Purple Kitchen Treats

Over the past few years, I have been working on a cookbook. During this time, I took time off to finish my Master's Degree. Now that I have accomplished that, I am working again on my cookbook, slowly but surely.

However, over the past few months, something interesting has happened...I have received multiple requests for baked goods, particularly my cookies. I am also receiving multiple requests for granola. So, with all these requests in mind, I have started to make my cookies for sale, along with my granola.

My official web site is available, but will be undergoing a significant redesign. Be sure to visit my "official" web site at: http://www.susanshonk.com and watch for some exciting changes.

From the heart of my purple kitchen to you,

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Musings on a Sunday afternoon

Jason and I just came in from church and I fixed lunch for us.  One of my greatest joys is watching my husband enjoy a meal.  A little bit about my husband....Jason is one of those men that has a very quiet strength, is very observant and does not talk a whole bunch.  I, on the other hand, am a "chatty Kathy".  Jason is the one who sits quietly in the corner at a party, while I dance nekked on a table wearing only a lampshade and a smile, all the while he is saying to himself, "Lord...help me!".  We balance each other very well....he reels me in and I draw him out.  As a couple, we are a great match.

As I sit at my desk, I am going thru the recipes that were in my mom's shoebox.  My memories begin to emerge of wonderful times in the kitchen waiting for the oven to finish doing it's magic on the dough or batter that was so carefully placed there.  Those were wonderful times in the kitchen when mom was baking and filling the vintage character cookie jar with treats.  This cookie jar is the shape of a pretty little pig, standing upright, in a dress with flowers on her head.  She has the sweetest smile on her face.  This is the cookie jar that my grandmother had, my mom had and now I have.  A picture of the cookie jar wil be included in the book too.

Some of the cookies that I am reminiscing about are snickerdoodles, chocolate chip, peanut butter, chocolate icebox cookies, oatmeal raisin and Russian tea cakes.  I still have the original Betty Crocker cookie book that some of these recipes came from.  As I thumb thru the pages, they are stained and worn, and I can almost smell the cookies baking.  Mom didn't have family recipes for cookies, except for modifications to some classic cookie recipes, but she did have recipes for several amazing cakes.

One of the cakes that I grew up with was the "War Cake".  This cake was deep, dark chocolate and was always made with peanut butter frosting.  I would have included it in the cook-book, but the recipe was published by the King Arthur flour company.  There is a bit of vinegar in the recipe that increases the complexity of the taste beyond anything that you can imagine.  Yes, vinegar....and you would never know that it is in the recipe.

Another recipe that I grew up with was a blueberry coffee cake that had TONS of blueberries in it.  We made this every year when fresh blueberries were at their peak and it is being included in the book.  There are a few versions of this "out there", but none that I have encountered are on the same level as this one.  This, my dear readers, is the ultimate blueberry coffee cake.

Now that fall will be arriving, it is getting time to make applesauce.  The family recipe for applesauce will be in the book along with my mom's recipe for Applesauce cake.  This is a moist cake that cannot be beat...if you like the smell of the warm spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and a few others), then this is a cake for you.  Like having a crock pot full of warm, spiced cider, this cake will fill your house with the smell of apple pie.

Also, an added bonus to making this cake, and the pumpkin cake, is that the smell of cinnamon can have a very positive impact your love life, "wink, wink".

Saturday, August 28, 2010

More initial thoughts

It is 9:30am on Saturday morning and I am sitting at my computer with a big mug of coffee and 2 cats by my side.  My husband is at work and I am already considering what to fix him for lunch and what we might have for dinner.

Lunch will most likely be mushroom, onion, cheese steaks with home-made iced tea.  To clarify, "home-made" does not include instant tea, Crystal Light, tea concentrate or any other tea that is a mix that one can make "at home".  I actually measure out the loose tea, the sugar, heat the water and let the tea steep for several minutes before straining it into the 2 gallon container and adding just the right amount of water to make a glass of sweet, deep amber heaven.

About brewing your own loose tea......never, ever boil the water.  Bring it to a simmer and turn it off.  Boiling the water releases the oxygen and can change the character of the flavor.  You can also use the coffee maker to heat a pot of water, that is a great temperature to make tea with.  Think of it this way, when your nose is "stuffed up", things most likely taste differently because you cannot smell any thing.  Oxygen / breathing is an important component to taste.  Try this to test the theory...place a clothes pin on your nose and eat something, take the clothes pin off and have a second bite and see if it tastes differently.

