfer to serving dishes and garnish with chopped scallions or chives.

Steamed vegetables: Crispy steamed vegetables are not only healthy, but they also add color and crunch. When you order, ask for your favorite sauce on the side. Transfer vegetables to a platter and serve sauce in a ramekin.

White rice, brown rice, fried rice: Transfer rice to clear glass vases if you have them — they make an interesting visual presentation.

Mixed dumplings: Line up dumplings on a square platter, making sure you don’t mix types. Transfer dipping sauce to a ramekin.

Egg rolls: Split each egg role in half, on an angle, and place, cut-side-up, on a platter. Do not serve the squeezy packets at the table; it might be a pain to consolidate the hot mustard, soy sauce and sweet-and-sour sauce into individual ramekins, but it makes a big difference in presentation.

Pizza and wings
Order plain cheese pizza. Transfer to cookie sheet or pizza stone to reheat in a preheated 350-degree oven. Remove and transfer to a cutting board. Top warm pizza with minced fresh garlic and olive oil, shavings of Parmesan Reggiano and/or fresh basil leaves.

Wings: Transfer chicken wings to a serving platter. Serve with cold, crisp sticks of celery, lemon wedges and a ramekin or bowl of blue cheese or ranch dressing.

Salad:  Nothing upgrades a meal more than a fresh salad. Buy prewashed arugula, baby spinach or field greens. Transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil and sprinkle with shavings of Parmesan Reggiano. Also, if you do order from a restaurant, always make sure you ask for the dressing on the side — otherwise it will be a soggy lump by the time you serve it.