Ali Rosen loves a good potluck.
“It’s very rare that I’ll go over to somebody’s house and won’t ask, ‘What I can bring?’” the Charleston native said. “I love the idea of bringing people together and having everybody contribute. It just makes meals easier and more fun for everyone.”
Rosen – founder and host of NYC Life’s “Potluck with Ali Rosen,” an Emmy-nominated television show and website dedicated to sharing the best and brightest in food – is author of “Bring It! Tried and True Recipes for Potlucks and Casual Dining.” She will be one of the featured speakers at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College Foundation’s 15th annual Home and Garden Symposium, set for Wednesday, May 8, on campus in the Building R atrium and Roquemore Auditorium.
Rosen will be joined by renowned horticulturist Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanic Garden in Raleigh, N.C. Rosen will prepare recipes from her cookbook and talk about the joy of potlucks, while Avent will share his favorite spring perennials for Orangeburg and the surrounding communities. Copies of Rosen’s book will be available for purchase during a book signing after the program.
Rosen said her Lowcountry upbringing has played a huge role in her career as a culinary storyteller and cookbook author.
“When you grow up in the South, there’s such an emphasis on food and cooking and what you can do with food,” she said. “Food is a way to show love and to show we care about people. When somebody’s sick, you bring food. We grew up catching crabs, bringing them home and cooking them. In the summer, we’d go to the you-pick farms and pick our own strawberries. That was just part of day-to-day life. It’s hard to grow up in Charleston and not love food and not have an appreciation for food.”
As a working mom, Rosen said she seeks out easy recipes that look impressive to share with family and friends.
“It gives me a lot of joy to come up with easy recipes for people that make them look good,” she said. “There’s a pistachio and anchovy pasta I make a lot because you can make it ahead, it’s really quick and it’s a little bit different for people. There’s a ginger beef in the book that is so easy to make and can be served at any temperature. I also bake the s’mores bars a lot because they’re such an easy crowd pleaser.”
“I really like recipes you can make ahead, show up at the party and know that no matter how somebody serves it, the dish is going to be great,” she said. “You have to have some of those recipes in your back pocket.”
There are some considerations a host must make when planning a modern dinner party, Rosen said.
“Finding recipes that work for a lot of people is always the first step for main dishes,” she said. “I test my recipes every Thursday night. I cook dinner for my siblings because they’re all in New York. My sister is doing keto, my brother-in-law doesn’t like cheese, my sister-in-law doesn’t eat fish and my brother likes super-basic things. It’s a great audience to test things on. If they all like something, then it must be a good recipe.”
“It’s finding ways to kind of make everybody happy – that’s usually how I approach dinner when I have a lot of people coming over,” she said. “People are always looking for one dish that everybody likes, but sometimes it’s about having enough variety.”
Just as her recipes are “tried and true” in her own kitchen, Rosen seeks the same when choosing a cookbook. Works by dedicated cookbook authors and publications with test kitchens are best, she said.
“I use Dorie Greenspan’s cookbooks more than anybody else’s because they are so accurate,” she said. “All you want in a cookbook is reliability. A lot of people blame themselves when a recipe doesn’t work out. The truth of the matter is if a person who doesn’t know a lot about cooking can’t follow your recipes, then it’s not a very good book. A cookbook should be accessible.”
Equally as important are the right tools for the job, Rosen said.
“The most important thing that most people don’t really realize they need is a sharp knife,” she said. “The other thing is a meat thermometer. You’ll read a recipe and it’ll say, ‘Put this chicken in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.’ You can’t really know how long it’ll take to get done. I think any recipe is great as a starting point, but if you want to take things to the next level without doing very much, a meat thermometer is huge.”
Simple prep work on the weekends makes for easy, flavorful meals when time is crunched during the week, Rosen said.
“For me, the biggest hack is having flavorful things at the ready that you can throw in,” she said. “When you have time, chop up a lot of fresh garlic, put it in ice trays with a little bit of water and freeze it. Then when you’re sautéing something and want to throw in a little bit of garlic, you have it. It’s the same with pesto and a lot of herbs.”
