Fennel and Leeks

Fennel and Leeks

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Week Eight Recap

A week of three highlights and one lowlight. Highlights are Stuck-Pot Rice, Fennel Salad and Hummus. Lowlight is fishy tasting salmon. Yuck! Recap for week eight:

Stuck-Pot Rice with Yogurt and Spices
"How To Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman
Page 524

Miso-Crusted Salmon with Fennel Salad
"Off The Shelf; Cooking From The Pantry" by Donna Hay
Page 134

Hummus Lightened Up
"Skinny Dips" by Diane Morgan
Page 86

Hummus Lightened Up

I am leaving for Vegas tomorrow so I had three days to make three recipes this week. If it was beginning to look like I was more highly motivated this week than usual, you now know the truth. So, for my third recipe, Brad requested that I make hummus before I leave for my trip. I feel like I may have made hummus years and years ago but I don't remember specifics. I have clear memory of making Baba Ganoush but my hummus memory is vague. The most important thing here is that I have never made this hummus so it is a new recipe to me.

This version of hummus gets two thumbs up. All you need is a food processor, can of chickpeas, garlic cloves, sea salt, pepper, lemon juice, water and olive oil. Then, add a bit of paprika and diced red bell pepper on top to make it look pretty. Serve with pita or crackers and you have the perfect snack or appetizer. We usually buy our hummus so the price of one can of chickpeas sure beats $5.29 for the hummus we regularly purchase. Speaking of hummus, I made an interesting variation as a Thanksgiving appetizer this year. The regular hummus I made today was good but I think the Thanksgiving hummus is the recipe that warrants mention here. Both hummus dishes are from the same cookbook so I don't feel like I am ripping off the regular hummus by not featuring it. Are you ready for this? This is going to sound strange but it was unique and really terrific.

Curry Pumpkin Hummus

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp curry powder
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tsp finely minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
toasted pumpkin seed, optional

In a small nonstick frying pan over medium heat, warm the oil and swirl to coat pan. Add garlic and saute until beginning to soften, about 30 seconds. Add curry powder and saute, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Stir in honey, remove from heat, set aside.

In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with metal blade, process chickpeas until finely mashed. Add pumpkin puree, ginger, salt and garlic mixture. Process until hummus is smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to serving bowl. Cover and set aside for 1 hour to allow flavors to meld. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds if desired. Serve with pita chips, bagel chips or warm wedges of fresh pita.

If you are looking for an original appetizer to serve or take to a party, you will not be disappointed.

Fishy Salmon Is Not My Friend

Let me just start out by saying that it is amazing how a fishy tasting piece of salmon can ruin a beautiful dish. In theory, Miso-Crusted Salmon should be delicious. It is made from beautiful ingredients including salmon, white miso paste, tahini and sugar. The dish was aesthetically pleasing for sure but the salmon was not up to par. To keep my blog light and airy, I will concentrate on the fennel salad. This salad was fresh, crunchy and easy on the palate. I would absolutely make it as a side dish for a summer meal. The recipe is listed below:

Fennel Salad

2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, shredded
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup cilantro leaves

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

This salad is easy to make although thinly slicing two fennel bulbs and shredding a cucumber by hand took a bit of time. Is there such thing as a cucumber shredding tool? Hmmm....I need to look into that. It's actually amazing how many kitchen tools are available for various kitchen tasks; especially if you live near a great cooking store like Sur La Table. When looking for kitchen tools, I try to purchase the ones that are more multi-purpose since my 50's kitchen does not have adequate storage. Our infamous and long awaited kitchen and mud room remodel has now turned into a kitchen, mud room, garage, master bedroom suite with bonus room remodel so my kitchen is probably a bit further away than I hoped. I guess this is what happens when you choose an architect with so many fantastic ideas. :)

Okay, back to cooking. I do believe that the Miso-Crusted Salmon would have been lovely had I used a piece of King Salmon from the Seattle Fish Market. I thought the Sockeye from Met Market would work for this recipe (it wasn't even very inexpensive!) but I was incorrect. Oh well, at least the fennel salad was good. I'll take whatever good I can get with this one. On to the next!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Stuck-Pot Rice

