Last week Julie was invited to a friend's birthday party, which began with dinner out, continued with a sleepover, and ended with pancakes for breakfast. The restaurant chosen by the birthday girl was The Melting Pot, which I'd heard of but never tried. It's a fondue-only restaurant. Really! You start with a cheese fondue course, then have a salad (well, that one's not fondue, and in fact the girls skipped this course), then have a meat/seafood fondue course (you get raw meat and sear it in sizzling broth), and then of course chocolate fondue for dessert. There are many different variations of each item on the menu. The girls had a blast, and Julie couldn't stop talking about it. Imagine her surprise when I dug around in one of my out-of-the-way pantry cabinets and came up with an old fondue pot I barely remembered owning! It's the old non-electirc kind, but I still had a few cans of Sterno in there. I promised that we would do chocolate fondue for our dessert on New Year's Eve.
First the kids made their Spritinis, which we do for every special occasion ever since Steph's Bat Mitzvah. It's just Sprite with food coloring served in sugar-rimmed martini glasses, but the kids get a huge kick out of it. (I'm fully aware that the fact that we don't ever keep soda in the house plays a large role in this "kick"!)
Then I started the fondue on the stovetop while the kids got the dippers ready. We had marshmallows, pound cake cubes, strawberries, banana slices, and Bolero almond wafer sticks, which I get at Whole Foods and which are amazing. They're like high-end Pepperidge Farm Pirouette cookies, filled with heavenly almond paste.
Let the dipping begin!
The almond sticks got dunked sans fondue fork.
Everything was delicious. I could also imagine dunking softish dried apricots, or perhaps big cashews, if they would allow themselves to be skewered. Julie wanted to dunk Oreos, brownies, and cheesecake squares, but I thought that smacked of gilding the lily.
Here's how I made the fondue, after glancing at a bunch of recipes online:
1¼ cups half-and-half
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate, each bar broken into a few big chunks
In a small saucepan, combine the half-and-half, vanilla, and butter. Heat over medium heat until the mixture just simmers. Reduce the heat to low and gradually stir in the chocolate chunks until completely melted and smooth.
Pour into a fondue pot and keep warm, but not hot.
(Whoops, I forgot to use the little thingy that goes over the Sterno to temper the flame a bit, so some of the chocolate had burnt onto the bottom of the pot by the time we were done with it. Did I ever tell you the easiest, cheapest, and least toxic way to clean a REALLY burnt pot? Just pour in a quarter inch of plain white vinegar and put the pot over medium heat. When the vinegar starts to boil, the black gunk will just float off, with only a little nudge from your wooden spatula. It's like magic.)
I didn't bother putting away the fondue pot; next time we are going to make cheese fondue. Stay tuned....