7 Rules to the Best Onion Soup

March 23, 2012

Every time I see a particular friend of mine she always reminds me how much she loves this onion soup. So I made this recipe for her again, following all my tips/suggestions from the last time I made it. I even splurged on a full pound of Gruyere cheese. While the soup was delicious and universally praised by my guests as “better than the last time”, I was unhappy with this attempt because of my pet peeve; soggy bread.  Ideally, I want the bread to absorb just enough of the soup to soften and become flavorful, but not to absorb so much liquid that it becomes a mushy and begins to disintegrate. Today I offer more specific suggestions to reliably avoid this common pitfall. Hopefully.

Came out good, except for the soggy bread.

The 7 Rules to the Best Onion Soup are:

  1. First and foremost, A weakness in Chris Kimball’s recipe is that the most important flavor-building step happens near the end of cooking. The first time I made this soup, the onions over-cooked in the oven and I had to skip the triple de-glazing the pan in Steps 7 and 8.  I recommend erring on the side of caution. Lower the oven temperature from 400-degrees to 375-degrees (with convection turned off). That will mean a little more time on the stovetop, so maybe you can even quadruple de-glaze. Rule #1. Cooking the onions for 4+ hours will build lots of flavor, but be careful they don’t burn.
  2. It’s easy to ruin your flavorful soup with soggy bread. You need to limit the time that the bread makes direct contact with the soup. This requires planning, making sure that your table is set, that you have saucers at the ready, and that your guests are ready for dinner. This was my first problem; everybody was still in party mode and took 10 minutes to get to the dinner table. An extra 5-minutes saved will make an enormous difference. Rule #2. Never put the toast on the soup until the table is set and the guests have been told it’s dinner time.
  3. Once your guests take their first bite of soup the onus is on them to manage their own bread. Your responsibility is to insulate the bread from the soup to slow down the rate of absorption before your guests being to eat. The only way to do that is with an even layer of finely grated cheese between the soup and the toast. So to be clear, you need two layers of cheese. The “primer” layer of cheese will keep your bread floating above the soup’s surface, safe from the liquid ravages of the cauldron below. Melt and brown your first layer of cheese too (because it will taste better) and to ensure your cheese has complete coverage. Sprinkle a little raw cheese to cover any bare spots. In my haste, I used a food processor to grate the cheese, which was too coarse and let too much liquid through. My downfall was certain when the toast partially submerged. Rule #3. Top your soup with an even layer of finely grated cheese before adding the toast.
  4. Make sure the baguette you buy is light and airy. You need an open crumb so that the crouton won’t become sponge-like. You want a thick, crispy crust that will stand up better to the soup. Don’t worry so much about the diameter of the bread. By changing the bias on which you cut your 3/8″-thick slices, you can adjust the diameter of the bead to fit your bowls. I bought the baguette from a new bakery and the crumb was much to fine (similar to sandwich bread). Rule #4. Buy a baguette with a light and airy crumb.
  5. Many people advise to use day-old bread, but you should toast your fresh bread slices in an oven until deeply golden brown. Chris Kimball did some tests and found that stale bread become hard, but does not properly dry out. Toast both sides until they become evenly and deeply golden brown. Chris Kimball’s recommendation of 10 minutes is insufficient; it’ll take at least 15 minutes. Rule #5. Don’t let your bread slices become so dark at to adversely affect their flavor, but toast them as long as you possibly can.
  6. Begin toasting your bread slices at least 40 minutes before dinner time. This will give you enough time to make a second batch, should that contingency become necessary. I’m the first to admit, I routinely forget that I have croutons in the oven and ruin at least half my batches. Aim for success the first time, but also recognize that you will be extremely busy as your dinner is coming together. You may forget and you probably used less than half your baguette anyway. Rule #6. Your toast will be successful only 50% of the time; plan accordingly.
  7. A shameful confession: For some recipes I use bouillon cubes instead of real broth. It’s cheaper and easier to keep a box of small cubes than a case of liquid broth. But this is not the occasion to use bad broth. Rule #7. Don’t skimp on the broth; a high-quality broth makes a big difference.

I’m am going to give another attempt at following my Rules #2 through #6 very closely. If I still cannot reliably avoid soggy bread, then I am going to try the tip for those without broiler-safe crocs: simply broil the cheese and bread slices on a baking sheet, then slip onto the soup just before serving. Julia Child recommends adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of Cognac, something I still want to try but haven’t had any cognac.  While the recipe says it will make 8 bowls, I was able to  stretched this recipe to the maximum and got 9 bowls. I wanted to make 10 servings, but it just wouldn’t stretch any farther. And finally a few comments about the cheese. My local supermarket sells Gruyere for $24/lb, but there is a gormet supermarket 10 miles away that sells superior French Gruyere Comte. Officially the proper cheese is Swiss Gruyere, but I really like the French Comte. If you can’t afford imported Gruyere made with raw cows milk, then substitute 70% Jarlsberg with 30% fresh Parmesan. Don’t resort to domestic Gruyere made with pasteurized milk; it’s flavorless.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $16 for eight servings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Started: 1:00 pm  Ready:  6:00 pm.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared the soup today are given below:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6-lbs yellow onions
2-1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 cups water (plus up t0 1 cup more for deglazing)
3/4 cup dry sherry
6 cups chicken broth
3 cups beef broth
9 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together using kitchen twine
2 bay leaf
Ground black pepper

