November 28, 2012 by caitlinvaclark
Today begins your look into my world in London, and for me, that world is centered around food. I grew up with two parents who loved cooking and taught me the comfort you find in the kitchen. My father is a man who can make a feast out of what would look to you or I like a sack of flour and a cabinet of spices. My dad focuses on patience and tradition in the kitchen. My mother had a love of entertaining that led her to open her home to hundreds. Whether she was cooking a simple dinner for her family or making 12 desserts for an event, taste, presentation, and ease were all equally important.
From my family I have gained a great foundation of cooking skills. That said, I would probably accredit most of my knowledge to good old trial and error. And over the years, I have become my own kind of food obsessed. To me, reading the latest Food Network star’s cookbook is about as addictive as The Hunger Games. Planning out my weekly menu over coffee is my reason to get out of bed on Sunday mornings. And frankly, wandering the aisles of the grocery store here (Waitrose is my store of choice) was my first savior from homesickness. How can you think about what you are missing back home when you have as many choices of duck and goose fat as butter in the refrigerated section?
Living here in London, I am excited to take the time to explore this art of cooking, as well as use this opportunity to stay in touch with family and friends, sharing my recipes and taking inspiration from their food and traditions.
For my first recipe, I thought I’d keep it simple and comforting. Be warned, there will be a lot of comfort food recipes in the near future, since it is very cold and impossibly rainy here in London. That and the sun is setting closer and closer to 3pm, so a slow cooking meal is the only thing keeping me up past 6.
My wonderful friend, Jen, came for Thanksgiving this year and we used the opportunity to travel to Paris, mid-week, off-season, which meant less time in lines for the sights and more time in cafes soaking in the culture and enjoying the delicious food. Jen flew home last Saturday, and I have been left with French food on my mind.
When the temperature dropped Saturday afternoon and the rain started coming down, the last thing my husband and I wanted to do was venture out to restock the fridge. Channeling my dad, I set out to make a masterpiece from junk. A few hours later, we had piping hot bowls of French Onion Soup. Now my soup recipe itself doesn’t take all that long. The issue was we didn’t have bread. We did have an amazing French Comté cheese (the French powerhouse equivalent to Gruyere) that I had brought back on the Eurostar, so making bread seemed a bit more worth it. Packet of yeast, pinch of salt, pinch of sugar, one part water to three parts flour and presto — bread. But I’ll save that recipe for another day. For now you can just use a crusty, if not stale, baguette.
Starting with a pile of onions leftover from our Thanksgiving dinner (done the Sunday before, when everyone actually had off work, since the third Thursday in November is definitely not a holiday over here), we ended up with something satisfying and magical.
I used a combination of onions all sliced thinly but didn’t worry too much about consistency, as the varying sizes will create texture in the soup.
Once the onions are softened, after cooking for about 10 minutes, add the thyme and cracked pepper to allow the flavors to meld with the onion.
The onions will become gooey and translucent with brown bits sticking to the bottom. This is when it’s time to deglaze, first with sherry then with red wine.
Break apart the bouillon cubes and add boiling water (or just add stock) and then simmer until the soup tastes deep and rich.
Now you are ready to top and toast up in the oven.
Once bubbly, take out and serve, but be careful not to touch the soup bowl itself. You don’t want to learn this the hard way. I like to serve them nested in a bigger bowl, but a plate would work too!
French Onion Soup for Two
1 medium red onion
2 large shallots
3 medium white/yellow onions
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. fresh thyme
¼ tsp fresh cracked pepper
2 Tbs. dry sherry
1/3 cup red wine
2 beef bouillon cubes and 4 cups boiling water (or 4 cups beef stock)
Crusty French bread (6 slices)
½ cup Gruyere or Comte cheese, shredded
¼ grated parmesan
Thinly slice all the onions.
*No need to worry about them being all the same thickness because as they stew and cook down, the differing sizes add a good texture to the soup.
Heat the oil and butter in a small (4-5 quart) Dutch oven or soup pot. Add the onions and cook, stirring every minute or so, over medium heat until they begin to soften and start to become translucent, about 5 minutes. Then reduce the heat to medium low, and stir every minute. After 10 minutes, add the thyme and pepper. Continue to cook until they are very softened, some almost gooey, and brown bits have formed on the bottom of the pan, about 30 minutes altogether.
Add the sherry and begin to deglaze. Once it is dissolved, add the wine and repeat. Cook down for 2 minutes.
Add the bouillon cubes and crumble apart. Then add the boiling water and stir until mixed. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes.
Heat the broiler of your oven. If your bread is fresh, toast lightly on each side. Fill two larger ramekins or soup bowls with the soup. Top with three bread slices and then half of the cheese each.
Place under the broiler until the cheese melts and begins to brown. This should take about 3 minutes, but depends on your oven, so watch closely.
Remove bowls using hot pads and place onto a plate (or I like to nest in a cereal bowl) and serve, making sure not to touch the hot bowls!