Fondue for Two at Home


Happy New Year! How did you choose to ring in the new year?

We like to avoid crowds and reckless drivers by celebrating at home and, for the last few years or so, we’ve whipped up a tasty fondue at home as a way to make dinner a little more special.

Our New Year's Eve Feast!

Our New Year’s Eve Feast!

The above picture was pretty popular on my Facebook feed that night, so I thought I’d spill the beans (or cheese, at it was) on just how simple it is to put something like this together. It looks impressive, and tastes divine, but it’s not a lot of work.

First, you need a fondue pot. You can find various types at thrift stores and yard sales, or you can pick up a new one. You can get an electric one or one that uses fuel (like Sterno) or a candle. The one we have was a gift from my mom years ago and it’s the latter type. Intended for chocolate, it calls for a small Sterno can but I can never find the right size. Never underestimate the heating power of a tea light, though–it’s always done a great job of keeping the cheese or chocolate nice and fluid. (For a broth-style fondue, where you’re actually cooking your add-ins, I do bring out the Sterno, even if it doesn’t fit the holder quite right.) You can also use a small slow-cooker for cheese or chocolate fondue. As long as it keeps it hot, you’re golden!

Next, you need a quick and easy fondue recipe. This year’s came from The Fondue Bible (I reviewed it back in 2014) and is super simple.

Bacon Cheese Fondue

adapted from The Fondue Bible, Ilana Simon

6 slices bacon
1 cup Greek-style yogurt
8 oz Gruyere cheese, grated
4 oz old Cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste
pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp dry mustard

Fry (or bake, our preferred method) the bacon until crisp, allow to cool, then crumble. Grate your cheeses and mix with the nutmeg and dry mustard. Do these steps ahead to make night-of preparation easier.

Heat yogurt over low heat until warm. Add handfuls of the grated cheese and stir with a wooden spoon until melted. Once all the cheese in in, add the rest of your ingredients, seasoning to taste.

We found this to be a little thick so stirred in a bit of milk (maybe 1/4 cup in total).

Of course, the last think you’ll do is put the fondue together. Save that for last, and start laying out your trays of nibbles.

A cheese fondue is not meant to cook anything, so your dippers need to be okay eaten raw or already cooked. On the cold tray I assembled:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Strawberries
  • Radishes
  • Baby carrots
  • Grapes

Not all of these go into the cheese (though you might be surprised at the different combos you can make), but it’s nice to have some cool palate cleansers set out. Apples and pears are not something I eat very much of (since they’re high FODMAP), but we had both in the house so I decided to indulge. The apples were already sliced and bagged, but the pears came in a Harry & David gift box so needed to be sliced and dunked in a little lemon water to keep them from browning too fast on the tray. I split the carrots and radishes in half for better portion control. The strawberries were small, so I just removed the stems. Very simple and quick.

On the cooked tray I did a mix of hot and cold:

  • Capicola
  • Salami
  • Prosciutto
  • Smoked Salmon
  • Chicken Sausage

The salami, capicola, and prosciutto came in a three-pack from Trader Joe’s; the first two already in a pretty little fall so all you have to do is set it out on a wooden cutting board. The proscuitto had deli paper interleaved and it was easier to crinkle it up in a corner than try to straighten out the slices. Work with what you’ve got. The smoked salmon was sliced thick, so I broke it up for the other corner. Presentation is all about balance. The chicken sausage was fully cooked, but I warmed it up in the microwave while arranging the rest of the tray.

Then there’s the bread. A good cheese fondue just begs for fresh bread, so either pick up a baguette from the bakery or, if you’re shopping far in advance, head to the freezer aisle for a load that can go in the oven while you’re laying out your trays. I found a gluten-free loaf that only needed to come to room temperature, didn’t even need baking, and it was fabulous!

I also added some frozen spinach-artichoke dip from Trader Joe’s that was microwavable–all I did was put it into a pretty dish. It was a last-minute add to the table but we certainly enjoyed it.

Fondue for Two

I hope you’ll consider fondue for your next special night in. It’s great for birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, or any given date night.

