Tag Archives: onions

Cook the Books! Dorie Greenspan’s French Onion Soup! Cry Me a River!

8 Jan

OK, so what do you do the night before a big trip?  Pack?  Water your plants?  Drop Fido and Spot off at the petsitter?  Charge up the old camera?  Print out your boarding passes?  Not me, friends!  I decided that I should cook an elaborate French meal on the night before my awesome partner Double S and I went to Yellowstone National Park.  Why?  Well, first, I’m zany like that.  I like to, say, stuff kimchi into jars at midnight on a Saturday.  Ask Double S about that one!  Second, well, I wanted to start the Cook the Books Challenge!  Oh, you don’t know?  Here are the deets!

I’ve told you guys about the blog challenge that my friend Meg and I came up with this year.   In brief, we are picking a cookbook for each month of 2013.  We’ll tell you about it in advance.  Meg told you about this month’s choice, Around My French Table a few weeks back.  You cook a recipe or recipes from the book each month, and you tell us about it.  We all learn to cook, more and better.  Easy peezy George and Weezy!  If you have a blog, well, first things first:


Ok, sweet fist bump.  Moving on.  So if you have a blog, post about what you made from the book of the month by the 25th of each month.  Shoot us an email with the link to your post: cookthebookschallenge@gmail.com.  We’ll do a round-up of all the posts (with links and photos!) by the 31st or so of the month.   If you don’t have a blog, share what you made in the comment section of the round-up post at the end of the month.  Sweet1

Ok, so back to my shenanigans on the night before my trip.  That afternoon, I perused Around My French Table whilst Double S did the normal night before a trip activities as described above.  I dog-earred a few potential good candidates for a nice Sunday night supper, our last at home for a week.  I looked into the Deconstructed BLT salad.  I love deconstructed things.  What can I say, I’m a big fan of Top Chef AND being a pretentious hipster! I also looked into the nicoise salad.  I wanted to go classic.

But I finally decided on the Cheese Topped Onion Soup.  What’s more French than French onion soup, I mused?  This?


Any time a French man is shown in a cartoon or pretty much any other medium of pop culture, said French man must be wearing both a striped shirt and a beret. It’s the law. Don’t fight it.

So starting at 6pm that night, I made my inaugural dish of the 2013 Cook the Books challenge.

Cheese-Topped Onion Soup, page 56-57.

I figured that 6pm was a perfectly fine time to start cooking this dish for several reasons.  1) Dorie Greenspan mentions in the recipe that it takes “an hour or more” to carmelize the onions.  And besides the carmelization of the onions, this recipe looked really easy.  And it was!  Except I didn’t realize the ramifications of the two little words “or more” after the word “hour.”  2) US pop culture teaches me that French people eat late, so when in Gay Paree (heh heh) do as the gay paree-sians do!  3)  I didn’t have to go to work the next day!  Off I went!


If you make this onion soup, prepare to practice your onion chopping skills.  Chopping onions the right way will make your life in the kitchen much easier.  BTW, I took a knife skills class and Dorie explains the technique in two sentences that we spent quite a bit of class time learning.  Nice!  Onions were being peeled and chopped, and I was rolling along. Time to turn on some tunes!

See when I cook, I need music.  Lots of it, and loud.  Ok, so I’ll admit that I put my knife down, ran to my desktop and threw together a quick mix inspired by onions and the crying that results from their preparation.  Heck yeah, onion themed mixtape!

I love onions.  Raw, cooked, you name it.  I eat more onions than the average person, methinks.  Thus, around the old homestead, dinner often starts with me chopping an onion.  And onions really make me cry.  I know, I know.  There are tricks to avoid this, like cutting onions next to an open flame, having a piece of bread in your mouth while you chop, rinsing the onion first, wearing ski goggles or a scuba mask, standing on one leg and thinking about how you’ve disappointed your parents, and so on.  Seriously, all of those are true except one.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one.   But, at this time of the night, ain’t nobody got time for that.

That’s Sweet Brown, everybody, of the famous “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That” meme of 2012, viewed by over 15  million people.  My cousin showed me the auto-tuned You Tube remix on Christmas Eve, and now Double S and I have been often telling each other that we do not have time for that, regardless of what “that” is.

