Wednesday, March 30, 2011

French Onion Soup With Garlicky Croutons

I love French onion soup. When done right, it's deep, beefy, oniony, and rich. It can be as simple as some onions in broth or as complicated as ... well, as complicated as you like to make it. And it's so easy.

Start with a pile of onions. I used a few different kinds (sometimes I even throw in a shallot or two) but if you've just got one kind of onion, there wouldn't be anything wrong with that.

Cut your onions in half and peel off the outer layers. Then give each half a cut through the middle, down to the root. I don't like long pieces of onion hanging out of my mouth when I eat, so I quarter the onions to make them more bite-sized.

Slice the onions very, very thinly. Throw them all into a large pot to get them off your cutting board.
Next, grab some garlic and mince it as fine as you can.

Add the garlic to the pot, along with half a stick of butter and a bit of white sugar.

The sugar will help the onions caramelize faster.

Turn your heat on medium and let the stove do the work for you.

I also seasoned the onions with some pepper. I didn't add salt, though--the salt would draw the moisture out of the onions, which would mean they would take longer to caramelize.

Some people say that adding the salt at the beginning actually helps the onions caramelize. That could be true. I don't have the devotion to test out which method is faster. So I just do it this way. If you want to salt at the beginning, go for it.

While your onions are getting nice and golden, you can start on the croutons.

I used a loaf of bread I'd baked the day before.

This was a loaf made using the 5 Minutes a Day method. If you like warm bread with your meals but don't have a lot of time, I highly recommend checking it out! It doesn't (in my mind) replace traditional bread from a bread baker, but for warm, crusty bread on a weeknight it can't be beat.

Dice your bread into crouton-sized pieces.

You know, it's weird. I know that these croutons are like the kind you can buy in a bag in the store. But to me, those croutons belong on salad, and these croutons belong in soup. I don't think I could eat French onion soup with salad croutons on top. So please, please, give these croutons a try before you go the bagged route!

Anyhow. Spread your bread cubes out in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.

Then give them a nice coating of garlic powder. I don't measure how much garlic powder I use--I just keep adding until the cubes have a nice, garlicky scent.
I give them a little salting and peppering for taste, too, and then toss everything together. They go in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until they're completely crisp all the way through.

Like this!

Now set 'em aside and get back to your onions.
By this time, your onions should be cooking down nicely.

So it's time to think about how you'll be flavoring your soup.

I like to use a mixture of beef and chicken broth. Balsamic vinegar will keep the soup from getting cloudy. Worcestershire sauce gives things a nice depth of flavor. And the hard cider gives the broth a nice, crisp taste.

Many recipes call for sherry instead of the cider. We don't have sherry in the house, because, well, neither of us drinks sherry. Plus, if I use the cider, then I can drink what's leftover ;)

I've tried this recipe with beer as well. It's equally as delicious! Go for a lighter, sweeter beer, though.

When you've got a nice caramelization on your onions, you can start adding your broth ingredients.

First was the wor-chester-shire-y sauce.
Here goes the beef broth.

Then the chicken broth.

Half a bottle of hard cider is next. The Winter Woodchuck cider is oak aged and has a slight vanilla taste. It's a limited release every winter. I have a friend who goes and buys all the Winter Woodchuck she can when it comes out, she likes it so much.

Then in goes a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Thyme, onions, and beef go so well together, so I flavored the soup with a little dried thyme.

I also added a bay leaf, which you can sort of see under the measuring spoon.

That's a spoonful of deliciousness right there.

To serve my soup, I grabbed a bowl and sprinkled the bottom with Swiss and Parmesan cheese. Traditionally,  Gruyere cheese is melted over the top, but I was feeling cheap and a small wedge of Gruyere was running about $10 that week.

And who am I kidding. I want to eat soup now. I don't have time to wait for cheese to broil in the oven!

A scoopful of soup goes on top of the cheese. It makes the cheese all stringy and melty. Mmm.

With a few homemade garlicky croutons and a little more cheese on top, you've got yourself a steaming bowl of French onion soup! Next time you're craving something warm and homey, give this recipe a try. Now that you know it can be so easy, you'll never want to order this soup in a restaurant again!

Recipe: French Onion Soup

5 onions, quartered and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. sugar

1 box beef broth
1 can chicken broth
1/2 c. hard cider (or wine, sherry, beer, etc.)
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. dried thyme

shredded Parmesan and Swiss cheeses, for serving

In a large pot, combine onions, garlic, butter, sugar, and pepper. Cook onions over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until caramelized (should take about 40 minutes.)

Add beef broth, chicken broth, hard cider, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, bay leaf, and dried thyme. Heat until soup is bubbling. Serve with shredded Parmesan and Swiss cheese and homemade croutons.

Recipe: Garlicky Croutons:
1 small loaf bread, cubed
olive oil, for drizzling
garlic powder, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

On a baking sheet, toss bread cubes with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. Bake at 350F until completely toasted.

Monday, March 28, 2011


I never had popovers until I took myself out to lunch at a German restaurant. They served popovers instead of dinner rolls. At first, I was a little hesitant--I mean, how can you outdo a dinner roll? But I learned that there is nothing more delicious than a well-prepared popover. A little buttery, a little sweet, a little crunchy. These things have it all! And you don't even need a popover pan.

Before you start anything, preheat your oven to 450F.

