the perfect bowl of french onion soup

I came home from work today in an AMAZING mood.  I’m not sure exactly why I was so happy, but I’m sure it had something to do with the gorgeously colorful leaves outside, the important-looking man on the metro who asked me if I was from Paris (the ultimate compliment!!), and the recent news that the Lavagnino sisters will be visiting me for Halloween weekend.  Regardless, I walked into my apartment and, instead of collapsing into a lifeless pile of business professional clothes, quickly changed and rushed back outside to enjoy the last hour of sunlight on this gorgeous fall evening.  I strolled down to my grocery store to pick up some cinnamon raisin bagels and Silk chocolate soy milk, and was suddenly struck with a crippling craving for French onion soup.  The fall wind was gusting past my ears, whispering sweet nothings about my favorite soup and leaving a rich, oniony, cheesy smell in its wake.  Because I was in such a great mood, I decided to try cooking French onion soup from scratch and go for the whole busy-young-professional-but-still-put-together-enough-to-make-a-homemade-dinner-every-night thing that seems as impossible as UVa winning another football game this season.  But anyways, I attempted to combine recipes from two different cookbooks:

my standard Better Homes red-and-white checked cookbook, and

my Julia Child bible, gifted to me by my swimmer babies after I retired.  I figured the recipe in Julia’s book was probably better, but it called for complicated ingredients and three hours of simmer time, so I meshed it with the simpler recipe from Better Homes.  Thus I began a cooking adventure, haphazardly pulling bits and pieces of completely different recipes, throwing them into a pot and hoping that they would meet, fall in love, begin a passionate affair, and make me a baby named Delicious French Onion Soup.  This baby’s secret middle name– BUTTER.

So. Much. Butter.

Per Julia Child usual, her recipe called for tons and tons of butter.  I melted it with a little bit of olive oil, and when it was nice and hot, I added a huge chopped onion.  As soon as the onion hit the pan, my kitchen was filled with onion juices and I began involuntarily weeping.  Although I needed to dry my face, French onion soup requires dedication and diligence, and I was not about to show weakness in the face of adversity.  So the other secret ingredient in my soup is tears– feel free to add as necessary.  After about 10 minutes of sizzling in the butter, my onions became beautiful and translucent and soft.

Julia says to then add a tablespoon-ish of sugar and a dash of salt (the sugar helps the onions brown), which I did.  Turn up the heat, and stir those onions like there is no tomorrow.  Unfortunately, it takes about 20 more minutes for them to caramelize and get brown and delicious, but just think of all the stirring as your exercise for the day– I sure did.  Right before the onions start to burn, sprinkle in a tablespoon-ish of flour to thicken everything up.

Keep the onions moving around for another 3 or 4 minutes, then take the pot off the burner and let the onions cool for a quick minute.  (Julia gets so demanding sometimes!)  Slowly pour in 2 cups of hot beef broth, and bring the soup back up to a simmer.  Now, as far as beef broth is concerned, there are a few paths you can take.  You can, like Julia, take the path less (never) followed and make your own beef broth, but that is so far beyond my capability level that I just rolled my eyes at the cookbook.  You could also buy some canned broth from the store, but I’ve found that those broths are significantly higher in price, sodium, and weight than my preferred method.  I chose to take the bullion cube path, and purchased a little thing of 12 beef bullion cubes for a mere $1.99.

You simply add one cube per cup of water to make a deliciously healthy broth– easy!  For no particular reason, I decided that 5 cups of broth would be a good amount, so I had a pot of broth warming up as I was preparing my onions.

(Julia is rolling in her grave right now knowing that a cook used bullion cubes in her soup).  So once you’ve brought the onions plus 2 cups of broth to a boil, add the rest of the broth and bring the whole pot to a gentle simmer.  Julia Child says to add brandy and dry, white Vermouth at this stage, but brandy makes me vomit and I have no clue what Vermouth is, so I went the Better Homes way.  I threw in a dash of black pepper, a tablespoon-ish of Worcestershire sauce, and whatever white wine I had lying around the apartment.

Don’t forget to pour yourself a glass.

Julia says to let the soup simmer uncovered for TWO HOURS to let the flavors develop, but I said “screw you I’m hungry” and put her back on the shelf where she belongs.  Better Homes only asks for 10 minutes of simmering, and that was good enough for me.

When the timer went off, I ladled some soup into an oven-friendly bowl and put it onto a cookie sheet.  I then dropped in some freshly cut croutons from a loaf of yummy French bread, and placed a big slice of bread right on top.  Then I covered the bread with cheese and stuck it in the oven to broil.

**Side note: when you shop for the cheese to top your soup with, make sure you buy GRUYERE and not

GOUDA.  Rookie mistake.

Even though I had the wrong cheese, it still got nice and bubbly and brown in the oven, and melted to cover the whole bowl like a warm blanket.  When it looks like it’s just about to run over the sides, (CAREFULLY) pull it out and let it cool for a few minutes.  When you cannot take it anymore, sit down with your gorgeous French onion soup, turn on some classical music, pour another glass of wine (a German riesling or Gewurztraminer would make a great compliment to the salty soup), and dig in.

I was shocked to discover that my soup was PHENOMENAL.  I had somehow thrown together the right amount of the right ingredients to create something heavenly.  My first bite was at once salty, but with the sweet, falling apart onions and gooey, stringy cheese and the half crisp-half spongy bread it became so complex and layered that I rejoiced in the act of deciphering flavors as they materialized on my tongue.  It was pure, unadulterated bliss.  There is absolutely nothing in the world quite like satisfying a particular craving that’s been nagging at you– and the triumphant feeling is only multiplied when you make it happen with your own (questionable) cooking skills.  As I ate my soup, I was warmed from the inside out, and was so utterly content when I finally finished that I felt nothing in my world could possibly go wrong.  My bowl was empty, but I still saw it as half-full, and that feeling was 150% worth the hour it took me to make my perfect bowl of French onion soup.

 

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2 Responses

  1. OMG you have shamed me! Tonight after I got home from work I ate dry cereal AGAIN. At work today I was having lunch (dry cereal again, but a different kind for “variety”) while meeting with my secretary. I had been munching for awhile and had just filled my maw with a handfull when I happened to look down into the bag and saw a ROACH crawling around INSIDE THE BAG!!!!!!!!!! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!! I spat out my mouthful and went through some gyrations that amazed and amused my secretary. So good job making fresh food for yourself.
    Hey, how about some fashion photos of you in your professional attire (i.e., “monkey suits”)?? You said your site would reference fashion, so pony up.
    Love, your WOAG

    • Auntie Gail!! You should probably lay off the dry cereal until you de-roach all the boxes. I don’t know how to answer your request for fashion shots, because I don’t want to ask people to take pictures just of me awkwardly standing somewhere. But I will try and put up more pics of me in my suits, even though they’re the least bit exciting. Also, I will shoot you an email soon with more info on the job; I can’t post much on here since it’s public etc and I don’t want to get fired.
      Love, Jen

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