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Cook Extraordinaire

Sherman Mother Loves Making Food For Family

Becky Van Valkenburg of Sherman aspires to own a restaurant but would return to a cook's position if the right opportunity presented itself. Submitted photo

Some people think Becky Van Valkenburg is a cook extraordinaire, including the person who recommended Becky should be featured on this page.

“I love to cook. Sometimes I don’t think I get enough opportunity to do that. My family will tell you I am involved in too much stuff,” she says. “I like to play with my food. I like to make it interesting. I don’t like it to be blah.”

While in junior high school, she worked at the former Curly Maple Restaurant in Findley Lake and then at a bed and breakfast in North East, Pa. She started as a prep-cook, then became a baker and then moved to lunch manager. She also worked in a sub shop, at Better Baked Foods and then as a cook at Vincenzo’s in Sherman. She currently works in home health care, but still longs to work in a restaurant or better yet, own one. She would be happy with any type of restaurant, but says a breakfast and lunch restaurant would be ideal.

“I would do whatever opened up. If God provides me with an all-day restaurant, I would take it.”

She learned a lot from working in a local restaurant and took a lot to the restaurant “because of what my mom taught me.” She gives credit to the many jobs she had in the food service industry, but feels she learned the most from watching her mother prepare a great meal for her very large family.

“I grew up with six brothers and sisters and I remember my mom making supper from nothing,” she shared. “I watched everything she did. When I told her I needed her meatball recipe she said ‘there is no recipe for meatballs.’ That’s where I learned a recipe is just a guideline. You can make any recipe your own. I’ve learned there are certain things that do not have to be measured and there are things that have to be measured exactly.”

The daughter was raised in South Ripley on the farm her paternal grandparents had once owned.

“Mom would always have bread and dessert. She was always making homemade bread.”

It is important to her that her family spend quality time together and eat dinner together whenever possible.

“Sunday morning breakfast is very important to me because it is the only time we can have breakfast together. I value that time with my family,” she says. “We discuss things and communicate.”

She is the daughter of John and Carol Bisbee who celebrated their 50th anniversary on July 26th. She is married to Roy Van Valkenburg, who works at Wabtec in Erie, the former General Electric. He has been a beekeeper for six years. They have two children. Their son Sam is a senior at Alfred State College studying construction management.

“He’s my cooker. He watches me like I watched my mom.”

Megan, the Van Valkenburg’s daughter, will be attending Jamestown Business College where she will study business management. She works at Haff Acres Greenhouse and Fruit Stand and would like to own a business similar to it one day.

“Megan loves working over there. Both of my kids have great work ethic and don’t like sitting around.”

The couple have always told their children they “have to think outside of the box.”

“My mom was a great inspiration. I try to instill in my children that they won’t always have electricity and have to figure out what to do and not panic.”

She is an avid football mom, who says she loves the boys who are on her son’s team. She greets all of the players as they are going into the locker room to get dressed for the game.

“I am there to pump them up.”

She shows up at the games with five cow bells in hand. This will be their son’s last year to play so the couple have already committed to going to all of the games, no matter the location.

She loves Pinterest and recently made her daughter’s corsage for the prom. When her son was a Junior in high school, she made dinner for nine kids on prom night, mimicking Olive Garden’s Tour of Italy when preparing fettucine Alfredo, chicken parmesan, lasagna, a salad and dessert.

“I loved it! I told my husband and kids to get prepared because I am going to be the best grandmother yet.”

She has been involved with mission trips to Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Indiana for six years. She serves as president of the Sherman Alumni Association, treasurer of the PTO and helps with Sherman Days. They are members of Sherman First Baptist Church where she is the treasurer and assists with AWANA.

“If you ask, I’ll probably do it,” she admits. “If my name is attached to it, I want it to be half-way decent. That’s where I get myself into trouble.”

The Sherman woman contributes some of her family’s favorite recipes today.

