Saturday, December 30, 2006

Good Morning Mangosa

Most mornings in our house fall into a familiar routine that propels us forward into the blinding light of day. I’m a coffee person. I love (translation: am dependent upon) strong coffee, but do not have the skills to make it in the morning or the energy to get the pot ready (all but the push of a brew button) the night before. My life was changed once I discovered Nespresso, which allows me to have a strong and fast caffiene jolt with minimal energy or planning. Husband is entirely a tea man. We have a fairly large stash of tea (including Stash, not so ironically), both with and without caffiene.

There are special mornings, however, when a little extra sparkle is required. Holidays are such an occasion. Or you might need sparkle on a lazy Sunday when a late breakfast followed by a good book and a nap are the only activities on the schedule.

For such occasions, we like to make the house specialty – mangosas – like a mimosa with a twist. Mangosas must be shared with someone you love. Or they can be shared with people that you like. Mangosas will even make those people you merely tolerate seem a whole lot more interesting. No matter, they are fun, easy, and even make you a very interesting person.



1 part champagne
1 part mango juice
1 splash of lime or lemon juice

Choose a beautiful glass and fill it half full of mango juice. Slowly add champagne until glass is almost brimming. Squirt a little lime juice (lemon if you prefer) or add a wedge to the side of the glass.

Cooks Notes:

I like to use Odwalla’s Mango Tango. It has a lovely thick consistency that is not thinned out too much by the champagne.

Also, if you serve too many mangosas you might need to break out the party hats or get a few extra lampshades for people to wear. Consume with caution. It is a good idea to avoid talking to a realtor after consuming mangosas or you might find yourself in ownership of a very strange house.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Traditional Swiss Cheese Fondue

This recipe was shared with me by a fondue angel.


Several garlic cloves, halved
1 ½ cups dry white wine
1 heaping coffee spoon cornstarch (approximately one tablespoon)
1 tablespoon kirsch
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups grated Gruyere
1+ cup Emmental
1 scant cup Vacherin Friboureois

French bread, cut into bite-sized cubes, very lightly toasted (just enough to give the bread a little extra substance, not enough to brown the bread)


Mix a slurry of kirsch, cornstarch, and freshly grated nutmeg. (See Cooks Notes below.) Go easy on the nutmeg because a little goes a long way. Set aside to use later.

Rub the inside of a heavy-bottomed fondue pot with the cut side of a garlic clove. Leave the cut garlic in the pot, and add a few more halved cloves in the pot if you like garlic. If you are not a fan, the extra cloves can be omitted.

Mix the three grated cheeses together in a large bowl, and place the bowl near the stove where you will make the fondue.

Add the wine to the fondue pot and place on a low burner. The wine should heat slowly to the point of a very gentle simmer. Once the wine has simmered a few moments, remove the garlic cloves. Slowly add cheese to the pot, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon in a figure-eight pattern. Do not stir in a circular motion or there is a risk of the cheese clumping into an unwieldy ball. Gradually add cheese until it is all gone, or until you think it looks just right to you! Do not allow the cheese-wine mixture to boil.

When the cheese has all been incorporated into the wine, and the mixture is almost at the point of boiling, add the kirsch and cornstarch slurry. (It helps if you can take an extra hand to give the slurry a quick stir before adding it to the melted cheese). Continue stirring the cheese in a figure-eight pattern for 6 to 8 minutes until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Guests should be at the table when you are at the point of adding the cornstarch. Put someone in charge of lighting the flame. Put someone else in charge of pouring wine. Put yourself in charge of transporting the hot fondue pot to the table.

Use long-handled forks or bamboo skewers to dip the bread into the cheese.

Cooks Notes:

Some people recommend mixing the dry cornstarch with the cheeses rather than making a kirsch slurry. I’ve done it both ways, and both have worked well. The recipe here is based on my Swiss angel’s method. Choose the one that works best for you. If you decide to add the cornstarch to the cheese, add a little kirsch to the wine after it comes to a gentle simmer. If you are in a pinch and have no kirsch, use a little brandy (the slight flavor difference might be noticible, but won’t detract terribly).

Regarding the relative proportions of the three cheeses, my Swiss angel said that, for him, the perfect balance is 50% Gruyere, 30% Emmental, and 20% Vacherin. No matter what proportions you choose, strive for approximately a pound or more (4+ cups) of grated cheese. The Gruyere will help make the fondue creamy, and the Ementaler and Vacherin will add flavor depths.

