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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cheese-topped Onion Soup - French Fridays with Dorie

The first thing Jim said when he tasted this was, "I love this soup!" This is noteworthy because the word "love" does not slip easily from his mouth. In fact, the first time he told me he loved me, many years ago, he hedged his bets. He said, "I think I might love you"--not exactly an undying declaration--in case things didn't turn out so well.

But he didn't hedge his bets with the soup.

I was, frankly, a little less enthusiastic. Oh, it tasted good, but 4 pounds of onions is a whole mess of onions. Four pounds of onions make you cry. As I stood sniffing and sobbing, I tried to remember all the antidotes for onion tears. Aren't you supposed to cut them under water? I didn't want to stop to google the cure, so I just persevered.

And persevered some more. After an hour and ten minutes of being stirred over very low heat, my onions showed not a single sign of caramelizing. White as snow.

So I did exactly what Dorie cautions against: I turned up the heat.

After 20 minutes on medium, and then, desperately, on medium-high, they finally showed signs of browning. I turned the heat back down, and cooked them for another half hour. After over TWO HOURS of being stirred, the onions finally caramelized.

They weren't the only ones that needed a fortifying glug of cognac at this point.

I wonder why we used chicken broth instead of beef broth for the soup. The broth got browner than I thought it would, but beef broth would have made it even darker and, I think, more flavorful. I might try it with beef broth next time, assuming there ever is a time when I feel like stirring onions for a few hours.

I had a little loaf of homemade bread that I'd made in the morning (the bread took less time to rise than the onions took to cook).

I opted for Comte cheese, solely because I'd never tried it before. I learned that there are strict regulations governing Comte:

"Only milk from Montbeliarde Cattle is permitted, and each must have at least a hectare of grazing.
Fertilization is limited, and cows may only be fed fresh, natural feed, with no silage.
The milk must be transported to the site of production immediately after milking.
Renneting must be carried out within a stipulated time after milking, according to the storage temperature of the cheese.
Only one heating of the milk may occur, and that must be during renneting. It may be heated to no more than 40˚C.
Salt may only be applied directly to the surface of the cheese.
A casein label containing the date of production must be attached to the side of the cheese, and maturing must continue for at least four months.
No grated cheese may be sold under the Comté name."

I was very happy to learn that the happy French cows had each had at least a hectare of grazing land. In case you wondered, and I'll bet you did not, that is the equivalent to about two and a half acres.

The cows are contented. The cheese melts nicely and tastes very good. I'm still not wild about peeling and stirring four pounds of onions.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mussels and Chorizo - French Fridays with Dorie

I didn't have time to make this during the week, so I waited until Friday. Then I discovered that it's actually a perfect weeknight dinner because it takes no time at all. What takes the longest is to stop at the seafood store and decide whether to get Prince Edward Island or Mediterranean mussels (I went for the P.E.I.) and whether I was really going to need two pouonds for a half recipe. (No. I got a pound and a half, and a pound would have been fine).

Then it takes 3 minutes to dice the onions, peppers, and garlic and another 5 to saute them. Meanwhile, cut up the chorizo sausages. Another 5 to simmer the sausages and tomatoes.

The scariest part is brushing the mussels. Mine were pretty clean and beardless, but I was acutely aware that they were alive. (Except for those that had already kicked the bucket). I don't do mussels often enough to be used to them. Sometimes I thought one was moving. Then I said, "Eek!" and dropped it in the sink. Jim asked me if it bit me. "No," I said, "but I think it tried to."

I was also acutely aware that I was killing them when I dropped them into the pot. "Sorry," I told them. Jim said he didn't believe I was sorry at all, but I was. At least sorry that someone else wasn't killing so they would have it on their conscience. I don't know what I'm going to do when we come to Dorie's lobster recipe.

But the poor little guys died for a good cause--although if I were the one being boiled, I'd probably be less sanguine about the goodness of the cause. The mussels were sweet and tender, and paired perfectly with the spicy Chorizo sausage. The tomato-y broth was flavorful. We chose the option of sopping it up with sourdough bread, but pasta would have been great too. I'd like to try it with shrimp, as some others did, which would be less traumatic than the mussels.

I also managed to get caught up with the Gorgonzola-apple quiche, which I made in a pie pan instart of as a tart. I didn't think I'd be keen on that combination, but it was quite good. AND I caught up on the quatre-quarts cake as well, which was astonishingly good. But I forgot to take pictures of it. I hope it still counts, even without proof that I made it. If not, I could probably be persuaded to make it again.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nutella Tartine - French Fridays with Dorie

This is what French school kids get for a snack? Why is it that Americans, eating PB&J on white bread, are obese, and French kids, with sugary Nutella on buttery croissants, are slender as reeds and cute, too? It's a mystery--the same reason, apparently, that French women don't get fat.

At least this recipe isn't complicated. In fact, it's barely a recipe, requiring only bread (I used croissants because I couldn't find a good loaf of brioche yesterday, and I was way too lazy to bake it), Nutella (which is actually Italian, by the way, not French), orange marmalade, and a sprinkling of hazelnuts.

You wouldn't have to use orange marmalade, although the contrast with the sweet chocolate is nice, and the chopped hazelnuts are probably not strictly required, although the crunch does add a certain je ne sais quoi. And the baguettes are not even in the recipe, but I thought they were perfect. Parfait, I mean.

But watch that broiler. Another 20 seconds, and they would have been unpleasantly and unphotogenically charred.

I know that people are nuts (sorry) about Nutella. Somewhat to my surprise, I realized that this was the first time I had tasted it. It was sweeter, more chocolatey, and less nutty than I thought it would be. I think you can talk yourself into believing that peanut butter is a health food, but you would have to stretch your powers of disbelief to consider Nutella healthy. Still, 50 million Frenchmen can't be wrong.