Here’s a little secret: I wanted to host our first supper club not only because I desired so desperately to bust out my new raclette grill, but also because the only food prep I would have to do was slice up a four pound wedge of cheese. It was very smelly work, but highly satisfying.
(And when I say that this was “very smelly work,” what I really mean is that this was very smelly work. I love cheese — this is no secret, I would be so happy to have a trio of parrots named Fontina, Piave and Comté — but please know, my friends, that raclette is a stinker. I broke a cardinal rule of cookery and went out to purchase scented candles; in my defense, I kept them away from the food. I scattered them in every other room aside from the one we were eating in, however, and kept them burning throughout the night.)
Oh, here’s another bit of dinner-prep that I took care of, though it didn’t include food: setting the table. That doesn’t sound glamorous at all, I know, but as I was arranging the cutlery the night before, I decided to do something I don’t normally do when having people over for dinner, and that was make placecards. I absolutely hate that moment when it’s time to eat and everybody stands around the table wondering where the so-called right place is to sit — so awkward. Placecards, I thought, would eliminate that altogether… plus I did something a little sneaky and wrote ice-breakers on the inside of each card, just in case the conversation lagged a bit. They were each fill-in-the-blank sort of sentences, i.e. “If I were an article of clothing, I would be a —————”, “The room I liked best in my childhood home was —————”, and “My favorite smell makes me think of —————”. It actually turned out to be a lot of fun, and was an interesting way to learn something we might not have otherwise about each other.
Raclette is a Swiss cheese made of cow’s milk; traditionally it’s served melted onto steamed potatoes, caramelized onions and cornichons. The group of us decided to stick mostly with tradition, though we added a few crusty baguettes, some sliced Gala apples tossed with lemon, and strips of red and orange peppers. We placed the apples and peppers atop the grill to soften before smothering them with raclette — delicious.
Which is not to say the rest of our table wasn’t laden with less delicious fare, because that definitely wasn’t the case. Personally, I couldn’t get enough potatoes onto my plate, or parsley, or pearl onions (though later, when we had consumed all but the bread, I poured my melty cheese onto a torn piece the size of my palm and chewed thoughtfully while I listened to an impromptu dinner-table debate). That’s the best part about raclette: the mixing and matching of condiments and accompaniments. If anything, it’s a total DIY kind of meal, and one that requires sharing, reaching over your neighbor, and a lot of talking. In other words, it’s brilliant.
Another exciting part of the night was that my friend Marcella drove down from Saratoga Springs — through a snowstorm! — to join us. She’s my closest friend, and we don’t get to spend nearly enough time together. In spite of that, we somehow always seem to end up on the same sort of page, no matter how far apart we are. (We’ve not only purchased identical underwear and books, but also wore and read them at the same time, in different area codes.) That said, it wasn’t any sort of shock when we simultaneously suggested to the other that we should make marshmallows for dessert. (I’m not kidding. Simultaneous.) It was surprisingly easy, making marshmallows, and unsurprisingly sticky — though it was sticky in the most beautiful way. That night, we whisked ten ounces of melted semi-sweet chocolate into milk, and poured them into hot mugs. Somehow, entire families of marshmallows ended up in mine.
Of course, the night came to a close much too soon — but isn’t the always case any time you’re enjoying yourself a little too much? The times that lag are only when you’re waiting in line at the post office, or staring at the clock during algebra, or tapping your fingers during a traffic jam of questionable origin. The proof of our pleasure was in my kitchen the next morning, shining a little too brightly in the dazzling light spilling in between the horizontal blinds.
Marshmallows, from David Lebovitz
2 envelopes powdered gelatin
½ cup + 1/3 cup cold water
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
4 egg whites
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
about ½ cup powdered sugar and ½ cup cornstarch, sifted together
- In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the ½ cup of cold water to dissolve and soften. In a saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, mix the sugar and corn syrup with 1/3 cup of water. Place over medium-to-high heat.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, pour in the egg whites and beat on low speed until frothy. Add the pinch of salt.
- When the syrup reaches between 210 and 220°, increase the speed of the mixer and beat the whites until they are thick and fluffy (do not overbeat).
- When the syrup reaches 245°, while the mixer is whipping, pour the syrup into the whites. Pour so that the syrup does not fall on the whip, otherwise much of the syrup will splatter onto the sides of the bowl, not into the egg whites.
- Scrape the gelatin and water into the pan that you used for the syrup and swirl it to dissolve (it should be hot enough from the syrup to dissolve it). Pour the liquified gelatin into the whites as they are whipping. Add the vanilla and continue to whip for 5 minutes.
- Dust with a sifter a 11x 17 (approximately) baking sheet evenly and completely with cornstarch mixture. Use a spatula to spread the marshmallows in a layer on the pan. Allow to dry for at least 4 hours or overnight, uncovered.
- Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the marshmallows into pieces and toss in the powdered sugar and cornstarch mixture. Put the marshmallows in a colander or strainer and shake off the excess cornstarch mixture. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.