I love the idea of stuck-pot rice. I had never heard of it until I found it in my vegetarian cookbook this past week. I was leafing through the pages, looking for something interesting to cook and this dish caught my eye. According to my cookbook, this dish originates in central Asia. The section about stuck-pot rice starts out saying, "If you love the browned crusty bits of rice, potatoes or anything else that sticks to the bottom of the pan, these stuck-pot recipes and variations may be your dream come true. Plus, they're among the easiest ways to get an impressive rice dish on the table: You just set up the pan, then walk away for a while. And the upside-down tumble of rice, with the crust sitting on top, is drop-dead gorgeous." They had me at "walk away for a while." :)

Although this book offers several variations, I chose the Stuck-Pot Rice with Yogurt and Spices recipe. Ingredients include salt, white basmati rice, freshly ground black pepper, grapeseed or corn oil, yogurt, lime juice and curry powder. Much to my pleasant suprise, the rice was pretty delicious. From this non-lover of rice, this is a big compliment. There was only one hitch. Technically, you are supposed to be able to turn the rice over and have it fall out of the pan with the crust laying on top. The recipe asked that I cook the rice in a heavy pan so I used my Le Creuset pan. I think the enamel acts differently than a normal heavy pot so the crust needed some coaxing to get it out. The good news is, upon further reading, I learned that the crust is often just broken into crisp chunks and served on top or alongside the mound of rice. So in the end, all was well. I used Field Roast (in roast form with butternut squash, apple and mushroom filling) as my main dish and served it with the rice and a side of broccoli.

If you haven't eaten field roast, I highly recommend it as a meat substitute. It is known as "grain meat" because is is made entirely from grains. If you are interested in learning more about it, you can find information and a list of products at www. fieldroast.com. I often purchase sage and lentil field roast lunch meat and also field roast sausages. All of the products are good when they are prepared correctly. I always feel healthier when I eat field roast. It feels hearty while you are eating but it is clearly lighter on the stomach than meat. Good stuff for sure!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Week Seven Recap

This was a fun week of easy cooking. I feel like I made some good dishes that my family enjoyed that were healthy and tasty. I would say this was a successful week; even though the recipes weren't the most challenging batch that I have prepared thus far. I think I am going to concentrate on side dishes next week. I have a rice dish in the hopper and I would love to find an interesting potato side dish to prepare as well. I am not the biggest rice fan but I do love a good potato. :)

Here are this week's recipes:

Quinoa Apple-Raisin-Almond Salad

Black Bean Soup
"How To Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman
Page 115

Bob's Red Mill Corn Meal, Medium Stone Ground
Back of Package

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Grapeseed Oil

I have been waiting to get on my soap box regarding grapeseed oil and this is my perfect opportunity. I was excited to see the Black Bean Soup recipe that I wrote about in my last entry call for grapeseed oil. This oil has become one of my favorite staples in the kitchen. The only salad dressing I use at home these days is grapeseed oil with a pinch of sea salt and fresh ground pepper. I am also crazy about Grapeseed Oil Veganaise, which is the perfect substitution for mayonnaise. It is made by a brand called Follow Your Heart and it is GMO, egg, dairy, preservative and cholesterol free. I am not a huge mayo fan but I'm telling you, this Veganaise is amazing! I can't get enough of it. The flavor has the perfect tanginess and the consistency is just right. Besides olive oil, these grapeseed products are used more than any other cooking staples in my kitchen. Check out the health benefits of grapeseed oil as well. I cut and pasted a few of them below:

Benefits of Grape Seed Oil

Many studies have been carried out to determine the benefits of using grape seed oil and today, it is used in controlling various health problems like
heart diseases, cancer and for regulating the level of blood sugar. Grape seeds contain antioxidants, which protect the body from a number of health problems caused by the free radicals. Besides, this oil is rich in vitamin E, flavonoids, vitamin C and beta-carotene.

Grape seed oil presumably lowers
cholesterol, especially the harmful LDL cholesterol. On the other hand, it has been found to increase HDL, a good cholesterol, which reduces risks of coronary diseases. Certain compounds found in grape seed oil are believed to improve vision, flexibility of joints and blood circulation. Many are of the opinion that it can also be effective in reducing the symptoms associated with allergies and asthma, as it suppresses the production of histamine (an amine released by the immune system during allergic reactions).

