Susanne’s Asparagus-Ham Roll–ups

When I was growing up, my mother was a member of the Ladies Aid at our church.  Among the many activities the ladies organized were potluck dinners.  Since our little country church lacked a fellowship hall or even a basement, the best potlucks were in the summer, when plank tables covered with bright tablecloths were piled with fried chicken, roast beef or pork, potatoes, bread, salads, pickles, cookies, cakes and pies.

Those potlucks were carefully planned by the senior members of the Ladies Aid.  Grandma Weingarten or Mrs. Sjostrom would approach my mother after church with a request that she bring a gallon of her potato salad or a three pound meat loaf or whatever else fitted the menu that had been decided upon and that they knew Mom cooked well.  Other ladies were asked to bring their appropriate specialties.

“Asked” may not be the right word, though it is a polite way to say “ordered.”  The results were well-balanced and delicious dinners.  I don’t remember appetizers (unless you count the first piece of chicken) but neither do I recall any potlucks that consisted of ten bowls of jell-o, two trays of celery and carrots, three casseroles and a plate of spice bars.  Ladies then may have deferred to their husbands in most things, but they ruled the kitchens and planned the meals.  And plan they did.

A few years ago when I was still gainfully employed I had the good fortune to work with a team that knew how to organize potlucks.  Again, the ladies took charge.  A sign-up sheet would appear in the break room headed with the theme for the affair and spaces for such items as “3 Meat dishes,” “3 Salads,” “Bread/rolls,” “2 Desserts,” etc.  

There were soup and sandwich potlucks, outdoor barbecue potlucks and of course potlucks for special occasions or seasons: The Christmas Cookie potluck comes to mind.   

Since the place was filled with good cooks, these dinners (lunch is truly not the appropriate word) were anticipated by everyone in the building.  My retirement potluck was as spectacular as one could want.  Among the many excellent dishes that day were spears of fresh asparagus from Susanne’s garden wrapped with ham and cream cheese in flour tortillas.  When I asked for the recipe she told me that a friend had given it to her and she was happy to share it. 

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. fresh asparagus spears

3/4  to 1 lb. shaved ham or turkey

1/4 cup sesame seeds

8 oz. tub whipped cream cheese 

Shredded parmesan, cheddar or other cheese

1 package large thin flour tortillas.

PROCEDURE:

Wash the asparagus spears and trim if necessary.  Drop them into a pot of boiling water and cook them for three to four minutes or steam them to “al dente,” which will take a bit longer.   Use a fork to test for doneness or bite one as you do when cooking pasta.  The exact time depends on the size of the spears.  

Put a couple of quarts of cold water in a large bowl and add a dozen or so ice cubes.  Using tongs or a slotted spoon, drop the hot spears into the ice water to stop the cooking and cool them quickly.  Incidentally, this is called shocking.  You will know you have cooked the spears properly if they are bright green and tender but not mushy.  

Spread a tortilla with cream cheese and sprinkle with sesame seed and shredded cheese.  Add a layer of shaved ham or turkey and place a small bundle of asparagus spears (two to four depending on the size) on each half. Roll each bundle to the center of the tortilla.  Slice down the center to form two “logs,” then cut on the bias into thirds, chill and serve.  Susanne’s drawing shows how to do this: 

NOTES:  The ingredients listed will make 48 appetizers.  Susanne used Garlic and Herb cream cheese, but any flavor you like (excepting sweet varieties) should work fine.  I know that they are good with Chive and Onion cream cheese.

Great Auntie Ann’s Kolatchkes

A couple of years after we moved to the country from the thriving metropolis of Hayward, Wisconsin, John and Rose Hanus brought their family from Chicago, Illinois, to a house along the Namekagon river about a quarter mile from the Rang household. John had taken a job as a butcher at Olson’s Market on Main Street, and Rose, like my mother, was a stay at home mom with a son Bob who was a few years older than I.

Mom and Dad were soon playing cards with Rose and John, and Bob and I were enjoying adventures together. We valued our neighbors. There were only four houses on the mile and a half of Phipps Road between Highway 63 and the village of Phipps, where my Grandpa Rang first set foot in Sawyer county. When we moved to the new house on Phipps Road, the once-bustling railroad stop that the conductor announced by calling “Phipps!” consisted of three houses and the empty hotel/general store/saloon/train depot.

Bob and I spent a lot of time fishing, swimming and eating snacks at each other’s homes. Mom and Rose cooked a lot of different things. Mom’s cooking grew out of our families’ German background, while Rose’s owed much to the Bohemian heritage she shared with John.

