Exploring all the possibilities for the new year


Sometimes I feel that celebrating New Year’s Eve gets lost in the shuffle. With Christmas a week before and my daughter’s birthday a week after, we are often busy with an additional family Christmas or birthday planning, not to mention just tired out and trying to make the most of the holiday down time that we have. In recent years I have been the one snoozing on the couch as the ball in Times Square drops, being woken by the shouts of "Happy New Year!" coming from our extremely over-tired children.

But I really like New Year’s and want to make sure that it gets its due. The recounting and remembering of the passing year and the anticipation and planning for the new one propel me forward full of hopes, dreams and schemes. Rather than "resolutions" I try for "intentions" and the prospect of working towards these things that I’ve taken the time to identify as important to me is exciting. Surely the start of this process is worth celebrating in a memorable way.

This year we made sure to celebrate New Year’s Eve by ending 2013 as a kind of example we hope 2014 will be -- having fun with people we don’t see enough of while being mindful of ease and simplicity. We made plans to spend the evening with good friends, sharing dinner and playing board games with no real plan other than that -- if we decided to go out to see the fireworks over Retreat Meadows, fine. If we decided to stay up until midnight to ring in the New Year, that would be fine, too. And if we chose to go home and crawl into our cozy beds, we’d simply begin the new year well-rested and relaxed.

As Sue and I talked about the menu, we decided upon equal parts of convenience and simple decadence -- green salad with goat cheese and pecans, leftover turkey "something" (whatever happened to be cooked up -- potpie or maybe soup?) as well as cheese fondue, something I have been wanting to make again for years and have just never gotten around to. No time like the present and a good way to start 2014 by following through with something that has been on my to-do list for ages.

The last time I made cheese fondue it was delicious, but the heat of the fuel pot melted through the finish on my dining room table. But regardless of potential damage to furniture, fondue is just plain fun. I vividly remember the couple of occasions we had it when I was a kid, gathering around a pot of hot deliciousness, wielding morsels of food on long forks that we referred to as "stabbers" and getting to eat dinner in what I thought was the most memorable way possible. This was something I wanted to do with my family and friends, making our own memories while celebrating our times together, past and future. Besides, not one of us would say "no" to a vat of melted cheese.

Knowing that the classic Gruyere fondue would probably not be as popular with the younger set, I looked for a less traditional, milder option. The recipe that I found promised to fit the bill and claimed to be so easy that it would also be perfect to whip up following an afternoon of sledding or snowshoeing. And it is true -- easy and made of ingredients you already have in your pantry -- I think we’re in danger of this becoming more of a regular treat.

Cheddar Fondue

2 cups half-and-half

1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce

2 teaspoons dry mustard

1 garlic clove, peeled and halved

1 1Ž2 pounds of cheddar, freshly grated (I used Vermont sharp)

3 tablespoons flour

In a heavy saucepan whisk the half-and-half, Worchestershire sauce, mustard and garlic clove. Heat, but avoid boiling (although I stopped paying attention for a minute and mine did). Discard garlic. Toss the cheddar (do not use pre-shredded) with the flour and add gradually to the half-and-half mixture, incorporating until smooth.

I skipped the fondue pot (didn’t want to melt Sue and Gary’s table) and just brought the saucepan which I had cooked it in to the table. It retained the heat well, keeping the fondue nice and oozy. We dipped (with aforementioned stabbers) cubed focaccia, cocktail rye, pieces of ham and kielbasa, raw carrots, Granny Smith apples and lots of lightly steamed broccoli, which was probably the most popular. At some point kids started getting creative, making miniature sandwiches using the bread and pieces of the turkey that had been set out and dunking those gigantic stacks in the cheese. We had a ball, eating, laughing and thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

Followed up by a rousing game of Apples to Apples (our new favorite) full of lots of goofy arguing and very strange comparisons, this meal was the perfect way to say goodbye to 2013 and based on the rave reviews, I see this becoming an annual tradition. And because fondue is so much fun, I think that next year we’ll have to try for "fondue squared," following up the cheese with chocolate fondue for dessert. Is that too much of a good thing? Nah -- after all, honoring the transition from the old to the new year with all its potential and possibilities -- what could be more worthy of celebration?

A happy and healthy 2014 to you all!

Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at jpottercooks@gmail.com.


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