Anita Starke creates memorable meals in her Lenexa kitchen for friends by preparing flavorful and fresh food.
As a professional interior designer, Starke has her finger in a lot of pots but still manages to make time for important things, like feeding friends. After losing her husband, Michael, to cancer in 2015, Starke is still re-adjusting to a “new normal,” which sometimes means cooking for one.
Q: As an interior designer who oversees contracting projects, do you find the kitchen remains the heart of the home?
A: People just naturally congregate in the kitchen — it’s where the food and drink is. Guests will never stop gathering in the kitchen, but our definition of what constitutes a kitchen space is ever expanding.
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Today’s kitchen isn’t just a place where food is made, it’s the entertainment center of the home. In today’s open floor plan design, people are knocking down walls to the formal dining room to claim more real estate for the kitchen.
The kitchen space can now include a lounge or family room that has comfortable furniture, a fireplace and television. There is a seamless transition from where people make food into where people enjoy eating the food together. The way we entertain is casual today, and that is reflected in our surroundings.
Q: What do you say to people who are too shy or nervous to entertain at home?
A: The first step is that you, as the one entertaining, need to just be really comfortable in your own home. You don’t have to have the most fancy kitchen appliances or the most expensive cabinets or countertops to entertain well.
Also, when you entertain, have a plan and know you’re in charge when guests come to your home. You get to decide what’s on the menu and how and where you want to eat — whether it’s a buffet or a sit-down dinner. Try to do what you can in advance of the gathering, but keep it interesting by just being yourself. If you become stressed out, your guests won’t be comfortable in your home, either.
For many years, a group of friends have hosted themed parties in their homes. Through these gatherings over the years, we’ve experienced an Olympic-themed party with games, a Swiss Alps party with fondue and a Margaritaville party. This year, I am excited to be hosting a porch party, after I’ve done a lot of work outside my home, including adding a pergola.
Q: Your life is also one in transition after losing your husband to cancer. How are you doing?
A: One of the hardest adjustments has been cooking for myself. After Michael died, I have thrown myself into work, which includes evening and weekend hours, so it is important for me to cook recipes that are easy but also nutritious.
The freezer has been my friend. I will make cabbage rolls and eat some, share some with others and freeze the rest in single servings so I can pull them out when I need a quick dinner. My health is important to me, and I do not eat processed foods. With so many recipes available on the internet, I don’t want to eat a prepackaged product when I can make my own meals from scratch, using fresh, healthy ingredients.
Q: Why did you choose this particular recipe to share?
A: This recipe started as a basic shrimp pasta dish and I added ingredients like garlic, crushed red pepper and spinach to it. I also will use whole grain pasta for added nutritional value. This is one of my favorite “one pot” meals that I love to prepare, and it’s a wonderful dish for entertaining.
Another part of entertaining well is when people want to get involved in the preparation or clean-up, allow them to help. It can be an instant ice-breaker where people can really get to know each other. Relationships form so naturally in a kitchen. Add a glass of wine and even complete strangers can be friends before dinner is served.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Lemon Garlic Shrimp Pasta
Makes 4 servings
1 (8-ounce) package fettuccine noodles
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup butter, cut into tablespoons
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cups fresh baby leaf spinach, washed
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Prepare fettuccine in a large pasta pot, as directed on package. Cook until al dente. Drain into colander placed in the sink. Cover colander with lid and allow to continue to drain.
Place large pasta pot back on stovetop and heat olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Stir in garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant.
Add shrimp to pot and season with salt and pepper. Stir for about 5 minutes, or until shrimp starts to turn pink in color. Season with oregano and add spinach to pot. Stir another 2 minutes, or until spinach is wilted.
Add drained pasta back into pot and toss with shrimp and spinach mixture.
Add remaining 6 tablespoons butter, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice and parsley to pot. After butter melts, mix once more, using tongs, to coat pasta, spinach and shrimp evenly.
Per serving: 700 calories (46 percent from fat), 36 grams total fat (17 grams saturated), 326 milligrams cholesterol, 48 grams carbohydrates, 46 grams protein, 907 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.