Tag Archives: cheese

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

Tasting Tour: Waterbury, Vermont

31 Mar

Finish off a weekend of skiing or hiking in Vermont with a couple hours of snacking! My family and I made our way along Route 100, from Waterbury Center south towards the I-89. Here’s where to stop for delicious treats.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill

1. Cold Hollow Cider Mill – taste fresh non-alcoholic cider, apple sauce, preserves, and apple butter. Watch dollups of batter drop into a conveyer and into a fryer, coming out as fresh cider donuts – the cider makes them light and airy, with a hint of apple flavour.  Purchase apple pies, or eat hot dogs steamed in cider. The Cider Mill also carries a wide variety of Vermont products – maple syrup, baking products and bakeware, sauces, condiments, and souvenirs.

cider donuts

2. Apple Core Gift Shop and the Grand View Winery – it’s right across the parking lot from the Cider Mill. For a small fee, you can taste some local wines. You’ll also find ornaments, jewelry, t-shirts, and funky socks.

IMAG08173. Cabot Annex Store – this place is a cheese lover’s paradise: a long table in the centre of the store is lined with cheeses to sample while sitting on “cow” barstools complete with pink udders. Cubes of Colby, sharp cheddars, jalapeno cheddar, and Munster are just waiting to be savored! There are fancy cheese boards and knives for purchase, and less fancy cheese shakers for sprinkling on  popcorn. You’ll also find Vermont maple syrup in many flavours, Surrounding the syrup sampling tables you’ll find kids smacking their lips in delight. Other goodies include Vermont fruit wines, almond butters, locally made cheesecakes, and artisan crackers.

4. Lake Champlain Chocolates – this chocolate haven has a few yummy samples on a long counter displaying beautiful, individual chocolates. We sampled the Green Mountain (fruit and nut) chocolate from the “Chocolates of Vermont” collection – it is a heavenly bite of crunchy almonds in  smooth milk chocolate. You’ll find factory seconds at a discount, in addition to the regular priced boxed chocolates that line the shop walls. There’s fudge, ice cream, and drinking chocolate as well, to enjoy on the spot, or to take home in the form of a canister of chocolate mix powder.

IMAG0819

IMAG08245. Ben & Jerry’s – You can tour the factory, but since there is no production on weekends, we skipped the tour and perused the gift shop instead. You’ll find vintage ice cream scoops on display, and cool knick knacks like a fake cup of “spilled” ice cream. Panels line the walls, illustrating the company’s history and highlighting their social mission. Then, we indulged in ice cream. Too bad the calorie count is shown beside each menu item… portions are huge, and even a small cup is plenty for two people to share!

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Ben and Jerry's

From Ben & Jerry’s you’re just a minute away from I-89, with tummys full and ready for the next destination.

Dip into Disappointment: The Melting Pot, Framingham

16 Feb

The Melting Pot’s slogan is “Dip into something different.” Maybe they think that “different” means “surprisingly terrible.” I had previously been to the Melting Pot in Sarasota, Florida, and had a great time, so I thought I knew what to expect here. I knew that portions would be on the  smaller side, but I had no idea how much The Melting Pot in Framingham (92 Worcester Road, Framingham, MA) could butcher a dining experience.

It was a mistake to purchase a Groupon – $45 for a three-course meal for two people. I always wondered if customers are treated more poorly when they use a Groupon. The Melting Pot in Framingham seemed to confirm my suspicions. Unless they treat all their patrons this terribly.

We arrived right on time, to find no one at the hostess stand. We stood around awkwardly for 10 minutes, as the bartender and a couple waitresses glanced our way, but otherwise ignored us. Finally, the host arrived, mildly apologetically, and seated us at a cozy little booth toward the back of the restaurant. “Your server will be right with you!” he said.

15 minutes later, we still sat twiddling our thumbs, without even glasses of water. I happened to catch the attention of another waiter, who took our drink orders and set off to find our waitress.  Another 5 minutes later, our waitress finally made an appearance, sans drinks. She had not communicated with the previous waiter, so we had to place our order a second time.

Melting Pot: Spinach artichoke cheese fondue

Thankfully, service for the rest of the meal was fine. I will even admit that having the waitress prepare the spinach artichoke cheese fondue at our table was fun, and the fondue itself was delicious. This was the highlight of our meal. We dipped cubed bread, apple slices, broccoli, cauliflower, and baby carrots into the bubbling cheese.
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Unfortunately, The meal quickly went downhill. The Groupon was strategically vague about the entree, and it turned out that my boyfriend and I had to share one measly entree platter. There were only four little cheese ravioli’s on this platter!

Meat platter

The entree came with a bowl of potatoes, broccoli, and mushrooms, but the mushrooms were unwashed. Yuck!

Melting Pot: dirty mushrooms

To top it all off, it got increasingly loud in the area in which we were seated. It sounded as if heavy equipment was being constantly dragged across a floor, on the other side of the wall behind us. This was not a romantic experience at all. Including the 18% mandatory tip on the arbitrary value assigned to this poor excuse for a meal, the total cost of this disaster was about $65.

This is the last time I will ever dine at any Melting Pot location, and the last time I will purchase a restaurant Groupon.

Melting Pot on Urbanspoon

Crab Mac n Cheese

15 May

The Easy, Slightly Less Unhealthy Version

This is not exactly a lazy dish to make, but you can prep it on a Sunday night, and then pop it in the oven for a few minutes for a weeknight dinner.

I don’t normally like mac n cheese, because I’ve always associated it with bright orange, goopey Kraft Dinner or cafeteria junk. But during a visit to Bubby’s Brooklyn (1 Main Street, Brooklyn, NY), I had amazing mac n cheese! Given my normal distaste for the dish, I don’t have a lot for comparison, but I’m fairly confident that Bubby’s makes the best mac n cheese ever!

This inspired me to try making my own. I wasn’t going to attempt to emulate Bubby’s version. Instead, I made a slightly lower-fat crab mac n’ cheese.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb whole wheat macaroni (cooked for 4 minutes, al dente, drained and rinsed)
  • <1/2 lb crab (I used a little less than half a can of crab meat)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 rib celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/6 cup all purpose flour
  • 1.5 cups skim milk
  • 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 rounded cup Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 rounded cup cheddar, shredded (I used 50% reduced fat cheddar)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Melt butter in pan, then set aside.
  2. Cook vegetables until just soft. Set aside.
  3. Return butter to pan, add flour, and stir.
  4. Add milk, and bring to a bubble. Add salt and pepper.
  5. Stir until mixture coats the back of spoon.
  6. Add mustard, Gruyere, and cheddar.
  7. Add the vegetables back in, as well as crab.
  8. Add macaroni, combine well.
  9. Put into casserole dish.

At this point, you can cover and store the mac n cheese.

When you’re ready for dinner:

  1. Melt a bit of butter and toss in bread crumbs. Let cool.
  2. Toss in Parmesan and parsley.
  3. Sprinkle over casserole.
  4. Bake ~10 minutes at 375 F.

P.S. Bubby’s Brooklyn also has a gorgeous night time view of Manhattan.

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