Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Library Bar House Soup: Swiss Onion Au Gratin

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I spent 7 of the best years of my life attending Michigan Tech for undergrad and graduate school, and that I post recipes of U.P. favorites here from time to time, including pickled eggs, pasties, fishbowls and nisu (or pulla).   My friend and classmate Lee has been after me for years now to post another local favorite, the house soup from the Library Bar in Houghton.

Swiss Onion Au Gratin

The Library Bar in Houghton was a favorite place of MTU students in the 1980s.    It was owned by Jon Davis, a onetime MTU student who moved there and never left.  Whenever I think of him, the word "bon vivant" comes to mind....

In addition to his famous bar, which he conveniently named "The Library" (so students could tell their parents they were at "The Library" studying and it would be okay), he also was the man behind the Guts Frisbee league and also a winter road rally called the "Press On Regardless" or POR.  By the time I got to meet him, the Library was at it's pinnacle of popularity.  Jon was easing into retirement at this time, but occasionally you could find him behind the bar in those days. I can remember a night I spent perched on a barstool there, down in the dumps for reasons unremembered now, but Jon cheered me up like a good bartender can, with equal parts listening and encouragement and beer.  They had a great menu back then....excellent pizza which was all you can eat on Sundays for $5, and good sandwiches too, like the "James Beard" Reuben and the "BTO" which was what he called the best sandwich on the menu that no one ever orders but I did.   It was a bacon tomato onion sandwich.   The menu then looked like a book.   The place had red carpeting on the walls and a 1970s vibe and a low ceiling upstairs with a sign that admonished you to "Watch out you might get hit Ontonagon".   There was a guitar player named Gary Tunstall that played singalong songs like "Piano Man" and "American Pie" that the whole bar would stand up in unison and put their arms around each other and sing along in the pre-karaoke era.    Jon sold the place and the bar burned down in the 1990s and has been reincarnated as a microbrewery, and it's not the same as it once was anymore.   Jon passed away in 2007, but his memory lives on every MTU Winter Carnival during the Jon M. Davis Memorial Chili Run.   During the all nighter snow statue building, Jon would show up in a van and hand out cups of hot Library Bar chili to students throughout the night.   The MTU Alumni Association carries on this fine tradition to this day.

Another tradition is the house soup at the Library.  It is still Swiss Onion Au Gratin.  I've never seen this soup anywhere else ever, and I am not sure if it was a Jon Davis invention or something that came later, but it is still served today at the Library.   A taste of it takes me back to my student days for sure; it's a "must have" for MTU alums, along with a pickled egg from the B&B and a fishbowl drink at the Ambassador whenever we visit Houghton.  One of my sorority sisters worked at the Library and got the recipe for the soup, which I've scaled down here to make a smaller pot.   Whoever invented the recipe, my hat goes off to them because it's pure genius for a restaurant...costs nearly nothing to make and is a great way to use up stale rye bread.   I like to use double the onions the original recipe called out (just half them if you want the original quantity).  Also, don't be tempted to use real chicken stock or anything....this recipe needs the salty boost of soup base.    And definitely make your own rye croutons because they are so delicious.   In a pinch, I suppose you could use the Gardetto's Rye Chips.   Another note: over the years, I've found that soup base varies in concentration, so taste yours after adding the water and add more if it needs it.   I like Penzey's Chicken Soup Base, but also" Better Than Bouillon" will work.

Swiss Onion Au Gratin Soup
Serves 8

4 medium onions, diced
1 T. butter
1/4 c. chicken soup base
5 1/4 c. water, divided
3 T. white wine
1 t basil
1/2 c corn starch
2 c. whole milk

1 pkg. cocktail rye bread (or stale rye bread cut into cubes)
Garlic powder
Shredded Swiss Cheese (for topping)

To make the croutons, heat vegetable oil (about a half inch depth) in a frying pan until hot.  Cut cocktail bread slices into quarters and fry in hot oil until crisp.  Sprinkle hot croutons with garlic powder to taste.

