Sunday, January 29, 2012

sunday soup day.

a steaming bowl of soup on a cold, lazy day has this sort of calming effect on me. sometimes progresso or campbell's can provide that temporary high, but there's really nothing like just rolling up your sleeves, turning on the stove and just making your own.

so with the idea of french onion soup lingering in the back of my brain for the last... oh, 3 months, i got into the kitchen with a recipe up on my laptop screen and 3 pounds of onions on my cutting board.

plus, when was the last time campbell's tomato soup supplied any sort of delicious leftovers the next day?


so i got chopping these absolutely monstrous onions. each one was almost a full pound!

no time to mess around with those pesky little onions. you know the ones where you cut off both ends, peel off the skin and you have all of a golfball sized "onion" left to work with. come on mother nature, give me a break! i want an onion i can actually work with!

let's make a full pot of french onion soup with only three onions.

yes. please.

by the way, best way to chop an onion is to cut off the tail so you have a level bottom that you can stand it on. then slice the onion in half, like i did above. after that, remove the skin and place the wider cutside down and make even, thin slices heading from the cut end to the end that is still in tact. i personally believe this is the easiest way to slice an onion because the bulb end holds it all together and you're never wobbling around with an unsteady vegetable and a sharp knife in your hand. not a good combination.

so three onions later, i had a very large bowl of onions sliced and ready for caramelizing.

starting with only a tablespoon of olive oil and half of the onions, i put the heat on medium and just let 'em go. i stirred them fairly often because i didn't want any to get more done than any others since my stock pot was already 1/4 of the way full.

...and because it's just one of those intoxicating aromas that i find very difficult to walk away from.

as they continued to caramelize, i continued to snitch hot morsels of sweet onion-y goodness.

hey. no harm, no foul.

once the first half of the onions were a nice caramel color, i added the other half of the onions.

letting the first half get a head start makes it so some of the onions are almost disintegrating when the glorious time comes to slurp up this sensational signature.

once the second half is added, i turned down the heat to medium low. it'll take almost an hour, but be patient and just let them hang out and get tasty.

and tasty is just what they got.

at this point, i would not think any less of you for taking a forkful for yourself.

in fact, i would probably encourage it.

it's crazy to think that this was once 3 pounds of monstrous onions that pushed the boundaries of a large mixing bowl. because now i can push all of those melt-in-your-mouth little bits to just one side of the pot.

(proof that caramelizing them loooow and sloooow can work all sorts of magic.)

once they've turned that dark brown color it's time to finally make this into a soup.

the recipe i was using called for 2 quarts of beef stock and a quart of chicken stock, along with a little lemon juice, worcestershire sauce, salt and white pepper. i also decided to add a little dried thyme and a little sprinkle of cayenne because as far as i'm concerned, a little bit of heat never hurt anyone.

but wait.

hold on a second.

there's something that needs to happen before all the liquid goes into the cauldron of deliciousness.

and its name is whiskey.

ok technically the recipe called for bourbon, so if you're making this and you have that on hand, feel free to use that. but the very limited amount of liquor that inhabits the top shelf of my parents' pantry apparently does not include bourbon. and even if it did, i would probably be from 1988 and i would be reluctant to use it anyways.

so regular whiskey would have to do. 

just throw about 1/3 of a cup into the onions and let it cook off for about 5 minutes.

(p.s. alton brown tid bit comin' at ya! if you ever hear that you can cook off all the alcohol in something, it's a myth. unless you cook it for like 5 hours, there is still going to be a significant amount of alcohol left in it. not enough to get you shhwasted with a slice of rum cake or a bowl of soup, but still.)

ok nooooow you can add in everything else. then just throw that sucker on low, cover it up, and try to resist it for about an hour.

your patience will be rewarded.

meanwhile, i made some croutons! on friday on my way back from a job interview in downtown milwaukee, i stumbled across this amazing bread shop.

homemade bread?
still warm?
made by a cute little old lady?

my original intent was to just pick up a scone since i hadn't had breakfast yet, but with everything going for this place, there was no chance i was leaving without a loaf of something.

and the faint sound of oven timers going off in the background completely validated my purchases.

so i cubed up what was left of my sourdough loaf and tossed them in olive oil, onion powder, garlic powder, rubbed sage, cayenne, and white pepper.

perfect complimentary flavors to my soup that is just getting better and better on the stove.

just place them in a 350 degree oven and take them out once they're golden brown on the edges and very crunchy. i realize they're going to be soggy once they're in the soup, but it adds a little toasty flavor and they hold up better than just weird little cubes of bread.

and finally... the time came.

my family was all home, it was an acceptable time of the day for dinner (not that the time of day has ever stopped me from enjoying something delicious before) and the flavors had been fairly well developed.

i dished up the soup, threw some freshly baked croutons in the bowl, and topped it all off with some shredded swiss cheese.

it came out a little too salty and peppery, which i accredit to the fact that i used bouillon for the stocks (pretty salty to begin with) and white pepper (much stronger than regular fresh ground black pepper). but in the end, it was still fantastic. (and i adjusted the recipe so yours will be better!)

a fairly lazy soup for a fairly lazy day. like i said earlier, it really doesn't get much better.

French Onion Soup

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
3 lbs. sweet onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup bourbon or whiskey
2 quarts beef stock
1 quart chicken stock
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
Homemade Croutons, see recipe below
Swiss cheese, shredded

In a Dutch oven or large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add half of the onions and cook, stirring, until dark golden brown and caramelized, about 15 minutes.

Add the remaining onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until a deep caramel color, about 1 hour.

Add the bourbon and cook, stirring occasionally, until evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the croutons and cheese, and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thicker and fragrant, about 1 hour.

 Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm. Serve in a bowl topped with Homemade Croutons (or other crouton or crusty bread of your choice) and sprinkled with swiss cheese.

Homemade Croutons

Day old bread (french, sourdough, whole wheat, whatever you got!)
Olive oil
Onion powder
Garlic powder
Rubbed sage
White pepper

Cube up the bread into bite-sized croutons. Toss them in the oil and then sprinkle with a little of each of the other herbs and spices. Toss again and then place on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or until golden brown and crunchy. 


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