Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Soupe a l'Oignon

Ahh french onion soup. Did you know they just call it onion soup in France? Amazing. I bet in China they don't call it Chinese food, it's probably just called food.

After numerous attempts and multiple tweaks, I've finally found the proper ingredients and method, as even my good friend Mr. Alton Brown's version is too apple-cidery for me. The key is to give the onions plenty of time to caramelize...and I'm talking hours. Yes, 20-30 minutes will caramelize onions, but if Julia Child and Shirley Corriher insist on doing it a certain way, and you want to eat properly, you'd better listen. There's not much hands-on time in those hours anyway, something to do on days meant for this kind of thing, usually they're called Sundays.

The bouquet garni is optional, however since it's french, I thought it appropriate. One garlic clove, smashed, sprinkled with a TB of herbs-oregano, rosemary, thyme, wrapped up in cheesecloth and tied shut. This little gift will impart nice fresh flavor and then you toss it out, nice and easy. Whatever herbs you have will work.

Interesting Tom Skilling fact that proves 2009's weather is completely F'd- For the first October since 1883, Chicago experienced 19 days of rain. Oh the joy.

Soupe a l'Oignon
4 servings

5-6 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 TB unsalted butter
2 TB evoo
3 C beef stock
2 C chicken stock, homemade preferred
4 TB brandy
1/3 C dry white wine
sliced french baguette bread, toasted on one side, cubed if desired, or large croutons
2/3 C Gruyere, shredded

Melt the butter in a large saute pan with the olive oil over low heat and toss in the onions. Did you know sauter is french for 'jump'? That technique should not be used here, just thought you'd like to know. You don't want your onions jumping. After 30-40 minutes, deglaze the pan with your liquid of choice- I like to use brandy, dry white wine, and water, in that order. First, 4-5 TBS of brandy, scraping up the fond well. The second time, after another 30 minutes or so, use about 1/3 C of dry white wine. Continue to caramelize for another 60 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes and adding a little bit of water every 20 minutes or so. You want to do this over low heat, ensuring the onions are not burning. The onions should be very dark-

Add the stocks and bouquet garni, if using, and bring to a bare simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Toss the garni and ladle the onion soup into ovenproof crocks. Add the bread, toasted side up and then dump a generous amount of Gruyere on top. Place under a preheated broiler on full whack for about 3-5 minutes, rotating to toast evenly. Let sit for a couple minutes and then get a spoon. Tout le plaisir est pour moi.

The real deal in its native country, a nice treat after climbing 674 stairs of the Eiffel Tower-

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Turkey Mushroom Loaf

When it comes to meatloaf, the standard is made with the usual trio of meats- ground chuck, ground veal, and ground pork. I was pretty skeptical about this one, especially since I'm not a huge fan of the fungus. I played sous chef for this one, thanks Kate for one of the best meatloafs I've ever had. This version is a little lighter in calories than the usual and plenty tasty. Sometimes the best part of making meatloaf is having leftovers for sandwiches. I prefer mine cold with a little extra glaze. The glaze is absolutely necessary, and reminds me of the loaf I know the most, with the ketchup and parmesan. A loaf without glaze? Be like the Gladys Knight without the Pips.

Turkey Mushroom Loaf

1 C low-sodium chicken broth
2 C cubed day old crustless french bread, or fresh slightly toasted to dry out a little
8 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
1 TB evoo
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3-4 shallots, minced (about 1/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TB fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 TB fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 ts kosher salt
1 ts fresh black pepper
1 lb. ground turkey
1 lb. ground turkey breast


1 TB evoo
1/4 C balsamic vinegar
1/4 C ketchup
1 TB brown sugar
1 TB dijon or brown mustard

Fire up the hotbox to treefitty. In a a large mixing bowl combine the bread and broth, turning to coat, and let sit 5-10 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix lightly. Meatballs, meatloafs, burgers, etc. should always be mixed by hand with a minimal amount of pressure and time, until just combined thoroughly.

Gently shape the mixture into a meatloaf pan that is lightly greased with your fat of choice. Mine is olive oil Pam, which works great on the grill and everywhere else. Form a mound in the middle of the loaf so the fat will run off the sloped sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment for easy cleanup. Cover with the glaze, there should be a bit left to reserve.

The cooking time will depend on the size of your meatloaf pan. Mine is 9L X 5W X 3 H and the cooking time was about 70 minutes, or bake until the internal temp is 165 F. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Enjoy that.

With the earthy flavor of the shroom and herbs in this loaf I'd go with a Pinot Noir here, my favorite of which come from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. More day-to day affordable options would be from the Russian River Valley in Cali. Or drink what you like, the best wine advice you'll ever get.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cheddar Ale Soup

If you like hot weather and you live in the Midwest, 2009 was pretty crappy. A chilly summer, and so far one of the coolest openings to October on record. You gotta love Tom Skilling and his ability to always rank something. There is a reason he has reached cult status.

