I am disappointed. I generally don't start posts with such pessimism but I think those of you that value your time will agree with me. If you dedicate yourself, truly, and find your hard work didn't produce the product you envisioned, you too, will be disappointed.
I have watched many friends enjoy french onion soup, I never had the pleasure. For whatever reason, I always found something else on the menu to tickle my fancy. Though I never had eaten a full bowl, I vaguely remember trying a bit of the melted cheese from someone else's. Suffice it to say when the opportunity presented itself to cook a comforting meal for friends on a cold day, I saw it a perfect chance to try creating this very hearty soup. That and the urge to use my new ceramic oven-to-table soup bowls.
I am ambitious in my cooking, so I decided if I were to make this soup, I'd make it the way one of the most award winning chefs makes it. I had leafed through the pages of the Bouchon cookbook by Thomas Keller wondering what his bowl of soup had to offer. Mainly, because of the time investment it took (5 hours to caramelize 8lbs of onion to down to 1.5 cups + 1.5 hours to marry the onions with the stock + 20 minutes to assemble and serve the soup) . To make a long story short, I once again watched my friends enjoy their french onion soup, while I sat turning my spoon in my bowl. Feeling very much like I did in kindergarten when I knew I was supposed to finish something, but with no intention to put another spoonful in my mouth. I did, really enjoy the melted Gruyere over the baguette topped with the sweet, deeply flavored onions, but something about the rest of the soup, when the croutons were long gone reminded me of being 7 years old. To add to my disappointment with having the epicurean maturity level slightly older then my daughters, I was in such a rush to serve this soup to a very hungry and early! set of friends that I forgot to photograph it. So there it is, my time invested with no proof of my accomplishment.
I did redeem myself to my inner child with duck two ways. I wanted to try a few different techniques in this preparation so I decided to 1) stuff the legs and 2) make sandwiched duck breast (lovingly called, "the sausage" by friends).
The legs I stuffed with figs and shallots that I let reduce in balsamic vinegar over low heat for about 1 hour, and chopped prunes to balance the acidity of the balsamic sauce. Roasted in the oven with a little orange juice in the pan at 350F for 25 minutes (basting every 5-7 minutes), they came out beautiful, served with parsnip puree.
The "sausage" was two duck breast fillets sandwiched together, skin out, with salt and pepper, trussed together overnight. I browned the sides during the dinner for about 7 minutes, placed in the oven at 350F for about 15 minutes, and let rest for 10. This was probably the most tender and juicy piece of duck I've had. Served with arugula salad and blackberries.
We finished the dinner with a black rasberry-apple tart, rich chocolate ice cream and cognac.