Cheese Croutons:
1/2 small baguette , cut into 3/8″ slices on the bias to match the diameter of your soup bowls.
12 ounces finely grated Gruyère cheese

  1. Cut your onions in half from pole to pole, and slice off the root end of onion. Peel and discard the the skin. Placing each onion half with the flat side down on cutting board, slice each onion half from pole to pole into 1/8″-thick slices.
  2. Set an oven rack to the lower middle position in your oven. Preheat to 375-degrees (with convection fan turned off).
  3. Spray the inside of a large Dutch oven with non-stick cooking spray. Place 4 tablespoons of butter, and onion slices into your dutch oven. Sprinkle with 1-1/2 teaspoon salt.
  4. Place the lid on to fully cover your dutch oven for the first hour of cooking. Then remove from oven and stir and scrape the bottom and sides. Return to oven, but with the lid slightly ajar, and cook for another 1-1/2 hours; stir and scrape the onions after 45 minutes. The onions should be very soft and lightly golden brown.
  5. Remove the onions from the oven and put on stove-top over medium to medium-high burner. Cook the onions for 15 to 20 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the onions have browned; stir and scrape the bottom and sides frequently. Adjust the heat if your onions are browning too quickly. It is easy to forget that the handles are 375-degrees; be very careful to use oven mitts.
  6. Meanwhile, slice baguette on the diagonal into 3/8″-thick slices. Match the diameter of your soup bowls by adjusting the angle on which you slice the bread. Place bread slices on foil-lined baking sheet, and bake for between 12 to 18 minutes in a 400-degree oven until the bread becomes crispy and golden brown. Also take advantage of any free moments to finely grate your cheese using the fine holes of a box grater (or ideally a microplane).
  7. Continue to cook onions without stirring for another 6 to 8 minutes until the pot’s bottom becomes coated with a dark crust. You may need to adjusting the burner to avoid burning the fond.
  8. To loosen the fond, stir in 1/4-cup water and scrape the bottom and sides. Continue to cook without stirring for another 6 to 8 minutes until the pot’s bottom becomes coated with a dark crust. Repeat this process of deglazing until the onions become very dark brown; 2 or 3 more times.
  9. Stir in 3/4-cup dry sherry to deglaze the pan. Cook for 5 minutes until the sherry has evaporated; stirring frequently.
  10. Now add both chicken and beef broth, 3-cups of water, thyme bundle, bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon table salt. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then cover and reduce to low heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  11. Remove and discard herbs, then season with pepper (and adjust salt if necessary).
  12. Adjust an oven rack so that it is 6″ from the broiler element. Preheat broiler on high for 5 to 10 minutes.
  13. Fill each broiler-safe crocks with soup and place on your foil-lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle soup with finely grated Gruyère so that it completely covers the soup. Broil for 3 to 5 minutes about 6″ from the broiler element until the cheese has melted and is bubbling around edges. If any spots show soup coming through, plus the holes with a little more raw cheese.
  14. Place 1 or 2 baguette slices with the crispy side down, being careful not to overlap your slices. Sprinkle with shredded Gruyère and broil for 3 to 5 minutes about 6″ from the broiler element until the cheese has melted and is bubbling around edges. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

French Onion Soup Triumph

January 31, 2012

Some may remember my $18 Onion soup disaster from a few months ago; summarized as “burnt onions and soggy bread”.  Today, I am pleased to report a happy ending to my 9-month quest to rival the onion soup that you can get at just every any Parisian Bistro. In the end, it took only two tiny changes to transform tragedy into triumph. Lesson #1. Reduce the oven temperature to 375-degrees (without convection). Lesson #2. Before placing toasted baguette slice on top of soup, sprinkle and melt a little cheese to insulate the bread and control its sogginess.

Best onion soup I’ve had outside of Paris

While Chris Kimball has four recipes, I made his Best French Onion Soup; which has high complements from other bloggers (here and here).  The key is not over bake the onions in the oven, which will ensure that you can triple deglaze them on the stove-top. Because of the long cooking time, don’t use any sweeter types of onion; just plain yellow onions.  Chris Kimball also has a quicker version of this recipe that will be ready two hours earlier; replacing the 2-1/2 hours in the oven with 25 minutes in the microwave. This could be an excellent alternative in case I need my oven for the main course.

Issues/Comments:

