Friday, February 24, 2012

FRENCH ONION SOUP

I begin this post with a deep apology to my best friend D, who hates, hates, hates onions.  She is a regular reader of this blog, and I don't want to put her or any of my other readers off.  So D, I am sorry for making you look at so many pictures of onions, but... there is no other way to show how to make onion soup.
Renoir, "still life with onions"  I love this painting!  

The first time I made onion soup I was a very young person.  About 12 or 13 years old.  We had it for dinner, and I saved a bowl for my dad who was working late that day.  He arrived home around 9:00 pm, and I rushed to the refrigerator to get his bowl of soup.  I removed the cover, and to my utter surprise there was nothing in the bowl other than a well soaked piece of bread. No soup.  The bread had soaked up all the liquid.  What was left over was an uneatable mush. A memory which makes me laugh today, but boy, was my cooking pride wounded that day.  The lesson here is that onion soup should be enjoyed steaming hot just as it comes out of the oven.  If you need to store it, by no means add any of the bread to the container!  Do that, and your hard working dad, coming home late from work, will have nothing to eat for dinner.
To make this soup you will need lots of onions, so the best thing to do is to get Spanish ones because they are large.  Plus they have kind of a sweet taste.  So get three Spanish onions, peel them, and cut them in half. Then get to slicing.  If you’re like me, you will start to tear up half way through the job.
Below is shown an easy and fast way to slice the onions.  By cutting them this way they'll be a good size for the soup.  If they are chopped into smaller pieces they might tend to burn rather than caramelize.  So cut your onions in half and then slice each half vertically down the middle.  Then cut the whole onion into thin horizontal slices.


In a heavy Dutch oven heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter.  If you're on a diet, you can forgo the use of the butter and replace it with oil, but the addition of butter serves to give the onions a nice dark caramelized color.  
Once the butter and olive oil have started to bubble up, add all of those onions that you sliced and cried over.  

Season them with salt and pepper and let them cook for a couple of minutes.... then add 5 large cloves of garlic.  Make sure the garlic has been minced before it's added.  By now, your lovely hands, which have chopped all those onions and minced all that garlic, smell nothing like Chanel #5, which is what they smell like on most days, right?  


It's now time to give the onions a good stir.  Do that and then turn the cooking heat down to low, and I mean low.  The onions will  have to cook the low and slow way, for about one hour.  The drawback to this is that you'll have to stay close to the stove, so that you can keep stirring the onions every so often. They should not be allowed to start burning.  So the mantra here is, mix, mix, mix, stir, stir, stir, caramelize, caramelize, caramelize.  Repeat after me:  mix, mix, mix, stir, stir.... Thank you. 

Add a bay leaf and the leaves of a long sprig of fresh thyme.  
Here we are about half way through cooking.  It's looking good!
After one hour of cooking and stirring the onions are ready.  Turn off the heat. At this point the onions go in the refrigerator.  I will finish cooking the soup tomorrow.  See you then! 

The onions rested in the refrigerator overnight, and now I've taken them out to finish cooking the soup.  Doing it this way saves me time.  I can cook the onions the day before, in the evening, and then put them away.  The next day I can assemble the soup in no time.  I  took the Dutch oven with the onions out of the refrigerator and placed it on the stove top.  I left it alone for a few minutes to come to room temperature and then I turned the heat on to low.  I stirred the onions and let them warm up. I added a little flour to serve as a thickener.  I stirred and cooked for about 5 minutes, until the flour taste was cooked out.  Next, I added one cup of nice white wine.  Mixed and let that warm up and then added three cups of beef broth and 2 cups of chicken broth. Six cups of liquid all together.  All broths were low in sodium, so after the liquid started to steam up, I mixed again and I added salt and pepper to taste.  At this time I also removed the bay leaf.


I placed the lid on the pot and covered it partially.  I let the soup cook for half an hour, so that it got really warm and so that the alcohol from the wine got a chance to burn off.


Meanwhile, I sliced a baguette in pieces and toasted them.  Everyone wanted lots of bread in the soup.  OK by me.
I also shredded the Gruyere cheese and added a little grated Parmesan to it.

Once the bread finished toasting, I ladled the soup into bowls and toped it with the bread.  On top of the bread went the grated cheese, and then the soup bowls were placed on an ovenproof tray and went into the oven.  I had turned the broiler on, and so I placed the tray with the soup bowls on the lowest rack of the oven.  Now I had to wait for the cheese to melt.  To tell you the truth, I can enjoy this soup with out the cheese.  I know this preference is anathema to French cooking purists, but I can live with that.  I ate mine without cheese!


