Tiffany Denson enjoys entertaining at Christmas in historic home

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By Ann Cipperly

For the Opelika Observer

 

Situated at the corner of North 8th Street and Fourth Avenue in Opelika, the 1913 Denson home in the Historic District is one of the most beautiful homes on the Victorian Front Porch Tour, slated this year Dec. 5-9. The house has remained in the Denson family with Tiffany and Rush Denson moving in this year, with their three children being the fifth generation to reside in the historic home.
Tiffany and Rush moved back to Opelika in 2015 from Birmingham. “We felt it was just the right thing to do,” says Tiffany. “We wanted to be close to family.”
Rush’s parents, Rose Ann and John Denson, who were living in the house, were ready to downsize. The spacious home was perfect for Tiffany, Rush and their children, Rush Sr., 18, who is a student at Auburn University; Quinn, 14, and 4-year-old Sadie.
His parents moved a couple of blocks down the street, while Tiffany’s parents, Patti and Maxie Quinn, moved from Clearwater, Fla. to the house across the street from their daughter. “We have two sets of grandparents within two blocks,” says Tiffany. “It is a gift, especially to our children.”
Built by Judge and Mrs. Nimrod D. Denson, the Greek Revival style house anchors the Historic District. Judge Denson’s career included serving in the State Senate, the House of Representatives and the Alabama Supreme Court.
After his death, their daughter, Mary, and husband Yetta Samford Sr. moved into the house with four-year-old Yetta Jr. Mary enjoyed gardening and planned the landscaping on the grounds.
After her death in 1977, Nimrod Denson’s grandson, Judge John V. and Rose Ann Denson moved into the home. John was the third generation to serve on the Auburn Board of Trustees, while Yetta Jr. was a Trustee for the University of Alabama and served in the Alabama Senate.
“We love the history and being in the house,” says Tiffany, “and now we get to make more history.”
They renovated the kitchen, adding a large chef’s gas stove for Tiffany, who has a love for cooking. The wall separating the kitchen from a breakfast room was removed, opening up the kitchen space. It now has a cozy sitting area by the window perfect for morning coffee.
After entertaining 20 for Thanksgiving, Tiffany is getting ready for the Victorian Front Porch Tour. For their first year in the house, Rose Ann is placing the lights on their 11-foot Christmas tree. “No one does Christmas decorations like my mother-in-law,” says Tiffany, who will decorate the tree with treasured ornaments.
Along with the tree, Tiffany will decorate other areas, including a centerpiece for the dining room table. She feels the art of entertaining in the dining room is being lost, but she savors the stories told around the table and the memories being created.
Rose Ann left sets of china and silver for her. Tiffany is enjoying setting the table for entertaining with five generations of china. “I love that I can match hand-painted china from the early 1900s with dishes I received at my wedding,” she says. “There is history in everything in the house.”
While friends tell her she makes entertaining look easy, Tiffany feels it is because she keeps the cooking easy and doesn’t make complicated dishes.
“I think the key to entertaining is just to relax and realize that people are in your home to be with you,” she says, “so the little things don’t matter. I always say people come to be with you, not to look at every square inch of your home. If a dish burns or something is not perfect, it is okay. I think the biggest key to entertaining is giving grace to yourself, and just do it with your heart and not overthink things.”
Being organized, Tiffany sets the table four or five days ahead for a dinner party. There are certain things she keeps on hand for quick appetizers, such as special preserves to serve over cream cheese, meats for charcuterie, pickled vegetables and various cheeses.
She will make the Good for You Nuts in early December and store in an air-tight container to have on hand. When entertaining, she places a bowl of these nuts on the bar.
This year, Tiffany is serving the family an elegant Christmas Eve dinner in the dining room with Foolproof Beef Tenderloin and Mustard Horseradish Sauce for the entrée. She will have all of the food on the menu prepared ahead except the beef tenderloin, which she will roast or Rush will cook on the grill, depending on the weather. She will ask the butcher to trim and tie the tenderloin. She keeps the trimmed scraps for making delicious hamburgers.
Tiffany, who grew up in Clearwater, Fla., has had a love of cooking for as long as she can remember and enjoys adapting recipes. She graduated from Auburn University where she met Rush. While she hopes the boys will enjoy cooking one day, Tiffany is passing on her passion for cooking to Sadie, who already enjoys helping in the kitchen.
Arranging flowers is another of Tiffany’s passions, and she assists a floral designer with weddings. For centerpieces during the Christmas season, she suggests arranging fresh greenery and other materials from the yard. For instance, red berries can be tucked in an arrangement of magnolia leaves.
Other ideas include placing greenery under plates or putting a small cluster of red berries at each place setting to display place cards. For creating festive place cards, she suggests tying place cards with ribbon or writing names on magnolia leaves.
She also suggests filling a bowl with oranges, pomegranates or apples and tucking fresh greenery and cinnamon sticks around the fruit for a seasonal centerpiece during the Christmas season.
On Christmas day, Tiffany and Rush will celebrate in the morning with their children as gifts are opened. She will serve warm cinnamon rolls for breakfast and then a hearty lunch. Family will arrive in the afternoon for a relaxing evening with games around the dining room table.
Their most important tradition at Christmas and Easter as a family is doing something for someone else, whether it is giving gift cards from Wright’s Market or taking food to the police or fire station. “We like to have the opportunity to do something for somebody else,” says Tiffany.
While she enjoys her home and cooking, Tiffany is also a successful businesswoman. In 2010, she marketed her T.Lish Sweet Garlic Vinaigrette. She has now secured a trademark agreement for her product, meaning she has loaned her trademark to a much larger company. She has given them packaging and distribution rights under her supervision. She still owns the brand and retains creative control.
In January, Tiffany is launching a management group for influencers and brands. She will conduct business development using what she has learned from running her own company and consulting with others around the country
“I feel like God is restoring me,” she says. “I have not had this much fun in years. I have contacts all over the country.”
Rush opened The Denson Group, a real estate and design company, on 10th Street in Opelika. They renovated the house and transformed it into an office. Tiffany does design work from this office.
“I am so grateful to be settled after moving here in 2015,” says Tiffany. “Not being settled for three Christmases was hard. I am excited to know this is going to be our home for a long time, and I am starting new traditions. Knowing that I have the opportunity to be in my forever home is a great gift and one I won’t take for granted.”

