Tuesday, December 22, 2009

So Fond of Fondue

Right out of college, I went backpacking through Europe with friends. In addition to wanting to bring home Christmas ornaments from every country I visited, I was looking forward to sampling the specialty foods of each place, from crepes in Brittany to Wiener schnitzel in Vienna to moules/frites in Brussels. So of course, one night in Geneva, I found myself at a small restaurant in the student section of town, enjoying my first cheese fondue.

Of all of the wonderful food I sampled, cheese fondue was the easiest to recreate at home, and so it became one of my favorite winter company dishes. I used a recipe I found in Wines and Spirits, the wire-bound recipe booklet that accompanied the Time-Life Cooking of the World volume of the same name. Not having a fondue pot, I always made it in an electric wok, which made it easy to control the temperature and prevent the cheese from burning. Back then, I offered the traditional dippers: a baguette, of course, but also apples or pears.

Now, cheese fondue is a once-a-year-treat. We still make it in that electric wok, but the concept of dippers
has evolved. This year, we used a ciabatta from Beach Pea, a wonderful artisinal bakery in Kittery run by Thomas and Mariah Roberts, instead of the traditional baguette, and we had some apples from our Winter CSA from Heron Pond Farm. But the real revelation was moving beyond bread and fruit into meat and vegetables.

We had a lot of leftover ham from our holiday party, which dipped in cheese with a little bread, was like eating the most amazing ham and cheese sandwich ever. In a flash of inspiration, we also decided to blanch some broccoli -- after all, it's at its best with cheese sauce, right?  What a revelation! I think that cauliflower or Brussels sprouts would also be delectable, as would steamed baby potatoes.

For cheese, we used  our traditional combination of Gruyère, Emmenthaler, and Appenzeller, which we grated in the Cuisinart to make things easier.

I long ago lost that little wire-bound book with the recipe in it. Just for fun as I was writing this -- and to be able to give some more accurate ingredient amounts -- I googled "Cheese Fondue Recipe from Time/Life cookbooks 'Foods of the World". Up popped this recipe from Melissa Clark of The New York Times. It's a good approximation -- though I'm pretty sure the original called for flour to dredge the cheese, which is what I use. And as you'll see in reading her article, the fascination with new dippers and new versions is not mine alone.

Classic Fondue
Melissa Clark, New York Times
January 23, 1008

1 small garlic clove, halved
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 pound Gruyère cheese, grated
3/4 pound Emmenthaler, raclette or Appenzeller cheese, grated
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch (I prefer flour)
1 to 2 tablespoons kirsch (optional) (To me, this is essential, not optional)
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste (optional) (Ditto)
Crusty bread cubes; steamed broccoli or cauliflower; carrot, celery or fennel sticks; cubed apple; seedless grapes; clementine sections; cubed salami, soppressata or kielbasa; roasted chestnuts and/or dried apricots, for serving.

1. Rub cut side of garlic on inside of large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan, preferably cast iron, rubbing the bottom and halfway up the sides. Add wine and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss cheeses with cornstarch. Add a handful at a time to simmering wine, stirring until first handful melts before adding next. Reduce heat to medium and stir constantly until cheese is completely melted. Add kirsch, if using, and heat until bubbling, about 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, if desired. Serve with crusty bread and other accompaniments.

Yield: 6 main course servings or 10 appetizer servings.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Full Monte

My sister Robin and I threw our first Christmas party in 1975. Our oven broke a week or so before the big event, which reduced us to cooking dozens of appetizers in a GE toaster oven. As for baking, we used the oven in an empty apartment in the basement of our building, carring cookie sheets up and down three flights of stairs. Nonetheless, the party itself was a great success, and with a few exceptions, we have been doing it every year since.

Once, my brother-in-law Dave came into the picture, things got a bit more complicated.

Now, in addition to 15 different kinds of cookies, our typical spread includes homemade pickles of various sorts -- including my current personal favorite, turnips pickled in gin.

Then there are the numerous homemade pates, dips, sausages, rillettes, mustards, and smoked seafood, plus smoked, roasted, and grilled meats -- all the ingredients for which come either from local Seacoast New Hampshire area farms or from Philbricks Fresh Market.

It's a labor of love, which this year began in mid October when Dave started curing his own bacon and salamis and baking his amazing fruitcakes. These have enough fruit, nuts, and cognac in them to turn even the most determined fruit cake hater into a fruit cake lover.

