City Gay and Country Gay

Monday, September 17, 2007

A meal in three courses

The wine has worn off, so I think I can give a fuller review of my meal last night. The meal was originally supposed to be a Frenchie affair with a viewing of Jean de Florette, but it ended up just being a dinner and conversation kind of evening, which, peut-etre, was even better. The meal is best described broken down into the three courses, and all recipes come from Vincent Price's A Treasury of Great Recipes.

Course One - soupe a l'oignon
When I was first introduced to the menu for the evening and saw onion soup, I immediately flashed to the beefy, oniony, cheesy soup I had one evening in Paris. I absolutely adore onion soup, but I do find it difficult to eat sometimes because of the amount of cheese and onions found in just one small bowl. How interesting, then, to notice this onion soup wouldn't look anything like the typical onion soup.

There are a variety of steps to the soup, but it really wasn't too complicated. The recipe (magically found online) follows at the end of the post. We didn't follow the last steps exactly as written. Instead, we simply put a piece of French bread in a bowl, sprinkled parmesan cheese over it, and then added the soup. We could have done some broiling, but we opted to skip it.

Course Two - apple and truffle salad
While the soup was cooking, we made a simple salad that tasted much better than I anticipated. The salad is supposed to be made up of apples and truffles, but it's hard to find truffles in the country, so we used some kind of mushroom that was reddish and natural looking. I have no idea what kind of shroom it was, but it added the necessary earthy flavor to the salad. The salad basically contains: four apples peeled, cored, and diced; some mushrooms; chopped hearts of romaine. These ingredients are tossed together with salt and pepper and the juice of half of a lemon. The dressing is made up of cream and sour cream, but I have no idea how much of each. This is mixed and then tossed with the salad. Add salt and pepper to taste.

We paused to have these two parts of the meal before making the main course. (However, there were parts of the main course recipe we did in conjunction with the onion soup because we had to make an onion paste.) The soup was oniony but had a peppery garlic kick to it that helped tone down the onion. The parmesan and bread also help temper the onion. The beef broth of a typical French onion soup was certainly lacking but not necessarily missed. The salad was surprising. The sour cream dressing added some tang, the apples added tartness, the mushrooms added hardiness, and the lemon added some sourness. The combination of flavors basically made for a refreshing follow up to the onion soup.

Course Three - noisettes de something
I'm going to have to be fairly vague about some of the parts of the main course. The basic ingredient was lamb chops (boned with the fat trimmed). Side note: there was much giggling over the idea of boning the lamb. While the onion soup was cooking, two large, diced onions were put into a pot of simmering water. I don't know if anything was added to this because I was too busy boning the lamb chops. Also simmering on the back of the stove were the bottoms of artichokes. I had no idea these even existed, but they can be found in the canned food aisle at the grocery store.

The most time consuming part of this recipe is creating an onion sauce/paste that resembles mashed potatoes. While the onions were simmering, we made a bechamel sauce, which is basically a white sauce. A blender was used, egg yolks figured in somewhere, and then part of the bechamel sauce was combined with the drained onions and blended again. This was set aside to cook the lamb.

I had never cooked lamb before, and it's rare that I actually eat it. We fried the lamb in butter for about three minutes on each side then removed to a plate. The next step was to make a Madeira sauce, so we added port and a touch of butter to the pan we fried the lamb in and simmered and stirred until the sauce had reduced by half.

It was then time to put it all together. The final step is to layer ingredients and broil for a few minutes. We placed some of the onion sauce on one of the artichoke bottoms, then stacked lamb on the sauce, and finally topped the lamb with a little more sauce. This was a little challenging since the artichoke bottoms kept sliding around. At this point I was still slightly wary of the artichoke bottoms since I'm not a huge fan of artichokes. The pan went under the broiler for a few minutes or until the top sauce was slightly browned. To serve, we put each collection o' lamb on a plate and put a bit of Madeira sauce over the top.

The best part came next. With a slightly chilled chardonnay, we began the main course. There was a moment of silence followed by a round of "Ummmm, oh my God." The slight sauce on the lamb added sweetness to the distinct lamb taste, which was an amazing complement to the artichoke and onion flavors. Everything just melted in our mouths. I thought the petit serving wouldn't be enough, but it actually ended up being the perfect amount. We were satisfied but not overly stuffed.

What was so lovely about this meal was the time it took to make it all. We started at about 3:30 and were eating the main course at around 6:30. Delightful conversation peppered the time spent prepping or enjoying the early courses. Because the courses were slightly spread out, there was time to digest and enjoy and imbibe. So often I am looking for a quick meal because I don't have time to cook, but this was a prime example of what amazing food can be made by setting aside the time to make something.

Vincent Price's Soupe a l'oignon
1 hour 15 min prep

3 tablespoons bacon drippings (you can substitute butter, if you have no drippings)
4 large onions, chopped fine
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 sprig parsley
1 pinch thyme
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon cognac
6 slices toasted French bread

olive oil
1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided, for garnish (or more, to taste or according to recipe see below)

  1. (Also needed: 6 oven-proof soup bowls.).
  2. Over medium temperature, heat a deep skillet with the bacon drippings or butter.
  3. Add the chopped onions and sauté until just soft.
  4. Add the flour, salt, pepper, and garlic and cook until it is golden brown (careful not to burn).
  5. Add the parsley sprig, thyme, chicken stock, wine, and simmer for 45 minutes, then remove from heat and add the Cognac.
  6. To serve: divide the servings between the six oven-proof bowls, placing the bowls on a baking sheet, with 1 slice of toasted French bread in each bowl.
  7. To make it Soupe à L'Oignon Gratinée: preheat your oven's broiler setting; you're going to make three layers of thinly sliced bread and Parmesan cheese in the bowl, pouring soup into the bowls, topping each layer with Parmesan and a little melted butter, then placing the bowls on a baking sheet under the broiler until the cheese melts and forms a golden brown crust.

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