Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dining in Switzerland

This weekend was our big trip to West Virginia. My friends have become rather as excited as I am about the 80 plates experiment, which is extremely gratifying, but adds a layer of enjoyment to it for me! It makes me feel a little bit less like a lunatic (as do the comments from strangers who somehow find me). So we were discussing our plans for the weekend and Amy suggested we do an 80 plates from Switzerland while we were out there. Why? Because we were heading to Helvetia, WV for its annual Swiss Fasnacht celebration. Helvetia is supposed to have a cheese shop and so our plan was to purchase some native Swiss cheese and then make a delicious fondue out of it--we were truly stumped about what type of food the Swiss eat. It seems that Swiss cuisine is heavily influenced by whatever bordering country is closest--Italy, Germany, France. But fondue is most assuredly something the Swiss love.

(FYI: I will post much, much more about my trip to Helvetia in the days to come, please be patient, I want to do it right)

Unfortunately, when we arrived in Helvetia, this is the sight that greeted us as we parked outside the Cheese Haus:

Yup, that sucker was locked up tight. Now, as it turns out, the back wall of the place was hanging wide open with a big hole in it, but Melissa and I figured they'd probably frown on us enacting a cheesebreak, so we elected not to.

On the way back from Fasnacht, I desperately wanted to make a pilgrimage to Kroger. I used to shop at Kroger all the time when I lived in Little Rock, and our nearest Kroger to Fredericksburg is in Charlottesville, so it's not worth the ride. But we decided to head over there on our way back so I could purchase whatever we couldn't get in Helvetia, which turned out to be everything. We were discussing how to know what the heck we should buy--I had left my fondue cookbook back at the cabin. But then I realized that I had purchased a Helvetian cookbook at the local general store! I looked in there and there was an authentic recipe in the book! SCORE! I brought it into the store with me.

Kroger obliged with a mighty expensive emmenthaler ($10 for a half pound!? OUCH!), some Jarlsberg cheese (which Melissa assures me is Swiss, but I have since discovered is from Norway--so there, Melissa! :-D), white wine (due to the expense of the cheese, I went with a less expensive wine--not knowing anything about wine made me not question this purchase one bit), corn starch and nutmeg. One of the things I dislike most about this project is that I buy all these things I need very little of and then I've got it stuck in my cabinets. Well, at home I had TONS of corn starch, but I didn't have it in WV, so I was forced to buy more. I wound up leaving it out there--if I need any, I have a big container of it here at home already. Maybe Amy or Annette will want to take it home as a memento!

We also bought veggies and bread. Melissa and I split the cost of the 'entree fondue' and Amy purchased the goods for chocolate fondue, our dessert choice! She was in charge of making that, while I was in charge of the cheese. Mmmm, I had a feeling we were going to eat good.

It was going to be a challenge to cook in a different kitchen than my own, not knowing what kind of gear I would have available to me. Amy and I discussed fondue pots and she ordered one for the chocolate fondue. I decided to bring my grandma's crockpot, because it gets quite warm and I've used it with good results for fondue before. Unfortunately, Amy's fondue pot did not arrive on time! She decided to microwave the chocolate fondue. We were fortunate to find a corkscrew to open the wine, but there was no cheese grater and the supply of measuring cups was limited.

Consequently, I knew I'd have to chop up the cheese with a knife instead of grating it. I wanted it to be fairly small and thus easier to melt. It took just a little while to chop it all up pretty nicely, so I didn't need the grater after all!! In fact, I wondered if it might not have taken me longer to grate than it did to chop.

I turned on the crockpot base--my grandmother's crockpot is awesome in that the top of it comes off leaving just a burner underneath that can heat up rather nicely. The first instructions were to rub a clove of garlic all over the inside of the fondue pot. The garlic wasn't broken up or crushed or anything, so I decided to go by smell. When the pot smelled good, I stopped. I rubbed it all over for a good few minutes, though, to make it nice and garlicky and we all agreed it was smelling so good!

Once that was done, I put the pot back on the base and added the wine. And waited. And waited. And waited. Unfortunately it was not really heating the wine to a point that I felt it'd be able to melt the cheese at any point even close to being 'reasonable'. I took the pot off the base and stuck it on a stove burner and jacked up the heat. Soon, it was steaming away and I added the cheese! Mmmmm, the cheese melted down beautifully.

It was quite runny, however. But this was quickly remedied by the fact that there was cornstarch and nutmeg to be added!

I stirred that all in and it thickened into a luscious, beautiful pot of bubbling cheese. It smelled so good and was hard not to dive right in and swim in it! But first, we gals needed a group photo of ourselves preparing to dine on fondue, as well as one of our beautiful table laid out with yummies!

I can't say enough about this simple recipe for fondue. Honestly, it was probably the best cheese fondue I've ever eaten--and I'm including the fondue from the Melting Pot in that assessment. I LOVED this fondue--and this is coming from someone who does not like cheese very much. We were scraping the bottom of the pot, trying to get every last delicious mouthful of cheesy goodness.

The cheese was wonderfully stringy, but smooth and wonderful and clung to our crudites and bready beautifully. The hint of nutmeg was fantastic. I was truly sad to see it end. We sat snacking on the veggies long after the cheese was gone, so it felt a wee bit healthy. While we were polishing off the veggies, Amy moved onto preparing the chocolate fondue. She did a simple fondue using just chocolate and heavy cream.

For dippers, we had strawberries, marshmallows, and angel food cake, and Amy, Annette, and Melissa also enjoyed bananas. Melissa especially enjoyed the bananas.

We ran out of cake before we ran out of chocolate. The strawberries and marshamallows fared better, but we did our best. The chocolate was great and it was fun to have a co-chef in the kitchen! What fun, not only for the trip, but for 80 Plates! We'll have to do it again sometime, ladies!

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