French Onion Soup Made Easy

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Don’t tell me that you skip over the crock of french onion soup whenever it is on the menu. I have a hard time not getting it! The cheese that oozes over the top of the crock, the delicious piece of bread in the middle, does it really matter what the broth tastes like at that point? But still, even the broth of french onion soup beats out most soups. Then there are the strategies in eating it. Some people mix the cheese in and eat throughout, others save the cheese for last, even others dive right into the bread. No matter what way you eat it – it is indeed tasty.

So one of those cold winter days (feels literally like yesterday), my wife took out the dutch oven and asked “what do you think of french onion soup tonight?” To which my response was, “well, do we have enough cheese?” Hells yes we did. Hours later, we had nice hot bowls (sorry, we don’t have crocks yet) of french onion soup oozing with cheese over the top. This was a success that went straight into the recipe book. Here you go.

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Weekday Brunch: Simple Sausage Strata

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What’s a strata? Well, a breakfast strata is a casserole made of egg, cheese, bread, and breakfast meat. Ron Swanson’s dream (other than a heaping pile of bacon on top of an additional pile of bacon, on top of sausage). Anyway, at work, our gracious overlord bought the staff breakfast, but we were also asked to bring a casserole of our choosing. …or juice. Well I wasn’t going to be the ass face that brought juice, so I went to one of my favorite brunch items that was also one of the easiest – Sausage Breakfast Strata. Why? Because I’m an awesome team player with a culinary hand that will blow your face off by surprise. Bitches.

What could go wrong? You have breakfast in one dish. Bread, cheese, sausage, and egg. That’s a 2-2-2 deal in diners across this nation. A staple that one shan’t take away. So I made it the night before, let it sit in the fridge, and woke up early to pop this in the oven. I brought it into work, and BINGO-BANGO – it was destroyed by all. “Oh, I didn’t know you were a good cook!” “YOU made that?!” “Hey, everyone loved that breakfast casserole you brought in.” Faces. Blown. Off. And you can too…here’s how.

Simple Sausage Strata
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Ingredients

6 Eggs

2 cups Milk

1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons of mustard (yellow or dijon)

1 loaf of bread (your favorite – something crusty)

1 – 2 cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese

1 Sleeve of Sausage (1 lb crumbled sausage)

Salt & Pepper

Recipe

Cook the sausage to brown

Whisk together eggs and milk with salt & pepper

Cube your bread (I had a nice crusty loaf of Puerto Rican bread)

Grease an oven-safe baking dish (about 13 x 9)

Cover the bottom of the dish with cubed bread (use crust parts first). Eat the extra.

Sprinkle sausage on top of the bread – throughout entire dish. Use all sausage.

Sprinkle about half of the cheese on top of the sausage.

Cover with egg mixture

Sprinkle remaining cheese on top

Cover with foil and let sit in the fridge overnight. You don’t HAVE to do this, but it tastes better this way.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake the dish (uncovered) for at least 35 minutes. Depending on your oven – it may be longer. To check, put a knife in the center and it should come out clean. Let it sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.

The Endless Road Trip, Philly: A Thousand Layers of Joy

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At Rangoon, a Burmese restaurant in Philly’s Chinatown (one of only a few longstanding Burmese spots on the East Coast), there are curries and skewers and tea leaf salads (all delicious), but the star of the show is a not-so-humble slice of bread.

Their thousand-layer bread is similar to an Indian paratha — a buttery, crispy fried pancake of dough — except here the hot and greasy bread achieves such a flaky, pull-apart consistency that it’s only a slight exaggeration to bill it as having a thousand layers. Each time you tear into this thing it comes apart with such soft and gooey satisfaction, offering all the joy of pulling apart those endless Pillsbury biscuits (pretty much one of my favorite things to do as a fat little kid), albeit with a thousand times more flavor. It comes with curry or a thick white “vantana” bean sauce for spreading/dipping, but really nothing else is needed but this hot and heavenly roll of carb-y wonder.

Acorn Squash Fondue

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Who doesn’t like cheese? Where I used to work, we determined that chocolate and cheese are the only foods that could really go with just about anything. Including each other. Go ahead – try to say otherwise. Add in the fall mood of us good-hearted folks, and my fiance and I decided to try out a twist on The Chew’s acorn squash fondue. We’re both trying to watch what we eat, so we tried to modify it to a “light” version. I was skeptical of whether or not you would taste the squash in the fondue, but the flavor is there, adding a slightly sweet and buttery flavor to the creamy cheese.

As we were picking our acorn squash at the farm, we looked up “how to pick an acorn squash.” While things like bananas, tomatoes, and most other produce have specific ways of showing they are ripe and ready, acorn squash isn’t as easy. So here’s the scoop – you need to find an acorn squash that is “heavy for its size.” Then, you want to find one that also has a balance of orange and green color. So there you have it – now you know you’ll have the perfect acorn squash. For our fondue at least, we followed the guidelines and the squash came out well.

