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Raclette

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 

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Photo by Judith Hausman

Raclette is a Swiss dish, based on heating cheese and scraping off the melted portion. 

Raclette is the quintessential Swiss winter food, simpler even than fondue. I've eaten it authentically only once, sitting with friends around an open fireplace. Our host held half a wheel of cheese up to the flames, and when the surface started to melt, he scraped (racler is the verb “to scrape” in French) the softened cheese onto our plates.

As with fondue, purists adhere to tradition with raclette. Boiled potatoes and tiny pickles (cornichons) are the sole accompaniments, and eaters are warned not to fill up on those. It's all about the cheese; guests like to boast of how many servings they've managed to eat. Tepid white wine or hot tea are the only beverages permitted because, according to folklore, others would result in a gut stuffed with a giant cheese ball. It's a lot of fun.

To be more practical, you can use various tableside contraptions that either heat slices of cheese from underneath or hold a large piece of cheese near a heating element. It keeps me at the stove, but I use a small no-stick pan and watch the slices very carefully, sliding them onto warmed plates to serve. I also cheated this year by serving lightly sautéed red cabbage, onions and apples alongside the raclette. The combination made a perfect Germanic accompaniment for this simple, homey dish.

This winter I found a local (well, regional), artisanal raclette cheese made in Vermont by Southwind FarmFresh and authentic, the tangy, well-flavored cheese melted just as it should over the Yukon gold potatoes and homemade pickles I provided. I won't give you an actual recipe here for the cheese since this is a dish one should just assemble for guests — the more, the merrier. Enjoy a last winter meal with friends before you welcome the asparagus back!

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Parsnip Soup

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

parsnip soup

Photo by Judith Hausman

Carrots can be boring; try some parsnips this spring instead!

Signs of spring are sprouting: crocus and daffodil greens poking through the snow, hopping robins and birdsong in the air, longer days and ice-free ponds. And yet, a few more soups can still be enjoyed from last season's root vegetables before fresh spring asparagus and peas take over.

I enjoy growing parsnips, but I don't have much experience with them in the kitchen. As a result, I overcooked a stack of them that were destined for a Malaysian-style curry dish that intrigued me. While too soft for the curry, a wand blender pureed the softened parsnips and some additional broth into a delicate soup. Garam masala complimented the already-sweet flavors, but average curry powder or ground ginger would also work in a pinch. Onions, celery, leeks, carrots or potatoes could be added nicely — try roasting the vegetables for 25 minutes or so at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than simmering them. Use cream for more luxury, if you must; I rarely do. 

I also experimented with a garnish. Following the current kale-chip craze, I tossed sliced crimini mushrooms with olive oil and salt and roasted them at high heat until they dried. A final pass under the broiler crisped the mushrooms into perfect foils for the creamy soup. A spoonful of pesto or some chopped pumpkin seeds would be easy and tasty alternatives.

Serves 4 to 6

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Winter Sweets: Squash and Apricot Bread

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

apricot and sweet potato bread

Photo by Judith Hausman

A sweet, winter treat, sans the candy.

January is supposed to be a time of dietary atonement. Annually, all around the nation, people step on sales after the holiday cookies and grimace. Despite the cold that nudges us toward cozier, heavier foods, we are actually burning fewer calories in near-hibernation. So how do you address those persistent sweet attacks?

Local, winter squash is still pretty easy to find in the Hudson Valley, so I work with those to create sweet but healthier goodies. Of course canned squash or pumpkin will work just as well (and is sometimes less fibrous). This sweet bread is a treat for breakfast but is especially welcome at an early sunset with hot tea or milky coffee. Wait a bit for the loaf to cool well so it will slice better.

The apricots keep it moist and reduce the sugar and oil needed. More spices (cloves? allspice?), or merging them by substituting pumpkin-pie spice, are just fine. I like to bake small loaves and freeze one, but for an impressive gift, make a larger loaf. Just poke a toothpick into the middle to be sure it's thoroughly cooked.

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About the Blogger

Judith Hausman Blogger

Judith Hausman
As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City 'burbs.

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