Fall air started to creep into Oklahoma about two weeks into September. It was a gradual change, just the way Mother Nature meant. By Monday afternoon, our days were in the 70s followed by nights in the 50s. After all the infernal rain passed through, the sky shined periwinkle blue. Perfect fall weather put me in the mood for comfort food.
Honestly, some of my comfort food probably isn't what most people automatically turn to when seeking mental as well as physical nourishment. Over the past two weeks, I've prepared normal comfort food such as pot roast with potatoes and carrots, baked potato soup served with Blue Moon beer bread, and meatloaf with baked macaroni and cheese. Potage d'Oignon with Croque Monsieur -- better known as French Onion soup with ham and cheese sandwiches -- was my hands-down favorite, partially because it required a trip to La Baguette. On Tuesday night I made poulet en cocotte bonne femme or chicken with bacon, onions and potatoes roased in a casserole.
These meals have been so delicious I decided to share them with you. First up, soup and sandwiches.
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I
The onions for an onion soup need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavor which characterizes a perfect brew. You should therefore count on 2 ½ hours at least from start to finish. Though the preliminary cooking in butter requires some watching, the actual simmering can proceed almost unattended.
Serves six to eight
1 ½ pounds or about 5 cups thinly sliced onions
3 T butter
1 T oil
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
3 T flour
2 quarts boiling brown stock or beef bouillon
½ cup dry white wine, such as chardonnay
Salt and pepper to taste
3 T brandy
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread
1 ½ c grated Swiss cheese
Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in covered pan for 15 minutes. Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep golden brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for three minutes. Off the heat, blend in the boiling liquid (I use broth made with Knorr bouillon). Add the wine and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning.
Just before serving, stir in the brandy. Pour into soup cups over rounds of bread. Top with grated cheese.
Now, I know wine and brandy in one dish may seem a bit over the top, but trust me, don't make this without them. It is more than worth that trip to the liquor store. I used a 2007 Dancing Bull chardonnay which is pretty cheap. The brandy, not as cheap. I bought an E & J V.S.O.P. which ran about $20, but it is a pretty big bottle. The brandy is stirred in right at the end, so quality is important. Never cook with something you wouldn't drink straight. Since neither my husband nor I actually drink brandy, it will last a long time at 3 tablespoons per use.
This is really a simple soup, it's just time consuming. At the end you can run the soup cups under the broiler for a few minutes to melt the cheese if your soup cups are oven proof. I personally do not find this necessary.
(literally, crunch mister)
From Bon Appétit
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 bay leaf
4 slices firm white sandwich bread
4 ounces thinly sliced Black Forest ham
4 ounces sliced Gruyère cheese
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Add nutmeg and bay leaf. Increase heat to medium-high and boil until sauce thickens, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat broiler. Place 2 bread slices on work surface. Top each with half of ham and sliced Gruyère. Top with remaining bread. Heat heavy large skillet over low heat. Brush sandwiches with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Add to skillet and cook until deep golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to small baking sheet. Spoon sauce, then grated cheese over sandwiches. Broil until cheese begins to brown, about 2 minutes.
These sandwiches took me back to Montmartre, where my lovely daughter and I ate these for dinner our first night in Paris. Delicious. Don't skimp and leave off the sauce. It's worth the little bit of extra effort.
As Julia would say, bon appétit!
Pictures are bing images; I did not have the foresight to photograph my own food.