French Onion Soup

I have been asked to share my recipe for French Onion Soup. The problem is that it’s not so much a recipe as an event. I suppose I could give you a “recipe” but that would just feel wrong. There is so much to say about every component that doesn’t fit in a regular recipe. So many variations and options and theory-art and science and much to say about my journey to French Onion Soup perfection. I will spare you the science and the details of my journey, but will impart as much information as necessary to create the best French Onion Soup you’ve ever served and to embark on your own journey French Onion Soup perfection.

The Broth

(make this the day before)

one big package of beef bones
one large onion
a couple of carrots
some peppercorns
a couple of bay leaves
a sprig or two of thyme and/or rosemary

Most grocery stores will have beef bones and they’re cheap. If you don’t see any, flag down a meat department employee and ask for beef soup bones.

Put the bones in a large pan. Cut the root end off the onion, remove only the first papery layer and cut it into big chunks then toss in the pan. Cut the carrots into large pieces and toss them in too. Drizzle the whole lot with some canola oil. Roast in a 450F oven until the beef is dark. How long this takes will depend on how big the pieces of bone are. Stop just shy of burnt.
Put everything in a large soup pot, add the spices and herbs then cover with cold water. Put the lid on and turn the heat to medium. Once it starts to simmer, turn it down to the lowest setting possible and leave it there for 6 or 8 hours.
Strain the chunks off through a cheesecloth.
You now have a beautiful broth for soup or gravy or any kind of sauce. I freeze broth in freezer bags. If you do it so that the frozen packet is flat it takes up hardly any room in your freezer and thaws really quickly. This is important for me because I have a wee apartment freezer and don’t own a microwave.

The Bread

(also make the day before)

3 cups flour
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup warm water

Mix flour, sugar, yeast and salt together, add the warm water. Mix until it forms a ball, then knead for 5 minutes at least. Bread dough can be fussy and you really have to practice to know how much water to use and get the kneading technique down. I don’t want to scare you away because baking your own bread is very much worth the effort. Please don’t be discouraged if your first attempt(s) don’t look like what you get in the local bakery. What you’re making is a different thing entirely so it’s not fair to compare.
Smear some oil on the dough, put it in a bowl with a towel over it and leave it in a warm place to rise for about an hour. Ideally it will double in size.
Gently deflate the dough, divide in two and shape into 2 baguettes. Cover with a tea towel while you’re preheating the oven to 375F. Bake for about 20 minutes until the loaves are golden.

The Onions

1 Tbsp oil
1 1/2 pounds onions
1 tsp sugar

Cut the onions in half, root to blossom end, then slice so that you get julienne strips.
Heat a large pan to medium or medium low, preferably non-stick, heat the oil. Throw all the onions in, sprinkle with sugar.
Resist the urge to stir the onions until they have started to colour. Once the bottom layer has a bit of colour, give the onions a stir, then leave them alone again until the bottom layer gets colour again.
The key to carmelizing onions is to leave them alone. Don’t stand there and stir them or they will never get brown.

The Soup

Carmelized onions
1 1/2 to 2 litres of beef broth
1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup merlot
salt

Move the onions to your soup pot. Deglaze the onion pan and add to the soup pot. Add the beef broth, thyme, merlot and salt. Bring up to heat. Taste it and adjust the seasonings.

The assembly and presentation

Slice the bread into thick slices. Toast until crunchy.
Shred mozzerella and provolone cheese. I use about half and half. Toss together so it’s mixed evenly.
Ladle the soup into individual oven proof soup bowls. Top each bowl with a toasted slice of bread, put a little too much cheese on top of that, then put under the broiler until the cheese is golden and bubbly.
It will be too hot to eat for a few minutes.

Enjoy with a glass of wine.

Raspberry Oat Muffins

1 cup oats
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
dash nutmeg
1 egg
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup frozen raspberries

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease and flour a muffin pan, or use paper liners.

Combine oats and buttermilk, and set aside for 5 minutes. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, beat together the egg, oil, brown sugar and vanilla. Blend in the oat mixture. Toss the raspberries into the flour mixture, then stir into the rest of the ingredients. Stir just until moistened. Fill muffin cups 2/3 to 3/4 full.
Bake at 375F for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Shepherds Pie

2 tbsp oil
1 small onion, diced

2 lbs ground beef
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 handful frozen green beans
1 cup chopped mushrooms

1/4 cup flour
1 can beef broth

1 tbsp pureed parsley
fresh sage, chopped

Mashed potatoes;
5 potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
3 whole garlic cloves
1/4 c. cream
1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. skim milk if you need it

Heat the oil in the pan, cook the onions until soft. Add ground beef, stir and cook, adding the rest of the veggies in the order given. Once the beef is cooked, stir in the flour, then add the beef stock. Stir and let it simmer until it thickens. Add the herbs and turn the heat off. Put it in a casserole dish.

What I like to do is put half of this mixture in one dish and put it in the freezer. When you want to eat it, thaw it, cover with mashed potatoes and bake.

After you put the potatoes and whole garlic cloves in a large pot, put about an inch or two of cold water in. Add plenty of salt and simmer until the potatoes are soft. Drain the water, add the cream and butter and mash the potatoes with a masher. Add as much skim milk to make the potatoes as creamy and soft as you like it.

Cover the meat mixture with your mashed potatoes and bake at 350F until it’s all hot
top with mashed potatoes and bake until the whole thing is hot. You can tell because the meat mixture will bubble and push through the potatoes.

Irish Cream Cheesecake

Crust:

2 c. Nilla wafers
1/4 c. melted butter
Crush the wafers, stir with melted butter and press into a glass pie plate. Bake at 350F for about 10 minutes.

Filling:

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream
2 squares (2 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually beat in sugar. The secret to a smooth creamy cheesecake is right here. Stop, scrape the beaters and beat. Repeat until the mixture is smoooth and do not add the eggs until it is. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Scrape the beaters and beat some more. If you got the mixture smooth when it was only cheese and sugar you should be good here. Blend in Bailey’s. Stir in melted chocolate. Pour into crust.

Bake 10 minutes at 450°F, then turn the temp down to 250°F for 55 minutes. Cheesecake should still be a little loose and jiggle in the middle. Turn the oven off and prop the door open partway. Let the cake cool as the oven cools. Cooling the cake this way will minimize the cracking you often see in cheesecake.

Lemon Bars

When it comes to Lemon Bars I am frequently disappointed because usually there is a distinct lack of lemony flavour. I like pucker power when it comes to Lemon Bars or lemon anything for that matter. That’s why I took a classic Lemon Bar recipe and kicked it up a notch.
In Calgary, lemons are usually best in January, February and into the spring a little bit so make this recipe then.

1 large, juicy lemon
First, use your zester and get as much zest as you can from the lemon and put it in a small bowl. No need to measure. Then juice the heck out of the lemon.

Base;
1 cup flour
1/4 cup icing sugar
about half of your lemon zest
1/4 cup butter

Mix the flour, sugar and zest together, then melt the butter and mix it in. Press into a square glass pan. Bake for 20 minutes in a 350F oven. Cool.

Filling;
1 cup white sugar
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
lemon juice and the rest of the zest.
Mix the sugar, flour and baking powder together. Beat the eggs with the lemon juice and zest then add to the sugar mixture. Pour this mixture over the cooled base. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes.

When it’s cool dust with icing sugar and serve with blackberries or some other kind of berries.