IT’S the middle of ski holiday season and while the restaurant was closed recently, we were lucky enough to go on a skiing trip to France to celebrate a special family birthday.
My wife Michaela and I rarely sit still and even on holiday we like to keep busy seeing the sights and trying local foods. With two young boys, we don’t tend to get much of a break these days anyway, but a winter skiing holiday was just what we needed, and of course some fresh mountain air and new foods.
Après ski is, for many, what makes a skiing holiday so enjoyable. A few years ago, for us that meant loud music and partying, but nowadays we prefer to get together in a more civilised way. It’s all about making the most of being away and I love sampling the local beer and food, while spending quality time with friends and family.
And while many people stay in catered chalets or apartments when they’re away, we love the chance to enjoy some of our own hearty, home-cooked recipes and I never mind doing the cooking myself when on holidays. The challenge is finding dishes that are quick and easy yet fuelling, as the moment everyone steps off the slopes they are famished. There’s plenty you can cook up quickly though, in a big enough batch to satisfy even the hungriest of appetites.
After a day on the slopes, you long for something warming, comforting and satisfying to eat. Healthy, rustic food is called for and only mountainous flavours seem to do: big, bold stews, flavoursome casseroles, skewered meat, fish or vegetables grilled on traditional raclettes or dipped into fondues.
Raclettes or cheese fondues are real ski classics. You can do almost anything with them – add your own twist and try either savoury or sweet versions. The basis of these dishes is good-quality cheese, so they lend themselves well to the favourite ski destinations of Europe, renowned for their outstanding selection. The real joy of this type of dish for me though is in the communal cooking. They are easy to make and half the work is done at the table, meaning they can be ready really quickly.
You can either use a big fondue pot or a classic Swiss raclette – modern versions can be found in most department stores. Fondue traditionalists say each morsel of food – be it meat, bread or vegetables – should be dipped only once and the dipping fork used only to transport food from pot to plate and not to eat with. That’s where a stone raclette can be ideal as it lets you pick out your own individual pot or portion. The fun part of this kind of dish is making up your own rules.
Although the cheese in these recipes is quite indulgent, adding vegetables and fish to dip in or build your skewers from can keep it fresh and healthy.
What you do need after a day’s skiing, though, is a sweet reward. All that exercising means nothing quite beats a hot chocolate and in our family it is popular with both the children and the grown ups – warming, sweet and creamy. We love to make it the classic way and melt good-quality dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa, in a big pot. It just tastes so much better that way and you can make a big batch to share.
When it is this rich and thick, a little goes a long way and serving it with cream can make it go even further. If your family is anything like ours though, it’s not likely to last more than one evening.
• Classic Hot Chocolate
The key to making the best hot chocolate is to use very dark chocolate. Something with a high cocoa percentage works best.
60g dark chocolate, grated
Place 250ml milk in a pan. Bring to a simmer, then add the chocolate and stir until it is completely dissolved in the drink and slightly thickened.
Depending on how you like your hot chocolate, you can make it thicker or thinner by using more or less milk.
The high percentage of cocoa in dark chocolate means the taste will be fairly bitter so if you want to add a little sugar at this point to suit your taste you can.
Add a swirl of double cream to serve or, if you prefer, you can also add some cinnamon or caramel to taste.
•Raclette Grillé avec Pierre Chaude
This is a great recipe and the beauty is you can create skewers using any combination of meat, fish and vegetables you like. The secret is to make sure the grill is very, very hot prior to cooking – otherwise you will end up boiling the ingredients rather than grilling them.
8 rosemary skewers
200g sirloin steaks, cut into strips
250g chicken breast, cut into strips
1 red pepper, cut into cubes
200g button mushrooms
8 slices Emmental cheese (or something similar)
Take eight branches of rosemary and pull off the leaves, leaving some top leaves, to create a kebab stick. If you don’t have rosemary, you can use wooden kebab skewers.
Cut the steak, chicken, pepper, mushrooms and onions into roughly the same size pieces and place them on the rosemary sticks. Pour a splash of olive oil on the hot stone. Place your skewers on the top and leave them to cook.
Take your slices of Emmental and place them individually in the raclette pans. Place the small pans on the hot stone and leave to melt. Once the cheese is melted everyone can help themselves.