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Cooks' Exchange: What to make when you're wondering 'What happened to summer?'

Cooks' Exchange: What to make when you're wondering 'What happened to summer?'


I keep asking myself: “What happened to summer?”

Aside from everything one might expect when temperatures rise, picnics are planned and attempts are made to cook as much as possible outside in the backyard or nearby parks.

It can be a mystery to figure out which recipes might be best to cook at times in a four-season state where the weather and life don’t always cooperate. And for me, the mystery must be solved as soon as possible because many readers enjoy a little comfort from the past with an old favorite recipe or two.

Nika’s Blender Cheddar-Beer Dip

I decided to reach for Arthur Hettich’s wonderful 1976 cookbook, “The Best of the Best,” turned to a marked page and discovered another recipe using beer. Because many readers enjoyed a recent column featuring recipes using beer as an ingredient, here are a few more, the first one a favorite of Hettich, created by Nika Hazelton. Described as a nice change from the usual onion dip, he claimed this mixture is unbeatable with crackers.

8-ounce package of cream cheese

¾ cup milk

¼ cup beer

2 cups (8 ounces) diced, sharp cheddar cheese

1 garlic clove, cut up

3 medium dill pickles, cut up

Combine cream cheese and milk in electric blender. Cover and beat at high speed for 10 seconds. Add beer, cheddar cheese and garlic. Cover and beat until smooth. Add pickles; cover and blend for 3 seconds. Place in a serving bowl and chill. Serve with potato chips and corn chips.

Beer-Barrel Onion Rings

Here is another beer recipe discovered in “Cooking and Canning with Mamma D’Amato” featuring Mamma D’Amato’s deep fried onion rings and fond memories that the kitchen is the heart of the home and the family that cooks and eats together stays together.

1½ cups beer

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 egg, beaten

1½ cups flour

Vegetable oil for deep frying

2 Spanish onions, thinly sliced


Whisk together beer, baking powder and egg in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in flour. Heat oil over high flame to 375 degrees. Separate onions into rings. Dip a few rings into batter to coat, then fry until golden brown, about 30 seconds. Remove rings and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Repeat with remaining onion rings.

Serves 4

Pear-Apple Surprise

Son Bob, also known as “Raven” in Madison’s music world, has gifted me with countless exceptional cookbooks, one being Teresa Burns’ soft-cover gem, “Very Salad Dressing.” With apples now in season, this dressing is described as being wonderful for finely shredded green cabbage or shredded romaine lettuce. Her favorite combination adds fruit with a Granny Smith apple and a Comice pear.

1 apple, peeled and diced

1 pear, peeled and diced

1 small red onion, diced

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon any vegetable oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, preferably flat-leaf Italian parsley

2 tablespoons apple cider

Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium-size bowl and stir well. Cover and chill the dressing until you are ready to use it. This is best served on the day it is made.

Makes about 1½ cups

Lemon Avocado Dressing

Isabel Hubbard recently requested an avocado recipe. Here is one from the same “Very Salad Dressing” book that described it as being a creamy lemon dressing and refreshing change of pace. Try it on fruit, a green salad or coleslaw.

1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and mashed

¼ cup water

2 tablespoons sour cream (low-fat or nonfat is acceptable)

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

2 teaspoons any vegetable or nut oil

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon honey

½ teaspoon seasoning salt

In a jar with a hand blender or in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine all the ingredients and process until well mixed. Cover and chill the dressing until you are ready to use it. Let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes before serving.

This dressing will keep for up to 2 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Makes about 1 cup

Coney Island Hot Dog Onions

Dating back to the “old days,” here is a modernized recipe for a Coney Island hot dog sauce to enjoy any time of the year.

1 large onion, halved and cut into ¼-inch slices

8-ounce can of tomato sauce

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon dried shallots

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon sugar

Hot sauce to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Add enough water to just cover the onions, about 4 cups. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the onions are tender and the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes. May be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Serves 10-12

Cider Glazed Ham Steak with Yams

With another touch of apple flavor, try this welcomed meal during any time of the year that bakes, with basting, for only 25 minutes.

12-16 ounces fully cooked, smoked ham steak

1/3 cup apple cider or apple juice

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons dark rum

9-ounce canned yams or sweet potatoes in syrup

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 375. Place ham in shallow baking dish. In a small saucepan, combine cider, honey and rum, and heat, stirring until well blended; pour mixture over ham. Arrange drained yams and apple pieces around ham. Bake 25 minutes, basting several times.

Chicken With Mushrooms and Olives

Another Mike Repas favorite with chicken thighs, mushrooms and stuffed green olives.

4 to 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon poultry seasoning

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/3 cup dry white wine

8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced

6 to 8 pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced

½ teaspoon dried parsley, or 1½ teaspoons fresh parsley

Wash and dry thighs, then pound between two pieces of waxed paper until ½-inch thick. Mix seasonings, then rub into the thighs. Allow them to sit, covered, with waxed paper, for 15 to 20 minutes. In a non-stick skillet, bring butter and oil to a “sizzle” and add chicken to brown on both sides. Add half the wine, mushrooms and olives to the skillet, lower heat, then simmer, covered for 10-15 minutes. Remove chicken and cover. Raise heat and add remaining wine and parsley to skillet liquids and bring all to a boil to reduce slightly. Plate the thighs and ladle “sauce” over them.

Serve with your choice of sides.

Last, but never least, grazie mille (a million thanks) for Happy Birthday greetings appreciated and enjoyed from many of my readers.

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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