Connect with Chef Alli

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Apricot Brie En Croute

WIBW 13 News - Live Morning Segment with Dave and Amanda, December 29, 2010

One of my favorite holiday party recipes using Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets from the Hy-Vee Freezer Section. Keep a box of puff pastry sheets in your home freezer for creating quick desserts and easy savory dishes.  My boys love it when I make Chicken Pot Pie with puff pastry shells and I can have these on the table in no time!

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 wheel of brie, 13 oz.
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
1/3 cup apricot preserves
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Place parchment paper onto baking sheet.  On a lightly flour surface, roll out puff pastry sheet, just slightly.  Spread apricot preserves in a circle, approx. the size of your wheel of brie, in the center of puff pastry sheet; sprinkle preserves with red pepper flakes, then toasted almonds. Unwrap wheel of bire, then place on top of almonds. Using a paring knife, cut all 4 corners from puff pastry sheet, rounding it slightly.  Gently pull puff pastry up around brie wheel, then invert onto prepared baking sheet.  Bake, uncovered, for approx. 20-25 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.  Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.  Serve with your favorite crackers - delicious with hearty breads, too. 

Now You're Cookin',
Chef Alli

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Building Beautiful Holiday Cheeseboards!

As featured in the Topeka Capital Journal, December 22, 2010

A gorgeous cheese display makes a beautiful centerpiece for the holiday parties. Back it up with simple appetizers prepared ahead of time. If you are hosting a holiday open house, keep it effortless by limiting your bar to just wine and beer. Assorted bottled beers on ice and wine in carafes are easily accessed by guests who can pour for themselves.

•Yes, the platter matters! Choosing a simple background as the base for your cheese platter will optimize the presentation of each cheese. I like to use a basic white platter or even better, a very large natural wood cutting board. Natural stone or ceramic tiles also work very well as cheese trays.

• Showcase with style - build your cheese board atop a beautiful holiday runner or cloth to protect your tabletop. Use overturned glasses to vary the height of your cheese board. Hide the glasses behind Christmas greenery, flowers or clusters of grapes and dried fruits.

• Choose a combination of cheeses that offer a nice variety for your guests: sharp cheddars, goat cheeses, bleus, etc. Sometimes it’s nice to place the tips of the wedges toward the center of the cheese board, taking care not to place them too close together. Add whole fruits, such as nicely ripened pears or apples that can be sliced just before your guests arrive.

• Cheeses can be labeled, but often hosts opt not to since unidentified cheeses do make for good conversation starters!

• Most cheese should be served at room temperature to allow the flavors and textures to really come alive on your palate. Remove cheese from refrigeration 30-60 minutes before you set your cheese board out for guests.

• Allow your guests to serve themselves from your cheese board – there is no need to pre-cut or slice the cheese ahead of time.

• Back up your cheeses with baguette slices and crackers along with an assortment of nuts. It is also nice to offer at least one chutney as well. This is delicious as a topping for any soft cheeses that are spread over the baguette slices or crackers.

• Plan ahead by knowing how much cheese you will need for your guests. Most party planners advise providing 2 oz. of cheese for each guest as a tasting, 3 oz. for each if serving as appetizers or 4 oz. for each if your cheeses are the main-stay of your party.

Happy Holidays!
Now You're Cookin',
Chef Alli

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Beef Wellington for Christmas Dinner

1 beef tenderloin, 2 1/2 - 3 lbs., trimmed
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 lb. baby bella mushrooms, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 lb. frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Tie beef tenderloin with kitchen twine in 1-inch incrments to form a nice, even piece. (Kitchen twine will keep beef holding it's shape while cooking.) Sprinkle 1 tsp. kosher salt over tenderloin, then season with black pepper; let tenderloin rest for 1 hour. After tenderloin has rested for 1 hour, heat a large saute pan over medium high heat; add olive oil. When oil is hot, add tenderloin to the pan, searing on all sides, and ends until very well browned.  Place tenderloin onto cutting board with drainage well and let rest until cooled.  Chill tenderloin for 1-12 hours or until ready to assemble and tenderloin is well chilled.

