Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

French Onion Soup (Soupe a l'Oignons)

It has been one of those weeks around here. Michael came home with yet another cold/upper respiratory infection. He was feeling so bad on Friday he actually canceled students. That's something he very, very rarely does.

So, since he had to work all day today I decided to make him something special for supper. He loves French Onion Soup and always is very excited when we dine out and the soup du jour happens to be French Onion. While he was home for lunch and napping I decided to run to the market and get the couple extra ingredients I needed to fix some for this evening.

This is one of those recipes that takes a fair amount of time but really is not that labor intensive. The biggest part of this is leaving your onions alone to caramelize. If you can manage to make yourself put them on and just walk away you've accomplished half the battle. Luckily for me the Clemson game happened to be on ESPN here in Arizona so I put on my onions and settled in to watch them take on FSU. (Go Tigers!)

Michael seemed to enjoy this version of the classic French Onion Soup despite the horrid cold so I hope you'll give it a try. It really is a great soup to have in your repertoire.

: French Onion Soup
: Caramelized onions, red wine and broth create a classic french soup!

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 onions, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 quarts beef broth
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 1 baguette, sliced
  • 1/2 pound grated Gruyere cheese

  1. Melt the stick of butter in a large pot over medium heat. Create a bouquet garni by tying together the bay leaves and thyme sprigs with a bit of kitchen twine. Add the onions, garlic, bouquet garni, and salt and pepper and cook until the onions are very soft and caramelized, about 25-30 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the wine has evaporated and the onions are dry, about 5-15 minutes. Discard the bouquet garni.
  2. Dust the onions with the flour and give them a stir. Turn the heat down to medium low and cook for 10 minutes to remove the raw flour taste. Add the beef broth and sherry, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for 10-20 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Keep the soup warm until ready to serve.
  3. When ready to eat, preheat the broiler. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle the slices with the shredded Gruyere and broil until bubbly and golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes.
  4. Ladle the soup in bowls and float several of the Gruyere covered baguette slices on top.

Alternative: Ladle the soup into bowls, top each with 2 slices of bread and top with cheese. Put the bowls into the oven to toast the bread and melt the cheese. 

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 1 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6
Culinary tradition: French

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Pommes de Terre à la Boulangère

Recently, I discovered a new cooking show I enjoy immensely. It's French Food at Home with Laura Calder and was originally produced by Food Network Canada. It's now made its way to the Cooking Channel here in America.

I've really enjoyed Calder's take on French cuisine and particularly her use of rather simple but delicious dishes rather than the more intimidating and overly involved ones normally presented (Sorry, Julia.)Additionally, Calder has an enjoyable style that keeps her explanations on track so her audience isn't confused. In addition, the music on the show by an Ontario musician, Mike O'Neill is quirky and fun. I recently tried to find his music online because I thought it would be perfect to put on when cooking. Alas, Mr. O'Neill created the music specifically for the series and has never released it, despite huge numbers of foodies begging for an album of his quasi-French Jazz sound.

This recipe was recently featured on the show. Pommes de Terre à la Boulangère (literally "Potatoes from the Bakery" or Bakery Style Potatoes) is actually a very simple recipe that packs a lot of taste punch. This is one of those French cafe classics that you can prep in no time, pop in the oven to cook, and forget for a couple hours. It's baked rather low and slow. You will find versions that ramp up the heat to ungodly temperatures and zap it in minutes! I think that high heat method kills the dish because you want the flavors in this to meld together and the potatoes to become soft in the centers and underneath but crisp on the top and edges. Zapping it at 450 or 500 degrees defeats that purpose and you'll end up with a super crispy top that is too brown.

Michael really enjoyed this simple French classic and since it's rather easy to do we'll be revisiting it often for supper.

I made only a couple slight changes to the recipe presented on the show. For one, I added leeks to the onions for a bit more depth of flavor. I like the subtle onion flavor of leeks against the more prominent onion flavor. I also used Yukon Gold potatoes which have the most wonderful creamy texture when cooked. I happen to like Rosemary with potatoes so used that instead of thyme (or herbes de Provence). In France this is sometimes served with a light cheese topping. I chose Parmesan to top the dish, but you can use Swiss or other cheeses that you enjoy - or leave the cheese out entirely.

