The mercury hit 53˚ in Birmingham on Wednesday. That kind of arctic blast announcing a brutal Alabama winter naturally puts one in mind of hearty and warming soups.
Or at least it should. I was actually thinking about a favorite sandwich.
Wanda June’s was a Birmingham staple. She closed up shop around 1999 or so, but to a generation that grew up in the vicinity of English Village in the 80’s and 90’s, Wanda’s was the place to bike to for a burger and a round of Galaga. It wasn’t an arcade by any means, but for a brief swath of my youth, there was a two-top with a joystick and buttons under the plastic table top at either end and for a couple of quarters you and a friend could waste an afternoon.
She got rid of the video game around 1989 or so. I didn’t care. By that time I was driving and trying to impress dates with my worldly ways. I’d bring the ladies in and recommend the French dip. Though I assumed the quart of Polo cologne I had splashed on my neck already sealed the deal, it couldn’t hurt to be seen as a gourmand to boot.
I realized yesterday afternoon that the recipe for a French dip - make a roast beef sandwich on a hoagie roll with provolone, lettuce, and tomato and then heat beef broth with soy sauce to taste, some garlic and onion powder, reduce and done - wasn’t likely to get me to one thousand-ish words.
I saw some fairly awful looking French dip au jus recipes calling for French onion soup powder and it got me to thinking about just how satisfying a really good made from scratch French onion soup can be. And how easy it is to put together.
I admittedly tried to have my cake and eat it too. I made a French onion soup. I also made a roast beef sandwich to dunk into my French onion soup.
I’ll get to the recipe in a second, but first, some thoughts on tomorrow’s opponent.
Dan Mullen has done a hell of a job.
He had a losing season in 2009, his first year. Though he was back in the red in 2016, those two nadirs (Can you have two nadirs?) bookend a five year winning streak. I’m no Phil Steele, but as far as my meager efforts at research reveal, you have to go back to the 1940s to find a competing streak at MSU.
He’s done this despite having one of the lowest football budgets in the SEC. On a paltry, by SEC standards, $35.5 million per year, Dan Mullen has kept his program relevant. It must be amazingly frustrating for State fans to know that with a mere .507% budget increase - a paltry $180,000 - which is basically a rounding error when we are talking about this much money, Mullen may very well have led them to a 2010 National Championship victory. But such are the realities of big time sports. There is only so much you can accomplish in the face of better heeled competition.
I suspect that this may be our last outing against a Mullen led MSU. So many SEC teams will be looking for a new HC after this year. Any hire carries a whiff of hope and uncertainty with it. Mullen is already accomplished in the league and his school is ripe to be outbid.
Tennessee has the biggest budget. LSU would love to see actual quarterbacking. Florida needs to hire Lane Kiffin to keep the soap opera going, but since they have ignored my numerous emails and tweets pleading with them to do so, they might be open to a guy who knows the recruiting terrain and called the offense for two of their National Championship winning teams. It wouldn’t be Kiffin, but Mullen might well do in a pinch. I’d be amazed if none of the three make a play for him.
One last bit of Mullen love: He’s Cousin Eddie.
French Onion Soup
2 each - large Vidalia onion, large red onion, shallots
2 qts. chicken stock
8 tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup dry sherry
4 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic
thick slices, French bread
gruyere cheese, grated
chives or flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
salt & pepper to taste
Slice all of the onions and the shallots on half, peel the outermost layer, and slice to about a quarter inch thickness. Discard the poles.
This is an old remedy and one I’m sure you all know, but in case someone doesn’t, when the air gets thick with tear inducing onion miasma, light a match and blow it out. I’m not pretending to be an expert in the science, but basically the smoke retains some of the match’s phlogiston, which disinervates the cry-icule’s bad humours. It works.
In a large Dutch oven or similar pot, melt the stick of butter over medium high heat.
Add the onions and let cook. This is the only frustrating part. You have to stir every minute or so to coat the slices but they aren’t soft yet and bits flop their way out of the pan as you try.
After about ten minutes the onions should be limp and sweating. At this point you can turn the heat down to medium-low, start a 45 minute timer, and stir every three to four minutes.
You’ll notice that after thirty or so minutes the onions start turning to mush.
In the last few of you 45 minutes, you’ll start to smell burning. It may seem counter intuitive, but turn the heat up a little. You want some burned bits on the bottom of the pan. Next, add the sherry and cook for five minutes, scraping up those browned bits and incorporating them into your broth.
Add the stock, thyme leaves picked from the stem, and bay leaf.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let go for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, lightly toast slices of French bread.
When the surface is slightly crisp, cut the garlic clove in half and rub the bread. Top with grated cheese and broil until melted, one or two minutes.
Pour some soup into a bowl, float with a cheesy slice of bread, and garnish with chives or flat leaf parsley and serve.
I mentioned that I tried to have my cake and eat it too. The soup as described is complete. I’d love a salad with it, but it’s not needed.
The first thing I want to point out about the roast beef sandwiches in the picture is that if you stare at them for a minute, they start to look like dog’s heads. If you don’t see it, think of the tomato as tongues. See?
The second thing is that the sandwiches are big redundancies as shown. If you want the French onion soup, don’t make the sandwiches and if you want the soup to serve as a dip for the sandwiches, leave out the French bread and gruyere.
I really liked the soup as dip. I prefer au jus, but this is a pretty good change of pace.
A couple of hints on really good dipping sandwiches:
Melt butter and brush it on the inside of a hoagie roll.
Grill the bread lightly in a pan.
Add beef and provolone to the roll and steam for two minutes at most. This gives your roll a crisp interior and a soft and steamy exterior. Butter or Romaine lettuce and a nice slice of tomato complete things.
I’m excited about this weekend. We should know by kickoff if the State game is a play in to the SECCG or not. I hope our guys, new starters and all are ready to go.
Finally, from the Wikipedia…
Enjoy, no injuries (especially at LB), and Roll Tide.