The warmth of family pairs well with fresh cheese fondue

Boo Wells

Boo Wells

Breaking bread together has long been considered the best way to get to know another person. Sitting down at the table and partaking in even a simple meal allows us to transition from strangers to friends and even family. As we sit at the table, we eat and we share stories and experiences.

We exchange ideas and opinions. We listen and we learn about each other. By the end of the meal we are united.

This weekend my table got much, much larger when two families became one. The “We Do” weekend brought my three, plus one significant other, together with three of his five, three spouses and three grandchildren. A table for four has become a table for 17 with two simple words — “I do.”

Over the past four years we have woven our families together while preparing and sharing meals. There is always a task for every pair of hands and young and old work together to put food on the table. Classic barbecues in the summer and warm, cozy meals in the winter have created relationships and wonderful memories.

This weekend, the “We Do” weekend, we chose fondue as the celebratory meal. Warm cheese fondue with chunks of baguette, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, and tart apple slices. Lean steak and jumbo shrimp fondue cooked in hot peanut oil, served with several different savory sauces. Finally, a large green salad to balance out the richness of the meal.

There is plenty of work to be done to prepare for a fondue feast — baguettes need cutting, vegetables need steaming and blocks of cheese needs grating. The youngest members of our new clan are in charge of grating the cheese — three grandchildren with three cheese graters work side by side at the kitchen counter. Adults cut up raw steak and baguettes, and the in-betweens peel shrimp and slice apples. The cheese fondue is made on the stove, the mountain of grated cheese is slowly added a handful at a time to warm wine until the cheese has melted into a warm gooey concoction.

It is important to keep the heat low and stir constantly so the cheese does not stick and burn on the bottom of the pan. Once the cheese is completely melted it is poured into a prepared ceramic fondue pot and set on the table with all the ingredients for dipping. Sharp metal fondue forks are distributed and the feasting begins. At first some jostling and good natured teasing goes on as the members of this new family jockey for position around the table.

Then there is a companionable silence as everyone fills their plates and mouths with what we have created together. Once the initial rush is over, the stories begin and the laughter follows. Food is passed around the table and there are seconds and thirds, and the laughter goes on into the night. A table for four has turned into a family of 17. Our fabric has been woven together and will get tighter and stronger with every meal we share.

So, head up to the attic or down to the basement and locate the fondue pot you got as a wedding present way back when. Dust it off and call your family together for a fun and festive bonding experience over a pot of melted cheese.

Cheese fondue

Ingredientsl_fod_wells_1116
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

½ pound imported Swiss cheese, shredded
½ pound Gruyere cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cherry brandy, such as kirsch
Pinch nutmeg
Instructions
In a small bowl, coat the cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. Rub the inside of the ceramic fondue pot with the garlic then discard.
Over medium heat, add the wine and lemon juice and bring to a gentle simmer. Gradually stir the cheese into the simmering liquid. Melting the cheese gradually encourages a smooth fondue. Once smooth, stir in cherry brandy, and nutmeg.
Arrange an assortment of bite-sized dipping foods on a lazy Susan around fondue pot. Serve with chunks of French bread. Some other suggestions are Granny Smith apples and blanched vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and asparagus. Spear with fondue forks or wooden skewers, dip, swirl and enjoy.

Boo Wells is chef and owner of the Farm House Kitchen, a catering company and cooking school in Sackets Harbor. Contact her at sacketsfarm housekitchen@gmail.com or visit thefarmhousekitchen.com.

Pour hard cider, in a glass and into stew pot

recipe-cider

Nowadays, hard cider, an alcoholic beverage, shows up on menus everywhere. Made from the fermented juice of tart apples (and/or other fruit), this pleasingly acidic, slightly bubbly beverage pairs beautifully with food and proves easy sipping. This fall, I’m incorporating hard cider into my cocktail hour and my cooking.