All started off well.  I peeled and I bobbed my head, remembering those innocent days when Britney and Justin were still together.

I kept going, slicing the onion in half from top to bottom, remembering my days loving hair rock, which OK, technically, are still ongoing.

Yeah!  I kept cutting, this time lengthwise, again and again.  OK, this has been fun and everything, but when would this end?  Axl told me not to cry.

And I imagined hot early 90s babes fighting over me as I ladled them bowls of onion soup, like they do here over Axl Rose for some reason.  But you know what they say: no woman, no cry.  Which just so happened to be the next song on my mixtape!

When the peeling and chopping are done, time to start the carmelization process.  I hope you packed some water and comfortable shoes.  Man, did I gain a new appreciation for the art of carmelizing onions.  I started with my thick bottomed cast iron dutch oven and kept the heat as low as it goes on our stove.  The onions released a lot of water and after an hour, the onions just looked steamed.


That kind of kept going for awhile.  I was concerned, but I was not gon’ cry.  Sing it, Mary…

After that first 90 minutes or so, I finally got concerned.  It was 7:30 and I had steamed onions.  Dorie makes it clear that your onions must be brown and carmelized to get the right flavor in the soup, and to be patient because you do not want burned pieces.  But, Dorie..it’s 7:30 for chrissakes!  I decided to switch pans.  I moved to a larger, shallower, non-stick skillet and set aside the excess water, thinking the onions needed to touch more area of the pan to actually carmelize, and it worked.  It took over two hours, but I got carmelized onions!


Sweet!  Time for some Van Halen!

Lessons learned about onion carmelization, an important cooking technique you will learn if you make this soup:

  • Slice the onions as thinly and uniformly as possible.  And discard all of the thin outer layer.  That layer will never carmelize.  It’s OK to waste just this little bit.
  • Use the largest pot with the thickest bottom you have to carmelize the onions.
  • Adding a pinch of sugar at the beginning is recommended by Julia Child, and hey, she kinda knows about French cooking.
  • How much you stir is important.  From my research, if you can hear a sizzle, you’re fine.  Stir when the sizzle subsides, so not constantly, but about every 10 minutes or so.  I was definitely stirring constantly, which is unnecessary.
  • Keep the heat low as Dorie says, but be reasonable.  The intensity of the heat on your stove may vary.  After I toiled away with these onions, I did a little research into the fine art of carmelization.  Some sources say to start with the heat higher for about 20 minutes or so, while stirring very frequently, and then end with the heat as low as possible, while stirring frequently. Based on my evening, this sounds about right.  The onions have to cook and steam and release liquid before they can brown, so don’t just say eff it and start with your heat on high and keep it that way.  In the alternative, cook them on a low setting but not the lowest, then finish slightly higher whilst stirring constantly.  This is basically what I did, except I had them on the lowest of the low settings for too long at the beginning.  Cooks Illustrated recommends cooking onions over medium low heat, covered, for 20 minutes, then uncover and cook on low till desired brownness, stirring every few minutes.  Regardless, you kinda need to be all up on your pot for at least an hour to do this, probably more.  Unless…
  • Hey!  Have you ever roasted beets or brussel sprouts?  I have, and it’s an awesome way to cook these veggies, and often the onions are my favorite part.  I bet that carmelizing onions in the oven would work great and wouldn’t require as much attention, but some attention will always be required to get the desired brownness.  And yep, here’s a thread from Chowhound and commenters say it works!

So after the carmelization, the rest is gravy!  The soup cooks on the stove a bit, and then you need to think about cheese.  Dorie recommends a good Gruyer,e and I agree.  Double S picked us out some fancy stuff and it was delicious.


The bread is also important here.  Get some nice, thick, good bread and toast it off a bit in the oven.  Top the soup with the bread and the Gruyere and pop it in the oven, in a crock that can withstand the heat of Satan’s lair, because as Dorie puts it, the French like their onion soup brûlante, super freaking hot.  Success!


