January 31, 2011

Vive la France: Soupe à l’Onion Gratinée

Winter is comfort food time, and does anyone do comfort food better than the French? Hearty cassoulets, coq au vin, lamb navarin, fricassée, tarte tatin – classic bistro fare that warms the stomach and soothes the soul.

About this time of year, Richard goes to Paris on business and when he returns, he is full of stories of meals eaten and meals savoured; new favourites found and old haunts revisited. It makes me hungry for a taste of France, and nothing is more satisfying than a bubbling bowl of French onion soup, served straight from the oven.

French Onion Soup
serves 6

Here’s my take on the French classic. I like to use a mix of beef and veal stock for extra richness, and to grill the bread for an added smoky flavour.

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp plus ¼ c olive oil
4 large cooking onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf (preferably fresh)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
½ c Madeira
6 c beef stock (or a combination of beef and veal stock)
1 tsp fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
12 slices French bread
¾ lb grated Gruyere cheese, grated
6 ovenproof French onion soup bowls

1. In a large stockpot, melt the butter in the olive oil over medium high heat. When the foam subsides, add the onion, lower heat to medium and sauté for fifteen minutes, stirring to keep the onions from sticking.

2. Add the garlic, bay leaf and thyme. Continuing sautéing and stirring until the onions are a deep golden colour. Turn heat to high, add the Madeira and cook for an additional two minutes, stirring frequently, until most of the wine has boiled off.

3. Add the beef stock, salt and pepper, bring the soup to a boil, and lower to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes more.

4. While the soup is simmering, prepare the bread and preheat the oven to the broil setting. Brush the bread slices with olive oil and broil (or grill), turning to brown evenly. Set aside.

I love the convenience of our indoor grill for quick and easy grilling

5. When the soup has finished simmering, check and adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Place two slices of bread in each bowl, and ladle in enough soup to barely cover the bread. Sprinkle each bowl with a generous amount of Gruyere. Set the oven rack to the middle position. Place the bowls on a baking sheet, put in the oven, and broil until the cheese has melted and is bubbly and slightly brown, about 3-5 minutes.

Be generous with the cheese but not overly so; the ingredients should all play in balance with one another

6. Serve it forth piping hot for a delicious and satisfying winter dish.

January 20, 2011

Delish Dish: Kale and Goat Cheese Omelette

Baby, it's cold outside. The Stop's farmers’ market is near-deserted on Saturday, both vendors and customers choosing to stay home rather than battle the January storm brewing outside. I come home without the usual bulging bags, my slim pickings reflecting not just the lack of supply but the season. Cold storage Ambrosia apples from Bizjak Farms; Blossom goat cheese from Monforte Dairy; deliciously fresh eggs from Irina at Bees Universe; and my most treasured find: black kale, the famous Cavolo Nero of Tuscan cuisine, from one of the many small independent vendors the market supports.

It may not be much, but it’s the perfect combination of ingredients to make a good old fashioned hot breakfast. When the thermostat dips to way below zero, there’s nothing better than a tummy full of good food. I buy enough kale to get me through a week’s worth of warming breakfasts. Finished it off with an Ambrosia apple, it’s a most delicious winter morning feast.

Kale and Goat Cheese Omelette
serves one

Purists - please note - I am sure this is not the "correct" method for omelette making. But it works for me.  I buy kale in large quantities and prep it all at once so that it's ready in the fridge when I am.  Fresh kale can also be frozen.

2 c fresh kale, washed, trimmed and chopped into three inch lengths
4 tsp olive oil
¼ c low sodium chicken stock or water
½ tbsp Shichimi-Togarashi* (see note), or substitute a blend of taosted sesame seeds, chili pepper flakes,  black pepper and ½ tsp grated orange zest
¼ c soft goat cheese, mixed with ½ tsp grated lemon zest
2 whole eggs
2 egg whites
½ tbsp unsalted butter

1.  Prepare the kale.  In a large non-stick skillet, heat 2 tsp of the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chopped kale and stir for a few minutes.  Add the chicken stock and the Shichimi-Togarashi, continuing to stir, until the kale is wilted but still has some crunch.  Remove from heat and set aside.

2.  In a small non-stick skillet, heat the remaining oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter foams, break the two eggs into the pan, and add the two egg whites.  Swirl the eggs with a fork to break up the yolk, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook the eggs, lifting the edges with a spatula to distribute the eggs and cook them further.

3.  When the eggs are set but still soft, place the goat cheese in dollops over the eggs.  Add the kale, covering the entire surface of the eggs.  With a spatula, gently fold the eggs over to form an omelette.

Eggs are setting but still soft

Hard to see the goat cheese...but it's there!

4.  Cover the skillet with a lid, reduce heat to low and let cook for a couple of minutes more.

Serves one very grateful diner.

*Shichimi-Togarashi is a wonderfully complex seven spice blend that gives dishes deeply subtle nuances of flavour. It's a medium-spicy blend of seven ingredients: black sesame seeds; the dried peel of the unshu mikan (Satsuma orange); Japanese sansho pepper; dried capsicum; roasted dry capsicum; hemp seeds and poppy seeds.  Shichimi-Togarashi is available online and is worth seeking out. 

January 02, 2011

Healthy Eats: Rest-of-the-turkey Soup

I hope you saved the rest of the turkey. Maybe the bones are in your freezer, with the delicious meat carefully wrapped and stored separately. You're tired of turkey sandwiches, a turkey casserole feels like too much work, and frankly, turkey hash just doesn't sound appealing.

Why not make a warming and deeply satisfying soup? The perfect antidote to rich and over-indulgent holiday eating, this soup is a meal in a bowl, and also freezes well.  Richard is the soup maker in the family, and he's perfected this recipe, an old favourite of mine from Weight Watchers. He also loves eating turkey year-round, so don't wait until the holidays to make this.  Take advantage of the fresh turkey parts that are always available.

Richard's Turkey-Vegetable Soup
serves 6-8

2 c cooked turkey meat, white and dark meat combined OR one fresh turkey thigh or breast, diced*
¼ c olive oil
2¼ c thinly sliced shitake mushrooms
2 c sliced carrots
4 garlic cloves, minced
2¼ c baby spinach leaves, washed
1 c sliced celery
8 c low-sodium chicken stock (or homemade turkey stock from those bones)
¼ c parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

*If using fresh turkey meat, add the turkey in step one, along with the mushrooms, carrots and garlic, and then proceed with recipe.

1.  In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms, carrots and garlic, and saute, stirring constantly, until just tender, about five minutes. 

Shitake mushrooms add a delicious flavour to this soup

2.  Add celery and spinach and cook for another two or three minutes, until spinach is just wilted.  If using cooked turkey, add at this point, stir to combine, and then add chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, turn off heat, stir in parsley, and serve.*

*If using fresh turkey, simmer the soup for an additional five to 10 minutes, or until turkey is cooked through.