Reportedly cider sales have grown by 60 percent in the past five years, but I’m not trying to be trendy. I drank my first glass of hard cider decades ago in a pub while backpacking though the UK. A charming bartender talked me into a glass. Served barely chilled, it was dry, delicious and less filling than beer. I’ve enjoyed cider ever since when traveling in England, France and parts of Spain where it’s been a popular beverage for centuries.

As it once was on this side of the Atlantic. Cider, historians tell us, was the drink of choice for Pilgrims because it was safer than bacteria-laden water. After Prohibition, finding hard cider in this country proved tricky; it seems we preferred beer.

Slowly, cider has been regaining recognition in this country. In 1981, cookbook author and television host Jacques Pepin, shared his method for making cider in a November issue of the Chicago Tribune’s food section. I was happy to learn the method but never made my own. When I wanted apple flavor in a dish, I splashed in a bit of Calvados or applejack.

Today, the choice of ciders at my local store impresses. I can select various sweetness levels and flavor variations. I seek out imported ciders or small-batch artisanal ciders, made from local apples, such as Virtue Cider, for drinking. For cooking, a moderately priced, dry cider, such as Stella Artois Cidre, Strongbow Gold Apple Hard Cider or Crispin Hard Cider, infuse food with acidity and a pleasant apple flavor and aroma.

Braising browned lamb or pork shoulder in cider renders the meat tender with just a touch of sweetness. I add crisp apples, such as Honeycrisp, Granny Smith and Braeburns here, sweet red peppers and aromatic rosemary plus white beans for a creamy texture. After a couple of hours in the oven, the combination yields a creamy, golden-hued fall stew.

Lamb stew, cut from the leg or shoulder yields a fuller-flavored, less rich stew than pork. If using lamb, you’ll likely need to order it in advance from most supermarkets. Pork shoulder proves a less pricey option that pairs beautifully with the cider and apples.

For braising stews, I prefer the gentle cooking and pan juice concentration that happens with a tightly covered heavy pan or Dutch oven in a moderately hot oven. For convenience, you can make the recipe in a slow-cooker set to low. Because there is little to no evaporation in the slow-cooker, the stew may be quite liquidy; simply spoon the stew liquid into a pan set over high heat and boil hard to reduce it into a thicker consistency.

Serve the stew in warmed shallow bowls with a side of mashed potatoes seasoned with sour cream, apples and garlic. Pass bottles of cold, crisp cider, and make a toast: Everything old is new again.

CIDER-BRAISED STEW WITH RED PEPPER AND WHITE BEANS

Makes: 8 to 10 servings

Stews always taste even better the next day, so I routinely make a large batch. If desired, this recipe can be cut in half; be sure to use a smaller Dutch oven so the liquid covers the meat during the cooking.

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder or lamb stew (from shoulder or leg), cut into 1 inch pieces

⅓ cup flour

Salt, freshly ground pepper

3 to 5 tablespoons safflower or expeller-pressed canola oil

1 large sweet onion, cut into ½-inch dice (about 2 cups)

1 large red bell pepper, cored, cut into 1-inch dice (about 1 ½ cups)

2 ribs celery, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

2 large crisp-tart apples (total 12 ounces), peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2 ½ cups

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 bottle (12 ounces) dry sparkling cider

3 to 4 sprigs each: fresh thyme, rosemary and oregano (or ½ teaspoon each dried)

½ cup chicken broth

2 cans (14.5 ounces each) white cannellini beans, drained

Chopped fresh parsley and chives for garnish

Sour cream and apple mashed potatoes, see recipe

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Pat pork or lamb pieces dry. Mix flour, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper in a zip-close food bag. Add a few pieces of the meat at a time; shake to coat well. Transfer to a plate while you coat the rest of the pieces.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy-bottomed 6-quart Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add about one third of the flour-coated meat to the pan in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook, turning occasionally, until nicely browned on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat to brown all the meat, adding oil as needed.

3. Stir onion, red bell pepper and celery into pan drippings. Cook and stir, 3 minutes. Stir in apples, garlic and cider, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil gently to reduce the liquid slightly, about 5 minutes.

