As I’ve mentioned before in my previous musings on the wonders and pitfalls of fondue, I find the use of traditional French cheese in fondue to be problematic for a variety of reasons. Difficulty melting, expense… who needs it? Besides, breaking away from tradition is a great way to let creativity take flight. One of my favorite experimental fondues has been gorgonzola, but since it is such a strongly flavored cheese, arriving at the best recipe has required a bit more trial and error.
The challenge in refining this recipe was in bringing out the true gorgonzola flavor. I’ve tried this recipe with a blend of gorgonzola and blue cheese, but found the results disappointing. I’ve also made the mistake of using a bit too much garlic, which makes the gorgonzola flavor much too intense, bringing out an unwanted salty quality in the fondue. The use of sherry wine is also problematic in this regard, causing too strong a clash of flavors. This past weekend, I made a batch that, I believe, finally struck a perfect balance.
a scant pinch of minced garlic
1 to 1 1/2 cups half n’ half or light cream
1 (8oz) package of cream cheese
8oz of crumbled gorgonzola cheese
4oz shredded sharp white cheddar
dash or two of white pepper
1 to 1 1/2 cups light white wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)
bread cubes or vegetables for dipping
Combine the garlic, cream, cream cheese, gorgonzola, cheddar and the pepper in a medium saucepan. Melt over low heat, whisking frequently until the cheeses are melted and well combined. If cheese does not melt smoothly, use an immersion blender to smooth is out. Whisk in the white wine until combined. If the fondue is too runny for your taste, then mix the cornstarch with a bit of additional wine (just enough to dissolve it) and then whisk it into the fondue, heating until it thickens. Serve with bread and/or vegetables.
I find that cultivating the true gorgonzola flavor is so important, not only because it is one of my favorite cheeses, but because one of my favorite flavor complements is gorgonzola cheese accompanied by a Black Russian. This discovery was a happy accident back from the days shortly after I turned 21 when I did crazy things like ordering Black Russians with dinner at restaurants (i.e. before I had a driver’s license or had to pay my own rent). Dinner was a gourmet pizza rife with melted gorgonzola, and I discovered that, just as a Cabernet enhances the flavor of a rare filet mignon, and a pinot grigio lends a welcome harmony to lemon-squeezed crab, so does a Black Russian play subtly on the flavors of gorgonzola cheese.
BLACK RUSSIAN: vodka, Kahlua, ice. Mix.
I won’t post a recipe for a Black Russian cocktail, per se, since it’s just two boozes over ice, but I will give some tips and advice. Traditionally a Black Russian is two thirds vodka and one third Kahlua (try Kamora as an excellent, inexpensive substitute), but I usually prefer half and half. A Black Russian is mixed, quite straightforwardly, over ice in a double old-fashioned glass. These are the short, squat cocktail glasses, sometimes also called rocks glasses. Before pouring in the booze, fill the glass with ice, and I mean that literally. The ice should reach the top rim of the glass. This is true of any mix-over-ice drink. People think it will water down your drink (with a Black Russian, such a result would not be the worse eventuality), but it’s actually to help you get the right proportions and to keep your drink chilled at roughly the rate you drink it. Provided you keep your drink within arm’s reach and nurse it at a moderate pace, you will still have ice at the end. If you put two cubes in the glass, they’re going to be gone before your drink is, leaving your cocktail to get lukewarm from the temperature of the room and the heat of your hand. As for mixing, if your ice cubes fill the entire glass, you can pour vodka halfway, then Kahlua halfway for an even mix. If you have ice cubes only halfway up you’re going to end up with a lot more of whatever you pour second.
Fondue plus cocktail makes a great snack or appetizer but does not, unfortunately, a meal make. After not gorging myself nearly as much as I should have at Coriander’s India Buffet at lunch, I was in the mood for something light. My cravings turned, as they have rather often of late, to thoughts of sushi.
While there are several convenient options for take out sushi, I have developed a habit for relying on the easiest solution: Giant Eagle. There is a large GE grocery within short driving distance of my apartment, their sushi is less expensive than Whole Foods, but includes a full selection of nigri and maki rolls, raw, cooked and vegetarian, unlike Trader Joes which only offers a few varieties of fully cooked fish rolls in the deli section.
Am I proud of being a Giant Eagle sushi consumer? No. Is it top quality? No. But it’s cheap and it satisfies my cravings. Six or seven dollars will get you a good twelve or sixteen pieces of maki, if it’s not a specialty roll, often with a variety of tuna, salmon, eel and shellfish within one package. Last weekend, in a moment of weakness, and faced with a dwindling Saturday night selection, I sprung for two packages, a Chef’s selection nigri and roll plate, as well as a spicy mango tuna roll. The total came to about $17, but I justified it for myself by digging seven dollars worth of change out of the bottom of my purse.
And that’s when I got to thinking… why am I spending nearly twenty dollars a pop on mediocre sushi, when I could probably make it just as easily myself? Now, if I were deluding myself with pretensions of competing with Tamari, that would be one thing, but Giant Eagle? I think that’s within my wheelhouse. I imagine it might take a good bit of research on the handling of raw fish, but there are plenty of sushi rolls that do not use raw fish as an ingredient, I’m just never inclined to buy them at a deli section or restaurant when I can get salmon or tuna for a dollar or two more.
So, as a result of Giant Eagle sushi guilt, it’s off to the library for more culinary research!