French Onion Soup

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French onion soup is a wonderful meal on a chilly (brrrrr!) early spring day.  My version is not one a purist would approve but I think my recipe has a depth of flavor regular french onion soup does not have.  I start with bacon…..that statement alone should tell you that this version is going to be delicious. ;)

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I did trim off the large section of fat that you see in the top right portion of the photo below.  I think there was enough fat in the bacon I was dicing.  As you can see I used 9 half slices of regular bacon.

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I diced the bacon up into small cubes and dropped them into a hot skillet.

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The bacon is crispy and fat is rendering out of it so it’s almost ready to remove from the pan.

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Bacon removed from skillet and set aside on paper towelling to drain and be used later.

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Next I start on the home-made croutons.  I begin with day old bread and cut off 4 pieces, about 3/4″ thick.  I dice these slices up and place them into my hot skillet with the bacon drippings.  

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I toast the cubes, turning often, in the skillet until they are golden and crisp.

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When the bread cubes are ready I remove them from the skillet and set them aside for use later.

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Then I begin on the soup itself.  5 medium to large onions, 8 cups low sodium beef broth, 1 cup red wine, 1/2 tsp. hot sauce, freshly ground pepper, sliced swiss cheese, 2 tbsp. minced garlic, 1/2 stick butter, 4 tbsp. flour.

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I start by slicing up the onions as thinly as possible.  You will end up with a monster pile of onions. Note: I wear my reading glasses when I slice up my onions as it saves me the teary eyes you will have if you go at this with no eye protection.

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Next I heat up the soup pot and melt 1/2 stick of unsalted butter.

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When the butter has melted and is bubbling I add the onions, 2 tbsp. garlic and freshly ground black pepper.  You can add any additional seasonings your prefer as well.  Now would be the time to add cumin or thyme, etc.

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I let the onions cook down on medium heat for 20-30 minutes.  I turn the onions often as I am not looking to get any color on the onions, I only want them to soften slowly and cook down with the garlic.  

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Add 1 cup of red wine to the pot and let this bubble away until the wine has reduced and the pot has almost no liquid in it.  Then it is time to sprinkle 4 tbsp. of regular flour all over the onions.  Stir this up and let cook for another 5-10 minutes.  You are letting the flour incorporate into the onions and cooking that raw taste out of the flour.  

Next add 8 cups of low sodium beef broth, bring soup up to a boil then turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for an additional 20 minutes.  At this time I add a 1/2 tsp. of Sriracha hot sauce but you can leave this out if you don’t want any spice in your soup.  My mom always adds Worcestershire sauce to her version but I have omitted it here as I did not have any in the pantry.

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I set up my ramekins on the cutting board and ladle the onion soup into each, almost to the top rim of the ramekins.

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Now I add the finishing touches, sliced swiss cheese, home-made croutons and bacon bits. 

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A handful of croutons go on first.

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Then two slices of the swiss cheese on top and I tuck the cheese around the inner top of the ramekin.

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On top of the swiss cheese I sprinkle a few of the crispy, salty bacon bits.  Delicious!

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Then into the oven, with the broiler going, for about 5 minutes so the cheese bubbles and melts.  You need to watch the soup while it is under the broiler, the cheese and bacon bits can burn very quickly so now is not the time to leave the kitchen.

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I cannot express how delicious this soup is.  You just have to give it a try.  :)

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This recipe makes 5 servings.  *You many have noticed that I did not have salt listed as an ingredient in this recipe.  I add absolutely no additional salt to this dish as the bacon and swiss cheese have salt in them already as does the low sodium beef broth.  I am constantly tasting the soup as I make it.  Once the red wine and beef broth have been added you should taste the broth and see if you feel it needs any additional salt.  You can always add salt at the very end if you must but if you over salt the soup it is nearly impossible to cook it out and save the dish.

 

b80d03e4db86d10a4e0f6a7067008b33On a side note:  Clarissa Dickson Wright was one half of the Two Fat Ladies…she passed away last week at the age of only 66.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching the show and found both Clarissa and Jennifer very entertaining.  

