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Modern Fondue Is Still a Pot Full of Fun

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"Fondue" by Lenny Rice and Brigid Callinan (Ten Speed, $9.99).

Whether it was in its heyday in the '60s or its incarnation now, almost nothing screams (or sizzles or bubbles) "entertaining" during the cool-weather holiday months more than fondue. It's fun that is what comes due, of course, when happy groups gather around a roaring fondue pot with their eager (and sweets- or savories-filled) sticks.

That's why Lenny Rice and Brigid Callinan's aptly named "Fondue" is one of my all-time favorite holiday cookbooks. Cooking? Maybe why it's so festive is the lack of cooking and just submerging a stick in a hot pot of gourmet goo, especially seasonal treats like apple cider and white cheddar cheese.

The slim volume is stuffed with innovative ideas, from savory classics to gourmet dishes, from makeovers of everyday meals to divine desserts.

White and dark chocolate and fruits make for dazzling desserts. Limoncello (the Italian lemon liqueur), grated lemon zest, lemon extract, white chocolate and heavy cream are a dream.

"Meal replacement" fondues include choices like a "rearranged" Reuben with caraway seeds, sauerkraut, beer and cider vinegar cooked in melted Swiss or Gouda. Toasted rye bread cubes, chunks of pastrami and corned beef, roasted potatoes and pickles are the delicious dippers.

Beverage suggestions and a chapter on making your own dippers (like Irish brown soda bread, cinnamon sugar doughnut holes and devil's food pound cake) are nice touches, as are the mouth-watering color photographs.

WHITE CHEDDAR-APPLE CIDER FONDUE

1 pound sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup apple cider

1 teaspoon apple-cider vinegar

Yields 3 cups.

Toss cheese with flour in a bowl and set aside.

In a fondue pot, bring cider to a boil over medium-high heat. Decrease heat to low and add cheese mixture, one-half cup at a time, stirring until melted after each addition. Add vinegar and stir until smooth. Serve immediately.

Dipping suggestions: Toasted rustic bread cubes, apple chunks, steamed broccoli florets, ham cubes, toasted walnuts.

REUBEN REARRANGED FONDUE

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon caraway seeds

1 small red onion, diced

1 1 / 2 cups sauerkraut, minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1 / 2 cups beer

16 ounces Swiss cheese or Gouda or a blend, grated

4 teaspoons cider vinegar

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Yields 3 cups.

In a fondue pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add caraway seeds and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add onion, sauerkraut and flour and cook, stirring, until onion is soft, 5 to 8 minutes.

Add beer and bring to a boil. Decrease heat to medium-low so that mixture simmers gently. Add cheese, 1 / 2 cup at a time, stirring until melted after each addition.

Add vinegar and stir until smooth, then season with salt and pepper. Serve.

Dipping suggestions: Toasted rye bread cubes, bite-size pieces of pastrami and corned beef, red or Yukon gold potatoes (roasted or steamed), assorted pickles.

Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including "Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook" and "The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook." She also writes the Creators News Service "After-Work Gourmet" column. To find out more about Lisa Messinger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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