French Onion Soup

It is almost New Year's Day.  You know, the time of year when we all make resolutions that we might or might not keep.  For years I made the resolution to loose weight, exercise more, whatever.  I think the longest I ever kept those resolutions was a month and a half.  Yep.
I am older and wiser now.
I still make resolutions, they are just things that I really want to do.  Thus, I keep them.  That is the trick.  For instance, this year my resolution is to either sleep late or take a nap at least 2 Sundays a month.  It will bring me joy, which, in turn, makes me a better mother and wife.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
See, older and wiser.
Learn from me, young paduwan.
Thus, I am making a soup that will make me happy.  It might make you happy.  It probably won't make you exercise more or loose weight, though.  Sorry.
French Onion Soup
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 Tablespoons butter
4 large yellow onions (about 3 pounds), halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4 inch thick slices
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
1/2 cup cognac (I use it, but you don't have to)
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups beef broth (I use 4 cups water and 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon better than bouillon)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
ground black pepper to taste
1 baguette, cut into 1/2 inch slices
8 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese (about 2 1/2 cups)
Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Add the olive oil and butter to a large (at least 7 quart) heavy bottomed Dutch oven.  I use enameled cast iron.
Add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt.  Cook, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  The onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume.
Remove the pot from oven and place over medium-high heat.  Cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until the liquid evaporates and the onions brown, 15 - 20 minutes.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the pot bottom is coated with a dark crust, about 10 minutes, adjusting the heat to medium if necessary.
Stir in 1/4 cup water, scraping the pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 - 8 minutes. 
Repeat this process of deglazing 1 or 2 more times, until the onions are a very dark brown.  Deglaze the last time with the cognac instead of water.
Stir in the broths (or water and bouillon), thyme, bay leaf and 1/2 teaspoon salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot.
Increase heat to high and bring to boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove and discard bay leaf and season with salt and pepper.
While the soup simmers, arrange the baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven until the bread is dry, crisp and golden at the edges, about 10 minutes.  Set aside.
To serve -
Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler.  Set individual broiler-safe crocks on baking sheet and fill each with about 1 3/4 cups soup.  Top each bowl with 2-3 baguette slices and sprinkle evenly with Gruyere.  Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, 3-5 minutes.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving.


Baked Brie en Croute (this just means with a crust)

'Tis the season to bring appetizers to many functions.
Falalalala, lalalala.
This is an easy and elegant appetizer.  It really is easy.  And people are impressed.  Go figure.
Brie en Croute
1 or 2 (8 or 14 ounce) wheel brie
1 package puff pastry sheets, thawed
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup high quality jam, I like cranberry compote or apricot, triple berry is good, too
1 egg, beaten
1 Tablespoon water
Assorted crackers,apple or pear slices

 Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Unfold puff pastry on a lightly floured surface.
Roll gently to seal any cracks in the pastry.
Spoon preserves onto center of pastry to about the size of your cheese.
Sprinkle nuts evenly on the preserves.
Place cheese on top of preserves.  You don't need to cut off the white rind.  You can eat the rind.  Really.  It's good.  In France they call the white rind le velour blanc, or the white velvet.
Fold pastry up over the cheese to cover.
Trim excess pastry and press to seal seams.  Reserve pastry scraps.
Whisk egg and water in a small bowl.  Brush seams with egg mixture.
Place seam-side down on baking sheet.
If you want to be fancy, cut the pastry scraps into decorative shapes and arrange on top.  Brush with egg mixture.

Bake 25 - 35 minutes or until golden brown. 
Let stand 20 minutes before cutting.
Serve with crackers and/or sliced fruit.




Yesterday we had a tragedy.
In a neighboring rural town here in Connecticut, 28 people were killed.
20 were children.
They were in first grade.
The whole class was gunned down.
This is not supposed to happen here.  This is not supposed to happen anywhere.
I knew one of these sweet children.
Her name is Emilie.
She was 6.
She and her family attended our church.  She was going to be in our Nativity program this morning with her sisters and the other children from church.
She was going to be an angel.
On Wednesday, a day and 1/2 before she was killed, she was at the practice in her angel costume.  You know - white dress, halo, wings - jumping off of the stage and saying to me, "Look, Sister Hawker, I can fly!"  while her blond hair flew around her smiling face.
No casserole or sweet treat can fix this.

I can only listen, and hug, and cry and pray.
I hug my kiddos a little tighter now.