Add onions to pan juices and saute until softened, approx. 5-6 minutes; add mushrooms and sherry and cook 10 minutes longer, or until all sherry has incorporated or evaporated..  Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Let mixture stand until room temperature or refrigerate up to 2 days.

On a lightly floured surface, roll puff pastry sheet into a rectangle 1/4 inch thick and large enough to encase beef tenderloin. (You may need to use 2 puff pastry sheets, overlapping them slightly, and pressing into 1 large piece.) Plaace puff pastry over the bottom of a shallow baking sheet.

Cut strings from chilled beef tenderloin, then place on top of the prepared puff pastry sheet.  Spread prepared onion/mushroom mixture over tenderloin.  Fold up long sides of the pastry to enclose the tenderloin, brushing edges with beaten egg to seal.(Trim any excess puff pastry dough as you go, if needed, reserving this dough.)  Turn encased tenderloin carefully so thata the seam side is on the bottom. Roll out any remaining puff pastry dough and cut into holly or other holiday shapes and place on top of Beef Wellington.  Brush entire Beef Wellington with beaten egg.  Chill for 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Make 2 -3 slits in the top of the Beef Wellington for venting steam. Bake, uncovered, for 40-50 minutes or until Beef Wellington is golden brown and beef registers 135 degrees at center when testing with an instant-read meat thermometer, for Medium Rare.  Cover Beef Wellington during last few minutes of baking time if puff pastry becomes too brown.  Let Beef Wellington stand for 10 minutes before slicing to serve.  Delicious served with you favorite Horseradish Sauce!!

Serves 8-10

Hope this makes the perfect centerpiece at Christmas Dinner for your friends and family!

Merry Christmas,
Chef Alli

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks, Mom!

Her card reads “I am so blessed by you guys. Let us show our thankfulness each day, not just today. And may we savor our love for another just as we savor the delicious food on our Thanksgiving table. May we also laugh and love a lot! Thank you all. Love, Mom”. That is SOOO my Mom, always positive and appreciative, always so good at making everyone feel special.

Here’s how it works: if I placed the two of you together (it could be anywhere – waiting in line, grocery shopping, the coffee shop, Chiefs Stadium – the location doesn’t matter) within five minutes my Mom would know everything about you, including your most accomplished feats and discouraging struggles. And you would then be standing there with this funny look on your face, amazed at how this little woman got you to share not only your life story, but also your inner most thoughts and feelings! I have seen it take place more times than I can count, and it happens simply because she takes the time to ask. Once you begin that conversation, you realize without a doubt, that she truly cares about what you have to say; for those five minutes, you feel like the most important person in the entire world.

So on behalf of my Mom, I’m challenging you (along with myself!) this holiday season. In the midst of all the craziness, let’s see if we can take the time to make everyone around us feel like we truly care. As we welcome our friends and relatives into our homes on Thanksgiving, can we remember that it’s really NOT all about the food? Can we create special havens for our guests where they will find hospitality and warmth as we take a few extra moments to dote over them? Can we allow them to feel useful as we include them in our dinner preparations in the kitchen? As we pass the turkey and cranberry sauce, can we set our differences aside and give thanks for ALL who sit around our table?  It all begins with you and me – our actions make all the difference.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Now You’re Cookin’,

Chef Alli

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gram's Good Ole Turkey Gravy

Making gravy can sometimes be a challenge, especially when we only prepare it on special holiday occasions. To produce delicious, lump-free gravy for Thanksgiving dinner, here are a few Chef Alli tips, along with Grandma’s recipe, to ensure your success:

• Allow at least ½ cup gravy per person – more if you have several big-eaters coming for dinner. I usually double my gravy recipe, just to be sure plenty of gravy remains for leftovers – you can never have too much gravy!

• When making turkey gravy, I prefer to use cornstarch as my thickening agent, instead of flour, mostly because this is how my Grandma did it, and by using her exact recipe, it brings back a lot of childhood memories. Sauces and gravies made with cornstarch look rather “clear” in appearance, rather than opaque, and typically have a nice sheen, which is kind of nice for turkey gravy, in this humble chef’s opinion. I also think it’s unusual that Gram’s recipe calls for using milk to make the slurry, instead of water.

