Thursday, August 11, 2011

French onion soup ... for a French themed dinner party

Once a week or fortnight, which ends up being 3 out of 4 or 5 weeks in a month, I host a dinner party for a couple of guys (I feed them because I feel sorry for them and their awful eating habits at home) that work with The Boy. I add to that mix a few other friends that I want to catch up with and get the chance to cook up a small storm. The Boy calls this regular dinner of ours "Singles and Strays". I think the name says it all.

Last week, I had some ingredients leftover from a dinner party that did not happen (The Boy came down with a stomach virus) for Coq Au Vin which I decided to make for Singles and Strays.

Since Coq Au Vin is French, I decided on a French themed dinner party and added another French dish to the mix.

This is what I came up with. The Boy matched the meal with French wines.

Starter was a French Onion soup. I'll include a recipe for this dish on today's post. This was matched with an Alsace Riesling from Hugel, 2009 vintage.

Main was, of course, the Coq Au Vin with truffle mash potatoes. My darling friend Wendy, made roasted vegetables and a fabulous salad to go with the main. I'll put up the recipe for the Coq Au Vin and truffle mash another time. This was matched with a Chateau Larose-Traintaudon Haut-Medoc from 1992.

Dessert was homemade vanilla ice cream, which you can find the recipe here, accompanied a chocolate cake that my wonderful friend Ric brought. Everyone enjoyed the homemade ice cream so much that they asked for an affagato to take advantage of the ice cream. Hence, a second dessert of frangelico affagato. Dessert was matched with a Chateau Haut Bergeron Sauternes from 2005 and a Chateau D'Yquem from 1997.

To top off the meal, The Boy and Andrew both sipped a 1967 Lindemans Vintage Port while we sat around the table and chatted.

Since this was such a large menu, I started cooking at 11am and finished at about 4pm. After that, I set the table, cleaned up the kitchen and got showered and dressed. By the time that was done, it was close to 6pm and guests were arriving at 6:30pm and I had to get the mashed potatoes cooking since that took 1.5 hours. Timing is everything when putting together a meal with several courses.

Overall, the dinner was a success and the food turned out very, very well. It was beyond my expectations. My favorite for the night was the mashed potatoes since it was the first time I had tried this recipe on my own and was just totally blown away with it.

So without further ado, here's the RECIPE for the French Onion soup:
Preparation Time 10 minutes

Cooking Time 50 minutes

Ingredients (serves 6):
  • 80g butter
  • 4 large brown onions, sliced crossways into rings
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tsp plain flour
  • 1.5L (6 cups) beef stock
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) dry red wine
  • 1 bouquet garni sachet (MasterFoods brand)
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 30cm baguette (French stick), cut crossways into 12 slices
  • 55g (1 cup) finely shredded gruyere cheese

  • Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes or until the onions are soft and light golden. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until flour bubbles and comes away from the side of the pan. Add the stock, wine and bouquet garni. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until soup thickens slightly. Remove bouquet garni. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  • Preheat grill on high. Place baguette slices on a baking tray. Place under preheated grill (about 5cm away from the heat source) and cook for 2 minutes each side or until light golden. Remove from grill and sprinkle each slice evenly with the cheese. Place under grill and cook for a further 2 minutes or until the cheese melts.
  • To serve, ladle soup into serving bowls and top with the baguette slices.

Note: You can prepare this recipe to the end of step 1 up to 1 day ahead. Cool to room temperature and store in an airtight container in the fridge. To reheat, place in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat for 10 minutes or until heated through, stirring occasionally. Continue from step 2 just before serving.

I did a few things differently than the recipe because I just roll like that:
  • I made my own Bouquet Garni and here's how - take a long length of kitchen string and tie together a few sprigs of fresh thyme, a few dried bay leaves, a sprig of fresh parsley (flat or curly leaf, doesn't matter) and the rind of a quarter of an orange, and there you have your very own Bouquet Garni. Make sure you tie it tight, otherwise it can come loose in the cooking.
  • I was low of beef stock, so when I tasted the soup the first time, it was a bit thin on flavor and I like my food to taste robust and bursting with flavor. I did not have any beef stock left, so I ended up improvising and I used 1 teaspoon of Gravox (shock! horror!), 1 teaspoon of chicken stock (powdered) and 1 teaspoon of corn flour (yes, it's the magic powder again! to thicken). That rounded out the flavor nicely.
  • I was generous with the salt and pepper. That really gives you the seasoning you need and bring it much closer to the taste of the soups you have in a restaurant. That said, make sure you don't over season. That would not work well 'cos then all you're tasting is salt and pepper. You want just enough to bring out the flavor of the onion.
  • I used a white ground pepper because I did not want black pepper bits floating in my lovely brown soup.
  • I used a light rye Vienna bread for the cheese crouton, which was nice and soft. I did not toast the bread on both sides because I wanted the bread to stay soft and absorbent (to soak up the soup). Instead, I just topped with untoasted with mozzarella cheese and stuck it in the oven at 180 degrees C for about 10 minutes until it was melted and browned on the outside.
  • To garnish, I sprinkled some finely chopped parsley over the top of the crouton when it was in the soup.

And that dear people is how I made my French Onion soup. Next time, I will make certain I have more beef stock on hand.

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