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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Transforming leftovers into comfort food

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Early last week I roasted a large portion of turkey I purchased from Costco. After eating some every day, I was left with one small portion. But I didn’t just want to reheat it. I needed to do something with it.

The first thing that usually comes to mind for me when I have leftover chicken or turkey is a pot pie. Pot pies are pretty simple, as long as you have a few vegetables and basic ingredients on hand. I’ve made pot pies before, but have never found a good recipe for the sauce. Most sauces are made of mostly flour and either water, broth or milk — some of which turn out thinner than I prefer, while others are too thick. This time, I consulted my Cook’s Illustrated cookbook, and it called for a combination of the three. While I didn’t follow the recipe to a T, I did use it as a guideline and it produced the best pot pie sauce I’ve made to date.

Traditional pot pies use carrots, celery and onion, but I all I had in the fridge were onions, bell peppers and broccolini. Together, the three worked well. That’s the great thing about pot pies — you can use just about anything you like to fill them. This makes one large pot pie, suitable for one hungry person.

Crust
8 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon water

Filling
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 small bell pepper, chopped
1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
6 stalks broccolini, save florets, either chop or discard stalks
1/2 cup chopped turkey or chicken
1/2 bullion cube
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon goat cheese
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream or milk
1 tablespoon water (if needed)
Dash of dried chives, basil or other herbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated Parmesan

Combine butter, flour and salt in a small bowl. Using your hands, mix the ingredients until the dough forms into pea-size pieces. Add water and mix in. Take three-fourths of the dough and pat into a 6-inch round oven-safe glass dish. Flatten remaining one-fourth of the dough into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and put into freezer alongside dish with crust.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped bell pepper, onion and broccolini florets. Sautee until onion is translucent. Add turkey, flour, 1/2 cup water and 1/2 bullion cube. Bring to a simmer. Once bullion cube has dissolved, add goat cheese and heavy whipping cream stir until combined. If sauce seems too thick, add one tablespoon water. Turn off heat to burner. Add basil, chives and salt.

Take prepared pan and dough out of freezer. Pour filling into pan. Shape remaining dough into crust and place over filling. Pinch edges to seal crust. Using a fork, prick holes in top of crust. If desired, grate Parmesan over crust.

Put pot pie on a cookie sheet in oven for 25 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before digging in.