Retro deliciousness! Fondue fun for dinner!

Crank up the 8-track with some good Carpenters or the 5th Dimension and get ready for some good old fashioned delicious fun! It was fondue night here.

As a kid, I remember fondue night happened every few months and my brother and I were always happy to see that little orange fondue pot with the long forks appear on the table!

We always did hot oil fondue in our house (I never knew you could use cheese or broth to fondue until I was an adult!) and it was always so satisfying to sink cubes of steak into that sizzling oil for a minute or two and come out with a delicious little bite of yum!

We also had tempura batter for veggies to dip and fry. Come on, fried mushrooms and zucchini? That is just plain delicious!

When my kids were little and they’d spend the night at their grammy and papa’s house, my mom would pull out that little fondue pot (now an antique! LOL) and my kids had the same thrill!

At one point a few years ago, I went on e-bay to buy a fondue pot like my mom’s. The asking price was something like $15.00 and in two or three days the the bids were up to $75.00 or something crazy like that. The seller even posted a note basically saying “Hello…you know this is just a little orange fondue pot circa 1970 right? It’s not a magic lamp or gilded in gold..” It was pretty funny.

I ended up at Target and found a modern day Rival fondue pot for about $40. We don’t use it often, but it is actually pretty handy for chocolate fondue (I had a chocolate fountain…note “had” it, what a flipping mess that made!), it keeps meatballs hot for a party, and of course, for dinner tonight!

Fondue actually a very easy dinner, though messy, and on the nutrition scale, my 15 year old was quick to point out that frying things in oil is not the healthiest of cooking methods, but tonight we through caution to the wind and just enjoyed!

True to my memories, we fried cubes of sirloin that were well seasoned with salt and pepper ( the fancy term for beef fried in oil is Fondue Bourguignonne by the way) in hot canola oil. We also had mushrooms, zucchini and cauliflower florets and a quick tempura batter. My husband got creative, wondering what a banana in tempura would be like (which was quite tasty, but needed some cinnamon and sugar).
The kids proclaimed it yummy, and my 11-year old said, “Mom, this is fun!” at least twice while we were at the table. I have to say, the cook your own dinner, two forks per person situation extended our mealtime in a good way. It made us all slow down, talk more and laugh more over our dinner together and that was the best part of our retro dinner. (Well, that and maybe the banana cream pie I made for dessert..)

So dust off that fondue pot folks and have a fun night with your family and friends! And here is a recipe to try when you do!

Tempura Batter

1/2 c flour
1/2 c cornstarch
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 egg, beaten
2/3 c seltzer water (or cold water if you don’t have seltzer)

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Combine the egg and seltzer and add to the dry ingredients, mix with a fork until just combined. There will be lumps in the batter.

Use the batter to coat vegetables like mushrooms, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini whatever you like! You can also use the tempura on shrimp, fish, scallops or even cooked chicken. Enjoy!


Cook Whatcha Got Challenge Dinners #1 and #2

Our first challenge dinner was Monday, and yes I am posting today…Thursday. A visit from a lovely stomach bug de-railed the challenge for a few days, but I’m back in the kitchen and ready to tackle my pantry and freezer!

Monday was MLK day and my husband and kids were all home for the holiday. The kids all had basketball practice at different times during the day and I had promised my girls a shopping trip to use some gift cards that were burning holes in their animal print wallets so whatever dinner was had to be quick and easy to reheat for different meal times! Oh the joys of a busy household!

For Monday’s dinner I had some cooked chicken breast, a partial bag of Italian blend shredded cheese, and fresh basil. In my freezer was a small container of oven roasted tomatoes from the summer. It all came together in Chicken Parmesan Calzones!
I had the morning at home which gave me time to make some delicious whole wheat Italian bread dough. After an hour of rising time, it was beautiful!

I rolled the dough thinly, filled them sealed them and baked on my pizza stone. I cooled them quickly and put them into the fridge and everyone heated a calzone (or 2!) in the oven and helped themselves to a beautiful salad of Romaine, fennel and Navel oranges w/ an orange and shallot vinaigrette. It was quick and easy! there were a few calzones leftover that became the lunchbox envy of my kids friends!

Tonight’s challenge dinner had to be on the light side since I am just easing back into my kitchen. I have two partial boxes of Arborio rice in the pantry and that sounded so good today! In my freezer, I had a big bag of shrimp shells that I have been saving and adding to for awhile, as well as a bag of easy-peel uncooked shrimp and a partial bag of peas.

The recipe comes from a favorite cookbook of mine called ‘Risotto, More Than 120 Recipes for the Classic Rice Dish of Northern Italy’ by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman. I bought this cookbook many years ago, loved it, used it and decided I could find recipes online or from my imagination, and then I sold it at a book sale or garage sale four or five years ago. STUPID! Oh how I missed that cookbook, it was a great inspiration for ingredients and when teaching people how to make risotto it is a great primer! So when I was in Boston to meet Chef Jacques Pepin, and I saw a copy for sale, I bought myself a new copy! My husband thinks I have some sort of pathological need to acquire cookbooks, but this one is one I really love and I am so glad to have it back!

