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Warm Up With French Onion Soup

21 Feb

It’s still cold in New England…which means it’s time for soup! I’ve always wanted to make French onion soup, but held back because I don’t own broiler-proof soup crocks. As it turns out, a toaster oven’s broiler will do the trick (another reason why toaster ovens rule!)

DSC01876Because a large part of French onion soup is beef broth, it’s important to use high quality broth, preferably low-sodium (otherwise a bowl of soup might leave you feeling parched). I scoured the grocery stores and found these two lower sodium options:

  • Swanson 50% Less Sodium Beef broth, available in large grocery chains (400 mg sodium per cup broth)
  • More Than Gourmet Beef Culinary Stock, available at Russo’s in Watertown, MA, and online (270 mg per cup broth)

If you can find something like More Than Gourmet, I definitely recommend it – the “Gourmet” really makes a difference. Its ingredients include carrot and celery stocks rather than juices, for example, in addition to veal stock, beef stock, and red wine.

This recipe makes 8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts low sodium beef broth
  • 6 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp white sugar
  • ½ cup cooking sherry
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 baguette
  • 1/2 pound Gruyere or Appenzeller cheese, shredded

Appenzeller cheese is a a fondue cheese like Gruyere and Emmental. It’s a raw cow’s milk cheese from the region of Switzerland. I bought black label (“Extra”) Appenzeller cheese, meaning it’s been aged 6 months or more. It has a strong smell, but its flavour goes really well with onion soup. And it’s easy to cut into with a spoon (no one wants to pull all the cheese off the bread when trying to get a spoonful of French onion soup.)

Directions

  1. Cook onions on medium-high heat in butter until translucent, about 10 minutesDSC01879
  2. Sprinkle in sugar
  3. Reduce heat to medium and cook until onions are caramelized, about 30 minutes
  4. Add garlic and cook 1 additional minute
  5. Stir sherry into the onion mixtureDSC01882
  6. Transfer onion mixture into a slow cooker and pour in beef broth. Stir in thyme and bay leaf. Cover cooker, and cook 4 to 5 hours on HIGH.
    ** Alternatively you can bring the soup to a boil on your stovetop, then reduce to a simmer for 2 hours.
  7. About 10 minutes before serving, preheat the toaster oven’s broiler. Arrange bread slices on a baking sheet.
  8. Broil bread slices until toasted, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
  9. Top each bread slice with cheese and broil until cheese is bubbling, about 3 minutes.
  10. Fill bowls 3/4 full with onion soup and top with bread slices.
  11. Enjoy!

French onion soup

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Brenda’s French Soul Food

18 Jan

Line outside Brenda's French Soul Food, Tenderloin

Sunday in the city means brunch! One of San Francisco’s best brunch spots is Brenda’s French Soul Food. Though its location may be questionable (in the Tenderloin district), its brunch is not – check out the cluster of hungry, waiting patrons.

 

Just inside Brenda’s main doors is a huge blackboard, handy for seeing how many diners are ahead of you in line. Our wait for a party of 2 was 45 minutes. The restaurant is divided into two long sections with high ceilings, each with its own entrance. Once seated, AW and I each ordered the morning’s drink special –  passionfruit mimosas! Delicious.

The top portion of Brenda’s brunch menu is devoted to beignets, so AW and I ordered the beignet flight – a sampler the includes one each of Brenda’s four beignets (plain, chocolate, Granny Smith apple, and crawfish). Warning: these beignets are full size donuts, not dainty little donut holes.

Beignet sampler

The beignets themselves were not as light an fluffy as I had expected. They were denser, much like Chinese donuts often served with rice congee, so they were really quite filling. The plain beignet wasn’t particularly memorable, but the savory crawfish version was creamy and unique. Because we wanted to save room for our entrees, we didn’t try the chocolate and apple beignets, and got them packed up to go.

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AW had the shrimp and cheddar grits:

Shrimp and Grits

I had the catfish Benedict on cream  biscuits with creole hollandaise, with a huge portion of potato hash. Mmmm…DSC01220

The crowds are not mistaken – Brenda’s delivers a solid, Southern comfort food for brunch.

Info: Brenda’s French Soul Food, 652 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94102 USA

Brenda's French Soul Food on Urbanspoon

Fantastic French Food: Leunig’s Bistro

1 Nov

Leunig’s Bistro in Burlington, Vermont, definitely lives up to its tagline, “the Panache of Paris and the Value of Vermont”. Situated along Burlington’s pedestrian mall, the restaurant feels like a French brasserie, with large windows opening onto Church Street. Its menu lists French classics like French onion soup with the perfect ratio of cheese and bread ($8).