: Pommes de Terre à la Boulangère
: A French Cafe classic of potatoes, onions, and cheese in a casserole.

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked
  • 2 cups Chicken stock (or beef stock)
  • 1 cup Parmesan Cheese (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 300°.
  2. Wash and thinly slice onions, leeks, and potatoes.
  3. In large skillet, melt half of the butter over medium-high heat. Gently saute the onions and leeks until they are translucent and just beginning to brown. Remove from heat.
  4. In casserole dish, spread a layer of onions mixture and top with layer of potatoes. Sprinkle lightly with thyme leaves, salt, and pepper. Repeat with second layer of onion mixture and more potatoes. Sprinkle top with remaining thyme and a little salt and pepper. Slice remaining butter and drop pats on top of casserole. Pour chicken stock into casserole pan and cover with foil.
  5. Place casserole in preheated oven and bake for 2-3 hours until liquid has been absorbed or cooked off and potatoes are moist and tender. Uncover for last hour of cooking for a crisper edges on the potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese if using during last 20-30 minutes of cooking.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Cooking time: 4 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12
Culinary tradition: French

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Tailgatin' at Home

Beer brats on french rolls, Confetti Corn, extra brats and Homemade Potato
Chips with Wisconsin Chedder and Parmesan Cheese.
We're geared up for another season of Packers' football here at Sugar Pies. You might wonder why a southerner is such a Packer fan. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to follow the Panthers or Falcons or even the Saints? Well, when you get absorbed into a big Wisconsin family it's hard not to become part of the "The Pack." It's even harder when that family is from about 60 miles north of Green Bay! So, thanks to Michael, I'm a Packer fan.

In honor of the kickoff of the 2011 regular season we decided to do a little tailgating at home. I thought nothing could be better than boiling up some beer brats and pairing them with some "green and gold" dishes as well as some good old Wisconsin cheddar.

The beer brats featured sauteed caramelized onions with green and yellow sweet peppers served on French rolls. I had two side dishes, the first was my homemade chips topped with Wisconsin cheddar and Parmesan cheeses and the second was Confetti Corn featuring sweet corn, peppers and onions sauteed in butter and olive oil. It was a meal fit for Lambeau Field!

I'd originally intended to caramelize the onions fully but when I missed the opening kick-off and they were still being reticent about developing their color (although they were nicely done) I decided I couldn't wait any longer! So, you'll notice the onions aren't as beautifully browned as I would have hoped!

And if you're wondering, I severely limited my intake so as not to bust my new calorie budget (so far 10 pounds lost!) Michael, was fortunate enough not to have to worry about that.

Of course, the perfect dessert for the meal was watching the Pack's 42-34 win over the Saints! Note to Jimmy Graham of the Saints: the Packers are 2-0 against teams who have tried to do "the belt" move. Son, you are cruisin' for a bruisin' as we say in the south. Of course, it's even stupider when your team is in the midst of losing by 9 points. I normally cheer on the Saints when they aren't playing the Packers but now... not so much. Next week will be a conundrum. The Saints with their dumb tight end or "da' Bears" - flip a coin.

PS: This just in!  Sugar Pies has now gone mobile! Go to to get an app for your phone. It's free and it has alerts so that you'll know whenever we have anything new. What could be better?

Beer Brats
  • 1 package Johnsonville Brats
  • 48 ounces quality beer
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 1 cup diced bell pepper
  • 3-4 garlic cloves minced
  • 1-2 tbs. butter
In large pot over medium high heat, melt the butter and lightly sautee the onions, bell pepper and garlic. Add beer and bring to a boil. Place brats in beer and boil for 12-15 minutes or until done.

Grill top finish: Arrange charcoal in single layer at medium high heat. Lightly oil grill grate and place brats on grill, turning often to evenly brown.

Stove top finish: Lightly oil a grill pan over medium high heat. Place brats on pan and turn until evenly browned on all sides.

Place the beer mixture in a pan deep enough to cover the brats and hold any brats not being served immediately in the warm beer mixture to preserve moisture and taste.

Serve brats on lightly toasted french rolls with condiments of choice (we prefer caramelized onions).

