It has been a hot steamy week here in New Haven, and I am too old and matronly for it to’ve been hot and steamy in a William Hurt and Kathleen Turner kind of way (that’s a good movie, by the way, I should watch that again — Body Heat). I just mean, the weather’s been the kind of hot and sticky where when you think about what to make for dinner, you think, “I don’t really care as long as I don’t have to turn on the oven or the stove.”
We acquired an Instant Pot a week ago and we haven’t even been able to think about using it, not because it would generate so much heat, but because the thought of eating the kind of meal you’d make in an Instant Pot is so incredibly unappealing. “Dear God no,” was the basic vibe, when I said that maybe I’d attempt to make a barbecued chicken thing. And we all love barbecued chicken. But.
The name of the game this week has been Sandwiches for Dinner. Turkey sandwiches, mostly, assembled on these nice rolls I got at the store. Sliced turkey, tomatoes, maybe a little red onion or some pickle relish and some sliced American cheese — this is a perfectly good summer supper. But you need sides. If you just have sandwiches, the plate looks sad.
Can’t have sad plates.
We plowed through a bag of horseradish and cheese potato chips one night. I made a big bowl of roasted corn and black bean salad which was also a hit with some of us. Last night, I found myself staring into the fridge and going, “Sandwiches and — what?” when I noticed the bag of celery I had washed and trimmed and put in the crisper for future use. I meant to pack them in with my daughter’s lunches, to take to summer camp, but I had forgotten them all week. Which meant they were certainly up for grabs for dinner.
“Stuffed celery,” I thought.
But: Stuffed with what?
For about a second I considered pimiento cheese; it’s my standby. And I have roasted red peppers on hand, a whole jarful. But wouldn’t that be a little same-old, same-old? It’s hard to admit you might be sick of pimiento cheese, but we may have reached that point. I continued to stare into the fridge and I noticed the half-brick of cream cheese sitting there and I said, “Liptauer cheese.”
Liptauer cheese: something I have read recipes for a thousand times, and never made. Why is this? How is this? “This must be remedied,” I said, taking the cream cheese from the fridge and hiding it in the microwave (so it could soften to room temperature without being attacked by the evil cat, who will attack a brick of cream cheese, given the slightest opportunity, you bet your bippy).
I did some quick poking around. I know Laurie Colwin has a thing she writes about called Viennese cheese spread or something like that — it’s basically Liptauer cheese. Online, I found a ton of perfectly reasonable sounding recipes. In the end I turned to the Joy of Cooking and found a recipe sufficiently basic and unongepotchket (un-ongepotchket) that I was willing to take it on. I removed the strings from the celery and cut the stalks into shorter pieces and then I was ready to go.
Since the cream cheese was soft, this was a mixture I could, and did, assemble entirely by hand in about five minutes. I took a tablespoon of minced shallot (not because I was trying to be so fancy, but because I have a shallot sitting around; a more plebian red onion would be just as good), a tablespoon of good, fresh, sweet paprika, and a tablespoon of capers, and mashed and stirred them into four ounces of cream cheese. I took a taste. It was good, but it needed something: it wasn’t quite as potent on the tongue as I wanted it to be. So I added a teaspoon each of powdered onion and powdered garlic, and maybe half a teaspoon more paprika. Whip whip whip: done. It was perfect. I spread it into the celery and then put the tray of stuffed celery in the fridge.
When we sat down to dinner, there were, I believe, about 25 pieces of stuffed celery on the tray. My daughter, to my astonishment, took one bite and made a face: not for her. “But you love capers!” I said. “There’s capers in this?” she said, wanting to change her mind. But she looked again: No. Liptauer cheese is not for her. “Ok, well, the grownups will eat it all,” I said.
I ate my turkey sandwich. I ate some leftover corn and bean salad. I ate some bread and butter pickles. I went to the tray to get some celery. There were three pieces left on the tray.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “There are only three pieces of celery on the tray.”
“Is that a problem?” asked my husband, looking at me somewhat archly. “Well no,” I said, “but it means there’s not much for me to eat.” I received a sheepish look. “I didn’t eat lunch today,” my husband said, “I was really hungry.”
He ate 21.5 pieces of stuffed celery, people. (He finished the piece our daughter took a bite of.) In maybe eight minutes. Completely unobserved. It was like a jewel heist, except it was stuffed celery instead of sapphires.
I took the last three pieces for myself and ate them quickly. “I’m glad you like the filling,” I said to my husband.
“I think I might like it better than pimiento cheese,” he said.
I gasped in my heart.
“That might be heresy,” he admitted.
I’m making more Liptauer cheese to serve with dinner tonight; also a batch of pimiento cheese (because my daughter loves it). I’ll be buying more turkey today, and maybe some roast beef, and another tomato, and — you know, I’d better buy some more cream cheese, too, because I’m thinking I better make some with some pickles chopped up in it. You know, for variety’s sake.
I am going to go through paprika like nobody’s business. Penzey’s is gonna love me (or wonder what the hell is going on here in New Haven).