Typically my husband and I try to make meals that come together quickly because we are always starving by the time dinner rolls around on weeknights. The weekends, however, are a different story. I love taking an afternoon and putting together a nice meal that we wouldn’t have time to make and eat on a work night. We make these our date nights - A nice dinner, a bottle of wine and a movie from our Netflix queue. Even with the extra time on weekends, there are occasions that I like dinner preparation to be easy, but still special enough for our date night. I have found the perfect solution: Fondue.
For me, ‘fondue’ used to evoke images of VW buses and slug bugs, bell bottoms, shag carpets and lava lamps. I thought it was a novelty of the 70’s that had no real place on more contemporary tables. While most of these things are now distant memories of the past (well, minus the lava lamp, our guest room has my pink one as a night light…), fondue is fortunately making a modern comeback – just look at the success of The Melting Pot . After my first trip there for dinner, I now understand why fondue is making a return.
We are a part of a fast-paced culture where time is money, and as a result, we are becoming increasingly more focused on convenience foods and and less on the importance of sitting down as a family for a meal. Fondue transforms dinner into the social event I think it deserves to be, instead of just sitting at the table just long enough to stuff your face full of whatever is in front of you and then continuing on with life. I now associate ‘fondue’ with intimacy, family and relaxation because, while the food is important, the meal is more about slowing down and enjoying your company. If you really want to have fun with it, there are also cute little fondue traditions. One tradition says that a woman who drops food in the pot has to kiss the person next to her (sometimes all the men at the table). And since I am not a big fan of that one, I like the other tradition which dictates that the person who loses food in the pot buys a round of drinks or the next pot of fondue. That's more my speed.
As much as I love The Melting Pot, I still have a hard time justifying the cost of their meals. First, you are going there and paying a premium to cook your own food. Second, for about the cost of a two person dinner, you could easily invest in a little fondue pot and make your own in the comfort of your home for a fraction of the price. Let’s do a little comparison, shall we?
From the menu of my local Melting Pot, the least expensive entrée selection is 16 dollars a person. 32 dollars doesn’t sound too bad for diner, but don’t forget drinks, tax and tip! So for us, our overall dinner cost would be about 40 dollars. That’s being optimistic, because we would each almost certainly have a seven-dollar glass of wine as well. If you were to look at Bed Bath and Beyond, you would see that they have a good selection of at-home fondue pots, even some under 60 dollars. And you know you have some of those 20% off coupons sitting around that come all the time in the mail. So, for about eight dollars more than just your bare-bones dining experience at the Melting pot, you can have your own fondue, anytime. I particularly love our electric fondue pot because it takes a lot of guesswork out of the process and I can switch from broth to chocolate because it has a temperature dial.
Finally, the last big benefit of at-home-fondue is that you have the liberty customize your meal based on your likes, and aren’t limited to the options on a menu. The word “fondue” comes from the French word ‘fonder’ meaning “to melt” and originally referred to a cheese dish mixed with wine and eaten with bread. It has progressed to oil and broth bases used to cook entrees such as meats, seafood, and veggies, and now has even made its way into the dessert world with chocolate fondue for dipping fruits, marshmallows, pound cake or brownies. There's something for everyone.
Of all the options, I choose a broth-based cooking method versus oil, simply because I feel I can make the broth more flavorful and it’s healthier than essentially deep-frying everything. The menu is relatively simple, and easy to put together. Last time I even prepared everything but the veggies the night before. I also love mixing lots of dipping sauces, the last meal included sweet and sour, asian and honey mustard sauces.
I do have to caution that if you’re starving, fondue is not a quick fix. Dinner can take up to two hours. Imagine the look on my poor husband’s face when he told me he was hungry and I pulled out only two forks. He looked devastated. By the end of the night, he had convinced me to use all six forks in the pot: 2 for meat, 2 for potatoes and 2 for mushrooms.
If you do have a fondue pot collecting dust in your closet, I suggest you to give it a try. It's a long recipe, but easy. This is one of our favorite date nights, and I look forward to having friends over to share in my fondue love.
1 tbsp Vegetable oil
2 Garlic clove, crushed
1 Onion, finely chopped (I had one large scallion and 1/4 leftover onion which I subbed for this)
8 cups Water
Beef bouillon cubes or concentrate
1 Celery stalk, finely chopped
1 Tomato, finely chopped
1/2 tsp Freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Bay leaf
1 cup Red wine
1. In a large pot, warm the oil and cook the garlic and onion until soft.
2. Add the water, bring to a boil and add enough beef bouillon cubes for 2 L (8 cups) of broth.
3. Lower the heat and add the vegetables, spices and wine.
4. Cook on low heat for about 3 hours. Add more water as needed.
5. Filter the broth and refrigerate.
6. Prior to serving, remove the fat that has hardened on the surface.
7. Warm up the broth on the stove top.
8. Pour into your fondue pot and adjust the heat.
What to dip in your broth?
On average, you plan to have 1/3 lb of meat per person. I usually have several veggies on hand as well. Here is a standard list of options, but feel free to experiment!
Marinated Beef or pork tenderloin (see marinade recipe below)
Loin of Lamb
Button or Portabello Mushrooms cut into bite-sized pieces
Honey Mustard Dip
1 cup Honey
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
Mix the ingredients and let chill for a day if possible.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve at room temperature.
Sweet and Sour Sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
Combine all ingredients and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Serve warm or at room temperature. This sauce may be prepared a few days in advance and warmed before serving.
Asian Dipping Sauce
4 Tbsp Light Soy Sauce
3 Tbsp Lemon Juice
3 Green Chilis
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 tsp Sesame Oil
1 Tbsp Cornstarch
1 tsp Water, cold
Combine soy sauce, lemon juice, chilis, garlic and sesame oil in saucepan over low heat. In small bowl, mix cornstarch and cold water until thoroughly blended. Add cornstarch mixture to saucepan and bring to a boil until thickened. Serve warm or at room temperature.
3 Tbsp Soy Sauce
2 tsp Minced Ginger
1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
1 Tbsp Honey
1 Tbsp Water
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb beef tenderloin, sliced thin or cut into bite-sized chunks.
12 oz. of semisweet chocolate chips (dark or milk chocolate may be substituted)
1/3 c. heavy cream
1/3 c. milk
2 TBSP liqueur (may be omitted) such as coffee, chocolate, mint or fruit flavored liquors. Rum and brandy also work well.
Combine all of the ingredients in a fondue pot, stirring constantly until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Spear and immerse assorted dipping items.