Kristen Smith, a retired clinical programmer, stays on-the-go with hobbies that include quilting, playing racquetball and going to her granddaughters’ games and activities. But she finds time, especially on weekends, to cook delicious recipes.
She and her husband, Rod, live in Shawnee and have two adult sons. They enjoy spending time with their sons and their wives, and especially with their granddaughters.
Q: How did you learn to cook?
My mom was a really good farm cook and it seems she could cook anything. I remember watching her cook lots of different foods, even plucking the feathers and cutting up a chicken. While I didn’t cook then, I watched and learned.
Q: How has your cooking changed over the years?
When my sons were growing up, my cooking focused on “fill the boys up” food. Now, I especially enjoy cooking on weekends, when I can make extra, sometimes even preparing two entrees.
Having food prepared ahead and ready to serve makes casual entertaining fun, so it easy to invite friends and family to come over after my granddaughters’ games or to come enjoy time swimming in our pool.
Cooking for just the two of us is more challenging to me, yet if I make extra on the weekend, we can enjoy simple, delicious meals all week. Being active is a big part of my lifestyle and if friends ask me to go somewhere, I often say “yes” before asking where we are going. With this busy lifestyle it is wonderful to have prepared, tasty foods ready in the refrigerator.
Q: Where do you find your recipes?
I read recipes, and while many recipes used to come from cookbooks, now the internet is a great source. If a recipe sounds good, I try it first, and then the next time, I embellish it so the dish is more to our liking.
Q: What tips do you have for those learning to cook?
First, read the recipe. Always measure accurately, and taste as you go.
Q: What recipe are you sharing?
This creamy cilantro lime Southwest chicken pasta salad is a great example of making a larger dish on the weekends. It is perfect to serve when entertaining, to take to a potluck or to friends, or to make ahead and serve during the week. It is a very forgiving recipe, so you can add or delete ingredients as you prefer.
You might like to add chopped green pepper, red onions, chopped, cooked bacon or seeded, diced jalapeno peppers.
It is easy to prepare since it uses a bottled cilantro lime ranch dressing, but sometimes that particular flavor of dressing is a little difficult to find. You can often order it online, or you can begin with ranch dressing and season it to taste with minced fresh cilantro and fresh lime juice.
Creamy Cilantro Lime Southwest Chicken Pasta Salad
Makes about 14 to 16 cups
1 (16-ounce) package pasta, such as farfalle (bow-tie)
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken breast
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 (15-ounce) can corn, drained or 2 cups roasted corn, cut from the cob
4 green onions, chopped
1 avocado, pitted, peeled and cut into bite-size cubes
6 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded or diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
2/3 cup bottled cilantro lime flavored ranch dressing, or to taste
Cook pasta according to package directions; rinse and drain. Place in a salad bowl.
Add the remaining ingredients and stir gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
Tips: This is a great make-ahead salad. Add the avocados just before serving. Add additional dressing before serving, if desired.
If you cannot find bottled cilantro lime-flavored ranch dressing, you can begin with ranch dressing and flavor it with minced cilantro and fresh lime juice, to taste.
Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore are cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. They have published over 14 cookbooks and thousands of recipes. They are members of Les Dames d’Escoffier and blog at pluggedintocooking.com. Email them at KCComeIntoMyKitchen@gmail.com