comfort food

French Onion Soup with Parmesan Croutons

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Well, it’s finally snowed in Cleveland, and snow calls for one thing, and one thing only: a piping hot bowl of soup. There is nothing more comforting than a big bowl French onion soup, with sweet and tender caramelized onions, salty crunchy croutons and an ooey gooey layer of cheese. This recipe is a great way to spend a snow day at home, as it is very time consuming. But trust me, its well worth the effort and love.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 large French baguette

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

2 large vidalia onions, sliced lengthwise and then thinly sliced lengthwise

3 sprigs fresh thyme

1 dried bay leaf

3/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 stick unsalted butter

2 tsp all-purpose flour

1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Chardonnay

1 1/2 cups water

4 cups vegetable stock

cracked black pepper to taste

thinly sliced Gruyere cheese

DIRECTIONS

To make the croutons:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Cut up baguette into 1-inch cubes and let sit out to dry for 30 minutes to an hour. Toss the croutons in olive oil and half of the parmesan cheese and spread evenly on a sheet pan. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the croutons and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, tossing halfway through, until they are firm and golden. Remove from oven and let cool. Croutons can be made up to three days in advance.

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croutons before and after

To make the soup:

Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add onions, thyme (leaves will fall off the sprigs during the cooking process), bay leaf and salt. Cook over medium heat for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring frequently, until onions are tender, sweet and golden brown.

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onions before and after– look at how much they shrink!

Add flour and stir for two minutes. Add wine and stir for another two minutes. Add water, vegetable stock and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes, until flavors are well combined. Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Preheat broiler and ladle soup into oven-safe bowls. Top with enough croutons to cover the surface area of the soup and lay thin slices of Gruyere cheese on top of croutons. Broil soup in oven until cheese is golden and bubbly, 3-4 minutes. Soup will be very hot!

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the assembly of the soup process

Blue Duck Tavern: Save Room for Dessert

Ah, parents’ weekend. The three days out of the year when it is socially acceptable to be a college student and hang out with your parents on campus. Well, I don’t necessarily feel this strongly about my parents’ presence but I’m sure plenty of students do. This past Colonial’s Weekend, I was lucky enough for my mom to pay me a visit and treat me to some fantastic eats.

Now let me give you some background information on my mom. She, just like me, loves to eat and cook. She’s always scanning through cookbooks and trying new recipes (she’s been on a lavender kick recently and insists putting it in everything!). When she booked her plane ticket to D.C. back in August, the first thing she said to me was, “okay, well start looking for places to eat because you know reservations will fill up fast and I want to try all the good food.” And boy was she serious.

When it came down to making reservations, I kept three things in mind. I knew I wanted to eat at restaurants that 1) I had never been to, 2) were all different in cuisine and 3) that were less likely that I would spend my own money on. I fulfilled these goals by booking reservations at the acclaimed Indian restaurant, Rasika, Blue Duck Tavern at the Hyatt, and my favorite chef’s- Jose Andres- Mediterranean Tapas restaurant, Zaytinya. The meal that still sticks out to me even a week later is Blue Duck Tavern. I’m already longing to go back.

What was first most appealing to Blue Duck Tavern was the atmosphere. When you walk in the door you are not only greeted by a friendly hostess but you are also exposed to an open, natural environment with wooden furniture and a full view of the kitchen. I was obviously amused by this aspect, especially the fact that you have to walk through the pastry kitchen to get to the bathroom- you can only imagine how many times I excused myself to use the ladies’ room.

Essentially, the menu has three columns- appetizers, entrees and sides, since everything is served a la carte. You then have your break ups in appetizers with salads and meats, your break ups in entrees with beef, poultry, ham and fish, and your break ups in sides with starches and vegetables. It’s pretty much given that my mom and I will share whatever we order, so we started with the pumpkin soup and the roasted beet salad. For my main course, I ordered the single vegetarian option- sweet potato pasta with Brussels sprouts, juniper berries and mushrooms. The dish was rich and creamy and I didn’t even miss the meat. I wanted to savor every last bite, but forced myself to refrain from inhaling the entire dish, as I knew to save room for dessert. Being at Blue Duck Tavern, it was only appropriate that my mom ordered duck. While I do not usually like or eat duck, her dish was rich, silky and perfectly seasoned. I enjoyed the few bites that I did manage to steal.

