Georgia Menk’s Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Until she retired a few years ago, Jerri was an active member of the St. Croix Valley Music Teachers Association. The members are professional music teachers and performers, and most meetings feature a program of interest to people who believe that music is an important part of education.

But lest you think that music teachers are concerned only with symphonies, operas, art songs or other types of classical music, consider the fact that members took turns to provide a homemade dessert for attendees at each meeting. In addition to making sweet sounds in the studio, music teachers make sweet treats in the kitchen.

One day Jerri was so impressed with the dessert that she came home with the recipe jotted down on the back of the meeting agenda. It was a coffee cake made by Georgia Menk, one of Jerri’s friends who taught piano in Ellsworth, Wisconsin.

INGREDIENTS:

For the streusel topping and cake:
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine
1/4 cup butter
1 large egg
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

For the topping:
8 oz. soft cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
1 tsp. almond extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup raspberry jam
1/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds

PROCEDURE:

First, soften a package of cheese. Preheat the oven to 325º and grease a nine by nine by two-inch baking pan.

Next, make the topping and batter. Start by stirring the flour and three-fourths cup of sugar together and cutting in the margarine and butter as if you were making a crumb mixture for biscuit dough. Set aside one cup of the mixture to use as part of the topping.

Mix the salt, baking powder and baking soda into the crumb mixture. Beat one egg until it is lemon colored. Beat the egg and a teaspoon of almond extract into the sour cream, then beat the liquid into the crumb mixture. Beat vigorously until you have a smooth, thick batter. Spread the batter evenly into the greased pan.

Next make the topping by stirring another egg and a second teaspoon of almond extract into the cream cheese. Stir in a quarter cup of sugar and beat until smooth and creamy. Spread the mixture over the batter.

Use a teaspoon to dab small globs of raspberry jam evenly over the cheese mixture, then sprinkle with the reserved crumb mixture and top everything with the slivered almonds.

Bake for about an hour. Test for doneness at fifty-five minutes by pressing gently with the tip of your finger near the center of the cake. If the cake springs back it is done.

NOTES: With a teaspoon of almond extract in the batter and another in the topping, this coffee cake reminds me of one of my favorite Danish pastries, but it is much easier to make. Just remember to reserve a cup of the crumb mixture before you begin adding the liquids.

Georgia’s recipe called for for cream cheese, but I prefer to use Neufchatel cheese whenever possible, since it has less fat. When I made this coffee cake, the ladies at Jerri’s bridge group said it tasted good, so the Neufchatel appears to be fine in this recipe.

Georgia noted that you can use other jams or preserves if you wish. Blueberry might be a good choice.

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Jerri’s Cucumber and Tomato Salad

“Everyone knows how to make cucumber and tomato salad,” said Jerri when I told her I was going to post her recipe. It is a simple thing to make and takes only five minutes or so, but if everyone knew how to make it, why did I keep seeing so many plastic deli containers filled with cucumber and tomato salad?

It couldn’t be the time or expense. Stopping at the supermarket, standing in line at the deli and waiting to check out will take at least ten minutes and probably longer if you get behind me when I am trying to find a dime in my pocket to give the clerk the exact change. As for the cost, the ingredients are inexpensive, especially in season. If you are as blessed with gardener friends as we are, the cucumbers and tomatoes are often free and tastier than most of the ones you buy.

Someone might say, “But I don’t have any olive oil, vinegar, basil or oregano.” All I can say is “You should,” because these are ingredients you can use in so many ways. You can buy the herbs in bulk packages at a supermarket or food coop at a reasonable price, and they last a long time. Adding some olive oil, basil and oregano to a jar of commercial spaghetti sauce or sprinkled on a frozen pizza can turn an ordinary meal into a special dinner, and you need a bottle of vinegar in the house anyway to clean your coffee maker from time to time.

The one thing that may be keeping a lot of people from making their own cucumber and tomato salad is a lack of confidence in their tastebuds. Since virtually all of us have tastebuds that work, it is merely a matter of letting them tell you whether something tastes good or not. A fine chef or gourmet food critic will have tastebuds that are more sensitive than ours, but the important thing is always, “Does it taste good to me?”

