Posts Tagged ‘Julia Child’

The Business of Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée

October 21st, 2012 | Rachel

I was sitting in the office (still in the converted barn surrounded by chickens and homegrown vegetables, btw) on Friday when a former coworkers stopped by to pick up his coffee bean grinder. Now our only option for freshly ground beans is a manual grinder with a crank that takes a solid five minutes to grind enough coffee to fill one tiny K-cup filter.  Wah, life is hard.

This former coworker struck up a conversation about food, a frequent topic of discussion when we worked together, and he ended up telling me about a couple of bowls of French onion soup he recently had in Monterey. As soon as he said the words “French onion soup,” I knew what I was having for dinner that night.

I stopped at the grocery store on the way home and ambitiously bought twice as many onions as I ended up needing, and spent the rest of the evening slowly caramelizing (half of) them and turning them into a large pot of sweet and salty French onion soup.

Making French onions isn’t complicated, but it does take a bit of time and vigilance. I am beginning to see that starting a business is, in some ways, very similar.

You see, there is a lot of detail work in the beginning, thinly slicing a pound and a half of onions that will probably leave you in tears at some point (and cursing in vain at the onions for their particularly gaseous quality). Then there are the multiple stages involved, each of which is very important to the end product. I followed Julia Child’s recipe for Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which you can find here.

You start by heating oil and butter and then cook the onions on low heat with the lid on for 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes doesn’t seem like a very long time and you may want to keep them in a little longer, but you can’t. It’s time to take the lid of and present your lightly cooked onions to the rest of the kitchen. Some people around might not like onions, and they may take one look at your pot still brimming with bright white onions and turn up their nose. You just have to shake it off  and keep moving forward. You are making French onion soup, and it is going to be delicious.

This might be a good time to pour yourself a glass of wine. One of my favorite wineries at the moment is Little Vineyards in Sonoma, California. They produce some pretty tasty Syrah and Zinfandel with a lot of character, no oak, and just the right level of dryness. If you are in the Sonoma area, you should visit them. If you are in the Santa Cruz area, you should come to my house and have a glass with me.

Anyway, back to our French onions. At this point, you have to turn up the heat. You’ll add some unexpected ingredients, like sugar, and then spend the next 40 minutes painstakingly watching and stirring the onions while you wonder if they are ever going to turn the proper shade of golden brown. Your focus might lapse for a few minute and you may find a onion sliver or too has skipped the stage of caramelization and gone straight to burnt, but don’t let this get you down. Just remove the offending sliver, turn down the heat ever so slightly, and remember to stir more frequently.

Then the moment comes and you realize your once full pot of onions has been reduced to a concentrated layer of rich and fragrant caramelized onions. You look down on them with satisfaction. Success.

But wait, its not over yet. You have to remove the onions from the heat, stir in flour, and pour in boiling stock (hopefully you planned ahead and had it ready). Mrs. Child says to add two quarts of stock, but I find this dilutes the soup too much, so I recommend cutting the stock by 25% or starting off with more onions. At this point you might realize you don’t have everything you need after all, such as a bay leaf, but you improvise and make it work anyway.

Now its time to wait. Again. Things are kind of on autopilot now, so you don’t have to make as many trips to the kitchen. The aroma filling your apartment lets you know the end is in sight, and it is time to gather your remaining ingredients. After all you aren’t just making French onion soup. You are making it gratinée.

The makings of “Gratinée”: Raw Onion and Parmesan and Swiss Cheeses


Bread sliced and trimmed to mug-size, then toasted in the oven

Shredded Parmesan and Swiss and a few drops of olive oil

I recommend adding more shredded cheese than I did. The cheese should completely cover the bread and, for the sake of aesthetics, extend to the sides of the bowl or cup. You’ll want to add the grated onion and a few slivers of cheese directly into the pot of soup before you divide it up. For bread, I picked up a bag of dinner rolls from my local grocery store’s bakery section and cut them in half horizontally before toasting them cut side up. I like the texture of the dinner roll more than french bread because it is easier to cut with your spoon as you eat your soup.

By now, your onion soup is made, the gratinée is added, and all that is left to do is pop the individual portions into the oven for 20 minutes (you didn’t think you were going to be eating any time soon, did you?). At the end of the 20 minutes, if the cheese isn’t as toasted as you would like, turn on the broiler for a minute or two.

Now take a sip of wine (if there is any left) and pat yourself on the back, because you just made French onion soup that will rival any restaurant you’ll ever go to.

Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée

I first staged this photo on the kitchen table in the glow of the late afternoon sunlight complete with a fall-themed placemat…

But then I thought, who am I kidding? I might as well admit that I enjoyed my cup of soup siting on the sofa watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars.

I can’t say what it’ll be like to finally have this business up and running (you know, the one I’ve only vaguely referenced and won’t tell you anything about), because it is still just the beginning. I can say that there is a long and detailed road ahead of Arthur and I, and like the soup, it’ll probably definitely involve tears and cursing.

We are just a week or two away from incorporating the business and registering our trademark, so I’ll start dishing the details very soon.

Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Potluck Dinner With The Ladies

May 17th, 2011 | Rachel

The next time you are invited to a weeknight potluck dinner with your friends and have appetizer duty, consider making an onion quiche.  In fact, because you love your friends so much, why not make it shaped like a heart?

Dicing piles of onions is a little easier with a Coronita on hand.

The beauty of quiche is it requires a limited number of ingredients and doesn’t need the incessant hovering that so many other French dishes mandate.  Here, I simply sauteed the onions.

I prepared the quiche dough in a food processor (as with my last attempt at Julia Child’s quiche crust I wasn’t totally pleased with the result — it is officially time to find a better recipe).  For a mold, I used a heart-shaped springform pan.

Then I mixed in a simple mixture of egg, milk, and spices.

Once the crust was pre-baked, I removed the outside of the pan and poured in the filling and covered with a light layer of cheese.

Then it was just a matter of patiently waiting until the cheese and crust were lightly toasted.

Julia Child’s Onion Quiche

The harder part was figuring out how to get my fresh-baked creation to the Upper East Side in one piece.

Gotta love New York City public transit!

Nothing brings people together like food.

I love these ladies!

A Quiet Saturday Evening & French Onion Soup

May 15th, 2011 | Rachel

Its the Saturday evening after a busy week.

On Tuesday you listed your apartment on Craigslist during lunch and had a renter for the summer lined up by the time you got home from belly dance class that same night (for $100 more a month than you asked for!).  On Wednesday you applied to about a bazillion jobs and went to two “girls’ nights,” and on Thursday you drank an unfortunate mixture of beverages that killed half of your plans on Friday (but you still managed to drag yourself to Ikea to help a friend pick out furniture for her new apartment).  And now, you are just a little bit tired.

So what do you do?

Perhaps you meet a friend and her visiting mother for cappuccinos at Stumptown and then spend the evening slow cooking some of Julia Child’s French Onion Soup while watching random movies and tv shows on Netflix On-Demand.

Start with a pound and a half of onions…

Thinly slice…

Sauté in butter for 15 minutes.  Then cook over moderate heat for 40 minutes until golden yellow.  Stir in three tablespoons of flour.

Add two quarts of your own homemade chicken stock (great use of the leftover carcasses that have been patiently waiting in your freezer since your many roasted chicken attempts).

I think I only used one quart of chicken stock.  Or maybe I lost count when I was measuring the volume of my new Ikea food storage containers.  Two quarts seemed like it would make the soup too thin.

Let simmer partially covered for another 40 minutes.

Mix in a few shreds of cheese and cover with a round of toasted bread and more cheese.

Then bake in the oven for 20 minutes.  Julia says to turn on the broiler for two minutes at the end, but it wasn’t necessary (and my broiler doesn’t work).

Toasted cheese perfection.

In case you don’t have any cute mason jars on hand (or an “onion soup dish” like Julia recommends — whatever that is), a mug is a fine alternative:

Time for the second episode of Cashmere Mafia.


Third Time’s The Charm?

April 19th, 2011 | Rachel

This weekend I finally got to share some french cooking with my favorite dinner companion.  I wasn’t planning on cooking this weekend (the highlight of the weekend involved a frozen drink machine and a recipe for a Lemon Whiskey Slush — which is even better with lime juice), but Steve and I decided to brave the crowds at Whole Foods to pick up some dinner ingredients.

For those of you who do not live in New York City, a trip to Whole Foods — particularly on a Sunday evening — is not for the feint of heart.  A sign at the check out counter listing the best and worst times to shop adeptly described it as “frenetic.”  We managed to navigate our miniature shopping cart through the narrow aisles full pairs and trios of shoppers (Whole Foods is no place to be seen alone on a Sunday evening), and eventually ran into a wall of people dividing the bakery from the deli.  That was one of the check out lines.  There were three of such lines, each comprised of at least 25 people who were funneled into a color coded holding pen.  At that point we waited for a screen to tell us which of the 40 check out counters to go to.

