Hospitality @ Home: Fondue!

The lovely ladies that I work for did it again this season with a fabulous holiday gift– the Le Creuset fondue pot.  Since they thoughtfully gifted it with Gruyere and Emmenthaler, I needed to christen this baby quickly.

The Le Creuset 'Heritage' Fondue pot

Once the New Year’s mayhem subsided at work, I treated the Gent to a Fondue Dinner courtesy of the tiny kitchen….

One of the most fun parts of fondue is putting together the array of dip-ables to accompany the molten cheesy goodness. From the minute that I decided to make a fondue dinner, I could not stop thinking about FONDUE AND PRETZELS.

getting ready for the oven

I roasted up some mushrooms, brussels sprouts, and baby potatoes (fondue and pretzels). I cooked up a peppery, medium rare New York Strip (fondue and pretzels). I chopped up some granny smith apple, radishes, and added some cherry tomatoes (pretzels…? PRETZELS???).

zomg. buttery. chewy. YUMMMMM.

Then I made some fresh, soft pretzels.

And omydearsweetgoodness, was I so ecstatic/depressed that I did. Ecstatic because they were so delicious, and came together so easily. Then depressed because now all I can think about–even 24 hours later– is FONDUE AND PRETZELS.

Recipes are below. Enjoy.

But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

the fondue dinner

Traditional Cheese Fondue:

  • 1/2 pound imported Emmenthaler cheese,  shredded

    say cheese....
  • 1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cherry brandy, such as kirsch
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Assorted dip-ables

In a small bowl, coat the cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. Rub the inside of the ceramic fondue pot with the garlic cloves.

Over medium heat, add the wine and lemon juice, toss in the garlic cloves, and bring to a gentle simmer. After the wine simmers for a minute, remove the garlic cloves. Add the cheeses one handful at a time; stirring continuously until incorporated. Melting the cheese gradually encourages a smooth fondue. Once all the cheese is added and mixture is smooth, stir in cherry brandy, mustard and nutmeg. Add salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve with chunks of French bread, or fresh soft pretzels.  Some other suggestions are granny smith apples, radishes, bosc pears, and blanched vegetables or roasted vegetables. I love brussels sprouts with their bitter bite. Spear with fondue forks or wooden skewers, dip, swirl and enjoy.

Couple of rules for fondue:

1. Don’t eat directly off of your fondue fork or skewer. The fondue will be really hot right out of the pot and could burn your mouth, and at a party, double dipping is just tacky.

2. If you drop your dip-able item in the fondue, tradition requires that you kiss the person to your left. So be strategic….


Soft Pretzels:

adapted from Alton Brown

  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  •  4 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt, or sea salt, or any variety of salty yummy seasoning

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Or for pretzel rolls, twist into corkscrews. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Hospitality @ Home: Mmm-Mussels







This is one of my favorite go-to meals to make when it’s a brisk autumn day in LA. And with the amazing team at McCall’s Meat & Fish just up the street, I find myself making this dish almost once a week.

Mussels don’t need to be scary. Especially if the shop you buy them from cleans them for you already.

Beautifully cleaned mussels from Mccall's

To store mussels prior to cooking, rinse in cool water and store in a bowl half filled with ice. Place a damp towel over the top of the bowl. You need to keep the mussels cool, moist, and with good oxygen access. So don’t wrap them up in plastic wrap or otherwise suffocate them.

Eat mussels during cool months, and those containing the letter ‘R’ in their name– September, October, November, etc.

Pair these mussels with plenty of crusty bread and the Autumn Version of the Gent’s Salad.

Mary’s Mussels:

serves 2 as an entrée or 4 as an appetizer

It is fair to note that I love a lot of garlic, and a lot of broth with my mussels. If I’m feeling particularly decadent, I’ll make a batch of french fries to go along with this. In the pursuit of sopping up all that delicious broth, french fries are definitely my weapon of choice. But chunks of crusty baguette are a close second.

1.5 lbs mussels

1 small onion, sliced into shoestrings

8 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp dried basil, oregano, or parsley (or all three, why not?)

4 tbs butter

2 cups chicken stock

3/4 c dry white wine

olive oil

salt & pepper

In a 4 qt dutch oven (or any large pot with a lid), heat one tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Toss in garlic and cook until fragrant. De-glaze the pan with white wine, then add chicken stock and herbs. When the stock comes to a boil, add mussels and give one big stir.

Cover pot and reduce heat to medium. steam Mussels for about 8 minutes, or until they open. Discard any unopened mussels. Finish with final 3 tablespoons of butter. Serve with plenty of broth in a flat bottom bowls.

