Raclette: I heart Stinky Cheese!

The first time I had raclette was at the home of my friends Jeff and Jodie Morgan years ago when they lived out on the North Fork of Long Island. Jeff was a musician then that was just breaking into the wine business. Jody was a homemaker and we were having children in tandem and sharing the ins and out of potty training methodology. Jeff then went on to write about wine for the Wine Spectator and moved the family out to California and was the West Coast Editor for a long time. He is now the owner of Covenant Wines making kosher wines that are sure to be superb. There was a rose too, but I’m not up to date on that.

Jeff had lived in France at some point and the influence permeated their lifestyle. Lazy Sunday afternoons we played Jacques a dit… (Simon says) on the lawn and ate sardines stuffed with herbs right off the grill. Together Jeff and Jody were great cooks and great hosts and it was always delightful spending time with them. I pretty much always came away learning something new, the least of which was how to enjoy raclette.

The name Raclette comes from the French racler-to scrape. Traditionally a large wheel of this pungent semi soft cheese is held to the wood burning fire and the melted cheese scraped onto the waiting plate. This luscious cheese is served with boiled potatoes and cornichons or other pickled vegetables. Cured meats are also often served, but I never had it that way. One is tempted to compare this to fondue, but I would not make the comparison- they are nothing alike.

I cannot begin to tell you the blissful taste of the earthy pungent cheese with the doughy potato and the snap of the pickle. It was one of those taste moments that shock the senses into a different echelon. The reason is that it doesn’t sound all that amazing, but together it is spectacular.

Being a little remiss of a wood burning fireplace in Manhattan, I melt my cheese right onto plates that I put into a warm oven. It only takes a few minutes to melt the cheese and the hot plate maintains the melty loveliness during consumption. Just take care to handle the plate and mind the table top and not burn yourself or the veneer. There are table top grills that are the modern convenience of the day, but I’ve not tried them and prefer this basic and homey method.

This is hearty Winter fare and great to serve among a small group with one large plate in the middle of the table. My preferred wine of choice with Raclette is a flowery Reisling and the one time an off dry is enjoyable, or if you’re not a Reisling fan (and you will be once you have a good one), an aromatic Viognier or Pinot Gris is also delightful.

Power Packed Oat Scones: One healthy, the other healthier

As I have been packing up all my various china (and mind you, there is a quite a bit of it) I am reminded of my days when I would have friends over for High Tea. This was back in the early 90’s when Victoriana was the rage. For those parties I made teeny cucumber sandwiches, bitty raspberry tartlets and, of course, cream scones. We would gather all lady like and I would set out a spread, all served on pretty little plates, with delicate cups and saucers, silver trays and lace linen napkins. Mind you, this was in my funky railroad East Village apartment.
Those were the days…
I’m a big fan of the scone. Not too sweet, not too buttery and a mouthful that requires huge slugs of tea or coffee to wash it down. When I first moved to NYC I lived off of them. I was a darkroom hack in those days just out of art school, with student loans and no money. From the Korean deli on the corner I could buy a huge boulder of a scone for a buck, and for another 75 cents get a giant cup of coffee. There was always a lump of scone sitting at my bench slowly getting nibbled away, keeping me company in the dark.
Yesterday I had a hankering for a healthier oat version. Something that I could grab on the way to the gym and not feel guilty for it. Something that would nourish me mid afternoon after a few hours of packing.
I started out with a recipe that I found in Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Bakery– but that was only a guideline. I added in wheat germ, flax seed oil and protein powder. The recipe calls for whole wheat flour and a smattering of rolled oats and I exchanged the butter for vegetable oil. I tossed in some cranberries at the last second.
The result was a hearty scone that in my opinion could have used a bit more milk. Lovely though. These will not win any culinary awards for scone of the year, but considering the power packed ingredients, these are wonderful.

The second batch was a recipe I took from my old cookbook Simply Scones, originally printed in ’88. I made their Oat Currant Scones, using raisins in lieu of currants, oil instead of butter, and milk instead of heavy cream.

