Tag Archives: cheese

Balthazar French Onion Gratinée

foods_174So, I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never actually had the SoHo brasserie version of the recipe I’m about to gush over. But since I’ve made this soup a few times now, I am confident I can brag about the results you can achieve at home.

As temperatures have dipped down into the 20s here in Seattle, I come home from work and crave something piping hot. Preferably with a cheesy crust.

I don’t think it’s a mistake that Balthazar calls the recipe a “gratinée,” since the jam-like texture of the onions, broth-logged bread and cheese crust on top make the soup portion feel like an afterthought. One thing I’ve learned with this recipe (as with many aspect of cooking) is to practice patience. The recipe says to cook the onions down for 30 minutes, which when you’re hungry and stirring the pot seems like an eternity. After about 10 minutes, the onions will become soft and take on a light caramel color, which may lead you to believe you’ve reached that “golden color” referenced in the instructions. Do not stop. I actually set a timer so that I wouldn’t shortchange the onion transformation process (I have a tendency to get a bit impatient). Stir, stir, stir. Don’t let them burn, but let the onions become so caramelized that they seem to almost disintegrate. They should begin to latch onto the wooden spoon when you stir.

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Cheese and Onion Sandwiches

Cheese and onion sandwiches pair well with a cold beer.

I never thought my family had a food history. We don’t have a secret to crispy fried chicken, or a BBQ rib technique that has been passed down through the generations. We don’t even have a blue-ribbon pie recipe. Even though some of my most vivid food memories have happened with my family where we all started, the Midwest, my grandmother hasn’t bestowed upon me a greasy piece of paper scribbled with the secret to the world’s greatest anything.

As you can imagine I was feeling quite sorry for myself. But when I  started a list of the things I know (that didn’t come from an episode of Barefoot Contessa) I found some forgotten gems. So to kick things off, it’s my dad’s favorite sandwich that my Grandmother Mary used to make just for him.

She whipped up a spread of just three things: onions, cheddar and mayonnaise. He tells me, I swear with a glint in his eye, she used to slather pumpernickel bread (his favorite) with this pungent spread and cut the sandwiches into threes. He flew to Wales for his dental school residency on Laker Airways and she sent him off with a little piece of home in the form of 11 (yes) cheese and onion sandwiches stacked into a bread bag. They were gone when he landed.

I found them to be simple, but insanely addictive because of the sharpness of the spread. They went best with a pickle, a cold IPA and an episode of Mad Men.

Grandmother Mary’s Cheese and Onion Sandwiches


8 slices pumpernickel bread

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup mayonnaise

salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix chopped onion, mayonnaise and shredded cheese in a large mixing bowl. Chill for 15 minutes.

2. Spread on slices of pumpernickel bread. Enjoy!


Shred cheese yourself. Pre-shredded cheddar is always too dried out and lacks flavor.


Chop red onion into a small dice.

Pumpernickel bread was key because it countered the sharp flavors.

Pumpernickel bread was key because it countered the sharp flavors.