Recently a friend drove me to a medical appointment. As we left to return home she asked, “How about lunch?” This had not been in the plans but it was lunchtime and a nice suggestion so I said, “Sure.” The next question was what did we feel like having: a burger, a taco, pizza, Chinese? None of them moved either of us, so I offered another idea, “Further on there is a nice little French bakery that serves lunch, if you wouldn’t mind driving an extra bit.”
Within minutes both of us were savoring the richest flavored onion soup out of individual black wrought iron pots overflowing with melted cheese and boasting a gorgeous golden crusted crouton. Almost simultaneously, we both had the same thought: Why don’t I ever make this at home? Within days she made it for her family and the convent sisters served it for two different retreats. In each case it met with overwhelmingly positive responses.
How long has it been since you served French onion soup?
- In a heavy-bottomed pan, slowly brown the onions and garlic in butter and sugar until the onions are golden brown, about 30 minutes.
- Add flour and cook, stirring for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Add the wine and cook for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Add stock or consommé and water, and simmer partially covered for 1 hour.
- To serve, place a small slice of French bread on top of each bowl, and cover generously with Swiss cheese and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, then bake covered at 325 degrees for 15 minutes, then uncover and bake another 10 minutes.
All the convent sisters continue to work on preparations for Spirit of America Band’s participation in the Dubai workshops at the end of this month. Whether or not they play an instrument or are even going on the trip themselves every sister is very involved and supportive of the endeavor in whatever way they are able to contribute.
Last week the emphasis was on sewing. All who could helped with the job of fitting, altering and adjusting each uniform. This week when the participants from all over the country come together for rehearsal, we will be feeding about 200 people for the entire weekend; so much help will be needed in Paraclete House Kitchen. One of the meals that has hit the spot with most of the group and received a lot of praise is this hearty beef stew that not only provides them with needed energy but also satisfies their taste buds in a special way.
- Place in a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker.
- Add half of beef to skillet; cook, turning to brown on all sides, about 8 minutes.
- Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high.
- Repeat procedure with remaining beef.
- Add wine to skillet; scrape to loosen browned bits from bottom of pan.
- Bring wine to a boil, and cook 1 minute.
- Add to slow cooker.
- Stir in tomato paste, salt, pepper, carrots, garlic, celery, onions, and 2 cups beef stock.
- Add thyme sprigs and bay leaves.
- Cover and cook on LOW until beef is tender, 7 1/2 to 8 hours.
- Whisk together flour and remaining 1/2 cup stock.
- Add flour mixture and to slow cooker.
- Increase heat to HIGH; cover and cook until bubbly and thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves.
- Garnish with parsley, if desired.
Some meals can be almost as enjoyable to prepare as to eat. Short ribs are an example of this, especially in cold blustery weather as we have been having this winter. Cooking them is a most pleasurable culinary experience, engaging all the senses from start to finish.
Thick well cut ribs are a joy to handle while rubbing in the seasonings. Then there is the visual thrill of watching them beautifully brown before your eyes in the sizzling hot skillet. This begins to produce a mouthwatering aroma to savor, while slowly nursing them along to desired tenderness.
As a final treat to the senses, I hear the sound of delighted exclamations from those coming to dinner whose appetites are peaked from shoveling snow out in the cold. Could anything be more heartwarming and rewarding than that? Well yes….sitting down and eating one of my most favorite meals with them!
- Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
- Season short ribs with salt and pepper
- Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- Working in 2 batches, brown short ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch.
- Transfer short ribs to a plate. Pour off all but 3 Tablespoons of drippings from pot.
- Add onions, carrots, and celery to pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes.
- Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until well combined and deep red, 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in wine, Worcestershire and then add short ribs with any accumulated juices.
- Bring to a boil; lower heat to medium and simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 25 minutes.
- Add all herbs to pot along with garlic. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to oven.
- Cook until short ribs are tender, 2–2 1/2 hours.
- Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain sauce from pot into a measuring cup.
- Spoon fat from surface of sauce and discard; season sauce to taste with onion salt and pepper.
These short ribs are even better when they are cooked the day before.
The kitchen was really busy last night. Eight of us were buzzing around cooking for an upcoming party. Really great energy. As much as I think I am a person who prefers to be alone, I love the energy of being in the kitchen with a crowd of people. Don’t get me wrong — there is something to cooking alone — being there in the quiet, creating something delicious for someone else to enjoy. It ministers to my spirit, and I sometimes get great ideas and thoughts about other projects. But a group that is working well together, chaotic as it might be, also ministers to the whole group in a way that can’t be duplicated. In the middle of this I was putting together my favorite Beef Mushroom Barley soup for guests and a retreat group the next day. What could be better on a cold rainy day! My brother in law just came through and tasted the soup. He said it needed some red wine, so I added a splash. He was so right!
Mushroom Beef Barley Soup
- Pour boiling water over dried mushrooms to cover, set aside.
- In a large soup pot, saute beef in 1 Tablespoon oil until browned, 5 to 7 minutes, remove from pan.
- In the same pot, with the other Tablespoon of oil, cook your carrots, onions, leeks, celery and baby bella mushrooms until just browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Stir in barley and thyme and cook for another minute.
- Add the beef broth.
- Drain dried mushrooms in a sieve, and add that liquid also to the pot.
- Chop the mushrooms until fine, and add those.
- Toss in the bay leaves.
- Simmer until meat is tender and barley cooked (about an hour for the beef tenders, and longer for the stew meat).
- A little while before serving pour in the wine, and heat again.
- Add kosher salt and ground pepper to taste. This can be made 2 or 3 days in advance — it will taste even better if made ahead.