Come Into My Kitchen

With leaner turkey and fresh basil, Brenda Walker’s meatballs vanish like magic

Brenda Walker with her disappearing Magic Meatballs
Brenda Walker with her disappearing Magic Meatballs Special to The Star

Kansas City cosmetologist Brenda Walker regularly makes magic in her kitchen with friends and her family, which includes her 23-year-old twins, Tyler and Hailey Houser, and her mother, Maryellen Evans.

Is Halloween one of your favorite holidays? I love the thought that as adults we have permission to dress up and be like kids again on Halloween. Creativity is encouraged and comes in all forms, whether you’re getting dressed up with makeup and hair, decorating your home or cooking in your kitchen.

That being said, I really don’t need a holiday or an excuse to celebrate and have a party with people coming to eat in my home.

I love that you’re dressed in your Italian finery with your Magic Meatballs, which disappear shortly after they’re served. Do you cook with the passion of an Italian heritage? That’s so funny, because many in my family believe my grandfather was Italian, but my mother is adamant that he was not.

It really doesn’t matter. I’ve adopted an Italian philosophy toward food and family. To me, friends and family are all part of one big happy bunch that gathers around food. In my kitchen there’s always cooking, music, laughter and love.

Six years ago you overcame a scare with breast cancer. How are you doing? I am forever grateful to my mother, children and friends who nurtured me during that time. As a “hairapist,” I am used to taking care of and pampering others, so it was a bit of an adjustment to let others take care of me. It was a comfort to be fed — both body and soul — by so many who love me.

I have been on the receiving end of so much kindness and love that now I see what a privilege it is to pay it forward and give back to others.

Of all the different foods you make, why did you decide to share your recipe for meatballs? I love my meatball recipe, because I’ve tailored it to include leaner turkey and fresh basil, which I grow in my garden. Also, there are so many ways you can eat meatballs. You can make a marinara sauce and serve meatballs over spaghetti, or place them on a good roll, cover them with cheese and make a sandwich. I love these meatballs as a side to my Carbonara sauce, too, and have some in my freezer, so there’s always a meal ready to go.

The kitchen is my favorite place, and I am a student of other cultures through food, as I love to take cooking classes. There’s something about being with people in the kitchen that just breaks down barriers — and you feel nothing but the warmth and love.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at to nominate a cook.

Magic Meatballs

Makes 24 (2-inch) meatballs

1/2 pound ground chuck

1/2 pound ground turkey

1/2 pound Italian sausage, taken out of casings

1 small onion, finely minced

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut thinly or chiffonade

1 cup shredded 4-cheese Italian blend

2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic

1 egg, beaten

1 1/2 cups Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

In a large bowl using a wooden spoon, mix ground chuck, ground turkey, Italian sausage, onion, basil, cheese, garlic, egg and bread crumbs together until thoroughly combined.

Form meat mixture into 24 2-inch balls and place on tray. Set aside.

Pour olive oil into a large saute pan and warm over medium heat on stovetop. Place half of uncooked meatballs into pan and brown on all sides and fry until each meatball is no longer pink in the center.

Remove browned and cooked meatballs onto a platter lined with paper towels. Keep warm in oven and repeat frying process for remaining uncooked meatballs.

Meatballs can be served in a sauce or on a sandwich.

Per meatball: 119 calories (66 percent from fat), 9 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 35 milligrams cholesterol, 3 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 124 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.