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Liptauer – wow, it’s just that good

It’s not just nostalgia that made me look up recipes for Liptauer cheese recently.

It was a craving and curiosity.

Sure, this briny, smooth cheese spread was one of my mother’s specialties. Sure, this Hungarian (or maybe Austrian or maybe Slovakian) appetizer was also a specialty of the late, lamented New York Deli in my hometown of Richmond.

But, wow, I just remembered how great it tasted, and I needed an appetizer to take to a group dinner. I also recalled that it was easy to make; needed several hours in the fridge to develop its taste; and had a lot of paprika and caraway seeds in it.

But, I never got Mom’s recipe. So, I turned to the internet and, again, wow. The numerous ways to make it and the ongoing debate around its origins proved fascinating.

Turns out that Liptauer is like chicken salad. Everyone has their own way of making it, and almost all of them look pretty tasty. So, I began pasting together my own recipe, trying to duplicate the flavor I remembered.

All Liptauers have a few things in common – some soft cheese, sweet paprika, caraway seeds and minced onions. Then things get a little crazy. Traditionally, the spread is made with soft, fresh farmers cheese, which is not easy to find around here. Most recipes substitute cream cheese. But some use cottage cheese pressed through a sieve, combined with softened butter or sour cream.

Then comes the dozens of possible add-ins.  I decided to skip the hot paprika and diced cornichons, because that’s not what I grew up with. (Though I might add them to the next batch.)  I swear I remember Mom putting some beer and anchovy paste in her concoction. Mustard? Not so much.

I decided to make my first batch of Liptauer with cream cheese, butter, onion, capers, caraway and sweet Hungarian paprika.

It was smooth, salty and the right shade of pink.


Yep. I could do better. I basically find cream cheese too unctuous for spreads, due to the gums used to thicken it. I substituted cottage cheese, which I just threw into the mixer without sieving. Add the butter and then stir in a little sour cream at the end, and wow, again. A small dab of anchovy paste and a touch of beer completed the transformation. Plus, toasting the caraway seeds first in an iron frying pan adds a deeper level of taste to the spread.

Although it seems self-defeating to post my recipe, because, heck, you will substitute the stuff you like anyway, I offer it as a delicious base recipe. Whatever you throw in it, Liptauer may go into heavy rotation on your appetizer list. It tastes great on those thin party rye squares, but also dazzles on pretzels, celery and bagels.

Liptauer Cheese Spread

1 tsp. caraway seeds

8 oz. cottage cheese (or cream cheese)

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

1 Tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika

2 Tbsp. minced onion

1 Tbsp. of drained capers, coarsely chopped

½ tsp. anchovy paste

3 Tbsp. beer

¼ cup sour cream

Stir the caraway seeds in a dry frying pan over medium-low heat about 3-4 minutes until slightly toasted. Cool on a plate or paper towel.

Add cottage cheese and butter to mixer with paddle attachment. Beat until mostly smooth (some lumps are OK). Add caraway seeds, paprika, onion, capers, anchovy paste and beer and mix on low speed for one minute. Stir in sour cream by hand.

Transfer the cheese to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.








On the bright side, I got a lot done…

You know how you have the best intentions to cook a great meal –  maybe even a three-course meal – on your day off? You start by looking through those stunning coffee table tomes someone gave you as a gift. An hour or so later, intimidated by the two pages of instructions for each recipe (hey, you have to do laundry today too, you know), you turn, instead to that pile of magazines. Or, more truthfully to the pile of pages you’ve been ripping from magazines for six months.

But then, you find that you also ripped out a few 20% Bed Bath and Beyond coupons, that expire like, tomorrow and you think, “now is the time to go get that johnny brush with the holder that is shaped like a cat.”

Of course, you can consolidate your run to BB & Beyond with a trip to the grocery store. But then, oops, you must make a deposit at the bank, and pick up some meds from the vet and refill your prescription.

Then you remember that you need to go online to reload the discount coupon for your prescription because it is a new year and the old card has expired. When you try to print it out, yep, the ink in the printer, which you haven’t used since, um, the last time you printed out concert tickets, has dried up. So, you add a trip to the office store because you need that prescription today.

Now comes the hunt for savings cards for the grocery, the office store and Ulta, because, well, you’ll be right there and you’re out of leave-in conditioner.

Armed with coupons, deposit slips, the correct credit cards and discount cards, you finally get out of the door. One last check, and ooh, there’s the library card. Yay, books! It is, again, on the way.

Three hours later you return victorious, armed with great novels, dog meds, a cat-shaped toilet cleaner, hair saviors and printer ink. But, where are the groceries? How could you forget that stop? Well, you didn’t have a list made, so you’ll just have to dash in on the way to the pharmacy.