• To thicken gravy when using cornstarch, it’s usually best to make a “slurry first”. I make my slurry by whisking a small amount of water (usually ¼ - ½ cup is plenty) with 1 Tbs. cornstarch until smooth. The slurry is then added to the liquids (usually broth) and pan drippings that you want thickened to create your gravy. As a rule, you will need 1 Tbs. of cornstarch for every 2 cups of broth you are using to make your gravy. For a flavorful gravy, it helps to remember this: 1 Tbs. cornstarch (or flour) + 1 Tbs. drippings + 2 cups liquid. Just know that you will always be adjusting these measurements slightly, as you are whisking and thickening your gravy.

• Good tools are essential for creating good gravy – I recommend a silicone-coated FLAT whisk; this tool will allow you to get right up to the very edge of your pan so that you can whisk constantly for a nice, smooth, lump-free sauce or gravy – very important! Plus, you will need a nice, deep stainless steel (cast iron is even better!) skillet for preparing gravy – 12” is a good size.

Gram’s Recipe
Make giblet broth:
1 pkg. turkey giblets (this is the package that’s inside your turkey)
1 medium carrot, thickly sliced
1 medium onion, thickly sliced
1 medium celery rib, thickly sliced
1/ 2 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup whole milk
2 Tbs. cornstarch

In a 3 quart sauce pan over high heat, place reserved turkey giblets (these usually include the neck, heart, and gizzard) along with the vegetables, adding enough water to cover all. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to low and simmer for approx. 1 hour, skimming any foam from the top. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and into a bowl, discarding solids. Cover and store in refrigeration until ready to use.

Place 2-3 Tbs. drippings from turkey roasting pan, into a large skillet over medium heat. Meanwhile, combine 1 cup whole milk with 2 Tbs. cornstarch; whisk until smooth to make slurry. Whisk slurry into drippings, and bring mixture to a low boil. Simmer, whisking constantly, adding prepared broth as you go to achieve gravy consistency you desire. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

8-10 servings of gravy

Now You're Cookin',
Chef Alli

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thanksgiving – Remember the 3 D’s of Dinner!

On Thursday morn, I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes of TV time with Dave and Amanda on the WIBW Morning Show. With Turkey Day fast approaching, we discussed how much anxiety this can bring to Thanksgiving hostesses. Here's what I recommended to WIBW viewers:

The 3 D's of Thanksgiving Dinner
DON'T compare. Never compare your dinner to Grandma's or Mom's Thanksgiving dinner. They are most likely seasoned cooks and veteran hostesses who have hosted many holiday dinners. Remember that they have had years to refine their Thanksgiving preparations and presentations; when they first started out, they probably felt a little apprehensive and nervous, too. Have faith – you can do it!

DELEGATE! If you have volunteered to cook the turkey, feel free to assign ALL the Thanksgiving side dishes to your guests, including desserts. They are anxious to bring something to your dinner and are honored that you ask them to do so. If you have opened your home to host Thanksgiving and you are willing to be in charge of cooking the turkey, that's enough.
DO be a gracious hostess. As much as we might like to believe it is, the FOOD is not the most important element of Thanksgiving dinner – it's your GUESTS. As a gracious hostess, your job is to ensure that they have a good time while in your home. Even if you serve your guests frozen dinners on TV trays because you burned up the turkey, all is ok as long as they had enjoyable time as your guest. You have just created a very special holiday memory for them that they will never forget!
Watch for me on WIBW (and right here!) throughout this Thanksgiving season as I offer help and tips for making Thanksgiving dinner a positive experience in your kitchen!
Now You're Cookin',
Chef Alli

