Cooking all a part of entertaining for Downers Grove woman

Laura Gibson still remembers receiving a stand mixer as a birthday gift when she was just 9 years old.

“I didn't realize that kids didn't cook at that age,” Laura said. “My mom would have friends over and give me directions and ask me to make the appetizer. I think about my kids cooking at that age and I don't think they had a desire to.”

She didn't really learn any recipes back then but instead learned techniques such as how to separate an egg or cut a tomato. But learning the simple things back then, she said, helped develop into a lifelong love of cooking now for her own family and friends.

Laura said her passion truly is to entertain. While she never pursued it seriously, Laura said she dreamed of acting. She considers entertaining now her way to perform before a crowd.

“When you cook and entertain, you're the star of your own show,” she said. “You put a lot of effort into it. You make a beautiful presentation. You try to please people and put a lot of love into it.”

Laura did not grow up eating any particular cuisine, but when planning a party menu, one of her go to menus is Italian food.

“I dated an Italian guy,” she said. “I saw his mother in the kitchen making tons of meatballs. I thought it was really cool, putting on a big spread. That's what I love to do now is put on a big spread.”

Recently, Laura hosted an Italian feast to welcome her new neighbors when her family moved to Downers Grove. The menu included eggplant tapenade, brown rice risotto, prosciutto wrapped melon, antipasto salad and spinach lasagna. For dessert, she topped off the meal with ice cream covered with homemade hot fudge sauce and cherries marinated in brandy.

While Laura admits she doesn't try to over impress, her dishes often wow a crowd. One dish was an Italian masterpiece called timpano, where encased in dough are layers of cold cuts, pastas and vegetables.

“I had friends that took pictures of it and posted it on Facebook,” she says.

She added, “It's exhausting, but I love it. I'm OK with big groups of people because I like to cook lots of different things.”

For her own birthday dinner, she invited friends over and planned a Mexican fiesta. Mixing cream cheese and shredded cheese, she combined that with sauteed onions, mushrooms and peppers. The mixture was spread onto tortillas and then topped with shredded chicken to make quesadillas. The meal was not complete without berry margaritas.

To help readers plan a summer party without a lot of fuss, Laura shares the recipes for her quesadillas including her poached chicken. And as an easy side dish, try her refrigerator pickles, which Laura says is a frequent recipe request from friends.

But her home is not only a place where a table filled with decadent dishes are served. Within the same home, Laura teaches yoga and follows the mindset that the exercise is important as well as eating the right foods.

Laura said she has learned a lot about nutrition since starting yoga seven years ago. For example, she said in the winter it is difficult for the body to digest raw vegetables. So choose vegetables that are cooked or stewed. Talking with a nutritionist, she also learned that extra-virgin olive oil when exposed to high temperatures can lose its nutritional properties. Laura said she now uses ghee, a clarified butter that can take high temperatures and will not negate the nutritional value.

“I'm a ghee fan now,” she said.

When planning meals for her husband and kids, Matthew, 28, and Jackie, 23, one influencing factor Laura relies on is the produce section at the grocery store.

“That is usually different every week, so that's my inspiration,” she said. “Sometimes I'll go through my recipe books or it's easy to go on the computer, type in eggplant and tomatoes and see what recipes come up. To keep things fresh, I shop the organic produce that's on sale that week, and that can help pick the menu for you. You don't really have to think about it.”

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Eggplant Caponata

Refrigerator pickles

Poached chicken

Crowd-pleasing Quesadillas

  Laura Gibson of Downers Grove loves to entertain. "When you cook and entertain, you're the star of your own show," she said. "You put a lot of effort into it. You make a beautiful presentation. You try to please people and put a lot of love into it," says Laura Gibson of Downers Grove. Scott Sanders/
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