Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Raclette Revelation

Have you ever encountered one of these before? I'd never even heard of a raclette until Eric came home from Christmas with the inlaws in Quebec and started raving about it. I didn't entire get what he was saying. "It's like fondue... except totally different!" Those crazy French Canadians. What will they come up with next? I would have been happy to settle on poutine as the greatest accomplishment, but no, they were always coming up with new and innovative wonderful food things that I can't find anywhere in these twin cities!

Eric had ordered his own raclette and invited the usual suspects over for a dinner party. Up until Saturday before we went over, Matt and I were still having this delightful tete a tete.

"What are we having for dinner, again?"

"Eric got a Raclette and we're going to do meats and cheeses on it, " I yelled while applying stunning eye makeup.

"What's a raclette?"

"It's a thing. Like a fondue, but different."

Confused silence, spare change falls from his pockets onto the floor in the next room.

"It's also the name of the cheese."

"What cheese?"

"The cheese we put on the raclette. It's both an appliance and a cheese."

"So, we're having cheese for dinner? Will there be a fondue?"

I rolled my eyes as I was fastening my necklace. It was beside the fact that I was only operating on this flimsy explination that I'd gotten off of Wikipedia. I wouldn't miss an opportunity to pull out my bossy pants. I sighed heavily, hoping the sound would carry from one room to the next. "You'll SEE."

More change falling on the floor. "Goddamit! Where did that come from? I haven't even worn these pants this week!"

