Friday, November 12, 2010


Here is a English vegetable side dish recipe given to me about 20 years ago by a friend from London after he served it at a dinner party.  I have adapted it by adding carrots and pearl onions and by adjusting the proportions of the ingredients.  I have found this to be perfect holiday fare.  I don't usually like fennel but it is wonderful prepared this way. Sweet & sour, rich and decadent, this is truly worth preparing for your Thanksgiving or Christmas guests! 


4 heads of fennel, quartered and washed
I jar or can of chestnuts
4 carrots, peeled, quartered and cut into 2 inch lengths
1/2 cup peeled pearl onions [frozen/thawed]
1/2 teaspoon dry fennel seed
1 stick butter
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup muscavado sugar*

Cut the fennel lengthwise into quarters or sixths, wash and set aside in a large bowl with drained chestnuts and onions. Parboil carrots, drain and add to the other vegetables.

Spray a 9 x12 pyrex pan with cooking spray.

Pre-heat oven to 400*

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the sugar and melt until syrupy and then add the vinegar and the fennel seeds.  Let cook for 1 minute, stirring.

Pour the syrup into the bowl with the vegetables and toss to coat.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until everything is soft and nicely glazed.

*A specialty brown sugar sometimes called "raw" sugar, Muscovado sugar is less processed than regular brown sugar.  Smoky, spicy and complex, this sugar has a nice fine texture.  If it is unavailable you can substitute regular dark brown sugar for the Muscavado.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Classic French Onion Soup

Messieurs et mesdames accueillir. Aujourd'hui nous cuisinons la soupe d'oignon. Welcome ladies and gentlemen.  Today we are cooking onion soup.

This is my personal adaptation of the French classic.  Simmered slowly, topped with cheese and baked.  The aroma of the onions, the look of strings of melted cheese from bowl to mouth and the incredibly rich taste transport me back to 1970.  

I was 10 years old when my mother [the French teacher] brought me to Paris for the first time.  I lived on onion soup, croque madame and stuffed artichokes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  


4 cups white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon herbs de province
6 cups beef stock
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2 tablespoon flour
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 loaf French bread
2 teaspoons salt [to taste]
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a heavy 4 or 6 quart sauce pan heat the butter and oil over medium-low heat until bubbly and then add the onions, shallots and garlic. Sprinkle with the salt as this helps to break down the onions. Sautee slowly while frequently stirring until soft textured and nut-colored.  This is a long process. Allow a good 15 minutes for the onions to develop their richness and caramelize but be careful not to let them burn.  If they seem to dry during the process you can add more oil or butter as necessary.

When the onions have reached their desired stage, remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle with the flour, stirring well.  Add the liquids and return to the stove.  Stir well to remove any particles from the bottom of the pan.  Add the herbs.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and then lower just to the simmer temperature.  Cover and simmer for 40 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, slice the bread into 1/2 inch slices and place the slices on a baking sheet and bake in a pre-heated 400* oven for 10 minutes or until lightly toasted.  Be careful not to burn the bread!  

While the bread is in the oven, it is time to shred and grate your cheeses and then mix them together.  Gruyere is recommended but you can substitute  mozzarella or even Monterrey Jack. When the bread is toasted, remove from the oven, raise the oven temperature to 425* and allow to heat to temperature.

Prepare oven-safe bowls such as ramekins by spraying with cooking   spray and place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil.  Remove the bay leaves from the soup and ladle the soup into the bowls 3/4 full.  Lay 2 or 3 pieces of the toast onto each of the filled soup bowls and then generously cover each with the cheese mixture.  

Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and slightly browned.

Place the soup bowls on serving plates and serve with the remaining toasted bread and additional grated Parmesan cheese.  Be sure to let the soup cool for a few minutes before enjoying or you are sure to scorch the inside of your mouth!