French Fridays with Dorie – Cheese-Topped Onion Soup aka French Onion Soup

If you’ve followed my blog at all, you must be thinking “Jesus! Doesn’t she have any other placemats? Ugh I am so sick of these damn stripey placemats!” Well the answer is yes, I do have one other set, but they are beige and I can’t think of a more depressing color than beige so this is what we’re going with for now. I mean, they do look pretty good with my dishes, but I’ll be the first to admit, it’s time to change things up. Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnyways, let’s get on with the cooking, shall we?

So I am in a really cool group called Tuesdays with Dorie, but I also recently joined another group called French Fridays with Dorie which cooks/bakes out of Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. I am a little late to the party on this second group but I think my general enthusiasm makes up for it, no? This group is a little more hardcore than my baking one because it makes a recipe every single week. We’ll see how I do. This week’s recipe was Cheese-Topped Onion Soup which seemed like an easy place for me to start. I mean, last week’s recipe was mussels with chorizo and while I do love them, I live in WI and those are a little out of my price range generally. A bag of onions, I can handle. I have caramelized onions before, so I know it takes time, but yet again I underestimated how much time this would take. A lot of cookbooks and recipes have a thing right under the title that tells you how long it will take to make. Dorie don’t roll that way. She is very hands-off if that makes sense. There is a part in the beginning of her book where she says basically that it would be ridiculous for you to follow everything she says to the letter because she has no idea what is going on in your kitchen at any given time and I frickin’ love that about her. I fully respect that there are definite techniques and right ways to do things, but cooking is a very organic and individual experience and I love that she says that upfront instead of saying that it’s her way or the highway. That being said, I could have used a little sentence that said, “This will take upwards of 2 1/2 hours – do not begin this at 6:00PM Maggie.”

The recipe called for 4 -5 large Spanish onions, but the ones I found were on the small side, so I used 6. See my awesome knife? It was a Valentine’s present from my husband about 4 years ago. There is nothing better in the kitchen than a really good quality, very sharp knife. Nothing!

Remember that part in Shrek where he talks about how he is like an onion because onions have layers and he has layers blah, blah, blah and then Donkey says something about parfaits? Well Shrek is totally right about the layers thing. Obviously, everyone knows that onions have horizontal layers that are slippery and weird and can make you cut yourself if you’re not careful and you don’t have a sharp knife (see above). But there are also very faint vertical lines on the onion and if you try your hardest to slice the onion along those lines, it will really help them break down and caramelize more easily. I learned this from my friend Susan over at The Little French Bakery. It must seem like I’m obsessed with her because I tag her in like every post, but I assure you, I’m not. She is just really smart and I learn something cool from her pretty much every time we talk and I feel like I should give her credit because it’s not like I’m just coming up with this stuff on my own people.

So, that there is a lot of onions. I’m not gonna lie, I cried a little. I know there are tricks galore to not crying while chopping onions but I never seem to think of googling them before I start the chopping.

I used my 5.5qt Round French Oven and I’d say it was about half to three-quarters full of onions when I started. It’s amazing how they shrink down though. This is what I ended up with after about an hour and 45 minutes of cooking:

It’s like magic! They’re like shrinky-dinks or something! If I’m being 100% honest (which I am pretty much all the time – other than on my baked goods, there’s not much sugar-coating happening around here) I should have let these go for longer. But it was already 7:45 and I had to cook it for at least another 40 minutes after this so I just went for it. They were a nice light brown and there was some serious brown goodness on the bottom of the pan so I thought I would be okay. The next part is where it gets fun.

When we bought our house, I was very, very excited that it came with a gas range. We had always only had electric in our rentals and I was sick of it. The very first weekend we lived here, I made a fritatta for my mom and one of my best friends who was helping me get things organized and put away and I discovered the sad truth that the broiler element for my awesome gas range is on the bottom of the oven. The bottom!!!! To broil anything I have to lay on my belly and slide it in and then stay down there and watch it to see when it’s done. It’s totally humiliating. I mean it does prompt me to keep my kitchen floor pretty clean, but it’s no life people. It is my dream to have my dad’s gas range from Kitchenaid. It’s really boss. It’s also really expensive so it will be on the wishlist for awhile. Back to the recipe though – I cranked up the broiler and shoved the bread in there to brown. I could have done some floor exercises while I was down there, but let’s get serious, exercise is not really my forte.

After the bread came out I put a splash of brandy in the bowls, topped it with onion-y deliciousness, then the crispy bread, then some buttery, grated Gruyere. I very carefully slid the baking sheet with the bowls under the broiler and hunkered down to watch the cheese get all melty. It’s actually kind of fun to watch the process from beginning to end but I’m only admitting that because I’ve had a few little glasses of wine. I want to broil standing up goddamnit! If you don’t own this book already, please buy it. The cover photo alone is worth the list price. Plus it is just so full of interesting things! Every single recipe has ideas about how you could modify it a bit or things you could serve with it. It really is the best kind of cookbook. The soup was really yummy and satisfying and worth waiting a few hours for. I’m really looking forward to working my way through this book!