Once your oven is warming, you can start the popover batter. A cup of flour will start you off.

A bit of sugar and salt will boost the flavor of the batter. Give things a stir.

Melt a little butter in another bowl. Let it cool slightly.

Add some milk to the butter.

Now, this is pretty important. The milk (and eggs, which come next) should be room temperature. You could use cold ingredients if you're in a rush, but your popovers may not pop very much. They'll still taste good, though.

Add the eggs and a pinch of salt.

Give your wet ingredients a quick whisk, to break up the eggs.

Pour the wet ingredients in with the dry ingredients.

Whisk the wet and dry ingredients together.

You should have a nice batter.

Now grab a muffin tin (or, if you're lucky, a popover pan) and give it a good shower of nonstick spray. This is important--your popovers will need help to puff up, and this will also keep them from sticking.

Grab half a stick of butter and cut it into pieces.

Pop a piece of butter into each muffin well.

Place the muffin tin in the oven, until the butter melts.

Once the butter has melted, fill each muffin well with popover batter.

Three-fourths of the way up each well should be just the right amount to fill each well.

Put the muffin tin back in the oven. Let the popovers bake for 20 minutes. DO NOT open the oven door to peek!!

After 20 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350F. Let the popovers bake for another 20 minutes.

Nice and popped over!

You'll probably need to run a knife around the outside of the popovers to help unstick them. Give them a poke with a knife, too. This will help release steam and keep them from deflating.

Serve them while they're still hot! Give this recipe a try. They're great plain, with a little more butter if you're feeling indulgent, and heated up the next day with a little jam! You will fall in love!

Recipe: Popovers

1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. butter, melted
1 c. milk, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 tsp. salt

6 tbsp. butter, cut into 1/2 tbsp. chunks

Preheat oven to 450F.

In a bowl, combine flour and sugar.

Melt the butter in a medium-sized bowl. Allow to cool slightly. Add milk, eggs, and salt. Give things a quick whisk.

Pour and whisk wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Spray a muffin tin (or popover pan) with nonstick spray. Add a chunk of butter in each muffin well.

Place muffin tin in the oven. Let heat until butter melts.

Add the popover batter. Fill the muffin wells up half- to three-quarters of the way.

Bake for 20 minutes. Do not open the oven door! Reduce heat to 350F and bake for another 20 minutes.

Remove muffin tin from the oven; run a knife around the edge of the popovers and give each popover a poke with your knife to release steam. Serve hot!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Asian Cole Slaw

One of my coworkers brought this dish to a potluck a few years ago, and I fell in love. I've since added my own tweaks. I love to make this in the spring and summer, to go with all the yummy grilled food that gets made this time of year.

The first thing you'll want is a container with a tight seal. Usually I use those plastic food containers with the screw top, but we must have a Tupperware gnome, because all of our plastic containers are disappearing. So instead, today I used a Bell jar. Any kind of container would be fine here, as long as it has a tightly fitting lid.

Measure out some sugar and pour it in.

Next is some vegetable oil.

Vinegar is next. I use both apple cider vinegar (for some extra tang) and rice wine vinegar (for a more Asian flavor.)

Soy sauce adds to the Asian flavor profile.

Sesame oil just makes things smell nice!

I give the dressing a small pinch of salt (to add another element to the dressing--just a tiny pinch, mind you, there are other aspects here that add a salty flavor), as well as a few cracks from my pepper grinder and a small shake of crushed red pepper flakes.

I like looking at the dressing before it's mixed up--the liquid trying to soak into the sugar reminds me of a lava lamp.

Once you're done watching the bubbles, you can give your dressing a good shake and set it aside.

To add some crunch to your cole slaw, nab a package of ramen noodles. I used Oriental flavor, but use whatever flavor you like best (I think they all taste fairly similar.) If you're taking this salad to a potluck, a package of shrimp flavor and some of those little salad shrimps would jazz it up a little.

Anyhow, crush up your noodles. If you've got a kid, they'll love this job!

Pour the crushed noodles into a small baking dish (and use your hands to break up any huge lumps of noodles you may have missed.

Sprinkle the noodles with some sesame oil.

Shake in the ramen seasoning packet.

Add a handful of slivered almonds. Then give the noodles a good toss, and make sure the seasoning gets a good mix.

Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes until the nuts and noodles get a little color, and let cool.

Now you're ready to assemble your cole slaw. I make it in small, individual-sized batches, since the cole slaw tends to become wilted after a while. If you're taking this somewhere, I would wait until the last minute to assemble it. Give your dressing a good shake. Pour some dressing over the cole slaw and toss. I like to make sure my cabbage is well coated.

Then sprinkle in as much of the ramen noodle mix as you like, and stir it in. Let the flavors meld for a few minutes, and then dig in!

Asian Cole Slaw

1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
salt and pepper, to taste
a pinch crushed red pepper flakes

1 package ramen noodles
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/4 c. sliced almonds

1 bag cole slaw mix

In a container with a tight-fitting lid, combine sugar, oil, vinegars, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes. Shake well and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F. Crush ramen noodles. Pour into a small baking dish; coat with sesame oil. Add almonds and sprinkle on seasoning packet from ramen noodles. Toss everything together. Bake for 20-25 minutes until nuts and noodles are lightly golden brown. Let cool fully.

Toss cole slaw mix with dressing. Add noodles and toss again. Serve immediately.