Sunday, September 27, 2009

Recipe #8: Pasta e Fagioli

When I was a kid, my mom made this soup once, and I remember going with her and my sister to bring it over to my great grandfather's for him to try. I don't remember his reaction, or whether he liked it, but I remember that whenever that was -- I'll guess about 15 years ago, maybe -- it was the best soup I'd ever had. It wasn't complicated and it wasn't expensive to make. It was basically a mixture of stuff anyone would already have in their pantry. A few weeks ago, I asked my mom about it, and if she remembered how to make it. To my surprise, she still had the recipe. When she sent it to me, I expected long detailed instructions, but after receiving a list of ingredients and two basic instructions, I called her to see if maybe she forgot part o the recipe. She told me she had gotten it from a chef on TV and just had a pen to write down the ingredients. Well, I've added a couple things of my own and I think I've gotten a pretty good soup. One item of note: It drives me absolutely crazy when I have seen repros of this recipe over the years and they include meat. Even Olive Garden's version contains meat. Traditional Pasta e Fagioli (which our family pronounces pasta fa-zool) doesn't have any meat in it, it has beans and tomatoes, because they were cheap "peasant foods." There was no meat in the real thing, so in mine still there shall be no meat! :) Please note -- wherever you see a (*) next to an ingredient or tool, there is a comment about it below the recipe. Enjoy!

Pasta e Fagioli

Cook time: 30-35 minutes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves of garlic*
1 15-ounce can Great Northern Beans*
dash thyme
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
8-10 fresh basil leaves (4 whole and 4 ripped or chopped)
2 quarts chicken broth
2 cups dry pasta*
4 tablespoons tomato paste

Large pot
Mixing spoon

Heat olive oil and garlic in pan over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add can of beans and liquid and simmer for 5 minutes. Add in tomato pasta, mix to combine. Add four chopped/ripped basil leaves, thyme and parmesan cheese, mix to combine. Allow to cook for 3-5 minutes.

Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add pasta, allow to cook for 15 minutes or until pasta is tender.

Serve as is or garnished with a basil leave and topped with parmesan cheese and olive oil.

-Garlic: I don't usually use fresh garlic when I cook, unless it's going to be almost raw in the dish. What I use instead is a huge jar of Spice World minced garlic. It saves me the time of having to chop (and have my hands smell like) garlic for any given recipe. For this recipe, if you use the jarred garlic, use two tablespoons.

-Beans: If you can't find "Great Northern Beans," you can use cannellini beans. Just remember not to rinse them off or discard the liquid in the can. Adding the beans AND the liquid gives the broth a good amount of starch.

-Pasta: I used small shells for my soup, but any tiny pasta would work. Don't use a large pasta, or it will absorb a lot of space and you'll end up with more pasta than broth. Try a small variety or Barilla Picollini for tiny versions of big pasta!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Recipe #7: Goat Cheese and Sundried Tomato Spread

This is one of my all-time favorite foods, and it really only requires buying three things -- goat cheese, a jar of sundried tomatoes, and a good loaf of crusty bread. I can't take credit for the idea completely; a restaurant in Connecticut that we sometimes go to for special occasions has a goat cheese with sundried tomatoes appetizer. I've never asked them how they work their magic to make it so delicious, but I bought the ingredients, gave it a shot, and while it's a little different... I love it. Please note -- wherever you see a (*) next to an ingredient or tool, there is a comment about it below the recipe. Enjoy!

Goat Cheese and Sundried Tomato Spread

Prep time: 5 minutes

1 11 ounce package of goat cheese*
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes packed with herbs in olive oil*
1 1/2 tablespoons marinating oil from jar of tomatoes
1 loaf of crusty bread

food processor
spreader (for serving)

Cut goat cheese into four pieces and place in food processor with tomatoes and one tablespoon of marinating oil. Set on puree for approximately 10 seconds, or until goat cheese is creamy and whipped in texture. There should be no visible lumps. Add remaining oil and pulse til well combined (dip should be light orange-pink in color). Yields approximately 1 1/2 cups.

Serve with a few sundried tomatoes along with small slices of bread.

