French Onion Soup – Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée

Steaming hot French onion soup in a bowl, topped with crusty bread and Gruyère cheese that is melted to golden perfection … Enough said!  This soup is one of my favorite soups to eat on a cold day. It is very simple to make, yet it takes some time for the onions to fully cook down. Regardless of the time it takes, it is all worth it at the end … trust me!

FRENCH ONION SOUP – SOUPE À L’OIGNON GRATINÉE

5 large Sweet or Yellow Onions – sliced
4 tablespoons organic Butter
1 tablespoon Salt
8 Garlic cloves – finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry Sherry
1 cup Vouvray white Wine
6 cups organic Beef Stock
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
1 teapoon Sherry Vinegar – omit if you use a dry white wine
TOPPING

1 block of Gruyère Cheese
1 Baguette cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme leaves

Begin by slicing the onions into half moons and finely mincing the garlic.  In a large pot on medium low heat, melt the butter, then add the sliced onions and salt.  Allow the onions to cook down until they are translucent.  Add the garlic, thyme, and freshly ground pepper.  Stir and allow everything to cook until the onions are completely soft and caramelized.  The whole process should take about 45 minutes to an hour.

Add the Sherry wine and the Vouvray, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, and simmer until the wine has reduced, and the onions are almost dry.  Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) is a demi-sec or ‘half-dry’ white wine.  In other words, it has some fruity sweetness to it.  If you choose to use it, then you may add the Sherry vinegar.  If however, you use a Pinot Gris (Grigio), a Sauvignon Blanc, or any other dryer white wines, then omit the Sherry vinegar.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Slice the baguette into 1/2 inch slices.  Place the slices on a baking sheet and into the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, until they are toasted.  Remove from the oven, and set aside.  Grate the Gruyère cheese.

Add the beef stock and Sherry vinegar (if using Vouvray), and simmer the onion soup for about 10 minutes.  Taste and season, if needed.

Turn the oven to a high broil.  Ladle the soup into individual oven proof bowls, and top with the toasted baguette slices or croûtes and the grated Gruyère cheese.  Place in the oven for 2 to 5 minutes for the cheese to melt to a golden color.  Remove from the oven and serve immediately.  You may serve it alone or with an Arugula Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette.  I hope you love it as much as I do!  Bon appétit!


Cannellini Bean & Vegetable Soup w/ Sprouted Bread Gremolata

With the holiday season upon us and winter eminently approaching, we tend to eat more than usual, and less healthy than usual.  So, In an effort to be a little healthier during the non-holiday meals, I have been making more vegetarian dishes for my family.  I hope this deliciously light and healthy soup serves as a worthy alternative to thick and creamy soups and stews for you this season.

CANNELLINI BEANS AND VEGETABLE SOUP WITH SPROUTED BREAD GREMOLATA

1 yellow Onion
2 large Shallots
6 large Garlic cloves
2 Tomatoes
6 Carrots – peeled
3 cups cooked Cannillini Beans
1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
8 cups Chicken Stock
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette (optional)
2 teaspoons Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Begin by peeling and rough chopping the onions, shallots, garlic, and carrots.  In a dutch oven or a large pot on medium heat, sauté the peeled and chopped vegetables in the olive oil.  Once the onions, shallot, carrots, and garlic are translucent, chop and add the tomatoes.  Allow the tomatoes to cook down for about 3 – 5 minutes.  Add the cooked beans and stir.  Add the tomato paste, piment d’espelette, salt, and pepper, and stir  everything together to get all the ingredients incorporated.

Add the bay leaf and the chicken stock.  Cover the soup, and allow it to simmer for about 30 – 40 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf.  You may serve it as is, in its current rustic style.  I, however, prefer it puréed and topped with a fresh gremolata.  Place the soup into a blender, and purée it.  Place the puréed soup back in the dutch oven or pot on very low heat, while you make the gremolata.