Mexican lasagna and Red Rice

 I make this a lot.  My family loves it.  It is easy and quick to go together and uses up leftover chicken.  It is easier than rolling enchiladas with the same taste.
I don't measure for this dish - it is a casserole after all - so all of the measurements are just suggestions.  Do whatever you want.  It's all good.
Mexican Lasagna
1/2 rotisserie chicken or whatever cooked chicken you have on hand (I've even used ground turkey or hamburger)
1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans (or pinto), drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen corn
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3 cups shredded cheese (I use 3 handfuls of cheddar, I think it is about 3 cups)
1 (28 ounce) can enchilada sauce, red or green, mild or not
18 corn tortillas (or flour, it's up to you. Only use 12 if you get the huge ones)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a large baking dish with nonstick spray.
Arrange 6 tortillas in the bottom of the baking dish.
On top of the tortillas, spread 1/2 of the chicken, 1/2 of the beans, and 1/2 of the corn.
Dollop 1/2 of the sour cream on top of the chicken combo and spread around.
On top of the sour cream, spread 1/3 (1 handful) of the cheese.
Top with 1/3 of the can of enchilada sauce.
Repeat the whole process.
Top the casserole with the remaining tortillas, sauce and cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until it is hot through.

I usually have "red rice" with this dish.  It is just regular rice cooked with tomato juice instead of water.  My kids love it.

Red Rice

2 cups uncooked rice
4 cups tomato juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oil

In a large sauce pot, heat the oil.  Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice begins to be more opaque.
Add the tomato juice and the oil to the rice. Stir well and heat to boiling.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook for 20 minutes.
At the 20 minute mark, turn off the heat and stir the rice into the tomato juice that is on top. 
Cover again and allow rice to sit for 5 minutes.



Chicken Soup (with a blessing)

PoppaH has been feeling poorly off and on since August.  All lung issues, hospital stays and general malaise.  It was time for the big guns.  Something that never fails to make people feel better.  You know what I'm talking about.
Chicken Soup.
bum, bum, bum.
This is a great soup to make you feel better.  Science has even shown that chicken soup helps with cold and the flu.  Okay, I don't know where the study is, but I did read it somewhere.  It even makes anyone who smells it feel better.  Team it with homemade bread and you have a little piece of heaven.
Chicken Soup

1 whole chicken (giblets removed and rinsed)
2 Tablespoons chicken "Better than Bouillon" OR 1 Tablespoon salt or chicken bouillon
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 carrots, peeled and cut in coins
4 stalks celery, sliced or diced
1 teaspoon thyme
salt and pepper
1/2 pound noodles or pasta (I like frozen noodles)

Place rinsed chicken in a large stock pot.  Cover with water, about 1-2 inches above the chicken.
Heat on stove until it begins to boil.
Skim off foam.
Add "Better than Bouillon"
Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour.
After the chicken has cooked for about 1/2 hour, add the veggies and continue to cook.

When the chicken has cooked, remove it from the pot.  Be careful.
Taste the broth.
Add the thyme and as much salt and pepper as you like.
When the chicken has cooled a bit, using 2 forks, add pieces of chicken back to the broth.  I usually add about 1/2 the chicken and save the other half for another meal (casserole or sandwiches.)

Turn up the heat to bring it back to boiling.  Add the noodles and cook until they are done.

Now for the blessing.  After you add the noodles, stir with a big spoon.  Say, while stirring, "Bless all who eat or smell this soup to feel better in body, in mind, and in spirit and to feel of my love for them."

There you go.
All better.


Pear Crisp (with apples and raspberries because I didn't have enough pears)

When I was cleaning out my fridge (okay, not actually cleaning, but throwing out the old stuff.  Don't judge me.) I found a bag of pears. Perfectly good pears.  Just the right amount of ripeness.  Lovely.  I ate one.  Juicy.  No one else wanted one. I knew the pears wouldn't last much longer - they were at that perfect stage now.  I thought of Pear Crisp!
When I chopped up the pears, there were five left, I didn't have enough for a crisp that would feed my teenagers.  Hmmm.  Apples?  Raspberries?  A masterpiece was born.  Yum.
Pear, Apple, Raspberry Crisp
5 pears, peeled and diced
4 apples, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 Tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
2 Tablespoons orange juice (about 1/2 orange)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup raspberries (I used fresh.  It should work with frozen, too)
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans (just leave them out if you don't want them)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel, core and dice the pears and apples.
Throw them in a big bowl.
Add the zest, juice, sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Stir it up.
Fold in the raspberries.  They can be delicate.  I bet this would be good with substituting cranberries for the raspberries. Hmmm.
Pour the fruit into a baking dish - mine is 13x9.

For the topping, combine all of the ingredients except the butter.
*If you need gluten free, substitute the flour for another kind of flour or more oatmeal.*
Pour the butter on the dry ingredients.
Mix it up until it is in crumbles.
Sprinkle the topping on the fruit.
Bake at 350 degrees for 50 - 60 minutes.
I think I'll have mine with vanilla ice cream.