Laura (Moreno) Thompson communicates through comida. Serving as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking families in the Olathe School District, Thompson finds that food often transcends language barriers.
With family roots in Monterrey, Mexico, Thompson grew up as the 13th of 14 siblings in Texas. Her immediate family includes Jim, her husband of 28 years, and a grown daughter, but Thompson’s extended family in the Kansas City area includes a network of friends and co-workers with whom she bonds over food prepared in her Overland Park kitchen.
Q: Do you find that food is a language unto itself?
A: Good food can transcend all manner of speaking and is one of the most basic ways to tell someone that you care about them. Cooking is very personal to me, and it’s like sharing a part of myself when I share food with others. It’s a universal experience to eat with people, and you don’t necessarily need to speak the same formal language to be able to communicate enjoyment and appreciation of good food.
Q: The person who nominated you to be featured called you an “extraordinary cook.” Did you learn the art of cooking from your mother?
A: My mother, Maria Antoinieta Moreno, has said that I was the one, out of our family of 14 children, who was drawn into the kitchen at the earliest age, around 2 or 3 years old.
I can remember my mother making tortillas from scratch, and a few other authentic Mexican dishes, but the message I got growing up with my family in Houston was to assimilate. It was more common for my mother to make us, say, spaghetti and meatballs, instead of preparing all Mexican dishes for dinner.
Growing up, I would watch my sisters bake chocolate chip cookies for their boyfriends, and when they wouldn’t share any with me, I taught myself how to bake. But as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved getting my hands into flour and dough.
Q: Do you make your mother’s tortilla recipe?
A: It is an easy recipe — 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and hot water until the dough forms. But the key with flour tortillas is that they need to be rolled, not formed in a tortilla press. Corn tortillas can be pressed, but flour ones must be rolled. Then you place the rolled-out tortillas onto a smoking hot cast-iron skillet to finish them.
This makes about a dozen flour tortillas, but I want to learn how to make corn ones from some of the women for whom I provide interpretation services.
Food is a common ground for us, and I have so much to learn. I love Jane Austen, but I would much rather read a cookbook. It’s even better when I can learn techniques from these wonderfully humble Mexican cooks.
I’ve often talked about having “classes” in my home, where friends gather around my kitchen island to learn how to prepare dishes. I selfishly want to learn how to master making a mole sauce by watching these great Mexican cooks.
Q: With all of your experience in preparing savory dishes, why did you choose this sweet treat to share?
A: After starting my baking passion with chocolate chip cookies, I’ve always fed my chocoholic sweet tooth. But the older I get, the more I appreciate the tartness of a citrus dessert, and this recipe never disappoints.
I’ve adapted this from Paula Deen’s recipe, and it is truly a no-bake dessert. There are many steps, but it comes together simply and deliciously every time.
If there’s one thing I can share with the younger generation I see coming up, I want them to know to not be afraid in the kitchen. Even the most experienced chef is still learning and may make mistakes. That shouldn’t stop you from trying to prepare real food.
In fact, there is nothing easier than roasting vegetables, and it is so much better for you than driving through to get fast food. I know this change to prepare your own food doesn’t happen overnight, but I honestly believe if you can read, you can cook. You might even become a lifelong student in pursuit of good food.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. E-mail her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Frozen Key Lime Mousse Cheesecake
Makes 16 servings
For the crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
For the filling:
2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided use
1 (1/4-ounce) envelope unflavored gelatin
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed or bottled key lime juice
1 (12-ounce) bag white chocolate morsels
3 (8-ounce) packages less-fat cream cheese or Neufchatel, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 limes, zested
To prepare crust: In a large mixing bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter using a fork. Press mixture into the bottom and up to 1-inch along the side of a 9- or 10-inch springform pan. Set aside.
To prepare filling: Pour 2 cups heavy whipping cream into a metal mixing bowl and place in freezer.
In a large saucepan, whisk gelatin into key lime juice until dissolved. Place over medium heat on stovetop and whisk until mixture just starts to thicken and is warm. Remove from heat and whisk in 1/2 cup whipping cream and white chocolate morsels until mixture is completely smooth. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment, whip cheese with granulated sugar until fluffy. Add grated lime zest and prepared white chocolate mixture and whip until well combined. Set aside.
Remove cream from freezer and whip with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form, or about 5 minutes. Using a rubber scraper, gently fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture until well incorporated. Pour into prepared crust and smooth out top. Place in freezer for about 1 hour, or until set, then cover top with aluminum foil.
Place back in freezer for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
Before serving, take cheesecake out of freezer 15 minutes before plating. Run a sharp knife around the inside edge of pan and release springform ring from pan. Carefully run sharp knife between crust and bottom of springform pan and transfer cheesecake to a serving platter.
Before cutting into cheesecake, run a large, sharp knife under hot water and blot dry before slicing each piece. Can be garnished with additional whipped cream, grated lime zest and white chocolate curls.
Per serving: 507 calories (65 percent from fat), 37 grams fat (24 grams saturated), 99 milligrams cholesterol, 38 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 339 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.