Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Let Them Eat Soup

When you're mostly confined to the house, your menu options are considerably limited. Hopping through a farmer's market on crutches with a swollen, throbbing knee is somewhat ill-advised, and so you resign yourself to not cooking with entirely local ingredients, even though it is Eat Local Month, and you had the best of intentions before The Fall. Given your inability to stand for long periods of time, you might even incorporate a pre-made thing or two into your recipes.

Like the beef broth in the French Onion soup recipe that you've been perfecting. Making beef broth from scratch is a commendable task, but one that requires far more planning and forethought and standing at the stove than your pain-addled leg will allow. And so you decide to buy organic, pre-made beef broth, and hope that the blogging community will forgive you.

The soup, incidentally, tastes no worse for the fact that its broth was made in some vast unknown kitchen in an unspecified location. In fact, the soup tastes heavenly. You've ordered French Onion soup from countless dining establishments in San Francisco, and have found most of them to be thin and flavorless, topped by a soggy raft of bread with a greasy slick of cheese clinging the surface. This seemed to indicate that the recipe was terribly to master, but now, knowing better, you resolve to never again accept a mediocre bowl.

Whether the soup is truly French or not, you aren't sure. Your amour has told you, with a shrug, that it is "not really French, bebe; you wouldn't be able to find it in most restaurants in France," but being American, and a daydreamer besides, you pretend that you didn't hear him, and take another rich, onion-y mouthful. He told you the same thing about French fries, insisting that they are actually from Belgium, but you didn't listen to him then, either. Whenever you are lucky enough to find hot, crispy frites, you dream of Paris, and while you eat your soup, you remember the countryside in Bordeaux, and you think: what's the harm in that?
French Onion Soup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 sweet onions, sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 tablespoons sweet butter
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Freshly ground salt
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 1/2 quarts organic beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached flour
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 3 thick slices of a good baguette
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated cave-aged gruyere
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the onions and sauté for about 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until they are limp and translucent. I like it when some of the onions on the sides of the pan develop brown edges, because it adds a bit of depth to the flavor.

Stir in the butter, allowing it to melt and bubble up through the onions. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Add a generous glug of red wine; it will make a lovely hissing-and-steaming sound. Stir again, continuing to sauté for about 3 more minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Add the beef broth and raise the heat to high to bring the mixture to a boil. Let it boil gently, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and place the lid on top. Depending on the type of pan you have, you may want to crack the lid just a half inch or so. Mine creates a powerful seal that doesn't allow liquids to reduce, and so I like to make a little gap to allow evaporation to occur.

In a small cup, mix together the flour and water to form a thin paste. Add a few tablespoons of the soup broth, then slowl incorporate the mixture into the soup.

Let the soup continue to simmer until it has reduced to about half of its original volume. Remove from heat. Ladle the hot soup into individual soup tureens, leaving about one inch between the top of the soup and the top of the tureen. With a pastry brush, brush both sides of the baguette slices with olive oil. Place one slice directly on top of each tureen of soup, so that the bread is floating on the soup. Sprinkle liberally with gruyere.

Arrange the tureens on a baking sheet, and place beneath a broiler. When the cheese bubbles and turns a fetching shade of golden brown, remove from the oven. Serve immediately.

Makes 3 individual tureens.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Novato Update



I'm not lost. I haven't moved away from Novato. I haven't been lounging on a tropical beach. I'm not fed up with blogging, nor any such thing.

I did, however, develop a case of Overcommitted-enza, in which I took on a bit more than I could handle in projects and responsibilities. For weeks, I've been setting the alarm clock for an ungodly hour, and sinking in to bed, exhausted, many hours later.

But that's okay. It's good, even. I'm all for periods of intensity, where much is accomplished, and the air is a-whirl with activity and motion.

I had another such week scheduled this week. But then... I went to a dinner party on Saturday night and had little accident. It involved a wet floor, some slippery sandals, and my right knee. I've spent the past few days lying about with my leg propped up, groggy with Vicodin, dreaming of running through grassy meadows. My enormous, puffy knee looks like a Jackson Pollock canvas. Today it's purple and yellow, with a tinge of green.

I'll be fine... the doc says that he thinks it will heal without surgery. He's going to keep an eye on it. In the meanwhile, I've got my laptop propped up on my, well, lap, and I'm cruising the blogsphere once again.

I've been in the kitchen a lot over the past few weeks ~ perfecting a recipe for French Onion Soup, feasting on fresh produce in a variety of salads, and creating a ritual meal for Sunday evenings at Chateau Novato. I'll write about all of that... soon. Just now, I need to find my crutches and hobble over to the medicine cabinet.

PS: That's my pineapple sage in the picture above. Isn't it pretty? The hummingbirds love it.