It’s too late to start anything elaborate now. The day is almost gone and you still must print the prescription card and actually clean the toilet before a bio-hazard team shows up. Plus, that load of darks isn’t going to wash itself. But, when you were out, you were amazed at the beautiful weather and the dogs really need a walk.

Lunch time.

Three hours later, you head out the door again.

We can throw a juicy rationalization at this. All those chefs have staff and perhaps, a longer attention span. Tonight at Chez Flick, it looks like chicken in a pita – again.

Chicken in a pita

Serves two

Tear bite-size chunks from a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken. Place in a bowl containing your favorite bottled Italian or Greek dressing. Let sit for an hour at room temperature.

Combine 4 ounces of plain yogurt with the juice of one lemon, a minced clove of garlic, a pinch of salt and half of a peeled, chopped cucumber. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Wrap two pitas tightly in foil and place in oven at 250 degrees.

While pita heats, saute half of a sliced onion and a sliced green pepper in olive oil until browned on edges.

Pile the pitas with chicken, peppers and onions, and yogurt sauce.

Recipes are meant to be manipulated

Again, necessity changed our plans when I blurted out to a bunch of friends, “Y’all come over for dinner Sunday.”

I had somehow forgotten that our behemoth of an oven had stopped working. I had actually forgotten, even though I almost pulled my hair out when the first technician under our home warranty walked in and did a great bug-eyed impression of Rami Malek from Mr. Robot.

“I don’t even know what that is,” he said, as he slowly backed out of the room.

Yeah, we bought a house with a commercial range, the kind you see in restaurants. It was love at first sight. Now that my second and third sights were coming into focus, I realized it could be difficult to find someone to work on Goliath when he actually broke down.

So, with a bunch of fun, foody friends coming over, my genius husband said two magic words, “mustard chicken.” Yep, the dish can be braised on the stove top (that works just fine) and serves as many as people as necessary. It is not a quick dish, but it is easy and it was the first recipe my husband cooked out of a gorgeous coffee-table cookbook by David Lebovitz called “My Paris Kitchen.”

Cooks are probably familiar with Lebovitz’s blog and books about learning to cook in tiny Parisian kitchens. He has a great, approachable style and turns out mouthwatering dishes. Heck, the chicken with mustard is even on the book cover.

The first time we followed the recipe exactly and of course it was fantastic and hearty. This time, we wanted more of the mustard sauce for sopping, and we wanted more of every spice and we wanted to add mushrooms. No problem. This kind of cooking is adaptable. We spent Sunday morning cooking it up in three different pans for 16 pieces of chicken.  Hey, it was a big crowd coming.

It’s important to get a great dark brown sear on the chicken in this dish, which adds an immense depth of flavor. And you just can’t crowd chicken when you’re trying to crisp the skin. Crowded chicken steams instead of browning; hence the three pans.

The recipe called for thighs and legs, but we used just thighs. Don’t bother scouring grocery stores for crème fraiche because the suggested heavy cream works just as well as a finishing touch. See? Adaptable.

So, here’s the recipe from Lebovitz  (and the stuff we did in parenthesis) It’s up to you to adjust, add, and make the dish your own. Have fun. We did.

And Goliath met his match with the second repairman who was familiar with his innards. But even this guy got a little squirrely on us.

“Yeah, I know this brand, but I’ve never seen one of these in a house before. Huh.”

Viva la difference!

Chicken with Mustard

serves 4-6

1/2 cup, plus 3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard (Maille is excellent and easy to find locally)

1/4 tsp. sweet paprika (We doubled it)

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 tsp. sea salt or kosher salt (We didn’t use any; mustard is very salty)

4 chicken thighs and 4 drumsticks, skin on (we used just bone-in thighs)

1 cup diced bacon (1 1/2 is better)

1 small onion, finely diced (use 2)

1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 tsp. dried (again, more is better, at least double it)

1 cup white wine

1 Tbsp. whole mustard seeds or grainy mustard

2-3 Tbsp. crème fraiche or heavy cream (1/4 cup is good too)

Warm water, optional (Didn’t need it)

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or chives, for garnish (Forgot that part)


Mix the mustard, paprika and pepper to taste in a large bowl. Toss the chicken pieces in the mustard mixture, lifting the skin and rubbing some of it underneath.

Heat a wide skillet or Dutch oven over medium high heat and cook the diced bacon until it’s just starting to brown. Remove and drain. Leave about 1 Tbsp. of bacon fat in the pan, discarding the rest. (Yeah, right. Just leave most of it in there.)

(Lower the heat), add the onion and cook about five minutes, until soft and translucent. Stir in the thyme and let cook for another few minutes. Then scrape the onion mixture into a bowl.

(Turn the heat back up to medium high) Add a little olive oil to the pan, if necessary (not, if you left the bacon grease). Place chicken pieces in pan and cook, browning well on both sides. (about five minutes per side)

Remove the chicken and add it to the onions in the bowl. Add wine to the hot pan and scrape the darkened bits off the bottom.