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Love At First Knife

Most good cooks know there are two must-haves for the kitchen: a good knife and a good saute pan; all the rest is fluff. When I make this statement in my cooking classes, I often see questioning looks on the faces of my students, most likely because a wide array of the latest and greatest culinary gadgets lies before me on the counter. And though I do use (and love) many of these tools, not a single one of them would be grabbed up in case of kitchen fire - I would be too busy seeking out my favorite knife and saute pan before running out the door.
And though I can truly appreciate a good saute pan, nothing separates me from my chef's knife. This "love of my life" has come to the rescue on many an onion, carrot and garlic clove, and these days I really need that. I am finding myself spending more and more time cooking at home, trying to stay ahead of the appetites of my two youngest sons, ages 12 and 14. It seems they eat constantly! Since I feel it's my duty as Chef-Mom to keep them well fed, I keep my chef's knife constantly chopping and slicing on their behalf, trying my best to keep their bellies full.
My family and friends all know that if you invite me into your kitchen to help you cook, I WILL be examining your inventory of kitchen tools, including a check of the knives in your utensil drawer or butcher block. I don't do this to belittle my friends and family like one may think - I just want to know how hard I'm going to have to work while I'm there. A dull knife is likely to ensure me of a trip to the E.R. for a few stitches and I want to know my odds going in. I also like to anticipate how much Ben Gay and ibuprofen I'm going to need the next day for my sore shoulders and arms – another treat a dull knife doles out.
Recently, I visited my sister-in-law and noticed she was slicing vegetables with a knife that looked like it had weathered countless tree branches and lots of baling twine. (This is why my knives are not accessible to my sons around our farm or I would have the same problem.) A good inch of the tip of her knife was broken off and I could visibly see how dull it was by the pressure she was exerting as she pressed through each vegetable onto her cutting board. (And yes, I was surprised she was using a cutting board – I didn't realize she even had one. But thankfully she wasn't cutting onions or I literally would have been crying in my beer from 20 feet!) Keep in mind this is not unusual in her kitchen as she spends ZERO on culinary tools, always assuring me that would be a total waste of her hard-earned money. Though she never says it, I know she feels the same about my wardrobe, so that makes us even: I wouldn't be caught dead with her knife in my hand and she wouldn't be caught dead wearing my clothes!
Using good, sharp chef's knife is comparable to riding in a Cadillac. Once you float over the road in a Cadillac, you wouldn't possibly consider riding in that sluggish little Volkswagen any longer. And so it goes with a dull knife. There's nothing worse, at least in this chef's opinion, so I'll leave you with this bit of corny culinary humor: BE SHARP and buy a good knife – you'll find there's no going back.
Now You're Cookin',
Chef Alli

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Beefy Burgers! The 3 B's of Great Grilled Burgers

BOND with Your Burger: Get to Know Your Beef

  • Juicy burgers are made from 80% lean ground CHUCK. In the case of grilled burgers, fat definitely equals flavor! And because ground chuck comes from the shoulder of the beef, it's got flavor like no other. Most of the fat from ground chuck drips away as your burgers grill, causing flare ups for added charring.

  • Season! Season! Season! Add salt and pepper, woozy, beef broth or wine to give added flavor to your ground chuck before building your patties.

  • Gain moisture in your burgers by sneaking in finely grated onions or zucchini (or any veggie with a high water content) to your ground chuck. Your kids will never even notice!
BABY Your Burger: Be Gentle with Your Beef

  • Use lots of TLC when building your patties. Don't pack your ground beef too tightly or over work it.

  • 3/4 inch patties are the ideal thickness for grilling to the perfect temperature.

  • Gently make in indention on the top of each burger. This keeps the burgers from "puffing" as your grill them.

  • Only flip your burgers ONCE. This is often difficult for grillers to do as they seem to want to "play" with their food. Leave that burger on the grill until it's READY to flip. You'll know it's ready when it no longer sticks to the grates. Test the edge of each burger with your spatula to check.

  • NEVER EVER press down on your burgers with your spatula!! Precious juices are lost forver when this technique is applied.
BUILD Your Burger: Create Flavor Layers for the Perfect Ending

  • A good grilled burger deserves great "accessories" piled high to complete it. Use flavorful condiments: zesty mayos, whole grain mustards, homegrown tomato slices, caramelized onions, ripe avocado slices, strong cheeses, crispy slices of bacon, fresh spinach or arugula - the options are endless!

  • Always toast your buns or bread on the grill to warm and mark them - more added flavor for your burger.