Grapeseed comes in various forms. If you can find a form that works for you, the health benefits are well worth it. Even better, if you can find an edible form that works for you, you can enjoy the wonderful flavor while reaping the health benefits.

Black Bean Soup and Cornbread

Black Bean Soup and Cornbread may sound simple but it was the perfect comfort food for tonight's dinner. The weather in Seattle was lovely today but dark clouds started rolling over the mountains and across the water this afternoon so it felt like cozy time. When Brad came home, he mentioned that there may even be snow tonight. It is now that cold outside. So, I opened my trusty vegetarian cookbook and found a lovely Black Bean Soup recipe. I love cornbread with bean soups and chili so I immediately decided to look on my package of Bob's Red Mill organic stone ground cornmeal for a "from scratch" cornbread recipe. Good ol' Bob didn't let me down.

Brad declared the Black Bean Soup the best soup I have ever made. I make a lot of soups so this is a high compliment. The cornbread was also really good.....it was definitely not comparable to a mix from a box. This was a more rustic, course, homemade version. I am including both recipes below to hopefully motivate someone else to make these two dishes for dinner. I am that sure you will enjoy them. :)

Black Bean Soup:

2 Tbsp neutral oil like grapeseed or corn (I used grapeseed because I love it)
1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp sherry or dark rum (I used sherry)
3 cups cooked black beans or (2) 15 ounce cans
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp fresh lime juice
Sour cream or plain yogurt for garnish
Minced fresh cilantro for garnish

Put oil in a deep skillet or medium saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add onion and cook, stirring until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, chili powder and cumin and cook, stirring for another minute. Stir in sherry then cook for a minute and add beans, stock and some salt and pepper. Turn the heat up to high, bring to boil and then reduce and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off heat. Use immersion blender, blender or food processor to puree about half of the soup. Add pureed portion back to soup pan. Add lime juice and stir; taste and adjust seasoning. Serve garnished with sour cream and cilantro.

Bob's Red Mill Cornbread:

1 cup Bob's Red Mill medium grind cornmeal
1 cup flower
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together in bowl. Add egg, milk and butter. Beat until smooth. Pour into 8" X 8" greased pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

That's it! A delicious meal with just the right amount of preparation. The only change I would make to either of these recipes is to add another can or 1 1/2 cups of black beans to the soup. By the time half of the beans are pureed, it doesn't leave a ton of whole beans in the soup. The soup was still nearly perfect but I think this may make it a bit heartier.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quinoa Apple-Raisin-Almond Salad

I went out on a limb today and made a quinoa salad that is sweet instead of savory. Olivia and I are under the weather so we stayed home today. As a result, I needed to find a recipe that I could make from existing ingredients in my kitchen. I had quinoa and apples so I decided to google these two ingredients to see if I could find a recipe. This Quinoa-Apple-Raisin-Almond Salad is what I ended up finding and it is surprisingly delicious. On top of being tasty, the recipe was fairly easy to prepare. Just a quick tip; when making quinoa, I always add 2 cups of water per 1 cup of quinoa, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. I then spread it out across a cookie sheet to cool quickly. This works well for me regardless of the quinoa recipe in question.

The main part of this recipe calls for quinoa, diced apples, raisins and toasted almonds (I always have to be very careful not to burn the almonds while toasting them in a pan). The dressing is made from lemon juice, olive oil and honey. Salt and pepper is then added to taste. Brad ate a bowl when he arrived home from work tonight and he pronounced it a success. Olivia had already eaten so I will see if she provides her seal of approval tomorrow. All in all, a successful recipe. If I decide to make this again, I think I would serve it as a side dish with pork loin or boneless pork chops. Add a nice glass of Riesling or Viognier and it would be a done deal.

