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Cooks' Exchange: Sometimes the best recipes use ingredients you have on hand

Cooks' Exchange: Sometimes the best recipes use ingredients you have on hand

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Letters from readers during the past 29 years continue to fuel my enthusiasm.

While many have mentioned favorite recipes enjoyed from the “old” days and years that followed, many events, episodes and recipes are also shared by good friends and favorite eating establishments. Lately, a new set of comments have arrived with newer recipes requiring ingredients I don’t have on hand or never heard of before.

While recently sorting through a box of old saved mail, I found a letter from Mrs. D.J. Williams, of Monroe, written on Oct. 21, 1993, thanking me for the column and including comments about how people once used the ingredients they already had on hand, and how glad she was to have lived in that era.

She also mentioned that the recipe had recently appeared in my column for a chocolate sauce. Immediately reminding her of a Chocolate Shop Torte served at the beloved State Street location where “everyone who went to the University of Wisconsin enjoyed the recipe and wanted the recipe,” she also confessed that the recipe had been given to her long ago by a friend who worked there and took a vow never to reveal their secret.

Chocolate Shop Torte

Here is the recipe, exactly as she printed.

½ cup butter

1 cup powdered sugar

4 eggs, separated

3 squares melted chocolate

12 marshmallows, cut up

1 cup nuts, broken up (walnuts and pecans)

12 graham crackers, rolled fine

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolks, one at a time. Beat well after each addition. Add chocolate; mix. Add nuts, marshmallows and vanilla. Fold in beaten egg whites. Put half of the crumbs in bottom of a buttered 6x10x2-inch pan. Pour in mixture. Cover with remaining crumbs. Chill in refrigerator 12 hours. Cut in squares. Top with whipped cream and a cherry. Enjoy!

Hot Fudge Mary Jane Brownies

Back in March 1995, longtime Rennebohm employee Dorothy Jones shared not only the history of the drug store, founded in 1919 as Badger Pharmacy on University Avenue, but also known by the 1950s as Rennebohm’s, or “Rennie’s” with a chain of stores within walking distance throughout Madison.

Jones graduated from Prairie du Sac High School in 1930 and was hired immediately to work at the stores in Madison six to seven days a week, working nine to 10 hours a day earning a monthly paycheck of $55. Thanks to Marc Wehrs, State Journal copy editor news, I learned Rennie’s all-time favorite recipe for Hot Fudge Mary Janes that everyone who devoured one wanted more for the rest of their lives.

1½ cups sugar

½ cup butter

3 eggs

3 squares baking chocolate, melted

¾ cup flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup nut meats, chopped

Vanilla ice cream

Cream together sugar and butter. Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well. Add melted baking chocolate. Mix together dry ingredients and add to batter. Stir in vanilla and fold in nuts.

Batter will be very stiff. Grease and flour 9x12-inch pan. Bake at 300-325 for 25-30 minutes. Use your oven as a baking guide.

Top a brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle with hot fudge.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake

Here is a recipe The Olive Garden generously shared a long time ago.

2 tablespoons butter

2½ cups chocolate cookie crumbs

2 pounds cream cheese

1 cup granulated sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sour cream

1 pound refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough

2 ounces chocolate chips


1 pint heavy whipping cream, whipped

Chocolate chips

Chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Crust: Generously grease bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Combine butter with chocolate cookie crumbs. Press onto bottom and sides of the pan.

Filling: Using an electric mixer on high speed, combine cream cheese, sugar, eggs and flour and mix until smooth. Add vanilla and sour cream and mix until blended. Pour one half of the batter into prepared crust. Cut cookie dough into golf ball size chunks and drop into batter. Sprinkle in chocolate chips. Pour over remaining batter. Bake for 60 minutes. Turn off oven and open door to the broiler position. Allow cake to remain in the oven 30 more minutes. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, remove sides of the springform pan and top with fresh whipped cream. Sprinkle with additional chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

Pasta Roma Soup

The Olive Garden also included a recipe for a delicious soup.

2 16-ounce cans garbanzo beans, drained

6 slices bacon

¹⁄³ cup olive oil

¾ cup onions, diced

1 cup celery, diced

¼ teaspoon garlic, minced

1 cup carrots, julienned, ¹⁄8x1x8x1½

1½ cups canned tomatoes, drained, diced

1 quart chicken broth

½ teaspoon black pepper

¹⁄8 teaspoon rosemary, ground

2 tablespoons parsley, fresh, chopped

½ cup miniature pasta bow ties, dry

Drain garbanzo beans. Add beans to food processor with blade attachment. Process using on/off pulse until beans are well mashed. Scrape down sides of processor as necessary. Reserve. Cook bacon thoroughly and drain on paper towels. Chop into ¼ inch pieces and reserve. Heat oil in a Dutch oven. Add carrots, onions, celery and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add remaining ingredients, except pasta, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook pasta bow ties or other small pasta according to package directions. Drain well and add to the finished soup. Serve immediately.

Serves: 4-6

Herbed Cheese-Beer Bread

Although my mother was a great cook, her Hungarian-German background didn’t find her making homemade bread using beer to enjoy with goulash or sauerkraut and wiener suppers. I’d learn later that beer gives bread a yeasty flavor and aroma, even when there is no yeast in it. With no milk or eggs, here is one of the easiest loaves to make and enjoy with soups, salads, and thinly sliced ham and cheese sandwiches from the “Kitchen Library” of Chuck Williams.

2½ cups all-purpose (plain) flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1½ teaspoons dried sage

1½ cups beer, freshly opened

1 cup finely grated Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a large 9-inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, stir and toss together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sage. Stir in the beer and cheese until completely blended. Spread evenly in the prepared pan. Bake until a thin wooden skewer inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, 50-55 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 1 large loaf

Pimiento Cheese Spread

Years ago, when my husband was an Air Force fighter-pilot, then later flew with WANG, one of his fellow fighter-pilot buddies, General Ralph “Bud” Jensen, spoke often about a pimiento cheese spread he couldn’t seem to get enough of from an old eating establishment in Madison. Now and then he’d ask if I could find one resembling the description. Hope this comes close, Bud.

Found in Martha Storey’s “500 Treasured Country Recipes” of time-honored, tried & true, soul-satisfying recipes, this one belongs to her mother that “lasts forever, but never around long”.

1 pound Velveeta

4-ounce jar of roasted pimientos, chopped, with juice

½ cup mayonnaise

Cut cheese into ¼-inch chunks. Add chopped pimiento and their juice. Add mayonnaise; mix until thoroughly blended. Add more mayonnaise if needed to achieve spreading consistency. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

Spread on crackers, raw vegetables, sandwiches or toast.

Yield: About 3½ cups

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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