Wednesday, September 5, 2012

french onion soup (and disco house)...maybe i AM ready for fall

The "last long weekend of summer." I pretty much refuse to believe summer ends any time before October, insisting we'll have hot and sunny weather for the next month. That is my usual take on the end of summer. I used to have a lot more of an issue accepting that autumn was approaching, having inherited the late summer blues from my mother. The past few years though, I've come to enjoy the seasons for the rhythm that they offer life, seeming to shift your mood just when you need it most. I even enjoy winter, and the past couple years haven't felt "ready" for spring because it hasn't been cold or snowy enough. I LOVE summer. I love the busyness of it, days filled with plans outside of my home, or lazy days spent at the island beach, my favourite summertime place in the city. But today, its rainy, a little cooler, and coming off of a weekend jam-packed with parties and nights out, I'm feeling a little under the weather (no pun intended), and ready for a night in the kitchen. Cooking up something slow, with deep flavours, and hearty, to sooth my throat and feed my soul.

I had an amazing summer, an amazing weekend. I went to the island yet again on Saturday, chilled with a lovely new friend, played with my new favourite toy, and stayed for a gorgeous sunset.

Then we went out for dinner at Bestellen, Rob Rossi's place on College. The food (EVERYTHING made in house) was spectacular. There are SO many restaurants in the city I have on my list, but I rarely find opportunities, or dining partners to join me. I *may* finally have an (at least temporary) partner in crime. We had their charcuterie board - the coppa was beautiful, fragrant, almost floral or honey-like. I LOVE love love their andouille sausage, it was like a little jar of pork hot sauce (with 1/3 chopped chilis, 1/3 sweet pepper, and 1/3 pork). I ate a dozen oysters (buck and shuck that night, and now daily from 6-7pm) all to my greedy little self (dining partners self-proclaimed allergy a huge plus for me). This is a bit of a breakthrough for me, only having eaten my first oyster last summer. But for some reason I like them, probably its just the fresh horseradish and lemon :) Oh and the Cava. We tried the cacio e pepe arancini, and the side of beans and bacon (the sauce was so delicious I want to lick the dish clean). Then, already fairly full, we split a burger. A guest I served the night before told me it was the best in the city, and considering their on-site (and in sight) meat ageing locker, which means they grind in-house and can serve it medium rare, sounds about right (although its only the 3rd burger I've had in about...12 years). But, I think it was the "carmelized onions raclette" served on-top that were my favourite part. And also the inspiration for tonight's dinner. I need more carmelized, savoury, sweet, onions. I finished off the night with a bitters cocktail - rhubarb bitters, rhubarb simple syrup, gin, lemon.

Sunday night I went to Bounce House By the Lake. These are some of my favourite parties of the summer, with a huge patio on the channel that runs between the mainland and the docklands. I got there late, later than I had wanted to, so I missed the sunshine dancing, but I caught Rich Hope's and Mike Gleeson's sets. I had been listening to Mike Gleeson's new mix, multiple times a day, all week to prep, and now I can't stop listening to this one from Rich Hope.

Monday I wanted to continue dancing, so I went to Cherry Beach. Got there early enough for a picnic and some daytime dancing/hooping, and stayed late. My feet were DIRTY. My apartment is covered with sand. My vote for best set goes to Andy Roberts, who fit right into my current penchant for deep funky disco house.

So after all of that! Dinner tonight*:
(loosely based on Smitten kitchen's take on Julia Child's recipe, Jamie Oliver (from his Chef at Home cookbook), and Alton Brown's recipes)

3ish lbs of mixed onions (I got some lovely yellow onions, shallots and garlic at Appletree market today, so I used those, and threw in a sweet onion and half a red onion that was lurking in my fridge), cut in half, then thinly sliced
1/2 head garlic, sliced
olive oil
fresh thyme
1/2 cup wine (still can't decide if I will use white or red, I got a bottle of Vouvray, and a bottle of red Bourgogne)
5 cups stock of your choice (a mix of beef and chicken is recommended in several places, or use veg stock and fortify it with lentils and porcini)

Day old bread
Cheese (Gruyere or Emmenthal are traditional, I'm using some goat gouda and a hard, aged water buffalo cheese)

In a dutch oven, over med/low heat, I melted the butter and olive oil, then added the onions, a tsp or so of salt, turned the heat to low, and covered it for about 20 minutes. Removed the lid, turned the heat up a bit (to try to get rid of all the onion liquid that came out!). Stirring every so often, let this cook long as you have I guess. Mine is at about 20 minutes now and is nowhere near ready. I'll let it go until its dark and browned, scraping up any delicious frond that sticks to the bottom of the pot.

I kind of thought about using beef stock, but didn't want to purchase a canned or boxed version, or an expensive "real" one from a specialty shop. Plus I have veg stock in the freezer, so I figured I would enrich that with some lentils (killing two birds with one stone?), and porcini, to add more hearty, earthy flavour and colour. I cooked 1/2 cup du puy lentils in the stock, and rehydrated some porcini with the stock, adding the soaking liquid.

When the onions are coloured to your liking (or when your stomach is growling and the remaining wine is getting to you and your patience is running out), deglaze with the wine, cooking it off, then add some thyme and the stock. Simmer 20 minutes. Season to taste.

I also picked up some De la terre multi-seed sourdough and monforte dairy goat gouda from the market, so I'll be making a garlic/cheese toast (perhaps also with some buffalo milk cheese I got there last week) for the top or for dipping.

As usual this is barely a recipe. From all the recipes I consulted, the main thing is to caramelize the onions slowly and deeply. This is your flavour base. You can start doing so in the oven (just cut the peeled onions in half and roast them slowly, for a tear-free version - thanks to 101cookbooks on that one) From there you can use chicken stock, beef stock, veg stock, water. You can deglaze with white or red wine, vermouth, brandy, cognac, sherry, or nothing. You can skip the herbs, or add more (a bay leaf? sage? I saw a recipe with star anise and cinnamon too). I thought about adding miso to amp up the umami character of the stock, but wasn't sure it wouldn't also add another dimension I didn't want (although apparently this has been done for a vegetarian version before). Basically, this is a rustic recipe, that can (and I think should be) cheap. It would probably taste pretty good with just a bag of onions, some water, and seasoning.

*Actually, dinner tomorrow night. Its 1030 now and I've been cooking these onions for over 2 hours (note to self: don't try to do this on the small burner b/c you're cooking the lentils on the big burner) and I'm hungry so I'm eating a salad with roasted beets, feta, pumpkin seeds, pickled red onions, and dijon/horseradish dressing. And perhaps some of the lentils I cooked in the stock.

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