Ted Allen may be a cookbook author, wine expert, and Food Network staple, who spends his days surrounded by professional chefs thanks to his hosting gig on the cooking competition series “Chopped,” but that doesn’t mean he can’t relate to those of us who might need a little extra help in the kitchen this holiday season. With Christmas and New Year’s fast approaching, the 47-year-old culinary expert shares some last-minute advice with omg! on how to impress your guests, along with his own plans for the holidays.
What’s your favorite go-to party hors d'oeuvre that’s easy enough for anyone to make?
It’s a bruschetta that I always get raves for and it’s inspired by a Brooklyn-based ricotta company called Salvatore’s. You take a baguette, you cut it in slices on the bias, a third of an inch thick or so, brush it with olive oil, either grill it or broil it or toast it until it’s crispy. Take a garlic clove that you cut in half and rub the cut surface against the bread – that puts just the right amount of garlic that you want for flavor. Put a couple of tablespoons of ricotta on that. Place one baby arugula leaf on that and then put a little piece of prosciutto on it and drizzle really high quality olive oil. I love those things and everybody who comes over loves those things. It’s rustic, but it looks a little bit fancy and anybody can do it.
What about an entrée?
I’ve got a great way to dress up a chicken breast and it’s so irresistible. Take a boneless, skinless chicken breast. Pound it in flat with a mallet or a heavy pot until it’s an even thickness. And then take a fresh sage leaf and place that in the middle on the chicken breast and then wrap the prosciutto around that and add salt and pepper as well. You don’t need a toothpick or anything. And then you cook that in a medium to medium-high skillet with a little olive oil for about five minutes a side. What that does is takes this humble, fairly tasteless, boneless chicken breast and gives it some of that flavor from prosciutto. It’s amazing. It’s sort of like a really simple Saltimbocca. And for someone who doesn’t have a lot of gourmet cooking chops, it also looks beautiful on a plate.
What’s the biggest mistake you see home cooks make?
Learning to season and salt things correctly really is an art and it’s also one of the most important things and, especially if you’re cooking in hurry, it’s one of the common mistakes. I think a lot of young, beginner cooks underseason particularly things like grilled chops and steaks, which really do require a pretty aggressive bit of seasoning.
What about at the holidays?
In terms of holiday entertaining, I think maybe people reach a little too far for the stars and feel like they have to do something fuzzy or fancy. A new cook needs to be trying to cook what you know you can cook well.
Do you cook anything special for Christmas?
Oh, absolutely. Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year. I'm really pretty traditional about what I put on the table for the holidays. I gotta have a turkey, I gotta have stuffing, and the stuffing recipe that I’ve made for about the last 15 years calls for two sticks of butter. I look at this recipe and I'm thinking, you know, I'm a little bit tired of putting that much fat into my family. So I started working with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and worked on this recipe. I used entirely I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and nobody at the table had the remotest inkling that anything had changed.
What other sides can people get creative with?
I went on to develop a recipe for mashed potatoes, but with a twist where it’s one pound of potatoes and then half a pound of golden beets and I’ve never seen someone do that before. I love golden beets and it turned out amazing. And because of the flavor that the golden beets have, the necessity of adding butter was reduced substantially. I put in four tablespoons of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter or Country Crock and it’s awesome and that went over really well. I also do a cranberry sauce with orange liqueur like a Cointreau.
What are your holiday plans this year?
[My partner] Barry [Rice] and I will spend Christmas at home. We are talking about doing it with some friends who are going to be around. We’re trying not to travel so much around Christmas. It’s so crowded and expensive and the lousy weather. And I gotta say, New York is a nice place to be at Christmastime.
What about New Year’s Eve?
We might celebrate it with Mark Murphy and his wife, Pam. Mark is one of our judges on “Chopped” and a great chef here. We were kicking around some ideas. Or we have a couple of friends who have places up in the Catskills. I am so not a Times Square kind of guy. I will never, ever, ever do that. I wanna be some place warm with a bottle of champagne and maybe a fire in the fireplace. I'm gonna go visit mom right after New Year’s on the 2nd. New Year’s Eve I will not spend with my mom because she will fall sleep at 9 o’clock!
What food trend are you sick of?
I love that question. Food trucks. What I'm glad you didn’t ask me is what is the hottest new trend in food. Honestly, I'm not very interested in trends.
Well, now I have to ask what big food trend you think will come next?
I’ve been joking for a while that pork is something that chefs have been talking about a lot for the last five years at least, and they’ve been getting tattoos of pork and bacon on their arms for at least five years. I like to tell people the next big thing is goat. It’s gonna be goat. Nobody believes me. If you handle it right, it can be fantastic and has some similarities to pork when you stew it. I’ve had that dish in a restaurant. It’s great.
What’s your New Year’s resolution this year?
Oh, boy. That requires being responsible. I don’t want to do that. I’ve never really made one, but I was talking about trying to reduce fat in some of my cooking. I'm starting to get a little bit older, so I'm thinking about that more. I mean, for a long time Barry and I were just cooking anything we wanted. I’ve always been somewhat sensitive about not being a lunatic with fat but I am trying to continue to cook wholesome stuff at home without being quite so caloric. So that’s kind of a goal. Did you notice how many qualifiers I used?
For more of Ted’s holiday entertaining ideas, check out Itisgoodtoknow.com
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