I hope you enjoyed checking out how I made French onion soup!  
This is a contribution to FFWD.

Monday, February 13, 2012

HAM AND BRIE SANDWICH


Say hello to my little friend!  I'm talking about this ham and brie sandwich. It is my favorite!  Simple and delectable! Ham and brie in a baguette!  I have loved it from the first time I tried it, probably some ten or more years ago.  This time around I decided to add arugula to it, for an extra zing.  I present you with a fresh, crispy baguette, stuffed with peppery arugula, soft creamy brie, and country ham.  Go all out and get the best ingredients, then share this sandwich with your valentine.  Accompany it with some nice fruit, and have a quiet, cozy lunch, just the two of you.




You can certainly use a whole baguette and make a large sandwich which will feed about 4 people.  I chose to cut the baguette in half, and make sandwiches enough for two people.  Having had gastric bypass surgery recently, I was able to eat only about 1/4 of my share.  Also, I discovered that even though my taste buds love a crunchy baguette, at this stage of the game my stomach prefers something softer.  




So most of my sandwich is still waiting for me in the refrigerator.  I guess I'll have some of it for tomorrow's lunch.  One thing:  I loved the small fruit salad on the side.  It was a perfect side, to a perfect lunch, shared with perfect company!  
Wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day!!!
  
Before I write down ingredients and directions, I have to tell you what I went through to buy the strawberries and blackberries you see pictured above: February 11, was mighty cold here in the Philadelphia suburbs, with a light snow falling on and off all day.  I went to Whole Foods to pick up a few things. In anticipation of Valentine's Day, the supermarket had all the "berry type" fruits displayed in large bins outside their front entrance.  No way you could miss them, and no way you could resist them.  How is that for merchandising?  I went inside, picked up some produce, and decided to go  back outside to get berries. By then it had gotten dark and the wind had started to pick up.  The snow was falling heavier now, and the wind was spinning it and tossing it around, so much so that it seemed as though the area was in the middle of a blizzard.  "What a time and what a place to be buying strawberries," I thought. One of the produce employees came outside to make sure the fruit bins were secure. As he opened the doors to exit the market, he inadvertently provided a way for the wind to tunnel inside and lay havoc.  A beautiful display of orchid plants collapsed on the floor. Customers and employees, me included, ran to prop them up.  Eventually the orchids were set up somewhere else, and I know they'll get sold by Valentine's, but after all that cold exposure they won't have a long life.  Meanwhile, I wanted to get somewhere warm.  I gave up my plans of choosing more berries, even though the raspberries and blueberries looked pretty good.  I looked down at my container of strawberries.  It was covered with something which looked like powdered sugar.  However, I knew better.  It was a soft, light dusting of snow.  Strawberries.... The luscious summer fruit! 


Ingredients:
1 baguette
8 ounces good quality deli ham, sliced
4 ounces brie cheese, sliced 1/4 inch thick
Dijon mustard 
some baby arugula
a few drops of vegetable oil such as canola (optional)
salt (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
some nice fruit such as apples, strawberries, grapes, blackberries, etc.


Directions:
Slice the baguette horizontally.  Take one piece of the bread and spread it lightly with Dijon mustard.
Take the other piece of the baguette and arrange some baby arugula on it.  On top of the arugula sprinkle a little canola oil and maybe just a bit of salt.  Then, grab your pepper grinder and give it a go, seasoning with all that delicious freshly ground black pepper.
Layer the ham on top of the mustard and then layer the brie on top of the arugula.  Press the two sides of the baguette together.  
Slice the baguette into pieces and serve accompanied with the fruit.
A very enjoyable fruit and sandwich lunch!!!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

SPINACH AND SAUSAGE SOUP





















Yum, soup!  Good tasting soup, in a flavorful broth. Fresh vegetables, great seasonings, delicious and wholesome flavours!!! For protein, I added chicken broth and low-fat turkey sausage. Very easy and quick to make. 

Let's make spinach and sausage soup:



Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 stalks of celery, sliced
about 1 pound red potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled, cut into bite size chunks
5 cups of chicken broth, low sodium, low fat
1 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 pound low-fat turkey sausage 

4 cups spinach, washed well, roughly chopped, thick stems removed
salt and pepper to taste
some fresh sage and thyme for seasoning




Directions:
  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots, and celery and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the potatoes, the chicken broth and the garbanzo beans.  
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. 
  • Meanwhile, squeeze the sausage from its casing, then crumble it and brown it in a skillet.  Drain as much fat as you can and set the sausage aside.  
  • When the vegetables are tender, add the spinach, sausage, herbs, salt and pepper. Bring back up to a simmer, and let cook for another 10 minutes before serving.