Monday, February 4, 2008

Fondue You Too!

(My monthly food column for Heartland Women)
February 2008

Long ago and far away, I once enjoyed a warm, cozy dinner with friends on a frigid February evening, as if we were somewhere in the Swiss Alps. We were fantasy travelers from another land that night, sharing the hospitality of our hosts, Babs and Roger. The food was extraordinary, the wine flowed freely, and we talked and laughed for hours. As we all took our leave that night, we knew we were richer and wiser for the experience. Together we had found the answer to the most puzzling question of our time . . . what to do with those three fondue pots received as gifts by everyone who got married in the 1970’s!

An ad I saw the other day for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for two at The Melting Pot restaurant sparked fond memories of that fondue party. Perfect, I thought! Why not share some ideas and recipes for a romantic, homemade, three-course fondue dinner for two – without driving to Saint Louis and spending a fortune for Valentine’s Day. Then, remembering the joy of that magical evening in North Carolina, I knew that fondue would also be just right for a group of Midwestern friends and neighbors or a family Valentine dinner.

Fondue makes any meal an occasion, whether it is an intimate dinner for two or supper for a crowd! Try it just once and you’ll see why fondue pots and fondue parties renew their popularity with every generation, and why it was really good idea to keep all three pots for all these years. Preparation is easy enough for one person, but much more fun when the whole group gets involved. Add a little wine or beer to the mix, along with a silly tradition or two, and you have got food and entertainment all rolled into one. There is just something about spearing food with long skinny forks and dipping them into a communal pot that makes fondue irresistible fun for everyone.

Years of studying French are rarely wasted when it comes to food – so even I know the word fondue comes from the French fondre, which means to melt. However, what we know as cheese fondue is actually a Swiss dish, probably born out of necessity. When the fresh cheeses of summer were reduced to rock hard remnants during the long, harsh Alpine winters, the addition of some wine and a little heat created a delicious meal when chunks of bread we dipped into the pot. Voila!

The French are credited with creating their own version of fondue by placing pots for cooking oil throughout the vineyards, thus allowing workers the convenience of being able to break for a hot lunch, complete with meat and bread, without having to leave the vines. Not exactly PB&J or a drive-thru burger, but ingenious nonetheless.

Today, fondue pots come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, but some are better than others, depending on the type of fondue you want to make.

It is a good idea for all fondue pots to have a tray underneath for safety, spills, and stability.

Although it is possible to prepare fondue tableside, it can be a little tricky and time consuming. A better idea is to prepare it on the stove and then transfer it – very carefully! – into your fondue pot at the table.

Ceramic pots work with tea lights or cooking fuel, such as alcohol or Sterno, and are best used for chocolate or cheese fondue. These pots are typically wide and shallow for even heat distribution. Be sure to stir the pot often to avoid scorching at the source of the flame. Know what type of fuel your pot uses and keep it on hand to avoid last minute disappointment.

Enameled cast iron pots are an excellent choice for steady heating of the pot and work well for all types of fondue. They should be deep and have a sturdy stand for safe cooking with hot oil.

Copper or stainless steel pots are best for the high temperatures required for heating oil and broth. These pots should be deep enough to safely contain the hot oil. A splatter guard keeps the oil from popping out while the food cooks and holds forks upright for cooking.

Electric fondue pots with a temperature control dial are a reliable choice for all types of fondue.

Small electric crock pots are efficient for keeping chocolate or cheese fondue warm throughout the meal, especially if you want to make it ahead of time to hold for serving.

Color-coded fondue forks should come with your pot, but extras can be purchased at kitchen shops or larger markets.

Avoid letting the fork touch your mouth and then placing it back into the pot.

Wooden skewers make good, inexpensive, and disposable substitutes for fondue forks.

Double dipping is a big no-no.

Losing your food in the pot means you have to kiss the person sitting to your left. Of course, variations of this custom have evolved to include drinking a glass of wine or beer whenever it happens.

