For Kristen Johnson and Dustin, her husband of five years, cooking is as much a part of their love affair as it is a soon-to-be family affair. With the impending birth of their first baby in December, the Johnsons enjoy mixing it up in the kitchen, both in preparing meals and eating together.
“Dinner is our chance to debrief after a long day and reconnect as a couple, again,” says Dustin. The couple lives in Leawood and Kristen works as a senior executive assistant for a wealth management firm. “We’re really looking forward to expanding our meals to include our child.”
Q: Do you feel like more people in your generation are getting back into the kitchen?
A: I wish that were true, but a lot of Dustin and my friends joke with us because we plan our meals for the week on Sunday, then go to the grocery store and buy the food to prepare. We choose to make relatively simple meals, which include a meat, vegetable and almost always quinoa, which is a great substitute for rice or potatoes.
Oftentimes, people think it’s expensive to spend $100 at the grocery store every week on food, but if you start tallying up what it takes to go out to eat for lunch and dinner, it’s easy to spend a lot more on food in restaurants.
Q: Was it a mutual love of food that helped bring Dustin and you together?
A: We met when we were sophomores at the University of Kansas, and even in college we would grill out together with friends. After we got married, we had both put on a little weight and incorporated making our own meals as part of living healthier lives. That we cook food together is another way of us supporting each other in making healthy food choices.
We both grew up in families that make it a priority to eat together, and now we look forward to that time together when we can unplug after a long day to just cook and eat together.
Q: How do you negotiate cooking duties?
A: Every week, we have the menu planned out on a chalkboard, so whoever gets home first will know how to get the meal started. Dustin loves to grill, so we try to have something he prepares outside at least once or twice a week, such as flank steak, pork tenderloin or barbecue chicken.
We love steaming, grilling or making a stir-fry out of vegetables as a side. Our main goal, when planning our meals, is to make things that are healthy, prepare foods that take 30 minutes or less, and always cook enough food for leftovers to eat for lunch.
While it might seem like more work at the beginning of the week, planning our meals ahead allows us to come home and enjoy being together, without the stress of the we’re-starving-and-what-is-there-to-eat syndrome. When you don’t have a good meal planned, I feel like that is stressful, and that’s when you start making unhealthier food choices.
Q: So why did you choose this party dip recipe to share?
A: This isn’t the most complicated recipe in the world, but it is definitely a favorite. We love to entertain and eat with friends and family. So whenever we go to tailgating events, parties, showers, or gatherings in general, we are asked to bring this “staple,” and then, without fail, I am asked for the recipe. It’s not just a dip for crackers and chips, either. Raw veggies make for healthier dippers.
I think this nightly routine of eating together has helped Dustin and I build a strong foundation. He is such a wonderful husband, and I can’t wait to see him as a father.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
The Delicious Dip
Makes about 48 servings
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 bunch green onions, cleaned and thinly sliced.
1 (15-ounce) can corn, drained
2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeno peppers, optional
2 (8-ounce) packages softened cream cheese
1 (1-ounce) seasoning package ranch dip
1 (4-ounce) can chopped black olives
An assortment of dipping vegetables, crackers and tortilla chips
Cover a baking sheet with 3 layers of paper toweling. Place red pepper, onion, corn and optional jalapenos on top of toweling to wick moisture away from ingredients. Set aside.
Place cream cheese and ranch dip seasoning in the bowl of a mixer, fixed with the paddle attachment. Slowly add dried vegetables and olives and mix until well incorporated but not until ingredients become mushy.
Transfer contents of mixing bowl into a container and cover tightly with plastic wrap or a lid. Place in refrigerator and chill at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Place cold mixture in a serving dish on a platter and surround with vegetables, crackers and/or tortilla chips for dipping.
Per serving for dip alone: 48 calories (72 percent from fat), 4 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 10 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 110 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.