Cooks' Exchange: You might already have these ingredients

Cooks' Exchange: You might already have these ingredients


The month of June stirs wonderful memories that sprout and blossom overnight like favorite perennials.

Sometimes the supper you enjoyed last is already slipping from your thoughts while games of hopscotch, kick the can, hide and seek, and tag decades ago in yards or streets seem to have happened just yesterday. The end of classes prompted hollering “school’s out, school’s out, teachers let the monkeys out” from one block to the next, hailing the arrival of summer vacation, which also included playing jacks on the sidewalk and shooting marbles any moment before the sun set on another fun-packed day.

Life seemed so kid-oriented back then. It didn’t matter the side of town you lived on. If you had a few pennies, a sweet treat was waiting at the local drug store. If you had a nickel, you could take the bus uptown. When the temperatures rose, there were picnics in nearby parks, lakes welcoming a quick dip or daylong swim, climbing apple and cherry trees to join the birds and pick the fruit. Time sure flies ...

Today, as time continues to fly, prepare as many simple recipes as possible using ingredients on hand. If you happen to have rope sausage or kielbasa on hand, here is a recipe my family loves.

Quick baked beans with smoked garlic sausage

16-ounce can baked beans

1 small onion, chopped

1 tablespoon brown sugar

¼ teaspoon dry mustard

½ to ¾ pound smoked garlic rope sausage or cooked kielbasa

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a 1½ quart casserole or baking dish, combine baked beans, onion, brown sugar and dry mustard. Slice sausage thinly and arrange over the bean mixture. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 minutes longer.

Note: I used 2 16-ounce cans of baked beans, doubled the amount of onion, brown sugar and mustard, and used only one rope sausage cut in 1/2-inch cross section slices. I baked it in one of my favorite old metal pans. Serves 4 or 5.

If you happen to have three or four russett potatoes on hand plus grated Romano cheese and some seasonings, try this Mike Repas favorite.

Cheesy baked potato wedges

3 or 4 russet potatoes, peeled

½ stick butter, melted

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Heaping ½ cup bread crumbs

¾ cup combined Parmesan and Romano cheese

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon dried parsley flakes

¼ teaspoon granulated garlic

¼ teaspoon granulated onion

Paprika for garnish

Quarter potatoes lengthwise, then cut each quarter into 3 wedges. Combine butter and oil in a small saucepan. Over a low flame, melt butter, adding and mixing together the oil.

Combine dry ingredients in a small shallow bowl. Pour butter/oil mixture into another shallow bowl. Dredge potatoes in the butter-oil mix, then into the dry mix, coating potatoes well. Arrange the wedges in a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Dust lightly with paprika, then bake at 425 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Wedges should be soft on the inside and dark and crispy on the outside. Sprinkle with a a bit more of the combined cheeses, if desired.

Note: You can substitute garlic and onion powders if you like, but the granulated products offer more intense flavors.

To make things seem even simpler, I reached for Joanna Farrow’s 250-page cookbook featuring recipes using only 4 ingredients. Here is a French-style favorite with a Mediterranean flavor and a fancy name that makes a delicious and easy snack. Be sure to cook the sliced red onions slowly until they are caramelized and sweet before piling them into pastry cases. Or prepare the recipe in advance, pile cooled onions on to the pastry round and chill until you are ready to bake it.

Red onion and olive pissaladiere

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1¼ lb. small red onions, thinly sliced

1¼ lb. puff pastry, thawed

¾ cup small pitted black olives

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat oil in a large heavy frying pan and cook the onions gently, stirring frequently, for 15-20 minutes until they are soft and golden. Season to taste.

Roll out pastry thinly on a floured surface. Cut out a 13-inch round and transfer it to a lightly dampened baking sheet. Spread onions over pastry in an even layer to within 1/2 inch from the edge. Sprinkle olives on top. Bake the tart for 20-25 minutes until pastry is risen and deep golden. Cut into wedges and serve. Serves 6.

For my friend Richard Olson, former Exalted Ruler at the Madison Elks 410, here is a creamy butternut squash soup recipe.

Winter squash soup with tomato salsa

1 large butternut squash or small pumpkin, halved and seeded

5 tablespoons garlic-flavored olive oil

2 onions, chopped

4-8 tablespoons tomato salsa

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place squash or pumpkin on a baking sheet, brush with some of the oil and roast for 25 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees and cook for 20-25 minutes more or until squash is tender.

Heat remaining oil in a large heavy pan and cook chopped onions over low heat for about 10 minutes or until softened. Meanwhile, scoop the squash out of its skin, adding it to the pan. Pour in 5 cups of water and stir in 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Cool soup slightly, then process it in a blender or food processor to a smooth puree. Alternatively, press soup through a fine sieve with the back of a spoon. Reheat without boiling, then ladle it into warmed bowls. Top each serving with a spoonful of salsa and serve. Serves 4 or 5.

The simplicity of soy sauce and orange promises to produce a mouthwatering meal.

Soy-marinated chicken

4 skinless chicken breast fillets

1 large orange

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

14 ounces fresh medium asparagus spears

Slash each chicken portion diagonally and place in a single layer in a shallow ovenproof dish. Halve orange, squeeze juice from one half and mix it with soy sauce. Pour this over chicken. Cut remaining orange into wedges and place these on the chicken. Cover and leave to marinate for several hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Turn chicken over and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Turn chicken over again and bake for 15 minutes longer or until cooked through. Meanwhile, cut off any tough ends from the asparagus and place in a frying pan. Pour in enough boiling water just to cover and cook gently for 3-4 minutes, until just tender. Drain and arrange on warmed plates, then top with chicken and orange wedges. Spoon over the cooking juices and season with black pepper. Serve immediately with asparagus. Serves 4.

Now, for dessert ...

Here is a simple solution to always having something cold and sweet on hand and within reach during any month of the year. The finest ice cream in the world is made right here in Wisconsin, including our in our beloved Madison. I’ve been an ice cream fan my entire life and keep two flavors on hand in my own freezer at all times.

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

Satisfy your cravings

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