Liptauer Cheese

In my little bitty NYC kitchen, I haven’t had the heart to turn on the oven, or, frankly, even the stove. So I started to ponder what I could make this week that wouldn’t require actual cooking, something ideal for grazing and munching on while enjoying cocktails and conversation with friends. This week, I hope I can help you beat the summer heat by sharing a Hungarian recipe that I think you should include as part of your next cocktail party: Liptauer cheese. 

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Knafeh (Middle Eastern Sweet Cheese Pie)

My low-key Israeli boyfriend doesn’t usually bubble over with enthusiasm about food. In fact, in comparison to, say, me, he almost never speaks about something he’s eaten with the kind of fervent excitement that peaks my curiosity and makes me want to try it too. Given his usually measured temperament, it is particularly notable that I’ve heard him rhapsodize passionately about only one food: knafeh, a Middle Eastern pastry made with shredded filo pastry, sweet cheese, and sugar syrup. He waxes poetic about knafeh in a way that makes eating it sound like nothing less than a religious experience. 

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Hungarian Sour Cherry Soup

My Hungarian-born grandma’s Bronx apartment always smelled of paprika and chicken fat, the scent of which permeated the upholstery and lingered in the air. Even in the heat of summer, Grandma Rose cooked Hungarian foods that were unapologetically hearty, like stuffed cabbage, and chicken paprikas with nockedli. One perennial summer favorite broke the pattern, though: meggyleves, cold sour cherry soup. Of all the foods I was ever served by my Grandma Rose, it was my hands-down favorite.

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German Potato Salad

The Fourth of July is clearly a day on which we American foodies ought to celebrate American food. But what American food is exactly seems much less clear. Short of the few foods native to North America (most notably plants like beans, corn, and squash) the foods we eat are a culinary hodge-podge of foods brought by generations of immigrants arriving in this country and tweaking their recipes to fit their new surroundings and new lives.

German immigrants, who flooded onto American shores in record numbers in the middle of the 19th century, brought with them some staples that most of us would list when asked to name a few American favorites: hamburgers, hotdogs, pretzels, and beer. In fact, that list sounds like a pretty good start for a Fourth of July menu, right? 

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"Grandma Omelets"

Breakfast at my grandparents’ was drab. When I visited as a kid, my usual morning meal of cereal and orange juice was never offered. Instead, there was hum-drum toast and strong coffee for the grownups, soft-cooked eggs and milk for the kids. Sometimes there were some Entenmann’s chocolate donuts or store-bought cinnamon-laced Schnecken, a welcome change of pace, but, because I always slept-in later than my early-bird grandparents, breakfast wasn’t usually a meal we enjoyed together around the table. There was one rare exception to the breakfast boredom: on special occasions, grandma and grandpa teamed up to prepare the much loved “grandma omelet,” not exactly an omelet, but a sweet breakfast/brunch/dessert dish that I’ve never seen anywhere else. 

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Benne Wafers: A Sweet South Carolina Staple with West African Roots

The first time I visited Charleston, South Carolina and the surrounding coastal region known as the Low Country, it was hot. Really, really hot. Thankfully, every little inn and shop had a gracious shaded porch, lazily spinning ceiling fans, and icy pitchers of sweet tea to help Northern tourists like me avoid succumbing to heat stroke. Alongside so many sweating pitchers of iced-tea and lemonade often stood a plate piled with thin, humble-looking little cookies—the kind that don’t usually tempt me, since they aren’t brimming with chocolate chunks or peanut butter gobs, or caramel. Not interested, at first, I passed on the first few plates of the drab little cookies, but they had an unusual name, and I kept seeing them all over town. So, ultimately, intrigued, I had to try them. I discovered that they were delightful: crispy, light, buttery, and caramelized, with a satisfying little chew owing to their star ingredient, sesame seeds. Over the remainder of my visit, I downed more of these little cookies than was probably called for, and I decided to find out a bit more about them and their unfamiliar name, benne wafers.

It turns out benne wafers tell an interesting story which starts long ago, and far away:

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Frogmore Stew

Frogmore Stew contains no frogs. Actually, it isn’t really a stew either. It is one of the beloved recipes in the category of recipes known as Low country cuisine, the food local to South Carolina’s coastal towns and cities and the bit of coastline south of Savannah, Georgia. Also called a Low Country boil, Frogmore Stew showcases the seafood of the region, and, although it has a grandiose name, it’s simple to prepare. 

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Lemon Strawberry Charlotte

This week’s recipe was supposed to be easy. Especially for me. I’m a trained pastry chef. I’ve made puff pastry, croissants, petit fours, sugar showpieces, and wedding cakes. For this week’s recipe, all I had to do was open some pre-packaged ingredients, do a little stirring, and stick a pan in the fridge to chill, and voila!, I would have a beautiful, refreshing, delicious cake to write about for my blog.

Things didn’t quite go as planned. First off, there was the weather issue. Next, the pre-packaged ingredients weren’t so easy to come by. And then there was the problem of the eggs. Here’s what happened, starting from the beginning:

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