Saturday, February 14, 2009

This is mostly not a diet-friendly recipe. Mostly.

Happy Valentine's Day! If you aren't with the one you love today, then love yourself. Make it a day to treat yourself, do something that makes you feel good, and forgive yourself for anything you feel you did to hurt yourself. Aw. Doesn't that feel nice?

Last night my friend came over and between the two of us (and a brief visit from my old roommate) we killed 2 bottles of most excellent wine, and almost an entire pot of homemade French onion soup. This is not the dried up "French onion dip" stuff in the packet that you mix into sour cream and dip Ruffles into. Although that dip is delicious, and I love Ruffles.

This was my modification of a recipe I found on Pioneer Woman, but I cut the time requirements down by almost half, and used half the butter she called for. That woman loves her butter, and I'm sure her dishes are gorgeous and delicious, but she is also a rancher and works with cattle and horses and children and large swaths of ranch land, so she probably needs all the calories she can get. I am a programmer with an ass to show it, so I felt confident cutting my butter in half (actually it was more like 1/3 a stick) and using SmartBalance butter. SB butter has omega-3 oils in it, so you can feel heart-healthy when you use it as well.

Onions also release plenty of their own liquid when they cook, so as long as you control the temperature in the pot, they cook down in their own liquid, coaxed slightly by a little butter and oil.

Honestly, next time I make this, I'm using even less butter. I just cannot imagine using an entire stick of butter in this dish. It would be way too heavy.

Here's my version. Believe me when I tell you that this was incredible. Delicious. I had two bowls, then began just breaking off pieces of French bread and dipping it right into the pot, scooping out large, soft pieces of onion and soaking the bread with that rich broth... oh my. After a week of seriously keeping "on plan", I thoroughly enjoyed this. And given that my plan today includes 1) a 5-mile run, and 2) cleaning out my entire garage, I feel like I can use all the calories I can get.

Oh. Two more warnings about this soup. First, it makes quite a few servings, but most people will not be satisfied with just one bowl. If you're figuring out portions, assume two bowls per person. Second....its a soup, made with onions. Six of them. And garlic. Covered with cheese. Things happen during digestion when you eat onions and cheese. I'm just saying, be prepared for the following day.

And now the recipe!

French Onion Soup

6 yellow onions
1/4 stick (or less, really) Smart Balance omega-3 butter
2 tsp olive oil
3/4 cup of white wine
3 cloves garlic
4 cups low-sodium beef broth
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I would normally have used my own homemade stock, but I was too strapped for time to defrost one of my tubs)
Worcester sauce
French bread, cut into 1-inch rounds
Gruyere cheese (if you want to make this more diet-friendly, use a mix of grated low-fat mozzarella and a few gratings of asiago or parmesan cheese. But the decadent melted Gruyere is kind of worth it.)

Prep it!

Slice onions in half from top to bottom, and then slice horizontally so you get smile-shaped slivers. You want them thin, but not too thin. I used a very sharp knife. Make sure your knife is VERY sharp - onions have a slippery film between layers, and if you're not careful your knife can slide off and come crashing down on top of your fingers. I have scars to prove that this is true. So use a SHARP KNIFE when slicing onions, or a mandolin. And take your time. Focus on this part. The recipe does not include blood.

Make it!

Add your butter to a large soup pot, and turn heat to medium-low. Add onions, then drizzle the olive oil on top. With a wooden spoon, give the onions a good stir to coat with the oil, and to get the butter melting started.

A tip: Try to use a Dutch oven or a thick-bottomed pot. Aluminum pots may heat up too fast and may cause you to burn your onions if you don't watch the heat enough. (I used a Calphalon hard-anodized pot; its got a really thick bottom, much like me.) If you have thin-bottomed pots, keep the heat lower and keep a close eye on your onions. You want them to brown, but not burn.

Now, the Pioneer Woman's recipe calls for you to cook the onions on the stovetop for 20 minutes, then to cover them and put the entire pot in the oven for an hour. I do not have an oven, nor did I have an hour. I kept the onions on the stovetop, for about 30 minutes total. I kept the heat slightly lower than medium, and kept stirring the onions to allow for even browning and to prevent burning. They required more babysitting than if I had put them in the oven, but they cooked evenly, browned up wonderfully, and were done in less than half the time of PW's recipe. I love her recipes, but sometimes you just have to adapt.

TL; DR? Just carefully allow the onions to brown and soften for about 30 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring regularly to avoid burning.

When the onions are brown and soft, turn off the heat and immediately pour in the wine. Then turn the heat back on. Alcohol can burn, so this step is just practical for avoiding starting a fire.

Allow the wine and onions to cook on medium-low for about 5 minutes. The wine should reduce and thicken slightly. Add in your broths, and set the heat so the soup simmers but doesn't boil.

Chop your garlic into a fine dice, and add that into your simmering soup. Add a few dashes of Worcester sauce.

Cover, and let the soup simmer on very low heat for about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, take your sliced French bread, and give it a quick spray of butter or olive-oil flavor cooking spray (PW slathers more butter on the bread, but I just don't roll that way). Broil the bread so it gets really toasty. If it burns a little, that's ok. It needs to be dry and hard to stand up to the soup.

Grate your Gruyere, or other cheese.

When the bread is done toasting, ladel a scoop or two of soup into a thick oven-safe bowl, and place a toasted bread slice on top. Toss a good amount of cheese on top of the toast, and put the bowls back into the oven so the cheese can melt.

When the cheese has melted on top of the toast (should take about 5 minutes), carefully remove the bowls (USE OVEN MITTS, THE BOWLS ARE HOT). I served my bowls on a cool plate so I could carry them without burning myself.

Enjoy this. I did. Now I am off to run.


  1. I am so glad you adapted PW's recipe. I've had her's up on a tab since she put it up, just looking at it longingly... I LOVE FO Soup. Thank you.

  2. You're welcome! I love her recipes so much but I just cannot use an entire stick of butter for a soup, lol! :)