-Goat Cheese: Make sure whatever you buy does NOT have herbs in it. This completely changes the taste and in my opinion, makes the cheese taste... well, un-goat-cheese-like. This is what I always buy, and it's available at any supermarket:

-Sundried tomatoes: The complete opposite of my commentary on herb-packed cheese... I actually only use the sundried tomatoes that are in oil and packed with herbs for this recipe. The oil really brings out the flavor of the tomatoes and the herbs make it so you don't have to add anything spice-wise. The type I buy is pictured below, but any herb-marinated sundrieds will due. Word to the wise -- if you use these for this, you won't use the entire jar. They can then be stored in the fridge till you need them again. But, when you take them out again, the oil will have hardened. To remedy, microwave for 50 seconds. Word to this wise -- this comes at the advisement of my husband -- remember to take the metal lid off BEFORE microwaving!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Recipe #6: Apple Crisp

This has been my favorite recipe since I was five years old -- literally, the recipe I have is written out in my kindergarten teacher's handwriting. Mrs. Debartolo handed it out to everyone and their parents after a trip to Holmberg Orchards in Gales Ferry, Connecticut (the same orchard I visited with my family yesterday -- read about it and see pics here). My sister and I have helped our mom make this since we were little kids and have made it ourselves as adults, and everywhere I've ever brought it -- whether to a friend or relative's house or work for a breakfast treat -- it's always received rave reviews. I serve it with a bit of homemade whipped cream on top, but Cool Whip will do too. Either way, top this apple crisp with a bit of the cream when it's still hot and it will start to melt, making it that much more delicious! BONUS: While cooking, this also makes your house smell wonderful. This is a very simple recipe, and the hardest part (besides peeling the apples which isn't actually hard at all) is waiting til it's cool enough to eat to dig in. Please note -- wherever you see a (*) next to an ingredient or tool, there is a comment about it below the recipe. Enjoy!

Apple Crisp

Prep time: 30 minutes (includes time peeling apples)
Cook time: 45 minutes

8 cups peeled, sliced apples*
2/3 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup oats
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2/3 cup melted butter*

13x9 baking dish, greased
apple corer (optional)*
mixing bowl

Preheat oven to 375. Place sliced apples in greased baking dish.

Combine flour, oats, cinnamon, brown sugar, salt and melted butter. Mix until crumbly.

Sprinkle evenly over apples to coat well.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Serve with whipped cream.

-Apples: I used Macintosh apples because to me, they're the perfect mix of sweet and tart. But if those are unavailable where you live, you can use any variety that you enjoy. Granny Smith apples are also good. In case you're not sure what a Mac looks like...

-Butter: Since I hate when recipes don't specify whether you're supposed to measure butter before or after it's melted (is it 2/3 cup before it's liquid, or once it's already liquid?), I'll specify for you -- it's 2/3 cup after it's melted. For me, that translates to one full stick and three tablespoons of another before melting. Also, use salted butter. It makes it so much richer.

-Apple Corer: I have one of these handy tools that I got from Linens 'N' Things, but since I believe they're out of business, I'm pretty sure you can also find them at Walmart. I believe I spent a grand total of $5 on it, and it's completely worth it. It's a two piece tool that's pretty invaluable if you bake/cook with apples often. Otherwise, even making this recipe, I've found you lose a lot of apple "meat" just cutting around the core. It's simple to use. Shove the simple/sharper part through the core, ensure it's poking out the right spot on the bottom skin. Push through skin, and remove. Pop out core. Bam-o, done! Here's some pictures in case you don't know what I'm talking about:


Apple picking with family

We decided since this weekend was beautiful -- 65-70 degrees and extra sunny -- to take our two-month old apple picking. My parents also came with us and we had a blast, in part because we didn't go last year and I hadn't been with my parents since I was a little kid. We took turns holding the baby and picking apples, and took home about two pounds of Macintosh apples from Holmberg Orchards in Gales Ferry, Connecticut.

If you're planning to go out and pick apples before the season's up, head out soon. Many of what you may find are drops (apples that have already hit the ground), but just as good as long as there aren't any signs of rot or worm holes (obviously).

In some places, there may also be some raspberry crop left though we weren't able to find much in the way of ripe fruit.

We did also see nectarines, pears and peaches, as well as grape tomatoes.

I'll also be posting a recipe made with the apples that we picked in the next post (coming in a few minutes), but for now figured I'd share some of our pictures. It was a beautiful day to "pick your own!"

The pictures are pretty self explanatory. The people in them are myself, my husband, and my parents. And baby Johnny, of course.

