June 30, 2012

Vacation from Vacation

Oh, New York... I miss you already. I miss the sights, the smells, and by golly, I miss the food! I've been traveling for the past several months, so it's a bit hard to keep up my blogging. I'm ashamed. Really, I am.

Ok, not so much. You know me too well for that. It's hard to be ashamed of my slovenly ways when I'm out trotting the globe. From Ireland to Virginia,  from Virginia to Texas, and then Texas to the Caribbean! (oh my!) Life has been one adventure after another for the past several months.

But, at long last, the Hubs and I are back home. While we enjoyed ourselves immensely on this last trip, I need a vacation from vacation, seriously. For the next two weeks, I'll be reorganizing our space, doing the shopping and cleaning, and of course I'll be sorting photos to post here with all the details of my trips. Ireland is next on zee list! (Insert shouts of joy here from my captive audience? Maybe not). Here's a little sneak peak:

Glendalough, Ireland 

As much as I love it, returning home from vacation is always bittersweet. I love our home, and I love being here. Then again, I also love clear blue water and a margarita in my hand... but alas, vacation cannot last forever. And in the time we're away, things have started to pile up. Like laundry. And bills. And a thousand seemingly unimportant things which are suddenly screaming for attention. Not to mention the empty refrigerator, which the Hubs practically considers a sacrilege.

Of course, the last thing I want to do is cook right when we've returned home from a long vacation. But, I also don't want to eat any more takeout. I get enough of that while on vacation. Kinda stuck between a rock and a hard place, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Despite my lack of cooking desire, there are a few dishes which won't overtax my vacation-lulled brain. Soup and salad rank uber-high on this particular list. If you're really not up to any form of cooking, I guess you can just open a can of whatever. OR, you could try out this super simple, super delicious creamy onion soup.

For all my onion hater friends out there? Just picture me sticking my tongue out at you, blowing some raspberries, and then walking away. This always makes me feel better. After that, make some salad sans the soup. I forgive you for your food prejudice, truly.

Creamy onion soup

I love this soup.

Let me just say that again. I LOVE this soup! So does the Hubs, which is always a good thing. It's relatively quick, inexpensive, and hits the spot after a long day. In fact, we love this soup so much, I usually make a double batch and freeze part of it for our next craving.

I'm bringing the final version of the soup here to you. It's been through several reincarnations as I searched for just the right balance of flavors. Now, it is (a) Perfect. (b) Extraordinary. (c) Outrageously good. (d) All of the above.

The answer would be (d) All of the above.

The ingredients needed aren't fancy, and they allow for substitutions if necessary.

When we've just returned from an extended stay away, my first grocery trip is usually short and sweet and to the point. I sweep through produce and dairy, then I'm at the cash registers. I only want enough food to survive our first few days before I make my normal sized haul.

Staples like flour, butter, chicken broth, bacon, and spices are always at my disposal. If you don't already keep certain items on hand, then I have a tip: Keep a package of bacon handy in your freezer. Not only can it stand alone, but it's great with eggs, slapped on a grilled cheese, or makes a quick BLT (plus a zillion other things). Bacon is definitely one of my staple items.

As I breeze through produce, I snag a bag of yellow onions (not the sweet ones, just plain yellow!) and some fresh thyme. You can use dried thyme, no problem. But I especially love fresh herbs when I have them, and since I'm stopping in the produce section anyway.... well, you see my point.

These particular herbs are my favorite. The thyme is actually still growing inside a little pot within that package! It doesn't get much fresher than that, unless you're plucking right from your own garden.

After produce, grab some milk or half-n-half, or even heavy cream. This all depends on your taste buds and how many calories you want in your final soup product. The Hubs and I have eaten this soup with all of the choices at different times, and they all work. My only suggestion? If you're using milk, then use whole milk. Anything less seems too runny, and the flavor of the soup suffers a bit. I prefer the whole milk (not as rich as the heavy cream, and way less calories), so that's what we used this time.

Once you get home from that quick grocery stop, your first step is to give your onions (about 4 or 5 of them) a rough chop. Don't get too fancy with your knife work, just make sure the pieces are all fairly similar in size, like this:

Everything else is a breeze from here. Chop five slices of bacon into 1-inch pieces, then add those to your soup pot over medium heat (For my vegetarian friends out there, no worries. You can skip this step and just head on to the next). Let the bacon cook for a bit, but don't let it get crispy, just enough to render the fat. Next, slide your onions into the pot with 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter.

