The food: Darina’s cheese straws
Before I became a writer, I worked for several years in a corporate type office. One of my friends and coworkers there was a woman named Darina, who had emigrated to Canada from the then-named Czechoslovakia at an early age, and brought with her family customs and recipes for special and ordinary occasions. Committed as I was and am to discovering other people’s precious (and sometimes secret) family food delicacies, I encouraged her to bring into work for sharing anything she thought I might like to eat.
She came through with the delicious, rich and addictive cheese straws that she made every year around Christmastime. She brought me some every December for years, and recited the deceptively simple recipe for them from memory when I asked for it. 19 years have passed since I left the corporate life, but I still make Darina’s cheese straws regularly, often after E expresses a craving for a batch, and I still use the scribbled notes I took down the day she gave me the recipe. I use low fat pressed cottage cheese to make them, so the high butter content must be what makes them so rich – maybe they should be called Cheesy Butter Straws instead.
Cheesy Buttery Caraway Cheese Straws (thanks to Darina Phillips)
1/2 lb/250 gr. sweet butter, preferably European style cultured butter, softened
1/2 lb./250 gr. pressed cottage cheese (I used .5% butterfat) such as from Western Creamery in Ontario
1 egg, beaten
2 c. unbleached flour
coarse kosher salt, about 2 T.
paprika for sprinkling
caraway seeds, about 4 T.
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lay parchment paper on cookie sheet(s).
2. Combine butter, cream cheese, egg and flour in large food processor. Pulse just until a large ball of soft dough forms.
2. Cut dough in half. On floured board, roll out half of dough to a 1/4 inch thickness. (Rolled out dough should be about 11 inches square). Sprinkle rolled dough with half of kosher salt, paprika and caraway seeds and press salt and seeds into dough with hands.
3. Cut into 1/2 inch by 5-6 inch strips, and roll each strip with hands to make cylindrical straws rather than flat ones. Place straws on parchment paper covered cookie sheet, about a 1/2 inch apart.
4. Bake in 325 degree oven for 12 minutes. Remove straws from oven, turn – they should be lightly browned on the bottom – and return to oven for 2-3 minutes more.
5. Remove from oven, and let cool on cookie sheet. Repeat steps with second half of dough or refrigerate dough in plastic wrap for a day and do the rolling, sprinkling, cutting, hand-rolling and baking then.
6. Straws are best eaten warm, and can be reheated for 5 minutes in a toaster oven or regular oven. They can also be frozen for later defrosting and reheating.
Also cheesy and good is the song The Best of Times, from the musical La Cage Aux Folles. I missed the original Broadway production of the show in the 1980’s, but when I caught the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre revival of it in London’s West End last fall, featuring a golden-throated John Barrowman, I fell in love with the charming score. The show is being transferred (back?) to Broadway this spring, with Kelsey Grammer and Douglas Hodge in the lead roles. To whet your appetite for it, here is The Best of Times, sung winningly by John Barrowman and Broadway stars Faith Prince and Marin Mazzie at a tribute to composer Jerry Herman.