When I was a 'tween, (before that term existed), I belonged to the Stitchin' 'n' Kitchen 4-H Club. Unlike most 4-H groups, which tend to focus on animal husbandry, we were a rather domestic bunch. We did a lot of cooking and needlecrafts. And, truth be told, I never really excelled. I think the partially-assembled pieces to an abandoned red corduroy jumper might still be in a box in my mom's garage. But my inability to complete sewing projects never stopped me from putting together some sort of entry for the County Fair -- usually a song and dance with my best friend Amy, occasionally a wool scarf I had crocheted or woven on a borrowed loom, and, once, a full-blown Hungarian feast.

I don't remember exactly what was on that Magyar menu, but I'll never forget my interview with the sweet judge lady the day I presented my culinary homage to the TD's ancestral homeland. She surveyed my carefully laid table, full of family heirlooms and pungent paprika, and sampled dainty bites of the various things I'd prepared. "Everything is lovely and delicious," she remarked. I beamed. "...But I'm worried it's not quite nutritionally balanced." I was confused. I hadn't realized this was one of the goals of the meal. She continued, "Do you think, perhaps, it might be possible to replace some of the sour cream with yogurt?" I looked at her with wide eyes. "No, no. I think that would be a very bad idea. Because, you see, this is HUNGARIAN food. And they use sour cream." End of discussion. I did not win a blue ribbon that year....

I made Hungarian food for some friends this week, and, glancing down at my shopping list, I had to laugh at the memory. My post-it looked something like this:
  • eggs
  • sour cream
  • cream cheese
  • ricotta 
  • butter
  • sausage
  • cucumbers

No question about it, a lot of traditional Hungarian food is an indulgence. But it is seriously yummy stuff. Here is a recipe for one of my absolute favorites. I'd worry about divulging a family secret, but every time I want to make this treat, I pull out an old, battered (pun intended) copy of the 1982 Congressional Club Cook Book, to which Mimo contributed this gem. It's a fluffy, bright, ricotta tart that has seriously spoiled all other cheesecakes for me, ever. It's not the simplest dessert to put together, but I think, every once in a while, it's worth both the time and calories...

Hungarian Rhapsody Dessert -- or -- Mimo's Túrós Süti

For the crust:

2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup melted butter

Mix it all together and press it into a 9x13 pyrex. I usually just mix everything together right in the pan. Pop it in the oven @350 for 20 minutes.

While that's baking, make your filling:
1 1/2 cups butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
8 eggs, separated
1 lemon
1 Tbs real vanilla
1/3 cup flour
1 8 oz pkg cream cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese

Beat the egg whites, gradually adding 1/3 cup sugar. When stiff peaks form, set the fluffy goodness aside. You don't need to wash the mixer before you continue. Love that.

Next, cream together the butter and remaining sugar. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Mix in the juice and zest of the lemon, vanilla, cheeses and flour, beating like crazy the whole time. Did I mention you should beat it a lot? When you're finally done beating everything, the concoction should be very light and fragrant. Gently fold this together with your waiting whites, and spread the entire floaty, fluffy, fatty cloud in the hot, par-baked crust. Put it back in the oven for about 45 minutes, until the center is set but not dry. Let it cool, cover generously with powdered sugar, and cut into squares. I like to serve it as slightly messy finger food, along with a big bowl of fresh berries and some nice sparkling water. Which can almost make it seem light....

Speaking of Mimo, can you believe she cooked like that and looked like this? Our grandparents were/are total hotties!

*My camera is acting up. If I can get it to work later today, I'll post some glamor shots of the cake, too...