To find your local spots for "pick your own" apples, pumpkins, corn stalks, raspberries and all the other in-season fruits and vegetables, visit!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Recipe #5: Chicken Parmigiana

There are several ways to cook this, and it's one of my husband's favorites so I've pretty much tried them all. This particular recipe -- which involves covering the chicken cutlets with sauce and baking them -- is his favorite as well as mine, because to us, it seems to have the most flavor. You may also notice that this recipe doesn't use mozzarella cheese. Aside from the fact that it seems to make things too heavy for my taste (of course, you can choose to use it), it also makes me very sick to my stomach, so I use parmesan cheese instead and none of the flavor is lost! It's not necessarily a quick recipe, but the time it takes is so worth it. Please note -- wherever you see a (*) next to an ingredient or tool, there is a comment about it below the recipe. Enjoy!

Chicken Parmigiana

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

2 cups uncooked pasta (any variety)
2 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes with basil
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
4 cloves garlic*
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons heavy cream*
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 cups panko bread crumbs*
2 cups parmesan (or parmigiano reggiano cheese)
2 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 eggs
4-5 thin cut chicken breast filets*
2 cups flour

two dishes and one bowl for dredging/flouring/breading chicken
13x9 pan/Pyrex
large pot
large skillet
medium sauce pan

To make sauce: Add four teaspoons olive oil to heated sauce pan (heat on medium-high), allow to heat for 5-7 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, teaspoon salt, teaspoon pepper, Pecorino Romano cheese, garlic and red pepper flakes and stir with oil to combine and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add heavy cream, stir to combine. Simmer for additional 5 minutes, then set aside. *Yields about a quart and a half.

Begin prep for chicken by heating butter and remaining olive oil (yes, both) in skillet on medium heat. Take 13x9 pan, and cover bottom with a layer of sauce. Preheat oven to 400.

Set up a dredging station for the chicken -- one plate should be just flour, a second should contain panko breadcrumbs and 1 1/2 cups of parmesan cheese, garlic powder, teaspoon each of salt and pepper and teaspoon parsley. Bowl should contain four eggs, beaten.

Dredge chicken by flouring first, placing in egg second, and into panko last. Use spoon to cover chicken with the breadcrumbs, ensuring they're distributed evenly.

As chicken is thoroughly coated, transfer to heated skillet. Turn after 1 minute, or when golden brown on underside.

After both sides are browned, add to 13x9 pan. When all chicken is browned and in 13X9, pour additional sauce over chicken (reserve approximately 1 1/2 cups), sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese and parsley.

Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.

While chicken is baking, boil pasta. Drain, and add back to pot. Ladle remaining sauce into pan, and mix with pasta.

Remove chicken from oven when cheese is slightly browned.

Serve chicken over pasta.

-Garlic: I don't usually use fresh garlic when I cook, unless it's going to be almost raw in the dish. What I use instead is a huge jar of Spice World minced garlic. It saves me the time of having to chop (and have my hands smell like) garlic for any given recipe. For this recipe, if you use the jarred garlic, use two tablespoons.

-Heavy Cream: I use this to thicken the sauce, and because adding just a small amount makes it richer, while not making it too heavy. You also would never taste the cream in the sauce, and it shouldn't ever be visible -- make sure you mix well! If you prefer, you can leave it out of this sauce.

-Breadcrumbs: Panko breadcrumbs are Japanese bread crumbs that are flakier than regular bread crumbs. You will notice a different texture when you see them during dredging; they only make the chicken crispier. If all you have on hand is regular bread crumbs, you can use those, but Panko isn't hard to find in most supermarkets.

-Chicken: I bought very thinly sliced cutlets for this recipe. They are a little more expensive than whole chicken breast ($3.99/pound) but worth it. It saves me from having to cut all the fat off, and are already very thin so tenderizing isn't necessary.

-Reserve "bowl" for sauce: This is entirely optional, but when I was done cooking the sauce, I transferred it to a handy little glass bowl in my arsenal of cookware -- the Classic Batter Bowl from Pampered Chef. It's basically a giant measuring cup-shaped bowl with a spout on it for easy pouring (like pouring it over the chicken once it's cooked), and comes with a lid so any leftover sauce can be stored in the fridge. I have the larger batter bowl which holds two quarts. It's shown in the pic below with the spice container next to it for size reference. I just find it very handy! If you want to see what I'm talking about, you can find the batter bowl right HERE.

-Sauce: I doubled the recipe I would normally use for sauce, because this recipe requires a lot. You will inevitably be left with some sauce. No problem there -- just store covered in the fridge, reheat in a sauce pan, and serve with pasta.