“I first had Pastalaya when I went to Louisiana on a mission trip. The inmates make lunch on Friday and we always have Pastalaya. Now my family loves it. They beg for it all of the time.”

“One of the desserts my mom always made was Wacky Cake. She would always double the recipe because there were nine of us.”

Zucchini Casserole

2 boxes stuffing mix

2 lb bulk sausage

3 T olive oil

3 medium zucchini, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

8 oz fresh mushrooms, chopped

Salt

Pepper

1-2 tsp fresh-chopped garlic

1 jar pasta sauce

8 oz mozzarella cheese

Prepare stuffing according to package directions and set aside. In a large frying pan, saute sausage until cooked through. Remove sausage from pan. Add olive oil, zucchini, onion, mushrooms, salt, pepper and garlic. Saute until vegetables are tender. In a very large bowl, mix all ingredients except sauce and cheese. Put into 9-inch by 13-inch casserole dish. Pour sauce over the top. Cover with foil and bake in 350∂ oven for 30 minutes. Sprinkle cheese on top and bake for 15 minutes more.

Wacky Cake

2 c sugar

2 1/2 c flour

2 tsp soda

1 tsp salt

1/2 c cocoa

2 c cold water

2 T vinegar

3/4 c oil

Combine sugar, flour, soda, salt and cocoa. Add water, vinegar and oil and mix until just combined. Pour into greased 9 by 13 cake pan. Bake in preheated 350∂ oven 30 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely and then frost with Peanut Butter Frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting

1 c softened butter

1 c peanut butter

3 1/4 c powdered sugar

5 T heavy cream or milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

In a large bowl, cream the butters together. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, alternating with tablespoons of heavy cream. Add vanilla and whip on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes until frosting is light and fluffy.

45 Minute Cinnamon Rolls

2 3/4 c flour

3 T sugar

1 tsp salt

1 package instant yeast (2 1/4 tsp)

1/2 c water

1/4 c milk

2 T unsalted butter

1 large egg

Filling:

1/4 c unsalted butter, room temperature

1 T ground cinnamon

1/4 c brown sugar

1/2 c chopped pecans

Glaze:

1 c powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2-3 T milk or coffee (I use flavored creamer)

Dough: In large bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt and yeast together until evenly dispersed. Set aside. In a small microwavable bowl, heat water, milk and butter in microwave until butter is melted (about 30-45 seconds). Stir butter mixture into flour mixture. Add egg and knead with hand or with stand mixer for 3-4 minutes or until dough is no longer sticky. Let rest for about 5 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and turn off after 10 minutes or just before placing rolls in oven.

Filling: After dough has rested for 5 minutes, roll it out in a 15-inch by 9-inch rectangle. Spread softened butter on top. Mix cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over dough. Roll up dough tightly and cut into 9 (large) even pieces. Place in a lightly greased 9-inch square pan (or cut into 12 small pieces and place in a 9-inch by 13-inch pan). Lightly cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. ?Place cinnamon rolls in the oven to rise for 20 minutes (with the oven off). After 20 minutes, keeping buns in oven, remove foil and turn on oven to 350 degrees. Bake 25 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and top with glaze.

Glaze: Mix powdered sugar, vanilla and 2 T milk until smooth and lump free. Drizzle over warm rolls.

Pressure Cooker Balsamic Roast Beef

1-2 1/2 – 3 lb boneless chuck beef

1 c beef broth

1/2 c balsamic vinegar

1 T Worcestershire sauce

1 T soy sauce

1 T honey

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

4 cloves garlic, chopped

Place beef in pressure cooker. In a 2-cup measuring cup, whisk together beef broth, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, honey, red pepper flakes and garlic. Seal the lid on your pressure cooker and close the vent to retain pressure. Cook on high pressure for 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes has passed, allow the pressure cooker to release pressure naturally for 15 minutes, then use the quick release to release any additional pressure before removing the lid. Remove roast from the liquid, reserving liquid to spoon over roast for serving. Serve with rice or noodles

Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies

1/2 c sugar

1 stick butter

1/2 c milk

1 tsp vanilla

1 c peanut butter

2 1/2 c quick oats

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine sugar, butter and milk. Bring to a rapid boil and boil for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, making sure to set a timer. Stir continuously. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and peanut butter. Stir in the oats until well blended. Immediately drop by tablespoons onto waxed paper. Let cool until set, about 30 minutes.