Return chicken to pan, along with the bacon and onions. (Add 2 cups of sliced mushrooms now).

Cover and cook over low to medium heat, turning the chicken in the sauce a few times during cooking, until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the 3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard, the mustard seeds and the crème fraiche.




A taste of nostalgia

You know it has happened to you. A friend, a native of a certain area, goes on and on and on about the fantastic whatever served at a long-standing locally owned restaurant. And by long-standing, I mean a place they visited as children with their families.

When you finally go, order the famous whatever, and take your first bite, you are instantly puzzled. You take another bite, then another and you watch your friend’s eager face as you mentally scramble around in your head for a polite answer to “Isn’t that the best thing you’ve ever had?”

Because, nine times out of ten, the answer is “No.”

You briefly think they are playing a joke on you, getting you to eat something so bland, or weird or just wrong, just so they can laugh at your discomfort. But, nine times out of ten, you’d be wrong about that.

What you are experiencing is trying to taste someone else’s nostalgia. That’s like trying to get inside someone’s dreams. Not going to happen. And face it, we have all been on the nostalgic end of this scenario, as well.

The link between food and memory is so strong it can warp reality. It can make a grown man weepy over a soggy barbeque sandwich. Strong women get misty-eyed over vinegar-soaked tomatoes and onions served on toasted white bread. And you just nod and appreciate their walk down memory lane, because you have been there.

You remember feeling safe and excited, crammed into the family car for a vacation, which always included a stop at a family eatery chain. You gulped down exotic hot clam strips, followed by decadent peppermint ice cream, and the bickering and resentments stopped for a while – at least until you got back in the car.

But years later, if you took a friend to that place and ordered the same thing, you’d see that look come across their face as they tried to chew the rubbery clams and deal with the gumminess of the ice cream. To you it would still taste divine, flavored with memories and seasoned with wistfulness.

Memory food is not limited to restaurant fare. The other day, some friends were discussing childhood favorites that seem inedible now. As adults, we taste the chemicals in the processed food that we loved to see spilling out of our lunch bags in days of yore. We blanch at the dishes our parents or grandparents sometimes threw together  – the salmon cakes, fish sticks, and canned pears stuffed with cottage cheese.

Then everyone got a little choked up thinking about their favorite dish that they would move mountains to taste one more time – grandma’s baked spaghetti, dad’s beef liver and onions, granny’s pickles. The people may be gone, other people have long lived in their homes, but they still exist is photos and memories and recipes.

So, I’m going to share my mother’s recipe for corn pudding. Because it still tastes as fantastic today as it did when I was a kid. People at potlucks eat every last bite, and ask for the instructions. And that can’t all be about nostalgia, or maybe it can. Either way, I bet you won’t get that puzzled look on your face after the first bite.

Corn Pudding

Serves many

3 cups corn, cut fresh off the cob or frozen

3 Tbsp. butter, melted

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup milk, brought to room temperature

1 Tbsp. sugar

3 eggs, well beaten

a pinch of nutmeg

1 Tbsp. corn starch (optional, see below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13 casserole dish.

If you are using frozen corn, add the 1 Tbsp. of corn starch along with the corn.

Mix the corn, butter, salt, milk and sugar in a large bowl. Fold in the beaten eggs and pour the mix into the casserole. Bake uncovered 50-60 minutes until the custard has set.








Bring on the frost, please

When did summer become winter?

More than a few people – whether southern natives or transplants from cooler climes –  have stated that they feel trapped inside by heat indexes. We find ourselves scurrying from home to office to car as if the hounds of hell are on our heels.

I’m guilty of drinking my morning coffee on the deck and then retreating inside for the rest of the day, only to venture forth when the dogs have to go out. And they didn’t get a lot of long walks this summer. They spent much of it on the couch with me, while I binge watched the entire seven seasons of The West Wing I somehow managed to miss on its first go-round.

This inactivity (coupled with my lack of enthusiasm for smelly gyms) has made me a little cranky and flabby. So, you can bet that with the first whiff of coolness, I and thousands like me will probably hurt ourselves in our eagerness to get moving outdoors again.

Until then, cooking light with the continuing abundance of fruits and vegetables is still a high priority. OK, by light, I mean not as much cheese and meat. Or, actually, not as much meat. Less cheese is never an option around here.

I did change up our squash casserole dish this summer. No eggs, cheddar, or long cooking time. It comes out flat and crispy and cooks in half the time. Part-skim mozzarella and a  creamy blue cheese, like Saga blue or Cambozola give the yellow crooknecks a savory boost.

It is versatile enough to handle other throw-ins, like mushrooms or tomatoes. But if you do decide to toss these in, you will have to saute the mushrooms or roast the tomatoes first. Otherwise, they will add too much moisture to the dish.

