Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Onion Harvest and French Onion Soup

All the onions have been pulled up. Normal wisdom says that when you harvest the onions you should let them “cure” for a few days, to dry out the outer layer and help keep them stable through the winter months. For at least some of them I have a different plan in mind. Thanks to the wonderful pressure canner I got for Father’s Day, I’m going to put up a batch of French Onion Soup.

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I also have pulled up most of my garlic already, 2 small cloves and 4 larger ones. One garlic is still in the ground, stubbornly refusing to be ready. The garlic bulbs will be properly cured so they can keep for a little while. I don’t have any immediate plans for them.

Some of the onions are sitting outside to cure, in a shaded area with good ventilation. I cut their roots short, and then cut off the stems about an inch or more from the bulb. They’re going to sit like that, turned occasionally, for a few days. Hopefully, when this process is completed, the outer layers will be dry and papery, and the onions will be stable enough to keep for a few months (as if we will let them sit that long!).

Going into the soup are any onions which I don’t think are suitable for long-term storage:

  • Any onions which put up flowers
  • Any onions with damaged outer layers
  • Any onions which were too small to be worth saving
  • Any onions whose stems were damaged during harvest too close to the bulb

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Once rinsed and peeled, I’ve got a little over 4 quarts of chopped onions to make soup with. I’ve posted this recipe before so I won’t go into as much depth here. I’m only giving my specific measurements.

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French Onion Soup

  • 4.5 Quarts chopped onions
  • 4.5 Quarts low-sodium beef broth
  • 3 Medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 2 Cups Apple Cider
  • Olive Oil
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1tsp each dried thyme and rosemary

Add the onions to a large stock pot with enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and black pepper to taste. Caramelize, stirring frequently, over medium heat. Once reduced and a deep golden brown color (NOT BLACK AND BURNED) add garlic, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary. Reduce apple cider by half. Add beef broth. Bring soup to a boil. Add bullion until the soup has a rich enough flavor. Add salt and additional black pepper, if needed.

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Ladle soup into prepared quart mason jars. Process in a pressure canner at 11 lbs for 20 minutes.

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See my earlier posts about the recipe in more detail, and about how to serve the soup once it’s been prepared.


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Beef and Vegetable Soup

Fall time growing up always brought a few cooking traditions: Apple pie, A big pot of spaghetti sauce and meatballs, and a gigantic pot of beef and vegetable soup. My parents would make a huge pot of this soup most years, and it would be dinner (and lunch, and occasionally breakfast) for weeks on end. Toss in a spoonful of hot pepper vinegar, and it’s heaven in a bowl.  With containers in the freezer, we could have hot delicious soup at a moment’s notice.

This soup uses a beef broth base but draws much flavor inspiration from a few particular vegetables. Specifically the cabbage, rutabaga and tomatoes are the most important for the flavor palette, and I consider them indispensable here. I suppose you could omit the beef products for a vegetarian offering, but I’ve never tried it.

Beef and Vegetable Soup

  1. Cubed beef for stewing
  2. A medium head of green cabbage (I used three quarters of a large head)
  3. One medium Rutabaga
  4. Potatoes (I used 4 large russets)
  5. Carrots (I used 4)
  6. Celery (I used 3 stalks)
  7. Frozen peas, green beans and corn (About a half bag each of the frozen stuff)
  8. Beef bouillon (I used three cubes)
  9. Garlic (I used three cloves)
  10. Cans of diced tomatoes (I used 2 8-oz cans)
  11. Oil, salt, pepper, bay leaves and other seasonings to taste

My parents might also add things like chopped up cauliflower and lima beans. Instead of putting those in the soup, I like to chop them up fresh and dump them right in the garbage where they belong. Your mileage may vary.

Put the oil, garlic and beef cubs in the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef is browned on all sides. While that’s going, start to peel and chop your root vegetables. Add them into the pot in order that they need to cook. You can just start layering things, you don’t need to stir them all in. Peel and chop your carrots, potatoes and rutabagas. When the meat is cooked, toss those in on top. Now clean and chop your celery, and toss that in on top too.