-Bowl recommendations: For my dredging and baking, I generally use Pyrex bowls/bakeware, because I received more than you can shake a stick at for my bridal shower. I *LOVE* Pyrex (and I'm not getting anything for saying that!) because it's oven-safe, ensures even cooking, and comes with lids for easy storage of leftovers. It's totally find if you don't have it though, just make sure that whatever you do use to cook the chicken in the oven is actually oven safe!

-Cooking chicken: When you're cooking it to delicious golden brownness in the pan before baking, don't worry that you're only cooking it for a minute. You're not trying to cook it through -- just making it look pretty and browning the outside. It will cook through in the oven. Also, if you find the pan getting dry when browning, add a little bit more olive oil.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Recipe #4: Rigatoni ala Vodka with Shrimp

I am a pastaholic. I could eat it everyday if it was of no consequence. I am also a huge fan of homemade sauces and hate jarred because to me, it just doesn't taste right. It's not hard to make a good sauce on your own, and if you make the pink vodka sauce in the recipe below, I guarantee you that it is as good, if not better, than any restaurant vodka sauce. My favorite part about this recipe is that it only takes about 20 minutes to make, from start to finish. Also, in case you're either allergic or not a big fan of shrimp, you can always just leave it out. We're just big fans of seafood and love the texture and taste of shrimp. Also, not a lot of pics for this one, as it's such a quick and easy recipe... I hardly had time to take any! Please note -- wherever you see a (*) next to an ingredient or tool, there is a comment about it below the recipe. Enjoy!

Rigatoni ala Vodka with Shrimp

Cook time: 20-25 minutes

10-12 large shrimp, cooked, peeled and deveined (optional)
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes*
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
3 cloves garlic*
1 1/2 pounds rigatoni (about a box and a half)
4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 ounce vodka
3/4 cup heavy cream
dried parsley for garnish

large pot
medium sauce pan
mixing spoon

Boil water in large pot with 3 teaspoons of salt. Add pasta. Cook until tender (about 15-20 minutes).

While pasta cooks... In saucepan, add olive oil and heat on medium heat for 5-7 minutes. When oil is heated, add crushed tomatoes, remaining salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, 1/4 cup cheese and garlic and let simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Stir frequently to keep sauce from sticking and to heat evenly. Add vodka, allow to cook for two more minutes. Add cream slowly, stirring as it is added. Sauce should appear orange to pink in color. Add shrimp and cook for five minutes.

When pasta is finished, drain and return to pan, but turn the burner off. Pour sauce and shrimp into the pot with pasta and mix.

Spoon onto plates and top each with remaining cheese and sprinkle of parsley. Enjoy!

-Garlic: I don't usually use fresh garlic when I cook, unless it's going to be almost raw in the dish. What I use instead is a huge jar of Spice World minced garlic. It saves me the time of having to chop (and have my hands smell like) garlic for any given recipe. For this recipe, if you use the jarred garlic, use one tablespoon.

*Tomatoes: The crushed tomatoes I use already have basil in them (it will say it right on the can). If you can't find any with basil already added, add one leave finely chopped OR one teaspoon into the tomato sauce while cooking.

*While cooking: Be careful adding the can of crushed tomatoes into the pan with oil. Adding them too quickly or too much at a time can cause the oil to "spit," and you can get a pretty nasty burn. You want to be sure to heat the oil only on medium heat (NOT HIGH), and stand back a bit, maybe even use a potholder, when you pour the can in. You can also try adding half the can, mixing, then adding the second half.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Enjoy the start of fall -- go apple and pumpkin picking!

Labor Day has come and gone, the leaves here in my backyard are starting to change color, and the muggy heat is gone. We're just around the corner from the start of fall.

Growing up, my sister and I couldn't wait for autumn because we knew it meant we'd soon be going apple picking with our mom. Even though we weren't allowed to buy them just yet -- they would never have lasted through Halloween -- we'd also love looking at the pumpkins and knew it meant colder weather and Halloween were getting close!

Though my little guy is only eight weeks old, we'll be bundling him up sometime in the next few weekends and taking him to the orchard while we go apple picking. I'll post my favorite recipe using fresh apples and a few pics from the trip soon after. The recipe has never failed me, and that's saying a lot considering my mom still has the handwritten version we got from my kindergarten teacher.

