Tiffany Denson creates cheese, dessert boards at The Gallery on Railroad

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By Ann Cipperly

A few days before Christmas, Tiffany Denson of Opelika was at The Gallery on Railroad giving demonstrations on how to create stunning cheese and dessert boards in just a few minutes without doing any cooking. While Tiffany had collected cheeses and fresh items at the grocery store, the boards and other ingredients were found at the downtown shop, owned and operated by Debbie Purves.
Tiffany, who has a love for entertaining, is the creator of T.Lish Sweet Garlic Vinaigrette and owns a management group for brands. Tiffany and her husband, Rush, live in the Northside Historic District with their three children. The son of Rose Ann and Judge John Denson, Rush grew up in the 1913 house, and his children are the fifth generation to reside in the historic home.
Growing up in Clearwater, Fla., Tiffany 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 their sons, Rush Jr. and Quinn, will enjoy cooking one day, she is passing on her passion for cooking to daughter Sadie, who already enjoys helping in the kitchen.
When Tiffany arrived at The Gallery for her demonstrations, she selected a couple of wooden boards in the shop, along with an assortment of jams, preserves, stuffed red peppers, olives and pastry cups.
For the cheese platters, she picked two boards. On the first cheese and charcuterie board, she placed a small square dish and poured in a jar of drained stuffed red peppers. She then placed two cheeses, herbed Havarti and half of a brie circle. A jar of sour cherry jam was placed between these cheeses with crackers in front.
On the other side of the board, she added folded slices of salami and rolls of prosciutto.
Then Tiffany filled in with cubes of cheddar, Colby and pepper jack cheeses and candied peanuts. A pear was placed near the meats, while orange wedges and sprigs of rosemary were tucked along the edges for garnish.
On the second cheese board, Tiffany placed a dish of stuffed olives, the other half of Brie, Drunken Goat cheese and chevre rolled in fresh herbs. A jar of hot pepper cranberry jelly was placed near the cheeses along with two kinds of crackers.
She filled in with fresh raspberries, cubes of cheddar, Colby and pepper jack, rolls of prosciutto candied peanuts. Orange wedges and sprigs of rosemary finished the board.
To create the dessert board, Tiffany placed a row of fruit pastries from the grocery on one side, then a row of raspberries. For the next row, she put sour cherry jam in pastry tart shells and finished with a row of peanut brittle.
The handsome dessert board took less than ten minutes, and all of the items were from the grocery and The Gallery.
Debbie, the gallery owner, grew up in Opelika and had a desire to stay in her hometown. After college, she began considering a career that would allow her to stay in Opelika. Her father, Dr. Ken Strother, asked her if she would be interested in having a frame shop. She immediately thought how wonderful it would be to have an art gallery.

Dr. Strother found the location in downtown Opelika. Debbie and her mother, Carolyn, attended framing classes and opened the business in 1980. After her parents moved to the lake and her father passed away, Debbie began running the shop on her own. Her mother passed away last year.

Since opening over 30 years ago, the shop has evolved and expanded from an art gallery to including art for the table and home.

Debbie and her husband, Dr. George Purves, enjoy traveling, especially to Italy, France and England to visit his family. Art is collected from trips and art shows. Over the years, Debbie has developed a love of European influenced art and accessories.

Her shop features an array of sparkling glasses, serving dishes, wooden bowls and numerous other items for creating a chic setting for entertaining. She also offers a wide selection of food items for creating dishes in minutes. Recipe cards are grouped with many of the food items.

The shop is ideal for those who enjoy entertaining but don’t have the time to do a great deal of cooking. Debbie can provide suggestions on assembling trays quickly.

While Debbie enjoys cooking, she credits George with preparing most of the meals. Many times they will cook together. “He loves to cook,” she says. “He taught himself and is an excellent cook and finds cooking to be a relaxing hobby.”

Debbie and Tiffany are sharing their quick and easy party dishes. These recipes are great for entertaining New Year’s Day, for watching bowl games, upcoming professional playoff games or offering hospitality to family and friends anytime.

Cipperly can be contacted at recipes@cipperly.com.

Recipes:

Favorite Pairings For A Cheese Board
Tiffany Denson
Drunken Goat cheese with fresh honey
Chevre rolled in fresh herbs with lemon zest
Havarti with dill and specialty pickles and olives
Brie with fig or cranberry preserves
Fontina cheese with strawberries
Aged cheddar with honeycrisp apples

Easy Pecan and Cheddar Spread with Pepper Jelly
Tiffany Denson
Serve with thin wheat crackers
2 (10.5 oz.) jars red pepper jelly 
1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped
3/4 green onions, thinly sliced
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar (I shred my own)
Stir together the first 4 ingredients in large mixing bowl. Cover and chill. Garnish with green onions and serve with thin wheat crackers. Can be made a day ahead and keeps well in refrigerator for 4-6 days. 