The soup was delicious!  And will be a welcome addition to our winter line-up of dishes that you make every once in awhile, to celebrate the season where you just want to wear comfy socks and be inside all day.  OK, so in the Pacific Northwest that’s kinda at least half of the year.  Right, Portlandia?

More importantly, what I liked about this recipe is the appreciation for onions and the carmelization process that I got …nay EARNED…from making this soup.  Carmelized onions are a special, almost sacred thing.  Don’t rush them.  Don’t make this soup when you only have limited time.  Learn what works for you.  Maybe a slow carmelization in your favorite dutch oven during a lazy winter’s afternoon whilst you sip wine and stir and listen to music.  Recommended!  Maybe an unattended stay in your crock pot while you toil away from 9-5 for the man.  Maybe a roast in the oven while you catch up on last season’s Breaking Bad, pausing to stir only once per episode.  And you NEED to catch up on Breaking Bad, best believe.

So I’m liking this cookbook so far.  There’s something for every season, and something suitable for pretty much any block of time you have available.  This recipe was time consuming, but there are others that can be knocked out on a M0nday night.  Stay tuned for what I made on just that typea Monday night!

As Meg and I have said, we will both be blogging about our exploits with this book throughout the month.  Meg has already made some stuff too!  Make one recipe or make a whole dinner party for your friends, but whatever you do, tell us about it!  By Friday January 25th, send us a link to your post: cookthebookschallenge@gmail.com.  And by January 30th, check back in for a comprehensive round-up, featuring your post and the posts of all your virtual friends.  Fun!

And bt dubs, we made it to Yellowstone and it was ah-mahzing.  More about that later…



March Can Jam: Salsa Criolla

19 Mar

It’s can jam time again, friends.  I’ve done this twice before.  In sum, us can jammers are canning something every month of 2010.  The item to be canned is chosen at the end of the previous month by one of the participating bloggers.  So far, I did tangerine jam two ways in January, and Mexican style pickled carrots, onions, and jalapenos in February.  For March, this here blogger chose the allium family for the month’s challenge.  Meet the alliums!  Onions, garlic, leeks, chives, scapes, ramps, and so on.  We got to choose the allium member we wanted to get better acquainted with.  Of course, I wanted to find some kind of video or picture of an cute anthropomorphized onion or garlic.  No scape in a jaunty hat top be found, but I did find this, though. A picture of a nervous onion about to be onion-body cavity searched by some power hungry pickling cukes.

I'm not sure why the onion had the pants on in the first place...

I had a lot of ideas for this challenge.  Some just weren’t in season yet.  Growing up, my pops and grandma canned every summer in my grandma’s awesome and at that time steam laden basement.  My grandma is German through and through.  Wash your hands in the zink, kids!  So there were always pickled sweet things in jars everywhere, with interesting names like senf gherkins and various and sundry relishes.  The pickles were always too sweet for my taste.  My pop’s favorite were pickled pearl onions.  I kinda wanted to make some for his upcoming birthday, but I think it was too early to find these in markets.  I’ll make some in the coming months.  I found a good recipe for pearl onions pickled in gin and juniper berries. Yes!  I also wanted to make an onion jam, but the kind I want isn’t suitable to be hot water processed either, due to the low acid content in onions.  I’ve got some extra onions though, so I’m gonna try my hand at a non-processed onion jam for steaks and burgs.  As always, stay tuned for that, friends!

I love onions.  Onions rings are my f’in homies!  Unless the fries at an establishment look awesome, I’m subbing in onion rings.  I made some beer battered rings last summer!  Go Onions!

Fryin' up rings! Stayed tuned for the recipe.

Oh and I grew my first alliums last summer, red onions, little and cute though they were, and leeks.

Look at these roots!

Took these a long time to grow, but success!

I think their roots are beautiful.  Art in it’s purest form, right?  This year, I’m planting more.  I just got my onion starts, and I’m psyched to get ’em in the ground.

Finally, I decided to use the allium that I most often find myself eating on an almost daily basis.  Red onions!  I have red onions in my salads pretty much all the time, and I do love salads.  I put loads of them (and garlic!) in my guac.  I put them on my hot dogs and hamburgers and brats–raw!    I load them on sandwiches.  I love the pickled red onions in Indian restaurants.

