French Onion Soup

I think it’s time to talk to you about a project I’ve been working on.

A few months ago, my dear friend Gina wrote me an e-mail.  In it, she explained that she had spent a solid year in a pilates training program, and it had left her very little time in the kitchen.  Her fiance Peter had been handling the bulk of the cooking for a year, and she was feeling a little uninspired.  Gina is no cooking novice… she’s had a good amount of experience cooking, and she knows quite a bit already.  I’m helping to teach her some technique, as well as giving her specific, tailored instruction in cooking many different things she’s always wanted to know how to cook.

So to say that I’m giving her cooking lessons isn’t entirely appropriate, because to me that suggests someone who doesn’t know how to cook at all.  Instead, I’m giving her personal, highly focused instruction to help her to expand her cooking and ingredient knowledge.  I go over to her amazing apartment about twice a month, and we spend a few hours cooking together, and then we eat whatever we’ve cooked, sometimes joined by Peter and/or Sara.  The pressure is low, and fun is high, and we make sure to have a few cocktails and listen to great music to make the whole evening feel like a celebration.

We’ve cooked things like chicken enchiladas, kale with bacon, raw kale salad with lime vinaigrette, beef stew with potato crust, herbed rice, curried chicken and veg, apple crisp, dark chocolate bark with cherries and pistachios, sausage/kale/bean soup, swiss chard with caramelized onion, lemon-parmesan-basil quick bread, and this French Onion Soup. It turned out really delicious, but I’ll tell you more about it after the recipe.

All of this is to say, I’m starting a small side business of teaching any and all culinary arts!  I can cater my instruction to any level of experience, and it will be tailored specifically to your culinary needs, goals, and tastes.  We can do dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or any other dietary restriction.  I’ll come to your house, we’ll have a meeting to talk about exactly what you like and dislike, what you already like to cook (if anything), and what you want to learn.  It will all be done in your kitchen with your cooking equipment, and it will be low-stress and high-fun!  My rates work on a sliding scale with a friend discount or bartering option, and I’m looking to add new clients this winter.

So if you’ve always wanted to start cooking, if you want to expand your repertoire, or if you just want help in planning and cooking a special meal for a holiday, birthday, valentine’s day, etc… send me an e-mail at steven.gravelle@gmail.com.  I’m always happy to answer questions or to give you more information.

Without further ado, the French Onion Soup that Gina and I made this past week.

Difficulty
easy
Serves
6-8
Time
90 min

Ingredients

1 baguette, thickly sliced on the bias
4 tbsp unsalted butter
3 lbs onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp sugar (or honey, maple syrup or molasses)
1 tsp salt
A few stalks fresh thyme
1 cup white wine
8 cups beef stock
2 tbsp brandy
2 cups grated gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 400.  Lay out the baguette slices on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until nice and crispy, around 4 minutes on each side.  Set them aside.

In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat.  Add 1/3 of the onions, 1/3 of the sugar, and 1/3 of the salt.  Repeat this process twice more, ending with all of the onions, sugar and salt in the pot.  Toss everything until the onions are nicely coated in butter.  Cover and cook, UNTOUCHED, for 20 minutes.  Then give the onions a stir, add the thyme stalks, and partially crack the lid of the pot.  Simmer for another 40 minutes, stirring once every 10 minutes, or until the onions are a nice caramel color and your whole house smells amazing.

Crank up the oven to 500.

Add the white wine and let it reduce by half, about 10 minutes.  Add the beef stock and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes more.  Fish out the thyme stems and discard.  If you have fancy soup crocks, feel free to transfer the soup into those.  But if you’re like me, just add all of the toasted baguette slices to the top of the soup, cover with all of the cheese, and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is nicely browned.

Let’s be real here… this is a super-easy soup.  And made with inexpensive ingredients you may already have in the pantry.  It’s such a simple take on a hearty dinner that will fill your belly with warm goodness, and this is a really easy version of it.  Caramelize some onions in butter, add a little wine, add some stock, and let everything simmer.  Oh, and then cover it in stale bread and cheese and bake it away.  I really have to go ahead and thank whatever French cook that thought to elevate onions in this way… it’s just the most beautiful, perfect thing you can do to make onions taste as amazing as they possibly can.

I’ve read recipes that make this vegetarian by using mushroom stock, and even vegan by using Earth Balance to replace the butter, and I say knock yourself out in either case.  I don’t think you can do much to mess this up beyond rushing the caramelizing process.  If you take the time to let the onions sit at low temp for an hour or so, your patience will be powerfully rewarded.

Happy cooking!

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