Spinach-Artichoke Tilapia and the Rest of Last Week’s Menu


There’s really nothing like sharing good food with good friends, and we got the chance to do just that twice this week, plus celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary (8th dating anniversary). It was a pretty good week…

OTP 11-2-11-8

Monday: Apalachicola Oyster Stew
For our at-home anniversary dinner (we’ve got a trip planned for later) I decided to make something a little special, and this oyster stew from the newest Garden & Gun release, The Southerner’s Cookbook, sounded like a good option. It’s heartier than the oyster stew I grew up with (which was all of milk/cream, oysters, butter, and green onions) but just as tasty. Unfortunately, oysters were a little on the scarce side in the grocery store (I know the local oyster beds have been having issues) so I threw in some frozen seafood mix to fill things out a bit.

Pipers Pit Fired BBQ Pizza at Northside Pies

Pipers Pit-Fired Pulled Pork Pizza Pie at Northside Pies

Tuesday: Beer & Cheer at Northside Pies
Would you get a load of that pizza up there? Pulled pork, BBQ sauce, and coleslaw. It was delicious! I’ve made many a barbecue pizza in my day, but I never thought to top it with creamy coleslaw, and I’m a little ashamed of myself for that fact.

Wednesday: Rosemary Balsamic Chicken, Cheddar Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans
This was intended to be a super easy slow-cooker meal from Crockpot Gourmet, but I was not in the mood to set things up when we got home from Northside Pies (and I’m perpetually running late in the mornings, so it wasn’t happening then!) but I figured this was something I could do in the oven, too. I was right. Obviously you need to decrease the liquid quite a bit–I used 1 cup of water and it was still more than enough, I’d say go with 1/2 cup and then add more if necessary. Once everything was cooked through I moved the chicken onto a covered plate and mashed the potatoes in the baking dish, so the whole one-pot, low-less idea was upheld.

Thursday: Spinach-Artichoke Tilapia, Roasted Carrots, Coconut Rice
I like eating fish and I like the idea of putting it on the menu regularly, but I don’t always like cooking fish so much. If I commit to a simple preparation of broiling it, etc. then I can usually avoid making it a take-out night. So Thursday night’s supper was just going to be Parmesan-topped Tilapia but when I was retrieving the cheese from the fridge I saw the leftover artichoke hearts from the party. Artichoke + Parmesan cheese sounded like a good idea, and then I dug around and found an open bag of chopped greens in the freezer… this then became spinach-artichoke tilapia and was so very good. I even paid attention to what I was doing when I threw this together, and the recipe is below.

Friday: Corn Chowder with Beer Biscuits
This was First Friday and the annual meeting of the local Artist’s Collective, so I was going to be leaving work early and getting home late. It seemed like the perfect time to pull a container of Corn Chowder from the freezer and whip up a batch of drop biscuits once I got home. Gluten-free Bisquik comes in handy for things like this, and I like to use coconut oil for the butter or shortening in biscuits.

Duck Flatbread at Bacchus

Duck Flatbread at Bacchus

Saturday: Tapas at Bacchus
It wasn’t supposed to be dinner when we met up with friends at 3:30, but we noshed and nattered long enough that that’s what it ended up being. I neglected to get a picture of my fondue when it arrived, but Todd’s flatbread with duck, goat cheese, and caramelized onions made it into pixels and was very tasty! This was sorta-kinda a meeting to discuss plans for my 40th birthday party (it’s 6 months away, but L and Todd are collaborating and L likes to get a good head start on things), which we might be holding at Bacchus depending on how L’s call to their sales manager goes. If so, that flatbread might be a good contender!

Sunday: Beef Stew with Rice
It rained steadily all day on Sunday and I can’t say that I minded terribly. Not only did it bring the temperature down (this past week was back up in the 80s with the humidity to match, blech!) but it was perfect for the beef stew I had planned. Just your basic potatoes, carrots, celery, and green onions with beef, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Slow cook for 6 hours and wallow in the warmth.

And here’s the tilapia recipe I promised:

Spinach-Artichoke Tilapia

serves 4-6

6 tilapia fillets
olive oil
salt and pepper

For the topping:
1 cup chopped artichoke hearts
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Arrange the tilapia fillets in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet (rack optional). Drizzle the fillets with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl, then divide the mixture between the fillets. Try to keep the topping in an even layer over the fish so it cooks evenly.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the fish is fully cooked. If your fillets are frozen to start with, it might take another 10 minutes.


