Story by Dave Eckert | Intro photo courtesy of Khela Brewer
I love this time of year. The weather is cool. The food and adult beverages reflect the change of seasons, which I adore! And family and delicious fun take center stage for what seems like two straight months of bacchanalia! But one person’s idea of family, friendship, and entertaining can be another’s source of extreme stress. Well, I am here to help those people, and hopefully, relieve some of their angst. I gathered three of the metro’s most talented home cooks and solicited their recommendations for hosting gatherings that are no less delicious, but a lot less stressful.
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wilson
First, some advice from BBQ pitmaster Stephanie Wilson of The Slabs Award-Winning Barbecue Team. Along with her many medals there, Wilson also won the Kansas City episode of the Food Network Show, Chopped, and finished second overall in that season’s competition. Wilson says the most important thing for you and your guests to enjoy the festivities is prep. “Prep as many things as you can in the days prior. Use disposable serving pans. By doing these two things, you’ll have more time to enjoy your family instead of being tethered to the kitchen,” Wilson told me. Equally important, Wilson says, is the type of food you’re preparing. “Casseroles, stews, soups can be made up to three days ahead of time. Brunch casseroles can be prepped the day prior and it’s a heat-and-eat operation! Do that, and you’ll spend a lot more time enjoying yourself and a lot less time stressing out,” Wilson concluded.
You can try it out for yourself by following either, or both, of Wilson’s recipes for Pastrami Hash and Company Eggs, both of which can be found online.
Photo courtesy of Khela Brewer
Next, Khela Brewer who recently represented Kansas City as a contestant on Public Broadcasting’s The Great American Recipe show. Brewer echoes Wilson’s advice of getting as much stuff done in advance as you can. “I try to do as much prep as possible before the day of. I’ll have a plan of what I want to make. It is also better to set the table (or serving station) ahead of time and determine which serving dishes and implements are needed for each dish,” Brewer shared. “Typically, we have beer and wine, but I like to include some sort of special N.A. beverage for those who don’t drink.”
Brewer also says it’s important to consider your guests and what type of food they may enjoy or possibly may be allergic to. “When cooking for someone new, I’ll inquire about possible food allergies or any other concerns that I should take into consideration (ie. vegetarian, doesn’t care for seafood, peanut allergy, etc.) I strive to make something that will appear nice and is not too complicated. It’s best to go with tried true recipes for ease and comfort level. It’s also important to go for quality over quantity, to have a few delicious items rather than so many you can’t devote the time to make them special,” Brewer shared.
A final element Brewer emphasized is something all too often overlooked – music. “I love music and ALWAYS have it playing in the background. I welcome dancing in my kitchen too. Music, wine, food, and feeding the people I love make me so happy!” Brewer exclaimed.
Photo courtesy of Jyoti Mukharji
Finally, from Jyoti Mukharji, an outstanding cook who teaches Indian cooking classes out of her home, comes this advice. “Crafting good food at home for family gatherings can bring immense joy to the family, the host, and the cook. I say this with some authority as both my mother and mother-in-law were excellent cooks. Each time we visited Delhi, which is where we are from, both sides of the family would go out of their way to make food that we loved,” Mukharji told me.
And that is Mukhari’s advice for successful home gatherings, cook what you know and what you believe your guests will enjoy. “To me food is love and this is my way of expressing my love to my family, friends, and community. It motivates me to create more & do more when I hear genuine appreciation from people. Each time I teach a class it encourages me to do more. This is a testament to having done 500+ classes and still going. This makes the home a very happy place. I called it living by example,” Mukharji smiled.
Now, if all of that great advice doesn’t make for less stressful, more delicious gatherings, I don’t know what will.
Khela Brewer Recipes
Beef in Drunken Mushroom Sauce with Mascarpone Mashers
Both of my boys will tell you their favorite thing I make is any meat in a sauce (preferable with mushrooms) over risotto, pasta, potatoes, polenta, rice, etc. Whether it’s beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish, or seafood..it doesn’t matter. That’s the magical combination for them. The funny thing is it spell comfort for me too. It’s what I was raised on. My mom’s signature dish is chicken and dumplings. broken down; a protein, in a sauce, over a starch. She also had that winning combination in so many dishes like chicken and rice, and OMG her pork chop gravy over mashed potatoes. She taught me how to make comfort sauces. For this one, I have a secret ingredient. My friend Stephanie bottles her own Worcestershire sauce for friends and family. I am forever ruined for the store bought stuff. I do give an option to use one third fish sauce instead of all Worcestershire sauce to give it a little extra something if you’re feeling adventurous.
