Come and Get It

Master craftsman at new culinary, craft school
demonstrates her love of cooking and new opportunities.

By Deborah Reinhardt Palmer

With the sound of sausage sizzling in a skillet and the aroma of pumpkin and spices wafting from the saucepan simmering on a stove, Debbie Dance Uhrig explains to her attentive audience her cooking philosophy.

Debbie Dance Uhrig

Top: Debbie Dance Uhrig

Bottom: The demonstration kitchen at Silver Dollar City’s Culinary & Craft School is a welcoming space. Silver Dollar City photos


“I’m not an exact measurer, once I’ve made it a few times,” she says. “Simple, simple. You don’t have to struggle in the kitchen.”

Uhrig is the master craftsman of culinary arts for Silver Dollar City’s new Culinary and Craft School that opened in September. On a recent Friday morning, she was making Pumpkin Sausage Soup for the class of about 30 guests.

She refers to the demonstration kitchen as “the house” and her warmth radiates throughout the large room filled with items created by other master craftsmen at Silver Dollar City. Uhrig goes through a mental list giving credit to the coppersmith, potter and carpenter for their contributions.

As she pulls the soup together, she offers tips: don’t buy a pumpkin that weighs more than five pounds for cooking; try the manchego cheese grated on the top–it’s wonderful. The idea of the cheese came after she’d made the soup a few times.

“The first time you make something, stick to the recipe. Then tweak it,” she says.

Uhrig invites a guest to help her grate this aromatic cheese to garnish the soup, for which the class is eagerly waiting. They share cooking stories as they work side-by-side. There’s not a lot of hands-on opportunities in the class, but Uhrig tries to involve a guest when she can.

After dishing out samples of the wonderful, comforting soup–which Uhrig says is a Thanksgiving staple at her home–she moves on to the next recipe, her grandma’s apple salad. As she deftly slices apples that are soaking in diluted pineapple juice (it helps the apples keep their fresh color), Uhrig shares a family story of how she and other grandkids loved this salad because they got the leftover orange candy that is diced into the mix. In just a few minutes, she is passing out samples of the crunchy, sweet salad to the class, which now seems more like a room full of friends.

Recipes are shared, thank-you-for-coming farewells are offered, and Uhrig sticks around to talk to a few guests who want to say hello or ask for an autographed copy of her cookbook, “Simply Yours.”

After the kitchen clears, I confess to Uhrig that she has my dream job. She smiles, knowingly, and says “I have every woman’s dream job. And it’s a God thing how I got to be here.”

This native Missourian was working as a music educator in Kansas City up until late summer this year. Along with teaching and performing, Uhrig added cooking education and catering to her busy life. She wrote cooking columns for local papers, penned a cookbook and taught cooking classes under her business name The Covered Dish.

In the spring, Uhrig, upon visiting Silver Dollar City with family, contacted the administrative offices about selling her cookbook in their gift shops. Discussions led to an interview for the position, and by mid-July, she accepted the job.

“I love to cook, I love to teach and I love to entertain, so the culinary classes will include great recipes, easy-to-follow instructions, delicious samples and a lot of fun,” Uhrig says.

The plan seems to be working, as Uhrig already sees repeat guests in her kitchen, which has been open about a month. Seeing folks come back is one of the rewards to her new job. One of the challenges is coming up with inventive recipes that various guests will enjoy. Next year, she’s introducing dishes for vegetarians and for people with dietary needs. Next year also will offer a greater variety of dishes in the culinary classes, and of course, the craft classes will alternate with cooking in the same space.

But for the remainder of this year, Uhrig is working on recipes to include pies, cookies, pumpkin and harvest skillets, a perfect blend for the upcoming holidays.

When asked about her favorite holiday and recipe, Uhrig quickly replied “Thanksgiving” and “seafood casserole,” something a bit unexpected. And she shared perhaps one of the most important tips for a hostess.

“Allow your guests to have ownership of the meal,” she says. “They have ownership if they are allowed to participate and bring something or help.

“When I prepare for a performance, I select a piece of music the audience will recognize. It gives them something to hook into.”

Whoa. A lightbulb moment for those of us who always say “oh no, you don’t have to bring anything.” I learned something this morning.

“Learning is an everyday thing,” Uhrig says with a smile.

Deborah Reinhardt Palmer is managing editor for AAA Midwest Traveler and AAA Southern Traveler magazines.