So back to tonight’s recipe. First, I made a shrimp broth using all the shrimp shells, some onion, celery and parsley that I simmered slowly for about 20 minutes. I strained it and kept it warm to make my risotto.
Meanwhile I peeled my bag of shrimp (saving the peels to start my new bag for next time!).

Risotto is actually very easy to make, it just takes some time and patience. You MUST use Italian rice (Arborio or Carnaroli), it has a higher starch content which is what makes risotto…well, risotto! You wouldn’t use risotto to make sushi, nor should you use sticky rice or long grain rice or brown rice for risotto. It just doesn’t work!

You begin by heating the brodo (broth)to a low simmer. It must be hot to add to your rice so it cooks uniformly! Then you prepare the soffritto, the aromatics like onion, leek, peppers, celery which change according to your recipe. For the shrimp risotto, the soffritto is just onion and garlic in some butter and olive oil. Saute until soft and add the Arborio rice (riso) and cook it for a minute or two in the soffritto to coat it and begin to cook it. And finally, adding the hot brodo to the pan 1/2 cup at a time ( I use a soup ladle), simmering and stirring often. The trick is to wait until the liquid is almost completely absorbed before adding more broth. A true risotto takes about 18 minutes until the broth is absorbed. The ‘condimenti’ for tonight is shrimp and peas. Depending on your recipe the condimenti can be added at the beginning, middle or end of the recipe. In this case, the shrimp will go in about 12 minutes into the cooking time so it is just cooked through when the risotto is ready, and the thawed peas will go in about 2 minutes before it’s ready so that they are still vibrant green and have a good texture.

Depending on what you read, some authors suggest saving a small amount of broth until just before serving to insure creaminess, while others say to add a pat of very cold unsalted butter and some Parmesan cheese. I did both!

Ahh, this is comfort food at it’s best! All from my own pantry and freezer! We served this with a nice fresh salad and some rolls from the freezer that were reheated. It was a lovely dinner!

Take a minute to see what my chef friends are cooking for the challenge this week! Great ideas and recipes!

The Cook Whatcha Got and Aid to Haiti Challenge!

Last week, my friend and fellow personal chef, Tami, issued a challenge to “Cook what you have” as a means to stop wasting food and to become more conscious of what we have. As the week progressed, a number of my personal chef friends joined the challenge and we are cooking meals from the bounty within our homes. From our many pantries and refrigerators across the country, my chef friends and I expanded the idea to support the nation of Haiti.

Every day we are seeing people who literally have nothing but the clothes on their back, needing our help, and there is absolutely something that we can do by cooking from our bounty. Of course it is not practical to whip up gourmet meals and deliver them to the Caribbean, but by donating the money each of our families will save this week on groceries we can share our bounty with these devastated people. Each of the chefs is donating to his or her own favorite charity that is working on aid to Haiti, and the money from our challenge week will be given to Catholic Relief Services.

I love this idea, especially for my kids. This is a tangible way that we can work together to help others. Lent is just around the corner, and with it comes the reminder of “alms giving” or sharing with those less fortunate. It’s never too early (or too late for that matter) to help our brothers and sisters in need.

So are YOU in? Share your ideas and recipes here by posting comments and I’ll be posting our experiences here and on Facebook. I am looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with!

The Cook Whatcha Got Challenge!

My friend, fellow personal chef and blogger, Tami, The Dine In Diva in Akron, Ohio issued a challenge on Facebook to cook for a week using only the items you have on hand. For any of you, who like me are ingredient hoarders, this challenge should be easy and fun!
A quick check of my upstairs freezer revealed frozen tilapia, frozen shrimp, 7-Bridges Farm ground beef, frozen veggies, and my homemade marinara sauce. My downstairs freezer is stuffed full of pork belly, Italian sausage, pork chops, and pork loin roasts from the 1/2 pig that I bought in the fall. The pantry has pasta, pasta, pasta and oh yeah…PASTA! Arborio rice, wild rice, Jasmine rice, brown rice, bulgar wheat, kasha, buckwheat groats, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, canned corn, multitudes of cans of tomatoes in different forms, olives, sardines, tuna….
My spices…come on! Don’t you all have a jar of shichimi or bottles of not only black truffle oil, but also white truffle oil? (These are things that have been collected on all my trips this year…)
We won’t mention the baking supplies….

Tami writes about her desire to stop wasting food, that throwing food/ingredients away is akin to throwing money in the garbage can. She’s right!

On Sunday I will shop for salad greens, fruits and some basic veggies that I need (onions, mushrooms, leeks) and I’ll be cooking along with Tami.
I KNOW I can do this challenge. What about you? Come on and join the fun! Post your menus and recipes!
Visit Tami’s blog She’s even offering a prize!