“So many people get prepared meals to make their life easy, but cooking is easy,” Rosen said. “You don’t have to spend more than 30 minutes on dinner any night to have something good. It’s all about figuring out things that make your life easier rather than harder.”
Rosen’s career has taken her everywhere from little-known kitchens to famed restaurants around the world.
“I did a story once in Italy with Massimo Bottura, who’s restaurant has been ranked the best in the world, and I was filming in his kitchen and he kept handing me little things to taste and I just was like, ‘How did I get so lucky that I get to just be in this room today?’” she said. “I did an interview a few months ago with Vallery Lomas, who won season three of ‘The Great American Baking Show.’ They canceled it because one of the chefs had allegedly behaved inappropriately. She won the whole thing and it never aired, which was just so disappointing. I love getting to meet famous people and chefs, but I also really love getting the chance to showcase people who everyone should know about.”
So where does the woman who’s tried some of the best food in the world eat when she’s visiting home in Charleston?
“I love The Grocery,” she said. “It’s always really good and they always have specials, so there’s always something new to try. I also go to Leon’s a lot, because in New York, I feel very deprived of good fried chicken.”
In addition to speaker presentations, OCtech Foundation’s Home and Garden Symposium features a community flower show, silent auction and catered brunch by Buck Ridge Plantation.
Tickets are $50 per person, and funds raised assist in providing scholarships for deserving OCtech students and special projects at the college. For tickets, call 803-535-1246, email email@example.com or visit www.octech.edu.
For more information about Rosen, visit potluckwithali.com.
Makes 4 to 8 servings
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh ginger
2 cups finely chopped scallions
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Dash of salt
4 pounds sirloin steak
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
Make the sauce: Combine the ginger, scallions, soy sauce, vinegar, and olive oil. Set it aside. (I think the sauce gets better the longer it sits, but at least let it sit while you cook the steak so it has time to settle together.)
Then make the steaks: Generously salt the steaks on both sides. Place a cast-iron or nonstick pan on very high heat and add the oil (only use half if you are making the steaks in two batches to keep from crowding the pan). Let the oil get hot and cook each steak for 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the size of your steaks and the desired level of doneness. You will want to flip each steak every 30 seconds or so to ensure that it cooks evenly: it will cook better this way rather than flipping it only once — I promise.
Remove the steaks and let them rest for at least 5 minutes. Slice off the fat and cut the steaks lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Add the sauce on top and serve.
How to Bring It
This dish is great hot or cold. If you are serving it cold, you can keep both the sauce and the cooked meat in the fridge for a day before serving (the sauce can keep for 3 days). If you are going to refrigerate the meat for later, don’t slice it after cooking: wait until you are about to serve it so the moisture in the meat stays intact. If you want to serve the meat hot, undercook it a bit when making it and then reheat it from room temperature in an oven at 350°F for a few minutes to get it up to temperature. You can microwave the sauce to get it hot if you like.
Makes 8 to 10 servings
3 cups crushed graham crackers
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup salted butter, melted, plus additional for the pan
1 egg, beaten
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups mini marshmallows
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a baking pan, approximately 13 x 9 inches.
Stir the crushed graham crackers, brown sugar, butter, and egg together until fully incorporated. Spread the mixture across the baking pan. Bake it in the oven for 15 minutes, until the crust is firm.
Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips and marshmallows evenly over the crust. Return to the oven to bake for 10 more minutes, and then turn on the broiler and broil for an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute, making sure to brown but not burn the top.
Remove and allow to fully cool to at least room temperature. Cut into squares before serving.
How to Bring It
This dessert can be made up to 2 days ahead, covered and refrigerated, but try not to cut it until the day you are serving it.
Recipes reprinted with permission from “Bring It!” © 2018 by Ali Rosen, Running Press