Now to the grill:
  • Grill over direct heat: 450 - 500 degrees F.

  • Always preheat your grill. Once preheated, use a wire brush to quickly clean the grates.

  • Oil the grates.

  • Grill your burgers covered: 8-10 minutes for medium doneness, 10-11 minutes for medium well doneness.

  • Practice Sideways Safety! To test burgers for doneness at the center, insert an instant-read thermometer into each burger from the side - this works much better than inserting from the top! A safe internal temperature for a burger is 160 degrees F.
Chef Alli's Outside-In Beefy Brie Burgers
  • 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced

  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

  • 1 Tbs. granulated sugar

  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck

  • 3 Tbs. fine dry bread crumbs

  • 3 Tbs. strong beef broth

  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 oz. brie cheese

  • 4 hamburger buns

  • 1/3 cup zesty brown mustard

  • 2 cups baby arugula or spinach
In a large saute pan over medium heat, cmobine onions with evoo, vinegar, and sugar; cover pan and cook slowly until onions are softened and golden brown, approx. 20 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.

Meanwhile, preheat the grill for direct cooking over high heat. In a large mixing bowl, gently combine ground chuck with bread crumbs, broth, salt and pepper; shape this mixture into four patties of equal size and thickness, making a hole in the center of each patty for the cheese. Trim the rind from the brie cheese and cut into four equal portions; nestle each piece of brie into the hold in each burger, sealing each burger tightly around the brie.

Brush grill clean with wire brush, then oil the grates. Grill patties over direct high heat, covered with lid, 8-10 minutes, to medium doneness. Flip burgers when they easily release from the grates without sticking. Toast buns during the last few minutes of cooking time. Assemble warm burgers with caramelized onions, mustard and arugula or spinach piled high. Serve at once.

Now You're Cookin',
Chef Alli

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Brown Gravy

This year won't be an ideal Mother's Day for my Mom. Though her children love her more than we could possibly express, she has a broken heart that we cannot fix. She is watching the love of her life go through the final stages of cancer. I know without asking that my Mom is privately wondering how many more days she has in my Dad's company. Though she rarely shows it, I know that she is quietly grieving because her husband of 49 years lies in a hospital bed that we have set up in her guest room. I also know that she is coming to grips with the fact that life as she knows it will never be the same - we simply can't go back.

Mom bravely sets her saddness aside as she cares for my Dad. No matter how grueling it is as his constant caregiver, she shows him a cheerful smile at all times and offers encouraging words to comfort him, though Dad can barely hear her due to acute hearing loss in these last days. For some reason, it makes me profoundly happy to see that she still tries to get him to eat, not much at this point, just simple things that might bring him comfort. They still share a cup of coffee each morning in his room, though Dad's is served spoon-style, sip by sip.

Today I found a lone saucepan sitting on Mom's stove top and I asked what it contained. "It's gravy, silly." she said. "Your Dad wanted mashed potatoes and gravy today." I smiled. The brown gravy in that saucepan became the most precious thing in the world to me at that moment. Good food is such a wonderful source of comfort, no matter the situation; it helps us make our way over life's inevitable rough spots. And sometimes when we can't communicate as effectively as we'd like, for whatever reason, food helps us nurture the connections we are in fear of losing; it becomes the voice to our grief, allowing us to care for those we love most. Food becomes our universal language of love.

As you spend time with Mom this Mother's Day, remember not only to cherish your time together but to appreciate her for all she brings into your life. Abraham Lincoln's quote "All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my Mother." rings true for me as well. Without you, Mom, I wouldn't be the woman I am today. Your servant's heart is my inspiration and your brown gravy a precious gift. Thanks, Mom.

Note: I wrote this article last year for TMI magazine. Since that time, we have nearly made it through one year of "firsts" without my Dad. He passed away on May 21, 2009 and I know there has barely been a moment that Mom hasn't thought of him. She is still grieving deeply, but takes each day as a new one and is bravely moving forward in this journey without Dad. I am always happy that she is quick to offer us homemade cookies or a new dessert she's just baked when we visit. She finds comfort in baking for us and it's a love language my family treasures at Grandma's house.