Cooks’ Exchange: Lakes inspire great picnic recipes

August 2, 2018

Recently, State Journal readers were asked to share their experiences growing up in a city surrounded by lakes. The request made my eyes light up, my heart pound, and I smiled for hours with memories. Growing up in the Atwood Avenue area on the East Side found me executing my skills of trying to walk the trails along Lakeland Avenue’s Lake Monona shoreline without getting my feet wet. Once that had been achieved, attempts were made to master the hill’s higher trails by grabbing branches to keep my balance.

I remember swinging from a rope tied high from a heavy tree branch that would send me through the air before letting go over the Yahara River for the splash of a lifetime, or on calmer days, just floating on an inner tube on the river to reach Tenney Park.

It also reminds me of something my mother mentioned more than once about her father, my Hungarian immigrant grandfather Joe Kovacs, who worked for many years as a Tenney Park caretaker, walking there every day from their home on Moulton Court off Winnebago Street. Grandpa often fished Lake Mendota from a boat and one day she remembers him walking home carrying a fish over his shoulder that was so long its tail dragged on the sidewalk behind him. Years later, I figured it must have been a gar fish.

Memories of growing up surrounded by water made me realize I’d never be happy living somewhere else and I celebrate those feelings on a daily basis, which brings to mind a special potluck gathering recently attended on river property leading out to Lake Kegonsa. I returned home with recipes shared by others who attended.

Here is the finished product of taking two cannellini (white bean) salad recipes, creating special touches by adding some ingredients while subtracting a few others along the way for a finished product that turned out to be a another winner in my estimation.

Cannellini white bean salad

2 15 ounce cans of white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 3.8 ounce can sliced ripe (black) olives, rinsed and drained

1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes sliced in half

1 sweet green pepper, thinly sliced and chopped

½ cup chopped red onions

¼ cup chopped fresh dill

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon liquid honey

¼ teaspoon coarse salt

Black pepper

Drain and rinse beans and olives and place in a large bowl; add tomatoes, green pepper, and onions. Carefully fold everything together to blend. Add chopped dill and fold to blend. Whisk together olive oil, fresh lemon juice, honey, coarse salt and black pepper. Drizzle over all and continue to fold until blended nicely. Cover bowl and refrigerate. Serve chilled, but it is even better when served the next day. Make ahead and refrigerate for 8 hours. Allow to stand at room temperature about 30 minutes before serving.

Serves 10-12, or more.

Note: Fresh dill is available is small plastic containers in grocery store produce sections. You might want to experiment using a different favorite herb.

Another salad that tweaked my taste buds was made from “Mad About Food,” the outstanding Madison Junior League cookbook published in 2004 and kept within easy reach at my house.

Cucumber pasta salad

16-ounce package garden rotini, cooked

1 cup canola oil

1 cup white vinegar

¾ cup white sugar

4 tablespoons parsley flakes

1 Vidalia onion, chopped

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon Accent

1 ½ tablespoons salt

½ tablespoon pepper

1 cucumber seeded, peeled and cubed

1 carrot, shredded

1 small can (2.25 ounces) sliced black olives

Combine all ingredients, refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Serves 8.

Note: You can substitute 16 ounces of linguine for the rotini pasta. You may also substitute 1 large zucchini for the cucumber.

Dessert at the potluck included an exceptional dish my husband enjoyed so much that he needed seconds. I returned home with the recipe passed on by Sue Haberman.

Chocolate eclair dessert

9-12 ounces Cool Whip

3 cups milk

2 boxes French Vanilla Instant Pudding (l large and l small box)

1 full box of Graham Crackers (cheap brand just fine)

Mix Cool Whip, milk and pudding together and set aside. Line a 9x13-inch cake pan with graham crackers. Put ½ pudding mixture over graham crackers. Place another layer of graham crackers over pudding mixture and put the rest of the pudding mixture over crackers again. The last layer should be graham crackers before the frosting.


2 squares unsweetened chocolate

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup powdered sugar

3 tablespoons milk

Melt squares unsweetened chocolate and butter. Add powdered sugar and milk. Beat by hand and spread over pudding. Work fast as chocolate will harden quickly. Refrigerate about 6 hours before serving. Cut into squares and serve.

Ann Adkins, Baraboo, once clipped a recipe from a newspaper for a simple peach cobbler. The recipe was delicious, simple to make, then misplaced. When trying other recipes that sounded similar, Adkins described them as tasting like “rubber.” After more searching on my own, I found one in “Food Editors Favorites,” a wonderful series of cookbooks to benefit Mothers Against Drunk Driving, published in 1988. Edited by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann, food editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Jane Baker, food editor of The Phoenix Gazette, this was a favorite of the Milwaukee Sentinel’s Lee Aschoff who remembers her mother making this often in a kitchen she describes as “always smelling like heaven.”

Mom’s peach cobbler

3 cups sliced fresh peaches, or more

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/3 cup solid shortening

½ cup milk

1 egg, well beaten

Vanilla ice cream, optional

Arrange peaches in greased 8-inch square baking pan. Sprinkle peaches with mixture of 1 cup sugar, almond extract, lemon juice and lemon peel. Preheat 400 degree oven while preparing shortcake. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and 1 tablespoon sugar. Cut into shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until done. Serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Makes about 9 servings.

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