Happy birthday to me – Oreo Pudding Cookies!

Yesterday was my birthday and as I had the day off, I decided to bake myself something indulgent and delicious! I knew we were going out to dinner with friends so I didn’t want to do something big like a cake or a pie and it was afternoon-time, so I thought I would just make myself a little snack. An ooey-gooey, chocolately, Oreo-y snack. I saw these cookies on a blog I really like called The Girl Who Ate Everything a few weeks ago and the fact that I bought the pudding mix and candy bars and hadn’t eaten either of them yet is pretty amazing. Obviously I can cook and bake things from scratch no problem, but I love pudding mix. LOVE IT! It reminds me of my Grandma & Grandpa Veinhuis because we used to make it all the time together when I was little for a dessert after lunch.

It’s a pretty simple recipe and after I got everything mixed in but the candy bar chunks and the chocolate chips, I took the bowl off the mixer and grabbed one of my umpteen million wooden spoons to stir in the last bits by hand. Then this happened:

I’m pretty confident I got all the wood chips out of the dough, but I guess we won’t know until all the cookies are gone. They’re fairly ooey-gooey in the middle still so I think it’ll be pretty obvious if someone gets a wood-chip cookie. I’d say they are definitely worth taking the chance though. I guess I am just super strong or something. Must have been kneading that bread dough a few weeks ago. The workout that keeps on giving 🙂 Tristan is always teasing me that I have a bajillion wooden spoons and spatulas and that I can’t possibly use them all. When we moved into our house a few summers ago, he tried to get me to get rid of some! As Cher would say “As if!” And it’s a good thing I have so many because what if my wooden spoon had broken and I didn’t have another one to finish these cookies with? Think about that husband! That would have been a tragedy! In the following pic I’m trying to show how delicious they are in the middle, but I had to keep taking little bites to even out the pic. Yeah, that’s totally why…

These are SERIOUSLY good! They were perfect when still a bit warm, so maybe a short zap in the microwave is in order this afternoon when I relive my birthday snack. Please everyone, for your own good, make these soon. Get the recipe here. I didn’t change anything at all about it except I used one cup of mini chocolate chips and one cup of regular because I thought it might make for more yummy meltiness. Enjoy!

Tuesdays with Dorie – Chocolate Truffle Tart

The second recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie : Baking with Julia edition was chocolate truffle tarlets, but since I don’t have mini tart pans, mine was just a chocolate truffle tart. I decided this would be a good Valentine’s Day dessert, so that’s when I made it. I felt like a huge teacher’s pet or something for finishing my assignment a week early, but I’m sure I’ll make up for it with later than late posts sometime throughout this experience.

I made the crust by hand on the countertop and I must say, I really like that technique! I mean, I love my mixer and everything, but sometimes it’s just fun to get your hands dirty and do it the old-fashioned way (minds out of the gutter people!). I’m still not 100% confident with my tart pan because I had some shrinkage (!) issues with the crust last time I used it, but I made the crust, put it in the pan and had enough left over to make a little truffle pie for my friend Dave. I can’t use the word tartlet around him. See previous post. I have to say that I didn’t do so hot in the whole “photographing the process” process because as I’m looking through my photos, I only have pics of the finished product. I guess we can just say I was in a haze of love that day and forgot. I also got my new iPhone as a Valentine’s Day/birthday gift so I was kind of in a happiness fog over that as well. It was a pretty momentous day all around.

But back to the topic at hand, the tart. If I’m being totally honest, I’d have to say that I thought it was good, not great. That phrase always reminds me of Dwight from The Office, but again I digress. I may have baked it a few minutes too long since I was guessing on the baking time for one large tart vs. six small ones. The filling was denser than I had thought it would be, but I did enjoy all the little bits of chocolate and biscotti scattered throughout. I made some whipped cream with a little powdered sugar and vanilla and it was definitely a nice decadent chocolate dessert to go with our delicious bottle of cupid wine. You can see just a corner of it in the pic, but it was a really nice, reasonably priced Sangiovese that pretty much screamed “drink me on Valentine’s Day with your honey!” If you’re thinking of giving it a try, head over to Jessica’s blog to get the recipe.

Final verdict: I enjoyed the experience, but probably won’t make it again. Onto the next recipe, Rugelach! Even though I think this sounds more like an evil troll in a German fairytale than a food, I think I’m willing to give it a shot. I don’t want to poop out when we’re only three recipes in, but guys it has nuts and prune butter or something in it. They better taste good, that’s all I have to say because the name and ingredients are really not selling it for me…