It all started with Julia. I guess you could say she was my gateway drug. There I was, about 9 or 10 years old, grilled cheese in one hand and cup of Campbell’s Tomato soup in the other, when this vision appeared on the TV. Who was this tall sauceress in blue apron and pearls? Then she started cooking. Butter and cream, whisks and copper pots all swiftly moving in a ballet of food. FOOD! Thirty minutes sustained discussion of nothing but food! At the end she sat down, poured herself a glass of wine, and uttered those words as only she could. Bon appetit! I was hooked and wanted more. My drug was in limited supply back then, and while Julia was my preferred fix, I needed to find other sources. The Galloping Gourmet came next, but the high wasn’t nearly as potent. Too much drinking, not enough cooking. Luckily as my habit grew, so did my supply. Julia was joined by Jacques and I had to have it. But there was really only one dealer back then, PBS. They were the Cartagena of cooking shows with tight control over supply. Ok, so I’d have to limit my fixing until Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons. I could do that. I could quit any time I kidded myself. And I was happy, mostly. I had a lot of things to take my mind off of it, college, work, boyfriends, life. Jonesing for my culinary cocktail even lessened.
Then it happened. Martha. It was the early 90s, and I accidentally turned on one Sunday morning. The high came quickly, the crash more severe. Designer drugs will do that. I knew it was dangerous, but I had to have more. I convinced myself that since I could find it on CBS it was OK. The network of Cronkite, Kuralt and Carol Burnett wouldn’t hurt me, right? I scoured the TV guide, looking for more to feed my ever-growing addiction. When PBS added Lidia, I watched, assuring myself that there was no harm in it. An addict will say anything to justify her next fix. Little did I know what was lurking just around the corner.
It was called the Food Network. Food shows all day long!! Mario, Sara and Bobby gave it away for free to get me hooked. Then came Paula. Oh Paula, you butter-loving bundle of ballsy bliss. I knew I’d hate myself in the morning, but I just couldn’t look away. And Ina. Not only did she embrace butter and cream, but she got flour everywhere whenever she turned on her KitchenAid and had a cadre of handsomely fabulous gay men wandering in and out of her kitchen. These were my people! The minute I met Nigella I knew she was a fellow addict, all curves and pantry to kill for. More and more drugs coursed through my brain with the addition of The Cooking Channel, and I happily swam in the flow. Then the realization finally hit me. There was no hope and I should just face the facts. I’d never recover. Luckily for me (and my hungry friends), I never have.
Since Julia was my gateway, it seems right to share one of my favorites of her recipes. I make big batches of Julia Child’s French Onion Soup several times a year when the weather turns cooler, and love every spoonful. This recipe comes from “Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom”, a small book filled with basic techniques, recipes, and variations. It’s probably the book in my collection I visit the most, and I love to give it as a gift to a new cook. After all, addicts always try to get new ones started. 😉
French Onion Soup (from Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, by Julia Child)
Serves about 8
- 2 quarts thinly sliced onions (I do this in my food processor with slicing disk – less weeping that way)
- 3 TBSP butter
- 1 TBSP olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp sugar
- 1 TBSP fresh thyme leaves
- 2 TBSP flour
- 2 cups hot beef stock, plus 2 quarts (I’ve used all beef, or a combo beef and chicken)
- ¼ cup cognac or brandy (don’t leave this out – it really makes a difference)
- 1 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
- salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, slowly sauté over medium low heat 2 quarts thinly sliced onions, ½ tsp salt and thyme leaves in 3 TBSP butter and 1 TBSP olive oil until softened, about 20 minutes (you don’t want to add color at this point, just soften). Stir in ½ tsp sugar and sauté another 15-20 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Sprinkle 2 TBSP flour over onions and cook slowly, stirring for 2 minutes. Off heat, whisk in 2 cups hot beef stock and ¼ cup cognac or brandy. When well blended, stir in 2 quarts more stock and 1 cup wine or dry vermouth. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down, loosely cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To make Onion Soup Gratinee
Slice a baguette into ¼ inch slices, spray with cooking spray or drizzle with oil and toast until they are hard, about 25-30 minutes at 325°F. Line the bottom of individual crocks with the toasts and cover with a thin slice of swiss or gruyere cheese. Ladle the hot soup on top, then float another slice of toast, and top with some more cheese (you could use thin slices of parmesan here too). Bake in a 450°F for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and browned. If you are serving this to a few people I’d use the oven as Julia recommends. If I’m making it just for myself, I put it under the broiler and keep a good eye on it – about 5 minutes should do. Calories: approximately 100/serving without the cheese and bread.