Baked Queso Blanco

1 whole mini queso blanco cheese (about 1 pound)
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
4 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped red peppers
10 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed and cut into 12-inch squares
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Fresh tomato slices or homemade chunky salsa as garnish

Place the cheese on a plate, pierce the top of the cheese with the tip of a knife in several places. Let stand at room temperature while you prepare the other ingredients.

Melt the butter in a large skillet and saute the mushrooms over high heat until golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Arrange the cooled mushrooms on top of the cheese, followed by the walnuts and red pepper. Set aside.

Place the phyllo dough sheets on a dry work surface and cover with a damp towel. Brush a baking sheet with some of the melted butter. Lightly brush a sheet of phyllo dough with the melted butter. Place the dough on the baking sheet. Repeat process with 4 more sheets, placing each one at an angle to the previous one.

Brush 4 more sheets of dough and lay them at angles to each other on top of the cheese. Pick up the cheese, tuck the overhanging pieces of dough under it, and carefully center the cheese on the sheets of dough on the baking sheet. Gather up the edges of the bottom layers of dough and bring them up toward the top of the cheese.

Brush the remaining sheet of dough with melted butter and tear it into 2-inch strips. Wrap the strips around the cheese to create a smooth collar. Brush the collar with additional butter. Cover the cheese loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.

About 30 minutes before serving, preheat oven to 400°.

Place the cheese in the oven and bake 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes.

To serve, transfer cheese to serving platter. Garnish with tomato slice or fresh salsa and serve with large tortilla chips.

Yield: 6 to 10 servings

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