Monday, December 28, 2009

2010 New Year's Eve Raclette Fête

This year I didn't go overboard for Christmas... I followed Linus' advice and had more of a Charles Shultz kind-of-holiday season with commercialism with all of its insidious glory diminished. So often, we make more of Christmas than it ought to be, and we end up exhausted with decorations yet to put away and the weight of a new year ahead of us.

Still, existentialism aside, I'm very glad my sweet hubby used his hard-earned capitalist dollars to partake in the crazed consumerism of the holidays, buying me the Raclette grill I was hoping for-- and just in time for New Year' Eve! Here's what it looks like!

And because I didn't overdo it and now with my dream appliance, I want to invite a handful of friends over for New Year's Eve for a Raclette Fête !  This is so easy to prepare and so low-key that everyone, including myself the host, are guaranteed to have a wonderful evening.  I'll buy the Raclette cheese and the fingerling potatoes. I've asked each friend to bring something to go along with our meal:  Jill will bring the baby dill pickles and maybe some pickld asparagus, Marc the ham or salami, Deanna loves vegetables so I've asked her to bring a fresh veggie plate, Meredith will bring a couple kinds of bread and Pierce and Lily will each bring some white wine, like a Beaujolais.

This way I can extend the the joy, the memories, the fun and the laughter of being with ones near and dear without the stress to impress.  2010's gonna be grand!!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Preparing Raclette is as Easy as Pie

Eating Raclette is as easy as boiling potatoes! These are the main ingredients but any can be easily modified to suit your personal tastes & budget:

* Raclette cheese - (or any semi-soft cheese will do) Try: Emmental, Edam, Gouda or Irish Cheddar. Plan for about 4 oz per person. Note: Raclette cheese is mostly imported, and as such, on the pricier end of cheese.
* New Potatoes - (the little ones) but really, any potato will do. Try: colorful varieties if available.
* Dried or Cured Meats, charcuterie - Try: air-dried beef, prosciutto or parma ham from your deli counter but even sandwich ham will do.
* Pickles, cornichons - any pickled or fresh vegetable will do. Try: pickled artichoke hearts, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes or fresh purple onions, bell peppers, or tomatoes for colors.

First, boil or bake the potatoes in their skins and place them on a serving plate, cutting the larger ones in half. Arrange thinly sliced meats on another plate. Slice pickles and any other veggies you desire and place in separate dishes that can be passed around. Cutting off the rind, slice Raclette thinly (Personally, I like the rind but it's not so great for melting.)

With a microwave:
Each person can arrange onto their own small* microwave safe plates whatever combination variety they want, placing the most important ingredient, the Raclette cheese, on top. Microwave until just melted. (*any size is fine but the idea is to nibble and nosh leisurely around the table and to enjoy the food and company, refilling your plates as desired.)

With an oven:
Same idea, but with small oven safe dishes. Place them all on a baking tray and grill until melted. Keep the oven warm for another round!

Not necessary, but rounding out the meal is also easily solved. Just add a hearty brown bread, a crusty bread, or any bread you have on hand with a simple packaged salad as side dishes.

Beverages well suited to a Raclette meal are white wine, a dark ale, beer or hot tea. These are said to aid in digestion of the decadent, high fat content meal... but who's thinking about calories at this time of year!

Advanced Raclette Dining
For the full Swiss experience, the Raclette Grill turns the meal into an occasion with lasting memories. The Swiss will lounge around the dinner table for a few hours, slowly enjoying this luxurious yet casual meal. Make sure there's a free flow of wine, beer and hot water for tea which will guarantee a glorious experience! Raclette grills have two levels: the top is for grilling your vegetables and meat, the bottom for melting the decadent, creamy cheese on top of your individualized creation-combination, or, solely for melting the cheese to pour atop the creation on your plate!

This video shows you just how easy Racletting is!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Raclette or Fondue, The Better of the Two?

Raclette and Cheese Fondue are both delicious cheese meals of Swiss-Gallic origin, perfect winter and especially nice for the holiday season. Apparently, there's some debate which is better than the other...

According to the late French food writer, Robert Courtine, Raclette is a dish that « le gourmet préfère de loin aux fondues » — "a dish that a gourmet prefers by far compared to fondues, better than the typical fondue, which is cheese melted in white wine and often served only with bread"*. A well-known gastronome, especially in the area of French cheeses, Courtine is saying that Raclette is better than Fondue.

Cheese fondue, a conglomeration of Emmental and Gruyere, has a wonderful yet subtle creamy, nutty alcohol-infused flavor which makes a tasty appetizer. I say appetizer because it's often eaten with cubes of hearty German brown bread or French baguettes with some sides, pickled onions or baby gherkins, and perhaps some charcuterie (cured meats) as well. This dish is on the mild side of wild, with low-key monotone textures and flavors brought through the bread and the cheese mixture.

La Raclette has similar ingredients, but with the addition of some small, immature potatoes becomes a heartier meal. The raclette cheese itself has a distinctly rich, mature flavor (some say stinky ;)-- and a creamy and gooey texture. The dish's simplicity yet complexity of flavor when combined with the potatoes, sour pickles, salted meats lends itself to a very satisfying meal indeed.

With Raclette, you make a plate of food then pour the melted decadence on top on your own plate; with Fondue, you take your bread, dip it in the cheese fondue and immediately consume-- you never really see the food on your plate! I don't know about you, but for me, there's something psychologically more satisfying about having your own plate of food.

Another thing I like about Raclette is that you know exactly what you're eating-- plain potatoes, cured meats, pickles and cheese... that's it! There's something so proletarian about these ingredients, yet when put together, magically changes into a meal fit for a king. In fondue the centerpiece is the expensive blend of cheeses, with an additive of a thickener like cornstarch giving off a more sophisticated air at first... but leaving you feeling a pauper because your plate always seems empty!

For me, I prefer Raclette over Fondue... but if I'm offered either you won't see me complain!

* excellent translation by Ken Broadhurst-- check out his great blog!