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A few years ago Michelle and Bill Morton realized that going out for a Valentine's Day dinner wasn't as much fun as it used to be. It was hard to feel romantic while worrying about the impact a fancy meal, not to mention hiring a babysitter for their three sons, would have on the household budget. So the Raleigh, North Carolina, couple (she's a professional organizer; he's a government IT director) decided to make Valentine's Day a family occasion.
These days, instead of stepping out on February 14, Michelle and Bill step into their kitchen and cook up a family favorite: fondue. The boys help with the prep work and when all the ingredients are assembled, the five of them gather around a communal pot, dipping tortellini, bread, and veggies into a savory cheese sauce while they talk and laugh. In between the main course and dessert (chocolate fondue, with fruit, pound cake, and marshmallows for dunking), the kids exchange heart-shaped messages. "Each boy has to write what he likes best about his brothers," Michelle says. "We try to focus on the reason for the holiday, which is love."
Drenched in rich dark chocolate, succulent fruits or bites of cakes or cookies end any party in style.
Start to finish: 15 minutes
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 14-ounce can (1 1/4 cups) sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup milk
Dippers: angel food or pound cake cubes, small cookies, tiny brownie squares, marshmallows, dried apricots, whole strawberries, mango chunks, kiwifruit chunks, banana slices, and/or pineapple chunks
1. In a heavy, medium saucepan melt chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sweetened condensed milk and milk; heat through. Transfer mixture to a fondue pot; keep warm over a fondue burner.
2. Spear dippers with fondue forks; dip into chocolate mixture, swirling to coat. If the fondue mixture thickens, stir in some additional milk. Makes 8 servings.
Mocha Fondue: Prepare Chocolate Fondue as directed, except substitute 1/3 cup strong coffee for the milk.
Chocolate-Peanut Fondue: Prepare Chocolate Fondue as directed, except stir 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter in with the milk.
Chocolate-Liqueur Fondue: Prepare Chocolate Fondue as directed, except stir 2 to 4 tablespoons amaretto or orange, hazelnut, or cherry liqueur into mixture after heating.
Prep time: 15 minutes. Stand time: 30 minutes.
3 cups shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese (12 ounces)
2 cups shredded Emmentaler, Gruyere, or Swiss cheese (8 ounces)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons kirsch or dry sherry
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
Dippers: French bread or rye bread, cut into 1-inch cubes and toasted,** precooked broccoli or cauliflower florets or bias-sliced carrots.
1. Bring shredded cheeses to room temperature. Toss with flour; set aside.
2. Heat wine in a large saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles rise to the surface. Just before wine boils, reduce heat to low and stir in the cheese mixture, a little at a time, stirring constantly, and make sure the cheese is melted before adding more. Stir until mixture bubbles gently.
3. Stir in milk, kirsch or sherry, nutmeg, and pepper. Transfer cheese mixture to a fondue pot. Keep mixture bubbling gently over a fondue burner. Serve with dippers. If mixture becomes too thick, stir in a little warm milk. Serves 12.
**Note: To toast bread cubes, place the cubes on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 5 to 7 minutes or until the bread cubes are crisp and toasted.
Nutrition Facts per: 222 cal, 14g total fat (19g sat), 18mg chol, 149mg sodium, 3g carb, 0g dietary fiber, 14g protein. Daily Values: 4% calcium, 1% iron.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2011.