Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Not one to hurry

My biggest (or only) remaining conundrum was this: "what excuse can I possibly come up with, for making cheese fondue (p147)?" With time running so short before next week's deadline, I really had only two options: make a small version of the fondue for myself, or go with my favourite standby and feed it to the workmates.

Well, sharing it would be better on the arteries, don't you think? It was going to be a bit tricky, though. Mum had dug out Oma's cool old fondue set for me, but the burner part was missing. On a recent trip to the Eco Shop, I'd selected a saucer to support tea lights, but I didn't think even three tea lights would put out enough heat to melt the cheese properly. I'd have to do it in a saucepan and transfer to the fondue pot for serving.

It was originally my intention to do this tomorrow, rushing home at lunchtime to put the fondue together, then bringing it back to the office. As it turned out, we had a very quiet morning today, and I started to think tomorrow might be madly busy by comparison. On this basis, I decided to get the fondue done today instead.

The glitch in this plan was that I hadn't got my ingredients yet. I rushed over to the supermarket and grabbed gruyère and cheddar cheese, and a baguette. I was halfway home when I stopped dead, realising that my house keys were in the pocket of my jacket - and my jacket was sitting on the back of my chair at work (insert four-letter words here).

It took me another 20 minutes or so to go back and get my keys, then get home. I rushed into the kitchen and grabbed the recipe. I saw immediately that my plan to melt the cheese directly in a saucepan wouldn't work - the recipe specifically advises you either to use a fondue pot or a bowl over a pot of boiling water. I was also wrong in my belief that all I needed to do was melt the cheese and add wine - actually the wine went in first, then the cheese.

I began by running the cheese through the grater blade on my food processor. The recipe is for 250g each of cheddar and gruyère, but as the gruyère seemed to come in 200g packages only, I just got that size (plus 250g tasty cheddar). Let me tell you, 450g is a lot of cheese! It was more than enough.

I got wine and crushed garlic into a bowl and sat that over a saucepan of simmering water. I had to heat the wine to 'almost boiling' but meanwhile, I filled the fondue pot with hot water to warm it (teapot-style) and cut up the baguette.

The wine seemed to take forever to heat; eventually I started chucking handfuls of cheese in and whisking it through. At first, the cheese seemed to be combining quite well, but the more I added, the more I found it was just partially melting and sinking to the bottom. What I had in my bowl was a layer of thin liquid on top, and thick, half-melted lumpy cheese in the bottom.

By this time I was very aware of how long I'd been away from my desk. It was creeping up on 1 1/2 hours, which is an unsuitably long lunch break, even if you are using it to bring back food for everyone. I kept whisking, but the cheese in the bottom of the bowl showed no sign of melting further.

In the end, I gave up trying to make a smooth combined mixture and turned to the final step - adding a little water combined with cornflour. This was, of course, to thicken the fondue, though since half of it was already so thick it clumped around the whisk, I didn't really know what would happen.

Luckily, the cornflour thickened the liquidy layer in my bowl to the point where the thick cheesy stuff would actually combine with it reasonably well. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than I'd been expecting. I poured the cheese mixture into the fondue pot, packed everything up, and headed back to work.

My colleagues gamely gathered around and took turns dunking bits of bread in the fondue pot. It must have tasted ok, because nearly all of it got eaten. Well, I can tell you myself - it was quite nice. Cheese fondue really just tastes like what it is: melted cheese with wine and a bit of garlic. Tasty, and amusingly retro, but probably not worth the artery-clogging.

If you decide to try this one, I have a little advice for you: don't do it in a hurry. Allow yourself plenty of time, because there's something quite stressful about fondue-making with the clock ticking.

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