When you make your first batch of cucumber and tomato salad, follow the recipe below as best you can. However, your cucumbers or tomatoes may be a little smaller or larger than Jerri would call medium. If they are smaller, your salad may be a little saltier than you like or have a little too much oil or vinegar. You can fix that by adding more cucumber or tomato. If they are larger, add more seasonings. It’s simple. Trust your tastebuds.

Grab your peeler and a sharp knife and make yourself a bowl of a great salad for a summer dinner.

INGREDIENTS:

2 medium cucumbers
2 Roma tomatoes
2 T chopped onion
1 T fresh basil or 1 tsp. dried crushed basil
1 tsp. fresh oregano or 1/3 tsp. dried crushed oregano
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 T cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
A grind of black pepper

PROCEDURE:

Wash and peel the cucumbers, leaving some thin green strips of peel for color. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds if you wish. Then slice the cucumbers into quarter-inch half rounds. Put them in a mixing bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Let them stand while preparing the other ingredients.

Wash and remove the stem scar from the tomatoes. Chop them into bite-sized pieces. Chop about two tablespoons of onion into a quarter-inch dice. If you are using fresh herbs, wash and chop the basil and oregano.

Stir the vegetables and herbs together in the mixing bowl. Sprinkle the olive oil, vinegar and pepper over the salad and mix gently but thoroughly. Let it stand a minute and stir again.

Taste and adjust the seasonings to suit.

NOTES: This salad is almost good enough to justify keeping an herb garden in your home year round, but it tastes good with dried herbs too. We use fresh in the summer and dried in the winter.

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Real Ice Cream

I had my first taste of something approaching real ice cream when I was seven or eight years old. We had moved into the country about four miles north of Hayward, but the milkman from West’s Dairy still delivered our milk twice a week just as he had in town. It was whole milk that had not been homogenized, just like God gave it to us from the friendly cows of Wisconsin.

One very cold morning, when I went to the front porch to bring in the milk bottles, I found them with the paper caps pushed out of the bottles and globs of frozen cream rising out of the tops. Mom explained that when the milk began freezing ice crystals formed that took up more space in the bottle than the milk. The cream in the milk had risen to the top, and the freezing milk pushed the cream out the top of the bottle.

With a teaspoon she gave my sisters and me a taste and had a little herself. It tasted wonderful, and I still judge every scoop of ice cream by that sample I enjoyed so long ago. That’s when I learned that real ice cream is basically frozen cream. Just consider what the name means.

I am not saying that I don’t enjoy many different brands and styles of ice cream available in shops and stores, but only a few are real ice cream. Unfortunately, many are made with chemicals that reduce the need for cream, slow the ice cream from melting or extend its shelf life.

If you want to test whether a commercial ice cream is real, let a little of it melt in a bowl. If the melted liquid looks like half and half or whipping cream, all is well. If it resembles something in the bottom of a paint can, there are a lot of strange chemicals in that puddle.

Making ice cream is easy if you have an ice cream freezer. We never had one when I was growing up, so Mom experimented with no-crank recipes using condensed milk as well as cream. I remember watching her carefully stirring half-frozen ice cream in those old aluminum ice cube trays with the removable dividers. It was a treat, but it didn’t compare with the ice cream from West’s Dairy in Hayward.

When West’s stopped delivering milk to customers in the country, we had to pick it up at the store in Hayward. One time, when I was eight or nine, Dad sent me in to buy the milk while he waited in the car. As I recall, a half gallon cost something like forty-seven cents. I am sure about the seven, because he gave me two pennies plus a couple of quarters.

When I got in the car, I was on top of the world, because the clerk had given me the pennies back along with the nickel change. This prompted my father to give me a lecture about honesty. “You know that is not your money, so take those pennies back in and explain that she made a mistake.” So I did, and I never forgot that lesson.

Incidentally, West’s Dairy is still making good ice cream in the same building on Second and Dakota in Hayward where we bought our milk. Jeff Miller bought the dairy with his partner in 2005 from Bruce West, who took over the business when his father retired. Jeff just published Scoop, a memoir about their first year in Hayward. It’s a fun read about living in a small town with some memorable passages involving people who resemble characters I knew sixty years ago.

But back to making real ice cream. After we received a hand-crank freezer from our best man and his wife at our wedding, we became serious ice cream makers. For the first few years of our marriage we lived in Virginia and Kentucky, two states where you needed to make your own ice cream if you wanted the real stuff.

