Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Fondue Feast

      Late last night (or early this morning, depending on your perspective!) I made the post about do-ahead pasta dinners. Another easy entertaining option after you’ve had a busy workweek is fondue.        
      With fondue, you don’t have any cooking to do in advance. Just have your fondue pots set at the table, and your dippers and dipping sauces ready to go. If you’re making cheese fondue, all you have to do is cube some French bread and have the ingredients ready to make cheese dipping sauce. If you’re making meat fondue, you just need to cube your meat before your guests arrive and either buy or prepare some simple dipping sauces.
      We hosted a fondue party last night and it went really well. I set up two tables: one for steak and chicken fondue, and another for cheese fondue. Guests started out eating either meat or cheese fondue, and after about a half hour, we switched tables so everyone could try both fondues. We had a big tossed green salad to go with the meal too. Here are my recipes:

Cheddar Cheese Fondue

3 cups half-and-half
1 T. plus 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. dry mustard
1 tsp. crushed garlic
36 oz. cheddar cheese (mild or sharp)
5 T. flour
½ to 1 tsp. salt (depending on taste)

      In medium saucepan over low heat, heat first four ingredients until hot (but not boiling). In another bowl, mix cheese and flour together. Then whisk cheese and flour mixture into hot mixture. Blend together until the cheese is melted and the mixture is smooth. Add salt. Then pour into a ceramic fondue pot for serving, keeping warm over a low-flame setting. Dip chunks of French bread and steamed broccoli and cauliflower into the cheese dip.
      Keep in mind you’re not actually cooking in the ceramic fondue pot. These kinds of fondue pots are designed just for warming and serving—not for high heat cooking. You want a low heat for the cheese sauce so that it doesn’t scald.

Meat Fondue
      For the meat fondue, that’s usually done in a metal pot, so that the oil can be heated to a temperature high enough to actually cook the meat cubes.
      You can use just about any cut of boneless steak in meat fondue. I usually use boneless round steak, thick cut. Cut it in cubes about ¾ to 1” in size. For extra flavor, I marinate the steak overnight in a steak marinade. You can use either a package or bottled marinade, or use a homemade recipe.
      This recipe makes enough marinade for about 2-3 pounds worth of steak cubes: ½ cup canola oil, 2 T. vinegar, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1 tsp. basil, 1 tsp. onion powder, 1 tsp. oregano, 1 T. soy sauce, 1 T. Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp. crushed garlic and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Mix all of the ingredients together, and pour over to steak cubes.
      Last night, we also had breaded chicken cubes to cook in the fondue pots. Use boneless chicken breasts, and cube them ahead of time. Then right before you want to cook them, dip them in beaten eggs and roll them in garlic-herb bread crumbs.
      About 15 minutes before you want to eat, start heating the oil in the fondue pot. Fill the pot about two-thirds full with oil. I usually keep the flame on medium-high, so that it’s hot enough to cook the meat, but not so high that the oil starts splattering. Guests can then spear pieces of chicken and beef with their fondue forks, and cook the meat to their liking.
      You will also need a variety of sauces for dipping the steak cubes into after they’re cooked. There are a lot of ready-made sauces you can use: Hollandaise sauce, horseradish, Ranch salad dressing, honey mustard salad dressing Dijon mustard, barbecue sauce, steak sauce—to name some of the more popular choices.
      I always like to make up a few of my own dipping sauces. Here are some of my favorite mixtures. With all of these, you just blend the ingredients together and chill them before serving (Ideally it’s best to mix them the night before you’re going to serve them, so that the flavors blend.):

1 T. chili sauce
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
2 T. chopped chives
1 T. chopped parsley
1 cup mayonaise

1 cup mayonnaise
1 T. prepared mustard

1 cup sour cream
1 pkg. dry onion soup & dip mix

1 cup mayonaise
¼ cup chili sauce
2 T. tomato paste
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. chopped fresh tarragon
1 T. chopped chives
Salt and pepper to taste

2 to 3 cloves garlic (depending on taste), mashed
1 cup mayonaise
2 tsp. Parmesan cheese

3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp wine vinegar
1 Tbsp dry mustard
3 Tbsp sweet, hot mustard

½ cup mayonaise
½ cup sour cream
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. curry powder

1 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp minced parsley
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp chopped chives
1 tsp grated onion
chopped fresh or dried dill to taste

8 oz whipped cream cheese, softened
2 T. milk
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1 tsp finely chopped onion
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin

      I like to put each sauce in 1 or ½ cup-sized bowls or ramekins, and then I’ll attach a label to each identifying the dip. Usually I’ll set the sauces on the fondue table, so guests can get small spoonfuls of the sauces they want to put on their plate. A lot of the fun is sampling the different sauces and dips.

      What about dessert? If you decide to go with a totally-fondue dinner, and want to end with chocolate fondue, you might want to use the same recipe I included in the post I recently did about crock pots—only put the chocolate sauce in an actual fondue pot instead of a crock pot. I have a small wrought iron fondue pot (which is coated in enamel) which I use for chocolate fondue. You will want to pour the sauce into the pot as soon as it is melted and warm, and then keep the flame on a low setting so the chocolate doesn’t burn. Have on hand all the dippers I listed in the crock pot post—marshmallows, macaroons, fresh fruit, etc

      Where can you buy a good fondue pot? I’m still using the ones I bought in Switzerland and Bavaria many yeas ago. I have a couple copper pots, 2 ceramic pots and a wrought iron pot. The selection isn’t as good in U. S. stores; mostly what you find are the metal fondue pots (metal stand/burner and metal pot), which American companies might advertise for use with cheese sauce, but these are really best for heating hot oil for meats. You can also find the wrought iron pots/stands in American stores (these are good for chocolate and cheese fondue, but don't heat the oil high enough for meat fondue).
      The ceramic pots which are very popular in Europe (which have a wrought iron or metal stand) are harder to find in the United States. These are ideal for chocolate and cheese fondues. You can find some Swiss-style fondue pots on, including a lot with cute cow designs on the pot.
      You will also need fondue forks; most sets come with some. I like to buy extra—just to have them on hand.

      Fondue is a wonderful way to entertain. Over the years I’ve had some good conversations while sitting at the table waiting for my steak cube to cook, and a lot of laughs when the meat fried a little too much or I couldn’t find the piece of bread that somehow “disappeared” into the cheese sauce. Plan a fondue party, and chances are you’ll build some good memories too.

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