Friday, August 27, 2010

Slow Cooker French Onion Soup

French onion soup is one of those foods that captured me utterly as a child and I've loved it since the first moment I tasted the hot, salty beef broth full of tender onions, gooey cheese, and soup-soaked bread. It quickly became one of those items that, if I saw it on a restaurant menu, I had to order it. Maybe it's that childhood memory, but even after having had it countless of times at many varied dining establishments, from the modest to the highbrow, I still think Mimi's Cafe, the location of that first taste of heaven, serves some of the best French onion soup around.

French Onion Soup

Over the years, however, I've become more conscious of my salt intake, and French onion soup everywhere tends to be oversalted. Being able to control the amount of salt is a very good reason to try and make it at home, but for whatever reason, I never have. It's not supposed to be a difficult dish to make, but on some level I found it intimidating (or the fear of failure intimidating).

Recently, Trix and I decided to resurrect our "Friday Night Dinners," except we're no longer going to adhere to any strict schedule, and our efforts are going to primarily focus on the slow cooker. This is to accommodate Trix's limited and often unpredictable schedule, but still allow us to do something we enjoy.

Trix loved this French onion soup recipe. I just found it OK, a bit too sweet (next time I probably won't add the sugar). However, the key to this dish is the broth. If you don't start with a broth you love, the results aren't going to be something you love, either. She used Better Than Bouillon; I used Trader Joe's organic beef broth. The soup cooking in the slow cooker all day made the house smell WONDERFUL. It smelled better than it tasted, actually -- but I can't wait to try this again with homemade beef broth. I'm betting it will make a huge difference.

The best thing about this experience is that I've gotten over my intimidation of making this dish!

French Onion Soup

Slow Cooker French Onion Soup (recipe adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking)

  • 32oz beef broth
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 yellow onions, sliced thin
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 slices of French bread
  • 4 slices of Swiss cheese (or gruyere cheese)

  1. Heat the slow cooker to high and add the butter; it will start melting.
  2. Add the onions, beef broth, sugar, salt and sherry.
  3. Cook the soup on high for 6-8 hours or low for 10-12.
  4. Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls or crocks.  Layer bread onto the bowls of soup and add a slice (or two) of cheese on top.  Don't worry if it hangs over the edge, it'll melt and stick to the bowl, a true French onion soup experience!
  5. Place under a hot broiler for a few minutes, or until the cheese has melted and turned a lovely golden brown.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cocoa-Nana Bread

A few days ago I found myself in a position that people who buy bananas from time to time find themselves in: with having a few overripe bananas on hand that weren't appetizing to eat on their own.  My first inclination was to make regular banana bread, but after perusing my baking books I decided to try Dorie Greenspan's cocoa-nana bread instead.

Cocoa-nana Bread

On first glance at the recipe, I thought I read coco-nana bread, and figured coconut was involved (a coconut-banana bread still sounds yummy to me).  However, I soon realized that we were talking about a dark and rich chocolate banana bread, dotted with small chunks of chocolate.  Well, that sounded pretty darn good, too.

Cocoa-nana Bread

The only change I made to the recipe was to use 1/2 cup of granulated sugar rather than 3/4 cup (the amount of light brown sugar was unchanged).  Oh, and I used dark chocolate rather than bittersweet.  Also, it should be noted that when I was searching for this recipe online, I realized that someone had posted a mis-transcribed copy of the recipe, which then got disseminated over and over.  I don't know if my posting this "correct" version (as double checked with the book) will do any good to help with the misinformation out there, but I'll try.  Basically, the recipe calls for unsweetened cocoa powder, not semisweet cocoa powder (I've never even heard of such a thing, which might all be for the good, as people can't use something they can't find).

Cocoa-nana Bread

I loved how moist and soft this bread was.  It has a very intense flavor, so chocolatey that it's possible some would want more of the banana flavor to come through.  Next time I'm going to try it with 3 bananas.  Also, for me, one slice goes a long way.  Dorie suggests eating it for breakfast, and it is great with a hot cup of strong coffee (if you're sensitive to caffeine this combo might be too much for you!) or a glass of cold milk.  But I also find that it's a lovely late afternoon pick me up as well.

Cocoa-Nana Bread (recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 8 tbsps (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or 1/2 cup store-bought chocolate chips)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9x5-inch loaf pan and place it on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked on top of the other. (This extra insulation will keep the bottom of the bread from over baking.)
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
  3. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for about a minute, until softened. Add the sugars and beat for 2 minutes more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. At this point, the batter may look a little curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the mashed bananas. Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until they disappear into the batter. Still on low speed, add the buttermilk, mixing until it is incorporated. Stir in the chopped chocolate. Scrape the batter into the pan.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes. Cover the bread loosely with a foil tent to keep the top from getting too dark, and continue to bake for another 40 to 45 minutes (total baking time is between 70 to 75 minutes) or until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before running a knife around the edges of the bread and unmolding. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.