In a large dutch oven, saute onions in butter until soft.    Add soup base and 5 cups water (taste here to determine if more soup base needs to be added).   Add wine and basil and heat through.   With the remaining 1/4 c. water, make a slurry with the cornstarch and add to the soup, heat until thickened.   Whisk in milk and heat through.

Top bowls of soup with croutons and Swiss cheese.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Pie of the Month: Apple Pie with Caramel Sauce

For my church's silent auction last month, I donated a "Pie of the Month" prize to the raffle.   For the next year, the winner will get a homemade pie delivered to their home.   The winner is a very nice woman named Marge who lives in Saline.  I haven't yet met her in person, but we talked on the phone.  She attended the auction with her son, who lives nearby and attends St. Joseph.   She was concerned that Saline is too far away, but I'm looking forward to making the trip and then stopping to visit my daughter in Ypsilanti where is goes to college.   For this month, I made apple pie...

I used Northern Spy apples that I got at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market yesterday from Wolfe Orchards.   Northern Spy is my favorite pie making apples; they hold up without getting mushy and are very tart.   I made 2 pies - one for Marge and one for us.   I used the vodka pie crust recipe and for the filling:

5 cups peeled diced apples
1 t, apple pie spice
Sugar (to taste.....1/2 to 3/4 cup) your tastebuds may vary and so might your apples

I made the pie from memory and once they were in the oven I realized I probably didn't add enough sugar to the apples.  I don't like overly sweet pies, so  I added just a couple tablespoons.   Looking at my trusty Better Homes and Gardens: New Cook Book, I saw that it probably should have been at least a half cup; now what to do?  I decided that caramel sauce was the answer.   Doing some quick Googling for a recipe, I settled on one featured on the Pioneer Woman cooking show on the Food Network...not because I'm a big fan of the show but because it used half and half instead of heavy cream.   I have to admit, I get sucked into watching Ree Drummond and her fantasy ranch life every once in a while when I am on the elliptical at the gym, which involves showing off her fancy house and handsome cowboy husband and beautiful children and her days solely revolved around cooking fantastic things in her well equipped kitchen.     I know it's not for real, but I get sucked in anyway.

Caramel sauce

1 c.  brown sugar (packed)
1/2 c half-and-half
4 tablespoons butter
Pinch salt
1 T vanilla extract

Mix the brown sugar, half-and-half, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook while stirring occasionally  for 5 to 7 minutes, until it gets thicker. Add the vanilla and cook another minute to thicken further. Turn off the heat and when cool slightly pour the sauce into a jar and refrigerate.

We invited our neighbors Steve and Martha over for pie after dinner, and I served the pie with a puddle of caramel sauce and a couple small scoops of vanilla gelato.  It was perfect!  I'm so looking forward to making pie every month, I have ordered a new pie cookbook that I have already checked out of the library that I really liked: Ms. American Pie: Buttery Good Pie Recipes and Bold Tales from the American Gothic House by Beth Howard.  She made pies at California’s Malibu Kitchen for celebrities including Barbra Streisand (lemon meringue), Dick Van Dyke (strawberry rhubarb), and Steven Spielberg (coconut cream) before moving back home to rural Iowa. She now lives in the famous American Gothic House (the backdrop for Grant Wood’s famous painting) and ran the hugely popular Pitchfork Pie Stand. It's now don't drive out to Eldon, Iowa looking for it   (the house is still open for visits) Beth has moved out to Los Angeles to live near her folks and continue writing.  Stay tuned for more pie!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Vanilla Macarons Filled with Dark Chocolate Cream

The good people of Uncommon Goods reached out to me to see if I would be interested in reviewing one of their products, and so I visited their site to see what they had to offer.   I hadn't ever heard of the company before, but was really impressed when I learned that they are an online retailer that offers products that feature unique designs and handcrafted gifts.  They run all our operations out of the historic Brooklyn Army Terminal, including where the even the lowest-paid seasonal worker starts at 50% above the minimum wage.   They also make it their mission to support and provide a platform for artists and designers.

