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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Shrimp pasta suited for summer

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Summer has me in the mood for seafood, since it tends to be lighter than red meats or poultry.

After making pesto last week, I’ve been jumping at any opportunity to use it. When I was looking for ways to use some shrimp I purchased, I came across Robert Irvine’s Fresh Pesto Shrimp Pasta.

I’ve seen Irvine on “Restaurant Impossible.” At first I thought he was pretty callous, but after watching more episodes I’ve realized he really does care about the people he helps. I hadn’t made any of his recipes until I tried this one, and it’s simple, delicious and can be made quickly.

The original recipe called for two pounds of shrimp, but I only had a half pound, so I changed the amount of each of the ingredients. This version makes enough for two servings, which was perfect for me for dinner one night and to have leftovers for lunch the next day. I also substituted white pepper for the black pepper, since black pepper tends to be too harsh for my taste.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1/8 cup dry white wine, plus more if needed
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 pound spaghetti, cooked
2 tablespoons pesto
Salt and white pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons thin-sliced tomato skin, julienned

In saute pan over high heat, add the olive oil and allow to come to the verge of smoking. Next, add the shrimp and reduce the heat to medium. Continue to cook the shrimp until medium doneness, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. After the shrimp are medium, add the onions and allow to cook until translucent, another 2 minutes. Add pesto, stir, and then deglaze the pan with the white wine. Add the heavy cream and allow to reduce by half the volume, 2 to 3 minutes. Finally, add the pasta and stir. Finish seasoning with salt, pepper and additional wine if necessary. Allow to warm for 2 minutes, and then portion and serve. Top with the parsley and tomatoes.

A one-dish meal fit for a dad

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My dad does not have fancy taste. While some dads might have white-collar jobs and commute in SUVs, mine wears a uniform and commutes on a motorcycle. Some dads might like to dine at a fancy restaurant, but mine prefers to eat his meals out of a bowl after a long day at work.

I recently purchased some bay scallops from the store. While the usual idea of just searing them and having them with a side of cous cous crossed my mind, I wanted to do something more interesting. I looked around for ideas online and came across The Barefoot Contessa’s recipe for bay scallop gratin. I had all but one ingredient — the absinthe — on hand, so I did without it. I scaled down the original recipe so it only made two servings, since I only had a half-pound of scallops.

My favorite thing about the gratin is that it was easy to assemble and put in the oven after work. During the cooking process, the butter and wine came together to form a sort of seafood broth that added a ton of flavor to the scallops. The panko added a slightly crunchy topping that was a nice contrast to the texture of everything below it. A slice of bread was a nice addition that helped soak up the remaining broth.

This one-dish meal is something I think my dad might enjoy. Happy Father’s Day.

Bayscallopgratin2Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 medium shallots, minced
1 ounce thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma, minced
1 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoons Pernod (absinthe)
1 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1/4 cup panko
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 pound fresh bay scallops
Lemon, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place 2 (6-inch round) gratin dishes on a sheet pan.

To make the topping, place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (you can also use a hand mixer). With the mixer on low speed, add the garlic, shallot, prosciutto, parsley, lemon juice, Pernod, salt, and pepper and mix until combined. With the mixer still on low, add the olive oil slowly as though making mayonnaise, until combined. Fold the panko in with a rubber spatula and set aside.

Preheat the broiler, if it’s separate from your oven.

Place 1 tablespoon of the wine in the bottom of each gratin dish. With a small sharp knife, remove the white muscle and membrane from the side of each scallop and discard. Pat the scallops dry with paper towels and divide them among both dishes. Spoon the garlic butter evenly over the top of the scallops. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the topping is golden and sizzling and the scallops are barely done. If you want the top crustier, place the dishes under the broiler for 2 minutes, until browned. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of chopped parsley and serve immediately with crusty French bread.