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: 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.

Hospitality @ Home: Ombre Cake

Ombre Cake
Ombre Cake
she's a fancy one

From the teaser on project runway touting the coolness of Ombre, to Guilana Rancic’s hair it seems that Ombre is everywhere you look.

Ever since this photo showed up on pinterest, the blogosphere has become obsessed with Ombre Cake.  They are everywhere.  I decided to test the idea in my tiny kitchen for a friend who is in love with the color purple. It might be the perfect treat for her little one’s upcoming birthday….

the cake that started it all
The Cake in question-- from Shauna Younge's blog

I only went for 5 layers as opposed to 6, and used the fail-proof Italian Meringue Buttercream for the frosting. Wilton Violet Gel food coloring provided the necessary tint-age, for both the cake and the frosting. For $2.50 a bottle, of which I only used half, I’d say it’s definitely a worthwhile investment to add a little bling to a simple cake.

WSE ombre cake
She likes to have her picture taken....

It’s important to use a cake recipe that is pretty pure white so you don’t get a yellow cast to the cake that will mess with the coloring. I used a Betty Crocker recipe for Silver White Cake. The recipe calls for shortening instead of butter, but I only had butter flavored Crisco, which is yellow, rather than the white stuff. So when I make it again, I’ll be sure to use to classic Crisco, to get an even blanker canvas.

Silver White Cake

adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 2/3 cups sugar

2/3 cup shortening

1 1/4 cup milk

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

5 large egg whites

Gel food coloring of choice

6″ cake pans

NOTE: I used nice heavy cake pans to ensure even cooking, and lowered the oven temperature 25 degrees to ensure that the edges didn’t brown too much, which also fusses with the ombre effect. you can certainly saw off any browned parts, or cut your smaller cakes out of a larger sheet cake if you are so inclined.

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees (original recipe calls for 350). Grease and flour your cake pans.

2. Beat all ingredients except for the egg whites in a large bowl of an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Scraping bowl several times. Beat on high for 2 minutes, scraping bowl a few times.

3. Beat in egg whites on high for 2 minutes. Scrape bowl a couple times.

4. Separate into 5 equal portions (should be about a 1 1/4 cups in each bowl). Leave one bowl uncolored. In the next bowl, add just enough food color to tint your cake a pale shade, 1-2 toothpicks full ought to do it. Move onto the next bowl, adding slightly more coloring (4-5 toothpicks full, then 1/4 tsp, then 1/2 teaspoon worked for me).

5. Ensure that colors are very well mixed, to avoid a swirl effect. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, rotating once, until cakes pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in cake pans for 3 minutes, before inverting onto cooling racks.

ombre cake slice
getting personal

Hospitality @ Home: The Perfect Cup for Coffee

Three years ago, in the heat of my move to Los Angeles with The Gentleman, I did a terrible thing. A thing that has hung over our relationship like a grey raincloud over Eeyore. I gave away the perfect coffee mugs, for which The Gent had scavenged and scrounged, refusing all other mugs until he found them.
This was all before my time, however, so when I was packing up the house and hit that “I can’t wrap another piece of glassware in newspaper or I will scream” wall, it seemed like a small shortcut to gift the mugs to our friend who had a theatre company and would need an endless supply of props.
The thing that made them perfect props, was also the thing that made them the perfect coffee cup, AND ridiculously crazy to find again.
They were pure white, eggshell finish, 12 ounces, with a C-handle that was the same width all the way down, so the 6’3” Gent’s paws were comfortably accommodated.
Who knew that NO ONE makes these anymore?
For three years, all I have found are mugs that come thiiiiis close, but the handle narrows at the bottom (like an ear rather than a “c”), or they are only 8 ounces, or they are 20 ounces, or they have a fussy design somewhere.
Three Years. Three years, I have lived in purgatory.
But then, perusing the aisles of a restaurant supply store in Beverly & Fairfax, I found these from Palate and Plate:
Pure white? Check.
Not to shiny? Check.
Handle that fits enough fingers for optimal grippage? CHECK.
Nothing fussy, nothing goofy, nothing girly? Check, check, check.
So…. They are only 10.5 ounces rather than 12… maybe he’ll be so happy he won’t notice…..