Quick Pan Squash

Serves 4 as main dish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

4 cups yellow squash, sliced into thin rounds

1 medium sweet onion, diced

6 oz. soft brie/blue cheese, like Saga or Cambozola

1 Tbsp. dried thyme

cracked pepper to taste

6 oz. part-skim mozzarella, shredded

Layer squash evenly in a 9×13 casserole dish. Sprinkle onions on top. Dot the casserole with small pieces of the soft cheese. Sprinkle with thyme and pepper and cover with shredded mozzarella.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is brown.










Nova for dinner – hold the schmear

green egg



One of our favorite trends today is breakfast for dinner, though we’re not a fan of the cloying name given to it – brinner. So, we’re not going to use that term.

Instead we will invoke different customs and times that placed  “dinner” anywhere  from mid-afternoon breaks to early evening pre-suppers. It follows that if dinner can be practically any time, it can be practically anything, without a new name.

Which brings us to smoked salmon. You either love it or hate it, whether it’s the dilled Swedish gravlax, Nova or lox. With its sugary, salty, fishy taste, cured salmon has traditionally been paired with briny capers, sharp onions, fluffy cream cheese and a chewy bagel.

Yeah, but here’s yet another confession. We like our bagels toasted with butter and not much else. Yep, not a big fan of cream cheese as a sandwich spread. Also, we haven’t really found a bagel we love around here – not for lack of trying.

If you are a salmon fan, you know how well it pairs with other things, like baked potatoes and scrambled eggs. However, in an experimental mood, I wanted to try it with a fried, over-easy egg. And when I spotted the soft corn tortillas in the fridge, it came together.  After all, caviar (another love it or hate it food) is the perfect companion for sliver-thin blinis, so why wouldn’t Nova and corn tortillas be just as perfect?

Answer: they are.

You can cook and assemble this combo in no time. Which makes it great for one person or a bunch. If your making more than two tacos, use separate pans, and a helper to cook the eggs and the heat the tortillas. Then top them, fold them and hand them out for your own food truck inspired dinner. Be prepared to make more. They are that good. If you don’t want to use smoked salmon, use regular cooked salmon – but please not that canned stuff. No one will thank you for that.

Nova Tacos

Feeds two

2 Tbsp. butter

4 soft corn tortillas

4 eggs

4 oz smoked salmon

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

1 cup of watercress or arugula

salt and pepper to taste

Melt  a tablespoon of butter in each of two large skillets over medium heat.

Crack eggs into one skillet and cook until whites are done and yolk is still runny.


In other skillet, briefly heat each tortilla, about 15 seconds on each side.


Place tortillas on plates, top with eggs, salmon, onions and greens. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

nova egg

You can fold them and eat them like tacos, or serve them open face to be eaten with a knife and fork.


Continue reading Nova for dinner – hold the schmear

Use it or lose it sometimes makes a great recipe

The old “use by” date challenge was facing me – again – when I opened the fridge this morning. I don’t know what kind of time warp happens in my refrigerator, because items that I swear I just put in there are suddenly teetering on the edge of badness.

Today’s contestants were a full container of ricotta cheese and half a jar of fig preserves that was opened in August. No mold – check. No bad smells – check.

Time to get busy.

The great thing about ricotta is that it is so versatile. Think outside the lasagna and stuffed shells, and you have options for desserts, apps and dips.

I decided on making a sweetish appetizer that could also make a great brunch dish or dip. You can make it ahead of time and heat or reheat just before serving. This is winning points all around, but the biggest score is its simplicity. We’re quickly approaching the open house/pot luck/drop by season, so why not have a winning recipe in your corner? And don’t worry about those people you know (and we all know them) who hate figs. The preserves add just the right amount of sweetness without making this taste like a Fig Newton.

I stuffed the Ricotta and Fig Dip into mini puff pastry cups, but it would also be great as a dip for gingersnaps, (giving everyone a break from the ubiquitous pumpkin/cream cheese dip). Or you can make a quick brunch dish by baking it inside a puff pastry, with the bacon served on the side.

Ricotta Fig Dip

6 pieces of bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled

16 mini puff pastry shells

1 cup ricotta

1/2 cup fig preserves

juice of half a lemon

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In an oven-proof dish, mix the ricotta, preserves, lemon juice and thyme. Cover with lid or foil and place in oven.

Bake the puff pastry shells according to package directions at the same time the dip is cooking.

Remove the shells from the oven, and let the dip bake another 10 minutes.

Take the dip from the oven, remove the lid and let it cool five minutes.

While dip cools, remove the tops from the pastry shells.

Spoon the dip into each shell and top with crumbled bacon. Serve immediately.

To make this dish ahead of time, cook and crumble the bacon and refrigerate. Make the ricotta mixture and refrigerate or freeze it. (If frozen, let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking). Reheat the bacon in a skillet over low heat.