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From reception to culinary institute

Woman taking cooking passion to school

Kristin Wacha of Marshalltown enjoys cooking and baking so much she will attend the Iowa Culinary Institute at Des Moines Area Community College this fall. While she is not as big of a fan of baking as she is cooking, Wacha is not afraid to try making chocolate delights, such as cupcakes.

For Kristin Wacha, cooking and baking is something she likes to do for people.

“I like seeing people enjoy my food,” she said. “To me, it makes them happy. We can’t not eat.”

The 25-year-old receptionist at Marla’s Headliner on Main in Marshalltown is passionate enough about her hobby that she will attend the Iowa Culinary Institute at Des Moines Area Community College this fall.

“I’ve worked in a lot of the family-owned bakeries around town,” Wacha said. “I’ve always loved food and trying new things.”

The desire to have fun in the kitchen is what drives her culinary adventures. The possibility of making money is not the primary fuel.

“It is just my favorite thing to do,” Wacha said.

Some Holiday Stroll attendees might already be familiar with her cuisine. Wacha provided different finger foods during the annual holiday event. She made four types of cookies, popcorn mix, trail mix, dipped pretzels, decorative marshmallows and cake pops.

Growing up, she would occasionally cook with her grandfather, but Wacha got serious about culinary arts during her sophomore year at East Marshall High School.

“I took all of the culinary and foods classes,” she said. “In my senior year, they made a class just for me. It was about culinary arts. I learned cutting techniques and what each tool is called.”

A recent dish Wacha has prepared that is proving to be popular with people is her grandfather’s meat loaf.

“I inherited all of his cook books and he had a personal cook book,” she said. “I’ve shared some recipes with close friends and gave a copy of it to my brother and his wife — a piece of Grandpa to remember him by.”

Wacha’s personal favorite is her chicken tortilla soup, and it is also the favorite of her mother.

“I don’t make it often anymore,” she said. “I made it so much I got sick of making it. I made six batches two weeks ago. I doubled it so I would not have to make it for a while.”

Wacha said she made it to take to a neighbor who had surgery. Since the soup freezes well, it was an opportunity to provide her and her mother with future servings.

She hopes others who want to begin cooking will do so and never give up — even when something goes wrong.

“It is hard to screw up a recipe unless you burn it or you throw gross things in there,” Wacha said.

One Pot Fajita Pasta

3 tablespoons oil

1 chicken breast, sliced

1 red bell pepper, sliced

1 green bell pepper, sliced

1 yellow bell pepper, sliced

1 onion, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon garlic powder

5 cups milk

4 cups penne pasta

1 cup pepper jack cheese, shredded

Heat oil in a large pot over high heat. Add chicken and cook until no pink is visible — about 5-6 minutes. Take the chicken out. Add the bell peppers and onion to pot, cooking until the onion is translucent — about 6 minutes. Add the chicken back to the pot with salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin and garlic powder, stirring until evenly coated — about 30 seconds. Add the milk and the penne, stirring constantly to prevent any pasta from sticking. Cook for about 20 minutes until pasta is cooked and the milk has reduced to a thick sauce that coats the pasta. Add cheese and mix until it has melted.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 bell pepper, diced

1 onion, finely diced

2 tablespoon margarine

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup fat-free milk

3 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoon half-and-half

1 1/2 cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with chiles

2 1/2 cups reduced fat cheddar cheese, shredded

Salt

Pepper

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Tortilla chips, for topping

Sour cream, for topping

In the bottom of a stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the peppers and onions. Sauté until soft. Next, add the margarine and melt. Whisk in the flour until combined. Cook for about a minute, but don’t let it burn. Whisk in the chicken broth and milk and bring to a light boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Once simmering, lower the heat stir in the cheese and half and half. Stir until completely melted and combined. Pour in the chicken and diced tomatoes and mix. Season with salt, pepper and chili powder. Adjust any spices as you’d like. If you like it spicy, add some cayenne pepper. Serve and enjoy.

Upside Down Meatloaf

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup ketchup

1 1/2 pound ground beef

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3/4 cup milk

1 small onion, grated

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3/4 cup crushed cracker crumbs

Butter loaf pan well. Press brown sugar in the bottom and spread ketchup over sugar. Mix all the remaining ingredients together. Shape the ingredients into a loaf and then put on top of the ketchup. Bake at 350° for one hour. Turn upside down and serve

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