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When September arrives, it means that autumn has also arrived in its many glories, one being picnics in the woods where green leaves have turned brilliant colors and bonfires warm the chill of the hour.

The word “picnic” also stirs many fond memories, some arriving with recipes to enjoy any time of the day when the birds are still chirping, or well into the evening hours when hoots from an nearby owl pierce the silence of a mere second or two. Whether you have the comfort of an outdoor chair to relax on, or an old bumpy log to rest on, the awe of an evening picnic might even prompt a return to the old and ancient days when “nutcracker night” not only meant cracking nuts, but also telling scary stories.

If you have scary stories worth sharing with others while munching on favorite campfire treats during autumn evening outings in the woods, jot them down to repeat to others in the stillness of a spooky night in the woods or nearby.

Judy Patterson, Madison, sent her favorite picnic recipe to be enjoyed wherever and whenever the weather cooperates.

Super simple summer and fall picnic salad

2 cups sugar snap pea pods

2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

½-3/4 cups bottled Italian salad dressing

Combine and cover pea pods, tomatoes and mushrooms with Italian dressing. Put in covered container, such as Tupperware, and marinate several hours in the refrigerator. Serve with slotted spoon. This will keep 5-7 days. Amounts can be varied depending on how many you need to feed.

Recently discovered in my vast collection of cookbooks is one written by local author Shelley F. Ryan, former host of “The Wisconsin Gardener” and published in 2005. “Leeks, Love and Laughter: Growing and Eating Through the Seasons,” makes a reader wish they lived near Ryan. The book is dedicated to her family and grandmother, Rose Migawa Gleason, whose storytelling and food prompted Ryan to become a gardener because she “loved to eat.” The 75 page cookbook carries on the tradition of food and family with recipes inspired by family, show guests, and her own garden experiences. Here is an old recipe prepared for years of potlucks.

Carrot-raisin salad

3 cups grated carrots (be sure to use sweet, fresh carrots)

1 cup chopped celery

¾ cup seedless dark raisins

2/3 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons fresh grated orange rind

½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger

½ teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Mix together mayonnaise, sugar, orange rind, ginger and salt in a small bowl. Stir well, add to carrot salad, and chill for about an hour. This can be served on top of lettuce leaves if desired. Serves 6

Another one of Ryan’s favorites will please zucchini growers.

Baked zucchini fries

1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs

1 clove crushed garlic

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise

1 egg, beaten

Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a bowl, combine bread crumbs, garlic and cheese. Dip zucchini in egg, then in crumb mixture. Place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and tender. Makes 4 servings

Another local author, Irene Cash, was recently featured here with recipes from her exceptional compilation, “Savoring the Harvest: The Sights and Flavors of the Farmers’ Market,” published in 2013. She states that this recipe is perfect for preparing in large quantities, so when basil is plentiful, which is now, buy it in bulk and make as much pesto as you can. It freezes nicely in plastic containers. Just add a thin layer of olive oil to the top of the pesto before you put it in the freezer, “then pull it out in the winter and relive summer all over again.”

Sweet basil pesto

2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves

2 garlic cloves

¼ cup walnuts

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup grated Pecorino cheese

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Combine basil, garlic and walnuts into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Slowly drizzle olive oil into the mixture, running food processor on a low speed until smooth. Add a couple of pinches of salt and pepper to taste, add cheese, then pulse until just incorporated into pesto.

Makes 1 cup

The exceptional photographs in Cash’s cookbook were taken by Victor Marsh and include a beautiful eggplant.

Basque-style eggplant

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons flour

¼ cup olive oil

3 sweet peppers, cored, seeded and cut in ½-inch squares

3 cups tomatoes cored, peeled and chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon minced fresh basil

Salt and pepper to taste

Dredge eggplant cubes in flour. In saute pan, heat oil. Add eggplant cubes and saute until golden brown. Add peppers and saute until soft, approximately 3 minutes.

Add tomatoes, stir, and cook for 3 additional minutes. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt, parsley and basil. Cook with cover off until liquid has been reduced to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 4

Shallots happen feature in another intriguing recipe Cash tempts us with that I plan to make as soon as possible.

Shallots in balsamic reduction sauce

2 teaspoons olive oil

¾ pound shallots, peeled and cleaned

1 tablespoon honey

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 cup chicken stock

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

In a saute pan, heat olive oil. Add shallots and saute until golden and beginning to soften. Mix vinegar and honey together well, then add to the shallots. Cook in medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.

Add just enough chicken stock to pan to barely cover the shallots. Stir and cover the pan. Cook on low for 45 minutes, gradually adding stock as needed. When done, shallots should have a thick syrupy coating. Serve sprinkled with thyme and rosemary Serves 4

And here is a recipe for my friend Ned Schmitt who happens to be Hungarian, like me, thanks to my mother, a native of Budapest. The recipe is from “With Warmest Regards: A Celebration of Our Customers Recipes and Traditions (of the Dayton Hudson Corporation)” shared by Karin Marya Tansek, M.D. whose grandmother was also from Budapest, Hungary.

Chicken paprikash

3 tablespoons butter

½ cup chopped onion

1 garlic clove, minced

1 ½ tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika

1 ½ tablespoons Hungarian hot paprika

3-pound frying chicken, cut into serving pieces

1 cup chicken broth

4 to 6 cups gnocchi (homemade or packaged fresh)

½ cup sour cream

¼ cup all-purpose flour

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add paprika and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. Add chicken and broth. Reduce heat to low cover, and simmer until chicken is tender and cooked through, about 40 minutes.

Cook gnocchi according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine sour cream and flour, stirring until smooth. Blend in about 1/2 cup of the hot liquid from the pan. Add mixture to pan and cook just until heated through. Do not boil. Serve over gnocchi. Serves 4.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at greenbush4@aol.com.

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