I selected a macaron making kit, and was thrilled when my box arrived from Brooklyn a couple days later....

Uncommon Goods  donates $1 for every shipment to one of their non profits of your choice, like American Forests the oldest American conservation organization.  This non profit has planted 45 million trees since 1990.   As the mother of a forestry major, I think this is great!  Now it was time to get cooking....

I had heard macarons were hard to make, but some places in this town charge $2 each for them and my thrifty soul was crying out to give it a try, The kit had a silicone mat and something they call a "Decomax" which is a silicone container with decorating tips, similar to a pastry bag. This looked interesting as it appeared to be easy to fill.  It has a big opening on the side and it can sit on it's own on the counter.   I looked at the recipe booklet that came with my kit; it has recipes in 6 languages, unfortunately English clearly isn't their forte so I had to translate it a little....i.e. "icing sugar" is confectioners sugar..etc.  I tried to find some ground almonds at Buschs and Meijer, but no luck.  I think Bob's Red Mill makes it, but it wasn't that hard to make my own.    I bought a 6 oz bag of slivered almonds and processed them on high in my food processor until they were ground fine, about a minute.     Here's how I translated their recipe into something better suited for American cooks:

Vanilla Macarons Filled with Dark chocolate Cream

1 1/4 c. powdered sugar
3/4 c. ground almonds
3 egg whites
1 pinch salt
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla

1 c. Ghirardelli 60% cocoa chips
3 T. half and half

Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the powdered sugar into a bowl to remove lumps.  Add almonds and mix well.   Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites, while adding  the salt and the granulated sugar until obtaining a thick meringue. Add half of the powdered sugar/almonds and fold in....then add the vanilla sugar and the sugar/almonds and fold in gently until well combined,

Put the silicone mat on a cookie sheet.  Fill the Decomax fitted with the large round tip and make circles in the size indicated by the inner circles on the mat.  (I learned this the hard way because the instructions didn't indicate which circle I should use.  When macarons rest before making, they expand....

I had to clean them up a bit before I put them in the oven with a spoon.  Note to self: use inner circle next time!  I'd also suggest tapping the sheet on the counter to remove any air bubbles,  When the batter expands, it won't spill over and each macaroon will be the perfect size and shape. Allow to rest between 30-35 minutes at room temperature. Bake in a preheated oven at 300 F for 20-25 minutes until firm to touch. Repeat the process with the rest of the batter.  I noticed some of mine stuck to the mat, I think next time I will spray it with a little non stick spray just to insure easy removal.

To make the filling, put the chips and the half and half in a microwave safe plastic bowl (plastic doesn't hold heat like glass....I learned this in my candymaking class with Tammy's Tastings) and heat in 10 second increments on high in the microwave until the chips are melted.  Add more cream to make it spreadable if needed,  Allow to rest at room temperature . Fill the macaroons with the chocolate cream.  I used an offset icing knife to fill them.

Voila!  Macarons...

It really wasn't difficult at all.   I found the Decomax a little tough to use compared to a pastry press it with your thumbs and it is hard to get it fully empty, but the convenience of filling it and it can be washed in the dishwasher make up for it.   It has other large tips that could be used for cake decorating or filling deviled eggs.   I think it might come in handy for other recipes in my future....anything that doesn't require fine detail. I did a quick tally of my cost to make these macarons:

The tray makes 24 cookies...there was some excess meringue that yielded about 30 total, but for my estimate lets assume I made 24.  Also, the bag of almonds made more than 3/4 c. but I'll assume I used it all:

Almonds $6.99
3 Eggs $1.00
Powdered sugar $.20
Granulated sugar $.20
Chocolate chips $2.50
Half and half $.20

Total is $11.09 or 46 cents per cookie

Guess I'll be making these at home from now on!  Also, I am glad I found out about Uncommon Goods just in time for Christmas shopping.  I really like their selection and their mission.   Great items for the kitchen, too!