When I was a kid, my mother treated Valentine’s Day with the same attention as most people give Easter. Valentine’s breakfast would feature heart studded socks tucked in my juice glass and conversation hearts in my cereal bowl. This was, of course, after sitting with me a few days prior to design and create an elaborate valentine’s box in which to stow all of the cards and candy I was sure to receive on the Big Day.
Now that I am a grown up, nothing says Holiday like a beautiful meal with an impressive culinary centerpiece. And nothing says ‘I Love You’ quite so well as ‘I made fresh puff pastry for you, with my very own hands.‘
I wanted to post this in plenty of time for Valentine’s Day, in case you ant to give it a test drive.
The main difference between restaurant cooking and home cooking is preparation. Restaurant cooks plan their dishes days and weeks and in advance which gives them time to spread tasks over a few days in order to build up flavors and get the most out of each ingredient.
A few years ago, a pastry chef gave me a great tip that completely changed the way I make desserts: to get the most flavor, steep cream ingredients in advance. Making a vanilla custard, panna cotta, cream brulee? Let the vanilla steep in the cream for 24-48 hours. This works great for other reedy, seedy things (like fennel, anise, stick cinnamon, lemongrass) and subtle flavors (chamomile, lemon verbena). Shorter steeping times (30 min-2 hours) are best for more pungent flavors (rosemary, mint, lavender, citrus zests). From there, your combinations are endless. For a dinner party, how elegant (and easy) would a chamomile panna cotta with lemon curd be? Or a vanilla bean panna cotta with blueberry sauce? For an asian twist, how about a lemongrass creme brulee with ginger sugar?
Simply bring your cream, half & half, or milk to a simmer and add your flavoring agent. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature then chill in the refrigerator until ready to use. Strain the cream before using in your recipe.
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.
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.
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???).
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.
Traditional Cheese Fondue:
1/2 pound imported Emmenthaler cheese, shredded
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
Salt & pepper to taste
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….
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.