Gather ‘round the Table

Side Dish


Her full title is Executive Chef, Culinary Innovation and Development, to give you an idea of just how many toques Jessica James wears at Applebee’s. Growing up in a small Kansas town as the daughter of a single-parent, working mom, innovative food and culinary techniques weren’t uppermost in her mind, but she still loved cooking. While in high school James worked as a cook evenings and weekends and after graduating was thrilled to study in the culinary arts program at Johnson County Community College. Now, nearly 15 years later, she leads a team responsible for creating fresh, new concepts for the Applebee’s menu. James lives in Union Hill with her husband, Malik, and their 3-year-old son, Race.

EATING FOR A LIVING isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.

When I’m home at night with my family after a long day of cooking and eating at work, I often crave the simplest of things, such as a fresh salad, pasta and roasted vegetables, or on the most gluttonous of days, just a bowl of cold cereal.

I feel most inspired in my kitchen on the weekends when I can wake up, watch cartoons with my son and sit down to plan a couple of great meals we can shop for and prepare together. Grocery shopping and cooking with a 3-year-old sounds daunting, but it’s something we’ve done together for awhile now, and he enjoys getting his hands dirty and learning about new foods.

My approach to cooking at home, especially in the colder months and around the holidays, is to focus first on seasonal ingredients. By cooking with foods that are in season, I am able to keep things simple and allow the ingredients to speak for themselves.

Second, I like to use cooking methods that take awhile like braising or roasting. This makes the house smell amazing and allows me to multitask throughout the day.

Finally, I love to include something decadent in the meal.

It’s not often enough my husband, our son and I have the chance to enjoy a meal that’s not been hastily prepared. So it’s nice to indulge a little, slow down and spend some time together around the dinner table and relax.

Creating recipes for the world’s largest casual-dining restaurant chain that feeds more than one million people each day is both rewarding and challenging. The payoff for me is when I see families in our restaurants spending quality time together and taking a break from their busy lives to sit down and enjoy a meal.

That’s what cooking and being a chef is all about for me—bringing families together whether it’s at an Applebee’s or around the table in their own homes. The memories we make while we spend quality time together are all the more special in today’s fast-paced, highly connected world.

Brussels Sprouts & Kale Caesar Salad

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Serves 6

1 egg

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1-1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, finely shredded

1/2 pound kale, finely shredded

1-1/2 cups olive oil

1 cup finely grated Parmesan

1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted

Boil a small amount of water. Meanwhile, place an egg in a coffee cup. Once water is boiling, pour it over the egg in the cup. Allow to sit for a few minutes.

In a large bowl, mash together the garlic and anchovy fillets with the back of a wooden spoon. Add lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and salt and pepper to the bowl and whisk to combine. Crack the egg and add it to the bowl. Whisk to combine.

Slowly whisk the olive oil into the bowl to finish the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place the shredded Brussels sprouts and kale in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing and then add the Parmesan and almonds and toss to combine.

Serve immediately.

Squash Gratin

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Serves 6

1 large butternut squash, quartered and seeded

1 large onion, julienned

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, freshly grated

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the squash quarters cut-side down on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes or until the squash is cooked through.

Allow to cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and then the onion. Cook the onion until deeply caramelized, about 15-20 minutes.

Scoop the squash out of its skin into large chunks and place into a baking dish. Drizzle the cream over the top of the squash, then add the onions, salt and pepper and the shredded Gruyere cheese. Place the gratin into the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until the cheese begins to brown.

Beef Bourguignon

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Serves 4-6

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

2-1/2 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 10-12 chunks

Salt and pepper to taste

1 large yellow onion, chopped

2 tablespoons garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon flour

One bottle of full-bodied dry red wine

2 bay leaves

1 sprig of thyme

1/2 pound bacon, chopped

6 ounces pearl onions, peeled and left whole

5 ounces button mushrooms

8 ounces carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

1/2 cup Cognac

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat butter and olive oil over high heat in a large, heavy pot.

Season beef chunks with salt and pepper. Place in the pot and sear on all sides. This should take about 15-20 minutes. Add the onion and garlic to the beef and cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften. Add the flour and stir to incorporate into the pot.

Deglaze the pan with the entire bottle of wine. Add the bay leaves and thyme and bring the mixture to a boil. Top the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place in the heated oven.

Allow to cook for 1-1/2 hours.

When the beef has 15 minutes left to cook, begin preparing the bacon and vegetables. Heat a sauté pan over high heat. Add the bacon, reduce the heat to medium and cook until crisp. Once bacon is crisp, add the pearl onions and mushrooms. Sauté the mixture until the mushrooms begin to cook through and the onions start to brown.

Carefully deglaze the pan with the Cognac and continue to cook until the Cognac is nearly evaporated. Add the parsley and chop to combine.

Remove the beef from the oven and top with the bacon and vegetable mixture.

Serve immediately directly from the pot.

Serve immediately.

Salted Dark Chocolate Pudding

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Serves 6-8

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1-1/2 cups whole milk

5 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

10 ounce bag of Ghirardelli 60 percent semisweet chocolate chips

Whipped cream

Combine cream and milk in a heavy sauce pot and steep until it just begins to simmer. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine yolks, sugar and salt and whisk to combine.

Slowly add hot cream/milk mixture to eggs, whisking constantly to combine. Reserve large bowl for later.

Return pudding base back to the sauce pot and place on the stove top over low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula. Cook for about 5 minutes or until pudding begins to thicken. Return pudding to reserved large bowl. Add chocolate chips and whisk to combine.

Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming on the top. Refrigerate pudding for eight hours or overnight.

Serve with whipped cream.

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