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Sweet secrets

MU chef shares tips and favorite recipes for holiday entertaining

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  • Story by Nancy Moen
  • Photos by Shane Epping
  • Published: Dec. 19, 2011
Daniel Pliska

Chef Daniel Pliska is the executive chef for the University Club of Missouri and University Catering.

When he removes his chef’s hat after work, Daniel Pliska, executive chef of the University Club of Missouri and of University Catering, operates like the rest of us in the kitchen.

At work he directs a staff of 35-40 in a bustling, professional kitchen. To encourage future chefs and cooks, he recruits students from area community colleges, high schools and Mizzou’s Hospitality Management program. The students serve as apprentices, interns and cooks.

Pliska has cooked for dignitaries, movie stars and politicians, including the House of Representatives, whose members sampled his venison pâté.

Since 1998, his mainstay diners have been members and guests of MU’s University Club, where the New Year’s Eve dinner promises to be extraordinary (see sidebar).

But in the more laid-back atmosphere of his kitchen at home, Pliska looks for shortcuts and easy entertaining, especially during the hectic holidays.

Let’s cook

Entertaining doesn’t need to be a big production, Pliska says. “I love to cook, even at home, and I spend my time on one or two most important items.”

For holiday cooking, the Pliska household’s significant item is often roast duck à l'orange. Pliska makes duck liver and apple pâté appetizers to enjoy while cooking the main course, and he uses leftovers for duck risotto the next day.

A Pliska favorite course for a buffet-style meal with multiple offerings is his mini-lamb burgers with goat cheese.  

Making it easy

Daniel Pliska

Chef Daniel Pliska puts the finishing touches on a gingerbread house to be displayed in the University Club dining room. He bakes almond horns (foreground) in the German tradition; see the recipe below. 

Pliska’s advice for easy holiday entertaining at home is to keep things as simple as possible while having fun with your guests:

  • Put nice aromas in the air: Use holiday flavors of cinnamon, orange, nutmeg and vanilla.
  • Make cooking the entertainment: Invite guests to share appetizers and drinks while you cook together. Pliska makes one or two favorite dips to serve with quality crackers or French bread croustades.
  • Use time wisely: Concentrate on preparing just two or three signature items, whether those be main courses or sweets. If they’re labor intensive, buy whatever else you need for the meal. Consider making some items ahead and freezing them.
  • Serve quality products: Buy the best quality ingredients you can afford.
  • Create an attractive table display: Centerpieces can be as easy as a trio of tall glass vases filled with fruit — clementines, walnuts and cranberries work well — combined with silver balls and pine cones. 
  • Incorporate festive serving utensils: Use decorative picks to liven things up. Appetizers look great skewered on the picks and displayed on trays. 

Let’s bake

In a pastry textbook scheduled for 2012 publication, Pliska will share the skills he has perfected during his 32-year career.

With his background in German baking and pastries, Pliska considers German Christmas cookies the “best in the world.” So, at this time of year, he consults his file of German cookie recipes.

These tempting, crescent-shaped almond horns are appropriate all year long.

See the beauty of Chef Pliska’s creations, learn about his training, read his publications and enjoy more recipes at


Almond Horns

By Chef Daniel Pliska
Yield 24 to 30 horns


  • 16 ounces almond paste
  • 9 ounces granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 pound sliced almonds
  • 1 ½ pounds melted tempered chocolate for dipping


  1. Break up almond paste into walnut size pieces and blend with the sugar and ½ of the egg whites on low speed in a mixing machine with the paddle attachment until smooth.
  2. Add the rest of the egg whites, lemon zest and mix until smooth.
  3. Pipe out of a pastry bag fitted with a straight tip onto the sliced almonds, roll in the almonds and form into horns.
  4. Place onto a non-stick baking pan or a silcon baking mat and bake at 375F for 12 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown.
  5. Remove from the oven and cool.
  6. Dip into tempered chocolate or chocolate coating, let set and serve.

Mini Lamb Burgers

with Roma Tomato and Goat Cheese

By Chef Daniel Pliska
Yield: 14-16 mini burgers


  • 1 1/2 pounds ground lean lamb
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (80/20)
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 16 slices roma tomatoes
  • 8 ounces goat cheese
  • 16 basil leaves
  • 14 to 16 silver dollar rolls


  1. Sautee the onions and the garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent (blonde).
  2. Le the onions and garlic cool. Then mix together thoroughly with the meat, herbs, eggs, bread crumbs and spices.
  3. Form 14-16 patties and grill until temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Then remove from the grill.
  4. Top the burgers with the roma tomato slices, basil and the goat cheese.
  5. Return to the grill until cheese is melted.
  6. Served on the silver dollar rolls (can be served with a good garlic aioli).