SPROUTED BREAD GREMOLATA

2 slices Sprouted Bread
2 Garlic cloves1 large Lemon – zested
1/2 cup Italian Parsley – loosely packed
Pinch of Sea Salt
5 grinds of Black Pepper

I usually chop the ingredients of my gremolata by hand, but this time I use a food processor.  Begin by toasting or broiling the sprouted bread on high.  Be very careful not to burn the bread, even though you want it to be well toasted completely through.  Let the toast stand (upright if you can), as it hardens a little more.

In a food processor, pulse the garlic cloves and salt.  Crumble the bread and add it to the food processor, and pulse.  Now add the lemon zest and Italian parsley.  Process all the ingredients together.  You may lightly sauté the gremolata in olive oil, if you want a crispier texture.  However, I decide to skip this part.   I am, after all, going for a lighter application.  The sprouted bread gremolata is ready.

In an individual serving bowl, ladle the puréed soup, and then top it with a spoonful of gremolata.  Serve and enjoy!


Lebanese Lentil Soup w/ Lemon & Swiss Chard – 3adas Bil Hamod

Every time I think of this Lebanese lentil soup, I am transported to the distant past, when I was little, and my mom would make this delicious lentil soup for me, my dad, and my sister.  I remember coming home from school, starving.  I would walk into the kitchen, and the scent was just intoxicating!  Onions, garlic, and cilantro sautéing in extra virgin olive oil.  It was such a lovely treat, especially, on a cold afternoon.  Even though, my mom has made it many times since, my most vivid memories are from the days of my childhood.  Now, it is up to me to create those vivid food memories with my own family.

LEBANESE LENTIL SOUP WITH LEMON AND SWISS CHARD 

1 small yellow Onion
1 large head of Garlic – minced
2 large Yukon Gold Potatoes
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 bunch Cilantro
1 1/2 cups brown Lentils
3 quarts Water
1 bunch Swiss Chard
1/2 to 1 Lemon per bowl – juiced

Start by rinsing the lentils.  In a large sauce pan over medium heat, simmer the lentils in water, until they are soft.

Finely mince the onion and garlic, and finely chop the cilantro.  In a large pot or dutch oven, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil over medium heat, until they are translucent.  Add the cilantro, and sauté for another few minutes.

Wash the potatoes, and cut them into small cubes.  Sauté them along with the onions, garlic and cilantro mixture for about 5 minutes.  Add the cooked lentils and all their cooking liquid to the dutch oven.

Wash and chop the swiss chard.  Make sure to remove the very bottom part of the stems, and discard them.  Add the swiss chard to the pot, cover, and simmer over low heat for 3o minutes.

Now that the soup is ready, juice about half a lemon per bowl of soup.  As I am Lebanese, I squeeze one whole large lemon for a bowl.  I hope you enjoy this deliciously healthy soup.

 


Tomato Bisque

Tomato bisque is one of those hearty soups you would eat on a cold day with a grilled cheese sandwich, or better yet, toasted sprouted bread or a crusty baguette.  I started making this delicious soup as a slightly lighter and more economical way of enjoying a dish my husband and I frequently ordered from a French bistro down the street.  Kevin and I loved going to this little bistro, simply to get their famous tomato basil soup.  Well, now that I make it at home, it has become a hit with my family, as well as with some of my friends.

TOMATO BISQUE

6 tablespoons organic Butter
1 yellow Onion
2 Celery stalks
4 Carrots
4 large Garlic cloves
6 Tomatoes
5 fresh Thyme sprigs
1 tablespoon fresh Oregano – chopped
3 tablespoons Italian Parsley – chopped
4 tablespoons sweet Basil – chopped
2 tablespoons Tomato paste
1 cup Tomato sauce
1/2 cup Sherry – Medium
2 teaspoons Sugar
4 cups Chicken Broth – preferably homemade*
1 1/2 cups heavy Cream
2 tablespoons Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper – freshly ground

*If you choose to make your own chicken stock, please refer to the STOCK recipe portion of the “Everyday Chicken Soup” post for instructions.  Otherwise, I highly suggest using an organic chicken stock in a carton, NOT a can.

