Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Cheesy Culture of Kid's Birthday Parties

What do children's birthday celebrations say about us as a people?

I can honestly say that I have never been to a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese, but it seems to be almost a rite of passage for Americans to celebrate another year of life with second rate pizza, turn-in-your-token arcade, and corny Animatronics that beckon you to join them for a number on stage.

For the price of admission, and it's a pretty steep price for the average American, you get an overload of pinball and video arcade machines, the pleasure of singing with oversized mechanical stuffed animals (that are quite scary), and 3 slices of the most forgettable pizza you'll ever taste.

A birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese is loud, artificial, bright or should we say colorful, corny, overdone, sensationalized and excessive.

... And then, we have birthday party in let's say, Western Europe with raclette. Austere and ever-practical... the focus of the party is on the people, the relationships, the conversation.

Who's having the better time? Hard to say, but I think it's a tie. Amusement and entertainment seem to be important factors to a culture that gave birth to Hollywood. Food is only secondary. Doing more than one thing at once, running around wasting money on pinball, going to the table for a sip of a your never-ending soda is perfectly acceptable.

But when it comes to the food, the Swiss children are faring much better. They dine on a few high quality ingredients. The food is as memorable as is the conversation. The food and people sharing the food is prized above other excesses.

One thing though they both got right: Cheese seems to elevate a meal to a celebration.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Swiss Raclette

By: Al Mann, Courtesy of Rocket Articles

Raclette is a signature culinary dish of the Swiss and French Alps. It consists of slices of heated, soft, runny cheese accompanied by small, firm boiled potatoes, gherkins, and pickled onions. Raclette traces its origin back many centuries to cow herders, shepherds, and farmers, who would place a wedge of cheese in front of a campfire and scrape off layer after layer as the cheese heated. The word raclette comes the French "racler", which means to scrape.

One may still enjoy raclette in front of a campfire today, but the modern way of preparing raclette in the home is to use a small tabletop electric raclette grill or broiler. It is self-service as each person places a sliced portion of raclette cheese onto a small tray under the heating elements of the grill. In a minute or two, the cheese is bubbling hot and ready to be retrieved and scraped onto the plate over a cooked potato.

Often thinly sliced, air-dried beef of the Grisons region of Switzerland is served with raclette in addition to the potatoes, gherkins, and pickled onions. Prosciutto also goes well. Today's modern tabletop raclette grills also have heated top grill plate which can be used to grill shrimp, meat, poultry, and vegetables.

The potatoes should be boiled in their skins before the meal. Keep the potatoes warm by placing them on top of the grill in a bowl covered by a small towel. There also are willow baskets with insulated covers for holding the potatoes warm.

Typically hot tea or dry white wine is served with the meal. White wines from the Alpine region are preferred with raclette, but if not available, a dry pinot grigio, pinot blanc, or riesling go well with the raclette. Usually an after-dinner cordial also is in order for the digestion after a hearty raclette dinner! Or maybe two...

The cheese itself is also called raclette. Usually raclette cheese is produced from pasteurized cow's milk and aged. It is characterized by a firmly textured, pale-yellow body with scattered small holes and a smooth, light-brown natural rind. The cheese has a mellow, distinctive aromatic flavor/taste that grows stronger when hot. Raclette cheese can be found in specialty food stores and ordered online. Unless you have a larger cradle raclette grill, described below, it will be necessary to pre-slice the cheese before the meal begins. Quarter-inch thick slices work well with the electric raclette grills.

Alpine restaurants will serve raclette (and portions will keep coming to the table until you say stop/halt). Instead of a tabletop grill, resturants use a larger cheese heating apparatus that holds a cheese wheel wedge in a cradle in front of a heat source, and the cheese is sliced off as it heats.

In Europe, raclette is often served during the winter holidays, and the meal turns into a festive evening with family and friends. The goal in raclette dining is relaxed and sociable eating and drinking, the meal often running to several hours. Many families in the United States and other parts of the world also have discovered the fun of raclette.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Skiing and Raclette, On the Slow Glide

Danish free-ski fanatics show how slick their tricks are-- their flow like Raclette cheese sliding off the wheel.

Courtesy of Newschoolers.com

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Three Retirees Spread the Mission of Cheese in New Jersey

Ain't no stoppin' them now-- the Big 3: Paul Robinson, 62, Walt Bodkin, 67 and Fred Austin, 72-- three big-hearted, hard-working retired executives not letting a receding economy, or a receding hair line, get in the way of generating income for themselves and the Atlantic City Rescue Mission in New Jersey.

The 3 decided to start a business selling cheese spreads, now 40 in all. With a little help from Bill Southrey, the Director of the mission, they had enough to begin whipping the cheese. When Robinson, Bodkin and Austin saw that the mission was helping to train and employ those in even more dire circumstances they decided to name their company after him: Bill Southrey's Gourmet Mission Cheese.

Currently, the custom-order preservative-free spreadable cheeses are only available to restaurants and stores, but plans are in order to roll them out onto dairy shelves in the local supermarket. Blueberry, raisin and walnut, jalapeno, scallions and crab are some of customers' favorites.

The creamy confections are made right in the Rescue Mission kitchen, and as demand for them "spreads" so will the opportunities by way of providing work for residents of the mission as well as to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission's farm in Cape May. With heart and soul poured into a venture such as this, they'll be reaping profits beyond what they can see or taste and leaving a lasting gift for many more to enjoy. (Source: pressofatlanticcity.com)