Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Valentines Day

When I was growing up, my mom always made a huge deal of Valentines Day. I know she loved us and all, but I really think she just needed a reason to have a party! Christmas is over, it's the dead of the ugly part of winter, it's dang cold, and Spring seems so far away. Who doesn't need something to brighten the mood??? So Mom would go all-out. There would be decorations, she would make a red dinner, and we would find treats under our turned-over plates. It was always a fun day in our family...

When Jeremy and I got married, I tried to do the same thing. Our first Valentines Day, I was finally over morning sickness with Bennett, and I wanted to do something fun. So I decorated the house, bought a cute Valentines maternity shirt, and made Chicken Parmesan--I dyed the noodles red and everything. But Jeremy ended up having to work late that night, and by the time he came home dinner was cold and I was in tears. We had a long chat about expectations and what we wanted to do for our family traditions... Needless to say, we've gotten better with time :o)

For the first couple years, we tried a few different things. One year we went to The Melting Pot for our Valentines date--and we LOVED it... except for the super-expensive part. Jeremy said, "We could do this at home for sooooo much cheaper!" So I took that as a challenge, and we've been doing fondue at home for Valentines Day ever since. Now that the kids are old enough to do it with us without burning themselves or making too much of a mess (be prepared for one), we've turned it into a family tradition!

My favorite part about fondue is just the fact that it takes so long! You eat your food one piece at a time, sometimes you even have to wait for that one piece to cook before you eat it--it's a great opportunity to sit around and talk to each other. You could even make up a list of love/family-related questions or topics to discuss while you're waiting... Doesn't that sound fun???

Now for the actual food part. We make our dinner in 3 courses:

1. Cheese
2. Oil or Broth
3. Chocolate

There are lots of variations to this approach, so do some research and find out how to make it yours... And FYI, we have tried a few different kinds of fondue pots, and have found that the electric ones with the ability to control temperature are the best. Click HERE for the link to the one we have.

Enjoy the recipes below. Have fun, good luck, and... 
Happy Valentines Day!!!

Cheese Fondue

The first course--this is personally my favorite part. I am more a salty than sweet kind of person... Take that however you want to :o)

Cheese Fondue
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese (or more Swiss if too difficult to find)
2 Tbsp flour
1 clove garlic, cut in half
1 1/2 cups dry white wine (or chicken broth)
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Coat cheeses with flour by tossing together in a large bowl. Rub garlic on the bottom and sides of the fondue pot; discard garlic. Pour wine (or broth) into fondue pot and heat just until bubbles rise to the surface. Stir in lemon juice. Gradually add floured cheese, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly over low heat, until cheeses are melted. You may add more cheese or wine, as needed, to reach the desired consistency.

Dippers (any or all of these):
Broccoli, blanched
Cauliflower, blanched
Asparagus, blanched
Cherry Tomatoes
Mushrooms, blanched
Granny Smith apples, sliced
French bread, cubed
Pumpernickel bread, cubed
Rye bread, cubed

Fondue Bourguignonne

The second course... Definitely worth the time it takes to cook it! There are a couple approaches we've taken in the past, and we like both. Decide what kind of taste you're going for and get cooking! (This is a borrowed picture, but I will switch it out tomorrow night after I take pictures of our dinner :)

Fondue Bourguignonne: Simply fill the fondue pot halfway with vegetable oil and heat till shimmery. Add meat and cook according to directions below.

Bouillabaisse Broth: While usually reserved for seafood stew, this broth is a delicious, savory alternative to oil. Click HERE for specific directions.

Raw steak, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
Raw chicken breast, cubed
Raw shrimp, 31-40 count size
Fingerling potatoes, partially cooked

Cook the steak to desired doneness; cook the chicken till inside is no longer pink (2 minutes?); cook the shrimp till pink (1 minute?); cook the potatoes till soft. The more pieces you have cooking at the same time, the longer they will take to cook... just FYI :o)

We always have sauces waiting for our cooked meats--usually I'll have little bowls of BBQ sauce, cocktail sauce, sour cream/dill or ranch dip, and green goddess dressing. Add your own!

***Remember to be careful when dealing with raw meats, especially poultry. Don't use the same utensils to handle raw meat and to eat it. Make sure your food is cooked thoroughly before slicing it on your "eating" plate.

Chocolate Fondue

The third and final course: everyone else's favorite part. Don't get me wrong--I love chocolate too, but usually by this point I'm busting at the seams...

Chocolate Fondue
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
1 lb. desired chocolate (milk, semi-sweet, or dark)
1/2 cup caramel topping
Chopped pecans, optional

Add all ingredients to fondue pot; stir constantly on low heat until melted and smooth. Do NOT allow to bubble. Dip in!

Dippers (any or all): 
Bananas, sliced
Fresh pineapple, cubed
Pound cake, cubed
Brownie bites
Cheesecake bites