Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fondue au Crème

Have I mentioned that I love fondue (witness: partial fondue collection!) and that I recently had the pleasure of judging a food competition at a fondue party? What an honor, and what a delicious and delightful evening! Every entry was special, and there were all sorts: from a traditional Swiss-style cheese fondue, to meatballs, to sweet dessert fondues. (Mmmmm…..) It was so hard to pick a winner, but ultimately I did, and it was a chocolate concoction of melted Toblerone and Grand Marnier, with fruit to dip. O earthly delight! O sticky mess!

I also brought a dessert fondue, and though it was not judged, I was able to participate in covering poor Jennye’s house with soot and goey residue. Residue that, even with the aid of oven cleaner, I was not able to fully remove from the fondue set till a whole week later! OK, I’ll admit that the real problem was that while I was sampling all the food entries, I went off and ignored my own for two hours… and, lest we forget, fondue is cooking with fire. So the sauce at first caramelized (yum!), and then scorched (what’s that smell?) and then literally burnt, with huge bubbles of blackening frosting forming in the little Corning Ware dish I had set over a teeny votive candle (yuk and double yuk!).

Despite becoming inedible after the melt-down, this desert fondue is actually quite tasty; something akin to dipping cake into warm, molten frosting. I whipped up a quick brownie mix and cubed that, as well as a frozen Sara Lee pound cake, and set that all out with fresh strawberries and little forks. (If cooking in luke-warm sauce, you can experiment with forks other than the long metal kind that must be used with hot oil.) I did add a drop of vanilla, but I think the idea of lemon would be nice as well. You could add more sugar to firm up the mixture if you like, but the key is to watch the flame and NOT let it scorch. And of course, enjoy!

Fondue au Crème

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup heavy cream

Combine sugar and cream in saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Boil about half a minute. Pour into fondue pot or chafing dish. Keep heat as low as possible to prevent scorching. Flavorings such as vanilla, almond or lemon may be added. Serve by spearing pieces of cake or fruit on forks and dipping into mixture. Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bloody Mary

When I felt the need for a Bloody Mary, I knew right where to turn: the 1956 “Esquire Drink Book”, which comes to me highly recommended as the definitive book on the subject. I actually flipped through a few other cocktail guides, but even the esteemed Trader Vic had a much less exciting version, leaving out any spices, and thus, all the fun. This book actually includes two Bloody Mary recipes, one of which is a blender drink, but my blender recently died (insert sad face here), so I used the more traditional recipe below. How can you go wrong with a shaker of ice – you get a workout AND a drink!

I hate to admit this, as into food as I am, but until quite recently, I wasn’t aware that cocktails could actually taste good – that careful thought goes into the pairing of flavors, the ratio of sweet to sour, even the choice of garnish. I’ve since come to enjoy a good drink made by talented friends and bartenders, but am nowhere near an expert myself. This was my first attempt at making a Bloody Mary, and I have to say, it worked quite well. Now I just need to get the girls over for brunch!

You’ll note that the recipe below doesn’t mention the celery I so carefully garnished mine with, but having seen Bloody Marys served thus at fancy dining establishments, I added that. Also, I used Spicy V8 rather than tomato juice, which eliminates (and boy, does it!) the need for pepper. Finally, I don’t keep vodka on hand as I don’t love it, so the brand I grabbed at the cheap corner liquor store was so embarrassing that I had to hide the label. You folks at home, please use something classy and expensive, and don’t tell any of my cocktail expert friends or bar owners what you’ve witnessed here...

Bloody Mary

1 jigger vodka
2 jiggers tomato juice
1/3 jigger lemon juice
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste

Shake well with ice and strain into glass.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Low Calorie Fondue

I love fondue! I have had so much fun with it over the years, despite the mess and time. I have served entire fondue meals, with each course a different item dipped into a different liquid. I have experimented with sauces, oils, cheeses, chocolates, you name it. I have several lovely vintage fondue sets, forks beyond counting, and maybe 10 books on the subject, but I hadn’t yet ventured into fondue for kids (hello, hot oil burns!) until I found this recipe. Straight out of Concord, CA: 1968’s Nitty Gritty Productions “The Fondue Cookbook”.

Let me point out that by the time I was born, fondue’s heyday had come and gone. I clearly recall my parents making fun of fondue, even while my friend’s older sister worked in a Berkeley fondue restaurant that, apparently, was still popular. It was a fad of their immediate past - I think my mom and every single one of her contemporaries was given a fondue set as a wedding gift, which they probably used once, if at all. I know, I understand: It is a fairly elaborate set up, takes ages, and leaves a big mess. Lots of people don’t even like the taste of the traditional Swiss fondue, with sherry and Emmenthaler and Gruyere cheeses. But come on, the real fun of fondue is the party element! After all, fondue is “the happiest entertaining idea since cheese first melted”, and such a great way to get to know your neighbors. Oops, who’s fork is that?

