Being the planner/organizer that I am, I've already got Christmas dinner pretty well figured out and have moved on to New Year's Eve. The Lawyer and I make a point of not going out on New Year's Eve for two reasons. First, it seems kind of odd that some people think the best way to welcome a new year is to drink too much, act silly and wake up feeling terrible. Even if you avoid the clubs and go out for a nice dinner, your entree choices are more limited, the service is worse, and the prices are higher than any other day of the year. It just seems more fun and relaxed to stay home, whether you choose a romantic dinner for two or a small party for close friends. Fondue is the perfect choice either way. It's unique, it's fun, it's casual and it's easy. If you have a fireplace, put a coffee table in front of it and serve the fondue on the coffee table with everyone sitting on the floor. No fireplace? Try some candles or flowers for fun. (Fondue also makes a great Valentine's Day romantic dinner!)
For a while I couldn't figure out how to make cheese fondue fit as a food category - it seemed too substantial for an appetizer, but too uni-dimensional as a meal. I mean, there's only so much bread and cheese a person can eat. It finally clicked for me when I read a suggestion to add veggies, apples, pears, dried apricots, cooked sausages, even olives, pickles and mustard to a fondue meal to round it out. It makes it more like a picnic. You don't have to dip the pickles in the cheese, they just add variety. Same with the mustard - use it as a condiment for a piece of sausage in between things dunked in the cheese. The sharp pickle and mustard flavors cut through all that cheesiness and the veggies and fruit round out the meal nutritionally. Plus, the fondue will feed more people when there are other things to eat. This platter had apples, bread, red pepper, olives, peppadews, pickles and cooked Italian sausages plus whole-grain mustard on the side.
There are many different cheese fondue recipes (I actually have a small cookbook of nothing but 125 fondue recipes), but I'm sharing the classic made with wine, Emmentaler (or other good Swiss cheese) and Gruyere. I think it goes better with a wide variety of foods than, say, a chorizo fondue or a crab fondue. Regardless of the recipe, most will tell you to toss the grated cheeses with flour or cornstarch prior to putting them in the fondue pot. Why? Because it helps prevent clumping. How? I have no idea.
If you're new to fondue, there are a couple of things you should know. First, it's a good idea to actually make the fondue in a saucepan on the stove instead of in the fondue pot. The reason is logistics - if you make it in the pot, that means the fire is already burning and you have to transport hot cheese and live fire from your kitchen to wherever you're going to eat. Or equally bad, you have to make the fondue in your eating location and hope you don't make a mess. If you make it in a saucepan, you simply add the finished fondue to the fondue pot, take it to the table, and then light the fire underneath it. Much safer.
The second thing to know is that you should stir the cheese occasionally while it's in the fondue pot so the bottom doesn't burn. The final thing is to provide everyone with a plate and table fork in addition to their fondue fork. The fondue fork is used to spear the food and dunk it in the cheese, then the food is placed on the plate. The other fork is used to pop it in your mouth. For obvious reasons you don't want the same fondue forks repeatedly going from cheese to mouths and back into the cheese again. Oh - one additional thing I just thought of - if you go out and buy a fondue set, check the instructions for what to use in the little burner. I originally thought they all took a small candle, only to find out that mine wants a gelled fuel made specially for fondue sets. That would not be a good thing to discover on New Year's Eve night 30 minutes before you want to eat.
I hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday, and think about giving fondue a try for New Year's Eve!
click here for a printable recipe
Cheese Fondueserve 4-5
For the fondue:1 cup dry white wine
½ lb shredded Emmentaler (or other good Swiss cheese)
½ lb shredded Gruyere
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Accompaniments:cubed French bread
apples, pears, dried apricots, figs
broccoli, bell pepper, zucchini
pickles, hot peppers, olives
Prepare the bread, fruits, vegetables, sausages and condiments of your choice and arrange on a platter prior to starting the fondue.
Thoroughly toss the cheeses and flour together in a large bowl. Bring the wine to a simmer in a large saucepan, then add the cheese/flour mixture ¼ pound at a time, stirring constantly until the cheese is melted before adding more. When add the cheese has melted, stir in the garlic powder, salt and nutmeg. Transfer to the fondue pot and carry to the table. Light the fire and place the fondue pot over it. Stir occasionally while eating.