  1. Four hours at 400-degrees is too much cooking time; especially if using a convection oven. Reduce the temperature to 375-degrees (with convection fan turned off). The convection fan makes the oven seem about 25-degrees hotter. The temperature difference may seem small, but will allow you to triple caramelize/deglaze on the stove-top. This is main difference between 2-1/2 and 5-stars.
  2. Chris Kimball instructs us to stir the onions in step 7 and 8, but I found that if I didn’t stir them in they formed a much better fond. Just make sure the temperature isn’t too high.
  3. To prevent the bread from becoming too soggy, I sprinkled a little grated cheese on the soup before topping the soup with toasted bread slice. I then sprinkled more cheese on the bread and toasted. This trick reduced the speed and amount  of soup absorbed by the bread; especially beneficial because the bread didn’t really start to absorb the soup until the guests begin to eat.
  4. I was unhappy with the final texture of the soup when I sliced the onions 1/4″-thick, per Chris Kimball’s recipe. So this time I sliced them closer to 1/8″-thick, which kept all the onion flavor but allowed some of the slices to disintegrate. It had a side benefit of thickening the soup.
  5. Last November I cut the baguette into 1/2″ slices, which were hard to break apart (even though it was soggy). This time I cut into 3/8″ thick slices and had no problems whatsoever. Another trick I discovered was that you can match the diameter of the bread slice to the bowl by changing the angle at which you are cutting the bread. For example, a straight 90-degree cut will give you the smallest slice. Try cutting at 45-degree (or 30-degree) and see how they fit in your soup bowls.
  6. 10 minutes in the oven wasn’t enough to fully dry out the baguette slices. I kept them in the oven until they were deeply browned; about 15 minutes.
  7. My local supermarket sells Gruyere for $24/lb, so I usually drive 10 miles to get superior French Gruyere Comte. Officially the proper cheese is Swiss Gruyere, but I really like the French Comte. Today I mixed 70% Jarlsberg with 30% fresh Parmesan; a substitution recommended by Julia Child and cutting $10 from the total price tag.
  8. I’ll repeat this hint from another blogger, who suggested that those without broiler-safe crocs simply broil the cheese and bread slices on a baking sheet, then slip onto the soup just before serving.
  9. Julia Child also recommends adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of Cognac.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $10 for eight bowls.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Started: 1:00 pm  Ready:  6:00 pm.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared the soup today are given below:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4-lbs yellow onions
1 1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 cups water (plus up t0 1 cup more for deglazing)
1/2 cup dry sherry
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together using kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
Ground black pepper

Cheese Croutons:
1/2 small baguette , cut into 3/8″ slices
8 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese

  1. Cut your onions in half from pole to pole, and slice off the root end of onion. Peel and discard the the skin. Placing each onion half with the flat side down on cutting board, slice each onion half from pole to pole into 1/8″-thick slices.
  2. Set an oven rack to the lower middle position in your oven. Preheat to 375-degrees (with convection fan turned off).
  3. Spray the inside of a large Dutch oven with non-stick cooking spray. Place 3 tablespoons of butter, and onion slices into your dutch oven. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt.
  4. Place the lid on to fully cover your dutch oven for the first hour of cooking. Then remove from oven and stir and scrape the bottom and sides. Return to oven, but with the lid slightly ajar, and cook for another 1-1/2 hours; stir and scrape the onions after 45 minutes. The onions should be very soft and lightly golden brown.
  5. Remove the onions from the oven and put on stove-top over medium to medium-high burner. It is easy to forget that the handles are 400-degrees; be very careful to use oven mitts.
  6. Cook the onions for 15 to 20 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the onions have browned; stir and scrape the bottom and sides frequently. Adjust the heat if your onions are browning too quickly.
  7. Continue to cook without stirring for another 6 to 8 minutes until the pot’s bottom becomes coated with a dark crust. You may need to adjusting the burner to avoid burning the fond.
  8. To loosen the fond, stir in 1/4-cup water and scrape the bottom and sides. Continue to cook without stirring for another 6 to 8 minutes until the pot’s bottom becomes coated with a dark crust. Repeat this process of deglazing until the onions become very dark brown; 2 or 3 more times.
  9. Stir in 1/2-cup dry sherry to deglaze the pan. Cook for 5 minutes until the sherry has evaporated; stirring frequently.
  10. Now add both chicken and beef broth, 2-cups of water, thyme bundle, bay leaf, and 1/2-teaspoon table salt. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then cover and reduce to low heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  11. Meanwhile, slice baguette on the diagonal into 3/8″-thick slices. and place on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake slices for between 12 to 18 minutes in a 400-degree oven until the bread becomes crispy and golden brown.
  12. Remove and discard herbs, then season with pepper (and adjust salt if necessary).
  13. Adjust an oven rack so that it is 6″ from the broiler element. Preheat broiler on high for 5 to 10 minutes.
  14. Fill each broiler-safe crocks with soup and place on your foil-lined baking sheet.  Place 1 or 2 baguette slices with the crispy side down, being careful not to overlap your slices. Sprinkle with shredded Gruyère and broil for 3 to 5 minutes about 6″ from the broiler element until the cheese has melted and is bubbling around edges. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

French Onion Soup Graitinee

November 14, 2011

My emergency trip to France earlier this year gave me a chance to eat some great onion soup. While Chris Kimball has four recipes, it took me 6 months before I bought a set of broiler-safe crocs.  But finally I am able to give his recipes a try, and my first is this Best French Onion Soup. The onions are baked in the oven for 2-1/2 hours before spending another 1-1/2 hours on the stovetop. Unfortunately, the results were disappointing because the onion had become too dark in the oven; not allowing me to triple deglaze the pot on the stovetop. The end result tasted slightly burned. However other bloggers (here and here ) loved this recipe, and I see that my onions were darker than theirs in every stage of cooking. It must be my convection oven, which typically bakes “cooler” than Chris Kimball’s.  On the positive side, the Gruyere was amazing, and the long cooking time allowed the onions to deeply caramelize, so much so that I cannot imagine using any sweeter types of onion. I am disappointed that I can only give it 2-1/2 stars.

Burned onions and soggy bread.