Growing up my family lived in England for a short time as well as Australia for 5 years and so british food is a big part of my memories and childhood.  My mom learned to make all kinds of wonderful british dishes like bubble & squeak, Cornish pasties, scones & clotted cream, scotch eggs, beef & ale pie…….the list goes on.  

Farewell to Ms. Wright, she (& Jennifer) were always fun to watch.  May she rest in peace.

-Andi 


Ham & Cheese Panini’s

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I have this great panini press that I almost never use.  It is tucked away in a cabinet and when I am putting weekend lunches together I simply forget that it is in there which is a shame because panini’s or toasted sandwiches are a fun alternative to the typical sandwich.  I made simply scrumptious ham and cheese panini’s.  

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I start with a good crusty bread from the bakery, fresh greens, ham, cheese and fruit, either apples or pears. 

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This was an italian bread with sesame seeds, baked fresh on the day. 

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A little spicy brown mustard on one side of a slice of bread. 

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Thinly sliced Bosc pears add a lovely crunch and sweetness to the sandwich. 

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Time to assemble….bread, cheese, ham, green, and a slice of pear.   

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On the other slice of bread I also add another piece of ham and a slice of the cheese. 

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The panini press is on and has been heating up while I assembled the sandwiches. 

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I use a little bit of butter on the outer sides of the bread, I like the flavor and richness the butter adds to the sandwiches but you could use olive oil or margarine if you prefer.  Sandwiches side by side on the press.

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Lid down and add some pressure to really squish down the sandwiches and make contact with the hot plates of the press.

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Oh my gosh…look how yummy.  The cheese has melted and is oozing out and the bread is wonderfully toasted and crisp.

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The finished product!  Delicious on a plate with some fresh salad greens.

Enjoy!
-Andi

 


President’s Weekend

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We had a great weekend!  We are rocking this polar vortex/snowstorm season by spending as much time as possible on the slopes.  Hayden is the best skier in the family….he can swish his way down any double black diamond slope with ease.  I come next with a shaky single black diamond skill but most comfortable on the advanced blue slopes.  Evan is (to no ones surprise) a speed demon!  He takes the tow rope up to the middle of the hill, ski’s over to the chair lift which takes him to the top and then simply points his skis downhill and goes, in a tuck position and everything.  Morgan is more cautious but has just as much fun and my hubby rounds out the bunch.  He has not skied in 30 years and I must say he is making great strides at proficiency. It has been quite entertaining to watch and thankfully he has a great sense of humor.

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Hayden coming in to spray his brother with snow.

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Evan looking confident and much too cool to turn towards the camera. :)  I may have been embarrassing him by calling out his name, repeatedly, in order to get him to look at me and smile at the camera. C’est la vie…that’s life with me as your mom.

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Morgan and my hubby on the bunny slope.  In the background you can see the other skiers and snow tubers riding the magic carpet.  This is a wonderful invention that runs much like an escalator. You stand on it and it gently brings you up to the top of the bunny slope where an attendant is there to help the newbies step/ski off.  Go to the right and ski down to the bottom, go to the left and use your inner tube to launch yourself down the tubing slope.

Everyone was happily exhausted by the end of the day and the kids were starving so we packed it up and headed out.  

I whipped up a platter of nachos when we arrived home.  The chili was leftover from supper the night before and thus assembly of the nachos was quick and easy.

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I had a bag of tortilla chips in the pantry, monterey jack & extra sharp cheddar in the fridge, leftover chili, and banana peppers. 

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I grated 2 cups each of the monterey jack and sharp cheddar and set aside on a platter with a big scoop of banana peppers.

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I cover my heavy-duty cookie sheet with parchment paper.  This will make it easy for me to transfer the nachos out of the oven and onto the platter later.

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Start with a single layer of chips.  I try to keep them in a circular shape as that is the shape of the platter they will be transferred onto later.  On top of the base layer of chips spread a layer of cheese.

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I cover the cheese with another layer of tortilla cheese. 

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Next I scoop on some chili which I have warming on the stove.  I don’t drown the chips in chili, just carefully pour on the chili so it covers the top and sides of the chips.