Wine recommendation:

Any good dry white wine, particularly a Savignon Blanc (thank you Swiss angel for that suggestion!)

New Beginnings

There is something exciting about New Year’s Eve. It is a time to toast friends or flirt a little with your beau, even the beau you’ve been married to for a quarter century. You can even forgive those who get a little bit tipsy (but don’t let them drive home for Pete’s sake). I love the fun evening that says goodbye to the holidays, and offers one last hurrah before it is time to get back to regular workaday schedules.

Several years ago we started making Swiss cheese fondue on New Year’s Eve. From time to time we’ve invited friends to share a meal, and other times we’ve made it for the two of us. OK, occasionally we might accidentally drop a bite for our faithful four-footed pooch. She is on high alert during the dinner hour, and snaps up any dropped morsels before they hit the floor. How she can be on both sides of the table at once is proof of teleportation, I’m certain. But I digress.

Last year I went to my favorite market just prior to New Year’s Eve. A most gracious gentleman appeared out of nowhere to offer his help. I asked what he could suggest to accompany fondue, he replied, “Fondue? Swiss fondue?? Is this what you are making? For New Year’s Eve?” His slight accent was hard to place, but made his questions seem Very Important. Soon his face broke into a smile and he said, “I am from Switzerland! Fondue comes from my home! I will tell you how to make fondue!” And with that, he instructed me how to make fondue the way his mother made it. I would hazzard a guess that his grandmother made it that way too.

We made fondue his way that year, and it was exactly what I had hoped it would be – warm, smooth, cheese that coated the cubed bread like a silken coat of yummy goodness. The blend of cheeses paired beautifully together, and melted into something smooth and creamy.

A few days after our meal, and for months after that, I searched in vain to thank him for sharing his delicious recipe. He was nowhere to be found, and I eventually concluded that he was either a fondue angel who appeared out of thin air to assist willing students, or that perhaps he found a job somewhere else or even returned to his homeland.

Then, today, one year later, I went back to that same market in search of fondue ingredients. And there he was! I went to him and asked the silliest question: “Do you remember helping me a year ago?” He looked confused, but then I said the magic words: “You helped me with fondue!” Once again a beatific smile spread across his face. And once again he shared with me his family’s recipe. I learned something else new - if a lady loses her bread in the cheese, she must kiss the cheek of the man to her right. And if a man loses his bread, he must buy the next bottle of wine! I wonder if it is considered acceptable to use your fondue fork aggressively to assure that your dining companions have to pony up wine or kisses.

The fondue beckons, however. We will make it again this year because it is our Swiss angel's tradition. And now, because it is our tradition too.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Spicy Pecan Munchies

1.5 pounds of shelled pecan halves (about 6 cups)
1/4 to 1/2 stick butter (to taste, but less is better)
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
generous helping of sea salt flakes (or regular salt)
cayenne pepper, to taste
ground cinnamon, to taste

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Farenheit.

Melt butter with Worcestershire sauce in a large roasting pan.

Add pecans, stirring to coat nuts with melted butter and Worcestershire.

Stir every 10 or 15 minutes until liquids are absorbed. This slow roasting can take an hour or more. Don't get fidgety and turn the temperature up or the pecans will burn!

Add spices when all liquids are absorbed and the pan is removed from the oven.

While the nuts are still hot, add salt (about 1 teaspoon at a time) until it tastes right to you. Don't add too much or the nuts will be too salty to enjoy later.

Shake in cayenne, stirring quickly so that it is evenly distributed. I like a lot of cayenne, but gentler souls might prefer much less. It is up to you!

Add a bit of ground cinnamon for a softer flavor note that will compliment the cayenne nicely. A little bit will do. Tasters will likely know that something is there, but not be able to identify it is cinnamon.

Holiday Menu

On the menu this holiday:

Spicy Pecan Munchies

Appetizer of Baked Pears, Gorganzola and Walnuts in Fillo pockets

Roasted Pork Tenderloin rolled in Fennel Seed, Garlic, and Rosemary

Shallots Braised in Red Wine

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Roasted Asparagus Spears with Balsamic Drizzle

Poached Pears with Cinnamon Ice Cream and Zinfandel Basalmic Sauce