After a few moments of digestion, we were ready to order dessert. We decided on the nectarine, blackberry and almond crumble with crème freche, and an order of honey vanilla ice cream, per our eloquent waiter’s suggestion.

When I say to you that this was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had, I am in no sense exaggerating. The crumble was so moist and warm, and the contrast between the soft, sweet fruit and the crunchy, slightly salty crumbled crust was perfect. The crème freche, while tart and creamy, was a good counterpart to the sweetness of the fruit, but even better was the honey vanilla ice cream. Cold, silky and rich, this was definitely the highest quality vanilla ice cream I’ve ever been lucky enough to indulge in. the hint of honey was just strong enough for you to know it was there, but not too sweet that it still left you wanted to keep eating more.

I could eat this meal once a week, I swear to you. If you’re in DC, I would definitely recommend checking out Blue Duck Tavern.

What’s Cooking, José Andrés?

In post 4th of July celebration of America, I found myself longing for more engagement in our country’s beautiful history. Now, I am no history buff (nonetheless do I even appreciate history), but when it comes to examining America’s history through food, count me in. In the newest addition to the National Archives, What’s Cooking Uncle Sam? depicts how the government has shaped the way citizens think about food. From food rationing to the food pyramid, antique catsup (no, not ketchup) labels to exquisite presidential dinner menus, the exhibit covers it all. I was so intrigued by all of the artifacts and history that, honestly, I could have stayed longer and kept learning. Unfortunately the exhibit is rather short, but that’s where José Andrés comes in.

America Eats Tavern, conveniently located just two blocks north of the archives, has replaced Andrés’ beloved Café Atlantico with a modern twist on a classic American restaurant. “America Eats offers a new take on American classics and celebrates native ingredients and some long forgotten dishes,” claims the home page, and boy, does it ever. From seven different preparations of oysters, to fried chicken and homemade catsup, to mock turtle soup and everything in between, the menu offers something for everyone wanting to learn a little bit about America’s culinary history. Rather than give descriptions of the food underneath their titles, the menu shares a tidbit of history, as to where the dish originated, why or how it was first prepared, or the changes it has gone through since then. They even offer classic american beverages and cocktails, such as phosphates, mint julep, and homemade punch, served appropriately in a mason jar.

When I first heard that this exhibit-restaurant duo would grace DC with its presence, I was ecstatic. I mean, I made a large effort to go the second weekend it was open, even though it will last through January. My friend, Rachael, was in town for the weekend and the unbearable heat was a perfect excuse to take the afternoon to browse through a museum and eat a delicious meal. Speaking of our meal…

We arrived to the restaurant and I was immediately taken aback. My first thought was, “I can’t believe this used to be Café Atlantico!” Full on transformation, like Extreme Makeover, Restaurant Edition. The architecture is very unique, as each level is rather small and skinny but there are various floors dispersed throughout the air. You can see the kitchen in its entirety as you walk up the stairs. I was “that girl” who stood and stared as the chefs and waiters juggled plates, pots, pans, bowls and, oh yeah, FOOD! The classic American artwork, trinkets and artifacts definitely set the right ambiance.

We were seated on one of the upper levels, right next to the oyster bar, which is the usual host of Andrés’ six-seat tasting menu “restaurant,” MiniBar. It was amusing to watch as one of the chefs shucked oysters and filled them into molded plastic bowls over ice (I don’t like oysters, so this ploy to tempt us into ordering them was not very successful).

While overlooking the menu, Rachael and I realized we had a large task at hand. First of all, the menu could easily take you 10 minutes to read through, because of all of the history that’s slipped in! Of course I wanted read why Eggs Benedict was first created for a diner, by the last name of Benedict, who simply “wanted something new for lunch”, and how lobster was originally eaten by slaves and used as a fertilizer! There was no rushing me in my menu reading. I felt bad for our waiter, who returned to our table at least three times only to learn that we hadn’t even considered what to order for dinner! He was, however, very respectful and very knowledgeable (as I would assume is part of the job description, since none of the menu items actually tell you what’s in them!).

