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Cooks' Exchange: More recipes inspired by a high school trip to Key West

Cooks' Exchange: More recipes inspired by a high school trip to Key West

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Today is part two regarding a high school graduation trip to Key West 65 years ago and the excellent Florida Keys cookbooks gifted to me in the recent past by my good Madison friend Betsey McKinney who also happens to be a friend of author Victoria Shearer. Here are much needed recipes from three of Shearer’s compilations: “Quick, Cheap Comfort Food,” “Make-Ahead Meals,” and “Leftover Makeovers.”

All the recipes shared today have been developed and tested by Shearer who graduated from UW-Madison, became a teacher, an advertising executive and magazine copy editor before combining her passion for food and travel. She has also contributed to many national newspapers and magazines while enjoying a family cabin in northern Wisconsin. The 6x8-inch, 150-page cookbooks include tips for being creative in the kitchen. Most recipes in the “Comfort Food” compilation, published in 2009, cost less than $3 to prepare.

Loaded Oatmeal Mix

Here is winner filled with nuts and dried fruits to prepare and enjoy right away or keep in the pantry until needed, up to three months.

4 cups Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats (not quick-cooking)

¼ cup chopped walnuts

½ cup sliced almonds

¼ cup toasted sunflower seeds

¼ cup dried cherries

¼ cup chopped dates

¼ cup chopped dried apricots

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Transfer to an airtight, covered container and keep in the pantry until needed, up to three months.

Note: Substitute any of your favorite nuts and dried fruits in this recipe. Takes 10 minutes to make 6 cups.

Stovetop Oatmeal

In Scotland, oatmeal is served in one bowl, milk in another. Diners dip each spoonful of hot oatmeal in the cold milk, therefore keeping the milk from cooling off the oatmeal.

1¼ cup Loaded Oatmeal Mix

Milk or half-and-half

Brown sugar

Place 2 cups water in a medium saucepan over high heat. When water has come to a boil, add 1¼ cups Loaded Oatmeal Mix. Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 12 minutes, until water is absorbed. Cover and allow oatmeal to rest for 2 minutes. Serve oatmeal with milk or half-and-half. Sprinkle with brown sugar.

Serves: 3-4

Baked Oatmeal

Not exactly a cake or a cookie, this concoction takes oatmeal to a new level.

1¹⁄³ cups Loaded Oatmeal Mix

½ cup milk

½ cup apple juice

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon baking powder

Milk or half-and-half

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a pie plate with vegetable cooking spray.

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Pour mixture into pie plate. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until oatmeal is almost set. Remove from oven and allow oatmeal to rest for 5 minutes. Serve each portion with milk or half-and-half. (Reheat leftover oatmeal in the oven or microwave.)

Serves: 4-6

Lorelei’s Nine Day Coleslaw

Shearer’s 150 page Make-Ahead Meals book includes more than 100 home-cooked meals at a moment’s notice in the morning, up to a week ahead, or make and freeze for another time. Having lived in the Florida Keys for more than 10 years, she confesses to writing and tasting her way through the islands’ wonderful cuisine with a tasty coleslaw recipe served at the Lorelei restaurant, “a Florida Keys treasure” located on the Gulf of Mexico in Islamorada that will keep for nine days “if it ever lasts that long.”

5 cups shredded green cabbage

5 cups shredded red cabbage

2 cups chopped onions, like Vidalia

1 yellow bell pepper, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1½ cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided

½ cup canola oil

1¼ cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons salt

2 teaspoons celery seed

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Freshly ground black pepper

At least one day or up to nine days ahead, place shredded cabbage, onions, bell peppers, celery and 1½ cups sugar in a large bowl. Toss until ingredients are well coated with sugar. Set aside.

Place 2 tablespoons sugar, canola oil, vinegar, salt, celery seeds and caraway seeds in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a full boil, stirring constantly. Pour hot dressing over cabbage mixture and toss to combine. Season to taste with black pepper. Transfer coleslaw to a large covered container and refrigerate until needed.

To serve: transfer coleslaw with a slotted spoon to a glass serving bowl.

Note: Reserve dressing in the container and place any leftover coleslaw back in the container. Refrigerate until you serve it again. The slaw will remain crisp for up to nine days.

Serves: 8-10

Mustard and Jack Daniel’s Marinated Sirloin Steak

Shearer admits to using the books all the time and shares personal notes in the Make-Ahead Meals book that this steak marinade is perfect for a summer cookout, especially when served with Warm Caprese Salad.

½ cup Vidalia onion mustard

¼ cup Jack Daniel’s whiskey or bourbon

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

3 pounds sirloin steak, cut 1¼ inches thick

One day ahead, mix mustard, whiskey, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce together in a small bowl. Place steak in a freezer-weight zipper bag. Pour marinade into bag. Close bag and massage bag until steak is totally covered with marinade. Place in refrigerator overnight.

To serve, preheat grill to medium-hot (450 degrees). Remove steak from marinade. Place marinade in a microwave-safe container and microwave for 1 minute. Grill steak, basting with marinade and turning once, until medium-rare, about 5 or 6 minutes per side. Remove steak from grill, cut slices on a slight angle, about ⅛ inch thick and serve immediately.

Note: Vidalia onion mustard can be found in gourmet-type food stores or can be ordered from on-line markets. Substitute a mixture of ¼ cup finely minced sweet onions and ½ cup Dijon or whole-seed mustard if you can’t find the more exotic version.

Serves: 8

Warm Caprese Salad

Heating tomatoes and slightly melting the mozzarella elevates this classic salad to new heights.

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided

3 ripe tomatoes, sliced ½ inch thick

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ knob fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼-inch slices

1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil

½ tablespoon olive oil

Early in the day or up to 1 hour ahead, coat bottom and sides of an oval gratin dish with olive oil spray. Sprinkle ½ cup bread crumbs evenly on the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese over bread crumbs. Season tomato slices with salt and pepper. Place one tomato slice at an angle against the far side of the dish. Place one mozzarella slice against tomato slice. Repeat with all tomato and cheese slices, ending with a tomato slice and sprinkle with snipped basil.

Sprinkle remaining ½ cup bread crumbs and 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese over tomato and cheese slices. Drizzle olive oil onto bread crumbs.

To serve, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. Use a small firm spatula to serve each mozzarella-topped tomato slice.

Note: Knobs of fresh mozzarella are found in the deli cheese section of your supermarket.

Serves: 6

Eggnog French Toast

Paging through Shearer’s Leftover Makeover book is a recipe using leftover eggnog from the holidays!

2 cups commercially prepared eggnog

2 large eggs

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¹⁄8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 loaf (16 ounces) cinnamon swirl bread (12 slices)

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Whisk eggnog, eggs, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a medium bowl. Place 8 bread slices in a 10x13-inch baking dish. Place 4 bread slices in an 8x8-inch baking dish. Pour eggnog mixture over bread in both dishes so bread is totally covered to soak in the liquid. Place 3 nonstick skillets or griddle pans over medium heat. Grease each pan with butter. Add soaked bread slices to skillets. Cook bread for 2 minutes or until underside is golden. Turn each slice with a firm spatula. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes more, until undersides are golden. Place confectioners’ sugar in a small sieve and sprinkle over French toast. Serve immediately with a side of fresh fruit or just serve with butter and syrup.

Serves: 2 slices per person

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at

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