The consistency was more right on and they baked up the way a scone should. Honestly, I think there were both pretty close. You can see from the photo below the crumb was pretty much the same. Using oil made them a little denser than they would have been had I used butter, but again, a healthier version was the goal here and with that in mind, these were great.

Whole Wheat Oat Power Scone
adapted from Breakfast Lunch Tea
makes 12 2″ scones
1.75 c AP flour
.5c whole wheat flour
.5c rolled oats
.25c wheat germ
1 scoop protein powder
1 heaped T bp
.5t salt
.25c sugar
2T flax seed oil
.75c vegetable oil
6T milk
2c fresh cranberries
Oven set to 400˚
Mix flours, wheat germ, protein powder, BP, salt and sugar into a bowl and toss to combine. Toss in Cranberries
Stir in oils and mix with hands to incorporate into flour. This will be mealy and lumpy.
Add the milk and swiftly, carefully pull the dough together. Turn out onto work table dusted with flour, and give a turn or three kneading the scone.
Pat into 1.5″ thick mass and cut out 2″ scones and place on paper lined baking sheet.
Glaze with a little milk or beaten egg if desired and bake for 20-25 mins.
Raisin Oat Scones
adapted from Simply Scones
makes 8 wedges
2c AP flour
1c rolled oats
.25c sugar
1T bp
.5t salt
.25t cream of tartar
.5c milk
.5c vegetable oil
2 large eggs, beaten
2 large handfuls of raisins
Oven set to 400˚
In large bowl combine dry ingredients.
Add in oil and work in with fingers to get a lumpy mealy texture.
Add in milk and eggs, give a turn or two then toss in raisins. Pull dough together, turn out onto floured worktable.
Pat into an 8″ diameter circle. But into 8 wedges and place onto baking sheet.
Bake 15-20 mins

Warm Mushrooms Over Smoked Gouda Polenta

On the chillier days I prefer to serve a warm snack when friends come for a drink. As coats and hats and gloves are doffed and tucked away, the smell of sauteed onions and mushrooms greets them to let them know that as they settle into cushions and chairs that the belly will be rewarded for making the trek out in the cold.

Grilled polenta is a wonderful comfort food that is easily prepared ahead of time and and warmed when guests arrive. I stuffed mine this time with a smokey Gouda to give it some depth and richness. This made a perfect pairing to the earthy topping.

The portion is tapas size- about 3 inches square- which is a lovely snack when sipping on a soft round white such as Chardonnay or a robust Sauvignon Blanc. Not a meal but a hearty small plate of warm comforting goodness.

Smoked Gouda Polenta Squares with Shiitake Mushrooms
serves 6-8
8oz polenta
2 oz Smoked Gouda, grated
2 medium brown onions, sliced thin
1# Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
2 cloves garlic
.5 c white wine
2T butter
1T Thyme 
Prepare polenta by heating 4.5 c of water to boiling. Add 2t salt to water and then with a whisk slowly pour in the cornmeal while stirring the water to prevent lumps. On low cook until all water is evaporated, about 5 mins.
My trick is I make my polenta in my rice cooker. It warms and cooks the polenta nice and slowly, reduces splatters around the stove, doesn’t scorch and is easy to clean up.
Prepare a 9″ square pan with either cooking spray or line with plastic wrap.
Spread half the polenta evenly into the bottom of the pan, disperse cheese evenly, and then layer the rest of the polenta on top. Cover with a layer of plastic wrap and smooth out the top by pressing with fingers to get it as level and even as possible.
The polenta can be made well in advance (the night before?) or it should at least be left to cool and set for an hour or so.
In medium frying pan over medium low heat, melt the butter and add the onions. Slowly cook the onions until they are golden, taking care not to scorch them. Add the garlic and the mushrooms and sautee for 2 mins. 
Toss in the thyme and white wine and cook until the wine is evaporated. S&P to taste.
To serve cut the polenta into neat squares and grill. Spoon warm mushrooms over the top