Start by chopping the onion, celery stalks, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, and all the fresh herbs; you may, however, leave the thyme whole on the sprigs, as you will remove the sprigs later after the soup is done cooking.  Don’t worry about finely chopping everything, because it is all going to be blended or puréed at the end.  A rough chop is just fine.  

In a large dutch oven or pan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, and add the chopped onions, carrots, and celery.  After they are translucent, add the chopped garlic, tomatoes, the fresh thyme sprigs, oregano, Italian parsley, and half the sweet basil with the salt and pepper, and let sauté for a few minutes.  Now add the tomato paste and the sugar.  Deglaze the pan with the sherry.  When most of the sherry has reduced, add the tomato sauce and the chicken stock.  If you do not want to add chicken stock or don’t have any, you may substitute vegetable stock or water.  Cover and allow to cook / simmer for 30 – 45 minutes on low heat.  Turn off the heat and add the remaining half of the basil.  Remove the thyme sprigs from the soup.  If some thyme is still attached to the sprigs, scrape it off into the soup.

In a good blender, ladle the soup gently and purée until it is completely smooth.  Place back in the dutch oven over low heat and add the heavy cream.  Stir until all the cream is incorporated in the soup, then turn the heat off and add the last 3 tablespoons of butter in 1 tablespoon pieces.  Stir in gently.  Taste the velvety bisque and determine if it needs any more seasoning.  If so, season with salt to your liking.  Serve and enjoy.  Bon appétit!


Everyday Chicken Soup

It is early Sunday afternoon in Dallas; it’s raining, and the temperature is dropping.  The weather channel is forecasting an evening full of sleet and possible snow.  I would like to say that I am very happy with the notion of getting an extra day off.  So, what would be best to have on a very cold February night, one might ask?  Aside from a large mug of steaming hot chocolate, chicken soup comes to mind.  I have to feed my family after all.

My husband is upstairs in his office working, and my daughter is sitting in the dining room working on her science project.  I decide to start on dinner.  I have been known to spend more time than needed in the kitchen.  And this chicken soup takes quite a while to make; however, you can always modify it to take no more than an hour.  I will elaborate on that later in this post.  Let’s begin by making the stock.  I use an 8 quart pot for what will yield about 3 quarts of fortified stock.  Also, in this recipe, I used two organic chicken breasts with the skin still on and the bone still in; however, you can make it with a whole chicken or chicken thighs.  My reasoning is that my family and I prefer white meat, simple as that.

STOCK

2 Chicken breasts bone-in, skin-on
3 Carrots
2 Celery stick
1 large yellow Onion
3 Bay Leaves
4 Thyme springs –
4 large Garlic clove
1 bunch of Italian Parsley – (use the sprigs for the stock, leave the leaves for the soup at the end)
3 Tablespoon of kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon whole Black Peppercorns
6 quarts of cold Water

Place everything in the pot, and place it on the stove over medium high heat, until it starts to boil.  When it boils, turn the heat down; it needs to be between a soft boil and a simmer.  After 45 minutes, remove the chicken, place them on a plate, and let them cool for a few minutes.  This is where you decide whether to make the long version, where the stock has a very deep flavor, or if you want to make the short version, that is delicious in any case.  For the longer version, remove the bones from the chicken once you are able to do so without burning your fingers, then toss them back in the stock.  Add 5 cups of cold water, and let the stock cook for another hour.  After which, you will strain the stock in a fine mesh strainer, return it to the stove, and add the desired vegetables (listed below) and the de-boned chopped or shredded chicken.