Cipperly can be contacted at recipes@cipperly.com.

Recipes:

Good-For-You Rosemary Nuts
2 cups pecan halves, unsalted
2 cups shelled walnuts, unsalted
6 oz. whole natural almonds, unsalted
2 ¼ Tbsp. butter, melted
2 Tbsp. crushed dried rosemary
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 tsp. dark brown sugar
4 tsp. kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place all nuts in large bowl. Pour in melted butter and coat well. In a small bowl mix remaining ingredients. Sprinkle rosemary mixture over nuts and mix together well.
Spread nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Toast in oven about 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Be careful not to burn. Serve at room temperature and store in airtight container.

Make-Ahead Hot Artichoke Dip
14-oz. can artichoke hearts, chopped
4-oz. jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
8 oz. good-quality feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup light mayonnaise
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of half lemon
¼ tsp. black pepper
Garnish with basil, optional
Assorted crackers
In a medium-size bowl combine first 7 ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to bake. (This can be done up to 48 hours in advance.)
Place in a lightly greased 1½-quart baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until hot and bubbly. Garnish if desired. Serve with crackers. Note: For a small crowd, I like to bake only half at a time. Makes 4 cups.

Pickled Shrimp
Serves 60 as an hors d’oeuvre
8 lbs. large shrimp, cooked, peeled and deveined (may use frozen; thaw according to package directions)
Marinade:
3 cups white vinegar
3 cups vegetable oil
1 cup olive oil
1 jar (1.5 oz.) pickling spices
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. hot sauce
2 Tbsp. celery seeds
2 ½ Tbsp. grated lemon rind
6 cups very thinly sliced onions
20 bay leaves
8 Tbsp. capers
9 lemons, thinly sliced
Marinade
In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, vegetable oil, olive oil, pickling spices, salt, hot sauce, celery seeds and lemon rind.
Assembly
Place cooked or thawed shrimp in a large container. Pour marinade over shrimp and mix well. Add sliced onions, bay leaves, capers and lemon slices to shrimp. Gently mix to combine. Cover well and refrigerate overnight. Serve slightly chilled.

