Mom’s French Onion Soup

My mom makes really good French onion soup. You know the kind I’m talking about.

Served in the traditional brown ombre crock pots, you spoon into a molten cap of cheese with those golden, crispy cheese bubbles on top. The broth is piping hot, scattered with droplets of beef fat that float and slide easily into your spoon. The crispy cheese pieces that are baked onto the dish call your name as you near the bottom of the bowl.

The flavor can be incredible when you make onion soup the right way. It should be.

As with any good stock-based soup, you have to prioritize your stock. It bears repeating because sometimes I get complacent, and go with what’s convenient. By complacent, I mean using store-bought cartons. It happens more often than it should. But I figure, if I’m making French onion soup, there’s a strong chance I have time to make homemade beef stock, too.

A recipe for beef stock from Bon Appetit shows us how simple making beef stock can be. Just remember to grab a few pounds of cattle marrow bones the next time you go to the grocery store. The butcher will have them. Everything else – trust me, you already have lying around.  Celery, carrots, garlic, an onion or two? That’s it. Really!

Drawing from a sermon of mine in an earlier post on making chicken stock – don’t worry too much about getting the proportions perfect, according to some recipe. At least I don’t. The sheer act of making homemade beef stock is deserving of a high five.

French onion soup always had a special occasion vibe to it – it’s a process. That overfilled pot of onions? That’s going to cook down to almost nothing before you do anything else with it. My mom thinks of it as therapeutic cooking, and I totally agree with her. It’s a satisfying feeling seeing those heaps of onions do their thing and cook down into pure onion goodness.

So mom, how did I do?!

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 4.

  • 3 Spanish onions, peeled and sliced crosswise
  • 4 stems thyme, tied into a bouquet garnier (tied together with kitchen twine)
  • 6 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf, dried or fresh
  • 4 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 – 4 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 1 baguette
  • Salt, as needed
  • Pepper, as needed
  • Olive oil, as needed

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to broil.
  2. Coat the bottom of a large dutch oven with olive oil. Add the butter and allow to melt. On medium heat, sauté the onions, adding a large pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Add the garlic, bouquet garnier as well as the bay leaf to the pot. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the onions begin to darken and caramelize.
  3. Once the onions are a deep brown, add the Worcestershire sauce and raw flour. Cook for a couple of minutes to allow the flour to absorb into the mixture.
  4. Add the beef stock, remove the thyme bundle and bay leaf, and bring the soup to a boil.
  5. In small oven-safe bowls, ladle in the soup, leaving about an inch of space at the top. Layer enough 1 / 2 inch slices of baguette to cover the soup – 2 or 3. Top each dish with 3 / 4 to 1 cup of the Gruyere. It will melt down.
  6. Place the soup bowls on a sheet pan, and place under the broiler for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and browned.
  7. Serve hot, with extra torn baguette on the side for dipping.

Pan-Seared Foie Gras Mousse Au Poivre

Whoever first had the idea to whip fatty goose liver with heavy cream, and then proceed to add a cap of hardened butter on top – I praise you.

I find myself saying so and so is my favorite food, then a minute later claiming something else is my favorite food.  “Pizza,” “mashed potatoes,” “bacon,” “tacos,” “macaroni and cheese,” “oysters,” “pickles,” “queso,” “Chipotle burrito bowls” and “any cheese on the face of the earth” have come out of my mouth at some point in response to that question.

But if I’m being honest, foie gras is my favorite food of all time. I mean it.

There’s really not much you can do to make foie gras, in whatever form it comes in, better than it already is. So my idea here was to leave the mousse completely unadulterated, and treat it like a steak. So I seared it on high with an au poivre coating, which if you don’t know what that is – is just a fancy way of saying crushed black peppercorns – and it was hard not to inhale the whole thing Kirby-style.

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The quality of the foie gras mousse, or any foie gras product you’re purchasing, should always be sky-high. Go ahead, skimp on the fresh shrimp for the frozen shrimp. But I’d never mess around when it comes to foie gras. With all the intense animal flavor in there, there’s not much room for error. And you don’t want to gross any other eaters who are already tentative on trying it.

Whole Foods sells a great brand – Greenwich village-based Trois Petits Cochons. But any high quality brand would be delicious here.

My next move? Making my own foie gras mousse! Stay tuned. But before I give it a go, any pointers?

 I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 4 to 6 as an hors d’oeuvre.