Gent's Autumn Salad
Kale, Buttermilk Dressing, Tomato, Crouton.....mmmm

Autumn Gent’s Salad:

The Gent very eagerly brought home a bunch of kale a few weeks ago and absolutely hated it. Too bitter for him. It’s one of those greens that is great on paper, but sometimes too overpowering on the palate. So I baked the Kale with some olive oil, salt & pepper for about 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven to create Kale chips. They are fantastic on a salad, adding an earthy base note for the brighter elements to play off of.  A creamy buttermilk dressing, the bright bite of tomato, and crunch of a buttery crouton…. you know what you could also add to this? Bacon.

umm…. I’ll be right back….

Mixed Greens


Kale Chips


Buttermilk Dressing

Salad seasoning– we love Salad Elegant from Chicago’s Spice House

Layer ingredients in a flat bowl, finishing with dressing & a sprinkle of Salad Seasoning.

Hospitality @ Home: Parker House Rolls & Grapefruit Curd



It was a rainy day in Los Angeles yesterday, perfect weather for a long cooking project. Parker House Rolls have been on my list for awhile, and considering their 3 hour prep time, it was a perfect fit.

I aggregated a couple recipes, but the one I hewed closest to came from Chowhound.  These were great with a roast chicken dinner, and equally delicious for breakfast this morning with a little grapefruit curd. The combination of the lightly sweet roll, savory butter, and creamy tartness of the grapefruit curd is so elegant and delicious with a cup of coffee or tea.

Rolls with Herb Butter
Just a kiss of grey salt

Herb Butter:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp dry sage
  • 1 tsp dry rosemary
  • 1 tsp dry thyme
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • tsp olive oil

Combine spices, salt, honey and olive oil in a microwave safe bowl. Zap the mixture in the microwave on medium power for 30 seconds. Mix in butter. cover tightly and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Parker House Rolls Dough
ready for some butter

Parker House Rolls

(adapted from Chowhound)

  • 1/4 ounce (1 packet) active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water (100°F to 110°F)
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 tbs lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 5 2/3 cups bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into small pieces, plus more for the bowl and dish
  • Herb Butter (optional)
  • Coarse salt for sprinkling
  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in a medium bowl; set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir lemon juice into milk and let sit for a couple minutes. Add honey, & milk mixture into yeast mixture; set aside.
  2. Stir together flour
    high roast chicken with potatoes and some greens are great companions to a dinner of Parker House rolls

    and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, make a well in the center, pour in yeast mixture, and mix on low speed until evenly incorporated, about 2 minutes.

  3. Increase mixer speed to medium low and add butter, a few pieces at a time, letting butter completely incorporate before adding more. Mix dough until smooth, elastic, and slightly soft, about 10 minutes total.
  4. Butter a large bowl, place dough in the bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with butter.
  5. Once dough has risen, divide in two equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece into a 12-by-10-inch rectangle, keeping the second piece covered with a towel.
  6. Cut the rolled rectangle of dough lengthwise into 5 strips. Cut each strip into 3 smaller rectangles. If using herb butter, spread 1/4 tsp of butter into each rectangle before folding the rectangle in half, and set aside. Repeat with remaining rectangles. Repeat entire process with second piece of dough.
  7. Arrange rolls seam-side down in the prepared pan, 6 across and 5 down. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the lower third.
  8. Once dough has risen, brush herb butter  (or regular butter) over top of rolls and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake until bottom and tops of rolls are golden brown, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool 5 minutes, and serve.
Leftovers for Breakfast are my favorite

Grapefruit curd

  • 2 cups grapefruit juice (you can substitute any fruit juice, really)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 8 egg yolks (I used the yolks I had left over from a batch of Italian Meringue Buttercream)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 tbs butter
1. Put butter and vanilla in a bowl. Place mesh strainer over bowl and set aside.
2. Combine juice, sugar, yolks, and cornstarch in a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium low heat. Whisk constantly until smooth. 3. Continue to whisk slowly as mixture thickens. Keep the mixture moving to prevent the eggs from cooking too quickly and clumping. After about 5-7 minutes, the mixture will become very thick, almost the consistency of creamy peanut butter.
4. Remove from heat, pass through the mesh strainer into the bowl with the butter and vanilla. Remove strainer and discard solids. whisk the curd in the bowl until vanilla and butter are incorporated.
5. pour into jars and cool, or cover the bowl with plastic wrap (pressing plastic wrap directly to the surface to prevent a skin from forming), and cool.

