Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinée (French Onion Soup) #FoodieReads

As I move ahead in my Foodie Reads Challenge this month, I dove into Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal.*

On the Page...
I picked up this - and six other foodie reads that caught my eye - when I was at a bookstore with two of my best girl friends this past weekend. The gal I've known for almost thirty years rounded the corner before the cash register, noticed the stack of books under my arm, and just started laughing. What? I demanded. You know I'll read all of these...probably before summer vacation. "I know you will," she said.

That afternoon, I went home, curled up on the couch and dug into this one. I read half of the book before meeting up with my cousin and her family for dinner; I read the second half when we came home. So, while it is a quick read, I can't say that I really enjoyed it.

Instead of a complete story, this is more a series of abrupt vignettes from throughout Eva's life. We are introduced to her parents, then see her through tumultuous middle school and high school years, and follow her into adulthood. While I liked many of the snapshots and characters who pass in and out of her life, the book didn't wrap up in a very satisfying way; maybe the author is planning a sequel.

This did raise an interesting question at our dinner table: How is culinary acumen acquired? Is it a result of nature? Or nurture?

In Eva's case, she's born to a talented chef and a passionate sommelier, so parents with a super palate. But, through two tragic events, she is raised by her dad's younger brother and his wife and they are culinarily stunted to say the least. Still, she manages to impress chefs at an early age by discerning ingredients that are neither listed on the menu nor visible on the plate. She cooks for a well-known chef, dazzling diners while the chef took all the credit. And, in the end, she builds a pop-up dinner empire similar to the Outstanding in the Field dinners, charging $1000 per couple. Okay, her fictional dinners are more expensive than the OITF events if you can believe that!

As a side note, I attended and reported on an OITF dinner for Edible Monterey Bay last year. You can read my piece "Big Sur Bliss" here. It appeared in the printed Spring 2017 magazine.

Chef Brett Cooper at the Outstanding in the Field
Glen Deven Ranch event, Autumn 2016
We decided that, certainly, one person's tastebuds might be naturaly more sensitive than another's, but exposure and education are still necessary to hone those skills. Our two boys are a perfect example. Genetically, they are closer to each other than to any other people in the world, given that they share the same parents. Though they have been exposed to virtually identical foods, D has a super palate and can pick out nuances of flavor. R is more limited. But both can cook and they are equally aware of concerns and solutions for our food systems. The former - palate - is nature; the latter is definitely nurture.

While Kitchens of the Great Midwest was a conversation starter for our family, it was an unsatisfying read. Still, it inspired a delicious, and simple, weeknight dinner.

Soupe à l'Oignon Gratinée
French Onion Soup

This recipe appears in the book when Eva leaves her boyfriend one afternoon to cook French Onion Soup for her dad. Will goes home, digs through cookbooks until he finds a recipe, and makes it for himself. This is adapted to what I had on-hand. I swapped out bay leaves for lemon verbena leaves, used fresh thyme instead of dried, and skipped the sherry altogether.

But I did buy some Gruyere since the recipe reads: "Use Gruyere from Switzerland, or you'll be wasting your time." I agree!

  • ¼ C butter
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 5 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced (I use a mandolin slicer)
  • 3 dried lemon verbena leaves
  • ½ t fresh thyme + more for garnish
  • 2 T dry white wine
  • 3½ C beef stock
  • 1½ t salt
  • ½ t black pepper
  • 1½ t Worcestershire sauce (this is my addition)
  • slices of French bread, grilled (I used some gluten-free bread for Jake)
  • ½ C Gruyere cheese, shredded

Melt the butter in olive oil in a large souppot, or Dutch oven, over medium heat. Stir in the onions, lemon verbena, and thyme. After 15 minutes, or as soon as the onions begin to brown, reduce the heat and cover, stirring frequently. Cook until the onions are caramelized, approximately 30 to 40 minutes.

Stir in the salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Pour in the wine and raise the heat. Bring the liquid to a boil and let the alcohol cook off, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the beef stock and bring it back to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for another 20 to 30 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, as needed.

While the soup finishes, prepare the toasts. I grilled my bread since my oven is still out of commission. Butter a grill or griddle and toast your breads until they are crispy, turning frequently so they don't burn.

Top the toasts with 1 T grated cheese and lightly tent with foil until the cheese is melted.

To serve, ladle soup into individual bowls, float cheese toasts on the top, and garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme. Serve immediately.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Here's what everyone else read in April 2017: here.


  1. Sounds like a wonderful soup and any book that provided dinner and the conversation to go with it can't be all bad.

    1. I agree! I actually really enjoyed both the soup and the conversation.

  2. Oh boy, I loooove a good French onion soup, and yours looks like the real deal. Too bad the book wasn't.


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