Adventures in the kitchen

So what do you do when you can’t go out and do the normal things you would do on a Friday night? Well I don’t know about all of you, but I tried out a new recipe, and boy, are my feet sore!

(Tile floors + thin slippers with no support + a long night = very sore feet.)

I absolutely adore Panera’s French onion soup, and there was recently a recipe for said soup included in one of the New York Times newsletters I receive. I bought most of the ingredients earlier in the week, but I didn’t get a chance to try it out until last night.

The recipe:

3 Tbs. unsalted butter
3-4 large red or yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 tsp. salt
2 qts. beef stock (I used unsalted beef stock)
1 c. dry white wine
1 Tbs. dry sherry
1/2 tsp. black pepper
French bread cut into 8-12 1/2-inch thick slices
1 1/2 c. grated Gruyère

Melt butter in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and 1/2 tsp. salt. Stir and cover, letting onions soften for 5 minutes. Remove lid and let onions caramelize until golden brown over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Adjust heat if onions are browning too quickly. The caramelization process may take 45-60 minutes. Meanwhile, warm broth in a saucepan over low heat.

Once onions are caramelized, add wine and sherry to the pot and allow mixture to come to a boil. Stir in flour and let thicken for a minute or two. Slowly add warm broth, 1/4 tsp. salt, and the pepper to the onion mixture and boil uncovered for 10 minutes. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the broiler and arrange individual oven-proof casseroles on a baking sheet. Ladle soup into casseroles and cover with bread slices. Sprinkle each casserole generously with Gruyère. Broil for a minute or two, watching carefully, until cheese melts and browns. Serve immediately.

First of all, it takes a while to chop that many onions. I was actually impressed that I didn’t cry. My eyes stung, and I kept expecting tears to fall, but it didn’t happen, which is more than I can say for the play (Steve Martin’s Bright Star) that I saw last weekend (where I cried more than once). Once I got the butter melted, Seymour helped me pour all the onions into my skillet. He seemed skeptical–it was an awful lot of onions for a very small amount of butter, after all.

I used white onions, which was maybe my first mistake. They did turn brown, but not the rich, golden brown I was expecting. I also used a non-stick pan, which was maybe my second mistake. While I was waiting for my onions to caramelize, I looked up how to tell when they’re done, which was very helpful in terms of showing what properly caramelized onions should look like, but it was also a little depressing because it showed me how far my onions still had to go.

I don’t know if it was because I used white onions instead of yellow, or if it was because I used a non-stick pan instead of cast iron, or if it was a combination of factors, but I finally gave up on the caramelization after I’d been at it for 90 minutes. It was a little after 8:30 p.m. at that point, and I was awfully thankful that Seymour had fed the kids fish sticks for supper because otherwise they’d have been howling for supper.

I added the wine and sherry next. I don’t like dry wine of any color, though, and I didn’t want to buy a whole bottle of a wine I’m not going to drink, so I used a little bottle of moscato that I’ve had in my fridge forever. At this point, I’d had my stock warming for so long that it had begun to boil, and when I combined it with the onion mixture, oh, the aroma! It smelled sooooo good.

My oven doesn’t have a broiler, so I skipped the broiling part (and then later discovered a broiler setting on the temperature control knob). And the French bread I’d bought earlier in the week apparently went stale, so trying to cut it was like sawing through a brick. All I could think of as I was hacking away at my super-stale bread was the scene in Enterprise where Captain Archer, T’Pol, and Trip are having supper together and T’Pol tries to cut a breadstick:

Since my loaf of bread so closely resembled T’Pol’s breadstick, I decided to treat it like overly large croutons and simply layer them into my bowl. I put a generous helping of cheese in first and sprinkled a little more atop the bread, et voilá! Soup was served.

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I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough onions. While there were plenty of them when I started, I knew that they would cook down and I began to worry they would cook down too much. But I needn’t have worried, because I had plenty of them. They weren’t quite as tender as they could have been, though, and I think it would have helped if I had let them caramelize more. My bread wasn’t dense enough to make really good croutons, so they softened up too quickly and didn’t provide the texture I was hoping for. The cheese was very moist and didn’t melt as nicely in the soup as I had hoped, but it had a wonderful flavor when eaten straight out of the bowl I shredded it in. It would probably have melted quite nicely if my bread hadn’t been stale and if I had noticed the broiler setting on my oven sooner, but oh, well, I guess.

I was a little disappointed because it wasn’t as good as the Panera version that I love so much, and also because no one else wanted to try any, which meant there were plenty of leftovers. So now I’m hoping that chilling out in the fridge overnight will have helped the flavor. And if not? Well, then I guess it’s a good thing I made a small batch.

Next time I try this recipe, I think I’ll try to follow it a little more closely. And I’ll start it around noon on a Saturday so that my onions have plenty of time to caramelize. 😄😄

Have you tried out any new recipes lately? Drop ’em in the comments and let’s swap!

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