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Food & Wine

Holiday hot pots return the chef to the party


Courtesy of Christine Moore
Prepared ahead of time, a hot-pot dinner allows everyone to cook and visit together rather than confining a sacrificial chef in the kitchen.

“All is bright.” It’s a phrase deeply linked to the holiday season – and for good reason. Despite the early hour of sunsets this time of year, the holiday season is one of brightness.

I see it in the sparkling lights twinkling from windows, hear it coming from the holiday songs on repeat in our home and feel it in the animated excitement of anticipating children.

But most of all, I feel the brightness of the season when I bear witness to the many acts of kindness that happen in our communities and our homes this time of year. Through acts of giving, we have the opportunity to shine radiantly in the darkness.

One way I like to give to my family is through the gift of preparing a Christmas Eve meal.

When I gather with family for a holiday dinner, the quick-witted and enthusiastic conversations around our table serve as undeniable evidence to me of just how utterly bright the human spirit shines.

For many years, I spent most of Christmas Eve in the kitchen working on dinner. I was missing out on the laughter in the living room. When I shared my feelings with a friend, Los Altos resident Silke Kluss, an expert on all things Christmas, she suggested that I serve fondue Chinoise – Chinese hot pot – for my Dec. 24 dinner. The owner of a German Christmas decoration company, Xmas Deluxe, Kluss adds some continental customs to her holiday planning.

“I make fondue Chinoise at my parents’ home in Germany when I visit them at Christmas,” Kluss said. “I learned of the tradition from Swiss friends.”

Swiss cooks enthusiastically adapted a year-round staple of East Asian cuisine to the holiday season. Fondue Chinoise has diners cooking as they eat in simmering fondue pots of fragrantly seasoned broth set on the dining table. In addition to being a fun, interactive dinner for all ages, it’s a meal that can be prepared in advance, which enables me to offer a meal I’ve put together and still be a part of the party.

The basics

Fondue Chinoise is a spread that can be improvised. You’ll need a fondue pot that can keep broth simmering – it’s not just for melting cheese and chocolate. Pick up extra burners for the fondue pot to ensure that you have enough fuel to last through the meal. Use the fondue forks that come with the pot so that each person gets his or her own fork to use throughout the meal. The forks often are marked with different colors, making it easy to keep them separate.

I ask the butcher to slice beef rib eye and chicken breasts paper-thin, and approximately the length you’d want for stir-fry. This size ensures that the meat cooks quickly in the broth. Chicken slices should be cooked 4-5 minutes and beef 3-4 minutes. We include already cooked but not heated sausages, too. Offer cooked shellfish if you’d like, or look for Asian meatballs in the frozen-food section.

Along with the meat, we have pot-stickers and raviolis for spearing and cooking. I buy these in the frozen-food section and defrost before dinner. Mushrooms, parboiled cauliflower and asparagus complete the items to be eaten with sticks.

A selection of dipping sauces is a real must. Store-bought peanut and mustard sauces are great. I make a simple chili-soy sauce as well as a horseradish sauce. A green salad and a pile of oven fries complete the meal.

Earlier in the day, you can make the broth and prepare the platters of food to be cooked. Lay lettuce leaves on the platters that you’ll put your meats on, being sure to keep raw meats away from already cooked items. As dinnertime approaches, all that is left is to heat the broth, toss a salad and bake some oven fries.

I’ll share my basic broth recipes, but you can certainly use a favorite version of your own. I make a beef and a chicken broth.

To add to the action around the table, we require that anyone who loses a piece of food from a fondue stick in the broth must tell a joke. And don’t forget to offer the broth for eating when the meal is winding down. Thanks to all the cooking done during the meal, it is a delicious bowl of soul-warming goodness.

Christine Moore is a Mountain View resident. To read her blog, visit sheepishsommelier.blogspot.com.

Fondue Chinoise

For beef broth

• 4 cups store-bought or homemade low-sodium beef broth

• 1 cup water

• 1/4 cup cognac or sherry

• 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Add all ingredients to medium-sized saucepan. Bring to boil on stove and simmer 30 minutes. When ready to eat, return to boil, transfer to fondue pot and place over burner.

For chicken broth

• 4 cups store-bought or homemade low-sodium chicken broth

• 1 cup water

• 2-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced

• Clove of garlic, thinly sliced

• Star anise

• 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil

• Garlic

• Salt and pepper, to taste

Add all ingredients to medium saucepan. Bring to boil on stove and simmer 30 minutes. When ready to eat, remove star anise, return to boil, transfer to fondue pot and place over burner.

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