Quinoa - 1 cup
Water - 2 cups (to cook quinoa)
Diced Tart Apple - 1 cup
Toasted Almonds - 1/2 cup
Golden Raisins - 1/3 cup
Honey - 2 tbsp
Lemon Juice - 1/4 cup
Olive oil - 3 tbsp
Salt and papper - as per taste

  • Take a heavy bottomed pan, heat water to cook quinoa and let it come to boil.
  • Add quinoa, mix well, cover and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  • Let it cool down completely.
  • Meanwhile dice apples and toast almonds.
  • Add raisins, apples, almonds to cooked and cooled quinoa.
  • Refrigerate it till right before serving.
  • Mix all the ingredients of dressing in a bowl.
  • Toss salad with dressing right before serving.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Week Six Recap

Woo hoo! Another fabulous week of new recipes. Here is the recap:

Seven Layer Dip

Baked Mozzarella Marinara Spread
"Skinny Dips" by Diane Morgan
Page 74-75

Spaghetti o Trofie con Noci e Parmigiano
"Pasta" by Marlena Spieler
Page 142

Can't wait for next week!

Trofie con Noci e Parmigiano

Oh my goodness was this dish delicious! Spaghetti oTrofie con Noci e Parmigiano; otherwise known as Spaghetti or Trofie with Walnuts and Parmesan. According to this recipe, trofie is corkscrew pasta. The photo in the cookbook doesn't show fusili or rotini (the pastas we usually think of when we think of corkscrew); it shows a much more dense, fresh looking pasta. Upon finding this recipe, I immediately knew that I wanted to use trofie pasta, not spaghetti and that no ordinary pasta would do. This was going to require something much more special. Three grocery stores later, I finally decided on a beautiful pasta called Casareccia which is made by a company called Rustichella D' Abruzzo. This is no ordinary pasta. This is the real deal and it is perfect for this recipe.

Casareccia Pasta is a Sicilian twisted tube-shaped pasta. From the end, it looks like an "S." Its shape catches and holds sauce very well. This helps to make it a particularly good pasta for baking, as there is less chance of it being dry. Most Casareccia Pasta is about 2 inches (5 cm) long. The dough will be about 1.3 mm thick.

14 ounces trofie
4-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. chopped walnuts
4 ounces freshly grated parmesan
3-5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp crushed thyme or marjoram leaves

I used marjoram leaves because I wanted to use a spice that I haven't used prior to this recipe. I use thyme frequently so I chose the marjoram route. Are you ready for how easy this is? I wish I could tell you that it was extremely labor intensive and that it took hours and hours but it was truly simple and fun to make. The best part however, is that it is in the top three most delicious recipes I have made thus far. We had Dave, Natalie and Carl over for dinner and when we sat down to eat, Dave just shook his head and said, "Kiersten, really? Unbelievable!" Natalie immediately said "you are making this again" and asked for the recipe. Brad said it was delicious. Carl loved it as well and he actually really likes walnuts so it was pleasing to everyone involved. Here are the instructions:

Cook pasta in large pan of rapidly boiling salted water until al dente. (My package of past said 10-12 minutes). Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine olive oil with walnuts, cheese, garlic, salt and pepper to taste and thyme or marjoram. Mix well. Drain pasta and toss with sauce, then serve in warmed shallow bowls before it cools.

That is it! Can you believe it? I can't say enough about this recipe and as Natalie said, there is nothing she would change about it. How often does anyone make a recipe when they can say they wouldn't change a thing? True cooking bliss.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Super Bowl Sunday

Here it is the Friday after Super Bowl Sunday and I am just sitting down to write about the dishes I prepared. The good news is, both dishes were really good. The first recipe I followed was a seven layer dip from cooks.com. At first I felt as though I was taking the easy way out because a seven layer dip is so common. After giving it some thought, I decided that as long as it was a recipe that I had never made before, it was fair game. I guess it is the overachiever in me coming out again. I have always had this feeling that something doesn't count unless it is a challenge. As I'm getting older and hopefully wiser, I am trying to give myself more latitude. Why can't something count just because it's fun? Okay, back to the task at hand......

This seven layer dip had a few tweaks that made it interesting. First of all, it had called for 3 large smashed avocados with lots of lemon juice and second of all, it called for 1/2 cup low fat mayo added in with the sour cream layer. The third element that made it interesting is that I decided to prepare it with organic ingredients. The recipe included refried beans, avocados, fresh lemon juice, taco seasoning, sour cream, mayonnaise, green onions, whole black olives and tomatoes. It definitely wasn't brain surgery but it tasted great. I served it with organic white tortilla strips and organic blue corn chips.

