Melty cheese and chocolate: the perfect way to show some food love in these less-than-idyllic economic times.
Today’s feature is the second installment in our monthly party planning column by Genevelyn Steele, Bee Box: Thrifty Fetes to Throw at Home. Read the first guide here. Check back each month to see what clever ideas she’s come up with next.
Food is twinned with two, often inseparable concepts: plenty and poverty. In times of plenty, the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans – on the national radar after Hurricane Katrina – was home to crawfish boils and backyard BBQ s. And in recent, harder times… well, as one man stated after the flood walls broke, “When I can go fishing, my neighbors will have fish.”
European cuisine has its own history of making lemonade from lemons. Southern Italy has cucina povera, and the Swiss have fondue. The origins of Swiss fondue stem from hard winter months in the mountains. Based on two readily-available foods, fondue is fundamentally bread and cheese. In one of the great “aha” moments of history, the Swiss discovered that scraps of hardened cheese could be melted and mixed with wine and herbs for flavor. And hey! We have hard bread, too… and it gets softer and tastier in the hot bubbly cheese. As often noted, misery loves company – I mean, a party – and the fondue pot became a communal social event to warm those chilly evenings. This shared supper gained an American following after WWII when Switzerland (known as a hot spot where Americans could get loaded on Kirsch and bloated on cheese) taught ex-GIs to dip. A decade later America, awash in communal activities, marched into the 70s, and fondue became mainstream… along with key parties if you believe Ang Lee’s suburban noir, The Ice Storm.
Now in 2009, the world is financially less-than-idyllic, and many of us wish for simpler, cheaper times to share with friends. Instead of key parties, there’s the internet, but we can still dip into fondue for inexpensive, easy food love.
Fondue is a snap to make and assemble. All that is needed is a ceramic pot and a source of heat to keep it warm. For chocolate fondue, use a traditional ceramic fondue pot and Sterno, or ceramic bowl placed on a heated brick or hot plate. (Ceramic is key. Metal pots are for oil or broth-based meat fondues, not cheese or chocolate, which will seize when held in a metal pot. ) For cheese fondue, use a crockpot to keep things hot and bubbly. Fondue pots tend to be a little small for big gatherings. A fondue pot is sized for 4-6 dippers, whereas a crockpot is sized for 10-12. For dipping, provide plenty of disposable wooden skewers, plates, and napkins. To keep the party economical, the host should provide the cheese and chocolate fondue, a bottle of eau de vie, such as Kirsch or Poire William, and hot black tea. The guests should bring one item to dip and a bottle of wine. Drinking water is a no-no; it causes digestive problems when combined with cheese.
Classic Cheese Fondue
1 clove peeled garlic
1 cup dry white wine or dry cider
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3/4 lb EA. Gruyere and Emmentaler cheese, rinds removed and remaining cheese shredded
1/3 lb. Appenzeller Cheese, cubed
3 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. Kirsch (can sub Poire William eau de vie)
Grated fresh nutmeg and cracked, black pepper
Rub the inside of a large saucepan with garlic; ditch the garlic, add the wine and lemon juice, and bring to a simmer. In a large bowl, toss the cheeses with the cornstarch, then add this mixture one cup at a time to the simmering liquid and stir until incorporated. Repeat until all the cheese is simmering in the saucepan. Let it bubble, but not boil. Add the Kirsch and season to taste with nutmeg and pepper. Transfer to warmed fondue pot or crockpot. Serve immediately with….
- Blanched veggies: Asparagus, fennel, snow peas, button mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli. To blanch: Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt, cook the vegetables in individual batches briefly, until their color just darkens.
- Roasted: Fingerling potatoes, chicken, ham, sausage
- Cubed bread, freshly cut to prevent drying out
To drink: Cru Beaujolais, Alsatian white wines, dry hard cider, black tea, eau de vie, such as Poire William.
Classic Chocolate Fondue
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
24 oz. good quality, bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 Tbsp. kirsch, brandy or Irish Cream liqueur
Microwave the cream until steaming hot, but not boiling, 2-4 minutes on high. Add the chocolate and let it sit in the cream until the chocolate is softened. Add liqueur and stir until smooth. Transfer to heated fondue pot or crockpot. Serve immediately with small pieces of biscotti, strawberries, pineapple, banana, marshmallow, and/or dried apricot.
Trivia: Women who lose a morsel in the fondue pot must kiss the closest man. Men must pour a round of drinks. Second offenders host the next fondue party.