Nov/Dec 2008 Issue

Cooking School Exterior
The new Culinary & Craft School. Silver Dollar City photo


Classes cost $10 in addition to park admission and reservations are required. For more information about Silver Dollar City’s new culinary school, visit or call (800) 831-4FUN.

Click here to purchase discounted Silver Dollar City tickets, or click here to learn about discounts to other Branson shows or attractions.

See Ozark Mountain Oasis
Treat yourself and a friend to a weekend in Branson at the Chateau on the Lake

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card, found online at

Pumpkin Sausage Soup

1 pound of sausage (turkey sausage saves fat and calories)
1 cup of finely chopped onion
2 1/2 cups of chicken broth
2 cups canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cups of cream, warmed (fat-free half & half works well)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup packed brown sugar (could substitute Splenda® brown sugar)
Grated manchego cheese for top of soup (could also use minced parsley)

Brown and finely crumble the sausage in a skillet. Drain sausage. Saute the onion in the sausage drippings.

Mix all ingredients until well-blended and heat in a saucepan or crock pot until thoroughly warm. Sprinkle parsley or manchego cheese (which tastes like toasted pecans) on top when serving.

Like many soups, this recipe tastes better the second day when the sausage has flavored the pumpkin and vice versa. I find this soup is best served before the main course.

Serves 6–8 one-cup portions

Pumpkin Carrot Cake Cheesecake

For carrot cake: 1 box Duncan Hines® Decadent Carrot Cake (reserve 1/2 cup of dry mix, set aside)
1 cup hot tap water (for soaking carrots and raisins)
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Soak carrots and raisins in 1 cup hot tap water, allow to stand for 5 minutes. Drain and squeeze out excess water from carrots and raisins. In a mixing bowl, add dry mix (reserve 1/2 cup), eggs, oil. Ad well-drained carrots and raisins and nuts. Mix well by hand. Spread 2 cups of carrot cake on bottom of greased 9-inch springform pan. Reserve remaining carrot cake.

For cheesecake: 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
3 large eggs
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup reserved dry cake mix
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, eggs and sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Add remaining ingredients (brown sugar, pumpkin, dry cake mix). Spread half of the cheesecake batter on top of the carrot cake. Spoon on remaining carrot cake and top with remaining cheesecake batter. Do not marble with knife. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 50–60 minutes or until cake is set and cooked through. Cool to room temperature. When cake is cooked, frost cake with cream cheese frosting. Refrigerate for 3 hours and serve chilled. Decorate as desired.

For frosting: 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon butter (softened)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Beat cream cheese, butter, vanilla and milk until smooth. Beat in powdered sugar until smooth. Frost top of cheesecake.

Apple Salad

For salad: Granny Smith and Gala apples (estimate the number of apples to the number of servings you need)
1 can of pineapple tidbits in juice
Jellied orange candy slices, diced
Miniature marshmallows
Chopped nuts, such as pecans
Core and quarter apples. Drain pineapple and save the juice. Set aside. Mix juice with water, enough to cover apples. White soda also works well. The juice or soda keeps apples from turning brown. Slice apples and add pineapple, nuts, marshmallows and candy.

For dressing: 1 regular size tub of Cool Whip
1/4 teaspoon maple extract
Cream or milk, enough to dilute the Cool Whip into a dressing consistency
Mix ingredients and pour over salad. Toss, chill and serve.

Pumpkin sausage soup

Kitchen tips from
Debbie Dance Uhrig

• Keep a box of vinyl gloves in the kitchen to use when handling raw chicken or other meats, or when working with rubs and spices. In addition to being sanitary, the gloves will keep stains and scents from your skin.

• To keep sliced apples from turning color, soak apples in white soda.

• Holiday pie crusts will look neater if you find a pie pan that will fit inside the pan in which you bake the pie. Place the crust in the baking pan, put a piece of aluminum foil over crust and place a smaller pan on top of the foil. The pan will weight the bottom and keep the sides from burning or turning up.

• A low-calorie option to pumpkin pie is also easy to make. Prepare the pumpkin filling according to directions on the can (or however you make filling). Instead of spooning filling into crust, spoon into custard cups. Bake in a 350-degree oven using a water bath until filling is set, about 45 minutes. Cool and top with a dollop of whipped cream or fat-free or sugar-free Cool Whip.

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