Caramelized Onions
  • 2 pounds sweet onions or yellow onions, peeled and sliced into half rounds
  • 3 tbs. butter
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 2 tbs. dry sherry
  • 2 tbs. white wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a medium dutch oven over medium low heat melt the butter with the olive oil. Toss in the onions and thyme and toss to coat. Cover the pot. Allow onions to sweat for 10 minutes. Uncover the pot and continue to cook over medium low heat for 25-35 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are lightly browned. Add the sherry and white wine vinegar along with salt and pepper and continue to cook for about two more minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed and reduced.

Confetti Corn
  • 2 tbs. good olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion (or red onion)
  • 1 small orange bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tbs. unsalted butter
  • 4 cups of yellow corn kernels (about 5 ears)
  • 1/4 cup diced green onion (optional)
  • 1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbs. minced fresh parsley
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes until the onion is soft. Stir in the bell peppers and saute for additional 2 minutes.

Add the butter to the pan and allow it to melt. Add the corn, green onion salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes or until the corn loses its starches. Stir in parsley or other herbs and season to taste. Serve hot.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Homemade Granola Bars

I've been eating some high fiber granola bars lately because I was shocked to see how little fiber I was actually getting in my diet. But looking at the ingredients list in my bars I saw far too many unknown chemicals. So, I wondered, could I make some homemade chewy granola bars that only included things with which I would normally cook?

My first attempt was using Ina Garten's granola bar recipe. It was very tasty but more crisp than I wanted. I was looking for something that was chewy not the type of bars that tend to fracture molars or chip bicuspids. I went back to the drawing board. Looking at Ina's recipe I spotted a couple changes that I could make that might give me my chewy bars.

First, I reduced the amount of brown sugar called for in the recipe and subbed a little light corn syrup. I reduced the cooking time of the sweet mixture so that they wouldn't form a "hard candy" type glue. I then adjusted down the amount of dry ingredients slightly. The result was just was I was searching for - a chewy granola bar that is hard to resist. In fact, they're so hard to resist that Michael has cleaned about half of them out this morning!

I chose a bulk granola from Sprout's Market which is a local natural food market. I liked the almond and whole grain granola they have in the bulk section. If you don't have access to a natural foods market you can always use old fashioned oats and other whole grains. I also chose some wheat bran to increase the fiber content of my bars to 4.1 grams per serving. That's about 16% of your daily fiber needs! If you want to boost that more, just up the wheat bran amount in your bars.

These are very tasty and the basic recipe can be adjusted to your personal tastes. Don't  like the peanuts? Choose dried fruits instead. Cherries, apricots, mango and pineapple are all really great in this granola bar.

: Homemade Granola Bars
: Chewy and delicious with wheat bran for fiber and nuts for protein!

  • 2 cups almond granola
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup no salt roasted peanuts
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 3 tbs. unsalted butter (plus extra for pan)
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tbs. light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  1. Preheat oven to 300°. Grease an 8x8-inch pan with butter and line bottom with a parchment sling that overhangs by 2 inches.
  2. In large bowl combine the granola, oats, peanuts, and coconut.
  3. In small saucepan over medium-low heat combine honey, brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup. Heat just until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over granola mixture. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
  4. Mix together all ingredients with spatula until thoroughly coated. Press into prepared pan with wet fingers until tightly packed.
  5. Bake at 300° for 25-30 minutes or until edges are brown and top of granola is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool 2-3 hours on wire rack. Remove from pan using parchment sling and cut into 12 pieces.

I chose a bulk granola containing almonds and whole grains available at a local health food store. You can use any type of granola cereal in this recipe (just note that some are higher or lower in calories, fat and sugars!)

If you want to forgo the prepackaged granola, you could use oats or other whole grain cereals.

I chose wheat bran to increase the fiber content of the bars, however, wheat germ would work or you could leave it out entirely if you aren't worried about fiber in your diet.

You can substitute any type of dried fruit or nuts for the peanuts. Great combinations with the coconut are cherries, mango, apricot, orange, or pineapple. 

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)
Cooking time: 25 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12
Culinary tradition: USA (General)
Calories: 267
Fat: 9.5
Protein: 5.0

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Ina's Roasted Chicken Breast

'(Wolfgang Puck Grille) Roasted Chicken Breast (2)' photo (c) 2011, Hungry Dudes - license: this week Michael had a really bad cold so I decided to make him some homemade chicken noodle soup (recipe forthcoming). As part of that I had to get some chicken breasts and roast them. Of course, in today's convenience world you can't walk up to the butcher in the grocery store and buy a couple chicken breasts that have been trimmed. No, you have to buy a family size package and trim off the fat yourself. So, I ended up with this rather large package of bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts.