One specialty she made that I still dream of were kolatchkes, a tender pastry filled with prunes, poppyseed, apricots and other good things. We had two good bakeries in Hayward when I was growing up, but Rose’s kolatchkes put theirs to shame. Once she knew I was interested in seeing how they were made, she let me watch her work. I may have written down the recipe, but if so it is long gone. All I really remember is that she mixed butter and cream cheese with sugar and flour, rolled out the dough and produced little square pastries that she sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Several years ago I tried to make kolatchkes like the ones Rose baked. After a couple of attempts I produced a batch that tasted pretty good. I even wrote down what I did, so I could make them again. Unfortunately, I misplaced or lost the notes. For the last three or four years I have been telling myself that I should try to make them again.

A few weeks ago, Jerri and I went to the Funeral Mass for Barb, the wife of my cousin Jack who lives at Hayward. On the dessert table at the luncheon afterwards was a tray of kolatchkes that looked a lot like the ones Rose used to make. Since there were lots of people behind me in line, I took only one.

Back at our table, I watched one of my cousins eating his kolatchke before the potatoes and salads. LIke me, he believes in eating dessert first. I followed his example and bit into an absolutely delicious prune kolatchke.

The Parish Secretary put me in touch with the lady who baked them. Cindy works full time for the Hayward School District, but her real love is baking. Barb was her godmother, and Cindy remembered Barb telling her that the prune kolatches were her favorite, so she made them for the luncheon. I can understand why Barb liked them.

Cindy’s email explains where she got the recipe: “The recipe is from my Great Auntie Ann–she has passed away in the last year.  She was 96.” I wonder how many batches of kolatchkes Auntie Ann made in her long life. Hundreds possibly and many probably for occasions like the one that prompted Cindy to bake them for Barb’s “sending off meal.”

I enjoy knowing how recipes came to me, and this is one that I hope you will try and treasure in the years to come. And as you eat them, think of Rose and Auntie Ann–two ladies who knew how to make wonderful kolatchkes. And Cindy also, who is carrying on the tradition.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 lb. butter
4 oz. cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar
3 egg yolks
3 cups all-purpose flour

PROCEDURE:

Put the the butter and cream cheese into a mixing bowl and allow them to soften at room temperature for a half hour or so. Cream the powdered sugar into the butter and cheese, adding a half cup of sugar at a time.

Separate three eggs and lightly beat the yolks before adding them to the sugar, butter and cheese. Mix well until you have a smooth batter. Sift a half cup of flour over the batter and mix thoroughly. Continue with the rest of the flour, a half cup at a time, until you have a stiff dough. The dough will lose its stickiness with the next step.

Cover the mixing bowl and chill the dough for at least two hours. A few minutes before you begin to roll out the kolatchkes, preheat the oven to 375º and grease your cookie sheets.

Lightly flour a work surface. Divide the dough into four pieces. Knead one piece into a ball and press it into a disk with the palm of your hand. Roll the disk to an eighth inch thick rectangle. Using a pizza cutter or knife, trim to square your work and cut the dough into 2 1/2 inch squares. Return the trimmings to the bowl and form them into a ball for the final sheet of kolatchtkes.

Put a teaspoon of filling in the center of each square and fold the four corners to the center to make a smaller square or overlap two opposing corners over the filling. Transfer the kolatchkes to a baking sheet as you form them. Bake on a center rack for twelve to fifteen minutes or until the edges begin to turn golden.

Cool on waxed paper and sprinkle with powdered sugar. This recipe makes three to four dozen kolatchkes.

NOTES: There are two different kinds of kolatchkes. Those made by Cindy’s Auntie Ann and Rose have a flaky pastry made of butter, cream cheese, sugar and flour. The other kind is made with a tender yeast dough like you find in sweet rolls or coffee cake. Both kinds are tasty, but I much prefer the kind made by Rose, Cindy and Auntie Ann.

Everyone has a favorite filling for kolatchkes. I like prune, poppyseed, cream cheese, cherry and apricot. You can use your favorite jam as a filling or buy prepared fillings, but here is a simple recipe for prune filling.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups prunes
Water
1 T lemon juice
3 1/2 to 4 T sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Dash of cloves

PROCEDURE:

Chop the prunes, cover them with cold water and bring them to a boil in a small covered saucepan. Simmer them for about twelve minutes stirring several times and adding more water if necessary. Be careful not to let the prunes stick to the bottom of the pan.

Turn off the heat, add three and a half tablespoons of sugar plus the cinnamon, cloves and lemon juice. Stir well until you have a thick paste. Taste and add a little more sugar if you think it is not quite sweet enough. However, remember that the kolatchtkes are dusted with powdered sugar.

This recipe makes enough filling for two batches of kolatchkes, or you can use the extra to fill a coffee cake.