The recipe is pretty simple. You’ll need to pick a balance of cheeses that you enjoy. The Chew recommends using Mascarpone cheese in the mix to add texture. I don’t think it was needed, but she did enjoy it so it’s really up to you. We picked a blend of Swiss and Smoked Gouda (since that’s what we had) and it turned out well. Dippers are up to you – we limited our bread intake, but that is the clear front runner. We also had radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, and apples. My favorite dipper was the apples.

Acorn Squash Fondue

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Friday Fuck-Up: Two Steps is Clearly Too Many

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It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a Friday Fuck-up around here.  It’s not that I haven’t blown it in the kitchen lately.  I cook dinner nearly every night of the week, so naturally, things don’t always go as planned.  However, my flubs have been rather run of the mill: soupy lasagna, over/undercooked rice, spills, etc.  But then, the bread happened, and it was just too epic not to share.

Let me just say, before I get into the details, that I blame my children.  If not for their constant shenanigans, particularly in the middle of the night, I might have two brain cells left to rub together.  They bring great joy to my life,  and all I have to give them in return is ten of my IQ points.   Not a bad deal, but it can lead to problems.  Like the one you see above.

On Saturday, my husband took the kids to the park.  He has gotten in the habit of making bread using a book (more on that soon), and all I needed to do was take off the plastic bags resting on top of the loaves and put them in the oven.  Apparently I have not yet reached the developmental milestone of following two-step directions because I failed to remove the plastic from one of the loaves before putting it in the oven.  Yes, that’s right.  The lovely glaze in the photo above is a melted Ziplock bag.  The green squiggle next to it?  That would be the melted zipper.

Fortunately (and illogically), I only screwed up one of the two loaves, and the odor of burnt plastic only lasted a few hours.  And in exchange, I have this lovely post to share with you.  You are welcome.

The Ultimate Comfort Foods

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Lisa Rogak’s book Death Warmed Over explores the world’s ultimate comfort foods: 75 recipes typically served at funeral ceremonies of different cultures around the globe. With Halloween (and Mexico’s Day of the Dead) just around the corner, Lisa joins ES to share a recipe for bread of the dead.

While there are many funeral traditions throughout Mexico, the best-known post-funeral celebration is The Day of the Dead, also known as All Souls’ Day, on November 2nd. Officially, it is the one day of the year when dead ancestors return to earth to visit. November 1st is All Saints’ Day, and traditionally, celebrations begin that evening, though in the daytime families tend to honor children who have died, reserving the evenings for adult ancestors.

On November 2nd, the family will spend the day at the cemetery where loved ones are buried. They clean the area around the grave, wash the tombstone, and place the deceased’s favorite foods around the grave. Huge flower arrangements are also common. Most families also build a small altar – either at the gravesite or at the home or office – and place food offerings and favorite items on it as well

Food is also a central part of Day of the Dead celebrations for those still walking the earth: Special black plates and bowls are only sold during the last two weeks in October and bakeries make hundreds of the life-size skull-shaped cakes with the name of the deceased written in frosting on the forehead. In fact, candy and desserts take center stage during the Day of the Dead, from chocolate caskets to candy skeletons. Indeed, like other cultures that saved biscuits and cakes from the funeral as a memento of a lost loved one, many Mexicans will hold onto these candy bones for years.

Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)

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From Sardines to Sausages: Exploring Portuguese Cuisine

ES guest writer Faith brings us the food travel lowdown on the savory land that is Portugal.

From freshly caught grilled sardines and salted dried cod dishes to hearty smoked sausage stews and the famous piri-piri chicken, Portugal has some seriously flavorful food. Paprika, garlic, bay leaves, chili and olive oil are popular additions to many Portuguese dishes, and the resulting flavors will leave you coming back for more. These popular dishes make this a culinary destination that deserves to be better known.

1. Pasteis de Nata – Portuguese Egg Custard Tarts

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The Pasteis de Nata is a creamy, flaky, egg custard tart, topped with sugar and cinnamon. The tart originated in Lisbon in the 18th century at a bakery in the Santa Maria de Belem parish, and the bakery itself has now become a popular tourist attraction, serving over 10,000 tarts a day. Lines are inevitable, but it’s well worth the wait to try this distinctive treat from its original source.

2. Pão – Bread

Traditionally, Portuguese meals were served on a slab of crusty bread to soak up all the juices and to provide a filling meal. Today, plates have replaced this method of serving food, but bread is still an integral part of most meals. Bread also varies widely from region to region, with each having its own speciality. Pão de Centeio is predominantly found in the North—this is a rye bread, which is dark and dense. The sweet Bolo de Ferradura loaf can be found in the Ribatejo region, combining unusual flavors such as star anise and lemon. It is often horseshoe-shaped and served at weddings to bring good luck. Pão com Chouriço is the Portuguese substitute for the American hotdog, but more delicious as it is made with Portuguese smoked sausage and fresh dough.

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