For dinner, I'm considering some form of quesadilla with a side of grilled scallions and a salad with cranberry chipotle dressing on it.  If you have not had grilled scallions, please try them.  Clean, trim and drizzle them with olive oil, some salt and pepper and grill.  These are marvelous.  If you don't have an out-door grill, get some smoked salt and use that instead of plain salt.  Yes, smoked salt.....it is a miracle and comes in different flavors.  I use it on meats, on veggies and in salads and have even used it on grilled fruit to get that smokey flavor when out-door grilling is not an option.

Speaking of salt....fleur du sel....the flavor is soft without any sharp edges.  It is well worth the extra expense and I use it strictly "at the table".  I use sea salt or kosher salt in the actual cooking process.

For pepper, I use a peppercorn melange....black, red and pink peppercorns and always grind it fresh.

I just discovered that my coffee cup is empty, so heading back to the kitchen to fill up and see what's in the fridge and what culinary mischief I can get into.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Initial Thoughts

This book is a tribute to my mother.  She worked very hard at raising her children and at being a good wife.  She had so many dreams which she had to give up.  Her father was an immigrant from Germany in the 1920’s and didn’t believe in educating girls.  His reasoning was that girls were only going to grow up, get married and have children, therefore a formal education was a waste.  My mother didn’t believe that.  She would always say to me, “Susie, find out what it is you can do and do it.  Don’t get married right out of high school.  You are smart, don’t limit yourself.”    

My mother’s name was Ruth.  She grew up very poor and had to leave home to work at a very young age.  She never finished high school, married at 17 and by the time she was 18, she had her first child.  She was not able to finish high school or to further her formal education….but she had dreams, wonderful dreams, which would be fulfilled in her children.  

My mother was diagnosed with endometrial cancer at age 54.  She had some very good years early in the disease course, but ultimately lost a 15 year battle with this disease.  Her life ended quietly at home, in my father’s arms on October 20, 2002.  She was 69 years old.  

Now, a little bit about me.  By profession, I am a Registered Nurse and have been since 1980.  I began my career in Massachusetts.  I moved to Texas with a job transfer in 1995.  Moving to Texas was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.  This is where I met the love of my life, my husband Jason.  Jason is a wonderful man and is quite an accomplished artist.  

Texas is where I began to stretch my culinary skills.  Being from New England, if you boiled it, I would eat it.  The food that I grew up with was very basic.  My mother was an adequate cook.  However, she was an extraordinary baker.  

Other than my husband, I have 2 passions in life.  The first is cooking and the second is singing.  Yes, I can cook and yes, I can sing.  My dream job after I retire from nursing is to open a small diner.  

Family and friends have been asking me to write down and organize all my family recipes along with all the ones that I have developed over the last 12 years along with the ones that I keep coming up with...and I finally decided to commit to the project.  

I'm not sure how long this will take and am thinking about setting a deadline.  I want to be careful because I don't want the deadline to be too ambitious, but I also don't want it to be too generous.....this will take some careful thought.   

The funny thing is, I didn't really start to cook until I was in my late 30's.  I had been watching the cooking shows on PBS and loved several of them.  I made it a point to be home on Saturday afternoons so that I could watch TV.  Some of my early favorites were (of course) Julia Child, Martin Yan, Ming Tsai, Marion Morash of the Victory Garden, Marsha Adams in Cooking from Quilt Country, Jacques Pepin, and the Frugal Gourmet.

I came from a home in which my mother was an adequate cook.  She didn't cook anything fancy, just basic food.  In fact, she cooked meat until it was dead, buried and resurrected.....meat ALWAYS required something...butter, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard....anything...to give it enough moisture so that it could be chewed and swallowed.  Vegetables were cooked until they were mushy and fell apart.  There was nothing bright green or crisp, unless it was the makings for salad.  

But....my mother could bake.  She could make the most amazing cakes, cookies, breads and pies that anyone could imagine.   Any time there was a bake sale, my mom baked for it and her goodies were always a huge hit.  The neighborhood kids were always at our house for goodies, particularly my brother and his friends.