After gathering the quarters from the floor we set off for the Western suburbs. It'd takes about 45 minutes for us to get there. This is due to Eric an I marrying outside of our Minneapolis comfort zones. Great men. Bad location.
When we arrived Andy and Laura were already there, all were contemplating which bottle of wine to open first. The easy to get to Frontier with the screw top and the scarily potent alcohol content? Eric had suggested that we could all bring either wine or an appetizer. We'd all brought wine.
Soon we were opening the second bottle and seated at the table with our salad plates before us and a centerpiece of Raclatte. The salad was a delicious blend of arugula, Roquefort, candied pecans and a couple of slices of green apple to garnish, all was drizzled with a delightful vinagrette that Andy had helped season.
"Are we ready?" Eric asked. As I'd finished picking out all of the blue cheese from Andy's and Matt's plates, I emphatically nodded yes. "Let's turn it on."
I spun the dial up to 4, second highest setting.
"Did you turn it on?" Pierre asked me. Pssh, what? Of course I'd... I pressed the POWER button in front of me.
As they cleared our plates, Eric started to bring out bowl after bowl. Andouille sausage, steak, bacon bits, shrimp and scallops. Baquette slices were set on either end of the table. A plate of pickled delights, "When I lived in Germany, they always served Raclette with pickeled things, " Eric explained. Blue and sundried tomato stuffed olives, Italian onions and corinshrons. There were Bella mushrooms and tri-colored bell pepper slices. And then there were the cheeses! Wisconsin aged cheddar, Edam, Gouda and the star of the show, Raclette!
"Wow! You actually found Raclette cheese!" I leaned over Laura's plate to get a better look.
"I know! I couldn't believe that Trader Joe's had it, " Eric called from the kitchen.
Laura grabbed a slice, broke it in half and handed it to me. I'll be up front here, it did not smell good, but that's never been a deterrant for me where cheese is concerned. I popped it in my mouth and let the creamy texture give way to the taste that seemed to permiate my nose, throat and stomach. It was...
"How is it?" Matt asked. I looked at him, corners of my mouth tugging downward.
"Here you try."
Moments later, "AUGH! That's Terrible! It tastes like - " Let me just stop the narritive there for a moment. Matt's description was both colorful and accurate, but a bit vulgar for a blog that his mother and mother in law occassionally read. Let just leave it that I asked Pierre how one would say, "Prostitute" and "Hoo haw" in French. This also lead to me later shouting out, "VAGINA!" like some misguided player on the Fued. You can't take me anywhere.
Pierre returned to the table, as Matt was scouring off his tongue. Eric brought in the dipping sauces, Coconut Curry, Rose sauce, Spicy Thai Peanut and horseradish for the steaks. Matt threw droplets of water at the grill top. They sizzled and scooted their way across the length of it. We were ready to begin.
I loaded up my little tray with gouda, baby bella mushrooms and bacon. I slid it into the bottom and slapped a bunch of steak bits on the top. Anxious from the waiting, we decided another bottle of wine might be neccessary. As soon as the cheese was sizzling and most of the pink was gone from the meat, I poured it all onto a slice of baquette and seasoned it with salt and pepper. Oh, blessed food alchemy, it was delicious! Even the steak was above board. Eric explained that his butcher had given him the trimmings from some of that days high quality cut steaks. What I had tasted like a perfectly dry aged bit of NY strip.
I wanted to do it again! This time I grabbed the cheddar cheese and stuck it down below.
"So, Eric," Laura said, "Have you ever had Raclette cheese before?"
"No, which one is it?" She pointed at the plate. Eric grabbed a piece and placed it on his toungue. His face slowly fell until he was softly gagging. "Oh my God, that's terrible! Have you had this before?" he asked Pierre.
Pierre smiled beatifically, "Sure. It's good." The entire table recoiled. Eric slid the plate of cheese in his direction.
Enough of this, crazy people, I had shrimp to get to. I pulled the first one cooked through off the grill. I sliced into the pink outter shell and gazed upon the perfectly opulecent flesh. I put a tiny little dollop of the coconut curry sauce on top. It was delicious. The skin popped like a perfectly ripe grape as I bit into it and the sweet curry pungancy gently wafted towards the back of my throat. There was only the tiniest of kicks at the back of my throat, very mild curry. I drizzled the sharp cheddar onto another hunk of bread. It was surprisingly cheddar-y flavored for a cheese that melted so well.
The pickle tray was making its rounds and everyone was raving over the onions, but I couldn't be bothered. I had to get me one of those scallops! They weren't ready, so I nabbed a crusty little slice of andouille. I put a dollop of rose sauce on it and down the hatch. This had more of a spicy kick that was mellowed by the ketchup and mayonaise. It was campfire smokey and crisp like a snapped twig. Finally, the scallops were ready. I pulled one off, temporarily abandoning my cheese level (so unlike me!)
"Where's the spicy peanut sauce?" I asked.
"Where are any of the sauces? I haven't seen any of them, " said Andy. Everyone looked around the table, and stopped to my left, where I had abandoned all, but the Thai sauce.
"What?" Forks rested on Crate and Barrel plates. "What?" Finally, I got my sauce. Jerks. TAKE the ketchup and mayo. Rose sauce. Like that's so fancy.
I placed a quivering piece of scallop on my tounge, seasoned only with a little salt. It burst and then melted with the sweet flavor of dried sea salt on the tip of my tongue. The Thai sauce was added to the next bite. Oh, sweet salty, spicy, sweet, succulant heaven this thing was good!
We decended into a food orgy. At this point, I must have had a food blackout, because I can't remember exactly what came next, only there was probably another couple of bottles of wine involved. Soon we were splayed over living room furniture moaning. "Uuuuuuuhhhh, my Goooooood, that was soooooo goooooood. uhhhhhhhhhh."
But, our gracious hosts weren't done with us yet. Oh, no. A dinner at Eric and Pierre's is not complete without some manner of decadent dessert. As, my night caps are usually more alcohol and less chocolate based, I pulled out the bottle of wine that I had brought.
Earlier in the day, I'd made a stop at the Wine Thief. I've only been going there for about a year now, but they have yet to steer me wrong. Everytime I cross the threashold, a giddiness builds in my chest and my eyes glaze over like they haven't since I was four. Every wine I've had has been wonderful and every request I've had (My friends just moved into a new house and I don't know that they know much about wine, so could I please get something unoffensive for pretty cheap?) has been given a thoughtful and accurate answer. (Joy! That bottle was wonderful. It reminded us of what we had when we were in Italy!) Score.
When I'd gone in on Saturday, they were doing a tasting. Unfortunately, as occassionally happens, there was this boorish dude blocking the counter and happily slurping down glass after glass while dominating the room and the attention of the guy working there. I was only able to sneak a glass of a very light Pinot Noir. It was so light, in fact, that I think I could have drank away the whole bottle just while browsing, not unlike a liter of Evian. Next to the tasting counter, however was a bottle that I'd never seen before. I recognized the art to be something from Bonny Doon vineyards. I love the work they do. It's all about cultivating different grapes and having fun. The art seemed to be a picture of a monkey in a fez happily gazing up at a high heeled woman, who may or may not have been a stripper. The accompanying sign said, "Bouteille Call, you know you want it." (Eric, flush from French class pointed out that Bouteille is bottle.)
Truth be told, I didn't even read the back of the bottle until I proudly showed it to Matt. "What? What is this? What's with his little fez?" Giggling, he turned the bottle over. "Grape wine, raspberry wine and grape liquor? You got a fortified wine? What, no Nighttrain?"

"That Nighttrain's a mean hangover." I wasn't worried. Much.
It was much to my relief that when we did remove the cork and take a sip, we all agreed it was delightful. Just a hint of syrupyness, but dense with sweet blueberry smells and jammy consistency.
"I love jammy!" Andy exclaimed.
With our jammy, risque wine, Eric brought out Elclairs, truffles and other fine delictbles. Pierre made Andy some coffee, which Eric brewed Matt some espresso. I was curled up at the end of the sofa, slowly sipping and trying to prop my eyelids open, reflecting on what I've learned. A Raclette might be sort of like fondue... but not really. I have got to get me one of these. Wait, I live in a tiny house with no dining room table. "You guys have got to have us over again!"


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