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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Another Thing The French Got Right

It's their onion soup. I forgot how good it is until I made it again last night. The occasion was a joint celebration of my son’s re-assignment to Fort Gordon, Georgia and my son-in-law’s 39th birthday.

The soup was followed by Michele’s salad (named in honor of a friend who concocted it) beef tenderloin with béarnaise, twice baked potatoes, green beans with slivered almonds and a raspberry chocolate cake from Central Market (which is sort of like a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s for those of you not from Texas).

It was a great dinner in honor of two great people—my son and the guy who keeps my daughter happy and my grandchildren enjoyable.

My son’s departure for Ft. Gordon is his reward for re-enlisting in the Army—that and a $20,000 re-up bonus. He spent the last two-and-a-half years with the 1st Cav, a year of it in Baghdad, where he earned a Bronze Star and an Army Commendation medal—both for valor—and two purple hearts. We're all verry proud of him.

He was facing the prospect of another tour come October and wisely decided that re-enlisting for three years for a guaranteed (insofar as the Army can guarantee anything) tour of duty in Georgia for at least two of them was a better option that getting re-acquainted with the Mahadi Army. Too many close calls the last time.

Assuming the elite in Washington (whoever they happen to be at the time) don’t go off on another pre-emptive misadventure in the name of promoting democracy, oil, Christianity or capitalism; or protecting America from real or imagined weapons of mass destruction; or changing one rabid regime for another, he should get out of the Army alive albeit with memories that make mine of Vietnam the stuff of daydreams.

Over dinner, he was talking about going back to Fr. Hood this week (he’s on leave) to get with his buddies for an April 4 reunion marking Black Sunday, which was described by one general as “the biggest gunfight since the fall of Baghdad.” That’s when he got his Bronze Star. It was just a few days after they arrived in country and marked the start of the longest year of our lives.

That’s we all cheered when he said he was re-enlisting to avoid another trip back to a pointless hell and why we all gathered for dinner to send him off.

Although Brian isn’t leaving for a week, schedules were such that we had to move his celebration up a week, colliding with the planned celebration of Todd’s birthday.

That’s one reason beef was the main course. It’s Todd’s favorite. He comes by his beef bias naturally, having been raised on a ranch. In fact, the picture that has been in his wallet the longest and was only reluctantly moved behind my daughter Kim’s, is of a youthful Todd with a massive prize winning bull.

He’s now the head of IT for a Dallas bank and lives in the suburbs, and although he avers that he’ll never go back to ranching (too hard, he says) he still wants to raise a cow now and then. During his and Kim’s brief “ranch phase” –when they lived on eight acres in the country and had a horse—he did raise a rather tasty cow we called T-Bone. Shortly after T-Bone was snugly resting in butcher paper in our freezers, Riley, grandchild number one, was born and the moved back to civilization commenced. It’s tough to push a stroller along the side of a dusty dirt road.

Future cow raising (which I'm certain will be part of my grandchildren's upbringing) will have to be done on someone else's ranch.

But when his next cow graces our table, we'll be sure to serve it with French Onion Soup.

Here’s the recipe for the French Onion Soup.

Serves six to eight

5 cups onions, which is about 1½ pounds thinly sliced or about three fist-sized onions. This is where a mandolin comes in real handy.
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2 quarts of beef stock
½ cup dry white wine or vermouth
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons cognac
1 cup each parmesan and gruyere cheeses, grated and mixed together.
Croutons

First: “Sweat” the onions slowly in the butter and oil in a covered four-quart, heavy bottomed pot for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take your time. Don’t rush this step or the next.
Second: Remove the lid, add the salt and sugar and raise the heat to moderate. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently until the onions turn a golden brown. Be sure to watch them closely so they don’t burn. Again, don’t rush this part. It’s what makes the soup so good.

Third: While the onions are cooking, heat the stock to boiling.

Fourth: Sprinkle the flour onto the onions and stir for three minutes.

Fifth: Off heat, combine the boiling stock with the onions. Add the wine and salt and pepper to taste.

Sixth: Simmer for about another 45 minutes skimming any scum that rises to the surface.

And finally: Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Pass the croutons and the grated cheese.