Hot Cheese Bites
Tiffany Denson
2 cups (8 oz.) sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup (2 oz.) slivered almonds
6 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
1 small onion, grated
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 (8 oz.) jar good mayonnaise
½ loaf good quality white bread (I use Pepperidge Farm.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix together cheese, almonds, bacon, onion, Worcestershire and mayonnaise.
Remove crusts from bread and cut each slice into 4 triangles or squares. Spread one side with cheese mixture.
Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned. Serve immediately. Makes about 40 bites.
Note: These freeze well. Before baking, place cheese bites in single layer on cookie sheet and freeze. When hard, remove from cookie sheet and put in large freezer bag. Store in freezer until needed.

Fig and Blue Cheese Rounds
Debbie Purves
You can mix it up and use cheddar with pear preserves!
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick butter, softened
4 oz crumbled blue cheese
Fresh ground black pepper
Fig preserves
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Blend flour, butter, blue cheese and black pepper (to taste) in food processor until dough starts to form a ball.
On a floured surface, knead dough a few times just to pull it together. Roll dough into a 1/8-inch thick circle. Cut 1-inch rounds with a cookie cutter and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Reroll scraps (no more than one time) and cut more rounds.
Use back of teaspoon (or thumb) to make a little bowl in each round. Spoon about 1/4 tsp. fig preserves in each bowl.
Bake until preserves are bubbling and pastry is golden on the bottom, 10 – 12 minutes. Let cool for about 15 minutes on baking sheet then move to wire rack to finish cooling. Yum!

Balsamic Strawberries
Debbie Purves
Great in a salad but fabulous with assorted cheeses!
3 ½ cups sliced fresh strawberries
¼ cup sugar
1½ Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Mix all ingredients together in glass bowl. Let stand at room temperature until juices form (1 – 3 hours).

Simple Curry Dip
Tiffany Denson
1 cup good mayonnaise (I use Duke’s.)
3 Tbsp. ketchup
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. grated onion
1 Tbsp. curry powder
Dash of kosher salt and hot sauce
Stir together and serve with fresh sliced raw veggies.

Easy Sugared Jalapeños
Tiffany Denson
1 (12 oz.) jar sliced jalapeños (in pickle section of store)
1 cup sugar
Zest of 2 limes
Drain jalapeños.  Stir together with sugar and lime zest. Return to jar. Refrigerate for a week and shake the jar occasionally to combine. I keep a jar in my fridge all the time as it will last for several weeks. 

Marinated Olives
Debbie Purves
1 pint Kalamata olives
1 pint green olives
1 large yellow onion, sliced
4 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup extra vinegar olive oil
2 tsp. dried thyme
3 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. fresh cracked pepper
3 tsp. kosher salt
Mix all ingredients together and marinate in the refrigerator for several days. May be served chilled or warmed accompanied with a good crusty bread.

Chicken and Wine
Debbie Purves
Can prepare ahead and freeze.
Olive or canola oil
1 pkg. deboned chicken thighs, cut in quarters and dry
Flour, salt and pepper for dredging chicken
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup carrots ,chopped
6-8 garlic cloves, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
3 cups red wine
1 lb. whole mushrooms
Bouquet garni
Bay leaves
Add salt and pepper to flour and coat chicken. Heat oil in pan. Add chicken and sauté until browned. (we use a cast iron Dutch oven). Remove chicken to a plate. wipe out pan and add new oil. Sauté  onion, carrots, garlic and celery until soft. Add chicken back to pan. Add tomatoes, broth and wine (until it covers the chicken). Add bouquet garni and bay leaves and cook covered in the oven on 300 for 2 -2 1/2 hours. 
In a separate pan, sauté mushrooms until they are about halfway soft and add to chicken about halfway through the cooking time. (This keeps them from over cooking.) Remove bouquet garni and bay leaves before serving.  Good served over mashed potatoes.

Roasted Nuts with Rosemary
Tiffany Denson
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.

Hot Artichoke Dip
Tiffany Denson
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
Tiffany Denson
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.

Festive Margaritas
Tiffany Denson  
(For about 16-18 drinks in rocks glasses)
7.5 cups cranberry Juice
2 cups pomegranate Juice
1 cup lime Juice
1 cup Cointreau
4 cups tequila (I like clear agave tequila.)
Note: It may be easier to find pomegranate and cranberry juice mixed together already. Plain pomegranate juice is harder to find. You can use 5 cups cranberry juice and 4 cups cranberry/pomegranate juice. You just don’t want equal parts pomegranate and cranberry juice in total in this recipe as it doesn’t taste as good.
Mix all ingredients (except the frozen cranberries) together with a large spoon.
Chill the mixture in your refrigerator for a couple of hours prior to serving if time allows.
Serve mixture on ice. I set a bowl of ice next to my beverage dispenser so guests could easily fill their glasses. If you add ice to the mixture directly, it will get too watered-down.

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