After the celery, clean your cabbage and give it a rough chop. Cabbage is going to make up the bulk of your soup, so don’t skimp on it. On top of the cabbage I added my two cans of tomatoes, followed by the frozen vegetables. Again, you can just toss things in layers, there’s no need to stir it all up yet.

Finally I added two bay leaves, some salt, pepper, bouillon cubes, and then added water to cover. Bring the whole mixture to a boil. Simmer until the cabbage is translucent and the root veggies are all fork-tender.

Unlike the French Onion soup, there’s no real prep work necessary before you serve it. Ladle it into a bowl and put it in your mouth. I like a spoonful of the hot pepper vinegar to really brighten it up, but that’s completely optional (Dana likes it just fine without).

I’ve never tried canning this soup before. You’d definitely need a pressure canner of some variety, and you might want to under-cook it a little bit so it doesn’t completely turn to mush in the pressure canner. One day I’ll give it a shot and report back on how it turned out.


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French Onion Soup Part 2

In my last post I talked about French Onion Soup and gave my recipe for the soup broth. Today I’m going to talk about what to do with that broth once you’ve made a boatload of it.

Eat It

Of course you want to eat it. It’s delicious. Grab a bowl and a spoon and go crazy.

…Unless you want to do it right. That’s going to take a little bit more prep work.

Prepare It

Here’s what you’re going to need:

  1. Something bread-like. I like a loaf of french bread or a french baguette. I’ve also seen it done up with garlicky croutons if you’ve got those laying around.
  2. 1 clove of fresh garlic
  3. Good cheese (I use a sharp Provolone).

I’ve seen Mozzarella cheese used instead of the Provolone. But for my money I would always go with the Provolone. If you can find some that’s sharp and aged a year or more, even better.

So here’s how you prepare a great bowl of soup:

  1. Slice your bread into inch-thick slices (more or less to your liking). Get them toasted. You can do it in a toaster oven, you can do it with a big torch. I like to do it under the broiler. Keep in mind that un-toasted bread will soak up a lot of the broth and you’ll be left with really tasty bread mush. Toast it up good.
  2. Peel your garlic and chop off the end. Rub the toasted side of every piece of bread with the garlic to coat it with a fresh garlic flavor.
  3. Pour soup into oven-safe bowls. Float a piece of the bread on each (more if they’re small pieces). Cover each with a big slice or two of cheese.
  4. Put the bowls of soup on the cookie sheet, back in the over under the broiler.
  5. Once the cheese melts and gets a little bubbly, you’re done. Take it out, let it cool, open face, insert soup.
  6. Since you did a lot of work, somebody else can do the dishes. That melted cheese can be a real pain to scratch off.

Preserve it

If you’ve got a pressure canner, you can can put the soup into jars, can them, and they will be shelf stable for quite a while. Since the soup base is, effectively, beef broth with some flavorings, you can follow canning instructions for other broths. I don’t currently have a pressure canner (xmas gift hint!), but I would love to be able to put up a few quarts of this soup for a rainy day. At least 10lbs of pressure for 25 minutes should be more than enough to heat the soup through.

Keep in mind that the onions have already been cooked to hell and back. You don’t need to worry about them getting soggy or overcooked, because they’re already soggy and overcooked. When in doubt, throw another few minutes on the timer. You really can’t cook it too much at this point.

If you don’t have a canner, this broth will keep very well in the freezer or the fridge. I’ve got a few big glass containers with air-tight lids I use for exactly this purpose, but most plastic storage containers should work just fine.


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French Onion Soup Part 1

When I’m canning I follow recipes, or I try to, because there are serious health and safety issues involved and I don’t want my family to get all sick and dead and whatever because I didn’t have the temperature or pH levels correct. But when I’m cooking normal food, recipes are treated like vague inspiration. The big downside to this approach is that when something turns out spectacularly good, there’s no written record of exactly how you produced it, and subsequent attempts will never turn out exactly the same.

Today I’m going to share, as best as I can remember it, my recipe for French Onion Soup. And let me tell you, when this “recipe” turns out the results are fantastic. At it’s best, this recipe is the best French Onion Soup I’ve ever had. At it’s worst it is still pretty darn good.