Since this dinner was unplanned, I wasn’t able to reference my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  However, the upside about making the same dish several times in a row (this was my third roasted chicken in the past month) is you pretty much memorize it.  I almost pulled of this roasted chicken from memory without a hitch, but I forgot to pick up some sort of stock to make a light sauce at the end.

And I forgot to put salt on the chicken each time I flipped it.

I also forgot to dry the chicken before I slathered it in butter.

I also forgot to make note of what time I put the bird in the oven and cooked one side more than the other…. I guess I forgot to do a lot of things.

I did not forget to buy cooking twine to tie the birdie’s legs together (although Julia Child prefers to use a mattress needle to sew her chicken into a tight bundle).  I also did not forget how to roast the tomatoes, which make an excellent, fresh side dish.

Since several people have asked for recipes, perhaps I will start sharing some:

Prepping the tomatoes for roasting (this photo is from my first attempt… this past time I used Roma tomatoes)

Julia Child’s Roasted Tomatoes (a rough paraphrase): Select tomatoes less than 2″ diameter. Cut out the stems an sprinkle salt and pepper in the cavity.  Paint with olive oil and place stem side down in a baking dish (I’ve been using round casserole dishes).  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes or until skin starts to split.  Serve immediately.

Although many of Julia’s recipes involve smothering your main ingredient in butter or cream, others are designed to showcase the essence of the meat or vegetable.  If you are ever at a farmers market and come across a table of small, ripe, homegrown tomatoes, this is what you need to do with them.

My sous chef for the evening, Steve

Patiently waiting for the chicken to finish (due to a late start we ended up eating close to 11pm… woops)

One more golden-brown chicken to add to the archives

Third time was not the charm, unfortunately.  Although the color was near perfect, the texture of the skin was not.  By the time I realized I hadn’t properly dried the chicken, I had already smeared it with butter.  I was hoping the oven, which was far more powerful than the Easy Bake Oven in my apartment, would compensate for this omission, but no dice.  The inside, thankfully, was still near perfect

And so, after battling the crowds at Whole Foods and schlepping our groceries onto the subway, Steve finally got to try some of my (beginner) French cooking.

Carving the bird

One of these days I’ll get it right.  And one of these days I’ll be brave enough to try a French dessert.

Gâteau de crêpes on the web log

April 13th, 2011 | Rachel

I’ve started noticing a few side effects of web-logging (sounds more sophisticated than blogging).

For starters, I’ve become one of those people who talks about their blog.  “I was working on an entry for my blog the other day…” or “I don’t know if you’ve seen the latest update on my blog…” or “Please please please visit my blog so my Google Analytics report will make me feel good about myself….”

I’ve also started talking to myself… even more than usual.  I find myself constantly having conversations with myself in my head about ideas for posts or what to write about a particular subject or how to say it.  This is most prevalent when I am cooking.  And, since many of these recipes take four hours to complete, I’ve had plenty of time to hash all of this out ahead of time.

Unfortunately, these helpful voices cease as soon as I turn on my laptop…

… like right now.


Maybe I should just stick to showing you photos of my food.

Tonight I created a savory gâteau de crêpes.  I was previously only aware of dessert crêpe cakes, but Julia Child prefers cheese sauces and spinach and ham fillings.

Everything you need for perfect crêpes

According to Julia, the easiest way to make a smooth crêpe batter is to throw it all in a blender.  I don’t own a blender, so I used the food processor.  The results were excellent.

Set-up for making crêpes

The recipe calls for approximately 25 6.5″ crêpes

The filling begins with a light cheese sauce, part of which is mixed with sauteed ham or blanched spinach

This recipe was definitely a labor of love.  I started around 7:00 pm and was still assembling crêpes at 11:00 pm.  Julia says crêpes freeze very well, so the next time I have an hour to spare, I just might cook up 30 or 60 crêpes to freeze and use at a later date.

Behold, the gâteau de crêpes.  It was magnificent.

Twenty five layers of deliciousness

The cake looks small (its only 6.5″ in diameter), but it is so rich that the servings should be pretty small.  This would make an excellent lunch or first dinner course for six people.

Now that this is finished, I am starting to think I should have come up with some great life metaphor about layers.  Ah well.