Issues/Comments:

  1. 4 hours is too much cooking time. The onions became too dark and I was not able to triple deglaze the pot on the stovetop; which was supposed to be the “secret” to this recipe. Next time I’ve reduce the over temperature to 375-degrees and pay closer attention during the baking time. If I still have to cut down the cooking time, I want to be sure that I reduce the time in the oven rather than the triple deglazing on the stovetop.
  2. $18 for soup seems impossibly expensive; but $10 of that was the French Gruyere Comt, rather than the equally expensive, but proper Swiss Gruyere. To save money I may mix $2 worth of Jarlsberg with some fresh Parmesan.
  3. The final soup had to many onion slices, which  I realize is an odd complaint for onion soup. I wanted all the onion flavor but wished some of the slices had disintegrated.
  4. This other blogger had a brilliant idea for those without broiler-safe crocs. Broil the cheese and bread slices on a baking sheet, then slip
  5. 10 minutes in the oven to dry out the baguette slices didn’t do much to slow down them from quickly becoming mushy.

Rating: 2-1/2-stars.
Cost: $18.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Started: 1:00 pm  Ready:  6:00 pm.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I cooked it today are given below.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4-lbs yellow onions
Table salt
2 cups water
1/2 cup dry sherry
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together using kitchen twine
1 bay leaf
Ground black pepper

Cheese Croutons:
1 small baguette , cut into 1/2-inch slices
8 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese

  1. Cut your onions in half from pole to pole, and slice off the root end of onion. Peel and discard the the skin. Placing each onion half with the flat side down on cutting board, slice each onion half from pole to pole into 1/4″-thick slices. By cutting from pole to pole, the onions should maintain their shape during the 2-1/2 hours in the oven.
  2. Set an oven rack to the lower middle position in your oven. Preheat to 400 degrees.
  3. Spray the inside of a 7-quart dutch oven with non-stick cooking spray. Place 3 tablespoons of butter, and onion slices into your dutch oven. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt.
  4. Fully cover and cook for 1 hour. Then remove from oven and stir and scrape the bottom and sides. Return to oven with the lid slightly ajar and cook for another 1-1/2 hours; stir and scrape the onions after 45 minutes. The onions should be very soft and golden brown.
  5. Remove the onions from the oven and put on stovetop over medium to medium-high heat. Be very careful to use oven mitts when handling the pot or lid.
  6. Cook the onions for 15 to 20 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the onions have browned; stir and scrape the bottom and sides frequently. Adjust the heat if your onions are browning too quickly.
  7. Continue to cook for another 6 to 8 minutes until the pot’s bottom becomes coated with dark, but not burned, crust. Again, you may need to adjusting the heat.
  8. To loosen the fond, stir in 1/4-cup water and scrape the bottom and sides. Continue to cook for another 6 to 8 minutes until the pot’s bottom again becomes coated with dark, but not burned, crust. Repeat this process of deglazing until the onions become very dark brown; 2 or 3 more times.
  9. Stir in 1/2-cup dry sherry scraping up any last bits of fond from on the bottom and sides of your pot. Cook for 5 minutes until the sherry has evaporated; stirring frequently.
  10. Now add both chicken and beef broth, 2-cups of water, thyme bundle, bay leaf, and 1/2-teaspoon table salt. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then cover and reduce to low heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  11. Meanwhile, slice baguette into 1/2″-thick slices and place on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake slices for about 10 to 12 minutes in a 400-degree oven until the bread becomes crispy and golden along the edges.
  12. Remove and discard herbs, then season with pepper (and adjust salt if necessary).
  13. Adjust an oven rack so that it is 6″ from the broiler element. Preheat broiler on high for 5 to 10 minutes.
  14. Fill each broiler-safe crocks with soup and place on your foil-lined baking sheet.  Place 1 or 2 baguette slices with the crispy side down, being careful not to overlap your slices. Sprinkle with shredded Gruyère and broil for 3 to 5 minutes until the cheese has melted and is bubbling around edges. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Delicious onion soup from my trip to France earlier this year.


Broccoli-Cheese Soup

April 8, 2016

I first made this soup last October, but came across a few technical issues which I have corrected when I made this soup again over the weekend. In fact, I loved it so much that I made a second batch the next day. The soup is very flavorful, and uses baby spinach to amplify the broccoli flavor (and color). The recipe uses sharp cheeses (sharp cheddar and parmesan) to attain great cheesy flavor, but without so much cheese as to make the soup feel heavy or fat laden. I splurged a little and bought a sharp English cheddar, but since it only added a few dollars because the recipe just needs 3-ounces. Overall the recipe is delicious; 4-1/2 stars.

Delicious soup has been great for the cold weather

Delicious soup has been great for the cold weather

I was hoping to stretch the soup throughout the week (for lunches), and was a little surprised that the recipe only yields 4 bowls of soup. So I made a second batch yesterday, still having enough baby spinach and sharp English cheddar to make the second batch. I only need to buy another 2-1/2 pounds of broccoli.