While my sister is the primary cookie baker (I assist), I've become the party ham specialist. For years, we resisted serving a ham, but then we met Tim Rocha from Kellie Brook Farm in Greenland, NH. His hams come from pigs raised on grains, bread, yogurt, and vegetables and are absolutely delicious. (Tim's pork is on the menu at Portsmouth restaurants and is available at the Seacoast Grower's winter markets.) Fortunately, I have a ham recipe that's worthy of such a creature.

Legend has it that this recipe was given to Monte Mathews, a New York advertising executive, who was told to "buy the cheapest ham possible, glaze the hell out of it and cook it for a long time."

While I'm sure the recipe does wonders for a cheap ham, I can tell you that it truly comes into its own with one of Farmer Tim's succulent, flavorful hams. Try it yourself -- and watch your guests devour the full Monte.

Monte's Ham
first published in Saveur in Issue #18

15-lb. smoked ham on the bone
1 1/2 cups orange marmalade
1 cup dijon mustard (I've been known to add a couple of tablespoons of grated horseradish to the mustard)
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. whole cloves

1. Preheat oven to 300°. Trim tough outer skin and excess fat from ham. Place ham, meat side down, in a large roasting pan and score, making crosshatch incisions with a sharp knife. Roast for 2 hours
2. Remove ham from oven and increase heat to 350°. For glaze, combine orange marmalade, mustard, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Stud ham with whole cloves (stick one clove at the intersection of each crosshatch), then brush with glaze and return to oven.
3. Cook ham another 1 1/2 hours, brushing with glaze at least 3 times. Transfer to a cutting board or platter and allow to rest for about 30 minutes. Carve and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 30

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gone Fishin'

Last winter, the Yankee Fishermans Cooperative in Seabrook, NH started a community-supported fisherey initiative in collaboration with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, N.H. Sea Grant, the N.H. Commercial Fishermans Association, local seafood groups, restaurants, and fish markets. The result is that food lovers in the Seacoast, NH area can now buy local, sustainably caught shrimp, cod, haddock, and lobster -- and support our local fishery -- the way we do our local farms.

Yesterday, when trying to decide what to make for Sunday supper, my sister Robin, brother-in-law Dave, and I found some of the cooperative's local dayboat cod at Philbrick's Fresh Market in Portsmouth. As we had just picked up some leeks and potatoes at our winter CSA, it seemed like the perfect excuse to make one of our favorite fish dishes: a casserole of baked fish, potatoes, fennel, and leeks.

For a while in the early '00s, it seemed that every other newspaper food section and magazine was featuring recipes with cod or halibut baked on a bed of potatoes, often with something wonderful like artichokes or olives thrown in for good measure. Most of them required you to steam the potatoes first. In this receipe, which came from the late, lamented Gourmet's December 2002 issue, you slice the potatoes with a mandoline, so you can cook them in the baking dish from the start. That means they really pick up the flavor of the other ingredients. Because cod is endangered -- and often hard to find -- we usually make the dish with haddock. Now, with cod just off the boat, it seemed like the perfect time to enjoy it with the real thing.

As you'll see, the original recipe didn't include leeks, but I love the earthy flavor they give the dish.  If you like, you could also add a little grated lemon or orange peel -- or maybe even those olives and artichokes. Whatever you do, you'll be enjoying seafood comfort food at its best.

Gourmet Magazine
December 2002
Active time: 15 min Start to finish: 1 hr

2 medium fennel bulbs (sometimes called anise; 1 1/2 lb total), stalks cut off and discarded, and fronds reserved for garnish if desired

2-3 leeks, white park only (if using)

1 1/2 lb large boiling potatoes

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper (We also sprinkle smoked Spanish paprika on the fish before we put it in the oven. It adds a lovely deep red color and rich, smokey taste.)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 lb skinless cod fillet (1 inch thick), cut into 6 portions (feel free to use haddock or whatever fillets lookfresh in your seafood market -- not sure I'd use salmon, though.)

Garnish: chopped fennel fronds or fresh flat-leaf parsley

Accompaniment: lemon wedges

Special equipment: a Japanese Benriner* or other adjustable-blade slicer; a 3-quart shallow baking dish (2 inches deep)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Cut fennel bulbs crosswise into 1/16-inch-thick slices with slicer. Peel potatoes and cut crosswise into 1/16-inch-thick slices with slicer. If using leeks, thoroughly wash and cut into 1/4" rounds.

3. Transfer the vegetables to a 9 x 13 baking dish and toss with garlic, salt, pepper, and 4 tablespoons oil. Spread vegetables evenly in dish and bake, covered with foil, in middle of oven until just tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

4. Season fish with salt and pepper and arrange on top of vegetables. Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and bake, uncovered, until fish is just cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes.

* Available at Asian markets, many cookware shops, and Uwajimaya (800-889-1928).