The Discount Chef

The Discount Chef
Save, cook and eat well!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I heart onions

San Diego has a dark secret. It's called May Gray. That's right; it's actually not insanely perfect here every second of the day. I know, shocking. Right now, we're dead-smack in the middle of it. The worst part is that it looks like it's going to rain but never really does.

The gray always puts me in a comfort food-type mood. So with a basket of extra onions from my lack of cooking last week I decided to make some French onion soup. Not just any French onion soup mind you. That just wouldn't be fun. Thomas Keller's Soup A L’Oignon. Sounds fancy huh?

The recipe appears in his Bouchon cookbook. It's time-consuming, so make sure you can spend all day or at least five hours at home. (Seriously) But hey it's pretty darn cheap to make and that’s what I’m all about!

Thomas Keller's Soupe A L'Oignon adapted from Bouchon with minor changes from the Discount Chef


  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 6 large sprigs of thyme


  • 8 pounds (about 8 large) yellow onions (You'll need about 1 1/2 cups of caramelized onions for the soup. The leftover onions can be used in other recipes)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 quarts beef stock
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Sherry wine vinegar or white wine/champagne vinegar


  • 1 baguette (Sliced 1/2 an inch thick)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil or butter
  • Kosher salt

To Finish:

  • 1/2 lb. aged Gruyere cheese, grated (Gruyere can be a little strong, Emmentaler and Comte would also work.)

Caramelize the onions - Cut the tops and bottoms of the onions and then slice in half lengthwise. Discard the peel and tough layers. Cut a "v" wedge in each half to remove the core and pull out any solid, flat pieces from the core. Slice the onion along the lines of the onions - with the grain. This will help to soften the onion. It's important that the slices are uniform. Keep, going, there's a lot of tears to be shed here.

Melt the butter and oil in a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring every 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the heat, it may need to be regulated to keep the mixture at a gentle bubble for about an hour. During this time the onions will be wilting and releasing a lot of liquid. Keep in mind slow cooking is the key in developing the maximum flavor.

Continue to cook the onions, stirring every 15 minutes. Scrape the bottom and sides of the pot to release more deliciousness. At this point, you only have four more hours of onion-caramelizing to go. Yeah for you!

By the way, I thought it would be a good idea to warn you the onions will start looking like a funky, brown paste. That is what you’re shooting for and it’s a beautiful thing.

You can cook the onions up to two days ahead and keep the batch refrigerated.

Prepare the sachet – Cut a 7-inch piece of cheesecloth. Place the bay leaves, peppercorns and fresh thyme in the center. Bring together the edges and tie with kitchen twine.

Transfer 1 1/2 cups of caramelized onions to a 5 quart pot. (If they've been refrigerated, reheat until hot.) Stir in the flour and cook over medium-high heat, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beef stock and sachet, bring to a simmer and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the liquid has reduced. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add a few drops of vinegar. Remove from heat.

Prep the croutons - Preheat the broiler, cut slices of baguette and smear with butter and sprinkle with salt. Place the slices on a baking sheet and toast until browned and crisp.

Finish the soup - Ladle the soup in a flameproof bowl (the bowl should say if it's oven-friendly on the bottom) to the edge. Top the soup with two croutons (depending on bowl size) and sprinkle the shredded Gruyere cheese on top. Don't press the crouton/ cheese topping into the soup; you want it to float on the top. Place the bowls under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese is bubbling and browned.

To make the transfer of the broiled soup bowls a little easier, I place the bowls on foil-lined baking sheet. And remember to be extra careful because the bowls and soup will be insanely hot!

Enjoy, and keep your chin up. June gloom is next!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


My little sister Eva and I had the amazing fortune of having our Granny as our baby sitter. Every morning my Mom would drive 15 minutes to pick up Granny from her house on Hassett and bring her back to our house to take care of us while my Mom taught school. Granny was an amazing woman. From a farm in the Midwest, my Grandmother's mom was a tough, German gal with spunk and a strong work ethic. She also had a knack for cooking. I used to love making tuna salad sandwiches and playing Barbies with her. (Granny was always Ken - she never argued that with me and she always made him a perfect gentleman.) Granny's cole slaw, split pea soup, scrambled eggs and cheesecake are still considered by me and the rest of my family to be the gold standard examples of those dishes. Some of my fondest and most proud childhood memories are of me trying to impress the best cook on the planet - Granny. One day after school, I found out Granny had never had an artichoke before, so I decided to make her one. I was probably seven. I boiled the water, trimmed the sharp points and steamed the chokes for what seemed like for-ev-er. Kid time is triple adult time after all. The finished artichoke was served with a pad of melted butter and an extra plate for the discarded leaves. Granny got the full artichoke-eating tutorial and I anxiously waited for her reaction as she slid the leaf between her dentures. She loved it! Yeah, victory! She loved it! She really loved it! (Relieved happy dance!) That one afternoon sparked something inside of me, a passion for cooking and eating. Realizing the power and the love that could be conveyed through cooking was magical. I had the ability to make delicious food and share new things with the people I love and look up to. Granny and I ate until we got to the best part of the 'choke - the heart. We cut away at the furry part and picked out the yummy bites. It was one of my favorite days ever. In this blog, I hope to share my experiences, stories, inspiration and most of all good food. All of course while helping you save some money along the way. Thank you for stopping by, I hope you enjoy yourself. I look forward to hearing from you! Love Becka Simple Steamed Artichokes 2 artichokes 4 sprigs of fresh thyme 1 sprig of fresh rosemary 3 cloves of garlic, smashed 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil salt and pepper to taste 4 to 6 cups of water, depending on size of the artichokes Melted butter for dipping Directions: Put the thyme,rosemary,garlic, water and olive oil in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Mean while, wash and trim the artichokes. Use a large chef's knife to trim the stem, cut off the top of the choke and trim off any stems near the base. Use kitchen shears to trim the thorny tops of the leaves. This way you can avoid any boo-boos later. Place the chokes in the simmering water mixture, stem side down, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. You'll know the chokes are done when the leaves are tender and easy pull off. Share and enjoy!