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Sunday, July 19, 2015

French Onion Soup. . . Vegetarian Style

I'm an onion lover.  Not everyone is. Don doesn't really like onions  but he eats them cooked (and raw if I use a mild onion and don't mention it's in the salad).  I don't know if our marriage would have lasted if he refused to eat any onion at all.

And because I love onions, I love French Onion Soup with all its lovely caramelized onions, broth-soaked bread and gooey cheese.  But French Onion Soup can pose a problem for a vegetarian if one wants to order a bowl in a restaurant.  Most French Onion Soup is made with a beef stock and we vegetarians don't eat beef broth.  (What would the cow do without her broth?)  So, like many other vegetarians I forgo the pleasure of eating French Onion Soup when eating in a restaurant because I'm trying to keep true to my life-style choices.  And then to top everything off, I don't drink alcoholic beverages and most soups are made with some kind of wine.  What to do???   Well, that's an easy answer:  make it myself.

Although it has a fancy name this French Onion Soup is quite a simple soup to make.   It takes a little time and attention but if you can follow a few directions you should have a nice satisfying bowl of soup for your dinner or supper.  The most important step in making the soup is the caramelization of  the onions to a deep golden brown without burning or scorching them.  This is where time comes in.  You don't have to stir the onions continuously but you should be near the stove to stir every few minutes.  

I use bouillon cubes in this soup because they are convenient but feel free to replace the bouillon and water with 6 cups homemade vegetable stock.

This is also a great soup to serve to company, especially if you are having a fancy meal with an appetizer before the main dish.  Make the soup early in the day and heat it up before your company arrives and pop it in the oven with the bread and cheese

French Onion Soup. . . Vegetarian Style
2 pounds yellow or white cooking onion, about 5-6 large onions
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon flour
2 vegetarian "beef" bouillon cubes or vegetable bouillon cubes
6 cups water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, optional
Bay Leaf
Sprigs of thyme, if you can find fresh thyme
Salt & pepper to taste

1-1½ cups grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese
Mozzarella cheese, optional (see note below)
Thick slices of French bread, lightly toasted, one slice for each bowl of soup. 

Peel and cut onions in half length-ways.  Slice each half in ¼-inch slices.  

Melt the butter with the oil in a heavy bottomed pot until it gets hot and foamy but do not burn the butter. Place the onions in the pot; sprinkle with the sugar and a little salt. Go easy on the salt because you will be adding bouillon cubes and they tend to be salty.  Cook the onions slowly over medium low heat until caramelized to a golden brown.  This will take at least half an hour or more.  Stir every few minutes so the onions do not burn.   

When the onions have caramelized, sprinkle with the flour.  Stir to coat the onions and let cook another minute.  Add the bouillon cubes, water and vinegar.  Stir and scrape any brown residue from the bottom of the pot.   Add the bay leaf and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Bring the soup to a gentle boil and then simmer 20 minutes.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.  

Just before the soup is ready to serve, preheat the oven to broil.  Ladle the soup into 4-6 deep oven-proof bowls.  Lay a piece of the toasted bread on top of the soup.  You may rub the cut side of a clove of garlic over the bread to give extra flavour.  Divide the cheese evenly between the bowls of soup and sprinkle on top of the toasted bread. 

Note:    Gruyere and Swiss cheese can be quite expensive so sometimes I cheat by mixing Mozzarella cheese in with the Swiss cheese at a half and half ratio.  Because the Mozzarella cheese is mild flavoured you still get that nice nutty flavour of the Swiss cheese. 

Lay the soup bowls on a baking sheet or cookie sheet and place under the preheated broiler until the cheese bubbles and starts to turn a golden brown.  DO NOT BURN THE CHEESE.  Remove  from oven and serve immediately.  

Makes 4-6 servings.

This soup can be made vegan by using vegan bouillon, vegan margarine to replace the butter and vegan cheese to replace the Swiss or Gruyere.  

Slice the onions in ¼ -inch slices. 

 Heat the butter and oil in a heavy bottomed pot.

