I’m back! A well-rested two weeks, but no rest for the weary, I’ve been cooking up lots of new recipes to share with you in the coming weeks!
You wouldn’t know it by the weather (it’s been cold and rainy here for what seems like, and actually has been, weeks), but spring has sprung despite the temperatures, with rhubarb, spinach, and other early vegetables showing their beautiful faces after a long winter. Even the farmer’s market has opened! This is a fantastic time to cook, everything is fresh and tastes like spring.
Last fall, I met a friend from Switzerland through an online social website devoted to book lovers. She was coming to Vermont to take part in a weekend book retreat that we also were attending. Being an uncharacteristic New Englander, I offered to pick her up at the airport and drive her down with us.
So after six months of writing back and forth, we finally met. Kats has become my new BFF, she Avis DeVoto to me, Julia Child (with the countries reversed, and apologies to Julia Child, who I am nothing like!). A few weeks before she was to depart, she asked me what I would like in the way of food from Switzerland. I told her what I would want she couldn’t possibly bring overseas: meat and cheese. She asked why couldn’t she? Of course she could bring some along! All I could think of was the old “I Love Lucy” episode where she brought back a big piece of cheese from Italy, wrapping it like a baby and carrying it on her lap. Kats didn’t do that, she just packed it in her suitcase! And like magic, she spent more than ten minutes emptying her ever-shrinking luggage passing me cheese (oh the cheese!), meat (oh the meat!), chocolate (oh, the chocolate!), cereal, bread, spices, olive tapenade, and more. It was my dream come true!
So even though it was late April, I had been freezing with a cold and damp week in the low 50s. I was able to grab a little bit of time one night after work to mow the lawn for the first time this year, and as I traversed row by row, I wiled away the time with thoughts of my Swiss food and what I was going to make. (Any time I want something to go quickly, I’ll think of food, it makes the time go oh so much quicker!) With the weather we’d been having, I could only think of one thing: cheese fondue.
Now for me, cheese fondue brings back memories of the 1970s and my family huddled over our bright red fondue pot with meat and cheese on a Saturday night. I like both for different reasons; the meat was delicious pieces of beef, dipped into a thin sauce, and the cheese wrapped itself around a warm piece of French bread. Frankly, my idea of heaven!
I wasn’t at first sure how I should start this, I knew you just don’t throw cheese in a pan and warm, so I went to the French expert, Julia Child (FYI, I just heard that 2012 is the celebration of Julia’s 100th birthday! I MUST have a party for this!). Her version of cheese fondue is to make a roux with butter, flour, and cream and to add the cheese from there. I wasn’t sure about having such a rich roux plus cheese, so I made a small one, just a couple of teaspoons of butter with enough flour to make a paste, then added a little bit of milk to thin it. From here, I took my cheese, about three cups, one cup or so of Swiss, the other cup was Tête de Moine (literally translated, monk’s head! And I also was given the Girolle for my birthday!) The cheese has a deep, nutty flavor that I thought would mix well with the Swiss. From here, it was just a lot of stirring, adding milk (2%) when needed. A couple splashes of white wine, a clove of garlic crushed in a garlic press, and a few generous dashes of cayenne pepper and it was ready. I warmed a loaf of French bread and just sliced off a few pieces and placed a few spoonfuls of the fondue in a bowl to dip. You can substitute plain crackers too; as my family who ate the leftovers a few days later can attest, it is just as delicious. It’s a very rich meal, a little bit goes a long way, so a simple salad with a little bit of vinegar is a great addition.
So on that very chilly spring evening, my insides were warmed with the fondue and thoughts and appreciation for my new friend. Bon Appétit!