Cookies are always available in Park’s kitchen

Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne
Bonnie Park enjoys baking treats for her family in the kitchen of her Atkinson home.

Bonnie Park of Atkinson has always enjoyed cooking and baking, but admits probably her favorite thing to do is bake cookies. “I’ve always got cookies in the freezer. I bake cookies a lot,” she said.

“If one of my grandkids would come for a visit and I wouldn’t have any cookies to offer them, I would feel terrible and it means a lot to me when they ask for a cookie.”

Bonnie says chocolate chip cookies are always a favorite, but her most popular cookie, and one she doesn’t even need to get a recipe out to make, is her World’s Greatest Cookie.

“I’ve made that cookie so many times, I don’t even get the recipe out any more when I make them,” she laughs. “It is a peanut butter cookie with chocolate chips.”

She also makes a lot of Ranger cookies and adds butterscotch chips to the batter for a little more flavor.

“On their birthdays, I always take the grandkids a container of their favorite cookies. It’s just something I?like to do to make them feel special,” Bonnie said.

“If the recipe calls for one bag of chocolate chips, I always add two instead. I want to be able to taste the chocolate,” she laughs, adding she uses milk chocolate chips in the cookie dough rather than semi-sweet chocolate chips. “I just like the milk chocolate better.”

Although Bonnie often makes the favorite cookies, she said she also likes to try new recipes occasionally. “I just cut out a recipe for a cookie that I’m going to try,” she said. “I like to try new things like that.”

Bonnie and her husband, Bob, will celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary this September.

Their family includes children and spouses, Julie and Whitey Swanson of Geneseo, Jeff and Theresa Park of Annawan, a daughter-in-law, Denise Park of Atkinson, Joe Park of Princeton, and Jean and Jeff Roman of Atkinson; 13 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. A son, Jim Park, is deceased.

“There are 40 of us when we all get together,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie enjoys the times she and her family can gather for a meal. “I used to have all the dinners here, but now we take turns,” she said. “We always had a big meal for Christmas until recently, but now we’ve started doing appetizers and snacks, and we really like that.” Julie, according to her mother, always brings “excellent” stuffed mushrooms and Joe brings meatballs that are “terrific.”

No matter what the menu is, however, Bonnie still brings one dish that is a staple at their family dinners — scalloped oysters. “Even for Christmas Eve when we just have the appetizers, we have to have the scalloped oysters. You either love them or you hate them,” Bonnie laughs, adding they also have a favorite punch that she first made for one of her granddaughters confirmation.

“They all love the punch and we have it most holidays. It is made with orange sherbet, pineapple juice, apricot nectar and 7-Up. It is very, very sweet. A little goes a long way but we love it.”

Easter this year will be celebrated at Bonnie and Bob’s home with all the springtime  favorites.

“We usually have ham for Easter dinner and we have to have fresh asparagus with cheese sauce,” she said.

To prepare the asparagus, Bonnie said she just cleans the asparagus and cooks it in salted water, cutting the asparagus spears into pieces.

“Then I just make a white sauce with butter, flour and milk and add 2 percent Velveeta cheese to it, you can make it as cheesy as you  like — we like cheese in our family. We don’t think there’s such a thing as too much cheese,” she laughs, adding her husband would rather have the fresh asparagus prepared with just a little milk and butter. “So I do that for him.”

Another favorite family main dish is manicotti that Bonnie also makes for most get togethers. “I got that recipe from a friend who brought it to a potluck many, many years ago,” she said. “I tasted it and remember thinking I had never tasted anything so good. And my family loves it.”

Stuffing the manicotti with a cheese filling can admittedly be a time consuming process but since she knows her family enjoys it, Bonnie said she almost always does it for holiday meals.

Noting she is pretty much a self-taught cook, Bonnie said she learned the basics of cooking from her mother, the late Loretta Causemaker. “My mom was the best cook. She might start with a recipe but she would then do her own thing — she cooked by taste and I guess I do it the same way,” Bonnie said. “I use a recipe, but I also go by taste, that’s what is most important.”

One of her son, Joe’s, favorite things is a simple macaroni and tomato dish Bonnie prepares just like her mother always did. “Mom would start with cooked macaroni and then add either tomato soup or tomato sauce or maybe whole tomatoes. Then she added a little sugar, salt, pepper and butter,” Bonnie said. “It’s one of those things that turns out different every time you make it and

Mom would never make it the same, but she always served it in this one big blue bowl that we all remember. It is very simple, but we all like it.”

Bonnie remembers her mother-in-law as a wonderful cook also and said her husband always recalls his mothers chicken and homemade noodles. “And she made the best salad dressing for a lettuce salad — it was so simple, just vinegar, oil, sugar and salt and pepper, but everyone always raved about it,” she said. “The last time our family all got together I made a big salad and put that salad dressing on it and everyone loved it.”

She remembers her mother-in-law always made a salad of lettuce, tomato and onion then poured the dressing over it and mixed it up. “Very simple and very good,” she said.

According to Bonnie, a favorite meal for her and her husband might be chicken breast on the grill. “Bob grills the chicken breast and just uses some butter spray, salt and pepper and they are very good,” she said. “With that we would always have some kind of potato, maybe parsley potatoes or mashed potatoes, and a vegetable.”

