Cook of the Week: Fresh ingredients key to Kathy Schlaeger’s dishes

Kathy Schlaeger, of Liberty Twp., is the cook of the week for the Journal-News. CONTRIBUTED

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Kathy Schlaeger, of Liberty Twp., is the cook of the week for the Journal-News. CONTRIBUTED

Kathy Schlaeger’s love of cooking started as a journey of self-discovery in her early adulthood. In those days, she was recently married to her husband Jeff and both of them were navigating new careers in education. Flash forward more than 25 years and she insists her curiosity overcome a lack of experience in the kitchen at the time.

“I didn’t really know much,” Schlaeger said with a laugh. “I was in the dorms. I didn’t have to cook. We graduated, got married and I got my first teaching job. I never learned to cook at home, so I literally started with things like Hamburger Helper.”

Relying on convenience food was fine for a while, especially since the newlyweds worked on different schedules. Eventually, though, Schlaeger wanted to branch out to more fresh ingredients to add some variety and nutritional value to her meals for her growing family.

“I wanted to try new foods and I wanted to eat at home more to expose Ashley, our firstborn, to lots of different things,” the Liberty Township resident explained. “She was always willing to try new foods. We didn’t want to go out all the time, but when we did, we’d go to buffets and I’d learn what she liked, then I’d incorporate those things into my meals. I liked controlling what goes into the meals I made at home.”

Between a gift subscription to “Taste of Home” given to her by an aunt and some new cookbooks, Schlaeger’s confidence in the kitchen grew. Her favorite cookbooks, even today, are ones that have lots of pictures of the recipes, preferably from preparation all the way through serving.

“The more photos the better,” she said. “I always want to know what it looks like so I can compare mine to how it’s supposed to look when it’s finished.”

When cooking at home now, Schlaeger, of Liberty Twp., enjoys making meals from a variety of cultures, including Italian and Mexican. She loves the cuisine’s flexibility with ingredients, including her enchilada recipe which is included as part of this feature.

“I can make them with anything,” she said. “I always have taco shells on hand and I usually put the enchiladas together based on what I have. Usually, it’s chicken. Sometimes, though, it’s black beans and sweet potatoes. Other times I might use mushrooms or even the leftover brisket from City Barbecue that I made for you. It’s so versatile.”

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Schlaeger helped coordinate a fun opportunity to bring together women from her temple for a unique cooking class. Cooking with Sisterhood was a perfect marriage of Schleager’s love for visual recipes and a desire to stay connected during lockdown.

“The group gathered on Zoom every other month to make a recipe together,” Schlaeger said. “For one hour we went through a recipe together and make it. Group members decided on foods and recipes they wanted to learn about.”

The Cooking with Sisterhood class focused on Israeli foods including latkes, kugel, Mandel brot, Shakshuka, and more. Before each class, Schlaeger would put together the recipe and the list of ingredients everyone would need to make the dish. Then, everyone would log onto Zoom and enjoy some food and fellowship.

“The nice thing about this program is that you are cooking in your own kitchen, so you are using your own kitchen tools and figuring it out to make it again,” Schlaeger said. “The person who is leading the recipe can help you if you have questions because you have the ability to show the person exactly what you’re asking. Some people just hopped on a call when they didn’t want to cook and wanted to learn about the recipe. This makes it easy to adapt to all kinds of groups.”

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Kathy Schlaeger’s Chicken Enchiladas

1 cup of cooked, shredded chicken

1 can of corn, drained

10 oz. can of enchilada sauce

8 oz. shredded cheese (your choice of cheddar, Mexican blend, etc.)

1 - 10 pack of soft taco shells

Recipe steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease a 13-inch by 9-inch pan
  3. Combine the chicken with 4 to 6 ounces of the shredded cheese
  4. Add about 8 ounces of the enchilada sauce to the chicken and cheese mixture
  5. Add corn to the mixture
  6. Divide the mixture evenly by spooning it into taco shells
  7. Fold up the taco shells and place them into greased pan
  8. Top with remaining enchilada sauce and shredded cheese
  9. Cook for 30 minutes

Notes:

You can change up the enchilada filling in these ways:

  • Add in a can of drained black beans to the chicken mixture
  • Add rice and spinach to the mixture
  • Swap out ground beef for the chicken
  • Use a combination of the drained black beans and canned sweet potato
  • Use your imagination to mix and match fillings

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