Switzerland couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. It was our last dinner before Christmas, and when I think of Switzerland in winter images of snow capped mountains, cozy ski cabins, turtlenecks, and fondue come to mind. We planned a night of fondue like no other – a three course meal of dipping delicious food into vats of boiling cheese, oil, and chocolate.
Ashley surprised us with a holiday treat of a pre-dinner activity: gingerbread houses! Trader Joes sells these ingenious packages of gingerbread house sets. They don’t allow for too much creativity in the actual house blueprints, but they are perfect if you just want to slap some candy on gingerbread and call it a holiday tradition. Provided in the kit are two walls, a base, two cookies for a roof, trees, frosting, and my favorite part- a cute little family, puppy included. Ashley also provided candy and sprinkles and we were in the construction business. I think our houses turned out great! I turned mine into a true chalet and added a swiss flag to the side of the roof and a balcony for my little sugar human to stand on. Bill used Jason’s abandoned housing supplies to create some kind of square monstrosity. I believe the only way to get into his house was to be air dropped in that creepy hole on the roof.
For drinks we went for the hard stuff- absinthe. I did a little research on the history of absinthe which is pretty fascinating. Although most people associate absinthe with France, it actually was invented and first distilled in Switzerland. It was created as an elixir by a French Doctor living in Switzerland and he opened the first distillery in Couvet. Absinthe spread to France and became popular as a “cure” for Malaria within the French troops, although the only thing it actually cured was sobriety. The French troops then brought the drink and their heavy consumption of it back to the cafes of France. By 1840 the French were drinking 36 million liters per year. Woah! Talk about a drinking problem. Absinthe was banned in several countries as the temperance movement spread and the increasing reputation as a drink that would drive people crazy became worrisome. There were a few murders involved, but absinthe was just the scapegoat. The drink was banned in almost every European country and America. It was only very very recently, in the 1990’s that forms of absinthe began to come back on the market. Absinthe popped up in Britain and the Czech Republic, where it was never banned in the first place. Throughout the 2000s, countries that had once banned the spirit began legalizing it. In 2007 right here in the SF Bay, St. George Spirits became the first American company ever to distill the drink. If you have a chance, I highly recommend visiting St. George. I did a private cocktail class there for my birthday a few years ago and it was too much fun. All of their spirits are top notch. Anyway, as excited as I am for absinthe to be back and legal, it’s not actually “the real deal”. All US approved absinthe cannot contain the herb thujone, which, to steal a line from a red bull commercial, gives the fairy her wings. On my next European vacation I am definitely planning on trying thujone laced absinthe. Just for comparison sake of course.
In my research I also came across the correct preparations for serving absinthe. You begin by pouring absinthe in your glass, then you place a sugar cube on top of absinthe spoon, letting the spoon rest on the glass. (I’ve seen some beautiful spoons and I’m now on the hunt for one to add to my liquor cabinet.) You then pour a small amount of ice water on the sugar cube, allowing it to loosen up. Slowly pour more ice water on the sugar cube until it dissolves, adding as much or little water to the mixture as you desire. The idea is to add the ice water slowly in order to form a cloudy mixture as shown below. This opaque liquid forms when the oils are released out of the alcohol in a process called louche. If you pour it slow enough you can also create a very thin layer of green liquid, which is subsequently called the “green fairy”. All of these changes in color and releasing of oils and finally “opening of the mind” is essentially dancing with the green fairy.
For an appetizer Bill made Rosti. Rosti is basically hash browns, but it’s served as one giant dish. Who doesn’t love some hash browns, especially when you add scallions and bacon and fry them to a perfect crisp.
And then it was time to begin our three course fondue binge. We started with cheese, consisting of a mixture of gruyere and emmentaler cheese. To dip, we had green apples and cocktail wieners. I picked up a loaf of Rustic Bread from The Mill. It was dense and slightly salty- perfect to hold up to the steaming cheesy goodness. Ashley also made homemade pretzels!
If you have a fondue pot at home and have never tried beef fondue, I highly recommend it. I grew up eating beef fondue on a regular basis. In fact, the fondue pot you see below was actually a wedding gift to my parents in the early 80s! Beef fondue and a quick salad is an essentially zero prep meal that allows a considerable amount of time for family conversation. For the oil, I use planters peanut oil and a stick or so of non burn margarine. For the beef you want to use top sirloin steak with as little fat as possible. You just (carefully) spear the steak on your fondue fork and cook to desired doneness. The first few cubes will cook slowly, but as the temperature heats up and you begin eating everything goes by much more quickly. I also like to have about 3 different dipping sauces to mix up the flavors. Below are two sauce recipes from my dad, and for the third sauce I just used a horseradish/mayo mixture.
1/2 C Best Foods mayo
2 TBS milk
1 TBS curry powder
1 C mayo
1/4 C chopped sour pickles
1 TBS chopped cappers
1/2 TBS reg mustard
1/2 TBS chopped fresh parsley (do not use dried)
1/2 TBS chopped green onions
1/2 TBS chives
1/2 tsp chervil
1/2 tsp tarragon
mix well, refrigerate and you’re ready to serve
AND for the dessert course- chocolate fondue. For chocolate fondue you will want to gradually heat up baking chocolate that has been chopped so it heats evenly without causing burn spots. Then add heavy cream for well, creaminess. You can also microwave the chocolate first to give it a jumpstart. The main trick with chocolate fondue is keep it from burning. For our dipping pleasure, we had a wonderful assortment of fruit, pound cake and marshmallows.