  • 8 oz. foie gras mousse, of your choosing
  • 6 to 8 teaspoons crushed black peppercorns
  • Fresh parsley, for garnish
  • 1 baguette, sliced on the diagonal
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • Salt, as needed
  • Pepper, as needed

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to *450.
  2. Right from the fridge, slice the mousse in long pieces, and distribute the peppercorns evenly on one side of the mousse. Press down on the peppercorns so they embed.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Place the mousse slices in the oil, searing for 2 minutes on each side, browning the mousse slightly. Be careful when flipping, as the mousse can fall apart. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  4. To make the crostini, put the slices of baguette on a sheet pan and brush each piece with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the preheated oven and broil until the crostini are golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  5. Arrange the seared foie gras mousse on a serving plate alongside the crostini. Serve with parsley for garnish, if desired.

 

 

 

Beef Wellington Tartare

What’s the opposite of a picky eater? Whatever it’s called, I’m that. But I won’t preach perfection. Black licorice, pretzels, grape juice, mint or, and here’s the kicker – puff pastry – don’t do it for me.

Beef Wellington should absolutely fall in my wheelhouse. Mushrooms, filet mignon, Dijon mustard, ham, Pâté, shallots & garlic. And it’s a gorgeous presentation to boot.

This sans-pastry recipe let’s me have my cake and eat it too. And the runny egg doesn’t hurt either.

Chances are you like puff pastry. I wish I did. But this dish encapsulates the essentials of the classic, with a lot less hassle. I’ve heard several horror stories – one that involved waking up at 6 AM to mince mushrooms. Another recalled a burnt pastry and undercooked beef situation.

Speaking of holiday cooking disasters, does anyone else watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation year-round and think it’s wildly underrated? I can recite that entire damn movie line-by-line. That dinner scene when Clark goes to carve the turkey Ellen’s sister put in the oven too early, and it cracks open with a puff of smoke, makes me howl every time.

I’ve eaten everything from grasshoppers to alligator to pig eyeball. And a lot more weird stuff that I can’t remember. I’ve liked every single one of those food experiences. But I still can’t stomach puff pastry. Go figure.

To quote cousin Eddie at that famous dinner scene…

Save the neck for me, Clark.

I N G R E D I E N T S

Makes 2 tartare servings.

  • 1 6 oz. filet mignon, chopped finely
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 4 oz. foie gras Pâté, or another Pâté if preferred, sliced 1 inch thick
  • 4 oz. Parma ham or prosciutto
  • 2 quail eggs yolks
  • 8 button mushrooms, minced
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 / 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon thyme, minced, plus additional for garnish
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • Flatbread, for serving with the tartare

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Combine the beef, half the shallot, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Set in the fridge to marinate.
  2. On medium-low heat in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sauté the mushrooms, the rest of the shallot, garlic and thyme. Add a pinch of salt to render some of the liquid from the mushrooms.
  3. Once the mushrooms are lightly browned, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  4. To arrange the tartare, take a 3 inch round mold and press down on a layer of Pâté. This will be the tartare base. Brush 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard on top. Then add a slice of Parma ham or prosciutto of similar size and shape, followed by half the cooled mushroom mixture. Finally, top with half the chilled beef mixture, pressing down in the mold to form into a circular shape. Repeat for the second tartare.
  5. Place both plates, while still in the round mold, in the fridge for 15 minutes to chill.
  6. Remove from the fridge, slide the tartares out of the round molds, and create a slight indent on the top with your thumb, sliding a quail egg yolk into the indent.
  7. Sprinkle with minced thyme, serving immediately alongside flatbread for scooping.

Petaled Red & Yellow Potato Gratin

I’m half Irish – on my dad’s side. And I think there may be some residual potato famine related hoarding issues I need to work through, because I always have potatoes lying around. In all colors and sizes.

gratin_6

Yukon Gold potatoes, in my opinion, are the vegetable equivalent to butter.

Mashed, fried, baked, even grated and fried. You name it. And the best part is depending on how you prepare them, you can eat them for breakfast, lunch & dinner.

Have you seen those gorgeous ratatouille presentations where the zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes & whatever else are layered so prettily? I get off on stuff like that.

Like this one from The Petite Cook.

gratin_5

I attempted to go for a similar look here. Using a mandolin I sliced equal parts Yukon Gold and Red Bliss potatoes and let them marinate in the fridge a while before arranging. The marinade consists of the usual suspects you’ll find in most gratins – half & half, garlic, nutmeg, herbs, cheese and salt & pepper.

