Domesticity Nouveau

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

French Onion Soup

The arrival of fall is welcome for so many reasons, one of which is the smell of delicious soups bubbling on the stove. Soup is one of the more simple things to cook, basically stuff of some sort with liquid of some sort. Now I'm sure there are people out there who have very refined palettes with matching vocabulary that would argue with my simple description, but you can't eat words, although at times I'm sure we all wish we or someone else could. I don't feel a strong desire to create elaborate descriptions of good food, I just want to eat it!

I think a lot of people are intimidated by what they perceive to be the difficult task of cooking a meal. Like all things, it takes some practice to have good knife skills and a nose that can distinguish between oregano and thyme. French Onion Soup, fortunately, is one of the most simple meals to make.

To begin with drink a glass of wine. Yes, the whole glass. Your creations take on your personality, and if you are all bent up and fearful of making mistakes, it shows in your results. Have you finished your wine? Go ahead, chug it, I'll wait.

Now, take a soothing stroll through the garden and gather your onions and thyme. Don't have a garden? Maybe another glass of wine? I'm serious about this relaxing stuff!

Now that you are relaxed (and maybe a little tipsy), lets break out the knives. Knives are the most basic of tools in the kitchen. Just like a carpenter has a hammer for nails and a screwdriver for screws, different knives do better at some tasks than others. You wouldn't want to hammer a nail with a screwdriver, so why would you cut an onion with a steak knife from DollarTree? Those cheap steak knives are great for slicing tomatoes, but really inefficient, bordering on dangerous, when cutting an onion. Use a big knife with a wide blade and make sure it is SHARP. Dull knives are frustrating because they don't cut, and often slip which has the potential of being really unpleasant. Here is a link to a youtube video on very basic knife skills.

So lets get started! The basic instructions are as follows: Drink a glass of wine, slice the onions, caramelize the onions, add the broth, let the flavors marry (so romantic), make some toast, put it all in a bowl, smother with cheese and devour. Make sure the person you want to kiss tonight has had a glass of wine and eats the soup too, it lowers their objection to the onion breath :)

French Onion Soup
8 servings

4 TBSP Butter
4 pounds of red onions, or a mix of red, yellow and sweet (6-8 medium onions)
4 32oz boxes of beef broth
4 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
2 Bay leaves
Salt and Pepper
8 Slices of bread
8 oz Gruyere or Swiss cheese

In a large soup pot, over medium heat, melt the butter. Slice onions into 1/4" slices, adding to the pot as you go and very lightly salting. Let cook for about 45 minutes to caramelize (get soft and start to turn brown), stirring every 15 minutes or so... not too much. Hopefully you get some golden goodness stuck to the bottom of the pot, but if not, no worries, it will still taste fabulous! Pour in a container of beef broth and scrape up any goodies on the bottom. Add the remaining beef broth, thyme, bay leaves and a light grind of pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for about 30-45 minutes without the lid (you want the flavors to concentrate).

Heat your oven to 200 degrees and place the slices of bread on a rack to dry out for about 30 minutes, turning once. Or if your toaster really dries out your bread, use that instead... mine only makes an impression of being toasted or briquettes. Stale bread is great for this step!

Here is where things get tricky... I'm telling you it is complicated!!! Traditional French Onion soup is placed under the broiler to get the cheese all gooey and messy. However, I do not have fancy schmancy oven proof bowls, so I had to get ingenious, (all right, it's not all that clever, but it is a workaround). Take those dried out pieces of toast you made, carefully pile on cheese slices and put under the broiler for about 2 minutes, until the cheese gets good and gooey. Now pour some soupy goodness in a bowl and top with your cheesy toast... wait a moment before you eat it, cheese burns are not fun!

I always like to make big batches of soup so it is available for lunch or the freezer, but I understand that not everyone likes to do that. Below are the ingredients for 2 servings, and I'm sure you can do the math to adjust that for whatever your needs are. Now go chow down!

French Onion Soup Ingredients per 2 servings:
1 Tbsp Butter
1 pound of onion, about 2 medium*
1 32oz container beef broth
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried
1/2 bay leaf
2 slices of bread
2 oz Gruyere or Swiss Cheese
*Note, it won't take as long for a smaller batch of onions to caramelize.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Herbed Brown Rice

In the fall I particularly like having something yummy baking in the oven. After months of avoiding the oven because it makes the house hot, I eagerly welcome the warmth and coziness from that wonderful kitchen appliance. There is something magical about cooking. Even cooking in an Easy-Bake, light-bulb-powered oven. You put something in raw, completely inedible and a while later pull out something warm and satisfying. The grumbling in your tummy stops and all seems right with the world for a short time. If only I felt the same glow of satisfaction from the dishwasher as I do from the oven!

One of my new favorites is a baked brown rice dish that is as easy and cheap as it is delicious. It is simple to change the flavors and create something different to suit whatever you are craving, just follow the base recipe and adjust the seasoning to something that satisfies your yearnings.