You want to let the onions cook down slowly, becoming nice and soft. This takes about 15-20 minutes.  But it's not hard, I promise! You can do lots of other things while the onions cook, only be sure to give them a quick stir once in a while.

When the onions are translucent and just start to brown, you know they're done. Your pot should look a little something like this (maybe a little more brown, I was quick with the camera):

At this point, you want to turn down the heat to medium-low and add 4 tablespoons of flour into the mix. Stir it around to dissolve. Fair warning: this looks pretty goopy and gross while you're doing it, but it is all good. The flour and butter are going to combine, and this is what will thicken your soup as you add liquid.

Once the flour is all mixed in, you can slowly stir in the chicken broth, 4 cups. I sometimes use a bit more if I need to finish the end of a can, so you don't need to be too exact. If you keep chicken stock on hand that's even better, but I always have cans in the pantry as part of my staples.

Along with the broth, you want to add 1 bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon basil, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the fresh thyme, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Also, add a bit of salt to your taste. Stir the soup well, inhale the aroma, and let it simmer for 25 minutes.

This sounds like a like long time, I know. Especially when you're making 'just home from vacation food'. But, you could consider this a great opportunity to empty your suitcase and start a load of laundry!

Or, you could always crash on the couch and catch up on your favorite DVRed shows.

I went with option #2. Obviously.

Here's what my soup looked like as it simmered:

After your simmer time and an episode of the Real Housewives, remove the bay leaf from your pot. The soup mix should have thickened some by now, and your house should smell heavenly. It's time to stir in either your cream, half-n-half, or whole milk, about 2 cups worth.

It will only take a few minutes for the soup to warm through. Be sure the temperature of your soup is hot before the final step, an addition of cheese. I normally use a mix of Parmesan and Asiago, but either/or is fine. Asiago isn't easy to come by out here, so often times I only use the Parmesan. The most important thing is: Grate the cheese yourself! 

I have a handy dandy rotary grater, like the ones you see at Olive Garden, which are perfect for hard cheeses like Parmesan. Until you've grated for yourself, you can't understand what a huge difference it makes to your cooking. Those pre-shredded bags of cheese are coated with cornstarch to keep them fresher longer. All of those additives really change the flavor and texture of your meals. Trust me here, you won't regret it.

So, once your soup is toasty warm, stir 1 or 1.5 cups of cheese into the mix. Add slowly and taste as you go! Keep stirring until all of the cheese is melted. Give the soup a quick sample and adjust your seasoning as necessary. Then...

Viola! You are ready to eat.

If you're like the Hubs and myself, you won't have any leftovers. Serve with thick, crusty bread for dipping and a side salad.

What are your favorite, I-just-came-home-from-vacation meals? Lately, it feels as if these are the only meals I'm eating. Now that we're home, I'm excited to start cooking again. I'll be bringing you some of my tales from Ireland soon, and hopefully some new recipes to go with it!

Happy cooking!

The Standard Form:
 Creamy Onion Soup


4 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 slices bacon, chopped into 1” pieces
4 large yellow onions (not Vidalia), coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon basil
Dash cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1.5 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt, to taste
2 cups heavy cream, half and half, or whole milk
1 cup Parmesan or Asiago cheese, fresh grated


Add the bacon pieces to a soup pot over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes, and allow the fat to render, cooking until almost crisp. Add the onions and butter to the pot, and sauté 10-20 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are transparent and just begin to brown. Scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pot, stirring well.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the flour to the onions. Stir to dissolve.

Stir in the chicken broth, black pepper, paprika, basil, cayenne pepper, bay leaf, fresh thyme, and salt. Stir to combine, and bring to a simmer.

Simmer 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender and the mixture thickens a bit.

Remove the bay leaf from the pot, then stir in the cream/milk. Heat through before adding the Parmesan cheese. Stir to melt.

Taste for seasoning, salt if necessary. Serve with thick pieces of bread for dipping. 


  1. As always, I've copied this into my recipes! Looks so yummy, Allie! :)

    1. If you like onions, you'll love this! Marcus and I probably eat this at least once a month, it's a definite favorite

  2. Finally tried this last night. Totally delicious! Definitely a keeper. :-)

    1. I'm so glad you liked it!!!! This is the Hubs' favorite :)