Alison Ball shares party tips, food planning and more in time for the holidays and beyond.
When the holidays come around, parties, invitations and entertaining are top of mind. For some, that’s a tense time to navigate, but for California-based lifestyle and cooking personality Alison Ball, ‘tis the season for prepping and planning ahead to take the stress off. With simple touches, such as using a twig of rosemary for a napkin arrangement, to trusted hostess tips to include creating large cheese and fruit boards for party platters, she shares her insights on holiday foods and regaling guests at upcoming festivities.
“I came up with the concept of entertaining with soulful healthy food for family and friends while staying on a budget,” Ball says. “I am like everybody else, a hardworking businesswoman, middle class, but I believe you can still have a fabulous home and cook and entertain on a budget.” The music record executive with prior experience working for big industry names such as Warner Bros. Records, RCA Records and EMI Music, reinvented herself as Ali in the Valley, with a blog by the same name, where she shares her passion for homegrown cooking.
Building from the Basics
Ball began blogging close to a decade ago, sharing a new recipe weekly on her site and later began experimenting with video content on YouTube in the last two to three years. After she took on her latest professional role as the president of a music technology company firm, she decided to focus the blog on her passion for healthy cooking and entertaining at home. “My home is an environment for relaxation, but also creative output,” says Ball of her San Fernando Valley Bohemian-style residence. She works from home, as does her husband, a dog trainer to celebrities and stars.
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Ball’s prior experience in the music industry, she admits, somewhat contributes to her comfort on camera. “Now I apply that to myself for the Ali in the Valley cooking show, but I also have another show coming next year called Ali’s House Jam,” she shares. The new concept is part cooking show, part music performance, where she will invite artists to join her, cook for them while they perform, and talk a bit about artist development and her expertise in the music industry. Ball’s two children, aged 16 and 13, are sometimes featured on her shows.
On Food and Travel
“I am a skilled home cook and a believer that we are always learning, so I am always applying myself into learning something. My next goal is to go to Italy and France and do a couple of cooking classes,” Ball adds. Among her influences, she credits television personality Martha Stewart, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, and an old boss, Chef Gordon, from the music business, with helping create the movement of chefs becoming celebrities and having their own brands and products.
Ball's modern farmhouse has vegetable gardens, including an atrium with a cocktail garden full of herbs such as cilantro, mint, basil and sage. She swears that using just one fresh herb in every one of your recipes will do the trick. If making soup or pasta, add chopped parsley for flavor. Use cilantro on fish or guacamole for a kick that changes the meal. Plus, eating at home saves more money and allows for healthier dining options. “I use garlic and onion daily in almost every meal,” she shares.
On the travel front, her inspiration is the late Anthony Bourdain. Ball herself is quite the travel enthusiast. For Thanksgiving, she will be in Egypt for the first time. Among her favorite places to visit is Tulum, Mexico for its fresh food and Bohemian spirit. Her favorite city is Paris, and though most of her travel slants are professional, she tries to make the most of her many business trips. Recent destinations she enjoyed visiting were foodie spots such as Singapore and Malaysia.
Entertaining and Party Planning
With entertaining being her strong suit, Ball rattles away her plans for the upcoming holiday season. For Thanksgiving, she prepares a traditional herb or deep-fried turkey and sometimes both, depending on the number of guests. The menu includes oyster stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, Southern-style collard greens, maple-glazed ham, fresh cranberry sauce, dinner rolls and root vegetables. Her mac and cheese with three different types of cheeses will be in the form of a Bundt cake so guests can cut slices — unusual yet yummy.
For Christmas, she turns to a big pot of gumbo and black-eyed peas. Ball also prepares a signature double deep-fried chicken — the chicken is covered in Cajun seasoning, soaked in buttermilk for two days in a refrigerator, air-dried and then placed in a deep fryer. “The skin on this chicken is so good, nobody can touch me!” she says. Fresh flowers add to the décor as do edible arrangements for centerpieces — think pumpkins and squash, lemons and limes, or other current seasonal produce for tablescapes.
Up next, Ball is taking her show into the podcast arena. Her YouTube channel was recently picked up on GFNTV, a live streaming and subscription video on-demand service offering live concerts, movies, documentaries and hit shows. Another platform her content will soon play on is Ova-TV, a channel targeting the urban female audience. She is also changing up the format of her Ali in the Valley cooking show to feature more guests who share their style of cooking so audiences can learn with her. Along with that, she hopes to build a community for women of multicultural backgrounds. “I’m here to show that if you put your goals and dreams together, there’s nothing you can’t do.”
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