Today we have an electric ice cream freezer, and we make ice cream only once or twice each summer. There are dozens of recipes for ice cream. Ours is simple.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups whipping cream
2 cups half and half
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Dash of salt
Ice
Salt

PROCEDURE:

At least three hours before you plan to make the ice cream, whisk together the cream, half and half, vanilla extract and salt. Put the mixture into the refrigerator to get it good and cold.

Put the freezer canister and beater into the freezer of your refrigerator a half hour before you plan to start making the ice cream.

Follow the directions you got with the freezer to pack the freezer with ice and salt to turn the cream into ice cream.

Eat and enjoy.

NOTES: Real ice cream is good plain, but fresh raspberries, strawberries or peaches don’t hurt. Topping a couple of scoops with homemade hot fudge sauce is another good way to go.

Some recipes call for more vanilla. Ignore them. You want to taste the cream.

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Aunt Lil’s Tuna Casserole—A Quilling Family Recipe

In 1934, Campbell’s Soup Company introduced Cream of Mushroom and Chicken Noodle soups to the American consumer. Today, these two products still rank in the top ten shelf-stable food items sold in grocery stores.

It’s easy to understand why these soups have remained so popular. They are excellent emergency foods. When I was a kid, if the family had a flat tire or some other problem and got home late, Mom could open a couple cans of chicken noodle or cream of mushroom soup, slice some homemade bread and leftover roast and have a meal on the table before Dad finished his beer.

But the success of these soups goes well beyond their consumption as soups per se. Shortly after buying her first can of cream of mushroom soup, some inventive housewife probably said, “I wonder what would happen if I mixed a can of soup and a can of tuna with these leftover noodles?”

What happened, of course, was that a family quickly became addicted to tuna noodle casserole. At the urging of her husband and offspring, she took the casserole to a church potluck and shared the good news that it was easy to make, cheap and popular with the kids. The rest is history.

Something very similar happened with chicken noodle soup. Now, after eighty years, there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of recipes that call for a can of condensed soup, water and whatever else might be available in the refrigerator or pantry. Campbell’s has of course published quite a few recipes as a way to increase sales, but their efforts are dwarfed by the many contributions of adventurous cooks who simply wanted new dishes for the family table.

When I asked our friend Lorrie for a recipe she remembered from her childhood, she came up with “Aunt Lil’s Tuna Casserole.” It’s a good example of how cooks created variations on the standard tuna noodle casserole. To be entirely honest, I wondered whether we would like this dish, but it turned out to be much tastier than we expected. You should give your family the opportunity to try it too.

Here is Lorrie’s introduction to the recipe:

“This dish was a staple when I was growing up, and as noted in the recipe, my Grandma Quilling used to add a drained can of Veg-All to make it a complete meal.  Of course she always had a dessert course, often something one of us had baked (that was often my duty, though Grandma and Aunt Camilla baked as well) or something canned the previous summer–usually applesauce or a peach half in an amazing heavy syrup…

“Aunt Lil’s identity is somewhat shrouded in mystery.  My mother claims to have met her, but my Grandpa Q. was an only child and my Grandma had two brothers.  Exactly whose aunt she was, no one is quite sure.”

Here is how to make Aunt Lil’s Tuna Casserole.  

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup rice
1 can tuna
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can chicken noodle soup
2 cans water
1 can Veg-All or or other canned mixed vegetables (optional)

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to 375° and grease a nine by thirteen-inch flat casserole or baking pan.

Spread the rice evenly in the casserole or pan. Flake the tuna evenly over the rice.  Use a teaspoon to spoon the mushroom soup and then the chicken noodle soup evenly over the tuna and rice. Drain the vegetables and scatter them over the other ingredients. Rinse the cans with the water and pour it gently into the pan.

Bake uncovered for forty to fifty minutes or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is done.

Serve with salad, bread and dessert.

NOTES: When we shared this casserole with some friends, I included the vegetables. We all liked it, and a couple of us had seconds. However, we thought that it would be interesting to sprinkle some “crunchies” like crushed corn flakes on top.

Since tuna cans are smaller today than they were a few years ago, you might want to use two cans of tuna. Lorrie says that she sometimes uses two cans.