Marche Bacchus

I almost don’t want to write about this spot. I almost don’t want anyone else to know where it is, that it exists, or where to find it. It’s like when you first discover an incredible band. And in the beginning, you can go to a concert in a intimate little club and be right by the stage. Then suddenly everyone else in the world discovers that band, and as happy as you that they are succeeding, you also long for that time when everything was simpler…


But here I go.

For my birthday dinner a week ago, The Gent whisked me away to a lovely little oasis in the desert of Vegas, a lovely, clever, well-appointed bistro called Marche Bacchus. It’s a waterfront bistro behind a wine shop, in the suburb of Summerlin. There is no strip, no slot machines, if it weren’t for the heat, you would never know you are in Vegas.

In the United States, 9% of the total workforce finds employment in restaurants. In Vegas, the percentage must be three times that. It is this fact that creates the perfect recipe for Marche Bacchus. The wine shop in the front of the dining room is your wine list. You can stroll among the aisles, roll the bottles in your hands, debate with your dining partner about the pros and cons of this bottle or that one. Then decide to just compromise and get both.

You are not going to find any Kendall Jackson or Barefoot here. The collection is incredibly selective. And if you see the prices that restaurants pay for wine, like I do, then the prices are gob-smackingly competitive. As in “how the heck can they stay in business and charge $40 for a bottle of Jordan Cabernet, when most restaurants charge twice that?”
The Gent and I started with the Melka ‘CJ’ Cabernet. Then nabbed a bottle of Kistler Chardonnay after we ordered practically every seafood item on the menu, and thought we should have a white wine, too.  Two bottles of wine enjoyed between two people is a recipe for a lovely birthday dinner, but a terrible one for getting photographs in focus, so this post is slightly lacking in the latter.

Our server, Paul, was perfect. As much as I love LA, and I love my staff, there is nothing like being in the hands of a server who truly enjoys food, wine, and service. He was conversational when we had questions, knew the menu like a song, and was gracious when we came in close to the end of the night and bought two bottles. He knew he’d be there to close the place down with us.

The food was all thoughtfully prepared. We started with the cheese plate, which we usually do if there is one on the menu. Rather than just the usual brie, chevre, and humboldt fog, this one featured mimolette, something like an asiago, something goopy, something bleu…. it got fuzzy with all the wine and good company. But they were all tasty. If there is escargot on the menu, the Gent always bites, and I ordered the beet salad with smoked trout & apple to start. Entrees were Prince Edward Island mussels, and pan-roasted Idaho trout with a crab and roasted pepper salad. We couldn’t have possibly fit dessert in our stomachs, but Paul grabbed us a decadent flourless chocolate cake for my birthday.

I generally hate ‘closing the place down,’ but this time it was unavoidable. You can’t order two bottles of wine with dinner and not stay awhile.  We definitely left an appropriate tip.If you are in Vegas, and you love wine, you should definitely head to Marche Bacchus. But don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Be cool.

Restaurant 101: Valentine’s Day Tips

The Holidays with a capital H have passed, but Valentine’s Day is lurking around the corner– like a girl who’s high-maintenance-but-thinks-she’s-low-maintenance– just daring you to mess it up. Score high marks (for dinner, anyway), with these tips:
·      Book Now: Want that table at 8:00? Your best bet is to book sooner rather than later. You can always cancel, but you can never get it back.
·      Figure out your budget: You can have a great dinner out at any price, so pick a place you can afford. It’s more fun to go to a casual place and have the best things on the menu, rather than dine at the top your budget and pray your date doesn’t order a second glass of wine.
·      Expect a pre fixe menu: Many think it’s a way for restaurants to gouge you, but it helps the chef know how much to food to prepare, and makes sure you get your money’s worth on a special occasion.
Can’t stomach a pre fixe?  Find ethnic eateries or eat at the bar at a ‘classier’ joint—they usually offer a la carte.
·      For a ‘Quiet Table,’ book after 9:00pm: 8:00pm is the busiest time to dine on Valentine’s Day. Period. After 9:00, other tables are finishing, leaving you with a space that grows more intimate as you head toward dessert.
·      Be nice to the staff: You’ll stand out on a night when the hostess and bartenders are bombarded by “where the HELL is my table” and “this Riesling is COLD.”
·      Tip early: Not for the faint of heart, but if you’re serious about getting special treatment, excuse yourself from the table and find your server. Slip him a small token, $20 or so, and let him know that extra attentions showered on your date won’t go unnoticed when the bill comes.