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How to cook to impress this Valentine's Day: Doug Trattner reports with Astoria Café

Cheese, chocolate, and wine is the recipe for success.

CLEVELAND — We know that most couples elect to dine out on Valentine’s Day, when guests are waited on hand and foot and nobody is on the hook for dish cleanup.

But then again, it’s also nice to celebrate in the comfort of one’s own home, where our money goes a little further and we don’t have to worry about driving after enjoying that round of cocktails or bottle of wine.

While options abound when it comes to preparing a delicious meal at home, we sought the expertise of a local chef to help us craft a stressful – but indulgent – meal for two or more that won’t break the bank. That chef is Cory Kobrinski from the wonderful Gordon Square restaurant Astoria Café. He walked us through the basics of making two fondues from scratch: a savory cheese version and a sweet chocolate variety. Not only are these recipes nearly foolproof, neither requires special equipment and the ingredients can easily be purchased from typical grocery stores (and, of course, Astoria!).

If you happen to have a fondue pot tucked away somewhere, by all means bust it out and dust it off! If not, simply fashion a double boiler on the stove by filling a medium saucepan halfway with water and topping it with a large round mixing bowl that rests on top. When the water lightly simmers below, you create gentle heat that won’t scorch the cheese or chocolate. The key is to have the bottom of the upper pan sit above the water so that only the steam hits it.

The sky’s the limit in terms of accompaniments. For the cheese fondue, cubed bread is a given, but so are apple slices, baked fingerling potatoes, and steamed or raw vegetables. For the chocolate fondue, strawberries are pretty much required, but you can also include other types of fruit, graham crackers, shortbread cookies and marshmallows. If you don’t have fancy fondue forks, you can use wooden skewers or regular silverware.

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For the wine pairings, we enlisted the help of Astoria co-owner Steve Daniels, who grabbed a handful of lovely selections that went well with one or both of the fondues. 

For the cheese, he suggested dry white wines such as Clos Le Vigneay Vouvray or Wolfberger Riesling, both from France. When it comes to the chocolate fondue, you can’t top a rich and seductive tawny port like those from Kopke. For a bottle that goes great with both, try a fruity rose like Chateau d'Aqueria Tavel. All of these wines are available for purchase at Astoria.

Cheese Fondue Recipe

Makes 4-6 servings

Prep time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

  • 1 1/2 cups grated Gruyère
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Emmental
  • 1/2 cup of grated Appenzeller
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch or all-purpose flour
  • 1 clove garlic, halved
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Splash of kirsch (optional)
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
  • Toasted bread cubed and/or lightly blanched vegetables, for dipping

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DIRECTIONS

1. Rub cut faces of garlic cloves around the inside of a fondue pot, double boiler, or stainless steel mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water (do not allow bowl to come into direct contact with the water). Add wine and heat until steaming. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss together both cheeses with cornstarch until evenly coated.

2. Working over low heat, add cheese one handful at a time, stirring until mostly melted before adding next handful. Continue until all cheese is melted into the wine, forming a smooth, glossy melted cheese sauce, about 10 minutes; it is very important that the fondue stay below a simmer once you start adding the cheese, or there's a risk it could break. Stir in lemon juice and kirsch, if using, until fully incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. If not already in a fondue pot, transfer fondue to a fondue pot to keep it warm and melted at the table. Serve with toasted bread cubes and lightly blanched vegetables for dipping. If fondue begins to thicken too much, add a small splash of wine to loosen it.

Bourbon Chocolate Fondue Recipe

Makes 1 ½ cups 

Prep time: 5 minutes 

Cook time: 5 minutes

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • Accompaniments: cubed pound cake, marshmallows, cigarette wafer cookies, strawberries, cut fruit

DIRECTIONS

Using a fondue pot, double boiler, or stainless steel mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water (do not allow bowl to come into direct contact with the water) heat cream and bourbon until just simmering. Reduce heat to low and stir in chocolate until smooth. Serve with biscuit crackers, marshmallows, pound cake or fresh fruit.

Find Astoria Cafe at 5417 Detroit Ave. in Cleveland.

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