4. Return the browned meat to the pot. Stir in the herbs and chicken broth. Heat to a boil. Cover the pan tightly, and place it in the oven. Bake, stirring once or twice, until the meat is fork-tender, about 1½ hours.

5. Remove herb sprigs. Stir in beans. Heat to a simmer over medium heat. Taste for salt, adding more as needed (usually ½ teaspoon).

6. Serve sprinkled with fresh herbs and accompanied by the potatoes.

Per serving (for 10): 393 calories, 19 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 83 mg cholesterol, 27 g carbohydrates, 9 g sugar, 27 g protein, 638 mg sodium, 5 g fiber

Slow-cooker variation: Prepare the recipe through step 3. Put apple mixture, browned meat, herbs and chicken broth into a slow-cooker. Set the slow-cooker to low and cook covered until meat is nearly tender, 4 to 6 hours. If pan juices are too thin, pour them off into a saucepan and boil hard to reduce them to the consistency of cream soup. Then finish the recipe as directed in step 5.

SOUR CREAM AND APPLE MASHED POTATOES

Makes: 8 servings

If working in advance, cover the finished, hot mashed potatoes with plastic wrap set directly on the surface and then top with the lid of the pan. The potatoes will hold like this, off the heat, for about 30 minutes until serving time.

2½ pounds golden yellow potatoes, scrubbed clean, cut into eighths

2 medium tart green apples (total 9 ounces), peeled, cored, chopped

4 cloves garlic, sliced

Salt

½ cup milk

4 to 6 tablespoons sour cream or mascarpone

4 tablespoons butter

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Put potatoes, apple and garlic into a large pot. Add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Heat to a boil, then simmer gently with lid slightly askew. Cook, checking potatoes occasionally with a knife, until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain well.

2. Return the drained potato mixture to the pot. Make a well in the center of the potatoes and pour the milk into the center. Set the heat to medium under the pot. When the milk starts to boil, reduce the heat to low, and start mashing vigorously using a potato masher. Mash in the sour cream and butter until the mixture is fairly smooth. Season to taste, usually about ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Remove from heat. Serve.

Per serving: 193 calories, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 18 mg cholesterol, 29 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 3 g protein, 164 mg sodium, 3 g fiber

Try pumpkin pancakes to get into the fall spirit

If you’re going to eat pumpkin pancakes, this is your window to do it. Of course, you could eat these flapjacks spiced with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg anytime, but there’s no better time than these few weeks before Halloween when we start to gear up our palates for a whole season of festive eating.

Malika Ameen, whose new book “Sweet Sugar, Sultry Spice: Exotic Flavors to Wake Up Your Baking” (Roost Books, $30) was recently released, offers dozens of dishes that will entertain your tongue year-round. Her holiday offerings, like these pancakes, are particularly good.

As always, don’t overmix the pancake batter. Leave those small lumps — they’ll cook out of the pancakes on the hot griddle. Vietnamese cinnamon has a particular warmth that Ameen likes for these pancakes, but any cinnamon will do.


Perfect Pumpkin Pancakes pumpkin6

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup whole wheat flour

2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

1½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground Vietnamese cinnamon

¾ tsp. ground ginger

¼ tsp. ground cloves

¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

¼ tsp. kosher salt

1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature, divided

2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

4 Tbsp. (2 oz.) unsalted butter, melted

2 tsp. vanilla extract

¾ cup pure canned pumpkin

Heat oven to 250 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the buttermilk and the eggs, butter and vanilla. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until barely combined.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin and the remaining ¼ cup of buttermilk. Gently fold the pumpkin mixture into the batter.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the skillet and cook the pancakes in batches. Spoon about ¼ cup of the batter onto the pan per pancake. Cook until golden brown on the bottom and slightly dry looking and bubbly on the top.

Use a spatula to flip each pancake and cook on the second side until cooked through. Transfer from the skillet to a baking tray, cover with aluminum foil, and keep warm in the oven while you cook more. Serves 4.