For the shorter version, once you remove the chicken from the pot to cool down, strain the stock with a fine mesh strainer.  Return the stock to the stove and add the following:

SOUP

12 Mushrooms sliced
6 Carrots
1 yellow Onion
1 cup Peas
1 bunch of Italian Parsley

Once you have strained the soup to get a clear golden broth, place the chopped onions, carrots, and mushrooms in the pot and cook for about 30 minutes over medium heat.  After the vegetables are softened, add the peas, the shredded or chopped chicken, and finely chopped parsley.  I know a whole bunch of parsley seems like much, but trust me, it makes the soup taste better, look better, and is very good for you.  Let steep in the broth for about 5 minutes, then ENJOY!


My Favorite Beef Stew

After a very long day of shopping and running errands, my husband, my daughter, and I decided to have a nice quiet movie night at home.  What to eat on that cold and tiring day?  Well, most affordable restaurants don’t make good soups or stews, with Pho being the exception for me.  Pho, in my opinion, is a very delicious Vietnamese noodle soup that I eat at least once a week.  For argument’s sake, however, let’s say those restaurants did in fact make delicious concoctions. Those yummy soups and stews don’t taste as good, when you take them to go.  So, I must make something at home, something delicious and hearty, a beef stew perhaps.  Definitely, something my Scottish-American husband will appreciate.

MY FAVORITE BEEF STEW

1 lb boneless grass fed Beef chuck
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 1/2 yellow Onions
6 Carrots
2 Parsnips
3 Yukon gold Potatoes
12 cremini or button Mushrooms
1 cup green Peas – frozen or fresh
5 Garlic cloves
5 Thyme sprigs
2 Bay leaves
1/4 cup chopped Italian Parsley
2 tablespoons Tomato paste
1 cup Red Wine (I use a good Bordeaux)
5 cups reduced Beef stock – instructions in text below
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian Parsley – at the end of cooking process
2 Tablespoons Salt or to taste
1 Tablespoon freshly ground Pepper or to taste

Make sure your beef is completely dry by using paper towels to soak up any moisture before searing.  Then sprinkle a generous amount of salt and freshly ground pepper.  Place a dutch oven or a deep pot of your choosing on medium high heat.  Once it is hot, add the olive oil and begin searing the seasoned beef.  DO NOT CROWD the pan; you might have to sear in batches.  If you crowd the pan, you will have steamed and not beautifully caramelized beef.  Do not worry about all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan; they are there purely for flavor.  They make everything taste better.  While you are searing the meat, or before you start this whole process, peel and chop the onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, potatoes, mushrooms, garlic, and finely chop the parsley.

After all the meat is seared, place it on a plate and to the side.  Now, add the chopped onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, potatoes, and mushrooms.  Stir them all while scraping the bottom of the pan to get all the brown bits.  Then add about 1 tablespoon of salt, 1/2 tablespoon of freshly ground pepper, and the tomato paste.  Stir the paste to get it integrated in the vegetable mixture.  After a couple of minutes, add the seared meat, 1/4 cup of the chopped Italian parsley, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves.

Add the wine to deglaze the bottom of the dutch oven; then, add the reduced beef stock, cover, and leave to cook on the stove on low heat for about 2 hours.  Thirty minutes before the stew is done, add the green peas.  After 2 hours, take the lid off, taste and season more, if necessary.  Add the final 1/2 cup of finely chopped Italian parsley, stir to mix, then serve with a crusty baguette – for best results – and ENJOY!

Making reduced stock is very easy, but time consuming.

Reduced Beef Stock

1 to 2 lbs Beef bones
2 Celery stalks
2 Carrots
1 Onion
2 Roma Tomatoes
4 Mushrooms
4 Garlic cloves
1 cup Parsley sprigs
4 Thyme sprigs
2 Bay leaves
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole Peppercorns
6 quarts Water

Place everything together in a large stock pot, add the water, and put on the stove on medium high heat till it reaches a boil.  Bring the heat down to reach a very soft boil, and leave it for about 2 hours.  After you get a rich broth, strain the contents of the pot in a fine mesh strainer.  Place the beautiful brown broth back on the stove and let reduce by half.  Now, you have reduced and concentrated beef broth.