Leunig's Bistro - French Onion Soup

The poutine ($12) – crispy fries with melted cheese and delicious duck gravy – is a nod to Vermont’s northern neighbour.

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At the same time, Leunig’s offers great value by serving up its great food in large portions. My husband ordered the blue corn crusted chicken roulade ($27) stuffed with Serrano ham and peaches and served with queso blanco sauce.  The chicken was very moist, flash fried so that it was crispy but not greasy. The sweet corn mashed potatoes were yummy and unique. DSC00995

I had the Captain Cod ($28) – a perfectly pan seared, delicate cod filet over lemon gnocchi, which I thought was a pretty creative way of incorporating lemon into a fish entree. The filet was topped with roasted tomatoes, and accompanied by mushrooms and broccolini in a honey broth.DSC00993

Everything that passed by our table looked absolutely delicious, including a thick steak served with frites and a giant lava cake topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

There were a few service gaffes during our meal – steak tartare was accidentally delivered to our table, for example. Interestingly, I didn’t find tartare on the dinner menu – I wonder if Leunig’s has a secret menu we weren’t told about?  Still, service was friendly and our dinner was fantastic. It’s no wonder that Leunig’s is busy morning, day and night! I can’t wait to come back.

Food: 5/5 | Atmosphere: 5/5 | Value: 5/5

Info: Leunig’s Bistro, 115 Church Street, Burlington, VT 05455, USA

Leunig's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Behind the Scenes: Croissant-making at Seigle D’Or

1 Jun

Seigle D’Or is a new bakery that opened recently in Brighton. I was lucky enough to get a chance to watch Chef Boubker demonstrate his croissant-making technique at the bakery a couple weekends ago. Chef Boubker explained that Seigle D’Or is French for “Golden Wheat.” He began making croissants in France, and then joined Athan’s Bakery in the Boston area before opening his own storefront. Now, he is credited with making Boston’s best croissants

Upon stepping into the small bakery, my eyes began to take in the yumminess that surrounded me – tarts and cookies, and pastries like raspberry danishes and pain aux raisin made from the same dough as the croissants.

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I squeezed into the kitchen area with about 15 others to watch the Chef make his signature croissants. He had already prepared his dough – the recipe is a secret, of course, but he did divulge that he uses far less butter than most other chefs. In 8 pounds of dough, Chef Boubker uses just 1.5 pounds of butter (compared to up to 4 pounds of butter other chefs use!). You might consider these low-fat croissants, if there is such a thing! Here in New England, the Chef prefers Cabot’s unsalted butter, in 1-pound blocks. If you can’t get your hands on that, the next best thing is Stop & Shop’s store-brand unsalted butter. (I was definitely surprised by this).

Chef had prepared a batch of dough the day before, that had rested overnight in the freezer. With a giant rolling pin, he flattened out the butter, placed it on top of his dough, and folded the ends of the dough over the butter.

IMAG2532Then, a fancy croissant machine rolled out the dough to a long thin sheet, incorporating the butter evenly into it. (I’m not kidding – I can’t find any other name for this thing than simply “croissant machine”.) At home, you’d have to roll out the dough several times with a rolling pin. Chef folded the sheet of dough several times, making double turns or half turns, and passed the dough through the fancy machine each time. After the butter has been incorporated, the dough must rest in the freezer for at least 90 minutes.

Chef brought out a rested batch of dough he had prepared for us earlier that morning. Once the dough is out of the freezer, you have to move fast! Mise en place, Chef calls it, in his thick French accent. He cut the dough into triangles and demonstrated the “croissant song.”

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A bakery doesn’t make good croissants unless you can hear the croissant song, he joked. It’s the loud slap of a triangular portion of dough as it hits the table with force, stretching out slightly so that you can roll the dough into a tight croissant that won’t fall apart as it bakes.  IMAG2537 copy

Chef quickly filled a tray with Parisian-style croissants while telling stories of the origin of croissants.

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Each of us “students”  enjoyed a hot, golden croissant fresh out of the oven, crisp on the outside, and soft yet flaky on the inside. Mmmmm….I devoured mine even though I was about to go for lunch, and I couldn’t resist buying two more croissants to take home.

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The next day, I cut into one of Chef’s almond croissants at home. It is much flatter than his plain croissants, and not as pretty as other almond croissants I’ve had. Though it lacked toasted, sliced almonds on top, there was a generous amount of almond paste inside, and another dollop on top.

IMAG2547If you haven’t tried one of Chef Boubker’s croissants yet, I recommend that you hurry over to Brighton now and pick one up!

Info: Seigle D’Or Bakery Cafe, 1585 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA, USA 02135

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