Vegetarian French Onion Soup

Spring is such a funny season…one day it’s 70 degrees and sunny, and the next it is 40 degrees and raining cats and dogs. This week has been exactly that. And on a cold and rainy day, there is nothing better than a bowl of hot soup in my belly.

French onion soup has long been one of my favorites; it’s so rich, and the fact that it’s topped with a layer of cheesy bread is just divine. But, I’ve been a vegetarian (well…pescetarian) for about 7 months now, which meant that my old standby recipe for French onion soup was no longer an option.

So I set about finding a new recipe that I could serve to friends who were coming over for dinner. A lot of online commentaries mentioned miso as the key ingredient to a vegetarian version of this soup, but since I hate miso, I really wanted to get a recipe that didn’t call for it, since it would probably be better balanced. The one I found, from an old issue of The Vegetarian Times, turned out perfectly!

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I am currently a Masters of Education student, studying to teach German. As such, I have to do teaching demonstrations for my classes a few times a semester.

This semester, one of my demonstrations involved reading a very short children’s tale with a class full of my non-German-speaking colleagues. Originally by Tolstoy (ironic, eh?), this story describes a man who is very hungry and keeps buying rolls (Kolatschen) to try to get full. He buys three and then finally switches to a pretzel, which fills him up immediately. And the moral of the story is that a good German man would start with the pretzel and not waste his money on biscuits.

The children’s book that the story came from also contains a recipe for the Kolatschen. Being the little baker that I am, I naturally decided to make the Kolatschen for my students.

A German recipe is a bit difficult to navigate when you are an American cook. I had to measure water in liters (yes, I did have to look up the conversion to cups), and my tiny tiny cooking scale proved much too small for 400 grams of flour. Alas.

But these little buns turned out well in the end, dense and chewy, a bit like bagels! I am posting the recipe here in both German and English.

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Mascarpone Brownies

I have been dying to make mascarpone brownies for years, ever since one of my good friends from college, Melissa, set them out in front of me during a movie night. I think I ate half of them…and I was hooked.

My friend has been baking her way into hearts and stomachs basically forever. In fact, she was my model when I first started to bake: be adventurous, and bake for every occasion, especially the made up ones. I have been on the receiving end of many of her delicious treats…and I wish I could say that this was her recipe, but in actuality, I lost that recipe in an email address swap and have been too embarrassed to ask for it a second time!

Nevertheless, these brownies are amazing. After I stuck them into the oven and geared up for my long wait, I scraped the remaining batter out of the bowl to the point where it looked like it had been washed.

Mascarpone, for any folks who haven’t tried it, is a creamy soft cheese, sweet like French chantilly, and oh so delicious. It is the hero of tiramisù and (so I am told by my husband) would make an excellent base for strawberries and cream.

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Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’ve always thought the quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie was a bit silly. I mean, most people just love the one they’re with, right?

For years, I’ve ignored new recipes for chocolate chip cookies, because the cookies I grew up with, the recipe I’ve had memorized since I was 11, had no need for improvement. The cookies were soft, the chips were melty, and the flavor was rich and rounded. What more could a girl ask for?

I’ll tell you: butter. My beloved chocolate chip cookies have a Crisco base…and as I’ve become more invested in baking, I’ve also grown to realize that baking with shortening is not a virtue unless you are lactose intolerant or vegan. And I quickly discovered that replacing the Crisco with butter 1:1 resulted in a flat, sticky mess.

So what’s a girl to do?

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Better late than never

When I was about to graduate college a few years ago, I realized two things with great dismay: 1) although I claimed to be an excellent cook/baker, the only recipe I really knew was for chocolate chip cookies; and 2) I was about to move out of my parents’ house, away from my mother’s stash of cookbooks and easy access to all my childhood favorites. How would I get cookie dough truffles once I lived hours away from my mother? How would I ever figure out the secret to making a clump-less roux?

So I set about collecting all of the recipes I knew I couldn’t live without, the things I knew I would one day need to make for my own children. I gathered together my favorite chicken recipes, the recipes for a dozen or more church potluck bar cookies…and I set out on my own.

But did I bother to bake/roast/sauté anything in my newly minted recipe binder?

I’ll give you three guesses.

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