2.28.2013

Soup du Jour

I don’t normally grocery shop on the weekend if I can help it, especially with the threat of a storm arriving like last weekend, but since my fridge was stocked with only eggs and tofu, I didn’t have much of a choice. I finished my shopping quick enough with the aid of a list to keep me on track, unfortunately, what seemed like a smart and practical buy of a five pound bag of onions seemed a little unnecessary once I was home, unpacked and looking at a six quart bowl of onions. As an economical cook who could already see a six quart bowl of mushy, moldy onions in my future, I decided that I should make a batch of French onion soup. A classic. Except the problem with French onion soup is how heavy it is, even in small portions. It always arrives looking fancy in a brown crock, the browned molten cheese on top all at once alluring and intimidating but usually ends up being too salty and sitting next to the cheese ball in the pit of my belly, which, is not how I want to leave a meal. Yet, time after time I order it. And time after time I’m mostly disappointed, and a little parched after. I’m completely enamored with the idea of a bowl of caramelized onions, really, I just wish it was a more satisfying reality.

I wanted the rich loving and attentive depth that French onion soup demands with the satisfaction I demand when choosing to consume an entire bowl of onions. So as I started my soup, I decided I would start with the onions and make my less dehydrating and more satisfying adjustments along the way. I caramelized my onions last night since I had the time and with the thought of letting the onions sit overnight, in mind. I saved my chicken carcass from my first post on roasted chicken and made a simple chicken broth for my soup, adding in lots of fresh thyme to simmer for about 45 minutes in a four quart sauce pot. I strained the broth then added it to my onions, which I then let simmer for another 45 minutes or so without reducing it too much. I also decided to change the traditional four inch slice of bread and cheese lava for cheesy crostini instead. In the end, I found my dream bowl of French onion soup. Maybe you’ll find yours here, too.

Not Quite French Onion Soup

Ingredients
About 9 or 10 medium sized sweet onions, thinly sliced
Two large sprigs Fresh Thyme
Three quarts homemade chicken broth or two cans of chicken broth plus eight cups of water
Vermouth
Salt to taste

For crostini
Parmigiano-Reggiano
Mozzarella
Day+ old loaf of bread thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic
Fresh thyme

Method:
Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil into a dutch oven or heavy bottomed soup pot, and warm on low heat. Peel, halve and thinly slice onions adding to the pot as you go. Season with salt, turn heat up and stir occasionally as onions start to brown. As they caramelize deglaze with about a quarter cup of water and stir, cook to au sec (dry) and repeat process until onions are a beautiful dark brown, about two hours. On final deglaze add about a quarter cup of vermouth in place of water and let cook down to demi sec (almost dry). Let cool and store covered in fridge overnight, if desired.

Add homemade chicken broth or canned chicken broth and water to onions and bring to a simmer. Let soup simmer uncovered about 20 minutes up to 45 minutes.

For the crostini: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Rub a clove of garlic cut in half over thinly sliced baguette. On a cookie sheet top crostini with a sliver of mozzarella, fresh thyme and some freshly grated parmigiano. Crisp in a 400 degree oven 5-10 minutes or until golden brown and cheese is melted.   

Season soup to taste and ladle into bowls, top with two or three crostini and enjoy.

2.26.2013

The Beginning

Hello, this is my first official post and welcoming into the blog world, which thrills me and also makes me slightly nervous. I promise to do my best to charm those of you here at the start of this journey (and all I pick up along the way) with my culinary prowess, to turn you into regular and excited readers of à la crème. I hope you enjoy and thank you so much for reading.

Sunday was a quiet day here in NH, one that required lazy watching of the snow fall while drinking a French press and catching up on forgotten household chores. It was also the last day before our friend Paolo returned to Italy. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to roast a chicken since it requires little work and few dishes, but also because it is one of my favorite comfort foods for a wintry day.  

While a roasted chicken might seem like a common and mundane thing to blog about, it’s one of the things that gives me the most pleasure to make. I love the warmth from the oven, the herbed and seasoned bird becoming fragrant throughout the apartment, whetting the appetite. A perfectly roasted chicken is something to be admired, cherished even. But anyone can roast a chicken, right? I suppose, however, creating a roasted chicken with beautifully browned and crisp skin? A flavorful, tender and juicy bird that makes you sigh with anticipation? It takes a person who loves to eat just as much as they love to cook. I’ve personally eaten many a bland and disappointing bird which is surprisingly common given the variety of flavors and methods one can do with a roasted chicken. Everyone has their secret to success: some like to roast, stuff and serve it with gravy like a traditional thanksgiving meal, while others stick it on a beer can and roast it on a grill. Martha Stewart might tie the bird up beautifully with twine and serve it on a platter with pureed parsnips and a frisee salad for a formal dinner party. While all valid and delicious sounding ways of serving up a chicken, I never do any of that. I find the most success when I season the inside of the bird, smear a tablespoon of butter under the skin of the breast, then another few tablespoons over the skin of the entire bird and season well. I let my bird roast splay legged in my beloved cast iron skillet on high heat and I baste. I baste often. And it’s always delicious.


Our Sunday dinner turned out beautifully. We started with Prosecco and pigs in a blanket, the classiest American appetizer I could think of. For our chicken, we opened a California Pinot Noir and I sliced up a baguette to sop up all the flavorful jus, made a cauliflower gratin and a simple green salad to go with.

That officially wraps up The Beginning. I'm giddy. :)
 


Sunday Roasted Chicken

Ingredients
1 whole chicken
4 cloves garlic
1 sweet onion, quartered
½ fresh lemon, quartered

Salamoia Bolognese*
freshly ground black pepper

Method:
 

Preheat oven to 400

Wash and dry the chicken. Season the inside of the chicken with salamoia Bolognese and pepper, throw two garlic cloves crushed in skin, a quarter of the sweet onion and a quarter of the lemon into the cavity. 


Place chicken in a cast iron skillet or shallow roasting pan, rub one tablespoon of butter under the skin of the breast and the remainder over the rest of the chicken. Season with salamoia Bolognese and black pepper, add remaining garlic, onion quarters and sliced lemon to the skillet and roast uncovered for 20 minutes. 

Turn heat down to 375, rotate and baste. Loosely cover bird with foil then roast, continuing to baste every 20 minutes until juices run clear or a thermometer registers 165 in the thickest part of the leg. Approximately 40-50 minutes more depending on the size of the bird. Tent the bird with aluminum foil and let rest 10 minutes or so before carving.

*Salamoia Bolognese is an Italian seasoning salt literally translated as Bolognese brine, and found in the states as Seasonello. Traditionally it is made with sea salt, rosemary, sage, black pepper and garlic but can be varied with red pepper flakes or lemon zest. It’s something I always have in my cupboard and could possibly be one of the greatest things known to man. I haven’t done a homemade version yet but it is simple enough to do and I plan to post a recipe for it at some point in the very near future. If you can't find or don't want to use the salamoia feel free to use any type of salt, or salt mixture that tickles your fancy. Some coarse fleur de sel or truffle salt would be just as delicious in its place.