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Author Notes: If you're looking for a make-ahead appetizer or if you just can't be bothered to steam artichokes, no worries: There's a "lazy" option just for you (check out step #5 under The Dippers). The Pepper Jack Fondue in this recipe is inspired by one of my mom's cheesily-awesome soups. The marinated grapes are quickly pickled following Matt and Ted Lee's method from their cookbook "The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern: Knockout Dishes with Down-Home Flavor" but with cumin instead of rosemary and a few other tweaks. Dip in and enjoy! —Cook the Story
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
The Hot Cheesy Dip
- 4 tablespoons butter (divided: 2 tbsp to sauté the veggies and 2 tbsp to make a roux)
- 1/2 cup chopped onion (about 1 small)
- 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper (half of 1 large)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
- 1-14.5 ounces can diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed to remove excess juices
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt (or fine grind kosher salt)
- 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 1-12 ounces can evaporated milk (divided: 3/4 cup to make roux, remainder added with the cheese)
- 8 ounces grated pepper jack cheese (about 2 1/2 cups when coarsely grated)
- In a medium saucepan melt 2 tbsp of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and garlic. Cook stirring occasionally until softened, about 3-5 minutes.
- Add the chicken broth and the drained diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat melt the other 2 tbsp butter. Make a roux by whisking in the flour, salt and black pepper. Cook for one minute while whisking.
- Into the roux, slowly whisk in ¾ cup of the evaporated milk. Cook while stirring until it comes to a boil. While continuing to stir allow it to boil for 30 seconds.
- Stir the simmered broth and veggies into the roux pot. Add the cheese and the remaining milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until the cheese is melted. Do not let it boil. Taste and add a bit more salt and/or black pepper if required (I usually add ¼ tsp more of each).
- Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth (or pour the soon-to-be fondue into a blender or food processor. Cover with a clean towel instead of the lid and puree until smooth).
- Transfer the hot cheesiness into a fondue pot or a thick bowl and serve with The Dippers. Or, even better, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until the next day (this lets the flavors blend and intensify), heat and serve.
- 40 red grapes, washed and dried, stems removed
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
- 40-4" skewers
- 1 lemon (cut in half: the juice of one half for adding to the steaming pot, the other half for rubbing on the cut edges of artichokes)
- 2 medium artichokes, washed
- 3-4 small flour tortillas (or a bag of tortilla chips, see step #5 below for this option)
- Place the grapes in a medium-sized bowl.
- Warm the cumin seeds in a small non-reactive pan over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 5-10 minutes.
- In a small bowl combine the cider vinegar, ¼ cup water, garlic, brown sugar and coarse salt. Pour contents of bowl over the warmed cumin seeds.
- Raise heat to medium-high and bring liquid to a simmer. Remove from heat and pour over top of the grapes. Cover grapes loosely and allow them to come to room temperature (about 45 minutes) before refrigerating for at least 2 hours and up to 36 hours (they’re best at around the 24 hour mark).
- Feeling lazy: do this step and then skip all the rest. Drain liquid from grapes. Serve in a bowl alongside the skewers, a bowl of corn tortilla chips and the hot cheesy dip. Feeling energetic (and you happen to have some artichokes on hand): Skip this step and continue on with 6-10.
- One hour before you plan to serve the fondue, pour 1 to 2 inches of water into a large pot. Add the juice of half a lemon and place a steamer basked over the water. Cover the pot and bring lemon-water to a boil over high heat.
- Meanwhile, trim off the stem and the top ¼ of the artichokes. Bend off the bottom row of leaves. Use kitchen shears to trim the tips of the thorny leaves. Rub all cut edges with a lemon half to cover these edges in lemon juice and prevent browning.
- Place artichokes stem-side-down in the steamer basket. Reduce heat to low and cover pot. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, until stem end yields easily to a paring knife.
- While the artichokes are steaming, drain the grapes and pat them dry. Slice each tortilla into 8 strips. Cut each strip in half. Pierce through one end of a tortilla strip with a skewer. Add a grape to the skewer. Wrap tortilla over grape and pierce through the other end of the tortilla strip (i.e., the tortilla forms a ‘C’ and cups around the grape). Repeat such that each skewer has one speared grape wrapped in tortilla.
- Remove artichokes from pot. Either serve them whole placed in the center of a platter surrounded by grape skewers or gently pluck leaves off and scatter on a platter as a bed for the grape skewers.
- To eat: Plunge tortilla-wrapped-sour-grapes in the pepper jack dip to enjoy a cheese encased sweet & sour crunch. Dip base of artichoke leaf in dip, put cheese-covered base in mouth and use top teeth to ease the cheese covered artichoke-flesh off of the leaf. Oh, and make sure you (the cook) are the one who plunges the artichoke heart into the pepper jack fondue as a reward for doing steps #6-10!
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Fondue
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