Beef and Mushroom Sauce
- 4 lbs Chuck Roast cut in big pieces
- 4 Tbl high temp Oil for searing
- 24 ounces Cremini or Baby Bellas sliced
- 1 Medium Onion diced
- 3 cloves Garlic microplaned
- 3 C light to medium bodied Red Wine
- 1.5-2 C Beef Stock
- 1 Tbl Tomato Paste
- 1 Tbl Stephanie’s Worcestershire Sauce (if you don’t have Steph’s than 2 Tsp reg and 1 fish sauce *optional)
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 6-8 sprigs Fresh Thyme
- 1/2 C rough chopped fresh flat Parsley
- 2 Tbl Flour
- 2 Tbl Butter
- 4 lbs Golden Potatoes washed, big eyes, bad spots off and cut into quarters roughly about the same size
- 1 C Water or LS Chicken Stock
- 1.5-2 Sticks of Butter (your choice on how buttery you like them)
- 1 container of Marscapone
- 1/3-2/3 C Cream
- 1-2 sprinkles freshly grated Nutmeg
- Salt and Pepper to taste
*Optional 2-3 finely chopped Chives
Salt and pepper the beef pieces in batches and sear them in a skillet. Move them to your slow cooker when they’ve seared on each side. Next sweat the onions until they’ve softened a bit and then microplane in 2 cloves of garlic, stir that around. Next add the tomato paste and stir it around for a minute or so. Add 2-1/3 C of the red wine, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the skillet. Pour that mixture, the Worcestershire sauce (and optional fish sauce), and the bay leaf into the slow cooker. Let it cook for 8-10 hours or until the meat is tender. When the beef is done, heat a large skillet and use the other 2 Tbl of oil to sauté the mushrooms on high heat. When they are almost done add the rest of the wine and let it cook down until it’s reduced and absorbed into the mushrooms. Move the mushrooms to a separate bowl or plate. Put the butter and flour in the pan and make a roux. Next remove the bay leaf from the slow cooker and slowly add the jus from the slow cooker and 1.5 cups of the beef stock and let it thicken into a gravy consistency. If it is too thick add more stock. If it’s not thick enough, you can add an additional slurry. Add the fresh Thyme. When it is done either add the meat and mushrooms to the skillet or everything in the slow cooker. For the potatoes put a steam basket in the bottom of your Instant Pot and pour in a cup of water or low sodium chicken stock (the stocks adds a nice hint of flavor). Cook on high pressure for 11 minutes. Drain the potatoes when done and return them back to the IP. And everything except the cream. Put in 1/2 the cream and begin to mash. Add more cream as needed until the desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste and stir in or top with chives if you like. Ladle the beefy mushrooms over the mashers and top with parsley.
Quick Chicken and Dumplings
- 1.5-1.75 lbs Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs
- 4 Cloves Garlic, 2 cut in 2 pieces, 2 microplaned
- 1/2 Tsp Poultry Seasoning
- 2 Medium Onions, 1 cut in big slices, 1 diced
- 4 Stalks Celery, 2 cut longways, 2 diced
- 2 Carrots, diced
- 3-5 Sprigs of fresh Thyme, chopped
- *Optional, splash or 2 of Maggi Seasoning
- 2 C AP Flour
- 2-3 Tbl Fat (Crisco, Bacon Grease, Butter, Lard)
- 3/4 C Butter Milk
- 1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
- 2 Tbl Butter
- 8 C Chicken Stock
- S&P to taste
Put the rack in the bottom of the Instant Pot. Put layer of chicken thighs in, sprinkle with some of the poultry seasoning, the cut garlic, then layer the larger onions and celery so that it will leave space between the next layer of chicken. Add the remaining chicken and sprinkle with the rest of the poultry seasoning. Pour in 1 cup of water and set the IP to 8 minutes on manual.
