October 23, 2012

Making Fondue Without the Necessary Ingredients

I am the queen of recipe substitutions.
Not only do I only briefly skim recipes, but I usually think I know better

than whoever wrote the recipe. 
I’m dangerous in the kitchen, too. I’ll add ingredients for the sake of being spontaneous. I’ll use spices based on how they smell (having no idea what they are). I’ll dump in too much of one ingredient and then spend the rest of the time adding other ingredients to try to balance out my mistake. I'll begin cooking five different things at once, only to lose track of what step I’m at and what goes where.
I’m the one that ends up having flour in her hair.
[I haven’t had much luck with baking…]
I also frequently tend to have only half of the required ingredients.
This is especially bad as of late because our current refrigerator is the size of a shoe box.
Literally, it cannot hold much more than a gallon of milk and a couple of size 7 heels.
This type of refrigerator only actually works when you live in Europe and are able to go to the grocers daily. Also, it will work if you refuse to follow the ‘refrigerate for freshness’ rule of thumb like many Europeans choose to do.
[I’ll never feel good about buying eggs that have been sitting on a shelf next to the canned foods.]
I’ve found that it usually goes in three-day cycles. I stock that baby as full as it can get on day one, we eat a couple of meals, and by day three all that’s left are the dregs of a gallon of milk and some random cheeses. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.
So it was on day three of this cycle that Andrew and I found ourselves returning home, exhausted, from a day of exploring downtown London.
What was there to make for dinner without having to go back out into the rain?
In addition to the remnants of milk and cheese, I discovered that we also had some stale bread in our possession. So, naturally, I decided to make cheese fondue.
Unfortunately, I’ve only had the pleasure of eating cheese fondue once before... just a few months ago while we were staying in a very tiny town in the Swiss Alps. So because of my narrow experience, I don’t have a particularly good idea of what fondue is supposed to taste like or what ingredients go into it.
This has never stopped me before. No way. Nothing could get in my way.
[I’m pretty demanding about my food cravings.]
After skimming two random recipes that I found on the internet, I realized that the making of fondue requires almost more science than talent. I noted the following seven things as being vitally important: 
1. An appropriately shaped pot is necessary to allow the fondue to melt correctly and to prevent scorching. Also, it helps to have a flame available to keep it from coagulating during the eating phase.
2. Gruyere cheese is necessary as it is the base of the creaminess.
3. Swiss cheese is the foundation for the flavor. It’s important to choose a high-quality Swiss cheese because the rest of the taste builds from it.
4. Nutmeg helps to balance and enhance the flavor.
5. A splash or two of Kirsch will give a necessary kick.
6. Cornstarch is needed for, well, whatever cornstarch does.
7. Adding a cup or two of white wine is the ‘science’ behind any fondue. Apparently it does something to the cheese to keep it consistently fondue-y. From what I gathered, it is impossible to make fondue without it.
Well. Hmm. I did not have any of these critical ingredients.
But my heart was set on cheese fondue (and we needed to eat something for dinner).
Here were my thoughts in response to the aforementioned vitally important seven things:
1. I don’t have a fondue-shaped pot, and I certainly don’t have a flame to put under it. We’ll just have to pound the fondue before it has a chance to harden. Andrew always enjoys a challenge.
2. I don’t have Gruyere cheese. But I DO have cream cheese.
3. I don’t have Swiss cheese. But I DO have sharp cheddar.
4. Nutmeg is ALWAYS optional. Nobody particularly likes it anyway.
5. Since I have no idea what Kirsch is, it makes it an unnecessary ingredient.
6. I don’t have cornstarch. But I’m sure flour probably does the same thing… whatever that thing is. Right?
7. Science is over-rated. The only wine I had was red and although I was close to using it as the white wine’s replacement, I realized I strongly disliked that particular kind. After rummaging in the pantry, I found that I had white wine vinegar, of who’s flavor I am strongly fond of. And then I thought about what type of science the vinegar would contribute to the fondue. I concluded, since vinegar is just super-aged alcohol, that it would probably do the same thing.

I’m more of an experimental cook. But really, how can you go wrong with anything cheesy?
 So here’s a brief summary of what I did:
-I heated up some chopped garlic in a combination of butter and oil.
-I added salt, pepper, and a bit of spicy English mustard.
-Then I whisked in a few spoons of flour to make a paste.
-I added ½ cup of white wine vinegar and a ½ cup of milk.
-Then I dumped in a huge spoonful of cream cheese, a handful of shredded mozzarella, and three slices of sharp cheddar.
-I melted it over super low heat, stirring occasionally.
The texture seemed right. The smell seemed close. The taste? Andrew said it was pretty good even though it there was a strong vinegar kick to it. That was easy to overlook, though, because I am an admitted vinegar-addict.

Vinegar shots anyone?

[Surprisingly, Andrew has been easily influenced and is also close to addiction.]
I thought the fondue was nearly perfect. And it satisfied my craving. And I didn't even scortch the cheese!

We ate it so fast and enjoyed it so much that I forgot to take a picture
until there wasn’t much left (and it was beginning to coagulate).
All in all, I would definitely make it again.
The substitutions, thankfully, seemed to be successful for us.
However, don’t be alarmed. I have decided that if I were to ever serve this particular homemade recipe to guests, I would definitely use the required white wine instead of white wine vinegar (for the guest’s sake, of course). I know enough about my particular tastes to know that, along with having strange eating habits, I usually put too much pepper and vinegar in things for the average person.
So in conclusion, this experience has only encouraged my dangerous habit of skimming recipes and substituting ingredients and pretending that I know it all. I’m not sure if this is a good thing, as I am well aware that some day it may not work out. But for now, I’ll continue doing what I do and will keep pretending that I know better than whoever wrote the recipe.
Anyone want to come for dinner? I promise I’ll make cheese fondue!!


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