So guess what the rest of the week was. Yup, chicken breast. However, I have found a nearly perfect preparation that is stupidly simple and so easy you could have beautifully prepared roast chicken all the time!

Ina Garten, the queen of simple, delicious and elegant, has used this recipe for a number of years. In anything that requires shredded or diced chicken she begins with this roast chicken recipe. It couldn't be simpler: a little olive oil, a little salt, a little pepper and voila! perfectly roasted chicken that is gorgeous, juicy and delicious.

I added a little to Ina's recipe because I love rosemary with chicken and we have two huge bunches of rosemary growing by our front door. So, I cut a few sprigs, removed the leaves, then gave them a nice fine chop. I then placed the finely chopped rosemary under the skin of the chicken. This imparts a wonderful taste and aroma. Honestly, there are few aromas as enticing as chicken roasting. Add the scent of rosemary and, well, it's heavenly!

Note: photo is stock because I forgot to get one while cooking. 

: Roast Chicken Breast
: Delicious, moist and juicy chicken breast with golden crisp skin.

  • 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts trimmed
  • 2 tbs. good quality olive oil
  • 2-3 tbs. fresh cracked pepper
  • 4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbs. fresh rosemary, chopped fine

  1. Move oven rack to upper third of oven. Preheat oven to 375° and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Wash and pat dry the chicken breasts. With fingers carefully loosen the skin and place rosemary between skin and meat.
  3. Lightly brush both sides of breast with olive oil. Salt each side lightly and evenly then sprinkle with cracked pepper.
  4. Repeat with second breast.
  5. Place both breasts on sheet pan. If you have spilled any oil on the sheet pan take a paper towel and wipe it up so it does not smoke in the oven.
  6. Place in oven and bake 35-45 minutes or until skin is golden brown and internal temperature of the chicken breast is 165°.
  7. Remove from oven and cover breasts tightly with foil. Allow breasts to sit untouched a minimum of 10 minutes (15-20 is even better).
Preparation time: 5 minute(s)
Cooking time: 45 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 2
Culinary tradition: USA (General)

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Banana Coconut Smoothie

I know I'm on a smoothie kick, but bear with me. It's been hot here in Arizona, as if that is a surprise. But on top of being hot it appears our North American Monsoon is fizzling out. It's been a week or so since had any significant rainfall and the nighttime temps are in the upper 80's and 90's too. In short, it's sweltering.

So, there's nothing better when it's like this than a good old fashioned milkshake! Of course, when you're desperately trying to lose some weight milkshakes are a big no-no. So, what to do? Smoothies.

This smoothie features two of my favorite flavors together: banana and coconut. The coconut flavoring is very subtle but gives a nice boost to the banana. I use only about 1/4 cup of coconut milk because I wanted the hint of flavor but didn't want all the fat and sugars coconut milk brings along with it.

The bananas are peeled and sliced then frozen for several hours which helps the smoothie have a thicker texture. Hint: make sure you use ripe bananas. I've found since making smoothies like this that using bananas right from the store gives a sort of "green" taste to the drink. I don't know how else to describe it. The flavor is a little off. So, bring your bananas home and let them ripen for a day or two before preparing them for your smoothies. Some brown spots is a good indication you won't have that under ripe flavor in your drink.

: Banana Coconut Smoothie
: Luscious banana and coconut combine for a chilled treat!

  • 1 1/2 cups vanilla soy milk
  • 1 medium banana, peeled, sliced and frozen 5-6 hours
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tbs. Splenda (or other no calorie sweetener)
  • 3-5 ice cubes

  1. Place all ingredients in blender and blend on high for 1-2 minutes or until drink is smooth and frothy. Serve immediately.
Preparation time: 5 minute(s)
Cooking time: 0
Diet tags: Reduced carbohydrate, High protein
Number of servings (yield): 2
Culinary tradition: USA (General)
Calories: 203
Fat: 10.5
Protein: 5.9

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