Chocolate or cheese, what shall it be? While that may present a choice to be made, the two options have a lot in common. They are both irresistible. They can both be enjoyed in their most basic forms. A platter of cheeses serves up a perfect palette for snacking, and a cube of chocolate from a chocolate shop sends the senses into blissful contentment. I have childhood memories as a ten-year-old who, like any child on Christmas break from school in the northeast, would spend days outdoors in the snow with friends from the neighborhood. I would come home for lunch, my favorite being a grilled Swiss cheese sandwich. If an afternoon of sledding was dragging on too long and Jack Frost was really threatening to bite my nose if I dallied any longer, I would be summoned indoors and presented with a cup of hot chocolate to chase away the chills. Another very comforting way to consume these two basic foods is enjoyed straight from the melting pot.
Fondue, the past tense of the French verb ‘fondre’ meaning to melt, is prepared in a pot placed at the center of the table, the ingredients melted within. Diners around the table take up their long-stemmed forks and dip such edibles as cubes of bread, vegetables, fruits or chunks of pound cake into this communal pot. Fondue originated in Switzerland and achieved popularity in North America throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. Another surge in its popularity arose in the 1990’s, which led to the opening of fondue restaurants as well as an increase in the number of homes whose least-utilized kitchen cabinet houses a fondue pot likely presented as a gift on some Christmas of that decade.
This week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the first week of the winter season, a week typically more relaxing as the holiday festivities are winding down and many family members are home on vacations, this seems like an ideal opportunity to dust off that fondue pot and prepare a dining experience that is meant to be enjoyed together with family and friends. And it’s a great way to get your finicky kids to eat their veggies and fruits!
The original Swiss fondue was cheese based, prepared by melting Gruyere or Emmentaler with the addition of white wine or Kirsch. As with the evolution of most culinary presentations, these days anything goes. One variation may include mushrooms in with the cheese, another might call for the addition of chopped tomatoes, and yet a spicy version would benefit from some red and green peppers and a chipotle chili. Potatoes can be used for dipping, as can just about any cooked vegetable of choice. Other cheeses may be used as well. I once made a recipe using cheddar, stout and a bit of Dijon, and the dippers consisted of red new potatoes, Brussels sprouts, chunks of apples, and flowerettes of cauliflower.
Chocolate fondue is the simple combination of chocolate, cream and a flavored liquour. This can be served with pound cake, fruits and even pretzel sticks. The chocolate fountain which is now displayed in shops and on many a wedding banquet table is a spin off of sorts, where cookies and Twinkies are also provided for dipping in addition to the fruits.
There is another variation on fondue, called the fondue bourguignonne, in which cubes of raw beef are cooked in a pot of hot oil and then dipped into a variety of savory sauces. I have seen variations on this theme on restaurant menus using lobster or shrimp. No melting is involved here and therefore not a true fondue, however it will help to round out the meal for any carnivorous diners at your table.
Not sure which one to make? Invite a couple of friends who also possess long-forgotten fondue pots. Then you can enjoy a meal of all three styles, needing nothing more than a basic side salad and some good wine. Alternatively - how is this for idyllic - get a fire roaring in the fireplace, light up the tree, and set up a late night snack with your significant other. The glow emanating from the fireplace, the lights of the tree and the flame beneath the fondue pot will provide a relaxing, warming, shall we say romantic, ambiance. Pour some moscado or port and try one of these two dessert fondues. They couldn’t be easier and, hey, you still have until next week when your dieting resolutions kick in, so carpe diem and enjoy something sweet with your sweetie.
4 ounces high quality semi sweet chocolate
2 ounces high quality unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Cointreau
chunks of pound cake, sliced bananas, strawberries
Chop the chocolates. Place a glass mixing bowl on top of a pot of boiling water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. Gently melt the chocolate in the mixing bowl, stirring almost constantly. Once all of the chocolate is melted and smooth, whisk in the cream and then stir in the Cointreau. Transfer the mixture to a fondue pot. Serve with the pound cake and/or fruits for dipping.
WHITE CHOCOLATE-RASPBERRY FONDUE
Prepare in the same manner as above recipe, substituting a high quality white chocolate for the semi sweet and unsweetened chocolates, and substitute Chambord for the Cointreau. In addition to the pound cake and the bananas, slices of Bosc pears would be a nice dipper here.