La religieuse is the name for the thin, crispy crust of cheese that remains on the sides and bottom of the pot after all the melted cheese is eaten. It is considered a treat for anyone who doesn’t lose any food to the pot by the end of the meal.

Classic cheese or Swiss fondue is most often made with a combination of Gruyere and Emmenthaler cheeses.

Fondue made with Cheddar or Colby cheese are popular and often have ingredients like chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, etc.

Cheese should always be heated very slowly over low heat to prevent the milk proteins from becoming tough and rubbery. Adding wine or beer adds flavor to the fondue and lowers the boiling point of the mixture to keep the cheese from curdling.

Tossing the shredded cheese with a tablespoon of flour or cornstarch before adding it to the pot, always by small handfuls, is the best way to insure it will blend into a smooth emulsion with the hot liquid.

Constantly stirring in a figure eight pattern, instead of a circular one, while adding the cheese keeps it from clumping into a tight ball.

Dry acidic wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, and lemon juice for extra acidity, help keep the cheese velvety and clump-free.

Cheese fondue is traditionally served with a salad, sliced ham, pickled onions, and cornichons.

Leftover cheese fondue can be refrigerated and reheated later as a sauce for meat, chicken, or vegetables, or as an ingredient in casseroles.

Meat fondue, cooked in broth or oil, is a dish served in various forms throughout the world.

In France, the chunks of beef tenderloin are cooked in hot oil with butter and called Fondue Bourgingnonne.

Bresanne is fondue made with chicken breast cubes dipped in cream and then breadcrumbs, before it is fried in hot oil.

Chinese-style fondue – meat, seafood, and vegetables cooked in a hot bouillon – is similar to the classic Chinese hotpot.

The flavoring for meat fondue comes from the sauces served with the cooked meat. It is customary to offer a selection of several sauces, which is why fondue plates are divided into sections.

Cheese fondue is all about dipping and swirling, but meat fondue is made with tender chunks of meat on wooden handled fondue forks cooked in hot oil to a desired degree of doneness.

The cooked meat should be carefully removed from the fondue fork with a dinner fork onto the individual plates. The cooked meat can be very hot, so give it a minute to cool while spooning dipping sauces onto your plate.

It is customary to have several forks of meat cooking at the same time, making it essential to maintain high heat to keep the oil hot.

Chocolate fondue is said to have become popular in the 60’s. What took so long?

Use good quality chocolate blocks or chips to make the best fondue.

Today the sky is the limit on dessert dippers – fresh berries and fruit chunks, dried apricots, angel food cake (which holds together better than pound cake), cheesecake bites, pretzels, cookies, biscotti, coconut macaroons, marshmallows, caramels, etc.

The fruit should be washed and thoroughly dried before dipping into the chocolate, since excess water could make the chocolate seize.

Liqueurs like Kirsch, Kahlua, Framboise, Frangelico, Amaretto, or Grand Marnier add a special depth of flavor to chocolate fondue, no matter what you choose as dippers.

Fondue is a wonderful meal for entertaining because all the preparation can be done ahead of time. In fact, having the ingredients ready before heating the fondue is essential for perfectly smooth cheese or chocolate.

All of the dipping ingredients can be prepared in advance too, giving you more time to relax and enjoy dinner with your favorite Valentine.

Why not serve a three-course fondue feast with cheese, meat, and chocolate fondues for your special Valentine! Add a salad or maybe some lightly steamed vegetables for dipping with the cheese fondue. Serve Pizza Fondue and apple juice for the littlest Valentine’s at your house. Wine and beer will complement any fondue for the adults. I can guarantee you’ll have lots of fun, and with all those kisses flying around the table, you’ll feel the love this Valentine’s Day!

