My attempt at making French onion soup.

Cawley: French onion soup? Non, merci!

I won't be winning any Iron Chef competitions any time soon. 

On Wednesday, I spent part of my morning attempting to cook a pot of French onion soup using a recipe and ingredients that had been carefully prepared by one of my co-workers, Anne Marie Tobin. 

Try as I might, the final result may have smelled great, but the taste was sorely lacking. Somehow, I managed to burn half of the soup, which doesn't seem like a common outcome. 

Now, why was I, someone who considers a home-cooked meal to be microwaving pre-cooked chicken and canned vegetables from the grocery store to go along with stove-cooked packaged Knorr rice sides or instant mashed potatoes, attempting to cook soup in the first place? 

It all started several weeks ago when I decided to grab lunch from Panera Bread and Anne Marie saw me eating French onion soup. As it turns out, it's one of the meals she enjoys cooking regularly, which led to a conversation about how she loves cooking for other people, while I don't even like preparing meals for myself. 

A few days later, Anne Marie, The Item's assignment editor, hands me a heavy box and tells me she has an assignment for me to write. Inside that box was more than a pound of onions, beef broth, a stick of butter, three small slices of bread, and several small containers, which I later saw contained parmesan cheese, and cooking wine, sherry and brandy. 

So, on Wednesday, I opened up the box, put a pot on the stove, and decided to give it a go. First up was peeling and cutting what had to be at least 10 onions. A few minutes in, my eyes started tearing up, which was terribly inconvenient as I had already applied my eye makeup for the day. 

Given the bodily reaction, I had to pivot to cutting the onions while looking away and backing up as far as possible. A little concerning, but I managed to not injure myself in the process.

After all of the sliced onions were in the pot, I had a too-late epiphany that I probably should have put the butter in the pot before starting to sauté the onions. I was already all in at that point so I tried to make up for it by attempting to slide the butter under the onions.

This, I believe, is where things started to go downhill. With the recipe calling for 20 minutes of sautéing the onions, the contents started to burn, which, as any French onion soup aficionado can attest to, is not a desirable outcome. 

At that point, I figured oh well, it'll probably work itself out. I might as well see this to the end. Twenty minutes of sautéing later, I was ready for the next step, adding the two small jars of sherry and brandy, to be followed by five minutes of letting it simmer before adding the small jar of white wine. 

Twenty minutes later, I was ready to add the beef broth, turn up the heat and watch the soup come to a boil before letting the soup simmer for another 15 minutes. 

At this point, I had to head to work, so without tasting the soup, I poured some of it into a bowl with one of the slices of bread, sprinkled some cheese on top and headed out the door with the intention to eat it for lunch. 

Well, lunch was not great. I was eating charred pieces of something mixed in with the soup, which without the burned pieces was actually not that bad. Unfortunately, half of the bowl contained blackened strips that I'm hoping were onions at one point so it overpowered the parts of the meal that were somewhat enjoyable.

While I probably won't make another attempt at cooking French onion soup in the near future, I do plan on keeping the recipe and maybe trying it again at some point. 

I'm chalking this up to a failed first attempt, but now that I know what not to do, I'm guessing that things will go much better the second time around. After all, you always throw out your first pancake. 

As Johnny Cash once said: "You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone." Or as Oprah Winfrey once put it: "Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire." 

Below is the recipe I was working off of. Maybe you will have a more favorable outcome. 

French onion soup ingredients: 

1½ lbs. yellow onions 

¼ c butter 

2 bay leaves 

¼ c dry sherry

¼ c cognac or brandy 

½ c dry white wine

4 c beef stock 

Salt and pepper 

Hearty bread 

Cheese — personal preference 


Slice the onions ¼ inch thick. In a stock pot, sauté the sliced onions and bay leaf for 20 minutes. Add the sherry and brandy, scraping the bottom of the pot, simmering for five minutes. Add the white wine and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add the beef stock, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Toast the bread slice and add to soup. Sprinkle with grated cheese and microwave until the cheese is melted. 

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