Monday, March 24, 2008

Julia Child Would Approve

My boyfriend Oscar is a foodie. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Only he would be willing to sit through my ramblings about a new recipe for pork and sage pies and, to my delight, actually get excited about it with me. Being in a long-distance relationship, we often talk about what we will do once we see each other again – namely, what restaurants we have to try or what foods we will make together. In one of these many conversations, Oscar brought up his (supposedly) famous French onion soup, which he contends is the best around. It’s a collaborative Julia Child and Jacques Pepin recipe with Oscar’s own added touch. Bringing up this soup sent Oscar on a tangent about its many wonders. “No, Marianne, you don’t understand, it’s seriously the best soup ever. Beef broth, sherry, and Gruyere cheese are the only ways to go,” he’d say. Well, of course he had to make it for me over spring break. But we took it one step further, and decided to make a French feast. I had made filet mignon with goat cheese for Christmas dinner last year. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to match our dishes up for an elegant meal back home.

The end result was a hit with both our palates. Caramelizing the onions with thyme and butter for the soup sent a wonderful aroma throughout the house. On three separate occasions, Oscar’s mom, dad, and sister walked in to ask what that wonderful smell was. Oscar took great pleasure in adding the sherry, beaming, “It makes the soup.” Simmering the onions in beef broth was easy enough, but we may have overdone the Gruyere cheese - the soup seemed to be half cheese, half broth. But for all his hype, the soup did not disappoint. The thyme and sherry sold me. To my surprise, it wasn’t, as most soups are, overly salty. I asked for seconds and thirds, which Oscar was all too willing to oblige me.

I seared the filet mignon from Whole Foods without incident. Oscar is a meat-lover, and since I rarely eat meat, he coaches me on all things cow. He’s a big proponent of seasoning steaks with salt, pepper and nothing else. So, I did just that, and added a balsamic glaze. The glaze was unexpectedly sweet and rich, a bit like molasses. I recommend making it right before the meal because if you let it sit, it solidifies into a sticky mess. The goat cheese broiled on the steaks provided a nice tang to contrast the glaze's sweetness. After a long time of slaving away in the kitchen, we finally sat down to what was truly a French feast.

Chef Oscar's Onion Soup Gratinée
Adapted from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home


2 tbsp Oil
1 tbsp butter
11⁄2 pounds onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp minced thyme, or 1⁄2 tsp dried time
1⁄2 tsp salt or to taste
5 cups hot beef stock
1⁄4 tsp black pepper or to taste
1⁄4 cup sherry
1⁄4 inch thick baguette slices
3⁄4 cup grated Gruyere cheese


Set the saucepan over medium-low heat and add the oil and butter. When the butter has melted, add the onions, thyme, and 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt and mix together thoroughly. Cover the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the onions are tender, uncover and raise the heat slightly. Cook for another 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir in the hot stock and bring the soup to a boil. Add salt, black pepper, and sherry. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

To make croutons, toast a dozen or so baguette slices on a baking sheet in a 400°F oven. When the soup is ready, arrange individual crocks on a baking sheet. Put the croutons into the bottom of each crock. Ladle in a cup of soup. Heap a large mound of grated cheese all over the surface of the soup, using the rest of the cheese.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes.


Giada’s Filet Mignon with Balsamic Syrup


1 1/2 cups balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
6 (5 to 6-ounce) filet mignon steaks (each about 1-inch thick)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces soft fresh goat cheese


Boil the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat until reduced to 1/3 cup, stirring occasionally, about 18 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Melt the butter in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the steaks with salt and pepper. Cook the steaks to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer the steaks to a baking sheet. Crumble the cheese over the steaks and broil just until the cheese melts, about 1 minute. Sprinkle with pepper.

Transfer the steaks to plates. Drizzle the balsamic sauce around the steaks and serve.

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