Story last updated at 11/14/2012 - 1:53 pm
I am fortunate that in my job I do a little travel. I enjoy this not only because I go somewhere new and different, but primarily because I get to eat at new restaurants and try new foods.
I like to eat in restaurants and then try to figure out how to make it at home. It's like a game for me. What's that hidden flavor? That warm aftertaste? The sweet crunch in that salad? My husband enjoys watching me eat something new and then challenging me to cook it at home. Of course I always accept said challenge.
Recently I had to travel for business and stayed overnight in a Seattle hotel. When I arrive somewhere rather late, I tend to eat light. This particular trip I opted for the French onion soup. As many can tell from reading my column and blog, I make a lot of soups. It is one of my favorite things to cook. It's like an epicurious symphony. The combining of specific ingredients and the right temperature to create a crescendo of delectable goodness served in a bowl. Soups are quite possibly a perfect food.
The best soups are the ones that taste like they've been simmering all day, but really only took 20-30 minutes. A favorite soup I enjoy making is French onion. Mainly because it's drenched in cheese. I think anything with gooey cheese melted on it is a winner. My husband claimed he never eats onions, but he loves this soup. I credit the cheese. The onions are great, but really they're just there to hold the cheese in place so it's easier to eat.
A good French onion soup will have the correct ratio of onion-to-broth-to-cheese. It can't have too many onions or it will be over powering and scare non-onion eaters off. It can't have too much broth or it will be too thin and not have substance. And, it can't have too much cheese...actually there's no such thing as too much cheese.
Making French onion soup isn't hard. But, I do like to make things a bit different and as I've said before, put my name on it, so to speak. The French onion soup I had on my trip wasn't ordinary. It was amazing. There were five or six different kinds of onions in the soup itself and the cheese was a wonderful Swiss. Paired with a crisp Chardonnay, I had a perfect meal after a long day of travel.
Once I got home I was determined to make a similar soup, but I also wanted to partner it with a nice salad to make a full meal. Enter the spinach salad. Spinach, another food my husband claims to dislike. I firmly believe that people will eat just about anything if it's prepared well. Onions and spinach are no exceptions. Tongue and tripe are. But that is another article all together.
Busting out the cutting board and knife, I set to slicing and dicing. First I cut the onions and garlic for the soup and then the bacon for the salad.
NOTE: If you don't have time to boil an egg for the salad, swing by the salad bar at your grocer and get some already boiled and chopped eggs. This is Thursday night, keep it simple.
Start to finish, the meal took about 35 minutes. Not bad for a Thursday night. I presented the meal to my husband, who was thrilled. We both felt like we had been transported to a quaint French bistro beside the Eiffel Tower.
This week I present a simple bistro-style dinner for a regular Thursday night: French Onion Soup and Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing.
Until next time...
Eat and enjoy,
FRENCH ONION SOUP
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 cup frozen pearl onions
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
¾ cup dry white wine
1 can beef consommé
3 cups beef broth
2 teaspoons dried thyme
Salt and pepper
9-12 crostini slices
2 cups shredded Gruyere' cheese
Preheat large soup pot to medium high heat. Add oil and bring to temperature. Slowly add in all onions (except pearl). Stir well until onions start to break down. Add garlic and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking for additional 3-5 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't burn. If onions appear to be browning, turn down the heat. They should be softening. After they are heated well throughout and have started breaking down, add pearl onions. Continue cooking until these are also cooked well through and are no longer cold.
Turn heat up to medium high to get a good simmer. Carefully add wine and stir well. Simmer until wine is well incorporated and reduced by half. Add beef consommé and slowly add in broth until desired consistency. Add thyme and simmer for additional 10-20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Ladle cooked soup into small crocks or other oven-safe bowls. Add crostini slices on top and then cover with cheese. Bake for 5-10 minutes until cheese is cooked through and bubbly. Serve immediately.
SPINACH SALAD WITH HOT BACON DRESSING
2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
1 shallot, thinly sliced
½ cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
½ cup candied pecans
½ cup chopped boiled egg
8 slices bacon, diced
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon stone ground Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
Divide spinach into four servings. Top with shallots, mushrooms, pecans and egg. Preheat large skillet to medium heat. Cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon bits from the pan, leave pan on heat. Carefully add vinegar. There may be some wicked fumes, so you may need to open a window. Whisk gently until the bacon renderings and vinegar are well incorporated. Add mustard and continue to whisk. Taste to season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle bacon on salads and drizzle the dressing on top. Serve immediately.
Kelly Moore, a.k.a. Midgi, writes and cooks from Juneau. Visit her blog, www.mealswithmidgi.com, for additional stories and recipes. She may be reached at midgi@ mealswithmidgi.com.