Monday, August 10, 2009

La Fête de Julia, Part Un

Apparently August 7-9, 2009 was a holiday weekend. The occasion: Julia Child and her wonderful ways. The festivities started Friday night with me making Julia's recipe for French onion soup from The Way to Cook. Saturday included seeing Julie & Julia, not being able to speak after the movie because I was so moved (inspired, in awe, amazed), and sitting down to a delightful French meal, complete with a cheese plate, arugula salad, French onion soup, Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs, and a Leoville Barton Bordeaux. But, that wasn't quite enough to celebrate Julia properly, so on Sunday I made my first Beef Bourguignon and a peach crumble. Couple that with another cheese plate, a Coppola Sofia rose and Pol Roger champagne, and it was an appropriate end to a weekend dedicated to la belle Julia.

Clearly, this is way too much deliciousness for one post. So I figured a 3 day holiday deserves a 3 part post. Part Un includes the recipe for French onion soup. Part Deux is all about the Beef Bourguignon (a la Ina Garten). And Part Trois includes the recipe for the peach crumble (aussi a la Ina Garten).

I suppose at this point there I can say nothing other than... Bon Appetit!

To start: French onion soup (adapted from The Way to Cook)
(I have kept the recipe the same, except I added a pinch of dried thyme.)

The ingredients

Now caramelizing the onions. I used a mixture of red, yellow, and vidalia onions. Chop them up and saute them until they are transluscent.

Raise the heat and cook them for 40 minutes, stirring frequently until they become a lovely, dark brown.

Then you sprinkle the onions with flour and let that cook for a few minutes.

Next you remove it from the heat and whisk in the hot stock.

Return it to the heat, bring it to a simmer and add the rest of the broth, brandy, and vermouth (you could substitute this with dry white wine).

Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. The longer it simmers, the better it gets.

For serving, how could you resist topping it with a crouton and Gruyere? Ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls.

Float a 1/2 slice of toasted bread on top.

Sprinkle with Gruyere.

Bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and golden.


3 Tablespoons butter

1 Tablespoon olive oil

8 cups thinly sliced onions (2 ½ pounds) (I used Vidalia, red, and yellow)

1 pinch thyme (2-3 sprigs fresh thyme)

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

½ tsp sugar

2 Tablespoons flour

2 ½ quarts beef stock, 2 cups of which should be hot

4-5 Tablespoons Cognac or good brandy (I used E&J VSOP)**

1 c dry vermouth (or dry white wine)

1/2 inch slices of toasted rustic bread (I used Pugliese)

1/4+ cup grated Gruyere per bowl

Over medium heat, heat butter and oil. Once butter has melted, add onions and thyme. Heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently until translucent. Add salt and sugar. Raise heat to medium-high and let onions brown, stirring frequently, until they are a dark walnut color, 25-30 minutes. Sprinkle the flour and cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat. Let cool a moment then whisk in 2 cups of hot stock. Return to the heat and bring to a simmer. Add the rest of the stock, brandy, and vermouth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer slowly for 1 ½ hours.

To serve gratineed:

Toast ½ inch slices of bread for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, turning once.

Ladle the soup into the bowls.

Place a toast on top. Cover with ¼ cup shredded Gruyere.

Bake in 450 degrees for 10 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden.

**Notes on Cognac and brandy: Both the French onion soup and the Beef Bourguignon call for Cognac or very good brandy. Now, what's the difference between Cognac and brandy, you ask. Well, after some research I learned that Cognac is a specific type of brandy produced according to strict standards in the Coganc region of France. So while all Coganc is brandy, not all brandy is Cognac. And since Cognac must meet very high standards, it is a very, very good brandy. So I was faced with a dilemma: do I buy the cognac, which costs upwards of $25 a bottle, or do I substitute brandy? And, if so, what brandy is a good enough substitute? Being a graduate student, I decided to exercise some restraint and do research on the highest quality, least expensive brandy on the market. My research pointed to E&J VSOP Brandy. It is produced by Gallo in California and it costs about $10-15 per bottle. While not terribly expensive, this particular brandy has won all sorts of awards and is generally regarded as a mid-range brandy (good enough to drink on its own, or to cook with if you want really good ingredients). It has a very nice, complex flavor and I was pleased with how the substitution came out.

Still to come... Part Deux: Beef Bourguignon

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