By Lauren Morgan
Labor Day is right around the corner, and if you're looking to step up the party food, look no further than fondue.
Fondue isn't just about little pieces of bread dipped in melted cheese. This French style of cooking incorporates many elements and flavors.
Bob Syniec, general manager of The Melting Pot in Duluth, offered a few fon-dos and fon-don'ts when it comes to preparing these delicious dips.
Melting Pot serves its cheese fondue with fresh cut apples, carrots, celery, cauliflower and a selection of breads.
"You can use anything ... even Brussels sprouts," Syniec said.
The best way to avoid a common fondue mishap, scorched cheese, is to keep the fondue warm over as low a heat as possible. The best way to prevent scorching when making cheese or chocolate fondue is to cook your dip in an insert over boiling water in a pot.
"The better fondue pots already come with an insert," Syniec said.
The best fondues call for the best ingredients. Syniec prefers Wisconsin cheddar, Grueyere or Emmenthaler Swiss, with "as much garlic as you can handle," a special blend of seasonings and white wine - dry, not sweet. Or, try cheddar and Emmenthaler Swiss with lager beer, plus the garlic and seasonings. Melting Pot's blend of seasonings is available for purchase.
Make sure your recipe includes a bit of corn starch or all-purpose or potato flour to keep the cheese in suspension, which keeps the fondue from separating.
Adding a small amount of lemon juice to the wine increases acidity, which helps to break up the cheese. Also, when you add the cheese to the simmering wine, stir in a zig zag rather than circular motion to help break up the cheese. Syniec uses a whipping motion with a fork to break up his cheese.
Almost any type of meat or vegetable can be prepared in a hot oil-filled fondue, including stuffed pastas, sausage, lobster, scallops, fish, stuffed mushroom caps or pot stickers. Syniec has even heard of a breakfast fondue, made by dipping bread in French toast batter then cooking it in the oil.
"Always have a 'search-and-rescue spoon' handy in case something slips off the fondue fork and gets lost in the bottom of the pot," he said.
When it comes to preparing fondue for cooking meats or vegetables, Syniec says to use either broth or canola oil, which has less fat than peanut oil. This fondue should never come to a boil - the best temperature is between 180 and 200 F. To prevent the oil from sputtering, remove all excess moisture from proteins and vegetables by patting them down with a paper towel after washing.
Once the meat and vegetables are cooked, Melting Pot offers a variety of sauces for dipping.
"Everybody's favorite is the Green Goddess," Syniec said. The Goddess is made with sour cream, cream cheese, green onion and spices.
Melting Pot makes all its own sauces in store, but at home, Syniec recommends using Russian dressing, French onion dip, barbecue, teriyaki, ginger plum or horseradish sauce.
The best type of fondue, without a doubt, is the luscious chocolate fondue. Melting Pot prepares its dessert fondues in a variety of ways, using milk, dark or white chocolate and by adding liqueurs such as Grand Marnier, Bailey's Irish Cream or amaretto.
A popular choice is the "Flaming Turtle," made with milk chocolate, caramel and chopped pecans flambeed table side with Bacardi 151 rum.
Chocolate fondue is easy to prepare at home, and can even be made in a microwave with the right ingredients.
Is there any time that's not a right time for dessert fondue? Syniec said he only hears complaints when someone is on a first date that's not going well.
"Fondue is usually a great first date when you're trying to get to know someone because it's a long meal," he said. "But if it's not going well, they want it to end quickly."
SideBar: Fondue recipes
10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1⁄2 to 3⁄4 cup milk, half and half, or heavy cream
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small bowl, combine chocolate and liquid and melt gently in a barely simmering water bath, or microwave oven on 50 percent power, for about 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Add more liquid if the sauce seems too thick or looks curdled. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Use warm fondue immediately or set aside until needed and rewarm briefly.
Ideas for dipping: strawberries; chunks of pineapple, banana or oranges; cubes of pound cake or brownie; toasted cubes of brioche or challah; marshmallows; pretzels or graham crackers.
Note: for the most intense fondue, use milk rather than half-and-half or cream. For even greater intensity, choose a bittersweet chocolate labeled anywhere from 66 to 70 percent and use the greater amount of liquid.
Source: "Chocolate Holidays" by Alice Medrich
1 loaf white crusty French or Italian bread
1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
11⁄4 cup Swiss Fendant or other dry white wine
1 pound Gruyere or Emmenthaler cheese, cubed
Pinch of grated or ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons kirsch, cognac or applejack
Salt and black pepper
Rub the interior of a medium stainless steel pot or fondue pot with garlic. Discard the garlic and add the wine, bringing to a simmer. Add nutmeg, then gradually add the cheese, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the cheese is melted. The cheese and wine will not yet be blended.
In a small bowl, mix together the cornstarch and liqueur. Stir into the cheese mixture. Continue to stir and simmer until the mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. If the fondue is too thick, add up to another 1⁄4 cup wine. Quickly transfer to a fondue pot or chafing dish set over a low flame, and continue cooking over low heat while guests dig in.
Makes 4 to 5 servings.
Source: "The Joy of Cooking" by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker (Simon and Schuster, $30)
4 cups beef or chicken stock
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2⁄3 cup wine or rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup green onions or chives
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast and/or steak, cut into strips
2 peeled potatoes, cubed
1 bunch broccoli, cut into florets
1 pound whole button or shiitake mushrooms, trimmed
Bring stock, garlic, sugar, onion and wine to a simmer in medium stainless steel pot or fondue pot. Place meat or veggies on fondue forks and hold in the pot until cooked to liking, about 3 to 5 minutes. The fork will be very hot, so slide the meat off it, using dinner fork. Ask each fondue-er to limit himself to two pieces of meat or vegetable at a time, so as not to crowd the pot and lower the cooking temperature.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Source: "The Joy of Cooking"