Although the original recipe does not call for vegetables, I think that her grandmother was right to add them. They add color and flavor.

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Rhubarb Bread Pudding

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I have learned to trust Jerri’s judgements about recipes. Not that I always follow her recommendations, but sometimes I like to live a little recklessly and once in a while, my intuition proves right.

Like me, Jerri hates to throw away food, so she was as interested as I in Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s Use it All: The Leftovers Cook Book where I found the recipe for calabacitas last month. Jerri put a bookmark at the the page for this recipe and suggested I try it.

I did and we both liked it. The rhubarb and lemon juice flavor the rather bland sweetness of the bread and custard and the custard smooths the taste of the rhubarb. If you like either rhubarb or bread pudding, chances are good that you will enjoy it too, especially if it’s warm and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups diced rhubarb
1/2 cup plus 2 T sugar
2 cups dried bread cubes
1/2 to 1 T lemon zest
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1 cup milk
1 large egg

PROCEDURE:

Clean and chop the rhubarb into a quarter to half-inch dice. Cut the dried bread into half-inch cubes. Wash and grate the yellow zest from a lemon and squeeze the juice from the fruit.

Preheat the oven to 375º and grease a one to one and a half-quart casserole or soufflé dish. Put a pan with an inch of hot water into the oven.

Mix the rhubarb and bread cubes in a large bowl. Stir in the sugar and lemon zest, then dribble the lemon juice over the mixture and mix everything thoroughly.

In a smaller bowl, beat the egg until it is lemon yellow, add the milk and beat them together. Pour the milk over the rhubarb and bread mixture and stir it well. Put the pudding into the casserole and smooth the top with a spatula.

Carefully set the casserole into the pan of hot water and bake the pudding for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Check for doneness with a knife inserted near the center of the pudding. It should come out nearly clean.

NOTES: Dieckmann’s recipe calls for only a half-cup of sugar, but we thought that the pudding was a little too tart. Feel free to try it with just a half cup and adjust the sugar the next time you make the pudding if you agree with us.

Jerri thought that the lemon zest overpowered the flavor of the rhubarb. “I like the flavor of rhubarb,” says she, so I adjusted the recipe to give you the choice of using less zest.

Whole milk works best for making custards and puddings. If you have only reduced fat milk in the refrigerator but do have some cream or half and half, add a couple of tablespoons of either to the cup before you fill it with milk.

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Jerri’s Yellow Squash Casserole

One of the first cookbooks we bought after our marriage came as a bonus for joining a book club. It is called House and Garden’s New Cook Book. Our copy was printed in the United States of America in 1967. It’s a handsome book filled with recipes that sound intriguing—names like “Gigot en Croute” and “Veal Calvados” are representative—but the first recipe seemed like an awful lot of work, and we couldn’t lay our hands on any calvados for the second.

The upshot was that we didn’t cook many of the recipes in the book. Jerri did find one that became a staple summer dish in the Rang household, however. It’s called “Arabian Squash Casserole” in the book, but we just call it “Yellow Squash Casserole.” The original recipe called for peeling the squash, but after making it that way, Jerri tried unpeeled young yellow squash. The skin adds color and, we think, flavor to the dish.

Jerri also reduced the quantities of ingredients to make a side dish that will serve four to six people. It goes well with just about any kind of meat from barbecued ribs to roast chicken.

INGREDIENTS:

2 lbs. yellow summer squash
2 tsp. salt
1 cup grated medium or sharp Cheddar cheese
2/3 cup cottage cheese
3 large eggs
2/3 cup bread crumbs
2 T minced parsley
1/3 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 T butter

PROCEDURE:

Wash and remove the stems and blossom scars from the squash. Grate the squash into a mixing bowl and mix it with the salt. Let it stand for twenty to thirty minutes. Preheat the oven to 350º.

While the grated squash is resting, wash and mince the parsley and set it aside. Grease a two quart casserole and grate the cheese, then drain the squash thoroughly in a colander. Press as much liquid out of the squash as you can.

Melt about three tablespoons of butter in a small dish or pan. Beat the eggs in the mixing bowl until they are lemon colored, then stir in the grated squash along with the cheeses, bread crumbs, parsley and pepper. Mix everything thoroughly and spoon the batter into the casserole. Pour the butter evenly over the top and bake at 350º for an hour.