I guess the two weeks with no rain in September was our summer. Sweet. Good thing I am not a super fan of hot weather. 2009's September? 5th driest on record. (data from Midway airport since 1928)

Today is 53 F and rainy, the perfect background to cook up a big batch of Fat Tire Cheddar Soup. I'll actually embrace the shitty weather if I can eat things like this. Comfort food? Everything you eat should be of comfort in some fashion. If not, why are you eating it?

I like to double or even triple the recipe. The texture will not be as smooth when reheating, as the cheese gets a little stringy, but I'm okay with that. Having a little hidden away in the freezer for a quick snack or hearty lunch is not a bad thing.

This recipe is definitely starting in the right direction with two of my favorite things-

If you have a food pro, shredding your own cheese is much more flavorful than pre-shredded. Plus making salsa would be a pain in the ass, so get a food pro if you don't have one. But only if you have a dishwasher too.

Fat Cheddar Soup

serves 4-6

4 TB unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
1/3 C AP flour
1 3/4 C milk (1% for me)
1 3/4 C chicken stock (homemade preferred, or you can Sandra Lee that shit and go semi-homemade by flavoring some store-bought, see the chicken wing post.
12 ounces Fat Tire beer
1 TB Worcestershire
1 ts mustard powder
1 1/4 lb. sharp cheddar
S&P, to taste
1/4 ts cayenne powder

In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt the butter and sweat the mirepoix until very soft, about 10-12 minutes stirring occasionally. Mirepoix is frenchy for 2 part onion to one part celery and one part carrot, cut to 2 mm pieces. I like to add a little S&P to flavor things at this point. Not too much salt though, or there will be too much liquid drawn out and it will become soupy. Which is ironic, but not what you want yet, you don't want to boil your mirepoix.

Add the flour and stir constantly for 2-3 minutes, making sure all the flour is incorporated. Turn the heat up to medium-high and whisk in the milk and stock. You can keep the milk and stock slightly warm on a back burner to speed up the process of bringing this mixture to a boil.

Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer, stir often for about 10 minutes, until thickened a bit.
Puree with a stick blender until smooth. Or, make a huge mess while using your blender. Curse and go buy a stick blender. Strain through two fine colanders or cheesecloth. I find cheesecloth way too intense, doubling up a few fine-mesh colanders is easier. (Straining is optional, but does improve texture) We're not trying to make baby food here, although if you did you'd have one damn happy baby. Jack? Lauren? Oh you guys can't read yet...
Return the soup mixture to the stove over medium heat. Add the ale, Worcestershire, mustard, and a little S&P. Simmer for a about 5 minutes, then turn down heat to low.

Add the shredded cheddar about a handful at a time, stirring to melt thoroughly after each addition. Check seasoning and adjust with more S&P if necessary. Ladle soup into bowls and dust with cayenne. Serve with some crusty bread and a cold beer. Enjoy the next 6 months of slippers and blankets! (there's a rumor this winter I can't keep my thermostat at 63 F, so the blanket might be optional)

Monday, October 5, 2009


It's Oktoberfest time. Nothing like a beer-centric festival that lasts not just one or two days, but for a week or more. Those crazy Germans. So grab your supplies-sausages, potatoes, and plenty of beer, and let's bid adieu to shorts and caprese salads in favor of sweaters and Fat Cheddar Soup.

This version of potato salad uses a little bit more vinegar and mustard than most, it can be served hot or cold, I prefer the latter. Oh, and I fried up the bacon in a little bacon fat, not only to be a little ridiculous but also to bring in a deeper, smokier flavor. You do have some bacon fat in the fridge, right?

What does Hot Doug say about encased meats?

Beer-Simmered Brats-

1 yellow onion, halved and sliced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
10-12 ounces beer per 2 bratwurst, (usually MLite, High Life, or Old-Style, yet this time with some Leine's Oktoberfest-3 of those and two MLites)
Pinch of peppercorns
1 ts whole mustard seeds
10 uncooked brats

Pierce brats with a fork. In a large pot layer the bottom with onion and garlic, place the brats on top and then cover with the beer. Toss in the peppercorns and mustard seeds and bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring every few minutes for about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes or so. Grill over medium-direct heat for 8-10 minutes, or until slightly charred, turning often. The proper condiments- sauerkraut, the onions from simmering, and brown spicy mustard. Prosit.


What smells better than onions and bacon frying in a skillet? A bacon-scented candle just made it to my Christmas list.

German Potato Salad
serves 6-8

2 lbs. baking potatoes, peeled, medium dice
1/3 C apple cider vinegar
1/4 C whole grain mustard
1/4 C white sugar
1 C yellow onion, finely diced
1/4 C green onion, finely diced
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
4-6 hard boiled eggs, optional

Place the potatoes in a large stockpot and cover by one inch with cold water. Add a few pinches of salt and simmer until fork tender, about 20 minutes. Rinse immediately with cold water once tender until cool to the touch. Over medium heat render the bacon until crisp in a saute pan, add the yellow onion and cook for a few minutes longer. Add the vinegar to the pan and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen the fond, or the browned bits of bacony goodness. Add the sugar and stir to combine, then remove from heat. Combine the rest of the ingredients and fold until mixed thoroughly, don't mix too much or too rough, otherwise you'll have baby food.