Add the onions to the butter and oil and caramelize them watching carefully and stirring every few minutes.   When the onions are a lovely golden brown stir in the flour and cook for another minute.

When the soup is cooked, ladle into oven-proof bowls.  My bowls were huge so I didn't fill them to the top.

If you wish you may rub the cut side of a clove of garlic on the toast.  This will give a nice boost of flavour to the dish.

Lay the toast on top of the soup.

Sprinkle the grated cheese on top of the toast.  You may use as much or little cheese as you desire.  In this picture I have sliced Swiss cheese and grated Mozzarella on top of the toast. 

Place the soup under the broiler and broil until a rich golden brown and the cheese is blistered.

Doesn't that look ooey gooey good!

As good as any restaurant--French Onion Soup!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Nutty No Bake Cheesecake

Yes, another cheesecake.  There must be a trillion cheesecake recipes floating out there in cyberspace but this one is a little different because of its bottom crust.  Most cheesecake recipes, whether baked or unbaked have some kind of cookie or sweet cracker crust but this one has a toasted oat and nut crust.

I've had this recipe since my college days when I was taking a freshman college foods course.  I had grand designs on becoming a dietitian or nutritionist.   Ha, ha. I became a teacher instead but the foods course was a great class to take.  I enjoyed and looked forward to attending the foods class as I was quite at home in a kitchen. It was like a calm spot in my busy and hectic schedule.  Mom had always allowed me to cook and bake so the preparation of food was easy and I came away with an "A" in the course. Not everyone in the class was as adept in the culinary skills.  Some didn't know which end of the spoon was up when we all started.  Fortunately, we had a good teacher and I believe everyone had a passing grade by the end of the semester.  I kept all my notes and hand-outs for years, referring to different recipes and hints as needed.  It was just a few years ago I decided to throw out my "past" but kept a few of the recipes that I still made.  This is one of those recipes.  I generally make a graham cracker crust with cheesecakes but this nutty crust is a delicious and unusual bottom for an unbaked cheesecake.

The cheesecake filling is the classic no-bake filling made with sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice mixed with the cream cheese. The sweetened condensed milk gives the filling a velvety smooth texture but any unbaked cheesecake filling will work. 

In class, cherry pie filling was the favourite topping for the cheesecake but blueberry, strawberry or lemon would be equally as good.  Actually, any combination of fruit or berries is good with a cheesecake. Oh, now I'm thinking fresh peaches, yum!  And how about caramelized apples in the fall.  Oh the possibilities are endless. . .

Nutty No Bake Cheesecake

1 cup oatmeal
⅓ cup chopped walnuts (or any nut you prefer)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
⅓ cup melted butter

Toast oatmeal in 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes stirring every 3 minutes, watching that it does not burn.  The oatmeal should be a lovely golden brown with no burnt pieces. You may also toast the nuts at 300 degrees for about 5 or 6 minutes but this is optional.   Toss the oatmeal and nuts with the brown sugar and butter until well combined.  Press in 8-inch square pan.  Refrigerate until needed.

Cheesecake Filling:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1 can sweetened condensed milk
⅓ cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla

Blend all ingredients until smooth.  You can do this in a blender or with a hand or stand mixer.  I find the blender works really well.  Pour the mixture over the chilled bottom crust.  Top with cherry pie filling or your choice of fruit topping.  Or you may chill the cheesecake without the topping and serve any fruit, berries or pie filling separately at serving time. 

Refrigerate and chill at least 4 hours or overnight for best results.  

Mix the toasted oats and nuts with the brown sugar and melted butter.

Press into an 8-inch square dish and refrigerate until needed.

While the crust if firming up in the fridge get the filling made.  You can dump everything into the cup of a blender and whiz away, which works really well (I have a Vitamix).  Or you can use a mixer and  cream the cheese, then add the sweetened condensed milk and blend well.  Then add the lemon juice and vanilla.  I find if I make the filling in a mixer it has a few small lumps of cream cheese if I don't cream it well and gradually add the other ingredients.  

Pour the prepared filling into the chilled crust.

