Laura Wanks cooking is both scientific and soulful.
By MARY G. PEPITONE
Special to The Star
Wank was an elementary school teacher who focused on math and science for nearly 25 years, and her cookery encompasses both chemistry and creativity.
She has been married to Larry for nearly 35 years, and their three grown boys Patrick, Andrew and Christopher come to family dinners regularly with spouses and friends.
Wank is drawn to the alchemic magic that happens when shes cooking a meal using fresh ingredients, but is also delighted by the magic that happens when people sit down together to enjoy what shes prepared.
Special Cooking Interest: Entertaining appetizers
You seem to be a fearless foodie. Ive had a lot of practice. I started by baking oatmeal cookies with my 98-year-old mother, Fran Murphy, when I was very young. Growing up, our home was a place where everyone was welcome, and wed always make room at the table for anyone who came to eat. My mom was really wonderful about always feeding people, and she would always have plenty of food prepared.
I received that gift of hospitality from her, as now our home has become the place where everyone congregates.
What gives you an adventurous appetite? Larry and I have been in a dinner club with the same four couples for 34 years. During that time, weve experienced a lot of lifes ups and downs together, and weve also experienced a lot of food together.
We dont do themed dinners but really try to create a lovely evening with really delicious food. Name an entrée, and it seems as though Ive prepared it crown pork roast, duck and bison. Most recently, I made a seafood and veal spiral, which was unusual yet delicious.
These gatherings with friends have really expanded my cooking abilities, and I have a variety of recipes from which to choose based on successes Ive had over the years. But sometimes you learn even more when things dont turn out quite like youve planned.
Why did you decide to share this Mushroom Strudel recipe? This was an appetizer I first used with the dinner club more than 30 years ago, and it has been a go-to recipe ever since. I love making appetizers. The right appetizer whets the appetite for the food that is yet to come, but its also a way for people to start socializing without the formality of sitting down to eat immediately.
I also believe in using the best possible ingredients you can, so when you make this dish, use a good quality drinking sherry, not the grocery store cooking sherry. You can also use other varieties of mushrooms, and dont be afraid to use curry powder, even if you think you dont like curry.
This appetizer smells so good when its baking in the oven and fills your home with such a delicious aroma. Its a wonderful way to greet people who are coming to your home for a meal.
Did you pass your love of cooking onto your own children the way your mother passed it along to you? All three of my boys are cooks, and when we are having a gathering, Larry is also a great help to me. I encourage people to cook with their children, not only because there are a lot of real world applications of math and science, but also because its fun. Being in the kitchen together is about making memories as much as its about making good food.
When we have a large gathering of family in our home, my mother sits at the head of the table and says she is a blessed woman when she sees everyone around the table. Now, I find myself doing the same thing and take great pleasure in watching everyone eat.
Like my mother, the food I make is an extension of comfort and love.
Makes 26, 1-inch servings
3/4 cup butter, divided
6 cups sliced button mushrooms
4 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
6 tablespoons sherry
1 cup sour cream, plus more for optional garnish
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons bread crumbs
8 frozen 13-inch-wide by 9-inch-long phyllo pastry sheets, brought to room temperature
The night before serving, in a sauté pan over medium heat, melt 1/4 cup butter. Add mushrooms, shallots, salt, curry powder and sherry to pan. Continue to sauté about 20 minutes or until mushrooms are soft and liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool. Stir in sour cream and 3 tablespoons bread crumbs.
Transfer mushroom mixture to a plastic container, and seal tightly with lid. Place in refrigerator overnight to chill.
To prepare for serving, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Melt remaining 1/2 cup butter. Place a sheet of phyllo dough on a prepared baking sheet, with the 13-inch-wide side nearest you. Brush 1 tablespoon melted butter over sheet of phyllo and sprinkle 2 tablespoons bread crumbs evenly over all. Place another sheet of phyllo on top and continue process of brushing butter and sprinkling with bread crumbs for a total of 3 layers.
Add another sheet of phyllo to create a 4th layer, and spread 1/2 mushroom mixture evenly over all, leaving a 1-inch border around each edge.
Starting with the 13-inch-wide side of dough, carefully roll up phyllo, jellyroll-fashion, so mushroom mixture is encased within the roll. Put phyllo roll seam-side down on baking sheet and brush top with 1 tablespoon melted butter, sprinkling with 2 tablespoons bread crumbs. Score top at 1-inch intervals, which will yield 13 servings.
Bake until lightly browned, or approximately 40 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before cutting into 13 pinwheels with a serrated knife.
Continue assembly and baking process for remaining phyllo dough and mushroom mixture. Appetizer can be served warm or at room temperature with a dollop of sour cream.
Per serving: 173 calories (60 percent from fat), 11 grams total fat (7 grams saturated), 26 milligrams cholesterol, 14 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 328 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.