Finally we made some decisions. The bread basket looked too good to pass up. Included is a whole wheat Parker House roll, walnut-honey bread, cornbread roll and buttermilk biscuit, served with blackberry butter. Each carbo-licious creation was more amusing than the next, and the blackberry butter went perfectly with all of them. My favorite, surprisingly, was the Parker House roll. At first glance this roll seems like an average wheat dinner roll, but it was both savory and sweet, light and starchy and really, just awesome. The blackberry butter looked to be a swirl of homemade butter and blackberry compote. It was rich without being too overpowering. I probably would have eaten it with a spoon had I been in the privacy of my own home. Moving on…

Since there were so many dishes on the menu we knew we wanted to try, Rachael and I decided to order two smaller plates and share a main course. We went for the shrimp remoulade and fried green tomatoes, vermicelli prepared like pudding, and the barbeque beef short ribs with ‘cold slaw.’ I honestly can’t decide which dish I liked best, they were all so delicious and so unique. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and well seasoned. Moist, succulent and a little spicy, they sat on top of a thick puddle of a tangy, spicy, creamy remoulade sauce. I have a place in my heart for fried green tomatoes ever since visiting Savannah, Georgia, and these babies did not disappoint. The crunchy exterior was, just that; crunchy, and the tomato was juicy and sweet.

Now for the vermicelli. You are probably wondering one of two things. Either you are wondering what the hell vermicelli is, or you are wondering how on earth these people prepare a noodle like pudding. Question number 1 was just answered for you. Question number 2 will be answered briefly. This dish has taken the spotlight in most press reviews of America Eats. Why? Because they claim that it is a lighter version of mac ‘n cheese, but contains neither macaroni nor classic cheddar used in most versions of the dish. I wouldn’t exactly call this dish a ‘pudding’ as we have come to use the word, but it was definitely light, fluffy and oh, so delicious. The long, curly pasta is layered and molded into a lovely portioned disk, coated with a creamy but light parmesan sauce and broiled to crispy perfection on top. The ‘pudding’ is served with three delicate quarters of chanterelle mushrooms, dressed equally as well in the parmesan sauce. Don’t even bother attempting to recreate this one, because I am convinced the recipe calls for magic.

   

Finally, our main course had arrived. This short rib was artwork on a plate. A large and beautiful rectangle of beef, dressed in sweet, tangy barbeque sauce, served next to an elegant melange of shaved, chiffonaded and sliced vegetables, creating one of the most interesting- no, probably the most interesting- cole slaws I have ever had the pleasure of eating. I enjoyed that both northern and southern styles of barbeque sauce made a presence in this dish, and used both liberally. I used to not like barbeque sauce. Then I tried real barbeque sauce and my life has been changed forever. The cole slaw had everything from your standard slaw vegetables to raw brussels sprout leaves! I love brussels sprouts. The dressing was not too heavy, but just creamy enough for you to know it was there. It was perfect.

  Before…

…After 🙂

While ordering, we made a last minute decision to try one of the old fashioned drinks, a lactart. A lactart is basically a combination of seltzer water, milk and your choice of a fruit-flavored syrup. We went with raspberry. It was sweet and creamy and tasted like nothing I have ever tasted before. You can definitely tell the syrup is homemade.

After drooling over, biting into and cleaning the plates of every single dish we ordered, we were way too full for dessert, although the menu is rather outstanding. I would definitely return to America Eats and save room for their Sugar on Snow or Key lime pie. Altogether, our meal was fantastic. The service was supreme and the food, well, I think you get it. Our bill- on the larger side but obviously worth it- was delivered in a mason jar, and I laughed, saying “you would,” under my breath. Being able to visit both the archives exhibit and this museum-like restaurant itself was extraordinary, and while I have claimed myself to be “not a museum person,” I will definitely be back for more!