Herbed Brown Rice
serves 1-6, depending on the size of the grumbling in your tummy

1 1/2 cups Brown Rice
1 can Chicken Broth + water to equal 2 1/2 cups liquid
1 TBSP Butter
Salt and Pepper to taste (about 1 tsp kosher salt)

1 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried minced onion
handful of chopped nuts (almonds and filberts are good)
1 can mushrooms, drained

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place rice in a covered baking dish (or use a square baking dish and seal tightly with foil). In a Saucepan, heat liquid, butter & seasonings until boiling. Pour over rice and stir. Cover dish and bake for one hour. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Another version is:
Creamy Spinach Chicken and Rice

1 1/2 cups Brown Rice
1 can Condensed milk + Chicken broth to equal 2 1/2 cups liquid
1 TBSP Butter
Salt and Pepper to taste (about 1 tsp kosher salt)

1 cup cooked chicken, or 1 can of chicken, drained
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried minced onion
10 oz package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed of all liquid
1 can mushrooms, drained

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place rice in a covered baking dish (or use a square baking dish and seal tightly with foil), and mix in shredded cheese and chicken. In a saucepan, heat liquid, butter and seasonings until boiling. Pour over rice and stir. Cover dish and bake for one hour. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pumpkin Pasta

Fall is officially here! To welcome my favorite season, yesterday I baked three pie pumpkins from the garden. I love pumpkins, and not just because their presence indicates my birthday finally approaching. I saved a bit of the pumpkin to cook for dinner and baked the rest for pies and what not.

I tried two ways to bake the pumpkin as a test to see the easiest way to remove the skin. For both I cut the pumpkins in half and scooped out the seeds and stringy stuff.

For pumpkin 1 I left the pumpkin in two halves with the skin on. I placed it in a baking dish with a 1/4 inch of water (to prevent burning and sticking) and baked at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, until it was fork tender. I let it cool and then removed the peel. My hands got messy and the peel stuck in places so I still needed to use a vegetable peeler to get it off, but it didn't require the hand strength that pumpkin 2 below did.

For Pumpkin 2 I cut each pumpkin half into wedges and removed the peel with a vegetable peeler. Then I cut it into large chunks and placed in a baking dish with 1/4 inch of water. I baked at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. This was by far the easier and less messy route, and it doesn't require that much hand strength, only slightly more than a carrot or apple. However, I could see if you had arthritis or carpal tunnel or some other issue, this might not be easier.

Regardless of which method you use to bake your pumpkin, you end up still needing to process it for a recipe. I tried the food mill first and didn't really get anywhere so I switched over to my favorite kitchen appliance... the Kitchen Aid Food Processor. Yes, it is a spendy little critter, but it is worth every single penny in my book! Of course there are more frugal options out there, but if you are going to use your food processor like I do, I say bigger is better and get one that will last! But I digress, constantly, I digress, but again that is me digressing... so back on topic. I didn't want to use the 'S' blade since that can sometimes liquefy, so I instead opted for the plastic blade that I think is used for pie crusts or other pastry. This worked great! You have to stop and scrape the bowl several times, but it keeps everything a good texture.

Three medium sized pie pumpkins gave me about 14 cups of puree. I measured it out into 2 cup portions, glopped it neatly into vacuum freezer bags, and vacuum sealed it all up. To keep things neat and tidy, I folded the edge of the freezer bags over a clean quart container for yogurt. This allowed for easier packaging because I only have two hands, instead of the required three used in putting pumpkin into a bag... one to hold the bag open, one to hold the measuring cup of pumpkin and one to scrape the pumpkin from the measuring cup.

Of course, you can avoid all the above hassle by purchasing cans of pumpkin. Personally, I'm satisfied with my $1.29 for one pumpkin plant, knowing it is organic, and far superior taste. It is more work, but it's not complicated and it doesn't take that much time. Another benefit of processing your own pumpkins is the seeds!

To prepare your pumpkin seeds, wash them off under cool water in a strainer and remove any pulp. You don't have to be excruciatingly picky about getting the pulp out, or you can be if that's your style. Most of it bakes down to nothing noticeable. Once you have your seeds rinsed and drained, pour out onto a towel and get them dried off. The basic recipe at this point is to lightly coat with vegetable oil (olive has a strong flavor) or a bit of butter, and lightly salt. Spread onto a baking sheet and roast at 275 degrees for about an hour, stirring a couple of times while roasting. It's tempting to stick one in your mouth fresh out of the oven, but I would advise you to wait a few minutes... trust me on this.

Party Pepitas
3 cups pumpkin seed
3 TBSP Butter
1 tsp Seasoning Salt
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp Onion Powder
1 1/2 TBSP Worcestershire Sauce

Melt butter. Stir seasoning salt, garlic powder, onion powder and Worcestershire into melted butter. Mix butter mixture with pumpkin seeds to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet and spread out evenly. Roast at 275 degrees for about one hour, stirring every 20 minutes.

Now after all that cooking, I was hungry, and after all that reading, you are finally getting to the point of today's post:

Caramelized Pumpkin Pasta!
for 2 servings:

2 cups raw pumpkin, cubed into 1 inch pieces
1 medium yellow or sweet onion, sliced into 1/4" rings
6 fresh mushrooms, quartered
1/4 cup packed fresh sage leaves julienned (about 6 large leaves)
5 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 - 1 TBSP Olive Oil
2 TBSP Butter + 3 TBSP Butter
Mizithra cheese or Parmesean
Spaghetti noodles or Spaghetti squahs, how much depends on how hungry you are :)

Add olive oil to a small pan over med-low heat, and place garlic slices in pan in a single layer. Cook until barely starting to turn golden. Watch carefully as you don't want to over cook. This takes about 20 minutes.

Add 2 TBSP butter to large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add in sliced onions and pumpkin. Cook for about 5 minutes and place mushrooms on top. Ccook for about 10 minutes. Turn pumpkin pieces to brown on other side and give onions a slight stir to prevent burning. Add sage and nutmeg, cover. Cook for about 10 minutes more, or until onions and pumpkin are caramelizing. Pour garlic and oil over pumpkin mix and turn of heat.

In the small pan that had the garlic, add the 3 TBSP butter and cook over med-high heat until butter begins to brown. Remove from heat.

To serve, place spaghetti in a bowl, top with some cheese, spoon brown butter over top. Place pumpkin and onion mixture on top and cover with more cheese. Enjoy.