Put the stock on in large heavy bottom Dutch oven on medium high. Add fresh thyme and 1 microplaned garlic clove. For the dumplings Combine the dry ingredients and the fat using a pastry cutter until it’s crumbly. Add the buttermilk a little at a time and mix gently until it is combined. Flour the top a little and then roll the dough on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch. Using a pizza cutter, cut into roughly 1×2 strips. Drop into the stock a few at a time so they don’t stick and stir. They will need to cook around 18-22 minutes.
Sauté the remaining onions, celery, carrots in butter in butter in a skillet for a couple minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a bit longer. Add salt and pepper. Then add to the broth, along with optional Maggi Seasoning. When the chicken is done, let it cool slightly, chop and add it to the broth when the noodles are close to done. If the broth isn’t thick enough add a slurry to tighten it up. If it is too thick add a little extra stock or milk.
Stephanie Wilson Recipes
- 2 T Flavor Garlic Mushroom infused olive oil
- 8 ounces Downtown Deli Pastrami
- diced 1 white onion
- finely chopped 1 bell pepper
- finely chopped 2 large baking potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1/2-1 C stock/broth, varies on what meat you use
- 4 T unsalted butter
- Flavor Coarse White Sea Salt, to taste
- Flavor Medium Grind Black Pepper, to taste
Directions Heat oil in a large, lidded non-stick skillet over high heat. Add meat, stirring until it releases some fat and browns slightly. Stir in the onion and bell pepper, cook for 2-4 minutes. Add potatoes, stir. Add stock. Cover, simmer on medium low heat for 10-15 minutes. Check potatoes for doneness. When the potatoes are tender, take the lid off and continue cooking until all stock has dissipated and hash has formed a crust. Taste for salt & pepper. Serve with a poached egg on top!!
- 1 lb cooked breakfast sausage
- 6 slices bread -no crust
- cubed 6 eggs
- 1 t dry mustard
- 1 1/2 t Pink Hawaiian Sea Salt
- 2 C milk
- 1 C grated Skyview Fontina Cheese
Put sausage, cubed bread and cheese in an 8×8 pan (or a Ziploc). Beat together the milk, eggs, salt and mustard. Pour egg mixture over bread/cheese/sausage. Refrigerate overnight. If using a Ziploc, pour ingredients in an 8×8 and bake at 350° for about an hour.
Jyoti Mukharji Recipes
- 4 cups of water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 green cardamoms
- 4 cloves
- ¾ tsp of anise seeds
- 1/2” piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced (or 1/2 tsp of powdered ginger)
- 4 tea bags
- 1 cup of 2% or whole milk
- In a pan, boil all ingredients. Once the mixture starts to boil, turn heat to low, cover pan, and let simmer for 7-8 minutes.
- Add sugar or sweetener and serve hot.
- Alternative recipe:
- Add 1/2 tsp of ‘tea masala’ to each prepared cup of tea (2 tsp total; available at all Indian stores)
- Add sugar or sweetener and serve hot.
Chicken Korma with Aloo
A savory chicken curry with potatoes, Serves 6-8
- 1.5 lbs boneless chicken thighs, fat trimmed
- 4 skinless chicken legs
- 2 large potatoes, quartered (as desired)
- A little more than 1/2 cup canola oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 green cardamoms
- 4 cloves
- 6 crushed black peppercorns
- 2 medium onion (or 1 large), finely chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, grated
- 1.5-inch piece of ginger, grated
- 1 8oz can tomato sauce
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- Salt to taste
- Cayenne pepper (ground) to taste
- 1/2 cup plain, non-fat or low-fat yoghurt, beaten
- 1/4 tsp garam masala (Available at Ambica at 91st and Metcalf)
- 1 tbsp cilantro
- Heat the oil in a deep pan on medium. Add bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cardamoms, cloves, and black peppercorns. After a minute or so, add chopped onion and potatoes. Sauté until onions are light brown. Add tomato sauce, ginger, garlic, and turmeric, and sauté for a few minutes until the oil separates out of the sauce.
- Add the chicken, salt, and pepper, and sauté until the chicken changes color (roughly 10 minutes). Cover and cook on low-heat for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes and chicken are done. Add the yoghurt, mix well, cover, and turn off the flame.
- Serve hot and garnish with garam masala and cilantro. Can be served with rice or Indian flatbread.