A fresh take on French onion soup

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French onion soup is never something I’ve craved. I think I may have tasted it once at a restaurant years ago, but hadn’t given it much thought since. I’ve been eating a lot of soups and stews this year, and I wanted to expand my repertoire. I wanted to go outside my comfort zone.

I browsed the Food Network site, as I so often do when looking for inspiration, and chose Alton Brown’s French Onion Soup recipe at the recommendation of a friend. I had never heard of French onion soup with Cognac and apple cider. I was intrigued.

Cutting onions always makes me tear up, so I wanted to slice them in the fastest way I could. I took out my mandoline slicer and did it quickly — and without tears. The mandoline made it a much easier process than it would have been otherwise. If you have one, I recommend using it for this soup.

After slicing the onions, cooking the soup became a slower process, but it was completely worth it in the end. It made about six servings, so I had lunch all set for the work week.

Many of the reviewers said the soup was a bit too sweet. The first time I made it, I agreed with them. But the second time around, I used two red onions instead of two sweet onions, and I used a less concentrated cider. It helped tremendously. Smoked fontina also addedI wouldn’t change anything else because, at the end of the day, I’d learned a new recipe and had something to warm me up as the snow fell outside.

Ingredients
3 sweet onions (like Vidalias) and 2 red onions (about 4 pounds total)
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups white wine (sauvignon blanc and dry riesling both work well)
10 ounces canned beef consume
10 ounces chicken broth
10 ounces apple cider (Tree Top works well)
Bouquet garni; thyme sprigs, bay leaf and parsley tied together with kitchen string
1 loaf country style bread
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
Splash of Cognac (optional)
1 cup Fontina or Gruyere cheese, grated

Trim the ends off each onion then halve lengthwise. Remove peel and finely slice into half moon shapes. Set electric skillet to 300 degrees and add butter. Once butter has melted add a layer of onions and sprinkle with a little salt. Repeat layering onions and salt until all onions are in the skillet. Do not try stirring until onions have sweated down for 15 to 20 minutes. After that, stir occasionally until onions are dark mahogany and reduced to approximately 2 cups. This should take 45 minutes to 1 hour. Do not worry about burning.

Add enough wine to cover the onions and turn heat to high, reducing the wine to a syrup consistency. Add consume, chicken broth, apple cider and bouquet garni. Reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.

Place oven rack in top 1/3 of oven and heat broiler.

Cut country bread in rounds large enough to fit mouth of oven-safe soup crocks. Place the slices on a baking sheet and place under broiler for 1 minute.

Season soup mixture with salt, pepper and cognac. Remove bouquet garni and ladle soup into crocks leaving one inch to the lip. Place bread round, toasted side down, on top of soup and top with grated cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden, 1 to 2 minutes.

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A sweeter spin on scalloped potatoes

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Some vegetables stump me when it comes to figuring out new ways to prepare them. Sweet potatoes are one I struggle with. Outside of baking them or cutting them up into small pieces and frying them, I didn’t really know what else to do with them — that is, until I saw a recipe for Pumpkin Scalloped Potatoes on Pinterest.

The sauce for this recipe is sweet, and the thyme lends a really nice flavor to it. The first time I made this, I used both Yukon Gold potatoes and yams, but the combination of the sweeter sauce and the Yukon Gold potatoes didn’t taste quite right to me. I liked the idea of making a pumpkin cream sauce with herbs for the potatoes, so I made the dish a second time only using yams. It was much better.

I used a mandolin slicer to cut the potatoes, and it was really nice to have all the pieces cut uniformly. I used cheddar and Parmesan, since that’s what I had in the fridge. The cheese added a much-needed savory flavor to the dish, which helps balance the overall taste.

This dish is a great way to make the most of fall flavors. It’s a nice comfort food for cold days, too. I may consider making it for Thanksgiving this year.

1scallopedsweetpotatoes111013Ingredients
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1/3 teaspoon dried thyme)
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly grated is best!)
2 large yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces Fontina, Havarti or cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with nonstick spray.

In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, pumpkin, thyme, garlic and nutmeg and heat over medium-low heat. While the cream sauce is warming, prepare the potatoes.

Create three rows of potatoes along the bottom of the dish, overlapping slightly and alternating the two types of potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove the cream from heat (fishing out the thyme and garlic and discarding those) and spoon 1/3 of the cream sauce over the potatoes. Combine the two cheeses in a medium bowl. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheeses over the potatoes too. Create a second layer of potatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with 1/3 more of the sauce and 1/3 more of the cheese. Create a third layer of potatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with the remainder of the sauce.

Bake the potatoes, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese on top, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly browned and bubbly.