Baker, farmers market aficionado spreads love of cooking

Shannon Praete delivered this pound cake on Tuesday to the front office of her childrens’ school to say thanks.

Elizabeth Perkis recommended we get in touch with her friend Shannon, who works in the mayor’s office in North Charleston.

Elizabeth says that Shannon “probably keeps that entire government building fed full of yummy sweets. She loves to bake and has baked more goodies for families across Daniel Island and Mount Pleasant than you can count. She makes a from-scratch homecooked meal every night, regardless of sports practices, charity board meetings, etc., and is the first one to bring a meal to anyone in need.

“She is truly an inspiration that with some organization you can cook fresh for your family and really does cook with love. Her family and close friends tease her that she has a baking alter ego.”

Name: Shannon Praete

Age: 45

Residence: Daniel Island

Occupation: Grants administrator for City of North Charleston

Family: I am married to Hampton and we have two daughters, Lilly (11) and Charlotte (8), and a great little dog we adopted named Maggie.

Q: We hear that you’re a wonderful and prolific baker. What made you interested in baking and what do you like about it?

A: I come from a family of cooks. I remember as a child being in the kitchen with multiple generations all cooking for special occasions or just a large family meal.

When I was a child, we had a family tradition that every Christmas Eve, we would bake trays of homemade sweet rolls and deliver them to friends. I think that instilled in me my love for baking. I think that baking for people is a very Southern thing and conveys to people a sense of caring and warmth.

I love to surprise people with something freshly baked. Many of our neighbors are from out of state and they are shocked when you knock on the door with something home baked or homemade ice cream for a child who has had tonsils removed.

Q: You work in the North Charleston mayor’s office. We don’t expect a tell-all, but does Mayor Keith Summey have a sweet tooth? For anything in particular?

A: I know his family loves my blueberry muffins and have even shared the recipe with them. The mayor himself is great on a grill and his fruitcake is legendary! I also have been known to bring the mayor’s family homemade sweet rolls on Christmas Eve and pound cakes during the holidays or other special occasions!

Q: We also hear that you are able to put a home-cooked meal on the table daily. How do you manage that? What are some of your time-saving strategies or tips?

A: Growing up, my husband and I were both raised in families that ate dinner nightly at the table and we are continuing this tradition with our children. I typically sit down on the weekend and make a meal plan and use that to do our grocery list.

My daughters write the menu on a chalkboard in our kitchen, so each night everyone knows what is for dinner. I grocery shop once a week and try to get as many of my fruits and vegetables locally as possible. I also utilize Wildtree products and have found that their organic, non-GMO, nut-free products are a great help with getting a wonderful, nutritious meal on the table! It further allows me to feel good about what I am serving my family.

I also am a big believer in my Crock-Pot. I put dinner in it before going to work and that evening, the house smells amazing. Our after-school sitter last year was fascinated by the Crock-Pot and how I made dinner in it many nights. She even bought one for her family and asked for recipes.

I get many of recipes from my favorite cookbook, which is just a collection of recipes from friends, family, magazines, newspapers and Pinterest. We are always trying new recipes. Some are not as great as others and some have become “legendary” in our family.

Q: You’ve lived in the area for most of your life. Food-wise, what is the best of Charleston? (can be old, can be new, can be fancy or down-to-earth).

A: I think we live in amazing place with some of the best restaurants the world has to offer, but I must say I love our local produce from local farmers. I started the farmers market in North Charleston back in the mid-1990s and became friends with a number of the farmers. This helped to make me a big proponent in buying whatever I can get local.

I typically go to the farmers markets or patronize Boone Hall Farms for local produce and also have been a CSA member. My children also love to do U-pick! I joined a Facebook group that a group of Shem Creek shrimpers have that announces when their catch is coming in and where it can be bought. We go and buy fresh, local shrimp as often as possible, and usually have shrimp for dinner at least one night a week.

I remember when dining in Mount Pleasant was more limited in options. One of my most favorite places used to be Captain Guilds Cafe (where the Old Village Post House is now). When it closed, the chef actually gave me a few recipes, including her peanut butter pie. I love Bertha’s in Union Heights. The best okra soup, macaroni and cornbread ever! We ordered food from there for a birthday party and it was a big hit with our friends from out of state. I love Square Onion for lunch, EVO for pizza and Lee Lee’s Hot Kitchen for Asian.

Q: Do you bake more around the holidays? If so, what are some goodies you make?

A: I am a year-round baker, but of course I do more during the holidays. I love to make pound cakes during the holidays in a Christmas tree pan that I got from Coastal Cupboard. I also make a variety of cookies and other sweet treats for friends, neighbors and my children’s teachers.

I am always trying new recipes and ideas each holiday season. I actually am planning the fall treats for my children’s teachers, which will be homemade salted caramel sauce with a variety of apples from the Upstate of South Carolina! I laugh, but one of our children’s former teachers says that she still goes to my child’s lunch table to see what I packed and to see if there are any extra sweet treats.

I also love to bake a chocolate cake with chocolate icing, which has become famous among our friends and family to the point that my nephews have nicknamed it “The Cake.” I have been told that some friends hide it from their spouses in garage refrigerators or enjoy extra pieces in the middle of the night while their spouse and children are asleep.

Q: Who is someone in the culinary world that you admire and why?

A: Chefs are amazing to watch and produce unbelievable meals, but many spend all day preparing meals. As a working mom that has a full schedule, I don’t have time for that much preparation. I think that is why I really admire Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa). She was on another career path for many years in government, kind of like myself! She has no formal training as a chef, yet her recipes are delicious. I find her recipes to be easy to follow and quick preparation.

Q: I have a real weakness for ...

A: There is nothing in the world like fresh shrimp from one of Shem Creek’s shrimp boats and a cold Kolsch beer from North Charleston’s Coast Brewing! Followed by dessert of homemade ice cream!

This is a great cake eaten by itself for dessert or even in the mornings lightly toasted with butter for a special treat.

Ingredients

3 sticks salted butter (room temperature)

8 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)

22/3 cups sugar

6 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon almond extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix butter and cream cheese in a large mixing bowl until well mixed. Add in sugar and mix well. Then add eggs. Put them all in at once and then mix. Add in vanilla and almond extracts until well combined. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, and the salt.

Grease and lightly flour a bundt pan. Pour batter in it. Bake in oven for approximately 75 minutes. Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then cool on wire rack.