She said one of Bob’s favorite vegetables is sweet corn from their daughter, Julie’s, garden.

“Julie and her husband freeze their own sweet corn and it is so tender. It just tastes like summer.”

She said she and her husband also have fish often for dinner, prefering tilapia, catfish fillets or salmon. “For salmon, my favorite way to fix it is to coat it with honey mustard and just a teaspoon of brown sugar. Then I sprinkle it with black pepper and bake it,” she said. “Bob likes the catfish just fried in a skillet with butter, salt, pepper and paprika.”

When cooking Bonnie said she usually uses either butter or extra virgin olive oil. “I might use margarine for certain cookies and if I do I always use Fleishman’s,” she said. “And if a cookie recipe calls for peanut butter I always use Skippy honey nut peanut butter.”

Besides baking cookies regularly, Bonnie also likes to make homemade pies, noting one of her husband’s favorite pies is banana cream. “I used to make peach and apple pies until I could hardly stand it,” she laughs. “Where we lived before, we had so many fruit trees in our yard and I just couldn’t let the fruit go to waste, so I would make the pies and give them to all the kids and grandkids.”

Bonnie said they had peach, cherry, apple, white peach and apricot trees in their yard.

Cooking for her family, Bonnie admits, is something she has always enjoyed doing and something that has been a big part of her life. “My granddaughter, Mallory, and I like maraschino cherries, so I do a chocolate cookie with a maraschino cherry in the middle,” Bonnie explains.

“Mallory and I really like them, but I took some to a great-grandson and he asked where the chocolate chip cookies were — we all have our favorites.”

She remembers her father, the late Walter Causemaker, loved her date bars (“I made them every week for him for years.”). And when her children  were growing up her daughter, Julie’s, favorite was always strawberry shortcake; Jeff’s was beef stroganoff; Jim loved homemade vanilla pudding; one of Joe’s favorites was the macaroni and tomatoes, and Jean loved sugar cookies that Bonnie frosted and put sprinkles on every Christmas. “When they were growing up those were some of their favorites,” she said. “At one time I also did a lot of extra holiday baking. I used to think it wasn’t Christmas if I didn’t make divinity.”

And after years of baking endless amounts of cookies Bonnie recently discovered a tool that is a big help with that project. “I just got a Pampered Chef cookie scoop and it works great,” she said.

“After all those years of using a teaspoon to drop the cookies onto the cookie sheet, this is a lot easier.”

Cooking, Bonnie said, is just something you do. “When my kids were small, I was in the house with them all day long so I just cooked. It’s just what we did.”

Bonnie Park shares some of her favorite recipes.

Scalloped oysters

Bonnie Park

3 pints oysters

2 sleeves soda crackers, crushed

2 sticks butter, melted

salt and pepper

1/4 C. milk

Combine cracker crumbs and melted butter.

Go through oysters to remove any shells.

Put thin layer of butter cracker crumbs in bottom of three quart casserole.

Put layer of oysters on cracker crumbs.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add another layer of crackers then a layer of oysters and seasoning.

Don’t use more than two layers of oysters.

Pour oyster liquor and milk over oysters.

Top with buttered crumbs and season.

Bake in hot oven 375 degrees for between 45 and 60 minutes.

Punch

Bonnie Park

16 oz. can pineapple juice

16 oz. can apricot nectar

12 oz. can frozen orange juice

2 large bottles 7-Up

1/2 gallon orange or lime sherbet (orange is best)

1 qt. water

Mix together in punch bowl or large container.

World’s greatest cookies

Bonnie Park

1 C. Fleishman’s stick oleo

1 C. Skippy honey nut peanut butter

1 C. white sugar

1 C. brown sugar

2 eggs

2 C. flour

1 t. baking soda

2-12 oz. packages milk chocolate chips

Cream oleo and peanut butter. Add sugars and blend.

Add eggs. Mix well. Add flour and soda.

Mix well and add chocolate chips.

Blend and drop by teaspoon on greased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 12 minutes.

Manicotti

Bonnie Park

2 lbs. sausage (brown with garlic)

Put meat mixture into cheese mixture.

1 C. cottage cheese

4 oz. mozzarella cheese

1/2 C. Hellman’s mayonnaise

12 manicotti noodles

1- 16 oz. jar Ragu spaghetti sauce

Cook noodles till half done. Rinse with cold water.

Stuff noodles with filling and place in 9x13 inch baking dish. Cover with sauce. Sprinkle oregano and parmesan cheese on top.

Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour. Remove foil. Bake 10 minutes longer.

Note: Put a little sauce on bottom of dish before adding noodles, so they don’t stick.

Beef stew

Bonnie Park

3-4 lb. sirloin roast or steak

potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces

carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces

green beans, if desired

1 envelope dry onion soup mix

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1/2 C. water (if needed)

Brown meat.  Add potatoes and carrots and green beans.

Add onion soup mix and cream of mushroom soup. May add 1/2 C. water if you wish.

Bake in 3 qt. casserole dish at 350 degrees for about 2 to 2-1/2 hours until meat is tender.

May also put in crockpot.