I am an avid MasterChef Canada viewer — there I said it — but it’s true. Back in early 2014 when I was pregnant, I really got into reality cooking competition shows. I found it completely fascinating how Canadians from all different regions of the country, who did all sorts of jobs and came from different backgrounds, would enter the MasterChef Canada competition and compete against other home cooks. United by their love of food it was great to watch, week after week, to see regular home cooks rise to the challenge and cook their hearts out.
One of these cooks that stands out in my memory is Mary Berg (who would eventually win season 3 of MCC) because of her effervescent, kind, and playful personality. I think Berg was successful on the show because she genuinely loved cooking for people. She would prepare and plate dishes to share with the judges and, she was successful because she knew how to serve uncomplicated food that tasted amazing. To be honest, I can’t really recall many previous winners because they didn’t standout like Berg. With her personality and amazing cooking ability she went on to host her own cooking program, Mary’s Kitchen Crush, where she would choose a theme, invite friends and family over, and show the viewer how she would cook amazing food to celebrate the people she loves most in life. Berg’s program was the perfect thing to share with my daughter because she loves to be in the kitchen and Berg’s personality is a magnet for kids and adults alike! My daughter loves watching Berg cook beautiful meals from the heart and, then see how Berg shares those delicious dishes with her friends and family.
So, when “Mary Berg’s” (the only way my daughter refers to her) cookbook, Kitchen Party: Effortless Recipes for Every Occasion, arrived from the publisher, my daughter was ecstatic! Her kitchen hero, Mary Berg, sent us her cookbook (not to mention the publisher kindly sent along some of the ingredients so we could make Mary’s Famous Food Processor Flourless Chocolate Cake). Kitchen Party is really an extension of Mary’s Kitchen Crush but instead of the home cook watching Berg for tips and recipes on how to host dinner guests and cook delicious food, the home cook can use Berg’s cookbook to plan and execute their own food-related occasions from beautiful brunches to birthday celebrations (and everything in between). I really appreciate how Berg emphasizes the importance of being together with friends and family to share a meal — it’s not about perfection but easy, darn tasty food that everyone can enjoy together. Even the title of the book “kitchen party” harkens to the way East Coast Canadians have mastered the art of informal gatherings. And, it’s this easygoing way of cooking and entertaining that Berg offers in her book.
Throughout the 5 main chapters — Brunch Parties, Cocktail Parties, Dinner Parties, Special Occasion Menus, and Party of Two — that Berg offers a variety of delicious recipes that are simple to prepare and are perfect for sharing. With over 100 recipes — drinks, appetizers, main courses, side dishes and desserts — there are countless ways to feed your friends and family. Even though I haven’t hosted any gatherings during the time I’ve been cooking from Kitchen Party, I’ve found that the recipes also suit weeknight cooking as well. There are several recipes that I’ve made for dinner just for the three of us. And, her recipes are easy to scale — if I don’t want to cook for a group of 6 or 8, I can change the amount of ingredients used to better suit cooking for my small family on a weeknight. Ingredients are easy to source as everything used in her cookbook can be found at the grocery store or local market. One point to note: Berg doesn’t indicate whether the recipes suit different dietary needs (gluten free, vegan, vegetarian) so it’s up to the home cook to search these recipes out for themselves.
Breakfast for dinner is one of our favourite things so, of course, I borrowed from Berg’s beautiful brunch chapter for one of these meals. Her recipe for Lemon Poppy Seed Dutch Babies is delicious! The classic lemon-poppy seed pairing (ingredient BFFs!) worked well with the Dutch baby pancake. If you’re unfamiliar with them, then it’s totally worth it to give it a try! Like a cross between a crepe and pancake this gorgeous recipe gets baked in the oven on a cast iron skillet. There’s a simple joy to watching the batter slowly rise up the sides of the skillet as it bakes (my daughter loves this part!) and, as soon as it’s out of the oven, this puffy, oven-baked pancake begins to deflate and droop around the edges. It might sound a bit sad but don’t worry! There’s a bit of a well in the centre that you can fill with berries, more butter, powdered sugar, and maple syrup! It’s a great way to serve people warm pancakes all at the same time and to take standing at the stove and flipping each pancake out of the equation.
A dead-easy recipe with an enormous impact is Berg’s Beet Terrine — roasted and sliced into thin disks, the beets are then layered a few times in a loaf pan with goat cheese and chopped pistachios. When the final dish is turned out of the loaf pan, drizzled with balsamic reduction and sprinkled with more pistachios it looks spectacular (to the point that when I served this along side a regular Wednesday meal Katie exclaimed, “Wow Mom! We’re getting fancy stuff tonight!”). This is even a great recipe to have younger home chefs help with — the layering of ingredients is an easy task for a kid to help with. And, it was decided on that Wednesday night that this recipe, could indeed, be served to guests!
Another low-prep, high impact recipe is the Tomato Oven Risotto. As Berg claims in her recipe head notes, “I am here to banish the myth that risotto is a tricky, time-consuming dish to make” and with this recipe that’s exactly what she does! After making it for my family, what I could appreciate is how the oven does most of the work which allowed me to get other things done in the kitchen. The resulting dish is so incredibly flavourful that looking at the picture I took and thinking about that meal makes my mouth water. This risotto is so creamy and delicious your guest will swear that you slaved over a hot stove to bring them such a beautiful dish. The way that Berg makes cooking seemingly difficult recipes so easy is a testament to her fundamental belief behind being a good host — it’s not about how much time you spend cooking but how much time you spend with your guests. She proves that cooking delicious food shouldn’t be anxiety inducing.
It was so lovely to bake up her Food Processor Flourless Chocolate Cake that, with the permission of the publisher, I’m including that recipe with my review. When my daughter and I made this cake together instead of adding berries to the top of the whipped mascarpone cream we went a bit extra and added a glorious dulce de leche drizzle. Any way you top it, it is such a luxe cake (and, the food processor does most of the work — bonus!).
Mary Berg joyfully shows home cooks how to host beautiful, welcoming gatherings by offering delicious, easy-to-prepare recipes that are sure to make your guest feel special. Her love of cooking and culinary knowledge infuses Kitchen Party and makes it an essential book to include in your cookbook library. It’s also book for anyone who wants to share a great time and excellent food with friends and family. If you’re curious about how I’ve been enjoying Kitchen Party, then visit my custom Instagram hashtag #aneatworthykitchenparty or my dedicated Facebook post.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I would also like to thank Valrhona USA and Starbucks Canada for generously providing some key ingredients to make Mary’s Famous Food Processor Flourless Chocolate Cake. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.