This week’s blog post is coming to you from Las Vegas! A first time trip for both of us, Ben and I spent a fantastic weekend soaking up the city’s magical energy and marveling at the sheer hugeness and endless sparkle of the strip. We flew out together last Friday, and while I’ve stayed on for the rest of the week (attending the CaterSource catering conference), Ben returned home on Monday. It’s not quite as magical a place without him, but still, it’s pretty darn cool.
Before taking off for Vegas, we fit in a quick and relatively laid-back dinner party on Thursday night. To be honest, this post documents something more akin to a get-together than a dinner party. But let’s not get wrapped up in semantics. And hey, simple as it was, our little ‘get together’ involved some seriously delicious food, so no matter what, I think it fits the Scrumptious Company bill.
Last Thursday night, we did our Regular Thursday Night Thing. This involves getting together with Downstairs Matt and Sara for food eating and TV watching. We are all four infatuated with NBC’s Thursday night prime-time line-up. The Office alone makes my night (my week, actually). But all together, the four shows of this time slot compose what must be the best night of television since TGIF. We’ll either eat and watch upstairs at our place or downstairs at theirs. Sometimes we’ll even make it progressive – splitting up dinner and dessert duties, and watching two shows up above, then two down below. We never fix anything more complicated than a regular weeknight dinner, or sometimes we’ll even order pizza or Chinese. This week I cooked everything, but we carried it all down with us, and ate and watched at their place. And this is what we ate:
No matter where I have it, be it Bouchon (where we were lucky enough to eat this weekend) or TGIFridays, French onion soup is always so incredibly good. The sweet, dark broth is addictively delicious, and the blistery golden topping of oozing cheese is just out of this world, every last time. No matter what you serve it with, it always ends up stealing the show. And that’s why I thought it would make a great meal all by itself, and be the perfect, quick and easy selection for this all-too-short week.
Perfecting French onion soup has been at least a decade-long process for me. In pursuit of the best, I’ve tried every trick in the book. I’ve experimented with Spanish onions, white onions and sweet Vidalia's, added a touch of sugar, a splash of Worcestershire, a boozy dose of cognac, tried chicken stock, beef stock and water. But my results were never quite right – the broth was never quite dark or rich or savory enough. The key I’ve learned is to slowly, thoroughly and very, very deeply caramelize your onions. A few years ago, my trusty, rusty Cook’s Illustrate magazine published a French Onion Soup article, and the recipe within was just about as perfect as can be. Hours of onion roasting, and repeated de-glazings give the soup an incredibly rich and complex flavor. My search had come to an end.
With no fancy tricks or secret ingredients, this recipe is now my go-to French onion soup. The onions are so deeply caramelized, and add so much rich depth, you don’t even need to use beef stock. Chicken stock, which is always so much less a hassle to make, works superbly, and the end result is of such a deep brown shade and flavor, you’ll hardly notice the lack of beef. I should note too, vegetable stock should work just as well – There’s no need any longer for meat stock to stand in the way of vegetarians enjoying the cheesy wonders of French onion soup.
This soup itself is so delicious, it could stand alone without the cheesy croutons. But who in their right mind would turn them down? Buttery French bread toast, soaked with rich onion broth and smothered in nutty melted Gruyere cheese. It’s glorious.
The Pear and Cherry Crisp I made this week totally floored me. I’d had a gloomy outlook for dessert from the start. French Onion Soup’s tendency to outshine its fellow courses seemed to be extending even to dessert, and I just couldn’t think up something that would both compliment and stand up to such a dominating dinner. I thought for days, but nothing seemed right. Then I started thinking about crisps, and this recipe with dried tart cherries, sliced pears, slivered almonds and bittersweet chocolate sounded delicious. But then, as soon as I’d purchased all the ingredients, I started second guessing myself again. Don’t ask me why, because this dessert turned out to be something really wonderful. Maybe one of the best desserts I’ve posted so far. We all just went nuts over it.
The flavor combinations were awesome – sweet, creamy slices of pear, with tart cherries and melty bittersweet chocolate, warm toasted nuts and buttery oat crumbles. An ordinary fruit crisp, elevated to something truly spectacular, but still retaining the rustic simplicity of the classic dessert. Be sure, I will make this again and again. Perhaps this will be our new Regular Thursday Night Thing. If so, I’m sure there’ll be no complaints.