Spread the filling over the crust.  Now you can top the filling with a favourite pie filling and refrigerate for at least 4 hours--overnight is even better.  Or you can pop the "naked" cheesecake in the refrigerator and add your desired topping when serving.

 Here's a close-up of the nutty crust.

Today I had a blueberry rhubarb sauce over my cheesecake.  The last one I made had sweet cherries with a thin glaze made from the cherry juice.  If you provide several toppings for the cheesecake you'll make everyone happy.   For special occasions have a bowl of whipped cream ready to garnish the cake.

Have a bite!

Velvety, smooth with a crunchy toasted oat and nut crust.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Favourite Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies

Peter and Vicki's sixth wedding anniversary is today but it only seems like yesterday we were so busy bustling about getting the church and food ready for the great occasion. 

Peter & Vicki, July 12, 2009

One of the things Vicki asked me to make were the wedding favours to go by each guest's place setting.  I can't remember how we settled on cookies but Vicki had a Chocolate Chip recipe she liked to make for Peter and I think that's how we decided to make cookies.  You can't go wrong with Chocolate Chip Cookies!

I placed 2 or 3 cookies in a cellophane bag and placed the bag in a little blue or yellow gift bag.  The cookie recipe was printed on adhesive backed paper and stuck on the cellophane bag.

You can see the little gift bags at the head of each place setting.

 A close-up of the little cookie gift bag.

This is the recipe stuck to the cellophane bag.
I've changed it a little since that lovely day.

If you are looking for an uncomplicated cookie, this Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe is just that--no oatmeal, no nuts, no unknown ingredients--just the makings of a good old-fashioned drop cookie.  This recipe makes a soft, cake-like, caramel flavoured cookie studded with chocolate chips that's just perfect for dunking.  And much to my surprise they are wonderful eaten warm from the oven.  I'm not a hot-from-the-oven-chocolate-chip-cookie kind of person.  I like them after they've cooled down and the chocolate has solidified. But these warm cookies are so perfect for dunking I just couldn't resist eating one (or two or three) with a glass of cold milk.  They remind me so much of my father's famous cookies.

Favourite Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies
¾ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup chocolate chips (may add more if you wish)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

Cream butter and brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until well incorporated.  Mix in the flour, baking powder and salt. Do not over beat the dough.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. You may also use a cookie scoop if you have one. Bake in preheated oven 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on a rack.  Store in a covered container.

Makes 2½-3 dozen cookies.   

The cookie dough can also be frozen after the cookies have been formed.  I froze a pan of unbaked cookies on a piece of plastic wrap laid on top of the cookie sheet.  When the cookie dough pieces were frozen solid I put them in freezer bag and replaced them in the freezer.  When ready to bake, place as many as you need on a prepared cookie sheet and let them thaw for 20-30 minutes. Bake as directed above.  

Cream the butter and brown sugar together.  Add the eggs and beat well. If you count the eggs, you can see I'm making a double batch.  Mix in the flour until a soft dough is formed.  Do not over beat the dough.

Stir in the chocolate chips and mix through.  You may increase the amount of chocolate chips but I think the amount in the recipe is just right for me. ☺

Drop by spoonfuls unto the prepared cookie sheet.  I like to use my cookie scoop.   The cookies are reflected on the side of my metal mixing bowl.  

The unbaked cookies can also be frozen.  Lay out the cookie dough on a plastic wrap lined cookie sheet and freeze solid.  When frozen, transfer to a freezer bag.  When ready to bake, place on a prepared pan.  Let thaw 20-30 minutes and bake as directed in the recipe.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.  

Chocolate Chip Cookies are great with a glass of milk.

Warm and gooey with chocolate.

Dunk, dunk, dunk. Munch, munch, munch.  Slurp, slurp, slurp.
Oh, yeah, that's the way to finish off a cookie!

Note to self:  Must keep a few for the family.

Grab a glass of milk and have a cookie or two!

