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It's always been a New Year's Eve tradition that we stayed in and celebrated the dawn of a new year with the kids. For some reason, I could never bring myself to go out and leave them at home.
They're a lot older now. One of them has moved out though she often comes home to visit and almost always spends the holidays with us. The others have lives and friends and sometimes even parties. But the New Year's Eve traditions are still strong with them and they invariably want to spend New Year's doing what we always do.
What we always do is fondue.
Sometimes we invite friends to join us; sometimes we celebrate on our own. Whichever way we decide to do it, two things are always certain. The meal goes on till it's time to toast the baby year and we always have a load of fun.
The secret to our fondue is really no secret. I keep it simple and let the kids do their thing. Since we invariably end up with a table full of people, I have at least three pots on the go. Yeah, I know, WHO owns three fondue sets? Well I do. Actually I own six if you count the first one I ever bought which is semi-retired and my little ceramic fondue pot for chocolate.
But on to the fondue itself.
Fondue was a popular way to entertain way back in the sixties and seventies and then seemed to lose its popularity later on. Used to be almost everyone you knew had a fondue pot. That trend seems to ebb and flow like the tides and while fondue pot sales seemed to rise again in the nineties, it never seemed to reach the same level of popularity it once enjoyed as a dinner party standard. Well, except in my house!
Fondue originated in Switzerland as a way of using up hardened cheese. The name derives from the French verb fondre, which means "to melt". Fondue was a classic peasant dish. While there are many stories of how fondue first came about, it's hard to pin point its true origin.
Traditional fondue is made with a mixture of Emmenthaler and/or Gruyere cheese and wine, melted in a pot that everyone shares. Sometimes brandy is added to the melted mixture, which is used as a dip for pieces of stale bread.
Brillat-Savarin spoke of fondue in the 19th century, but fondue really found it's niche in 1956 (quite unrelated to the fact that that's when I was born), when chef Konrad Egli of New York's Chalet Swiss Restaurant introduced a fondue method of cooking meat cubes in hot oil. The chocolate fondue surfaced around 1964.
So we've got the traditional cheese fondue, the Brillat-Savarin inspired hot-pot style fondue which can be either a pot of oil or a pot of broth and my own personal favourite, the chocolate fondue.
Most fondue "how-to's" will tell you to allow about six fondue-ers to a pot. It’s never worked that way in my house. Mostly because our fondue-ers tend to have more than one fork each so that skews the numbers. I find it's more manageable counting three or four to a pot with a maximum of about four forks in the pot at one time. Anything more tends to bring down the temperature too much and things won't cook as quickly. With an oil fondue, quick cooking is the key.
Because fondue-ing can be messy, you'll want to cover the table with a cloth and have a good reliable trivet or hot pad under each fondue pot. Also, depending on how well your fondue-ers know each other, you may want to provide a dinner fork for eating as well as the fondue fork for dipping.
We're lucky enough to have a fireplace in our dining room so we light that to set a nice cozy atmosphere for us. Alternatively and depending on how many people will be fondue-ing, you may want to set up in your living room. The whole thing becomes friendly and relaxed when you're all sitting on pillows on the floor around the coffee table.
The prep for fondue is family time in my house; we all take part in the slicing and dicing. For our New Year's fondue this year, I'll be setting out two pots of oil and making one pot of my famous Pizza Fondue. Here's how we put them together:
For the oil pots, I prefer to do thin slices rather than cubes of meat and I'll have chicken, some pork and shrimp; but you can use any meat you wish. Also good are parboiled potato wedges, onion chunks, and leeks. The only limit is your palate and your imagination. Calculate about 10 to 12 ounces of meat per person. It may sound like a lot but trust me, there'll be few leftovers. I do my slicing and marinating the afternoon before the fondue to allow the flavours to permeate. For the pork I use a teriyaki sauce, for the chicken lemon juice and black pepper, and the shrimp I marinade in lime juice. Please remember though, not to add salt to your meats until after they're cooked.
When I'm ready to prepare the oil, I pour about a quarter cup of hot (as in spicy) oil into each of the pots and then fill to just slightly less than half full with canola oil. Heat them on the stove with a couple of cloves of garlic in them till the garlic is golden in colour, remove the garlic and transfer the pots to their stands with the fuel going. Have various seasonings and dips for your guests to enjoy. I usually have a cocktail sauce for any seafood and horseradish, various mustards and some chili or Tabasco sauces for the meats, as well as salt and a pepper mill on hand. Again though, it's really up to you and what you enjoy.
While cheese fondue isn't all that popular at my house, this variation seems to just disappear every time we make it.
1 tsp. each salt, basil and marjoram and black pepper
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb. mozzarella, grated
Combine the tomato, Tabasco, garlic, salt and other seasonings in a fondue pot and bring to a boil on the stove. Allow it to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes (until slightly thickened) and gradually add the cheese stirring continuously until all the cheese is melted. Transfer to a fondue stand with fuel lit. Serve with chunks of crusty Italian bread and boiled potato for dipping.
Fondue is fun food so have lots of beer and cider on hand for guests. Then just sit back and celebrate food, friendship and fun.
As we head into a new year -- hopefully another year wiser -- let's remember the good things we have, the good people we've got around us and be thankful.
May your new year be filled with every kind of blessing you wish for and some you haven't yet thought of yet.