Cooking Together - Cozy Favorites for the Family

Cooking Together - Cozy Favorites for the Family

If you ask my what I love about fall I will happily wax poetic about shoulder season hiking, camping and backpacking - I love getting outside in the fall. But this year, with 6 inches of snow sitting on the ground on October 18th and more falling, I think we might have skipped fall and gone straight to winter. And until the ski hills open and the cross country trails get a nice base, we might be stuck inside for a bit. So, what are we to do!?

Finding ways to feel entertained, comforted, and connected from within our own homes with our own families has never been more important. And for that, we recommend an at-home, hands-on dining experience for the whole family.

The key to making a hands-on dining experience at home enjoyable for everyone involved (most importantly, the cook) is to pick something that doesn't require too much upfront work or cleanup once the meal is done. Get everyone involved, not just in eating but in the prep and cleanup. Give everyone a job - this not only ensures that they feel like they had a part in preparing their fun and delicious meal, but that you're not left doing all the work.

We've picked our top 4 favorite hands-on family dining experiences for you to share with your families, and we've added our thoughts on how to ensure easy prep and quick cleanup for everyone.

Family is whatever you want it to be. Family can be you and your cat, you and your partner, you and your kids, you and three roommates with whom you're weirdly close. Whomever you choose to share these family favorites with, we guarantee that you will find both adventure and comfort in these kitchen projects.


Get on your bell bottoms and sheath dresses, because we're bringing back a 1960's favorite - the Fondue Pot. Fondue typically comes in three different varieties - cheese, oil or broth, and dessert. You'll need a variety of sliced meats (precooked if you're doing cheese, raw if you're doing oil or broth) chunks of bread, diced vegetables and maybe some seafood, pickles or even pasta. Get help in the kitchen prepping all these ingredients from your family members and lay them out on trays to be placed around your fondue pot.

The best part of fondue for me (other than the cheese, duh) is the clean-up. If you're doing just one one style of fondue, you'll just need one pot to prepare the cheese, broth or oil in, and one plate/fork per person for serving. 

In case you thought a fondue pot was a one trick pony, you can also use it for a Mongolian Hot Pot - think of a broth based fondue, but add soy sauce, ginger, mushrooms, and scallions to the broth and some fermented bean curd for dipping. Traditionally served with lamb (check the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub for the best lamb around), you can use chicken, beef or pork, or a combination thereof. You can also use a fondue pot to keep appetizers warm, deep fry food, or as a makeshift campfire for s'mores.

Recipes: Easy Cheese Fondue, Traditional Mongolian Hot Pot

Shop the Collection: Fondue Pots


The lesser known cousin of the fondue pot, raclette can be a somewhat confusing word. We could be using it to refer to Raclette Cheese (an Alpine cow's milk cheese found in parts of Switzerland), a raclette party grill (which is used to melt raclette cheese and grill accompaniments to be dipped in said cheese), or the process raclette as a dish from Swizterland that involves both of the above. Confused yet? Don't be, all you really need to know is it's delicious and you will use a raclette grill if you buy one.

Like fondue, you're going to need cheese, meats, vegetables and bread. With a raclette, everyone at the party gets their own individual tray of melty cheese, and then chooses accompaniments from the grill to dip in their cheese. You'll need slicers and dicers in the kitchen but just like fondue, the real fun comes from the process of gathering close around your food with your loved ones as you eat. Clean up is also a breeze - the raclette trays are dishwasher safe, and the grill top just needs a quick wipe down with soapy water.

Recipes: You actually don't need much of a recipe for raclette, but Swissmar has some great serving suggestions on their website. Obtaining raclette cheese can be the hardest part, but you can gruyere, jarlsburg, or emmentaler.

Shop Raclette Party Grills

Breakfast For Dinner

You don't actually need an excuse to eat more waffles, but we're here to give you one. And bacon, and pancakes, and mimosas. Whether you're planning on dinner or brunch, breakfast foods can seem like a lot of work to prepare and serve. Our tips for keeping it simple:

  • Cook your bacon in the oven: line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and then place an oven-proof cooling rack inside. Lay out strips of bacon side by side, no overlap, on the cooling rack. Cook in an oven oven preheated to 400º for 15-20 minutes, depending on thickness, until desired crispness is reached.
  • Make ahead dishes rule: If you can make it in a casserole dish beforehand and reheat it in the oven before your family sits down to eat, it's a winner. We recommend stratas, frittatas, and the good ol' fashion tater tot casserole.
  • Save mixing your waffle or pancake batter for last: the leavening agent in these batters, baking powder, reacts immediately when in contact with moisture. So as soon as you add the wet ingredients to your dry ingredients, it's going to start fizzing. Do this too soon before you're ready to start cookin' and you'll end up with flat pancakes. Nobody likes a flat pancake.

Shop the Collection - Breakfast For Dinner.

Homemade Pasta

We can't leave this one off the list - homemade pasta is what started our food journey as a family and the true inspiration behind Zest. Since I grew up making pasta with my family, it doesn't feel like a lot of work or a difficult culinary technique. The first time you make it things might get a little hairy, but with the right tools and a little practice you'll be churning out noodles like a Jodry.

Growing up, when we made pasta everyone had a job. My dad mixed the dough, my sister and I helped roll it out and cut it, and my mom made the sauces and boiled the noodles before serving. If you're feeling fancy, you can pre-make different ravioli fillings as well. The Atlas Pasta Machine makes quick work of rolling out dough and cutting the noodles. For me, cooking fresh pasta is the only time I really following the "your pasta should be swimming in an ocean of salty water advice." Too little water and your noodles will clump, so a large pasta pot and a good set of tongs are extremely helpful.

Recipes: Fresh Homemade Pasta Dough, Chef Lisa's Best Pasta e Fagioli

Shop the Collection: Homemade Pasta

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