The second recipe I prepared is from one of my favorite appetizer cookbooks called "Skinny Dips". The recipe is Baked Mozzarella Marinara Spread. This is delicious! I chose to prepare this dish with 100% organic ingredients so it was even healthier than it was meant to be. The tomato sauce is first slow cooked and then later baked in the oven. I am including the recipe below because it received rave reviews and I personally loved it. I served it with sliced fresh french bread and it was absolutely perfect. What made it even better is that there was an ample amount so I used the left-over portion as a pizza sauce on a homemade pizza that I baked on Tuesday night. By homemade I mean a wheat pizza dough from Great Harvest Bread, freshly chunked pineapple, fresh basil and Canadian bacon that I assembled. Perhaps home-assembled pizza would be a more accurate description. :)

Baked Mozzarella Marinara Spread:

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups minced Walla Walla or other sweet onion
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 can crushed tomatoes in thick puree (14.5 oz can)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup tomato paste or tomato puree
1 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 1/2 tbsp finely minced fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
3/4 cup shredded reduced fat mozzarella

In a 10 inch nonstick saute pan, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onion, garlic and sugar. Saute, stirring frequently until onion glistens and begins to soften, about 4 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, including juice from can, along with water, tomato paste/puree and crushed red pepper (this recipe has a kick to it so if you don't prefer spicy food or you are feeding kids, you can omit or use a pinch of red pepper flakes). Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Adjust heat to low and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until tomato mixture is thick, about 45 minutes. Add basil, parmesan and continue to cook, stirring occasionally another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to an oven-to-table shallow baking dish.

Position oven rack about 4 inches below heat source and preheat broiler. Scatter mozzarella evenly over marinara spread. Broil until cheese bubbles and is beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.

You will not be disappointed!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Week Five Recap

I am undoubtedly calling this week a success. The French Onion Soup was fantastic enough to make up for the other two recipes had they also not turned out well. I still can't believe I made the soup. It was really that exquisite. The Black Bean and Corn Salad was mediocre to good and the Banana Bread recipe was great. Next week should be fairly easy as two of my recipes are planned for our Super Bowl party tomorrow. This will leave me six days to make next week's third dish. No procrastination for me next week! Guess I had better start planning now. Maybe an intricate pasta dish? Only time will tell.

Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee
"Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child
Page 43-44

Black Bean and Corn Salad
PCC Taste February 2011 by Devra Gartenstein
Page 8

Banana Bread (with Applesauce)

Bueno Banana Bread

This banana bread is delicious! I set out to find a recipe that uses applesauce as a substitute for all or some of the oil and I ended up finding the aforementioned recipe on cooks.com. I doubled the recipe because I can't imagine only having one loaf of bread to show as the fruits of my labor. We are also having friends over for the Super Bowl tomorrow and I thought it would be nice to knock out one of my hour d' oeuvres today instead of waiting to make all of them tomorrow.

The only change I made to the recipe other than doubling, was to substitute 1/4 cup of the oil for applesauce to cut some of the fat out. I have made zucchini and pumpkin bread with applesauce previously so I knew it would turn out just lovely. This end result however, was even better than anticipated. Brad just took a bite and said that it may be the best banana bread he has ever eaten. Not bad for my first time, eh? (That was an ode to my Canadian friend, Pamela). :)

For your viewing or cooking pleasure:

2 eggs
1/2 c. vegetable oil
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. blueberry yogurt or applesauce
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. chopped nuts
2 lg. ripe bananas, mashed

Mix eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla and yogurt with spoon. Then stir in dry ingredients. Add bananas and chopped nuts. Stir until well mixed. Bake in loaf pan at 375 degrees until done (50-60 minutes).