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Sweet Rhubarb Pickle Relish

With so much rhubarb around this time of the year I thought I'd make some Rhubarb Pickle Relish.  This is a recipe my friend Maggie had published in our school fundraiser cookbook so many years ago and it's a real winner as far as pickles are concerned.  Sweet and tangy, it complements many other foods.  It's great on hot dogs or burgers and makes a delicious accompaniment to a roast (veggie or meat).  You can use it like ketchup or any sweet pickle relish.  I like to use it as a topping on my Lentil Roast instead of the usual ketchup topping.  

Don't despair if you don't own a canning kettle.  Any large covered pot, tall enough to hold a few bottles covered with water, will work.  You just need to place some kind of trivet or stand on the bottom so the jars are not directly touching the bottom of the pot.  I used a large stock pot for years before I purchased my canning kettle.  Most large grocery stores or stores like Walmart or Canadian Tire carry canning supplies especially this time of the year--you may even find a sale on canning jars.  And I find the best place to buy the canning lids is at the dollar store.  

If you don't want to invest too heavily in canning supplies I would suggest you buy the jar lifter if nothing else.  Trying to lift the scalding hot jars from the water is very difficult (and dangerous) without the lifter.  Ask me how I know!

The recipe makes quite a large amount but you can make half the recipe if you wish. But you can always share a few jars with friends or neighbours.  They'll be pleased you thought of them and they'll enjoy a tasty treat.  

Rhubarb Pickle Relish
1 796 ml/28 oz can whole or diced tomatoes (Dice or break up whole tomatoes.)
6 cups white sugar
8 cups diced rhubarb
3 pounds onions, peeled and diced (5 or 6 large onions)
6 apples, peeled, cored and diced
1½ cups white vinegar
1½ cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons allspice
1 teaspoon turmeric 

Place all ingredients in a large stock pot and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat.  Cook until soft about 10-15 minutes stirring occasionally.

Mix together:
3 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup water

Add the cornstarch slurry to the simmering rhubarb mixture and stir until mixed through and everything is simmering again.  Cook over low heat for an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When finished cooking, pour into sterilized canning jars and seal.  Process in a water bath for 15 minutes.  Remove from water and let cool before storing in a cool area.  See the pictures and instructions below for processing the jars.   

Makes 10 500ml/pint jars.  

I use 500ml or pint jars for the relish but the smaller 250ml/half-pint jars may be used as well

The relish can be eaten right away but it improves in taste if left for a few weeks.  

Assemble the ingredients.  You will need to dice the rhubarb, apples, onions and tomatoes.

Mix everything in a large stock pot and bring to a simmer until everything is soft.  This will take about 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally so the relish will not burn on the bottom of the pot. 

Mix the cornstarch in a little water and add to the simmering rhubarb mixture.  You will still have quite a thin mixture.

 Simmer for an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

Set out an old dish towel or paper toweling to catch drips and lay out the instruments of canning:  funnel, ladle, lifter, jars, lids and bands.  The jars should be sterilized before filling.  See instructions for sterilizing jars here or here.

 The lids need to be simmered for 5 minutes to soften the red sealing ring. 
Or follow the package directions.

Using a canning funnel, fill the jars to within ½-inch of the top.   Release any air bubbles using a plastic knife or the end of a plastic spoon.  Clean the edge of the jar with a damp paper towel. Centre the lid on top of the jar and lightly screw down with the bands. 

Place the filled jars in the canning kettle and fill with hot tap water. Cover the jars with at least 1-inch of water.  Bring to a boil, cover and process for 15 minutes after water comes to a boil.  You don't need a rapid boil but it should continue to gently boil the whole 15 minutes.

When the relish is ready, use a special jar lifter to remove the scalding hot bottles from the hot water.

As the jars cool they will seal.  You will hear a little "ping" as the lids are sucked down tight.  When you press on the lid there should be no give to the top.  If the lid can be pushed down and it pops back up it has not been sealed.  Reseal in a hot water bath or refrigerate and use immediately. 

Wipe the jars for any sticky bits and label with contents and date.

A bumper crop of Sweet Rhubarb Pickle Relish. 

Sweet Rhubarb Pickle Relish complements a serving of vegetarian sausage.