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On top of the chili I add some banana peppers. (Morgan doesn’t love spicy nachos so I do spicy on one side)

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Another layer of chips with chili and cheese on top.

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Cover the entire mountain of chips with cheese.

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Place cookie sheet with nachos into a preheated 350 degree oven.  I bake my nachos for 7 to 10 minutes but oven temperatures vary so watch your nachos to make sure they don’t burn.

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I carefully use the corner of the parchment paper to slide the nachos off the cookie sheet and onto my large round platter.

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I trim the parchment paper around the platter.  (If you do this step please be very careful as the cheese is molten lava hot.)

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Hot and delicious…this feeds our family of 5 with no leftovers.  It is quite filling with all the layers of chili and cheese.  You can change this up and make larger platters for a bigger group…swap out toppings for the things your family likes best.  

I hope everyone has a chance to get outdoors and enjoy what mother nature has to offer in your neck of the woods.

-Andi


Snowed In and Homemade Meatballs

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What do I do when I am sick of the news replaying details of the most recent storm and constantly discussing the polar vortex and minus freezing temperatures…..I make a big batch of mini-meatballs. School was cancelled yesterday so I had the perfect excuse to hide away in the kitchen and cook.  

A hot, steaming bowl of spaghetti with my mini-meatballs. YUM!

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I usually begin with one package each of ground beef and ground pork but on this occasion I only had beef and was not going to brave the cold temperatures to run to the market for pork.  So I have only beef for this recipe.  The rest of my ingredients are eggs, breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, milk, sriracha hot sauce.

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I begin my dicing up the onion and then placing the onion and about 2 tablespoons of minced garlic into a hot skillet.  Saute these until they are soft.  I am trying to take the bite out of the onion and garlic.  Cooking it until soft and transparent works better for these small meatballs.  When onions are softened and translucent set mix aside to cool. 

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Next prep the ground beef…whole package into a big bowl.  Break the beef apart with your hands, add in 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of bread crumbs, 2 eggs (beaten), salt & pepper, and 1 teaspoon of sriracha hot sauce.  If you do not like heat in your meatballs then do not add the sriracha.  This stuff is very strong and a little bit goes a very long way.

So now you should have your ground beef with all the extras in a big bowl, time to get your hands dirty.  Using both hands mix all the ingredients into the ground beef.  Once all the ingredients are incorporated (about 3 minutes of mixing) you are ready to make meatballs.  Make sure you have a cutting board or platter ready to line up the meatballs as you finish each one.

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I roll about a tablespoon of the ground beef mixture into a ball, place on cutting board and so on until I can fill a freezer bag with about 55-58 meatballs.  It helps to have a cookie sheet on hand so you can slide your bag full of meatballs onto it and then the next bag on top and place the whole thing in the freezer.  Cookie sheet can be taken out once the meatballs have frozen in the bags.  This recipe made about 125 meatballs.

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I keep about 25 meatballs on the side to use for the evening meal.  Heat up a skillet (medium heat) with a little bit of olive oil.  One the oil is hot I drop in my meatballs.  The goal here is to brown them all over.  They will finish in the sauce so I am not trying to cook them through at this point.

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I use tongs to turn each meatball so they brown all over.

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In the photos below you can see that the meatballs are nicely browned but not in the least bit cooked completely.  At this point they are ready for sauce.

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A whole jar of tomato sauce goes in over the meatballs.  I use the same skillet they were browned in as I don’t want to lose all the good bits on the bottom of the skillet.  I add in about of cup of good red wine, cover the skillet and let the sauce reduce.  In about 20-30 minutes I have the most wonderful sauce…the meatballs have finished in the tomato sauce and red wine, all the crispy bits from the bottom of the skillet have been stirred into the sauce and it is just heavenly.

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Spaghetti with meatballs, for me the ultimate comfort food.   

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If tonight’s storm is as bad as the weatherman says then tomorrow will be a snow day as well.  Luckily I have bags of meatballs in the freezer ready to go.  I am thinking meatball grinders…

Stay safe and warm!

-Andi