Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Comfort Food to Warm a Winter Night in Asheville NC:Abbington Green Bed & Breakfast Inn

It was a long-standing family tradition before I came to Asheville NC to start Abbington Green Bed & Breakfast Inn...and that was 18 years ago. In fact, it goes back to the early 1970s. It is the tradition of homemade French Onion Soup.

Ahhh, the fragrance of soup cooking slowly, filling your home with steamy smells for hours. And then you get to savor a simple feast of soup and baked French bread rounds sprinkled with grated Swiss cheese. That's truly comfort food.

In my household this tradition started a couple of decades before I came to Asheville now, nearly 40 years ago...and it began as a New Year's Day meal. After all, New Year's Day is often a 'day-off' and often cold. And in my house it was also typically filled with the Rose Parade and various 'Bowl" games topped off with a televised, live performance of the annual Strauss Concert from Vienna. So all that adds up to family time at home...often a very scarce commodity. So simple, fragrant and almost 'fool-proof' food was the exact right thing for such days.

I always wrapped and saved the bones from a holiday standing rib roast in the freezer to make the beef broth on New Year's Day for the French Onion Soup. You need not make your own broth for the soup, a good canned beef stock will do nicely. But if you do make your own it has at least 2 benefits: 1. It takes a long time and the house is filled early in the day with those lovely smells. 2. You have the satisfaction of having created the masterpiece that is French Onion Soup, 'from scratch'.

There are many variations on French Onion Soup and you almost can't go wrong. You will probably modify any recipe after you try it once or twice so it tastes exactly as you like it. I hope you'll have a cold Winter day to do chores or relax around home and then enjoy this simple but wonderful meal.

In a large heavy saucepan with a lid: Brown 6 cups thinly sliced onions with 3Tablespoons butter and 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Cover, cook over low heat about 15 minutes until the onions are soft.

Uncover and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon sugar to help brown the onion. Then cook uncovered for 45 minutes more over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Sprinkle with 2-3 Tablespoons flour. Stir and cook 3 or 4 minutes to coat onions.

Add 2 quarts of boiling beef or other stock. Cook partially covered for 45 minutes... or longer, to suit your schedule.

Cut French bread into 1/2" slices, place on cookie sheet and toast in 325* oven for 15 minutes. Brush each slice with olive oil and toast 15 minutes more. Sprinkle slices with grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese.

Ladle soup into bowls and float a slice of bread in each bowl. (Add a teaspoon of cognac to each bowl if you like.) Serve with a simple salad and extra French bread. Then savor the fruits of your labor!

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