Monday, 12 November 2012

French Onion Soup

            I am in love with the Food & Drink Magazine the LCBO puts out for free. IN LOVE. In my family, a new Food & Drink day is better than Christmas. We live for it. For a while, I was just going to the LCBO blindly, stumbling upon it here and there. Too many days of disappointment resulted from that lack of planning though. Since I’m in Ottawa, there are always as many French versions as there are English. I would get excited that there were some left (because they are always gone within 24 hours) only to discover it was in French. My delicate heart simply cannot take that kind of crushing disappointment, so I needed a better way.

            This is where the Internet becomes a beautiful thing. I am only telling you this because you are our trusted reader, and I would encourage you to keep this type of info under your hat, but the Food & Drink comes out on Wednesdays. Usually every other month or so. Again, you can go in blindly knowing that, and have a fairly good chance of getting one, but you are even better off to know that the LCBO actually puts the release date on its website! I write this into my Moleskine agenda (because I am a hipster and this blog simply did not have enough product placement) and I have never been defeated in the LCBO again, begging them to check in the storeroom for one last box.

            They do not check for another box for you. In fact, I am quite convinced my LCBO has given up on trying to put them on the shelf entirely (and I’ll leave my conspiracy theories about how many copies the employees take home for another day). They just have one employee that stands there and opens new boxes as they run dry. That is their official title, but their REAL job is to ensure you take only one copy of the magazine. I have been scolded countless times for trying to sneak off with 2 or 6, because this is how you have to help out your friends. 

            So this week, the Holiday 2012 came out, and everything in it is just a delight. My personal ritual with the Food & Drink (and everyone has one) is to set aside a full two hours with it, preferably with a nice gin cocktail, and read every single page. I mark the recipes I want to try, and then I go back and re-read those recipes.

            I could wax rhapsodic about the Food & Drink all day, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already blogged about it at least once. The whole thing is just great, but this week reminded me of around this time last year. Have you ever had that feeling where you just need to sit next to your mum on the couch and watch TV together? Every time I go home, it is usually for an event of some type. A birthday or party of some type, occasionally a holiday. This makes everything rushed and we never have time to just hang out. So, last year, I went home with the only goal of sitting next to Mummy on the couch, and cooking together.

            Being the ambitious women that we are, we broke out about 6 issues of the Food & Drink, and went looking for recipes. Several hours later, we had spent about $100 on different cheeses, bought two types of ramekins, and had a five-course meal to cook. This might stress out someone who doesn’t love to cook as much as we do, but our house felt like Christmas morning for the sheer joy of it.  Just for your interest, the menu was cheddar cups with bacon, French Onion soup, roasted pork loin, a salad of some variety and lemon soufflé for dessert. It was an unbelievably delicious meal, which my aunt and cousin joined us for, and every ounce of homesickness I had was cured within a few minutes.

            One day, when I have ten days to do nothing but blog, I will help you with that menu. For today, we will start with the French Onion soup.

            French Onion soup is my absolute favourite thing order in a pub. Pair that with a side Caesar salad, and I am in pub heaven (okay, and a Strongbow too). I never even thought that it was something I could re-create at home. How could I make a melting pot of cheesy deliciousness? It was one of those recipes in my mind that could only happen in magical restaurant kitchens.

            Mummy does not have the magic restaurant kitchen affliction, and nothing is too big to take on (as we see from her homemade pâté recipe). She said we were going to make that at home, and by-God, we did! It’s actually very simple, and you can do it too!

            You will need a few things to make this happen though. You do need an ovenproof ramekin for this, because I don’t think a regular bowl would work. Plus, presentation counts, so just get to the Dollar store and buy some ramekins. You won’t regret this purchase, because you can make anything look special if you put it in a ramekin.

            Ingredients are as follows:
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Beef broth
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->2 onions, sliced
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Sherry (I bought mine from the Wine Rack, because it was not the same shopping trip as the LCBO. If you plan on drinking that sherry though, I would recommend not chintzing out like I did.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Fresh thyme
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Bay leaf
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Worcestershire sauce 
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Gruyère cheese, grated
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Baguette
<!--[if !supportLists]-->·      <!--[endif]-->Dijon mustard

How simple is that grocery list? If you saved that rib from the prime rib we made last Sunday, hopefully you simmered it overnight with water and seasoning and made your own beef broth. I did. But if you didn’t, Campbell’s will do just fine. I suggest buying the low sodium variety, so that you can control the seasoning in your soup better.
The first thing you want to do is give yourself so time to simmer the soup. The longer it simmers, the better it will be. In fact, I had the leftovers the day after I made it, and they were even more delicious than fresh.

Start by sautéing your onions in butter until they are golden. There will be bits stuck the bottom of the pot, (you are using a large pot, right?) so get our your wooden spoon because we are going to de-glaze the pot with the sherry. Add a good-sized splash, ¾ of a cup or so, and stir right away to get all the flavour off the bottom of the pot. Let this reduce by half to really bring out the flavour of the sherry (hence, why good sherry is better). Next, add your beef broth (enough to cover the onions), splash of Worcestershire, quite a lot of fresh thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Just be careful with your salt, especially if you are using store bought broth. Finally, throw in a bay leaf (because bay leaves make everything taste better) and bring to a boil. Then turn down and simmer for several hours. At least one, two or three is better.

When you are getting ready to serve, grate your cheese. Two handfuls is good for two bowls of soup, so about a handful per serving. Next, make some crostini. For my ramekin, I needed two slices of baguette per bowl, plus one more for the side of the plate. Toast your baguette under the broiler (you might as well leave that on for when the soup) and then spread the two slices for the bowl with a bit of Dijon mustard.

Place your toasts in the bottom of the ramekin and spoon your soup on top, with just a half centimetre at the top for the cheese. Put a healthy layer of cheese on the soup and put your bowls on a baking tray. This will keep it so that you don’t have to spend the rest of the evening scrubbing your oven. Broil your soup until golden and bubbly on the top. Serve with a crostini and some Caesar salad (and possibly a breath mint). You’ll never have to go to the pub again! At least, not for French Onion soup. 

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