My dinner guests this time included a friend and two 6 year old girls, and there was much hilarity but not much patience, so half-way through, we abandoned the forks and turned the hot broth into soup. This worked just fine - why not, after all, it’s a party! In the interest of reducing burns, I also used not a vintage aluminum set, but my fancy new All-Clad fondue set (which also comes with ceramic insert for chocolate, allowing for those entire fondue meals!) which has the benefit of a proper-fitting splash-guard and secure Sterno holder. Expensive, but worth it if you plan on actually using it more than once. Also, all my work creating several sauces was for naught, as the kids wanted nothing but (surprise!) catsup. Still, it is amazing the number of sauces you’ll find in any given fondue cookbook, or even in the prepared foods aisle of your supermarket. Get out your Sterno, folks, and enjoy the Magic of Fondue!

Low Calorie Fondue

This version of fondue is very popular with calorie watchers. Meats and vegetables are cooked in this delicious broth instead of being deep fried. After the meat has all been cooked, the flavorful broth can be served as a tasty bonus.

2 ½ cups beef or chicken broth
1 ¼ cups water
½ cup dry white wine
½ bunch green onions, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
Few sprigs parsley
Salt and pepper
1 tsp fine herbs

Simmer ingredients in saucepan 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 2 hours. Strain into fondue pot and bring to boiling. Use as directed.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies for St. Patrick’s Day

“Irish food,” so my 1979 book on Irish Cooking tells me, “tends to be high in caloric content and is intended to satisfy even the heartiest working man.” Indeed, I love to eat their traditional offerings at one of our many Irish pubs in San Francisco, but I just don’t cook like that at home. Oh sure, I can make a nice soda bread, and I do eat oatmeal every day for breakfast. But this year for St. Patrick’s Day, I’m off the hook anyhow: I’m going to a friend’s house – and he really knows how to make the stew, the corned beef, and the cabbage dishes that everyone expects. So my contribution will be some green sugar cookies. Green, see? Irish. There.

Not that I wasn’t tempted by plenty of the recipes in the book: “craibechan of the sea”, for example. (?) “Balnamoon skink” (??), or rabbit in stout (well, OK I do love stout, and rabbit can be tasty, but there is no WAY I am getting away with cooking that around my 6 year old!). I’ve also tried some of the baked items in the past, but plain old sugar cookies just seemed like a fun (and more familiar) thing for my daughter to help with, and BOY did she get a kick out of watching the dough turn green with each mighty little drop of food coloring.

The idea was to make lovely green shamrock cookies, but when I looked for the shamrock cookie cutter, alas: it was nowhere to be found. I have tons of cutters, though, so we selected the medium sized Adias symbol (thank you: that is the Adidas-symbol-as-cookie-cutter, a gift-with-purchase from trainers I paid way too much for at their boutique in Georgetown, not a pot leaf!) and it suited us just fine. (Note to self: the more detailed the cutter, the more of a pain in the neck it is to cut out the shapes! I must get rid of the “cute” shapes that are more trouble than worth, such as the tea pot, the high-heeled shoe, and the guitar. NOT WORTH IT!) We also made some plain sugar cookies, because there came a time in the evening when mommy had had JUST ABOUT ENOUGH of the rolling and cutting and rolling and cutting and rolling and cutting, and I made the executive decision to do the final third of the dough in balls rolled in green sugar. Aren’t cookie cutters cute? Isn’t it a pain to cut out 6 dozen cookies? This is exactly why I make so many recipes for drop cookies. Still, when I have the energy, these are just about the best. Not too sweet, with a hint of almond – perfect with tea or coffee. Or Guiness!

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 (3 oz) package cream cheese, softened
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. almond extract
½ tsp. vanilla
1 egg yolk
2 cups flour
3 Tbsp colored sugar, if desired

In large bowl, combine sugar, butter, cream cheese, salt, almond extract, vanilla and egg yolk; blend well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring up; level off. Stir in flour until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 2 hours for easier handling.
Heat oven to 375F. On lightly floured surface, roll out dough 1/3 at a time to 1/8” thickness. (Keep remaining dough refrigerated.) Cut into desired shapes with lightly floured 2 ½” cookie cutters. Place 1” apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Leave cookies plain or, if desired, sprinkle with colored sugar.
Bake at 375F for 7 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheets; cool completely. If desired, frost and decorate plain cookies.
Yield: 6 dozen (2-inch) cookies