NOTES: You can use either straight or crookneck yellow squash for this casserole. Choose ones no larger than two inches in diameter. If you do have larger squash, you may want to peel them. When we have done this, we have left narrow stripes of the yellow skin on the squash.

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Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes

“Oh Chuckie, your pancakes are always so fluffy,” exclaimed my mother one morning at the cabin.

When I read this sentence to Jerri, she asked, “Did she really?” and I replied honestly, “I don’t remember if she said that exactly, but it’s the sort of thing she would have said. She was always very complimentary about my cooking.”

Maybe that’s why I like to cook. My mother went out of her way to praise all of us kids if we tried to make something in the kitchen. Serve her burned toast, and she would say, “I like crispy toast.” Offer some salty soup or really greasy gravy and she would show us how to make it edible.

Even Dad, who was not much of a cook, would chime in, “Burned toast makes for rosy cheeks,”he would say, or “When I was in the logging camp, the cook used to put more potatoes in the soup when he dumped in too much salt.”

I do recall my mother telling me that my pancakes were nice and light, and I remember saying that it was just because I beat the egg whites separately. That is the truth, and you can make pancakes that are like them–tender, light and delicious–if you follow this simple recipe.

INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 1/2 T sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 large eggs
2 1/3 cups buttermilk
4 T butter

PROCEDURE:

For the best pancakes, have the eggs and buttermilk at room temperature. You can warm the eggs by putting them into a small bowl of warm (not hot!) water for three or four minutes and heat the milk for a few seconds in the microwave.

Melt the butter and begin heating your skillet or griddle.

Sift the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and soda into a mixing bowl. Separate the eggs by putting the yolks into a one quart mixing bowl and the whites into another. Beat the yolks with a fork until they turn a bright yellow, then stir in the buttermilk

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.

Add the buttermilk to the dry ingredients and stir with a fork until you have a smooth but moderately thick batter. Stir in the melted butter, then fold in the beaten egg whites. Don’t worry if some small globs of egg white remain in the batter. They will help lighten the cakes.

Bake them on a griddle set to 350º or in a skillet over medium heat. I spoon enough batter to make four inch cakes, let them cook until bubbles appear across the cake and the edges bcome a little dry, then turn them and let them finish baking for another two or three minutes.

Serve them hot from the griddle with butter and maple syrup

NOTES: Be conservative when you add the buttermilk. Start by stirring in about two cups and add more until you have the right consistency.

This recipe makes about two dozen four inch cakes. Store leftover cakes in the refrigerator and warm them in the microwave for a quick snack or breakfast. They won’t be as light and fluffy, but they will taste pretty good.

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Almost Fat-free Calabacitas

Our niece Susie brought one of her favorite cookbooks to a family gathering in Kansas earlier this summer. When she handed me Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s Use it All: The Leftovers Cook Book, I grabbed it like a hungry trout after a tasty mayfly. The first two sentences of the introduction set the hook:

“How often have you opened your refrigerator and looked at some small amount of leftover roast, or cottage cheese, or dairy sour cream, or boiled potatoes? How often have you wished you could use it up simply, economically, and tastefully?”

We try to use every leftover that remains after a meal. We package them, put them in the refrigerator or freezer and do our best to remember where they are. One time, when he was about ten years old, our son made a “freezer map” which helped for a while, but today we just rummage through the packages looking for inspiration.

If something gets lost, we think of Jerri’s grandmother, a frugal Mennonite housewife, who explained as she was putting a few tablespoons of gravy in a dish to go in the ice box, “I don’t like to waste anything, but if I forget about it and it spoils, I don’t feel so bad throwing it away.”

Our sentiments exactly.

But it really is better to use those leftovers whenever you can. The calabacitas recipe below calls for cooked corn. Most of us probably have had the experience of cooking a dozen ears of corn and having three or four left over. Jane Dieckmann’s recipe calls for three ears of cooked corn. I used uncooked ears, and the calabacitas was delicious. I am sure that it would be just as tasty made with the leftover corn.

Calabacitas is another one of the great dishes invented by native Americans. It is a traditional dish of the Pueblo people of the American Southwest and also very popular in Mexico. If you made the mistake of planting more than one hill of zucchini, it may become a popular dish on your table as well.