  1. The recipe calls for peeling the stalks; which was laborious when I first made this recipe in October. This time I only spend a few minutes peeling the stalks before breaking into 1-inch pieces. It saved nearly 30 minutes.
  2. The original recipe calls for something between 3 to 4 cups of water (in addition to the 2 cups of chicken broth); adjusting the amount of water in the final step according to your desired consistency. I would suggest adding at least 1 cup; and if you are planning to reheat, to add 1-1/2 cups of water.
  3. Because the soup was so thick, there was a lot of soup left in the blender after Step 5. To recover some of the lost soup, I blender the final cup of water (added as part of Step 6); which rinsed out most of the leftover soup, before adding the water to the pot.
  4. I bought an extra 1/2 pound of broccoli, because some of the stalks were very long and I wanted to trim away the very thick and hard portion. Besides, it was only sale for only 99-cents/pound.
  5. I did not quite have enough dry mustard powder for the second batch, so I used the following substitution rule: 1 teaspoon dried mustard = 1 Tablespoon prepared mustard.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $7.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Ready at 5:45 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

2 pounds broccoli (I used 1lb 10 oz florets, plus 6 ounces of stalks)
1 medium, roughly chopped onion (1 cup)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium garlic cloves, pressed (2 teaspoons)
1-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon table salt
3–4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups chicken broth
2-oz baby spinach (2 cups)
3-oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (3/4 cup)
1-1/2 oz Parmesan cheese, grated fine (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper

  1. Prepare broccoli by roughly chopped florets into 1-inch pieces, trim the stems, then peeled and cut into 1/4″-thick slices. Prepare onions by roughly chopped which should yield about 1 cup.
  2. Add butter to large Dutch oven set over medium-high burner. After the foaming subsides, add the prepared broccoli, onion. Press the garlic cloves directly into the pot. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and 1 teaspoon table salt.
  3. Cook for 6 minutes, stir frequently. After the pot becomes fragrant, add 1 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Bring water up to a simmer, cover, and reduce burner to maintain a simmer, and continue cooking for 20 more minutes until broccoli becomes very soft, stir once half way through cooking.
  4. Add 2 cups chicken broth and 2 cups water. Turn up burner to medium-high. Once pot is at a simmer, stir in baby spinach and wilt for 1 minute. Remove pot from burner.
  5. Put half of soup in blender, add shredded cheddar and grated Parmesan, and process for 1 minute until smooth.Empty into a medium-sized bowl and repeat this step with the remaining soup.
  6. Empty bowl of soup back into the Dutch oven, set over medium burner until begins to simmer. Add up to 1 cup of water until you attain the desired consistency (if you have a lot of leftover soup in blender; rinse blender first with the 1 cup of water, before adding it back to the pot). Adjust seasoning with salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper according to taste. Serve, with extra Parmesan passed separately.

Broccoli-Cheese Soup

October 8, 2015

The chilly mornings have gotten me in the mood for soup (after a long summer soup hiatus). So I made a batch of this Broccoli-Cheese Soup. Preparing the broccoli took me almost 30 minutes; mostly because the recipe asks me to peel the stalks. However, I am now wondering if I misunderstood the extent to which the recipe requires me to peel the stalks (further discussed under issues section below). What I believe is an error in the original recipe, makes me believe that I overcooked the broccoli (See Issue #1 below). The overcooking gave the broccoli a slightly off taste. I can only give the soup 3-1/2 stars; though the soup has potential and I will try again.

Prep the broccoli took 30 minutes

Prep the broccoli took 30 minutes

Comments:

  1. There was an error in the original recipe (I believe that Chris Kimball wanted me to reduce burner from medium-high so as to maintain a simmer; not the full boil over medium-high burner). In Step 6, the recipe says to “increase heat to medium-high”; but it was already on high from Step 2. I overcooked my broccoli; giving it a slightly off flavor.
  2. Peeling the Stalks. The recipe simply says: “stems trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices.” Unfortunately the instructions were unclear. I wasn’t understanding if I had to break each stalk of the main trunk and peeling each branch individually. This was a lot of work! I would recommend leaving the entire stalk as one piece and only peel away the outer skin that is accessible.
  3. When trimming the stalk; discard any leaves or blemishes. I would also recommend slicing off the bottom inch of the stem. Slice the remaining stem into the 1/4-inch disks.
  4. When removing the crowns, slice straight through the broccoli stem as close to the crown as you can get.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $8.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Ready at 6:15 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe for is here. My descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds broccoli
1 medium onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
pinch cayenne pepper
Table salt
3–4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2-ounces baby spinach (2 loosely packed cups)
3-ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (3/4 cup)
1-1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated fine (about 3/4 cup), plus extra for serving
Ground black pepper

  1. Prepare the broccoli by removing the florets and roughly chopping into 1″-pieces. Trim away and leaves and remove the bottom inch of the stem. Peel the stalk and cut into 1/4″-thick slices. Also roughly chop 1 onion.
  2. Set a large Dutch oven over medium-high burner. Add butter and when the foaming subsides, add broccoli (florets and stems), chopped onion, pressed garlic, dry mustard, pinch of cayenne, and 1 teaspoon salt.
  3. Cook for 6 minutes; stirring frequently.
  4. Add 1 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Bring liquid up to a simmer, cover with lid, and cook from 20 minutes until the broccoli becomes very soft. Stir once during cooking.
  5. While the broccoli cooks; grate your cheeses.
  6. Add 2 cups chicken broth and 2 cups water. Increase burner to medium-high.
  7. Once the soup begins to simmer, stir in spinach and cook for 1 minute until wilted.
  8. Carefully empty half of soup into jar of a blender (I used a bowl with a lip in order to spill less), add cheddar and Parmesan to blender. Process for 1 minute until smooth. Empty soup from blender to medium bowl (or pot if empty). Repeat the blender with the remaining soup.
  9. Return soup to Dutch oven and set over medium burner. Bring up to a simmer. Adjust the consistency of soup with up to 1 cup of water. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper according to taste.
  10. Serve, passing extra grated parmesan separately.