Chicken Marsala

4 T olive oil

1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 T flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced thinly

24 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 1/2 c Marsala wine

2 tsp cornstarch

1/4 c cold water

1/4 c butter, melted

3/4 c sour cream

2 tsp chopped parsley optional

16 oz angel hair pasta or preference

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender. Remove from the pan into a bowl. Set aside. Add flour, salt and pepper to a Ziploc bag. Add chicken to bag and shake until chicken is coated with flour. In the same large pot over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of oil and saute half the chicken for 1 to 2 minutes per side until lightly browned. Remove to a plate and keep warm. Repeat with a second tablespoon of the oil and the remaining chicken, removing to the separate plate to keep warm. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet and stir in the mushrooms. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until tender. Remove from heat. Add wine and cook for 1 minute, scraping any browned bits from the skillet. Drain liquid, leaving mushrooms in the pan and set aside. Add the chicken to the pan, placing the onion mixture on top. Place marsala sauce in separate pan. Add cornstarch to 1/4 cup cold water and whisk until smooth. Pour into marsala sauce and heat on high, stirring until thick. Add melted butter. Stir. Add sour cream. Stir. Pour marsala sauce over chicken, onions and mushrooms in the pot. Bring chicken marsala to a boil, then gently simmer, covered for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare pasta following package directions, about 11 minutes. Garnish chicken with chopped parsley. Serve over cooked pasta.

Pastalaya

1-1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thigh meat, chopped

1-1/2 lbs Manda or favorite smoked pork sausage, sliced (I use Andouille sausage for the heat.)

1-1/2 lbs boneless pork, cubed

1-1/2 lbs onions, chopped

2 small bell peppers, green, red, or yellow, chopped

1 bunch green onions (shallots), chopped (optional)

1/2 c parsley flakes

1 T sweet basil

3 bay leaves

3 T fresh garlic, minced

14 oz can Del Monte Cajun Recipe Stewed Tomatoes

1 1/2 lbs. spaghetti, uncooked

4 1/2 cups water

Dash hot sauce, optional

Dash black pepper

Dash cayenne pepper, optional

Dash Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning

2 T garlic powder

2 T worcestershire Sauce

2 T steak sauce

Brown chicken sprinkled with Tony’s seasoning and then remove from pot. Brown pork first, then boil with some water until tender (about 30 minutes) and most of the water has reduced. Add sausage to pork and brown for about 10 minutes on medium heat while constantly stirring. Next add onions, bell pepper, tomatoes, bay leaves, basil, parsley flakes, fresh garlic and dash of hot sauce. Let cook down on medium heat while carefully stirring to prevent sticking. Vegetables will make extra water. When cooked thoroughly and vegetables are wilted, add 4 1/2 c water and return chicken to pot. Next season mixture with pepper, garlic powder, Worcestershire, A-1 and Tony’s. Remember that pasta will absorb the seasonings, so make sure the water tastes just a little more salty and peppery than you would like. Next, raise the heat to medium high so water starts boiling. Break pasta in half and sprinkle into mixture. Be careful that pasta does not stick together and clump. When all pasta has softened and absorbs most of the water, lower heat to medium low and add the green onions. Stir carefully. Place lid on pot for 3 minutes. Next lift the lid, stir pot completely and then replace lid. Lower heat to very, very low and cook covered for 15 minutes. Finally, turn the heat off, do not remove the lid, and let sit for 30 minutes. After this, lift the lid, stir the pot over, and dish is ready to serve

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