First, the ingredients:

  • A whole bunch of onions. Get one of those bags at the grocery store. Or more than one bag. Go nuts.
  • Good, fresh garlic.
  • Enough beef stock or broth. How much is “enough”? It depends how big your pot is and how many onions you got.
  • Some beef bouillon
  • Good apple cider
  • Salt, pepper. Some herbs too. I like Rosemary and some bayleaves.
  • Butter. Or olive oil. Or whatever you’ve got.

I like a good sweet Vidalia or other sweet yellow onion. You can use white onions too, but a good sweet yellow onion seems to produce the best results for me. The beef broth you get is going to make up the majority of your soup, so don’t skimp on quality. I tend to like a good, clear broth for best presentation, and something low in sodium. Some recipes call for veal stock. I’m not a big fan of veal personally, so I stick with beef broth.

The apple cider is my secret weapon, and what sets my recipe apart from so many others. I’ve also made this soup, with very good results, using a good quality Marsala wine instead of Apple Cider, and I’ve made it before with about 50/50 Marsala and Cider. If you use Cider you want something that’s sweet and a little tart. Too much bitterness or sourness won’t work. Because of weather-related issues, I didn’t have any apple cider on hand this time and had to use a no-sugar-added, 100% apple juice instead. The results were still good but not as great as with a good cider.

Next, the process:

  1. Take the skin and ends off your onions and slice them. I like long, thin slices. Aesthetics. Cut an onion, go have a good cry. Cut another onion, go cry some more. Don’t judge me. You want to fill whatever pot you are using completely to the top with onions. All the way to the very top. Don’t skimp out and try to get away with fewer onions. FILL. IT. UP.
  2. Oh right, you’re supposed to add some butter or oil or something to the pan so things don’t burn. Go back and do that first.
  3. Cook your onions down, stirring them around so they don’t burn. You want to cook them down until they turn a deep golden brown. There’s a fine line between perfectly caramelized onions and burnt nasty onions. Once you’ve crossed that line you’ve cooked them too much. Start over. The higher your heat, the more closely it will need to be tended. medium low or medium heat work well. This part of the process took me about an hour and a half, but for most of it I didn’t need to watch very closely.
  4. When the onions are cooked all the way down and are deep golden brown, you can add your deglazing liquid. You only need, at most, 4 cups. One or two might be fine too. Put it in the pot and let it bubble while stiring and scraping the bottom of the pot to get all the important flavor bits dissolved into solution. In this picture, I walked away to get the camera and a little bit of the goop on the bottom started to burn. It wasn’t too bad though, and didn’t really affect the final soup.
  5. You’re going to need to add garlic at some point. I like a fresh, raw garlic flavor so I add it just before, or just after the deglazing liquid. If you like a more mild, caramelized garlic flavor, add it to the onions earlier and let the two cook together for a while. This is a trial and error process to find what you like most.
  6. Add some herbs and black pepper. You can add the black pepper all the way at the very beginning if you want, but I don’t think it makes much of a difference. You can add the bay leaves pretty early while the onions are cooking down too, but I also don’t think it matters. All these things can be added after the deglazing liquid if you want. I’ll usually add a bay leaf or two and  handful of chopped fresh rosemary. Thyme, marjoram, taragon and even oregano may work well, but you’ll need to experiment to find a collection that works well for you.
  7. After the flavor bits are dissolved and the deglazing liquid has reduced by half or more add your stock. Fill your pot up with it. Turn up the heat and bring the whole thing to a boil.
  8. Now you start to taste it. Taste the soup and see two things: whether the salt level is good enough and whether the broth has a rich-enough beefy flavor. Add beef bouillon first to adjust the beefy flavor, then add salt if you still need more after that. This is why you should use the low-sodium broths, so you don’t over-do the salt levels when adjusting the beefy flavor.
  9. Boil the whole shebang for an hour at least. You want to make sure all the good onion flavor gets out into the broth. After this, take out the bayleaves. You’re done! Eat your soup.

That’s the general recipe for creating French Onion Soup. Next post I’m going to talk about storing, canning, and eating this great soup.