A tasty beginning to the holidays

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, creatures were stirring, eating wonderful tasty nibbles. The holiday season is made up of a series of events with friends and family sharing food, and finger food is central to these events.

Recently at a country inn I was served a delicious hot cheese dip with warm naan bread. It was a perfect starter on a blustery day. The dip reminded me of cheese fondue of times past and I realized how easy and practical it would be to repeat this ooey-gooey-cheesy recipe for the holiday season. Enjoy every slurpy mouthful, and happy holidays!

Fireside Fondue

This classic taste combination of old cheddar and beer is enticing, especially when served in front of the fire with crusty baguette and apple slices for dipping. The fondue is perfect as a casual appetizer or doubles as a festive supper if served with a salad.

4 cups (1 lb) shredded old cheddar
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) favourite beer or dry cider
2 tbsp (30 mL) melted butter
1 tbsp (15 mL) all-purpose flour
1 clove garlic
Pinch each, cayenne pepper and fresh nutmeg

Shred cheese on coarse side of grater and set aside with measured beer. In a heavy saucepan melt butter. Gradually stir in flour, garlic, cayenne and nutmeg. Cook stirring until flour pulls away from side of pan.

Gradually stir in beer or cider, stirring until smooth and slightly thickened. Gradually stir in shredded cheese, stirring constantly to produce a smooth sauce. Discard garlic clove. Pour fondue into serving dish (an oven-proof ceramic dish works well for this). Serve immediately with sliced baguette and apple slices or blanched fresh vegetables such as broccoli and asparagus. Serves four.

Onion Marmalade

If time permits, make this onion marmalade to accompany the fondue. Alternatively, purchase a quality savoury jelly such as red pepper or herb jelly to serve with the fondue.

4 large red onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced (about 3 cups/750 mL)
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) wine vinegar
2 tbsp (30 mL) water
2 tbsp (30 mL) granulated sugar

Prepare onions and set aside. Heat oil over medium heat in Dutch oven or large skillet. Cover and cook onions slowly. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Once onions are softened, about 15 minutes, stir in wine vinegar, water and sugar. Continue cooking until vinegar evaporates and sugar has a syrupy consistency. Spoon marmalade into serving container; serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate to serve later. May be made several days ahead, kept covered and refrigerated. Makes about 1 ½ cups (375 mL).

Mulled Cider

Be sure to have a large saucepan of this non-alcoholic beverage simmering on the stove as your guests arrive at your door. The fragrant scent of the spices from the cider floats out to greet guests as they arrive to give them a warm welcome. It is popular with children and adults, and the perfect beverage for the designated driver!

Although the recipe calls for cider, apple juice works just as well at a fraction of the cost. Please note that there is no added sugar in this recipe. The sweetness from the apple with the added spices and sliced fruit seems a good balance of flavour without adding sugar.

1 can (48 oz/1.5 L) apple juice or cider
6 slices each orange and lemon, halved
6 whole cloves or star anise
1 cinnamon stick

In a large saucepan, combine apple juice, orange and lemon slices, cloves, cinnamon stick and ginger. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes. Serve immediately or cover and let stand. Re-heat when ready to serve.

Serve in mugs or heat-proof cups. Make eight 1-cup servings. Recipe can be doubled or tripled. Leftovers taste delicious the next day!


Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer  ~  janmainskitchen@yahoo.ca

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