I live to eat and love to cook. Welcome to my life!

April 20, 2010

You never forget your first...

First love, first best friend, first time driving a car, first raw oyster, first time you tasted truffles, first alcoholic beverage....

OK, maybe you forgot that one! But the rest....think about it for a sec!

Whether it be food or drink, experience or emotion we tend to remember our "first" things in a pretty rose colored light. You might forget that your first love was also a faithless schmuck who pledged his love to you and only a week later you find another girls love note to him in his ashtray. You forgot that your first drive behind the wheel of a car was not on a straight road in an automatic vehicle with the wind in your hair, but backing out of a garage in a stick shift with your dad yelling at you to watch out for the dog! You forgot that the first oyster came from a restaurant that served nigh on 10,000 of the things on a Sunday brunch and they were of inferior quality.....you only remember it as the "wow" of that briny ocean flavor and the rather "interesting" texture followed by the realization that you just swallowed a whole live being.

I have too many good food memories to share all of them in one post, so I will share with you one that occurred about 17 years ago exactly (dating myself here...) during the spring break of my junior year in high school.

You know those big pickle jars that hold about 5 gallons of gigantic dill pickles? We had one of those in my Dad's office that he would pretty faithfully toss his extra coins in on a daily basis. One year it was pretty close to the top and he set me to sitting on the living room floor rolling coins in those little paper rolls, counting out 50 pennies, 50 dimes, 40 nickels and 40 quarters per roll, occasionally coming across a half or silver dollar to add to the pile. This is, of course, before the Coin Star machines and when the banks required you to have all the change rolled before redeeming it for bills. I worked on this project for weeks, the tips of my fingers stained with grime from hundreds of dollars in loose change (ugh!) and finally hit the bottom and Dad then went and redeemed the money.

How much, you ask? I have no freaking clue. All I know is that it was enough to take my Mom and Dad and I to Europe on a spring break vacation spanning three countries for about 9 days.

And while I would jump at the chance for a 9 day European vacation these days, I was not so thrilled at that time. 16 years old, spring break and I was stuck in a car with my parents in countries that spoke languages that I could only count to 10 in and call someone an asshole in German, thanks to my Nana. Think National Lampoons European Vacation without Rusty and you'll get pretty close.

It wasn't a horrid vacation, it started out kind of foreboding.....no reservations for a hotel on our first night and drove around from town to town with no luck, Easter Sunday in the north of France-bad idea....none of us spoke French and they are not what you would call "in love" with Americans over there....me with jet lag so bad I slept the first few days in the back of the car. By the time we got our bearings and figured out what the hell we were going to do and where we were going to go it got a lot better.

In France we toured Versaille and the Eiffel Tower, ate escargot at a sidewalk Paris cafe, almost ordered Evian but then realized wine was cheaper, got to walk through Leonardo DaVinci's Castle in Amboise, had real french crepes stuffed with beef and mushrooms, saw the church in Rouen where Joan 'd Arc was burned and generally acted like a bunch of tourists. We bought cheeses from the markets, pate and salamis from the charcuterie, croissants and eclairs from the patissieries and fresh baguettes from the boulangerie which I smeared with Nutella as we toodled cross country taking in the sights.

In Germany we stayed in one small town called Offenburg on the France/Germany border that you had to park outside and walk in to as it was all cobblestones and walking paths. It was a cute little town with little or no real attractions that I recall...I only remember eating at a restaurant where we all ordered the Weinerschnitzel because it was the only thing we thought we recognized. It was giant slabs of breaded and friend veal, a pile of French fries (German fries maybe?) and a salad. One order would have been enough to feed all three of us, but we did them proud!

Switzerland found us on the shore of Lake Geneva in the town of Vevey whose claim to fame is that it is the headquarters of Nestle and milk chocolate was invented there in 1867. I don't think we knew this then, we were just trying to cram as many places as we could in in our short time and my dad and I were pretty set on getting ourselves some Swiss chocolate at some point.

By this time we had figured out how to ask where to go and what to eat and were directed to a restaurant on the shore of Lake Geneva. If memory serves correctly it had giant plate glass windows overlooking the lake, but I couldn't tell you the name if you put a gun to my head. The waiter recommended the local perch as one of our items and we all agreed to order the fondue, once again because it was something we all thought we recognized. I know now that that was really my first time eating fondue....How simple and how brilliant? A pot of cheese and crusty bread to dip in it. You can get it with meat and veggies, fruit and chocolate, but oh the bread and cheese. I could live on it if my body wouldn't get so mad (or so fat) at me.

The funny note about that meal is that really all we had was the perch and the fondue, the bread and cheese variety. And when the bill came, my parents eyes bugged out and they flipped. Apparently we were at one of the nicer restaurants in Vevey and the price tag on our meal reflected that.

I got an electric fondue pot for one of my housewarming gifts and have used it only occasionally. Too bad for me as it really is a pretty fun way to eat. If you are lucky enough to have 2 fondue pots (or a friend with an extra) you can do one with cheese and one with hot oil or broth to cook raw meat in.

The simplest recipe I have found is as follows-I have nixed the traditional 1 T of Kirsch as it is one of those liquors that you only buy for this meal and buying a $ 30 bottle of liquor for 1T to add seems a little ludicrous to me. Therefore, I do without. This recipe makes enough for 4-5 people, I think we are having fondue for dinner tomorrow night too.....

Cheese Fondue

1 Garlic Clove, split lengthwise
1 1/3 Cup Dry White Wine
8 oz Gruyere Cheese, shredded
8 oz Emmenthaler Cheese, shredded

1 T Cornstarch
3 T White Wine

Dipping items can include, but are not limited to....

Chunks of French Sourdough or otherwise crusty bread
Black Forest Ham
Chunks of cooked Chicken Breast
Steamed Asparagus
Steamed Broccoli
Roasted or Boiled New Potatoes
Sliced Pears or Apples

Pretty much anything that goes with cheese is good, use your imagination!

Rub the inside of a non stick pan with the open side of the garlic clove, you can leave the clove in or take it out if you wish. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Mix the cornstarch and additional wine together and stir in to the pot. stir for a moment until it starts to thicken. Add the cheese a little at a time, stirring in a zig zag pattern. Don't stir in a circle or the cheese will ball up. Cook for about 10 minutes on low until the mixture is thick and smooth, Transfer to your fondue pot. If you have the electric variety like me, keep it on low to just keep heated, too much and it will boil and separate.

Then dip to your hearts delight....Brock likes to get as much cheese as possible on to his dippers. :)

Fondue Notes:

Because it is a group dining experience, double dipping isn't allowed unless you swap spit with the person you are eating with and you both agree to it before hand

This also means you should not lick skewer when taking your item off to eat it.

If you drop your food item in the pot you owe a kiss to someone at the table (Brock told me this one). I kind of like this rule :)

Salud! Here's to good memories!

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