After much combing of the interwebs and various cookbooks, I decided to make a salsa corilla, or a red onion salsa.

Listen to the red onion rag!

Yes, the Red Onion Rag!

The king of ragtime, Scott Joplin…you may know him for his classic, The Entertainer, is from St. Louis.

You can go to the Scott Joplin House in St. Louis!  Then go to a movie at the Tivoli (best theater in St. Louis! Yours truly has seen everything from Go Fish to Beavis and Butthead Do America to Milk at this beautiful theater) and finish up your night at Riddle’s.  Sweet.

Anyway, what was I talking about?  Oh yeah, onions.

Salsa criolla is a Peruvian onion, pepper and lime salsa, and I thought it would be good to have in my growing larder at the homestead.

Salsa Criolla

Adapted from The Complete Book of Pickling, by Jennifer McKenzie.


Red onions.  3 pounds.

Peppers.  If you can find aji chili pepers, you’re lucky.  Use those.  I used jalapenos.  2-4.  I used 4 of them.  Seeded and minced.

Lime zest.  About 3 tsps.

Lime juice.  About 1/2 cup.

Cilantro.  About 3/4 cup.

Sugar.  1/2 cup.

Pickling salt.  2 Tbsp.

White vinegar.  4 cups.

Black pepper.  Fresh ground.  1 tsp.

You'll need your recipe, a knife and cutting board, maybe a scale, and a beer. No big whoop!


1.  Slice your onions lengthwise and cut away the roots.  Please, for the love of God, wear goggles.  You’re gonna be cutting these bad boys for awhile.

I kinda felt a little like Dr. Horrible in Double S's swim goggles. But look ma, no tears. And yes, that is my larder in the background!

2.  Slice the onions thin and lengthwise.

Red onions are one of the prettiest alliums, methinks!

I did it this way, but in retrospect I think that cutting them into very thin half moons would be better suited for salsa.  The choice is yours.

Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up!

3.  In a large non-reactive bowl, combine the onions and the salt.  Mix them all up well.  Your clean hands work best.  Cover and let sit for an hour or so.



It seemed like a shame to drain the liquid from these now soft beauties, but it must be done.  Drain the onions in a colander, then rinse them well and drain again.

4.  Meanwhile, start prepping your jars and lids, and bring your canning pot to a boil.

5.  In a large pot or skillet, combine onions, jalapenos, sugar, black pepper, and vinegar.  Cook on medium high heat and bring to a boil. Stir often.

Lookin' good!

After you reach boil, reduce heat and lightly boil for about 5 minutes or until your lil’ beauts are translucent.  Keep stirring.

6.  When you’re ready to rock (read: can!), stir in the lime zest, lime juice and cilantro.

Here's what makes the criolla special...

7.  Ladle the hot salsa into your sterilized jars.  Leave one inch headspace at the top.  Use a spatula to push the salsa into the jar and remove air bubbles.  Wipe the rim of the jars with a clean cloth.  Cap and screw on the rings till they are just slightly tight.

Ready to ladle!

Success! Now time for these baddies to bathe!

8.  Place jars into boiling water in your canning pot.  Process for 10 minutes, then pull them up on the rack and leave them slightly in the water for an additonal 5 minutes to let them adjust to the new temperature.  Listen for those pops of success!

Mandatory shot of cans in hot water!

You’re done!  Let the jars sit undisturbed for 24 hours.

I’m happy o report that this stuff is good, and it’s Double S’s favorite can jam I’ve done so far.   It’s kind of like a simple red onion in vinegar, which I almost made but thought would be anticlimactic, but the ante is really upped by the lime and cilantro, which makes these pickled onions different and what I was going for.  There’s only so much veggies sitting in vinegar that one can eat, am I right?  I’d say adding more lime and zest would be even better, and maybe also cutting the sugar even more.  I cut the sugar from 1 cup to 1/2 cup, and it’s still a bit sweet for my taste.

Let's eat! Beans, rice and guac were enjoyed with this tonight!

Two days later, these were even better.  The cilantro taste really shone through.  Salsa criolla is good on meat, rice, tacos, and I may dice some up in my marinades and guacamole.  Enjoy!