Chicken Noodle Soup

January 5, 2013

For over 20 years, every time I have gotten sick I have made myself a big pot of Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup. While I doubt the soup is the cure, by the time the soup is gone I invariably feel much better. It’s perfect, because I can re-heat the soup, little by little, requiring only minimal effort for each meal. Perhaps the extra rest is more of a cure than the soup. Today my youngest son got a stomach flu, so I made him a big pot of chicken soup in the hopes that he would be able to eat (and keep down) a healthy meal on his upset stomach. I can’t believe I’ve never posted my recipe for Chicken Soup. Here is my recipe, plus a link to Chris Kimball’s recipe, which had some influence over the evolution of my own soup recipe. 4-stars.

Chicken Noodle Soup is the best medicine for winter flu

Chicken Noodle Soup is the best medicine for winter flu

Comments:

  1. Today I used chicken thighs, which are great for braising. Sometimes I use boneless breasts if I happen to already have them in my refrigerator, but bone-in chicken is always better for soup.
  2. I used 4-cups of my homemade chicken stock, but you could also use broth from a can or carton. In fact, you could even use a total of 2-1/2 quarts of plain water in this recipe, though the flavor won’t be quite as good.
  3. Chris Kimball recommends just 2 cups of wide egg noodles. I prefer my soup more fully-loaded so used a 9-oz package for fresh, refrigerated pasta.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $9.50 for 3 quarts of soup.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 10:00 AM. Finish time 12:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 whole chicken (or about 4 pounds of chicken pieces)
2 medium onions
4 large carrot
4 to 5 teaspoons table salt
1 quart chicken broth (4 cups)
1-1/2 quarts water (6 cups)
2 bay leaves
4 springs of fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 rib celery
2 potatoes
1 package of fresh fettuccine or 3 cups wide egg noodles (5 ounces).
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

  1. If you are using a whole chicken, break it down into individual pieces (e.g. thighs, drumsticks, breasts, etc). Remove the skin from the chicken and trim away any visible fat. Pat the chicken pieces dry using paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in large dutch oven set over medium-high burner until just smoking. Add half the chicken, meaty-side down, brown for 6 minutes per side. Use tongs to flip and brown the second side for 6 more minutes. Remove the chicken to a clean plate, and repeat the browning process with the remaining chicken (using the same oil).
  3. While the chicken browns, cut your onion into a medium dice. Peel and cut your carrots into 1/4″-thick slices. Also peel your potatoes and cut into 1/2″ dice, and cut your 3 rib of celery into 1/4-” thick slices (but keep the potatoes/celery separate from onions/carrots). Use kitchen twine to tie together your thyme sprigs.
  4. After you remove the second batch of chicken, use the same oil to saute your diced onions and carrots for 6 minutes, using the moisture of the onions to deglaze the pot.
  5. Add the chicken broth and water to the Dutch oven, and arrange the chicken pieces bone-side down. Add 1 tablespoon table salt, 2 bay leaves, thyme bundle, ground black pepper, diced potatoes, and celery slices. Bring the soup up to a gentle boil, then reduce burner to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 50 to 60 minutes until the chicken and vegetables are very tender.
  6. Use tongs to remove chicken from pot. Then use two forks to remove the meat from bones and shred into bite-size pieces. Discard the bone. Add the shredded chicken back to soup, and adjust the salt and pepper according to your taste. Stir in minced parsley, and serve.
  7. Allow to cool for 2 hours before refrigerating leftovers. Alternatively you can empty leftovers into two or three 4-cup containers and refrigerate the individual containers.

Italian Wedding Soup

April 2, 2012

When I saw this recipe I was sure that I wouldn’t like it. The picture of the pale, grey meatballs looked completely unappetizing; yuck. It would have never occurred to me to make meatballs without browning them in a skillet, but that is exactly what this recipe required me to do. In the end, the boiled meatballs turned out very tender and flavorful. The surprising truth of the matter is that the soup is delicious; further evidence that you should never judge a book by it’s cover. 4-stars.

Surprisingly delicious despite the mealy meatballs

Comments:

  1. Psychologically anything so pale and grey cannot possibly be delicious. But if you can get past their mealy complexion, the meat was tender. The mixture of beef and pork, fortified with grated onion and garlic, had great flavor.
  2. I was surprised that this recipe only yielded 6 bowls of soup.  I usually have leftovers whenever I make soup, but the pot ran dry just before all our bellies were filled (having skipped lunch in favor of an early dinner).
  3. It is impossible to buy just 10-oz of ground pork and beef. The smallest available packages were 1 pound each. I embraced the surplus and doubled the meatball recipe (listed below is the non-doubled quantities) and will make meatball sandwiches for lunch tomorrow.
  4. While my supermarket does not sell fennel bulb, they do sell anise bulbs (which looks identical to fennel). So either my supermarket mislabeled it as anise, or they are so similar that they are interchangeable. My belief is that it was incorrectly labelled.
  5. The original recipe calls for 6 cups of kale (12-oz), but it only took 9-oz to make the 6-cups of kale. However, I cut my descriptions below down to 4 cups (6-ozs). To compensate I increased the pasta from 1 cup to 1-1/2 cups.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $13.50.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:45 PM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

Soup:
1 onion
1 fennel bulb (or anise if that’s how you supermarket calls it)
4 garlic cloves
1/4-oz dried porcini mushrooms
4-oz ground pork
4-oz 85% lean ground beef
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
2 cups water
1-1/2 cup ditalini pasta
6-oz kale (4 cups)