Calabacita is the Spanish word for zucchini and calabacitas refers to a dish of stewed or sautéd corn and zucchini. There are scores of variations on the basic recipe. Some add sweet bell peppers, others, hot chile peppers; some omit the onion entirely, others add scallions. Most use a little oil, but some do not. Cheese is optional or required, depending on the cook.

I was a little skeptical about this recipe, since it uses no oil. Instead, you simmer the vegetables in a small amount of water. The cheese provides just enough oil to enhance the flavor of the vegetables, so you end up with a side dish that is very low in fat but high in flavor.

INGREDIENTS:

3 ears of sweet corn
1 medium onion (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter)
1 large clove garlic
2 – 3 T water
1 medium zucchini (about 2 inches in diameter)
2 medium tomatoes (2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter)
1/2 cup grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

PROCEDURE:

Cut the corn off the cob and remove the dry outer husks, stem and root ends from the onion and garlic. Slice the onion thinly and mince the garlic. Put the corn kernels, onion and garlic into a saucepan along with two or three tablespoons of water. Cover the pan and bring it to a simmer over medium to low heat. Cook for about five minutes.

Wash and cut the stem and blossom ends from the zucchini. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, then cut quarter-inch-thick slices Add the zucchini to the saucepan and cook for another eight minutes.

Wash and chop the tomatoes into a fine dice and grate the cheese. After the squash and onion mixture has cooked about eight minutes, stir in the salt, pepper and tomatoes and cook another two or three minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and fold in the cheese. Taste the calabacitas and adjust the seasoning with a little salt if necessary.

NOTES: You can use either fresh or cooked sweet corn. Since “medium” means something different to each of us when we are discussing vegetable sizes, chop vegetables until you have generous cups of corn and onion and a cup and a half each of zucchini and tomatoes. This will produce enough calabacitas to serve four to six adults or two adults and one hungry vegetarian grandson.

Jane Dieckmann advised against adding salt and pepper, but our grandson agreed with Jerri and me that it needed a little. You can omit it from the recipe, and diners can add as much as they wish at the table.

Posted in Side dishes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Turk’s Cheese Börek

When Marge Gogian died on February 26, 2013, seventy-nine years of history died with her. The daughter of George, “The Turk,” and Isabelle, “Ma,” Gogian, Marge kept serving guests at The Turk’s Inn until shortly before her death. Her mother and father would have been proud of her.

The last time Jerri and I had dinner there, Marge was still overseeing the kitchen and making guests comfortable. For an appetizer we had one of The Turk’s specialties, cheese børek, a savory filling of Wisconsin cheese wrapped in phyllo dough and baked to a golden brown. Børek is a Turkish word used for many different varieties of filled pastries made with phyllo (or filo), paper-thin sheets of unleavened flour dough.

Børek is pronounced “burr-ek, borr-ek or bare-ek” and phyllo is pronounced “fee-low.”

I don’t remember when I had my first taste of “The Turk’s” cheese børek, but it was before my second year in high school, because I recommended it to my Prom date when I was a sophomore. My oldest sister. who worked at the Turk’s when she was in high school, likes cheese børek too and brought a batch she had made to the cabin not long ago. Though she saw “Ma” making them many times, she never got the recipe. Her børek was not the same as The Turk’s, but it was still good.

Tasting børek again inspired me to track down the recipe. With the help of Marge’s friend and executor, one of my younger sisters and a couple of other Hayward ladies, I can now share the recipe for this delicious appetizer.

The ladies who gave me the recipe emphasized that I should get white Wisconsin brick cheese from the cheese factory in Comstock, Wisconsin and real cottage cheese, not a low fat type. Her specification of quantities was not very detailed. When I asked how much cottage cheese to use with the brick, she said, “Just put some in the shredded cheese and stir it. You know how to cook. Add more until everything is moist, but not too moist.”

If my børek didn’t taste quite as good as what Marge brought out to us last time, it’s possibly because we weren’t sitting in the Sultan Room surrounded by beautiful things that George, Ma and Marge collected over the years.

If you exclude the task of folding the phyllo dough to form the pastries, cheese børek is not difficult to make. You get the phyllo dough from the freezer case at the supermarket and simply have to make the filling, which has only six ingredients.

