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Winter Warming {CtBF} #mpk


I eat a lot of soup in the winter, making a pot once or twice a week depending on what’s on hand and my mood.  A few favorites are periodically repeated, but there are so many soup recipes out there, more often I try something new.  Of course, “something new” could be a different recipe for something I know we like.  French Onion Soup falls under that category.  This week’s selection for Cook the Book Fridays is David Lebovitz’s version of this classic soup from his book My Paris Kitchen.

French onion soup is one of those soups where the quality of the underlying broth is key.  David’s version calls for chicken broth.  I had a turkey carcass in the freezer which was close enough. I got a start early in the week, making a batch of turkey stock in the slow cooker.  I love making stock in the slow cooker.  I can comfortably come and go while it simmers away safely without any attention required.  And when I do leave the house, the aroma on returning is magnificent.

 

To balance the lack of attention required by the stock, caramelizing the onions for the soup calls for two hours of frequent attention.  Two pounds of onions melt away to a surprisingly small pile of fragrant mush.  At this point, the rest is again hands off.  The onions simmer in the stock for nearly an hour before balancing the flavors with sherry vinegar, salt and pepper.

The finishing touch are the cheesy croutons that top the soup.  For my bowl, I topped toasts (made from Mardi’s No Knead French Bread) with Emmenthaler cheese and broiled it.  Howard prefers the cheesy toasts on the side, so I also broiled some standalone toasts on the pan alongside my bowl of soup.  Everyone was happy!

This version of French Onion Soup was delicious, though it wasn’t noticeably different from other versions I’ve made.  I suppose that’s the thing with a classic – as long as the familiar flavors come through, it’s reliably good regardless of the recipe.

Last month, I made this completely vegetarian version from Serious Eats without any stock, just water, which we also loved.

The only downside of making onion soup is that my house always seems to smell skunky for the next day or so.  Does that happen to you?

If you’re in the mood for French onion soup, this recipe is found on page 118 of David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen.  And you can visit Cook the Book Fridays to see their comments on David’s recipe.

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The Polenta Puzzle with some extra pieces {CtBF}

I have mixed feelings about polenta.  It’s something I always hope I’ll like, but I’m never wowed.  I think it’s a texture thing, probably stemming from my mother’s strong distaste for hot cereal, which she passed along to her children.  I’ve been practicing with oatmeal for years.  I can manage toothy steel-cut oats but only when masked by dried fruit and a healthy dose of turbinado sugar and honey.

David Lebovitz considers polenta topped with bitter greens and an egg to be comfort food.  I would choose something hot, cheesy and gooey, like mac-and-cheese.  Comfort food is a personal thing, so he’s entitled to his opinion.  I’m also open to trying (and to some extent, retrying) new foods or new food combinations, so I added Buckwheat Polenta with Braised Greens, Sausage, and Poached Eggs to this week’s menu.

This version of polenta included some cracked buckwheat to add a bit of texture.  I love the bulk bins at Whole Foods where I can purchase the small quantities of polenta and buckwheat needed.  I started with whole buckwheat and slightly ground it in the mini-chopper.  When I’ve cooked polenta in the past, I remember it being tedious and temperamental like risotto.  I was pleasantly surprised that the polenta cooked easily with frequent but not obsessive stirring.

A mix of radicchio and escarole is braised until wilted. I was a little disappointed that the vibrant colored greens turned a shade of gray when cooked. Pan-fried slices of herby sausage and some slivered olives bulk up the topping.  The final bowl is sprinkled with some feta cheese and topped with a poached egg.

Escarole and Radicchio (Much Prettier Before)

This made a hearty meal on a cold winter’s night, but it also confirmed that polenta just isn’t a favorite in our house.

I completely skipped Cook the Book Fridays in October, so I made an effort to catch up.

I can’t give enough praise to the Individual Chocolate Cakes with Dulce de Leche and Fleur de Sel. We’re huge fans of molten chocolate cakes, and this was an excellent variation.  It’s nice to have a flourless (and gluten-free) option.  And the dulce de leche filling hiding inside pushed this version over the top.  I was happy to figure out that these little cakes can be assembled in advance and chilled until you’re ready to bake.  Great for entertaining or just having a weeknight treat ready to go.  There’s lots more dulce de leche in the fridge, so I’ll be making these again soon.

When the October recipe schedule was posted, I’ll admit that I was ambivalent about the Indian Cheese Bread (Naan au Fromage). I bought the Laughing Cow cheese, but never felt excited about preparing the recipe.  Laughing Cow cheese did make me feel nostalgic.  When I was growing up, this was most exotic cheese my mother bought.  At that time, I think it was made in France.  It was somewhat bland, but the individually wrapped wedges traveled well in my lunchbox.

Finally, I found a day where the timing would work to make these flatbreads to accompany soup for lunch.  Minimal work is required to prepare the dough, especially when using the stand mixer.  Most of the time is spent waiting for it to rise.  The dough was supple and glossy (from the butter) and rolled out easily.  I was skeptical after wrapping the first flatbread around the cheese.  Roll out this brick?  The cheese is so soft that it was no problem.  Surprise!

Though smoky, it only took a minute or two to toast the bread in a covered cast-iron skillet brushed with clarified butter.  The bread puffed up beautifully (though it flattened almost instantly).  The folding and rerolling created layers so the bread was subtly flaky.  I only had 8 wedges of cheese, so I made 4 with cheese and 2 plain.  I folded the plain ones too to ensure the flaky effect.  The flatbreads reheated nicely in the oven the next day.

When I try new recipes, after evaluating the results, they end up in one of the three categories: Will Make, Might, and Won’t Make Again.  The end results here is one of each.

Will Make Again: Individual Chocolate Cakes with Dulce de Leche and Fleur de Sel

Might Make Again: Indian Cheese Bread

Won’t Make Again: Buckwheat Polenta with Braised Greens, Sausage, and Poached Eggs

If you want to try any of these recipes, you can find them in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen.

My friends at Cook the Book Fridays also share their reviews of the same recipes.  If you want more opinions, look at their comments on Buckwheat Polenta, Individual Chocolate Cakes, and Indian Cheese Bread.

Wishing all my American friends a Happy Thanksgiving!  It’s my favorite holiday, and I can’t wait to prepare and enjoy the feast.