1/2 lb. Emmenthaler cheese, shredded
1/2 lb. Gruyere, shredded
1 clove garlic
2 c. dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. flour
3 tbsp. Kirsch
1/4 tsp. white pepper
freshly grated nutmeg to taste
fresh Italian or French bread, cut into bite size cubes

Rub the inside of the fondue pot with the garlic clove - add clove to pot or discard. Heat the white wine and lemon juice, but do not bring boil. Reduce heat to low and slowly add cheese while stirring in a figure eight pattern. Slowly add remainder of ingredients while continuing to stir until all the cheese is melted and velvety smooth. If fondue is too loose add more cheese. If fondue is too stiff or clumpy, add more wine, stirring in a small amount at a time until fondue is smooth. Serve with bread cubes, or vegetable of your choice for dipping.

1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 lb. Italian sausage
1/4 lb. pepperoni, diced
10 oz. pizza sauce
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 c. mozzarella cheese, shredded
Italian bread cubes or bread sticks

Remove sausage from casing and cook until browned and crumbly. Add all ingredients to pot. Heat until melted and smooth, stirring often. Serve with bread cubes, bread sticks or sliced fresh vegetables for dipping.

1 1/2 c. Gruyere, shredded
1 c. Emmenthaler, shredded
1/2 c. Appenzeller, shredded
1 clove garlic, cut in half
1 tbsp. cornstarch or flour
3/4 c. beer (hearty beer like amber ale, porter or stout)
hot pepper sauce to taste
Italian bread cubes, pretzels, or breadsticks

In a mixing bowl, toss the cheeses with the cornstarch or flour. Rub the garlic on the inside of the fondue pot. Discard garlic. Heat the liquids in the pot, but do not boil. Slowly add the cheese, by the handful, stirring constantly. Each handful of cheese should be melted before adding more. If the cheese becomes too thick, heat more liquid (wine or beer) and slowly add to pot, stirring constantly. Serve with bread cubes, pretzels, or breadsticks for dipping.

peanut oil, grape seed oil, or clarified butter
meat (fillet of beef, pork tenderloin, or boneless chicken) cut into 3/4” cubes
vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, bell pepper, etc.) cut into bite size pieces

Place a stainless steel or cast iron fondue pot on table where it will be served. Heat oil to 325-350 degrees. Place meat and vegetables on fondue forks and cook in hot oil to desired doneness. Remove from fondue fork with a dinner fork and eat with choice of sauces. WARNINGS: Do not use a ceramic or stoneware pot, because it may crack. Never move a fondue pot filled with hot oil. Do not eat meat from fondue cooking forks. Let cooked meat or vegetables cool before eating!

1 tbsp. shallots, finely chopped
1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 tsp. tarragon
1/4 tsp. thyme
black pepper to taste
salt to taste
1/4 c. dry white wine
1/4 c. tarragon vinegar
3 egg yolks
1/2 c. butter

Combine shallot, parsley, tarragon, thyme, salt, pepper, wine, and vinegar in saucepan. Boil mixture until reduced by half. Strain liquid and cool. Beat in egg yolks and butter until smooth (like mayonnaise).

3/4 c. sour cream
1 tbsp. onion, chopped
1 tbsp. horseradish

Add all ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate until serving.

4 oz. butter
2 egg yolks*
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. salt

Melt butter, but do not let brown. Remove from heat. Place remaining ingredients in blender. With blender running, slowly add butter until sauce forms. *Note: This sauce uses raw egg yolks. If you do not want to consume raw eggs because of the risk of salmonella, substitute a recipe using pasteurized eggs, or use a dry powder hollandaise sauce mix.

1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. Dijon mustard
black pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Refrigerate until serving.

12 oz. premium dark chocolate, chopped
1 c. heavy whipping cream
2 tsp. Grand Marnier, Kahlua, Amaretto, or Framboise
fresh strawberries, dried apricots, marshmallows, pretzels, banana chunks, angel food cake, biscotti, cookies, etc.

Over low flame, heat heavy whipping cream until warm - DO NOT BOIL! Slowly add chocolate, stirring constantly, until mixture becomes smooth. Stir in liqueur. Keep chocolate warm until serving with a selection of dippers.

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