Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gratitude journal

Today, on this gray rainy day, let us be thankful for cheese.  Especially warm melty cheese.

My sister-in-law and I spent the Wednesday before Thanksgiving cooking everything that could be made in advance.  Kim is not a cook, but she is best sous-chef around.  To keep us company as we chopped and prepped and sauted, we watched the Food Network. 

Being the cheese lovers that we are, Kim and I were appalled as we watched one Food Network Star (I shall not give her name) prepare what she called a "Croque Madame."  Any melty-cheese lover will be familiar with the  delectable French open-faced sandwich, the Croque Monsier, which employs three of my favorite ingredients:  good french bread, ham and Gruyere cheese.  There's hardly anything more comforting than a pile of this melted goodness, made even meltier by rich bechamel sauce.  Mmmm.

Kim and stopped chopping and sat in shock as our hapless nameless Food Network Star gaily advised us that we could save lots of money by using "cheaper cheese."  (Which she made up for by adding wine.)  Excuse me?  Cheaper cheese?  No.  Granted, even an average grocery store Gruyere is an investment, especially when used to make what is essentially a grilled cheese sandwhich.  But come on, do the math:  cheaper cheese + wine = you could have afforded the Gruyere.  And when it comes to the Croque Monsier, there is no substitute for the tangy bubbly Gruyere. 

Here is Ina Garten's recipe for a perfectly respectable Croque Monsier, although I would advise you use something other than white sandwich bread (ick), like a few-days-old slice of good sourdough.    (Ina is NOT the offending Food Network Star described above.  We love Ina.)

Today I did not have any ham, but I did have Gruyere and a few slices of sourdough, and I did have two onions and some beef stock, so I am profoundly grateful for the warm comfort of the French Onion soup I made for lunch.  On a day like today, there is hardly anything more gratitude-worthy than buttery browned onions floating in a rich broth topped with bubbling cheese.  And this is my twist on this soup:  I melt Gruyere on the bread and then float those luscious cheese toasts in the soup.  Oh my goodness.  I might have eaten the whole pan of soup, but I ran out of bread!

If your only acquaintance with French Onion Soup is the salad bar at Ruby Tuesdays, you have no idea what I'm talking about.  So do yourself a favor and go to the trouble to make it as Julia Child instructs.  (No shortcuts or cheap cheese, please.)

Soup A L'Oignon

2 thinly sliced sweet yellow onions
2 stick of butter unsalted (don't you think about margarine!)
1 Tbsp oil

Cook the onions slowly (low-med heat) in the butter and oil in a covered saucepan for 15 minutes.

1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar

Uncover, raise heat to med;  stir in salt and sugar.  (The sugar helps the onions to caramelize.)  Cook 30 minutes stirring frequently, uncovered - til the onions have turned golden brown.

1 Tbsp flour

Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.

(Now Julia does not do this next part;  she uses cognac, but I am advising you to use my method.)

1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 lemon, squeezed
2 Tbsp Worcestershire
1/2 cup dry white wine (do not even talk to me about "cooking wine")
1 large or 2 small bay leaf

Sir these in.  If you like black pepper, as I do, season with coarse ground black pepper.

1 quart beef stock

Add the stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer partially covered for 30 minutes.

I serve this soup in shallow flat soup bowls.  For each serving, cover 2 slices of sourdough bread with shredded Gruyere.  (Pile it on!)  Toast it until cheese is bubbly.  Float those slices in the bowls of soup.

Give thanks!  And send me your favorite melty cheese recipe.

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