Daring Bakers: Canadian Whoopie Pies


The December Daring Bakers’ Challenge had us all cheering – the lovely and talented Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes was our hostess and challenged us to make fun, delicious and creative whoopie pies! Delicious little cake-like cookies sandwiching luscious filling in any flavors we chose… What else is there to say but “Whoopie!”


This month’s challenge was perfect for answering the question of what to make for holiday desserts. For some reason I never got onto the whoopie pie bandwangon so I was glad to give these a try and see what my family thought. Since we were encouraged to play around with the flavor combination of cake and filling, I took my inspiration from a Secret Santa gift I received right as the challenge for the month was announced.

My Santa was from Canada, and she sent me (among other things) a can of Tim Horton’s English Toffee Cappuccino mix. As I was reading the sample recipe for chocolate whoopie pies I saw espresso powder as an ingredient and thought, hey, why not use the cappuccino mix instead? I also used the mix for half of the cocoa called for (only half as I didn’t want to overpower the pies for the non-coffee fans at dinner) and the end result was a nice mocha toffee coffee flavor that even Todd enjoyed.

For the filling I went with the usual marshmallow-cream filling, but I didn’t really want to use the standard vegetable shortening it called for, so I subbed coconut oil figuring it had the same texture with a much more pleasant flavor, too. On top of that, I added a generous pour of maple syrup to make it maple-marshmallow filling, in honor of the Canadian theme of the whoopie pies. Even if I never make whoopie pies again, the maple-marshmallow filling may be making future appearances in our home–it was just that tasty.

They made for very rich desserts, so some opted to split a pie among them so they could also sample some of the other desserts, too. Knowing that, I almost wish I’d made the mini-pies. Either mini or full-sized, I can see my little brother requesting these again!

Gluten-Free Toffee Coffee Whoopie Pies with Maple Marshmallow Creme Filling
Adapted from : King Arthur Flour
Servings: 8 large or 16 small whoopie pies


For the Whoopie Pies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon Tim Horton’s English Toffee Cappuccino Mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa, sifted
1/4 cup Tim Horton’s English Toffee Cappuccino Mix
2 1/3 cups Gluten-Free Flour Blend
3/4 tsp xanthum gum
1 cup milk


1) Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

2) In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, cappuccino mix, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla till smooth. Add the egg, again beating till smooth.

3) Add the cocoa and remaining cappuccino mix, stirring to combine.

4) Add the flour to the batter alternately with the milk, beating till smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and beat again briefly to soften and combine any chunky scrapings.

5) Drop the dough by the 1/4-cupful onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving plenty of room between the cakes; they’ll spread. A muffin scoop works well here.

6) Bake the cakes in a preheated moderate oven for 15 to 16 minutes, till they’re set and firm to the touch. Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pans. While still lukewarm, use a spatula to separate them from the pan or parchment; then allow to cool completely.

For the Maple Marshmallow Creme Filling

1 cup coconut oil
1 cup confectioners’ sugar or glazing sugar
1-1/3 cups Marshmallow Fluff or marshmallow creme
2 Tbsp maple syrup (or more, to taste)


1) (To make the filling:) Beat together the shortening, confectioners’ sugar, and marshmallow until well combined.

2) Add the maple syrup, and beat until smooth. If the filling is too thin, add confectioners’ sugar until desired consistency is reached.


Pipe or spread a generous helping of filling onto the flat side of one pie and top with another.

Arabian Nights


Juniper Genie Cocktail

The metamorphosis of this week’s cocktail was a bit of a long and winding road. A road, in point of fact, that begins France or thereabouts* and ends somewhere in or near Morocco. Neither place I’ve been but both I’d like to visit one of these days.

At any rate, it started back when I was, oh, 10 or 11 years old and a family friend was being cute(?) and singing the song Jennifer, Juniper and saying that my name (Jennifer) meant Juniper. Now, being the precocious child I was I had already looked up the meaning of my name in the massive Encyclopedic Dictionary we had at home and knew full well that Jennifer is a modernization of Guinevere and had absolutely nothing to do with junipers. And told them so. Snootily.

Despite the misleading connection in the song, it did make me think of Gin–one of our two base spirit options for this series–which only left me figuring out what to add. I went through several j-possibilties and eventually devolved into j-sounding ingredients and ginger was the winner.