Meatballs:
1 slice hearty white sandwich bread
5 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4-cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 teaspoons finely grated onion
1/2 teaspoon finely grated garlic
Salt and pepper
6-oz ground pork
1 teaspoon baking powder
6-oz 85% lean ground beef
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano

  1. Chop onion, and rinse your dried mushrooms. Peel your garlic cloves and smash them. Discard the fennel’s stalks, cut the bulb in half, remove the triangluar-shaped core, and chop the fennel. The exact size of your choppings is not so important, because it will eventually get strained and discarded.
  2. Set a Dutch oven over medium-high burner. Add chopped onion, rinsed mushrooms, smashed garlic, chopped fennel, bay leaf, 4-oz of ground beef, 4-oz of ground pork. Saute for 5 minutes until the meat is no longer pink. Add 1/2-cup white wine and 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and continue to cook for 1 minute, before adding water, chicken and beef broth. Bring up to a simmer, then cover, reduce to low heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, remove crust from 1 slice of sandwich bread and rip into 1″ pieces. Add to large bowl. Grate 1/2 onion on small holes of a box grater, add 4 teaspoons grated onion to the bowl. Grate 2 garlic gloves, add 1/2 teaspoon grated garlic to the bowl. Add grated Parmesan cheese, heavy cream, and season with ground black pepper. Mash into a paste with a fork.
  4. Add 6-oz ground pork, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon table salt to the bowl of a standing mixer. Use the paddle attachment and beat on high for 2 minutes until the meat becomes smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add beef, oregano and mashed bread. Mix at medium/low speed for 2 minutes to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl at least once. Keep your hands slightly moist, scope a heaping teaspoon of meat into your hands and roll into 35 to 40 smooth meatballs. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
  5. When the broth is finished, strain soup through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl. Use a rubber spatula to press on the solids to yield as much soup as possible. Wipe any remaining solids from your Dutch oven and pour the soup back into the pot.
  6. Remove kale stems and cut into 1/2″ pieces. Set your Dutch oven over a medium-high burner and bring up to a simmer. Add the pasta and kale and cook for 5 minutes, stirring a few times. Add meatballs to pot and bring back up to a simmer. Cook for 3 to 5 more minutes, checking to make sure the meatballs are completely cooked. Adjust salt and pepper according to taste and serve in individual bowls.

Asparagus with Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette

November 8, 2015

I served this as a side-dish to a wonderful French meal (see Boeuf à la mode, Onion Soup). While the asparagus was naturally tasty, the sauce mostly fell off and left plain asparagus. As I think the recipe needs to be judged on whether or not it enhances it’s deliciousness, as written, I can give the recipe only 3-stars. However, you will not be unhappy with the end results.Who doesn’t love broiled asparagus?

More delicious than the 3-stars indicate

More delicious than the 3-stars indicate

Comments:

  1. Over the years Chris Kimball has flip-flopped on calling for thick versus thin asparagus. This recipe dating from 2001 calls for thin asparagus. Later in 2012, Chris Kimball said that thick asparagus are better for the broiler. Way back in 1993 she said that steamed are better than boiled. In any case, I followed the recipe as it was written and used thin asparagus.
  2. You should always snap off the tough ends when cooking asparagus. Chris Kimball says to hold the asparagus halfway down the stalk; then with the other hand, holding the cut end between the thumb and index finger about 1″ from the bottom; bend the stalk until it snaps. Each stalk will break in a different place depending upon how tough the stalk is.

Rating: 3-stars.
Cost: $8.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess? Low.
Started: 5:40 pm  Ready:  6:00 pm.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared the soup today are given below:

2 pounds thin asparagus spears (2 bunches)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
1 large shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Adjust oven rack so that it is 4 to 5″ from broiler element. Pre-heat broiler.
  2. Line a heavy rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lay out the asparagus and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss until evenly coated and lay out into a single layer.
  3. Broil for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned; shaking the pan halfway through cooking so that they cook evenly.
  4. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and arrange on a serving platter.
  5. While the asparagus cools, add shallot, lemon juice and zest, thyme, mustard, and olive oil in small bowl. Whisk and season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle over asparagus and serve immediately.

Boeuf à la mode

December 27, 2014

Seldom does a big dinner work out so perfectly as did my luxurious Christmas diner (see the full menu here). Everything came together within 15 minutes of the estimated 5pm dinner time; a bit of a Christmas miracle given that there were 5 new recipes that I had never prepared before. The absolute star of the show was this french-style pot roast; Boeuf à la mode. It was just as delicious as a traditional French stew, but has the physical slices that I feel are an important element for a Christmas dinner; especially given that the menu already included onion soup. The flavors were deep and rich; but it was missing a slight something to brighten up the dish. 4-1/2 stars. A wonderfully unique Christmas dinner. A home run.

Beautifully beef roast with delicious sauce and vegetables

Beautifully beef roast with delicious sauce and vegetables

According to Chris Kimball, this recipe traditionally requires a 48-hour marinade, and boils pig and calf hooves to thicken the consistency of the sauce. This recipe breaks the chuck roast into two smaller roasts, so that some of the extra fat can be cut away. The two smaller roasts are then tied up to prevent them from disintegrating. And instead of hooves; unflavored powdered gelatin is an easy substitution.