On a side note, the nuts I chose to use were a mixture of pecans and walnuts. Now, regarding the Black Bean and Corn Salad, I added the missing cilantro, tasted it and realized that it needed a bit of something else to balance it out. I have made my mother-in-law's delicious black eyed pea, corn and avocado salad in the past and it requires a touch of balsamic. Since I know balsamic works well in the black eyed pea salad, I decided to add it to my black bean and corn salad. Voila! It worked beautifully. Brad and Olivia gave it the seal of approval so I will consider it a success. On to next week!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Procrastinating or Performing Under Pressure?

Well, I managed to wait all the way until Friday to finish my second recipe of the week. I actually prepared it earlier today but I am one ingredient short so I haven't yet tasted the final outcome. This recipe is for a black bean and corn salad. I found it in our monthly paper from the local natural grocery co-op, PCC. I buy at least half of our food from PCC and we are members so every month, they send a wonderful newspaper full of ideas for healthy food. This particular recipe was designed by one of their local chefs. It calls for black beans, corn, cumin, sea salt, chili powder, lime juice, onion, tomato, red pepper, cayenne and cilantro. I had every ingredient at home with exception to cilantro so I will run to the store to pick it up in the morning. I'll get back to the blog with a full report after I take a few bites.

I think my third recipe is going to be some type of banana bread. I have a bunch of slightly overripe bananas and less than one day to make my last recipe of the week. Believe it or not, I have never made banana bread. I have made all sorts of zucchini bread but never banana bread. Actually, those of you that know me well won't be surprised by this since I have always had a neurotic gag reflex when I smell bananas. Ever since Olivia has been eating solid food, I have overcome my overly dramatic banana gag problem. I went my whole life proclaiming that it was not mind over matter and that I had a serious reaction to the smell of banana but turns out, I was wrong. Guess there's a first time for everything. :) I'll get back to you tomorrow about the black bean and corn salad and to report on my maiden voyage with banana bread.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Gift For My Dad

I have been planning tonight's dinner since I found out my dad was coming to visit two weeks ago. One of my dad's favorite foods of all times is french onion soup so I was determined that I would make him the best french onion soup he's ever had. I must say that thanks to Julia Child, the soup was pretty amazing. It's always a good sign when everyone is sitting at the table saying "Mmmm" and "Wow" over and over. My dad and I couldn't think of a single bite of french onion soup in our past that has been better than this. This was Brad's first time eating french onion soup and he loved it. He said that it tasted like a real gourmet dish.

I of course, starting two weeks ago, was on a mission to find the perfect french onion soup recipe. I ended up looking in my "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" book and found the mother of all recipes. I actually had to make fun of myself a bit because I looked in the index for french onion soup only to realize that in a french cookbook, it would be called onion soup, not french onion soup. The french part was a given. Duh..... :) I ended up making Julia's Soupe a' l'Oignon Gratinee which is her version of baked onion soup with cheese. It was quite labor intensive (my total time in was 3 hours) but the end result was worth every minute. The most time consuming part was browning the onions. It was 40 minutes of frequently stirring onions, butter and olive oil while the onions became perfectly golden brown. This process served as the flavor base for the whole dish. I then added flour, dry white wine and beef broth and simmered for an additional 40 minutes. Cognac was the last ingredient and it really made a difference in the flavor. I was surprised at the subtle sweetness it added to the soup. While all of this was going on, I made homemade large croutons from fresh french bread. They baked for 30 minutes with olive oil added halfway through and a fresh garlic rub when they were hot out of the oven. Finally, the soup was ladled into individual tureens, freshly grated parmesan was added, croutons were layered on with a slice of gruyere on top. 20 minutes of baking and 3 minutes of broiling later, a little piece of heaven was born.

I served the soup with another one of my dad's favorite foods; butter lettuce with Point Reyes bleu cheese crumbles, chunks of tomato and avocado. My dad brought me a bottle of Bistro Blends of Napa Valley Fig Balsamic that he purchased at a "green" expo in Eugene and this was the bit of perfection we needed to finish off the salad. I highly recommend this balsamic to anyone that appreciates a fine tasting vinegar. It is tasty with a capital T. Their website is http://www.bistroblends.com/ and it looks like they have some fabulous products in addition to their fig balsamic.

This is one of those nights when I am deeply satisfied with my cooking project. I made something from my heart for a person that I love . Does it get any better?