When you bite into one, take a moment to consider the fact that you are eating something enjoyed by Presidents, Governors, Senators, food writers and thousands of ordinary people who shared a love of the wonderful food served them for nearly eight decades at The Turk’s Inn.

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. white Wisconsin brick cheese
2 cups small curd cottage cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/8 tsp. salt
Dash or two of freshly ground black pepper
Two packages phyllo dough
2 sticks unsalted butter

PROCEDURE:

Begin by following the directions on the phyllo packages telling you how to thaw the dough.

Wash and finely chop the parsley, preheat the oven to 350º and shred the brick cheese into a mixing bowl. Add two cups of cottage cheese to the shredded brick and mix well. Beat the egg into the cheeses and stir in the salt and pepper. You should have a smooth mixture. If not, add more cottage cheese.

Stir the parsley into the cheese mixture. Melt the butter in the microwave or over very low heat. It should be melted but not hot when you butter the sheets of phyllo.

Line baking sheets or pans with parchment paper. Dampen a towel to cover the phyllo dough. Start by opening one package of phyllo dough.

Take two sheets of phyllo dough and cover the unused dough with the towel. Lay the two sheets together on a flat surface and paint the top sheet with butter. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the dough lengthwise into four strips.

Put a generous teaspoonful of the filling on one end of a strip and fold a corner over the filling to make a triangular fold. Fold the dough as if you were folding a flag, so that you end up with a triangular pastry of stuffed dough.

Put the børek on parchment paper on a baking pan and continue until you have a panful of the pastries. Paint the tops of of the børeks with melted butter and bake them fifteen to twenty minutes until they begin to turn golden brown.

Let them cool on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes and transfer them to wax paper to finish cooling, or serve them warm from the oven.

NOTES: This recipe makes enough filling to stuff about eighty børeks. They are a wonderful appetizer to offer before dinner or to serve with a good wine when friends gather at your home. They taste best if they are slightly warm.

You can freeze unbaked børeks and bring them out as you need them. Layer them between sheets of wax paper, and store them in a sealed freezer bag or container. Bake the number you need at 350º for twenty to thirty minutes until they are lightly browned.

If you have a deep fryer, you can omit painting the børeks with butter and deep fry them until they are golden brown. This was how they were usually cooked at the Turk’s Inn.

Baked børeks tend to get a little soggy after the first day, but they still taste just fine.

Phyllo dough is very thin and tender. It dries out very quickly, so keep unused sheets covered with a damp towel. Even so, be prepared to have a few tears (and tears) the first time you work with the dough. Many recipes call for using single sheets of phyllo, but I find that it is much easier to work with double sheets.

Once you taste your first cheese børek or a piece of homemade baklava (which is also made with phyllo dough), you will realize that a little frustration is worth it.

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Italian Sausage and Cheese Dip

I have not fallen in love with Velveeta, but the stuff does have its uses. One is a version of that old favorite, cheese and sausage dip, introduced to Jerri and me by our neighbors, Jill and Lonnie.

This version was brought north from Oklahoma and uses sweet Italian sausage instead of ordinary breakfast sausage. It is a delicious combination that will please most everyone except your vegetarian friends. You can make a tasty vegetarian version without the sausage but with a finely chopped jalapeño pepper for a little extra flavor.

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 – 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
3/4 – 1 pound Velveeta or any processed American cheese
1 10 oz. can Rotel or other brand diced tomatoes and green chilies

PROCEDURE:

Brown the sausage over low heat, taking care not to make it crisp. Drain it thoroughly.

Cut the cheese into half inch cubes. Put the cheese and tomatoes into a bowl and microwave it until the cheese is melted. Stir once or twice so the cheese melts evenly.

Mix the sausage into the cheese and tomato mixture and microwave again until the dip is very warm.

Serve warm with tortilla chips or scoops.

NOTES: You can put the dip into a small crockpot to keep it warm, but a half dozen people can finish this dip before it gets cold if you set a good example. You can also pop it back into the microwave for a few seconds if the dip gets too cool.

If you make the vegetarian version, wash and cut the stem off the pepper, then slice in fourths, remove the seeds and white membrane, and chop the pepper into an eighth inch dice. Add the chopped pepper when you are first melting the cheese, then stir in the diced tomatoes and warm the dish for serving.

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