12/08/2014 04:16 EST | Updated 02/07/2015 05:59 EST

One-pot wonder: Entertain with fondue for a fun and festive party

TORONTO - When company comes calling unexpectedly, pull out the fondue pot, melt together a few ingredients and you can put together an impromptu and festive dinner with little effort.

Chef Corbin Tomaszeski calls the communal-style dining "easy and uncomplicated and inexpensive. You can put whatever you want on a fork and dip it in fondue."

It's also nostalgic.

"From 1970 straight through to the late '80s every couple that got married got a fondue pot, so they're out there. So you've got to bring them back. I tell people go into that storage room when you go into your basement — when you open it up things fall on you, you know, the Santa Claus, the Halloween decorations. The fondue pot's in the back corner that you've forgotten about or it's in the box because you've never opened it because you think it's complicated," he says.

"Bring it out, scrub it up, melt some cheese, throw it in and get your favourite dippers."

Along with savoury fondues featuring cheese or morsels of various types of protein or vegetables cooked in broth or oil, there's nothing more decadent than toasting the season with some sparkling Merlot and indulgent chocolate and raspberry fondue, as Tomaszeski demonstrated in Savoury, his new private chef's table dining room at Toronto's Westin Harbour Castle.

"Six ounces of chocolate, your favourite fruit, one bottle of wine and you're entertaining an entire group of people. It can be done on a low budget. It's got that wow factor and it also brings back that sense of nostalgia and comfort based around food," says Tomaszeski, who partnered with Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery to create retro fondue recipes with a modern twist.

"Any time you put food on a fork and dip it people love it."

For chocolate fondue, simply melt your favourite chocolate in a pot on the stove over low heat, stirring with a rubber spatula so it doesn't stick and burn. Or melt it in the microwave.

Then stir in full-fat cream. "Chocolate loves whipping cream. Don't use milk. This will not work," he cautions. "The fat helps keep the smoothness and the velvetiness of the chocolate, helps prevent it from sticking together."

Blend in raspberry liqueur or substitute your favourite, such as Grand Marnier, says Tomaszeski, who in addition to his positions as executive chef, has been on such Food Network Canada shows as "Dinner Party Wars," "Restaurant Makeover" and "Restaurant Takeover."

"You could do this in the fondue pot directly, but I find you have a little more control when you do it at stovetop because you have the spatula and you can determine if it's going to burn or not. It's easy to take it from the stove to the fondue pot right at the table."

Once at the table, fold in mascarpone cheese and let guests swirl it around, repeating if the mixture begins to bind. You can substitute cream cheese or leave the cheese out, but it adds to the marbling effect in the fondue, almost like a chocolate-style cheesecake.

The consistency should be thick enough that the mixture sticks to items dipped in it. The choices are limited only by your imagination. Strawberries and pineapple chunks pair well with chocolate. Pretzels dipped in chocolate are a sweet-salty combination. Cookies such as shortbread and macaroons also work well. For a double hit of chocolate, dip brownies.

For "Santa Claus on a fork," as he calls it, crush candy canes, place on a plate and have guests roll items in that after dipping in the chocolate.

A savoury main-course fondue could range from beef or chicken to lobster, shrimp, cheese or vegetables.

"One of my favourite easy healthy ones is just do your favourite vegetable or chicken broth and cook in the broth. If you want to do a little more French, then do the classic red wine — you can use your favourite Burgundy red wine — put in some shallots, Dijon mustard, a little bit of garlic, put some mushrooms in there. That's kind of a riff on coq au vin, which really means chicken in wine, and you can cook things in there as well."

With beef, Tomaszeski suggests using a neutral-flavoured vegetable stock because the meat is already flavourful. Drop in vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms and potatoes into the pot and diners can skewer them once they're cooked.

To accompany cheese fondue, prepare a selection of fresh vegetables — anything that will fit on a fork that you can eat raw — and breads that are crusty like ciabatta and baguette.

Fondue is a great way to accommodate guests who follow a dairy-free or gluten-free diet. With a larger group, have two pots — one for each end of the table — and keep one vegetarian.

Get creative with dips too. Chimichurri, pestos or aiolis are a few to try. For an Asian fusion twist, dip items into a hoisin-style teriyaki sauce and then roll in sesame seeds.

For safety, never leave a fondue pot unattended and monitor children if they're in the vicinity. "I suggest putting your fondue pot on a solid wooden surface — not your table but a board on your table — because you don't want to damage your dining room table or your favourite linens."

If you don't have a fondue pot and matching skewers, there's nothing wrong with putting the actual saucepan on the table and giving guests dinner forks, Tomaszeski says.

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