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Fondue fondly remembered. It's still a simple way to serve and socialize

Remember cheese fondue? The Swiss-born peasant dish became a chichi dish with the apr`es-ski set in the late '50s and quickly spread from mountaintop to Manhattan high-rise in the '60s. That's when it peaked, so to speak.

Fondue pots popped up like mushrooms after the rain. Stainless-steel, copper, or glazed ceramic ones were always a safe and welcome gift if you acted before anyone else did.

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Wonderful imported cheeses -- Gruy`ere and Emmenthaler among them -- were available, and even ready-made fondues of a sort could be picked up at the frozen food counters of local supermarkets.

Then came beef fondue, fashionably referred to as fondue bourguignonne -- bite-size bits of choice beef sizzled in garlic-flavored oil, then served on specially designed plates with a variety of dipping sauces.

And where there's cheese and beef, can dessert fondue be far behind? This usually included some kind of melted chocolate, with various fruits or firm white cake for dipping.

But enthusisam has dwindled over the years and many a fondue pot has found its way to the attic between the Vegematic and electric knife.

A friend of mine recently admitted that she had three fondue pots, all given to her by friends who'd lost interest in them. All three, she confessed, were somewhere in the attic, or was it the cellar? She wasn't sure.

Recently, when the temperature dipped to a toasty 5 degrees F., I was reminded of warm evenings spent with friends gathered around a coffee table glowing with candles. In the center there was a basket of French bread and some tiny boiled potatoes -- and a pot of bubbly cheese fondue. It was with a bit of nostalgia and a lot of copper polish that I unearthed my own copper-plated pot.

Here are a few classic recipes, plus a few new ones.

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When using French bread for dipping, remember that one loaf serves from six to eight people. It's also a good idea to cut bread up in bite-size pieces well in advance to allow it to become slightly stale. Crab Cheese Fondue 1/2 pound (2 cups) shredded American cheese 1/2 pound (2 cups) natural Cheddar cheese 3/4 cup milk 1/2 can condensed celery or mushroom soup 2 teaspoons lemon juice 1 7 1/2-ounce can crab meat, drained and flaked 1 clove garlic, cut in half French bread, cherry tomatoes, boiled new potatoes, or artichoke hearts for dipping.

Combine cheeses, milk, and condensed soup in saucepan. Heat until cheeses have melted. Add lemon juice and flaked crab. When heated through, rub cut clove of garlic around fondue pot.

Discard garlic and add crab-and-cheese mixture. Heat with Sterno. With fondue forks or sticks, dip bread, tomatoes, boiled potatoes, or artichoke hearts into pot. Cheese-Buttermilk Fondue 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1/2 teaspoon salt Freshly ground pepper to taste Dash grated nutmeg 1 pound imported Swiss, Gruy`ere, or Emmenthaler cheese, shredded 2 cups buttermilk 1 loaf French bread

Combine cornstarch, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in mixing bowl. Add grated cheese and toss.

Carefully heat buttermilk in saucepan and gradually add cheese while stirring constantly. Add mixture to heated fondue pot.

Cut French bread into bite-size pieces, making sure there is a bit of crust with each piece.

Any fondue cooked in hot oil, like the following beef, must be cooked in a stainless-steel, copper, or other kind of metal pot. The often handsome ceramic pot won't retain the high temperature needed for oil. Beef Fondue 1 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin or sirloin, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces Vegetable or peanut oil -- enough to half fill metal fondue pot 1 teaspoon salt Various dipping sauces of your choice (garlic butter, Cumberland, caper, horseradish, blue cheese, mus-tard/mayonnaise, etc.)

Allow beef to come to room temperature approximately 1 hour before serving.

Half fill metal fondue pot with oil. Heat over stove to bubbling or 425 degrees F. Add salt to help prevent spattering. Transfer to fondue pot with heating element. Spear meat with fondue forks and cook in oil to prefered doneness. Rare, 20 seconds; well done, 1 minute.

At this point it is best to transfer meat to dinner forks, as fondue forks get dangerously hot. Dip meat in any of your favorite sauces or salad dressings.

Serve with tossed green salad and boiled potatoes. Serves 6.

Here's an after-school treat strictly for the kids. Peanut Butter Fondue 1/2 cup butter or margarine 1/2 cup granulated white sugar 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup heavy cream 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter Fruit slices (apple, pear, banana, peach) Day-old or firm pieces of white cake Vanilla or chocolate cookies, halved Miniature marshmallows

Combine butter and sugars in saucepan. Heat, stirring until completely dissolved. Boil 1 minute.

Stir in heavy cream and peanut butter and mix until smooth. Transfer to fondue pot or warm ceramic bowl.

Serve warm with fruit slices, cookies, cake, and marshmallows for dipping.

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