Bourbon Milk Punch
1½ oz. Kentucky bourbon
2 to 3 oz. whole milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract (use pure vanilla for this)
½ oz. simple syrup
⅛ tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated, as garnish
In a shaker with ice, combine all cocktail ingredients. Shake very well, for at least 30 seconds. Garnish glass rim with the mixture of grated spices.
Pour cocktail into the glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Foolproof Beef Tenderloin with Mustard Horseradish Sauce
1 (4-5 lb.) whole beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
Vegetable oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarse Kosher salt
*Note: Sometimes I add fresh, chopped rosemary to the salt and pepper.
Remove beef from refrigerator and allow to rest for 30 minutes before roasting. Preheat oven to 500 degrees and position rack to center.
Rub meat lightly with oil using your hands. Coat tenderloin well with salt and pepper. Place beef in a shallow roasting pan.
Put in oven and reduce temperature to 450 degrees and roast for 20-30 minutes (22 minutes for rare and 25 minutes for medium rare). Remove meat from oven, cover with foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Remove string and slice. Serves 8 to 10 for a seated dinner.
Mustard Horseradish Sauce
1 cup good mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon (I use Grey Poupon.)
1 Tbsp. whole-grain mustard
3-4 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
½ cup sour cream, not light
¼ tsp. kosher salt
Whisk together all ingredients and serve at room temperature. Can be made ahead.

Garlic Roasted Potatoes
3 lbs. small red or white skinned potatoes (or a mixture)
1/4 cup good olive oil
11/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. (6 cloves) minced garlic
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut potatoes in half or quarters and place in a bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic; toss until the potatoes are well coated.
Dump the potatoes on a baking sheet and spread out into one layer; roast in the oven for at least 1 hour, or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking to ensure even browning.
Remove potatoes from oven, toss with minced parsley, season to taste, and serve.

Favorite Green Beans
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 Tbsp. butter
3-4 cloves garlic
1 lb. fresh green beans
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 cups chicken broth
Drizzle olive oil in the pan and melt butter over medium high heat. Wait for all the butter to melt and look foamy.
Next, add the chopped garlic. Let garlic cook for 2-3 minutes and then add the green beans. Stir them around and get them as flat as possible in the pan. Cook until they turn bright green. Then add some salt and pepper.
Cook for a couple more minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add enough chicken broth to cover them, and stir. Let it come to a rapid boil.
Next, cover beans and turn the heat to medium low, venting the pan so steam can escape. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until most of the chicken broth has cooked out. Serve warm.

Spinach Gratin
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 cups chopped yellow onions
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
5 (10 oz.) pkg. chopped spinach, thawed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
½ cup grated Gruyere cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Melt butter in heavy pan over medium heat. Add onions, cook and stir until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add flour and nutmeg and cook, stirring, 2 more minutes. Add cream and milk and cook until thickened.
Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the spinach to the sauce. Add ½ cup of Parmesan cheese and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer spinach mixture to a baking dish and top with the remaining ½ cup Parmesan and the Gruyere. Bake for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serve immediately. Serves 8-10.

Peppermint Ice Cream Pie
2 (1 oz.) squares semisweet chocolate
½ cup butter
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1 qt. peppermint ice cream, softened
½ cup hot fudge sauce (may purchase)
2 cups whipping cream
½ cup finely crushed hard peppermint candies
Hard peppermint candies, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10 inch pie plate. Melt chocolate and butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.
Using an electric mixer set at medium speed, beat eggs in a large bowl until slightly thickened. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Combine flour and salt and add to eggs along with cooled chocolate mixture. Beat just until blended. Spread batter evenly into prepared pie plate. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until done. Allow to cool completely.
Spoon ice cream into pie crust and freeze one hour. Drizzle fudge sauce over ice cream and swirl gently with knife. Freeze 2-3 hours until firm.
Beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold in crushed peppermint candies. Pipe or spoon whipped cream over frozen pie. Return to freezer for 30 minutes. When ready to serve, let pie stand at room temperature 5-10 minutes before slicing. If desired, garnish with peppermint candies. Serves 8-10.

Sugar’s Pralines
Recipe is from my dear friend Leslie Register who is author of Leslie’s Party Diaries.
1 lb. (1 box) light brown sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 ½ cups pecan halves
In a large microwave-safe bowl, heat sugar and whipping cream on high for 11 to 13 minutes, until hot and bubbly. (Cooking time may vary slightly with microwaves.) Do not let it burn. ( I cook the mixture for 11 minutes in my 1200 watt microwave.)
Remove from microwave, and add butter, combining thoroughly until completely melted. (I like to cut the butter into smaller pieces, to allow it to melt quickly.) Add pecans, and stir to combine.
Drop pecan mixture immediately onto wax paper with a spoon or small measuring cup.

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