Donna Alberti knows how to make a delicious meal with five ingredients or less — a skill she’s taught scores of students and adults. She now owns and operated Savor by Chef D in West Liberty. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Donna Alberti knows cooking can be intimidating. She readily admits that, up until a few years ago, she didn’t know how to cook much unless it came from a box or a can.
“I have always loved to eat, but I wasn’t very picky in what I chose to eat. Just the basics, meat, starch and vegetables.”
Fast forward several years, and Alberti is not only a much more experienced cook but now shares her love of cooking with others, even the least adventurous among us.
Her food journey started when the North Carolina native and her family moved to West Liberty in 2003. At her husband’s urging, she decided to pursue a degree at Kirkwood Community College.
“I thought that it would be in accounting because I love math, numbers and spreadsheets. However, I took a continuing ed class offered by Kirkwood, I believe the name of the class was Culinary Experience (which involved cooking a four-course meal), and after the second class, I was hooked.”
A culinary degree from Kirkwood followed, and Alberti began teaching students of all ages how to cook.
“I graduated from Kirkwood in 2015 with no intention of really using my new knowledge for anything other than cooking delicious food for my husband,” Alberti said. “I was asked about a year or two later to teach summer camp cooking classes at Kirkwood and decided to share what I had learned with the next generation of chefs.”
Her experience teaching kids was so fulfilling, she said yes when the college asked her to teach the same sort of classes for adults.
“I thought it can’t be any harder than teaching kids,” Alberti said. “Sharing my love of cooking and food with other foodies has been amazing.”
Alberti has taught a five-ingredient cooking class, playing off a trend that includes a variety of national four-ingredient and five-ingredient cookbooks.
Her class contradicts the notion that tasty recipes have to have a long list of ingredients or be overly complicated to make.
In class, she’s able to show students how easy it can be to make hearty dishes like beef stroganoff and chicken pot pie or something more light, like a pesto shrimp pasta or a sun-dried tomato chicken.
Alberti says students often ask why so many recipes call for so many ingredients.
“Reading the recipe through completely, most of the ingredients are your normal pantry items, salt, pepper and such things,” she said.
In putting together the five-ingredient-or-less cooking class, “I started researching and brainstorming some new ideas and came up with some recipes,” she said. “The class was very popular and was always full.”
Perhaps Alberti’s Southern charm is what resonates with her students.
“I come from a long line of Southern women who could cook such amazing comfort soul food,” she said.
She grew up in Wallace, N.C., “a small East Coast town where you know everyone.”
As the oldest of four siblings, her two sisters and brother now call her for cooking tips and advice.
“All the girls can cook, but I get a lot of calls now asking questions about temperatures or cook times. It is a great bonding topic!”
Her husband’s job as plant manager of West Liberty Foods landed her in the Midwest, where her down-to-earth approach to cooking resonates with others.
“I enjoy sharing my knowledge with everyone. I believe it’s a great stress reliever,” she said. “Go in the kitchen, turn on some music, do some chopping and sautéing, and create a masterpiece! What is really cool is being able to recreate an old recipe or create a new one.”
Favorites & tips
Her favorite recipes?
“I have several items that I love to cook, such as pan-seared scallops, duck breast and risotto,” she said. “A big hit around my house is shrimp fettuccine Alfredo.”
And she’s willing to reveal some of her tips, even if you’re not a student in her class.
“A secret to a really good Alfredo is to grate the Parmesan yourself,” she said. “Pre-shredded will make your sauce salty.”
Now, a restaurant
For the time being, Alberti’s instructing is on hold.
She and a business partner, who happens to be a baker, opened Savor by Chef D serving Sweet Life by Stacie in January.
The restaurant, at 100 East Third St. in West Liberty, is open Monday and Friday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Saturdays, it is open from 7 a.m. to noon for breakfast only.
The restaurant serves classic American comfort food for breakfast and lunch, with a bakery selection of sweets, including cupcakes, cinnamon rolls and cakes.
Specialties include “delicious cheeseburgers, with flavor throughout the bite, and our smoked Gouda mac and cheese.”
Much like Alberti’s cooking classes, the cupcakes and cinnamon rolls always sell out.
1 (8 ounce) package egg noodles
1 pound ground beef
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Prepare the egg noodles according to package directions and set aside.
2. In a separate large skillet, sauté the ground beef over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes or until browned.
3. Drain the fat and add the soup and garlic powder. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Remove from heat and combine the meat mixture with the egg noodles. Add the sour cream, stirring well, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Donna Alberti stirs a batch of Alfredo sauce for the day’s special at Savor by Chef D serving Sweet Life by Stacie in West Liberty. The trick — grate your own Parmesan. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
8 ounces uncooked fettuccine
1 pound shrimp (31-40 count size) thawed & peeled, tails optional
2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces cream cheese softened and cut into smaller pieces
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Take cream cheese out of the frig so it has a chance to soften.
2. Prep your shrimp.
3. Cook pasta according to package directions.
4. Meanwhile, add the butter, cream cheese, cream, chicken broth and garlic to a skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and the pan has heated up, use a spoon to help the cream cheese melt into the sauce.
5. When the cream cheese has been incorporated into the sauce, let it gently bubble for 5 minutes until the sauce has somewhat reduced.
6. Stir the Parmesan into the sauce. Let it cook for about a minute.
7. Add the shrimp to the pan. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
8. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Toss with the drained pasta and serve immediately.
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 (14.5 ounce) carton Campbell’s Sweet Onion Soup
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Thoroughly mix the beef, breadcrumbs, egg and 1/4 cup soup in a large bowl. Season with salt and black pepper, if desired.
3. Shape the beef mixture into a 10×4-inch loaf.
4. Cut the loaf crosswise into 6 mini meatloaves. Place the mini meatloaves, cut-side down, into a 13x9x2-inch baking dish.
5. Pour the remaining soup over the meatloaves.
6. Bake for 25 minutes or until the meatloaves are cooked through.
1/2 cup butter, cubed
2 pounds red potatoes, halved
1 tablespoon minced onion, or to taste
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place butter in a large baking dish and melt in preheating oven.
2. Toss potatoes and onion in melted butter to coat.
3. Bake in preheated oven until potatoes are tender, about 40 minutes. Sprinkle parsley over potatoes and season with salt and pepper; toss.
Donna Alberti puts the finishing touches on a chicken and fruit salad at her restaurant in West Liberty. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Donna Alberti’s chicken and fruit salad (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Chicken Alfredo with a garlic cheddar biscuit served at Donna Alberti’s restaurant in West Liberty. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)