What kind of food do you like to eat most? Are you pro-veggie? Do you prefer red/white meat? Also, do you have any dietary restrictions (are you trying to keep it light, or are you all for saturated goodness?)
- Go to the liquor store and buy the cheapest bottles of dry red and dry white wines you can get. Even if you don't like booze, adding liquor makes almost every recipe better by creating a more succulent flavour. If you're a teetotaller, the heat boils off all the alcohol so you won't be consuming any of it. If you're not a teetotaller and love the booze, don't drink that stuff. Seriously. It's the cheapest wine in the store -- why would you do that to yourself? Save the cheap wine for cooking (and be sure to recork the bottles and store them in the fridge after opening. They'll last a long time, especially since cooking wine is allowed to get a little vinegary.) Buy something else for drinking.
- Invest in a wide variety of spices, even if it's the dried stuff. (I use tarragon, thyme, basil, sage, rosemary, and savoury for my western cooking, and turmeric, paprika, cumin, cayenne, curry powder, black mustard seed, and garam masala for ethnic cooking. Ground ginger is also convenient to have on hand just in case you can't get fresh, and don't forget nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and cinnamon for that extra-special occasion.) I find the spices in the foreign foods aisle at the grocery store are almost always half as expensive as the spices elsewhere, but you can usually only get the ethnic stuff in there. I also like to have fresh thyme, basil, or tarragon on hand whenever possible.
Here's a super-easy recipe for you to try:
French Onion Soup:
- Three cooking onions
- One jumbo red onion
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- Fresh thyme
- Sage and/or savoury and/or rosemary and/or basil
- Red wine (or red wine vinegar); white wine or beer could also work, though be prepared for a lighter flavour.
- A carton of stock of your choice (veggie will be the lightest; beef will give the darkest flavour. Try to buy a low-sodium variety.) Alternatively you can make your own stock with bouillon and hot water.
- Browning substance (Worcestershire sauce is preferred, but a mild-flavoured barbecue sauce could also work.)
- A sharp cheese of your choice (for best results, gruyere, swiss, asiago or parmesan. Some people advise mozarella for French onion but in my experience it's blech.) You'll need about 1/3 cup, grated, per bowl.
- A nice, crusty bread loaf
- Cream cheese
1. Start by finely-chopping your onions and your garlic. Drop them in a soup pot and add a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil. Cook over medium heat until the onions are nice and tender (the cooking onions should turn a light golden colour, and you should be able to slice through the pieces with a wooden spoon.)
2. At this point, I like to add my spices. Fresh thyme can go directly into the pot but be sure to grind any of the others (sage, savoury, basil, rosemary) in your mortar & pestle or food processor before you add them. Add some freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt, stir until the onion pieces are coated.
3. Take a tablespoon or two of the cream cheese and mix it in with the onions until you have a paste-like consistency. (At this point, you can also add few teaspoons of easy-blend flour, but only if you like your soup a little thick.) Add a few splashes of the wine (or substitute) and a couple teaspoons of the browning substance; stir and cook until steaming, but not bubbling. Add your stock; depending on how much soup you want to make, you can add a few cups of water, but be sure to allow for more stewing time to increase the flavour.
4. Heat to a boil, stirring, and then reduce to a simmer. I usually like to let it cook for at least an hour to give it extra flavour. If your stove runs hot and it runs the risk of boiling over, adjust the temperature so that you can leave it unattended (within good reason - never completely neglect an active stove, obviously). Adjust seasoning to taste.
5. After it's cooked, set your oven to 400 degrees F. Ladle soup into a bowl, then drop in chunks of crusty bread so that they float on the surface. Croutons can also be used if you have them on hand. Sprinkle on grated cheese, and pop in the oven for ten minutes.
6. Remove from oven. Careful! It's hot. Enjoy!
That's Sam's favourite. I make it every couple of weeks. Though it is a little time-consuming it's really easy and very low-maintenance. You can also make this in a slow-cooker, but if you do so, be sure to give it plenty of time for the onions to tenderize, since they'll do it mostly in the broth stage rather than the sauteeing stage. I've made it in a slow-cooker a couple of times and usually given it about 4 hours for best results.
If that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, let me know and I'll come up with something else.
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