With Valentine’s Day just around the corner (it is next Monday) it is time to start planning a special meal for your sweetheart. Of course, because it is Chocolate Monday, we’ll start with dessert! There is something very sensual about dipping foods in melted chocolate (or cheese), especially if you feed one another! Chocolate fondue is the perfect way to finish your Valentine’s Day meal – or any meal for that matter.
Fondue was created in Switzerland in the 1700’s and has become a worldwide favorite. Remote Swiss villages were often cut off from large towns during long winters, making it challenging to find fresh foods. They relied on easily stored items like bread and cheese, put up during the summer in preparation for winter. Warmed stale cheese is much more palatable; when you dip stale bread in it, the bread is softened and together they make a delightful meal. Once the concept was born, it was only a matter of time before it was expanded to incorporate another great Swiss product, chocolate. The height of fashion in the 1960’s and 70’s, fondue has reemerged as a fun date night or dinner party option. There is a wonderful website called “Fondue Bits” that has everything you ever wanted to know about fondue, including fondue etiquette – such fun!
When you are making chocolate fondue, the most fun part, besides eating it, is figuring out what kinds of foods to include for dipping. I like to combine some casual foods like large marshmallows and graham cracker “sticks” along with the more elegant whole strawberries and pineapple spears. If you have children joining you for dinner, this is one way to get them to eat fruit! Some fruits that are particularly good with chocolate are apple slices, dried apricots, peaches or figs, bananas, and sliced kiwi. Because it is winter, blood oranges are in season and are fantastic with this orange-scented version. Peel and separate them into sections which are the easiest to dip. I also love to offer lightly toasted brioche bread cubes and large chunks of angel food or pound cake. For a little salty treat, pretzel “rods” are a natural choice. If you want to be totally decadent, try dipping coconut macaroons or Oreo cookies. And if bonbons are your idea of what every lady-of-leisure deserves, use a small ice cream scoop to roll high-quality vanilla ice cream into balls. Freeze them on a baking sheet until very firm. Bring them out right before serving so they stay cold. Dipped into warm chocolate, there is truly nothing more perfect for Valentine’s Day!
If you don’t have a fondue pot already, this may be the time to buy one. Trudeau makes a great stainless steel version that has a stoneware insert and 6 fondue forks. You can use the stainless portion on the stovetop and it is perfect for oil or broth-based cooking. Use the stoneware insert to protect chocolate and cheese from scorching. If you don’t want to buy a fondue pot, you can also use a small chafing dish or even a slow cooker. You can use any long-handled forks for dipping or heavy-duty bamboo skewers. If you want specialty plates made specifically for fondue parties, try Trudeau’s set of 10-inch plates with sections for different dippers. If you wind up with chocolate left over after dessert, you can pour it into ice cube trays and freeze to use again later. You never want to waste good chocolate!
Today’s recipe comes from the CIA Cookbook – from the Culinary Institute of America publications. It is a superb collection of over 375 recipes designed for the home chef. As with all of their cookbooks, this one contains tips and preparation techniques written by some of the country’s finest instructors. Working your way through any of their cookbooks is like taking a correspondence course. While most of their books are focused on a single subject, this one covers the gamut from beverages and snacks, broths, soups, pastas, casseroles, and main dishes to vegetables, side dishes, breakfast items, baked goods, and desserts. If you are looking for a “soup to nuts” cookbook from one of the finest culinary schools in the world, this is the one for you!
Beware of losing your food in the fondue pot. Tradition says that anyone who drops their food into the pot has to buy everyone a round of drinks or the next pot of fondue. But there really is only one true rule to eating fondue … no double dipping, LOL. Have fun with this engaging, entertaining dessert!
Kitchen Skill: How to Carve a Pineapple
You can buy whole pineapples during the winter and cut them up yourself for much less money than buying pre-cut pineapple, or using inferior canned products. They are easy to carve, provided you have a large, very sharp knife. Slice off the top and bottom of the pineapple so it sits flat on the cutting surface. Slicing deep enough to remove all the “eyes”, cut the peel off the pineapple in strips, cutting from the top to the bottom, following the curve of the fruit.
Once the rind has been removed, cut pineapple vertically into quarters. Set each section on its side and remove the tough core. Cut into about 2-inch squares. Larger pieces are easier to manage when dipping in the chocolate!
You can use the top of the pineapple as a decorative part of your centerpiece if you like. You can surround it with pieces of whole fruit for a colorful display.
- 1 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped and melted
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate, chopped and melted
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp orange zest
- Pinch salt
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup Grand Marnier orange liqueur, or 1/4 cup additional heavy cream
- Assorted items for dipping, such as fresh fruit, marshmallows, ladyfingers, or pound cake, cut into large cubes
- Combine the melted chocolates together and keep warm.
- Bring the heavy cream, orange zest, salt, and honey to a simmer. Remove from the heat and allow zest to steep for 5 minutes. Strain the mixture into the chocolate and stir together. Discard the zest.
- Note: If you use a microplane grater, the zest will be so fine that you do not need to strain it out if you don’t want to.
- Add the Grand Marnier (or additional cream) and mix thoroughly. Serve warm in a fondue pot with a variety of foods to dip ... for example, strawberries with the stems intact, pitted cherries, sponge cake pieces, apricots, ladyfingers, orange segments, etc.
- VARIATION: For a white chocolate version, substitute 2 cups white chocolate for the bittersweet and semisweet chocolates. Be careful when melting because white chocolate scorches very easily.