Now, at first I was going to be cute and spell it Jin and Jinger but I needed something else. Namely, another ingredient, another flavor. And looking around my bar shelves I found rosewater and that was all it took. Suddenly my mind was filled with the scent of chai, we needed spice and we needed it now!

Juniper Genie

1 1/2 oz Gin
1/4 oz Rosewater
1/4 oz Grated Ginger
a generous pinch of Cardamom
1 oz Ginger Ale
Crystallized Ginger for garnish

Combine gin, rosewater, ginger and cardamom over ice and give it a good shake to wake up the genie inside. Double-strain (to get out all the ginger bits) into a chilled cocktail glass, top with the ginger ale and garnish with a piece of crystallized ginger.

The flavors of the drink are well-layered, each one asserting itself as you continue to sip. First comes the rosewater–the scent is very strong and dominant, followed by the warm, sweetish flavor of the cardamom. Under that, the bite of the ginger starts to assert itself and, subtly at the bottom is the herbal taste of the gin. It’s what I imagine a small spice market would taste like.

Usually I’d infuse the alcohol with the spice but this time it really wasn’t necessary. Cardamom is so expensive that a suitable quantity for infusion would have been risky and the dried spice shaken in was plenty to get the point across. If you’ve never had cardamom that you know of, it reminds me of Apple Jacks cereal.

*Further research shows that the singer, Donovan, was actually Scottish and became famous as an English folk singer but the last verse of the song in question is in French, hence my misunderstanding.

Beggar’s CAN Be Choosers


Or choice morsels to treat yourself and guests too.

Minted Pea and Mushroom Beggars Purse

Minted Pea and Mushroom Beggar's Purse

I mean beggar’s purses, of course, like the kind I made for this year’s Fairy Fest. They most likely get their name from the Medieval-style cloth purses made from a circle of fabric and a simple drawstring. Whether made from pastry, as below, or crêpes or pasta, the fillings can be sweet or savory–really, anything goes.

Personally, I love the pastry ones best and prefer to use square pieces as a base as as not to have any waste. Puff pastry doesn’t do too well re-rolled (though if you’re going to try it, stack the scraps together and then roll out to the desired thickness–this keeps the layers intact the way just smooshing the bits together will not). Plus, when the sides are gathered up, the pointed corners make a delightful petal shape on top of the purse that is quite decorative.

Minted Pea and Mushroom Beggar’s Purses

Makes 36

8 oz Frozen Peas
1 stick (4 oz) Unsalted Butter, diced
8 oz Mushrooms, diced
2 Tbsp chopped Mint
1 Tbsp dried Thyme
1 Tbsp dried Parsley
1 tsp Sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 packages Puff Pastry Dough (4 sheets)
1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp water, for egg wash
Fresh Chives, optional, for ties

To Make the Filling:

Cook peas according to package directions; drain off any remaining water.

Stir together the cooked peas with butter, mushrooms and seasonings, allowing the heat from the peas to melt the bits of butter. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 375° F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide each sheet of puff pastry dough into 9 equal pieces, about 3 inches square. On a lightly floured surface, roll each square out, gently, to about 4″ squares.

To Make the Purses:

To each square of puff pastry add 1 heaping tablespoon of filling to the center.

Brush a circle of water or egg wash around the filling (this will help the pastry stick together up top).

Draw together the centers of each side and then the corners, leaving the ends of the corners free to lay to the side like tissue paper out of a gift bag.

Squeeze together the top of the newly-formed pouch, just under the corner-points and finish with a tie of chive around the neck of the pouch. (See illustration below)

How to Form Beggar's Purses from Puff Pastry Squares

How to Form Beggar's Purses from Puff Pastry Squares

Brush the tops of the purses with egg wash and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the puff pastry is golden brown.

Either serve warm or let cool and refrigerate until needed. They keep very well and will reheat in about 30 minutes in a 350°-oven. They do okay in a microwave, too, but it’s not my first choice for reheating.

(adapted from the recipes “Sweet Peas with Mint” and “Mushrooms in Cream” from Celtic Folklore Cooking)

This filling would also be excellent pureed smooth and used as a filling for ravioli. They smell divine when baking and taste even better!