There’s a lot of room for variation. A lot. Share some of your favorite gratin recipes here if you’d like. I’m very, very open-minded about these things.

It took every ounce of strength not to layer a half pound of shredded gruyere on top of this. But I really wanted to be able to see the crispy bits of the potato rounds when I pulled it out of the oven.

gratin_2

 

It’s all good, though, because the outrageous amount of half & half & cheese layered into this dish made it fattening enough to meet my high dairy-based calorie needs. I didn’t even put that much butter in it. Crazy, right?

I hope you enjoy. And get yourself seconds, and then thirds, and then fourths.

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

  • 2 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 2 medium-sized Red Bliss potatoes
  • 1 stick butter, salted or unsalted, cubed
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 / 3 cup gruyere, shredded
  • 2 cups half & half
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to *375.
  2. Slice the potatoes with a mandolin, or carefully as thin as possible with a sharp knife. Soak the potatoes in cold water for 30 minutes to remove the bulk of the starch. After 30 minutes, strain the potatoes and pat them very, very dry with paper towels.
  3. Place the potatoes in a large bowl with the half & half, gruyere, garlic, nutmeg, thyme and salt and pepper. Let marinate in the fridge for at least a half hour.
  4. Remove the potatoes from the fridge. In an oven-proof dish, layer the potatoes in alternating colors, starting on the outer edges of the dish. Toward the end when you’re running out of potato slices, start sticking them in the gaps so they’re all packed tightly.
  5. Pour the remaining liquid, including the cheese and flavorings, over the top of the gratin. Sprinkle with additional fresh thyme, and pepper, if desired. Dot with the cubed butter.
  6. Bake, covered, for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, remove the lid and bake for an additional 15 minutes, sprinkling additional cheese at this point if desired 😉.
  7. Enjoy bubbling hot.

 

 

 

 

Capered Salmon en Papillote

We’ve all heard the stereotype that French recipes are notorious for being highly complex – requiring hours and hours of preparation, expert-level tempering and knife techniques. But so much of their cooking is incredibly simple and so damn elegant.

It’s why France is arguably the global mecca for foodies. With an added emphasis on the word arguably.

One preparation they use for fish encloses it in parchment paper with aromatics and seasonings, and bakes it in the oven, often with in-season vegetables.

It makes for a beautiful presentation, and because it’s fish, there’s not much actual cooking time involved.

I had been wanting to try this technique for a while and finally got around to it. I wasn’t sure how achieve the moon-shaped package with a square piece of parchment paper, so I sourced a technique from the New York Times.

There’s an undeniable wow element when you’re served the fish enclosed in the package and opening it up to see what’s inside.

Just human nature I guess. Must be why wrapping paper exists. Or in my case, newspaper.

Because brine is life, I went hard on the capers. I mixed together a simple sauce to accompany the salmon with capers and thyme, to mirror the flavors used with the fish.

I remember to tell myself – simple can be incredibly elegant. The French taught us that much. I hope you enjoy this. Let me know what your other go-to herbs, vegetables and seasonings you like to use on salmon –  I bet they’d be great here.

I’m thinking an Asian-inspired version? Soy sauce, chili oil, scallions & sesame seeds?

Bon Appetit!

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

  • 2 6 – 8 oz. filets salmon, silver skin removed
  • I small shallot, sliced thinly
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small bunch thyme
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

F o r  t h e  C a p e r  S a u c e

  • 3 oz. crème fraiche
  • 1 teaspoon capers, minced
  • 1 / 2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon minced thyme
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to *400.
  2. Cut two pieces of parchment paper, about 1 1 / 2 foot long, into large heart-shaped pieces.
  3. Place the salmon filets on one half of the parchment paper, folding over to ensure there’s enough paper to completely enclose the fish.
  4. Once it’s correctly placed, sprinkle the filets with salt and pepper.
  5. Top with slices of shallot, capers, several springs of thyme, and 1 tablespoon of butter per filet.
  6. Fold over the edges of the parchment paper starting at the bottom of the heart shape, until the fish is completely enclosed. It’s a similar technique you would use to crimp the edges of a pie so that the filling doesn’t escape while baking.
  7. Cook the fish for 12 minutes for medium-rarish, 15 minutes for well-done.
  8. In the meantime, combine the caper sauce ingredients. Serve in small ramekins.
  9. Remove the salmon from the oven & serve it immediately plating it, parchment and all, with sauce on the side.
  10. IMPORTANT: Stick your nose in and inhale that first whiff when you tear open the package.