Chef Anne Burrell’s second season of Worst Cooks in America, The Food Network’s reality competition featuring Burrell and co-host chef Robert Irvine leading America’s worst cooks through a culinary boot camp, starts on January 2. We talked to Burrell, who also appeared on The Food Network as Mario Batali’s sous chef on Iron Chef America, about how to make your best holiday meal. (And we snagged one of her recipes, too.)
You turn bad cooks into good cooks really quickly on your show, but do you think there’s time for a bad cook to turn themselves around in time for Christmas?
Well, I say that I try to turn bad cooks into good cooks!
I would say they’d really have to start right this minute, like: Get off your computer and get yourself into a cooking class now. Probably no one’s going to turn their life around and transform from a bad cook to a good cook by Christmas, but there’s definitely time to perfect a couple of dishes for the holidays to make it look like you know what you’re doing.
Everyone seems to have at least one holiday cooking horror story. What are the biggest mistakes you see people make in the kitchen this time of year?
Some of the biggest mistakes that people make at the holidays is they try to take on too much. They bust out some crazy recipe they’ve never tried before, and there’s so much going on and there’s people coming over and there’s presents, so people aren’t focusing specifically on the task. I would say: Keep it simple. Take the load off yourself. It’s better to do a simple dish that’s going to come out perfectly than to do a dish that’s going to cause you a lot of stress and possibly take a turn for he worst. Definitely do something you’ve done before and you feel comfortable with.
Are there any fool-proof Christmas recipes you think even a bad cook can learn?
Sure — ham! The first time I ever made a ham I was like, what the heck, you just stick it in the oven and warm it up! It’s cooked and cut already, so all you have to do is make a glaze and toss it in the oven and whip up a pot of mashed potatoes and veggies to go with it.
If you could give your fans one cooking skill or tip for the holidays, what would it be?
Taste your food as you go and make sure it tastes good throughout the cooking process. If you don’t taste it along the way you can’t possibly know what it’s going to taste like.
A lot of times, when people don’t know how to cook very well, they tend to throw on butter and salt to improve taste. What’s a healthier way to pep up dishes that’s easy enough for everyone to try at home?
Well, salt does improve taste. I’m not afraid to use salt and it’s one of those things you need to use in order to be a good cook, so just accept it and move on. And fat isn’t always the way to build flavor, but there’s not one rule for everything. But it comes back to tasting as you go: If you season and taste throughout, you’ll end up adding less salt and fat. You should never have to salt or season at the table, if you taste as you go.
You know, people put on weight at the holidays because it’s about sitting around and snacking and that kind of stuff, but I wouldn’t say that having an extravagant holiday dinner is what’s going to pack on the pounds. It’s all the deviled eggs and cookies and cocktails, and sitting around.
I would say: Taste as you go and go for a walk after dinner instead of sitting around.
Do you have any stand-by holiday recipes that you look forward to making every year?
I’ve been tossing around what I’m going to make this year and I think I might do brisket or short ribs. I like big, meaty, brais-y things around the holidays. And I like things I can get started the day before and toss in the oven so that I can also have fun at the holidays. I love cooking but I do it every day and I want to hang out with my family over the holidays, not just spend time in the kitchen.
Our readers are crazy about holiday baking – what are your favorite things to bake for the holidays?
You know, I really like class, old stand-bys and I always search out the ones with peanut butter and Hershey kisses. I love it when people bring over the big tray of Christmas cookies.
There are things you can do to get ahead of your holiday baking. If you’re going to make a bunch of pies and stuff, get your pie doughs done now. You can also make cookie doughs ahead and put them in the freezer. That’s absolutely what happens in restaurants, and you can get that stuff done now, after work in the evenings and then just let them thaw and continue with your pies and baking at Christmas. Don’t try to do it all in one day.
So do you have any food or kitchen-related New Year’s resolutions for 2011?
My goal is always to continue learning in the kitchen. It doesn’t matter if you do it all the time or you’ve made it your carer, there’s always something new to learn and experience in the kitchen. And I just want to keep making good food!
Apple Tart Tatin
recipe courtesy of Anne Burrell
FOR THE CRUST:
1 stick butter, cut into pea size pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1/4 cup sugar
1 lemon, zested
1 egg yolk
2 to 3 tablespoons ice water
FOR THE FILLING:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup apple cider
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 stick butter, cut into pats
6 apples, such as Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, McIntosh or your favorite baking apple, peeled, cored and quartered
Mascarpone cheese mixed with 2 tablespoon sugar, for garnish
To make the crust: In a food processor combine the butter, flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Pulse until it looks like finely grated Parmigiano. Add the egg yolk and 1 to 2 tablespoons of the water. Pulse, pulse, pulse until the mixture comes together. If it seems a bit dry add a little more water and pulse, pulse, pulse. The mixture should come together into a ball. Dump the whole thing out onto a clean lightly floured work surface. Knead the mixture 1 or 2 times only to make it a smooth ball. Using a rolling pin or your fingers roll or press the dough out to an even circle about 11 to 12 inches in diameter. Transfer to a cookie sheet lined with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or preferably overnight, covered with plastic wrap.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
To make the filling: While dough is chilling, place the sugar, apple cider, lemon juice, and vanilla bean seeds in a 10-inch nonstick ovenproof pan. Stir to combine. Over high heat bring the mixture to a boil brushing down the sides of the pan occasionally with a pastry brush dipped in water, if necessary. After 6 to 7 minutes the mixture will eventually begin to turn light brown. Swish the pan around gently to promote even cooking. Cook the mixture for another minute or so until the mixture becomes a much deeper amber color. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, 2 pats at a time. The mixture will bubble up. That is okay, just be VERY CAREFUL not to get any of this on you. When all of the butter has been incorporated, begin to arrange the apples rounded side down in circles. Try to do this neatly and in a pretty way. Remember, the bottom will be the top!
Return the pan to the burner and cook over medium for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Retrieve the chilled pastry from the refrigerator and place it on top of the apples. Tuck the pastry in around the edges of the pan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the dough is golden brown and crispy. Let the tart cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Place a serving platter upside down on top of the pastry and CAREFULLY flip the platter and the pan over. Let the tart fall gently out of the pan.
Slice tart into individual pieces and garnish with a dollop of sweetened mascarpone.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Ease of preparation: intermediate
Anne Burrell trained at New York’s Culinary Institute of America and Italy’s Culinary Institute for Foreigners, cooked at Felidia, Savoy, Lumi, and Italian Wine Merchants. Anne has also battled on Food Network’s Iron Chef America as Mario Batali’s energetic and reliable sous chef. Additionally, Anne taught for three years at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education. She served as Executive Chef at New York hot-spot Centro Vinoteca from its opening in July 2007 through September 2008.
She currently hosts two shows on the Food Network, including Worst Cooks in America, which premieres January 2, 2011 at 9 pm ET/PT, and Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, which airs Saturdays at 12:30pm ET/PT.