Comments:

  1. My roast had to come apart into 3 pieces; because of the natural fat lines. I folded and tied the roasts together to form two uniform roasts.
  2. The only frozen pearl onions I have found are made by Birds-eye; a 14.4 ounce bag. Do not confuse them for the smaller box, which includes a “cream sauce”.
  3. If you want to prepare the dish in advance, follow the recipe through step 14, skipping the step of softening and adding the gelatin. Place the meat back into the reduced sauce, allow it to cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. To serve, slice the beef and arrange in a 13″x 9″ Pyrex baking dish. Bring the sauce up to a simmer and stir in the gelatin until completely dissolved. Pour the warm sauce over the meat, covering it with foil. Bake at 350-degree for 30 minutes until it’s warned through.
  4. Chris Kimball recommend serving with boiled potatoes, buttered noodles, or steamed rice. I served it with Pommes Anna.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $40.
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time: 11:30 AM. End time: 5 PM.

The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

1 boneless beef chuck (4-to-5 lbs)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 bottle red wine (Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir)
10 sprigs fresh parsley leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
4 ounces thick cut bacon.
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups beef broth
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut on bias into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups frozen pearl onions
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup water, plus 1/4 cup cold water to bloom gelatin
10 ounces white mushrooms
Table salt
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin (powdered)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

  1. Pull apart the roast into 2 pieces and trim away fat. Season meat with 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Set on wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet, and allow to stand for 1 hour at room temperature.
  2. With 15 minutes to go, set a large sauce pan over medium-high burner and simmer the bottle of wine until it has reduced to 2 cups. Also tie your parsley sprigs and thyme sprigs together into a bundle using kitchen twine.
  3. Use paper towels to dry the beef and generously sprinkle with 1-1/2 teaspoons of ground pepper. Use 3 to 4 pieces of kitchen twine around each roast to prevent it from falling apart during the long cooking time.
  4. Set a rack to the lower-middle of your oven and pre-heat to 300-degrees.
  5. Cut bacon crosswise into 1/4″-wide match-sticks. Set a large Dutch oven over medium-high burner and cook bacon for 7 to 8 minutes until crispy. Remove bacon to a plate lines with paper-towels and reserve until Step 7.
  6. Empty and discard all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat; and return pot to medium-high burner. When the fat begins to smoke, brown the roasts on all four sides for a total of 8 to 10 minutes. While the beef browns, finely chop your onion. Remove beef to large plate and set aside.
  7. Turn down burner to medium, add chopped onions to pot and allow to soften for 2 to 4 minutes; using the moisture the onions give off to begin to de-glaze the pot. Add mined garlic, flour, and crispy bacon from Step 5. After 30 seconds add the reduced wine, 2 cups beef broth, the herb bundle and bay leaves. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  8. Add browned roasts (and any accumulated juices) back to the pot. Bring up to a simmer over high burner, then put a large piece of aluminum foil over the pot and cover with lid.
  9. Bake for 2-1/2 to 3 hours until a fork easily slips into the meat. Use tongs to turn beef every hour, and add carrots to the pot after 2 hours.
  10. About the time you add the carrots, Put a large skillet over medium-high burner. Add pearl onions, butter, sugar, and 1/2 cup water, Bring up to a boil, then cover and reduce burner to medium. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes until the onions are tender, then uncover and increase burner to medium-high and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the liquid completely evaporates.
  11. While the pearl onions cook, wipe your mushrooms clean, trim away and discard the stems. Cut small mushrooms in half, and large mushrooms into quarters. After liquid evaporates and mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon table salt. Continue cooking for 8 to 12 minutes until everything becomes browned and glazed. As the beef is ready to come out of the pot (in step 13) use a little of the braising liquid to de-glaze the skillet.
  12. Separately, place 1/4 cup cold water in small bowl and sprinkle gelatin on top to allow it to soften.
  13. Remove beef to cutting board, tent with aluminum foil. Allow braising liquid to settle for 5 minutes, then skim and fat off the surface. Fish out and discard herb bundle and bay leaves.
  14. Add in onion-mushroom and bring up to a simmer over medium-high burner. Reduce for 20 to 30 minutes until it measures 3-1/4 cups. Taste sauce and adjust salt and pepper according to your taste. Stir in softened gelatin.
  15. Remove and discard kitchen twice. Carve into 1/2″-thick slices, serve slices with vegetables along side, sprinkled with minced parsley and sauce poured on-top of meat.

Christmas Menu

December 25, 2014

Growing the main course of my Christmas dinners was always turkey, but later in life I felt that its was a repetitive waste; given Thanksgiving was less than a month ago. Since becoming a father I have tried to give my kids much richer culinary traditions. I hope whatever traditions you have in your home, that everyone has a very Merry Christmas, surrounded by people they love. The food is, after all, just icing on the cake.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

This year the Christmas menu has a bit of a French flair. As I publish the results in the upcoming week, I will update these links from Chris Kimball’s original recipes to point to my results.

Baguette. This simple requires a few things that I don’t have, like a special canvas, lame as diastatic malt powder. I will make do without.
Onion Soup. 5 hours in the making, but delicious and I was able to make it two days ago.
Blanched Green Beans with Rosemary-Thyme Aioli.
Pommes Anna. Beautifully decorative potato cake.
Boeuf à la mode. A French beef roast
Apple Tart. A beautiful rendition on an American Pie. A work of art.

 


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