This was an unusual Christmas for my husband and me. It's the first year neither one of our daughters was here to celebrate -- with one visiting in-laws in Milwaukee and the other with her boyfriend's family in Chicago. Christmas Eve for us was spent at our neighbor's; a tradition, now that we are no longer traveling over the holidays. We have amazing neighbors and I've made it clear to all of them that they can never move away from me...
When we finally gathered yesterday with family, our Christmas dinner was French Onion Soup and a Salad of Arugula, Roasted Peppers, and Steak. Dessert... a Lemon Meringue Tart.
To start off our midday meal, we drank small glasses of spiked eggnog. Fortunately, the rich aperitif didn't seem to kill anyone's appetite... I stirred a good sprinkling of Chinese 5 Spice into organic eggnog, then added golden rum... to taste. The top was covered in a thick coating of whipped, heavy cream, along with a generous grating of nutmeg.
Whitney with her Frenchie, Midge
As usual, Bisous waiting for anything edible to drop from above.
This will now be my go-to French Onion Soup. The best I've ever made. I made some slight changes to a recipe by Ina Garten.
When finishing the soup, you will want to top it with the best Gruyére cheese you can fiind. It really makes a difference. I could eat this soup every day...
This is one of my favorite "hearty" salads, and I make it often during the summer for our alfresco meals.
La Fin... Lemon Meringue Tart. Perfect any time of the year...
French Onion Soup
• 3 3/4 pounds yellow onions, halved, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
• 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
• 2 bay leaves
• 3/4 cup medium-dry sherry
• 3/4 cup Cognac
• 2 1/4 cups good quality dry white wine
• 3 quarts organic beef stock
• 1 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
• 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
• 2 teaspoons concentrated beef base (such as Better Than Bouillon brand)
• 1-2 French baguettes, sliced 1/2-inch thick
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
• 4-5 cups grated Gruyére cheese
1. In a large stockpot, over medium heat, sauté the onions with the butter and bay leaves until the onions turn a rich golden brown color. Take your time with this -- approximately 45+ minutes. You want to slowly caramelize the onions and not burn them.
2. Deglaze the pan with the sherry and brandy and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Add the white wine and simmer uncovered for an addition 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
3. Add the beef stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. Stir in the concentrated beef base, starting with 1 teaspoon. Taste, and add additional base if needed. Adjust salt and pepper; remove the bay leaves.
4. Brush the baguette slices with the melted butter and place on a baking sheet. Transfer to the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake until the bread slices begin to lightly toast and turn golden. Remove from oven. Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls. Place several slices of baguette onto each bowl of soup, then generously cover with grated Gruyére. Place several bowls on a baking sheet with 1-inch sides and slide onto middle rack of oven. Broil until cheese is melted and gooey. Repeat with remaining bowls. Serve.
Lemon Meringue Tart
• 2 T. sliced almonds
• 1 cup unbleached flour
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 5 1/3 T. very cold butter, 1/2" dice
• 3 T. ice water
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1/4 tsp. salt
ˆ 1 cup water
• 3 T. cornstarch
• 2 egg yolks
• 1/4 cup lemon juice
• 2 T. butter
• 2 tsp. grated lemon rind
• 5 egg whites
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1. Make pastry dough and chill for 2 hours. Line a 9-inch tart pan and bake blind at 400˚F until golden brown.
2. Dissolve sugar with salt in 3/4 cup of the water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Mix the cornstarch with the remaining 1/4 cup water and stir into the sugar-water mixture. Stir constantly until thick and clear. Remove from heat. Beat egg yolks with lemon juice until slightly thickened and stir into cornstarch mixture. Return to heat and bring back just to a boil. Take from heat and stir in the butter and grated lemon rind. Cool slightly and fill the baked tart shell.
3. To make meringue: Place egg whites, at room temperature, in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add salt and start beating with a whisk attachment. Once frothiness has been achieved, slowly start adding the granulated sugar and the cream of tartar. Continue to beat at high speed until the egg whites just begin to hold stiff peaks. Do not overbeat or the whites will become dry and start to separate. Mound the billowy, cloud-like meringue onto the tart and bake in a preheated 375˚F oven until golden.
TAKE a LOOK:
After a week of warmth and days spent in the garden, I welcomed the recent rain and cooler temperatures. Sweet peas, various lettuces, French Breakfast radishes, and dill + cilantro seeds have been planted. The remaining seeds will go into the ground this weekend.
When warm weather arrives and I start planting the vegetable garden, everything in the house seems to be ignored. Meals are many times an after thought, I'm sad to say. But the rain has allowed me a few days in my kitchen and I made two of my favorites that we haven't eaten in a long while... Black Bean Pumpkin Soup + Roasted Potato and Onion Focaccia.
My desire to be indoors has been short lived, however, and I'm now hoping for sustained warmth so I am able to plant the entire vegetable garden. I will also take some photos soon of the potager and its progress so far this spring. I know this for certain... my eight rhubarb plants are already ridiculously huge. It was my foolish goal last summer to keep them under control, but no matter how hard I tried or how much rhubarb syrup, tarts, pies, breads, muffins, cakes, slush or chutney I mixed up in my kitchen, it was useless. I failed miserably. I expect to see many containers of rhubarb in the freezer this coming winter. In addition, I may be forced to set up a rhubarb stand on the corner of Pinehurst and Davern, like I threaten every year.
The Black Bean Pumpkin Soup includes dry sherry and ham in its ingredients.