Roast Duck a l'Orange

By Chef Daniel Pliska
Yield: 3 to 4 portions


  • 1 whole duck, 5 to 6 pounds
  • 2 tablespoons duck roasting spice (recipe to follow)
  • 3 oranges
  • 1 apple
  • 1 onion peeled and diced
  • 1 carrot, cut in half-inch pieces
  • 1 rib celery, cut in half-inch pieces
  • Sauce
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 cups duck stock (Made with the duck wings, neck and ½ cup of mirepoix, 3 sprigs parsley, and water or chicken broth)
  • Corn starch slurry (cornstarch mixed with equal parts water) to thicken
  • Duck Roasting spice
  • 1 tablespoon ground bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon ground thyme
  • 1 tablespoon rubbed sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoons ground mace
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt or course sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper

Method for duck roasting spice
Blend all together in coffee grinder and store in a sealed jar.

Method for duck

  1. Remove the liver, neck, and gizzards from the duck. Rinse the duck well.
  2. Place the duck neck into a roasting pan. Cut off the wing bones at the second joint and place them into the pan with the onion, celery, and carrot (this is called Mirepoix). Discard the gizzards.
  3. Season the duck inside the cavity and on the outside with 2 tablespoons duck roasting spice.
  4. Cut the apple and one orange into quarters and stuff into the cavity. Then, place the duck  into the roasting pan on the mirepoix breast side down.
  5. Prick the duck skin around the legs and breast with a fork. This will help to allow the duck fat to be rendered out of the duck while it is roasting.
  6. Roast in a preheated oven at 300°F for 1 ½ hours.
  7. Remove the duck from the oven and place it on a platter. Drain the fat into a small pot.
  8. Remove the wing bones and the neck and place into another pot. Add the mirepoix and parsley and bring to a simmer while the duck finishes roasting to make a stock that will be used for the sauce. 
  9. Turn the duck over and roast for another 45 minutes at 300°F.
  10. Remove the duck from the oven and drain off the fat again into the small pot. Then, increase the temperature of the oven to 400°F and return the duck to the oven breast side up. Continue to roast and crisp up the skin for 20 to 30 minutes. The duck is done when the leg joints are loose and the skin is crisp. When done, remove from the oven and place onto a platter until the sauce and all of the side dishes are ready. De-glaze the roasting pan with some of the stock and then strain back into the stock pot.
  11. While the duck is roasting, clarify the fat in the small pot over low heat until it is clear and all the liquid is boiled away. Strain into a bowl. (This fat can be used to cook the rosti potatoes for a side dish and is also excellent to cook green beans or cabbage. Reserve left over fat in the refrigerator for the risotto.)

Method for the sauce

  1. Grate about one teaspoon of orange zest from one of the oranges. Then, cut the oranges in half and juice them into a bowl through a strainer. This should yield about a ½ cup.
  2. Mix together the sugar, vinegar, and orange zest in a small saucepot. Then, cook over medium high heat until a light caramel color is reached (this is called a Gastrique).
  3. Off the stove, add the Grand Marnier. Return to the stove and reduce by half.
  4. Add the orange juice and repeat the third step.
  5. Add two cups strained duck stock and reduce by half.
  6. Thicken with the cornstarch slurry, and while cooking, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Add more Grand Marnier if desired to taste. The sauce should yield about 1 ½ cups.
  7. Pour into a bowl and serve with the roasted duck.

Method for service

  1. Prepare the side dishes while the duck is cooking.
  2. When the sauce is prepared and all of the sides are ready, return the duck to the oven if needed to heat up.
  3. Carve the duck into pieces and serve with the sides. If desired, use the leftover duck carcass to make a duck risotto for the next day or later in the week.

New Year’s Eve Menu 2011

A menu by Chef Daniel


Opening Act

Blue Point Oysters 3 ways

Bienville with Creamed Blue Crab, Rockefeller with Spinach and Béarnaise Sauce, Muscovite with Beurre Blanc and Sturgeon Caviar


Arborio Rice Arancini with Braised Kurobuta Pork Shank and Crispy Belly with Black Trumpet Mushrooms


Stuffed Manchester Farms Boneless Quail with Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Royal Gala Apples in a Potato Nest




Cream of Sweet potato and Orange soup with Creole Spiced Shrimp and Fried Mustard Greens


Green Salad with Baby Bibb, Red Oak and Lollo Rosso with pomegranate dressing and Fried Goats beard Farm Cheese in an Almond Crust



 Cranberry Granite with blood orange sorbet and Clementine Crisp




Campo Lindo Farms Roasted Stuffed Chicken Ballotine

Boneless Sliced whole chicken with Burgers Ham, Moral Mushrooms, Artichoke and Fontina Cheese


Duo of Braised Short Ribs with Fried Parsnips and Beef Tenderloin with Black truffle butter on a Brioche Croustade


Pan Roasted Black Cod with Pacific Steamer Clams and Dungeness Crab

Presented on stewed Tomatoes, leeks and Fennel laced with Tarragon Chive butter



Dessert Trolley Assortment of Classical Tortes and Desserts

Trio of Signature Desserts and Pastries served table side

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