The weather is finally turning colder, the snow is falling and the slopes are open. This is Colorado, and a flurry of winter activities are literally at your doorstep. From sledding to snowshoeing to skiing, you’re bound to find something you’ll enjoy. But I’m not here to talk about that. I’d prefer to focus on what comes at the end of the day. Known around the world as Après (French meaning after), the social activities and various libations that follow a day on the slopes is quite possibly the best part of that day. While most people think of après as being the domain of bars and restaurants, there’s nothing stopping you from hosting your own après celebration at home.
First you’ll need some compelling cocktails. While there’s nothing wrong with your favorite bottle of wine or a local craft beer, there’s something especially warming about a strong drink after your long day. For your whisky drinking friends, try a Winter Old Fashioned. Follow the traditional whisky/bitters/sugar combo, but use a spiced simple syrup with cloves, cinnamon, all-spice, nutmeg and ginger. Add an Amaretto float to balance it out and top with a Bordeaux cherry and flamed orange peel for a little flare. If you like something a bit sweeter, put a pomegranate spin on a traditional Cosmo with this recipe:
2 oz. Premium Vodka
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. Pomegranate juice
Squeeze of lime
Shake over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail stem and top with Prosecco and fresh pomegranate seeds.
If you’re chilled to the bone, a Calvados Hot Toddy will warm you up. Made with a French apple brandy, it makes for a slightly more mellow drink, with some seasonal flare. In a heat proof mug, pour 1.5 oz of Calvados. Boil 4 oz water, stir in 1 tablespoon honey and squeeze half a lemon. Pour into the mug of Calvados, add a cinnamon stick and a slice of apple. Sip and savor.
Of course, for a true après you’re going to need some snacks to fill in those burned calories. So I asked Amelia Mouton (chef/owner of Restaurant 415) to come over and help me put together a spread. Options abound here, but you want to start with something warm, filling, and shareable. And ideally something you’ve already pre-made and can quickly heat up. Think meatballs and potatoes gratin. Easy enough when you’ve got a pro who shows up with them ready to throw in the oven. Maybe one of these days I’ll convince Amelia to share her meatball recipe so we can post it here.
Luckily my wife had whipped up a batch of her homemade ChexMix so we had something to munch on while they baked. Snacks will only get you so far when it comes to hungry bellies, so you’ll need something a bit bigger. It’s hard to get more authentic than Swiss Fondue. Quick, easy and the ultimate shareable, when this hits the table your guests will happily settle in for the night.
Fondue is really pretty easy to make. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) buy the pre-packaged cheese mix. Instead, make your own mixture by buying blocks of cheese and shredding them.
1 pound of mixed shredded cheese. I recommend a combo of Gruyère, Emmental and Comtè. But you can get creative and try different blends.
1 cup dry white wine (I usually go for a Sauvignon Blanc, but Chardonnay or Pinto Gris will work just as well)
1 clove garlic
1-2 TB cornstarch (or other starch, we use arrowroot)
Rub the inside of your fondue pot with the garlic clove then discard. Add the wine and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat on the stove. Gradually stir in the cheese, one handful at a time, stirring in a figure eight pattern. Go slowly, so it stays smooth.
Combine the starch with a bit of white wine and stir to combine. Add a bit at a time to the cheese mixture to get to the consistency you like (more starch will make the cheese thicker).
Grate fresh nutmeg on top, along with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
Many recipes will also call for you to add a bit of kirsch. Personally, we rarely do this, as we don’t tend to keep kirsch on hand. But it will add an additional depth of flavor if you’d like to try it.
Transfer to the stand and keep warm with sterno, or whatever your particular setup uses.
For dipping, cut cubes of fresh bread (we like baguette from Whole Foods), slices of apple, lightly steamed broccoli, cauliflower, fried potatoes, etc. Get creative and dip away.
Pair with whatever wine you used to make the fondue.
And when the cheese is down to the bottom, you’ll find a delicious, crispy disc of chewy, slightly hard cheese. Scrape that up and share, it’s the best part.
Watch the snow fall, make some s’mores hot chocolates and savor the fact that you’re warm inside and you only have to go back out tomorrow if you really want to.