Living in New England, we're just starting up the season for Macintosh, Golden Delicious, Cortland, and a few other types of apples. Pumpkins are generally going to start being sold in the next few weeks, but if you're going to buy them right away, I wouldn't count on them lasting until Halloween, but they're great for just sitting on steps outside or even painting. If you head out in the next few weeks, many farms also do hayrides for maybe $1 or $2 per person. It's worth it for the scenery! You can also probably get your hands on some locally made cider, and at some places, watch the process happen. Delicious!

Wherever you live -- even if you're not lucky enough to be in New England -- there are places to pick your own seasonal fruits and veggies. Not only is the weather beautiful, it's a cheap afternoon out with the family, and besides the fun of picking (and possibly snacking on one or two) apples, you get to take what you buy home and create something delicious and fun. Support your local growers, and pick your own!

For local "followers," around Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, I've personally been to these places and recommend them. Check out:

Maple Lane Farms -- Preston, Connecticut
Holmberg Orchards -- Gales Ferry, Connecticut
Charlton Orchards -- Charlton, Massachusetts

Find your local orchards, farms and places to "pick your own," no matter where you live at!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Recipe #3: A Trio of Spreads

Better than just tasty, this trio of spreads -- Roasted Red Pepper and Feta, Roasted Garlic Hummus and Olive and Artichoke Tapanade -- are quick and easy to do. If you're hosting a party and need appetizers to serve a few dozen people, this trio should be one (or three?) of them. You can serve them along with a sliced baguette, or do what I did -- take store-bought pitas, cut them in eight pieces, and toast them in the oven for 5 minutes. You're left with a tasty Greek treat! The first dip, tapanade is delicious and SO simple. Even my husband, who hates artichokes, loves it. The second dip, hummus, is nutty and delicious and is much fresher-tasting than store-bought. The third, the red pepper dip is "inspired" by that of a restaurant John and I went to in the Berkshires (Lenox, Mass., to be specific) last year, Firefly. I don't know what besides the named ingredients go in their dip, but it's worth the drive! I've kept the pictures to a minimum here, because the steps are pretty easy. Please note -- wherever you see a (*) next to an ingredient or tool, there is a comment about it below the recipe. Enjoy!

Olive and Artichoke Tapanade

Prep time: 5 minutes

1 6-ounce can of black olives, drained
1 jar of marinated artichoke hearts*
3 cloves garlic*

food processor

Add olives and eight artichoke hearts from the jar to food processor. Pulse until blended, but not pureed. Slowly drizzle 1/4 cup marinating liquid into mixture while pulsing. Add garlic, process until desired consistency. Yields 1 1/4 cups.

-Artichoke hearts: You can use any brand of artichoke hearts, but make sure you know the brand you're using ahead of time. Personally, I used (and only ever use) Pastene brand artichoke hearts for this recipe. You can use whichever you like, but make sure you've tasted the marinating liquid ahead of time, since it's actually used in this recipe.

-Garlic: -Garlic: I don't usually use fresh garlic when I cook, unless it's going to be almost raw in the dish. What I use instead is a huge jar of Spice World minced garlic. It saves me the time of having to chop (and have my hands smell like) garlic for any given recipe. For this recipe, if you use the jarred garlic, use one tablespoon.

-Consistency: I prefer the consistency of this when I make it to be somewhat pureed. If you prefer it to be chunkier, just pulse it less in the food processor. I find when it's chunkier, it's harder to keep on the bread/pita when you snack on it. Trust me, I realize this dip isn't much to look at, but you won't believe how delicious it is.

Roasted Garlic Hummus

Prep time: 30 minutes


2 cups canned chick peas (garbanzo beans)
5 cloves fresh garlic (Yes, REAL GARLIC!)
1/2 tablespoon sesame tahini*
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

food processor
aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel garlic cloves, place in center of aluminum foil square. Drizzle with two tablespoons of olive oil, wrap in foil and completely cover garlic. Place pouch in oven for 25 minutes, then remove and set aside to cool.

Add chick peas and tahini to food processor, and pulse. Add garlic. When well combined, drizzle olive oil while mixing. Add salt to taste. Yields 2 cups.


-Tahini: Never heard of this? Tahini is sesame paste. I wasn't able to find this in my regular supermarket, but was able to find it at a different market. If your local store doesn't carry it, you can certainly find it at any kind of gourmet food store. For reference, Price Chopper (my local store) doesn't carry it, but Shaw's does, in the international food aisle. The jar is very similar, coincidentally, to a jar of peanut butter. Be sure not to add too much tahini, as you will notice even just by smell, that it has a slightly peanutty flavor. If you add too much, the nutty flavor will overpower the chick peas, and you'll end up with what tastes like peanut butter hummus. And NO ONE needs that!

Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Dip

Prep/cooking time: 25 minutes

2 red bell peppers
2 tablespoons canola oil*
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

grill (charcoal or gas)
aluminum foil
food processor
tongs (for grilling)

Wash and dry peppers. Brush with canola oil, and place on preheated grill. Try to maintain grill temperature of 500 degrees, but turn peppers every 3-4 minutes. Cook until skin is completely charred. (Pic below is when the peppers are almost there!)

Immediately remove from grill, place in bowl and cover with aluminum foil. Let cool for 20 minutes.

When peppers have cooled sufficiently to touch, peel char off with your hands. Also remove stem and seeds by hand -- DO NOT RUN UNDER WATER. Place on paper towel to remove some of the liquid "sweating" from the pepper.

Add pepper pieces and feta to food processor, blend until pureed. Yields 1 1/4 cups.

-Canola oil: You can also use vegetable oil for this purpose. And fear not, the oil isn't actually getting into what you're eating. You're just applying it to the outside of the pepper so the flame chars the outside consistently. It stays on the skin, which you're going to remove before making the dip!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Recipe #2: French Onion Soup in Sourdough Bread Bowls

I had never even tried French Onion Soup until about two years ago, when John ordered it at a restaurant. Since then, I make it maybe once every two months, but more frequently in the cold weather. I always like the way it turns out, it's simple, doesn't require a lot of ingredients, and with just the two of us eating it, this recipe gives us lunch/dinner for a few days! Please note -- wherever you see a (*) next to an ingredient or tool, there is a comment about it below the recipe. Enjoy!

French Onion Soup in Sourdough Bread Bowls

Cooking time: 45 minutes

You'll need:

2 quarts beef broth (tip: 1 box = 32 oz. = 1 quart)
5 sliced onions
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme*
3 garlic cloves*
1 stick unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup red wine*
1/4 pound Gruyere cheese (sliced or grated)*
2 round "peasant" loaves at least 7" wide*
salt and pepper to taste

large pot
bread knife
mixing spoon

Melt butter in large pot over medium-high heat. Once melted, add onions, thyme, dash of salt and pepper. Cook until onions are translucent and slightly browned.

Add red wine and cook for 10 minutes, until wine has reduced significantly. Sprinkle flour and mix gently. Reduce heat to low-medium so flour does not burn. Once flour is absorbed, add beef broth and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste when serving.

To make bread bowls -- use bread knife to cut a hole in the top of the bread at an angle. (Note: you'll be using your hands to dig out more of the inside, so this won't look perfect.)

Leaving about an inch around the crust of the bread, pull out inside of bread. Be careful not to remove too much, or the soup could come through the sides of the bread.

Ladle soup into bread bowls.

Turn broiler on (if you don't have a "broiler" setting on your oven, turn your oven to 450 degrees, and move one rack to the top level). Sprinkle cheese on top of soup, and place filled bread bowls into an aluminum-covered roasting pan. Broil for 3 minutes, or until cheese is melted and/or brown. Serve.

-Thyme: If using fresh thyme, use one sprig. The taste of dried herbs is much more potent than that of fresh herbs. Remove the sprig before adding the wine.

-Garlic: I don't usually use fresh garlic when I cook, unless it's going to be almost raw in the dish. What I use instead is a huge jar of Spice World minced garlic. It saves me the time of having to chop (and have my hands smell like) garlic for any given recipe. For this recipe, if you use the jarred garlic, use one and a half tablespoons.

-Wine: Generally, you shouldn't use wine you wouldn't drink. But that doesn't mean you have to buy expensive wine for this. Even a $10 bottle is just fine -- just stay away from the $3 variety, which is generally too sweet to cook with.

-Cheese: If you can't find Gruyere in the supermarket (it may not be available at the deli, but in the specialty cheese section), you can use Swiss instead. If like my husband, Swiss and Gruyere are both too bitter for you, you can use Provolone cheese in its place. Provolone (as you can see in the pic above) doesn't brown quite the same under the broiler, and has a tendency to sink into the bread bowl, but it does melt well in the soup.

-Bread: You don't have to use sourdough bread for the bowls, but it's a good contrast to the saltiness of this soup. You can use any loaf that has a good solid crust on it. If you use a bread that has too soft an outside, you could end up with a huge mess when you go to ladle the soup in! Here's what the bread I used looked like before it was bread bowled: