French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup 585x695 French Onion Soup

As a kid, I looked forward to the arrival of Canadian Living in our mailbox every month. I’m pretty sure I was the only one in my group of friends who read it. I cooked as much as I could, and read about food, and flipped through recipe boxes on my babysitting gigs. My idols were food writers; not the glossy celebrity chefs of this generation, but the home cooks who shared recipes in newspaper columns and magazines – the ones with the cheesy headshots you could write letters to and request recipes of, back when a Google search wasn’t an option. At a time when career choices seemed limited to Teacher, Nurse or Firefighter (and, crazily enough, my guidance counselor’s evaluation determined I should be either an English teacher or a DJ), I wanted to be Elizabeth Baird when I grew up. I even schemed to dye my hair silver and cut straight bangs, but my mom wouldn’t let me.

I found comfort in reading recipes; Elizabeth and Rose Murray and the familiar writers of that generation seemed like they could be relatives, so much like the aunts and neighbours people used to get recipes from. They were the type who instilled confidence, who made you believe that what they were cooking you could cook too, because they were just like you. Even though they had their own test kitchen. I miss the days before reality TV, when hosts of cooking shows actually cooked (I know, some still do – but they seem to be the exception to the rule), and there were no food wars – no cupcake wars, no dinner party wars. (Wining, dining and undermining? Really??)

Collectively, ELizabeth Baird and Rose Murray have written 40 Canadian cookbooks. Over lunch last week, when I asked how the landscape has changed over the decades they have been writing about food, Elizabeth mentioned that the year her first book came out, in 1974, 6 cookbooks were published. Six.

ER French Onion Soup
ERG French Onion Soup

It’s not an exaggeration to give Elizabeth and Rose credit for my career path – I love these ladies. (And Gwendolyn, on the right, is pretty awesome too.) I’ve met Elizabeth before, many times, but not Rose. She has a great laugh, and loves Scotch. I wish I could adopt her as my own aunt. I’ll take both.

In their new book, Canada’s Favourite Recipes, the two have connected with food writers, producers and chefs across the country, gathering recipes and the stories behind them. It’s the perfect cookbook to read in bed, if you are the type to stack cookbooks on your nightstand, and I love that it’s pure Canadiana – a great way to learn about and reconnect with the idea of Canadian cuisine. Think: real Canadian Butter Tarts, Braised Lamb Stew with Rosemary Dumplings, Quebec Tourtière, Nova Scotia Oatcakes, Maple Walnut Fudge, pies and pastries and seafood and shortbread. I see a lot of cookbooks, but this one will get used. (That’s it above, in my arm, beside my very first cookbook, The Canadian Living Cookbook (circa 1987), whose spine can no longer be doctored by tape.

I thought, since everyone loves a cheesy baked soup, that I’d share their recipe for French onion – is this stunning or what? (Scroll up and take another peek.) I want to shrink myself and dive in. Rather than the traditional Gruyère (which, truth be told, makes W gag when I bake it) they use smoked cheddar – I’m partial to aged white cheddar and aged Gouda, but whatever you have and like that melts, works.

French Onion Soup

Instead of the usual Gruyère, we’ve added a taste of Canadian smoked Cheddar cheese to a simple French classic we’ve been making for years. The toast should just fit inside the soup bowl. If using a skinny baguette, allow two slices per bowl. Published with permission from
Canada’s Favourite Recipes by Rose Murray and Elizabeth Baird

2 large Spanish onions
2 tbsp (30 mL) unsalted butter
1 tsp (5 mL) granulated sugar
4 cups (1 L) beef broth
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp (2 mL) dried thyme
1/4 tsp (1 mL) freshly ground black pepper
pinch salt
4 slices French bread
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) shredded smoked Cheddar cheese (about 4 oz/125 g)

Cut the onions in half lengthwise; thinly slice crosswise (you should have about 8 cups/2 L). In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar; cook, stirring often, until very soft and coloured, about 30 minutes.

Pour in 1/2 cup of the broth and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, until the broth has evaporated. Repeat with another 1/2 cup of the broth. Stir in the remaining broth, the garlic, thyme, pepper and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Make-ahead: Cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Gently reheat.)

Toast the bread slices until golden. Place four ovenproof soup bowls on a baking sheet; ladle the soup into them. Sprinkle half the cheese over the soup and place a piece of toast in each bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Broil until the cheese melts and is golden, about 3 minutes. Serves 4.

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button print gry20 French Onion Soup

November 19 2012 12:24 pm | soup

34 Responses to “French Onion Soup”

  1. Laura Chutny on 19 Nov 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Julie, you were not the only one who waited for Canadian Living :). And that version of the Canadian living cookbook is still one of my two primary go-to books when cooking. The ladies sound very cool in person ! Lucky you!

  2. Nicole Boyhouse on 19 Nov 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    Ha! That’s so funny; I loved reading Canadian Living as a kid. I still do. I have my very own subscription now, I don’t even steal my mom’s like I used to! I love that they have vegetarian recipes. How fun for you!

  3. Maureen on 19 Nov 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    I loved Elizabeth Baird too. And I have Canadian Living cookbook too. With a broken spine. You are beaming in that photo. And so is Elizabeth. What a great day. (I loved Carol Ferguson too and always wondered why Canadian Living seemd to dump her, unceremoniously. But that’s for another day.)

  4. Lori on 19 Nov 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    I thought I was the only one who missed those cooking shows! I loved the Canadian Living show and the ladies – Elizabeth, Daphne, and…. Can’t remember… They actually cooked food that was “real” for “real” people. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. And I can’t wait to get the new cookbook…!!

  5. Jennifer Jo on 19 Nov 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    Julie, I think you’re exactly like the women you described. Your writing, your recipes—YOU instill confidence in the homecook.

  6. Anonymous on 19 Nov 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    I’ve been a fan of these 2 ladies since 1983, the year I got married and received a subscription to Canadian Living as a wedding present.
    I learned how to cook with them and still have in my recipe binder, pages ripped
    from the magazine :)
    Lucky you! I would love to meet them and say :Thank You!”

  7. margo on 19 Nov 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    My mom just commented the other day as she saw my Big Blue Canadian Living Cookbook on the island, that it surely must be my kitchen “bible”. I use a LOT of cookbooks and recipes torn from magazines, and now online; but, I have to say I am sure that Canadian Living would be the longstanding icon in our kitchen. And I agree that you, Julie, could be and no doubt ARE the honorary “niece” of these lovely ladies we’ve learned to cook with. I make their tourtiere every Christmas; my 13 yr old daughter has recently learned to mix together their teriyaki sauce for her favourite salmon. So many great recipes!! And, how fitting that you’ve highlighted their french onion soup, as my about-to-turn 23 yr old son requested it for his Christmas birthday supper! I am sure I won’t be able to resist having a copy of their newest cookbook… must run and start my wish list!

  8. margo on 19 Nov 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    oh yes, one other comment: I have ordered their vegetarian cookbook for my daughter-in-law for Christmas. (All of my big kids already have “Starting Out”, another classic!)

  9. Carolyn on 19 Nov 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    Oh, the memories! I had a subscription to Canadian Living starting at 8 years old – I read it for the recipes, too! And, the Canadian Living cookbook – that was a terrific Christmas when I received that in 1987! One of my other favourites is From Mom with Love, by Kay Spicer – I think she’s of a similar generation to Rose. It’s amazing how these books can bring back so many fond memories.

  10. Carol S-B on 19 Nov 2012 at 7:04 pm #

    French onion soup takes me back to University days, when a bunch of friends rented a house and we’d go there to hang out and visit. French onion soup was the invitation: Burgess had the best. The guys would chop and saute, and we’d stand around with glasses of cheap red wine (a lot of red wine in the soup, too)… so good.
    (OK, “wining, dining and undermining”? Exactly! *picture of lolcat saying, “do not want!*)

  11. CathyH on 19 Nov 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    The Canadian Living cookbook is my go to for jams. It has a special place on my cookbook shelf and is a keeper forever. Love the soup recipe, I must admit that I had my doubts about the last avocado one. Sorry Julie!

  12. Melodie on 20 Nov 2012 at 6:32 am #

    I love older cook books too! One of my favourites is a copy of one my Grandmother received as a shower gift over 60 years ago, “The American Woman’s Cook Book.” I love that it has things like illustrations of meat cuts and explains why some cuts are better than others for certain kinds of cooking, a thing which is entirely lacking in new coook books. My all time favourite would be “Kate Aitken’s Canadian Cook Book” I have a newer re-release, but I grew up with my Mom’s. I would call her at work after I got home from school and ask her what to get started for supper and she would tell me what recipe in Kate Aitkens to prep for. Would you perhaps have a few copies of the above mentioned cook book for a give away? ;)

  13. Jacqueline on 20 Nov 2012 at 11:13 am #

    I also have the Canadian Living Cookbook – my grandmother gave it to my mom and pretty much all of her relatives and I grew up with my mom making recipes from it. I requested it for a birthday present a few years ago (I didn’t even know if it was printed any more) and I was gifted with the copy my grandmother gave my late great-uncle so it is special to me in many ways! Loved this post and hearing how this cookbook/Canadian Living is special to others as well.

  14. Nicole on 20 Nov 2012 at 11:24 am #

    I also loved reading Canadian Living as a kid too and now, when my very own grown up copy arrives in the mailbox every month, I think to myself that, somehow, I am officially a real grown-up. The cookbook is also great though mine seems to be from 2003. Of the many cookbooks on my shelf (MANY and shelveS), it is the one I turn to most faithfully, especially when I need a new recipe that I know will work. Lucky you to meet those two ladies. I think their new cookbook will find a place on my shelves.

  15. Meta4 on 20 Nov 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    You were not the only child reading Elizabeth Baird.
    My kids (boys)same age as you:) liked reading her recipes as well.
    They are now excellent cooks for their families.
    When Elizabeth retired from Canadian Living the magazine was not the same and I no longer subscribe to it. It has way too many adds and no substance.
    I will now give my boys the new cook book for Christmas.

  16. gwendolyn on 20 Nov 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    I love how thrilled you are in that first photo of you, Elizabeth and Rose. Such a great shot (she says, and not just because she took it). What a lovely afternoon.

  17. Korena on 20 Nov 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    This post makes me feel all cozy and nostalgic. I spent many hours sitting on the kitchen floor pouring over my Mum’s copy of that same Canadian Living Cookbook that you have in your arms up there, and it was definitely the first cookbook I ever cooked from. I’ve had “Canadian Living Cooks Step-By-Step” on my bookshelf since I was a teenager, and I buy their Holiday Special magazines every year – I was just flipping through this year’s special baking edition before I read this post. What a cool experience to hang out with Elizabeth and Rose!

  18. Corinne on 21 Nov 2012 at 9:02 am #

    What a touching and beautifully written post.Just as you received confidence from Elizabeth Baird and Rose Murray you have given so many of us confidence to expand our cuisine. They are your teachers and you are ours. You graciously combine assurance and technique. I am grateful for the stories you share, the humour infused in your writing, and for your recipes that contribute to our daily meals. I am eager to prepare the French Onion Soup for supper tonight.

  19. June on 21 Nov 2012 at 9:27 am #

    Ditto re Elizabeth and Rose…double ditto the first Canadian Living Cookbook and Canadian Living magazine and triple ditto Corinne’s comment because she nailed it. You definitely do inspire all of us just as Elizabeth and Rose do so thank you too!

  20. Laurie from Burnaby on 21 Nov 2012 at 9:32 am #

    Love love love onion soup with cheese of whatever type on top. Such a let down when I order it in a restaurant and they’ve made it from a mix, sprinkle croutons on top and dust it with grated cheese! :(
    I grew up in New Zealand, and we didn’t have Canadian Living, but I still have recipes from magazines in an old binder that I’m faithful to. :)
    I miss shows that showed you how to cook, too, and avoid all those competitions. I’ve written to the foodnetwork, but just got ignored.
    I’ve come to love Elizabeth Baird, and I saw her with Rose on morning TV the other day. I wish they’d bring back the cooking show with the ladies and gentleman who showed us how to make things.
    I enjoyed reading all of the memories. :)

  21. Charmian on 21 Nov 2012 at 11:14 am #

    I adore both Elizabeth and Rose. I’m so glad you got to spend time with them!!

  22. French Onion SoupGo Cook This! on 21 Nov 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    […] Get the recipe ] /* Share […]

  23. Barb on 21 Nov 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    Canadian Living is a staple here as well! A couple of cook books and the magazine. Wouldn’t want to be without them. I’m always sad when the personnel changes because I have come to rely on the current ones but they are always seem to be replaced with someone else who is great, too.

  24. Jocelyn Colquhoun on 21 Nov 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    It’s so funny you mentioned the Canadian Living Cookbook because it is sitting right beside my ipad as I looked at your site tonight. My husband and I thought we might try to make some Christmas fruitcake this week-end. I know, this is risky business. The last time we tried this was 20 years ago before we were married. Amazing we went through with it. We remember it was so expensive, time consuming to make and it turned out like bricks (cliche but completely true!) Do you have a great fail-safe recipe?

  25. tara on 22 Nov 2012 at 5:10 am #

    I sat beside Elizabeth Baird at an Ottolenghi event here in Toronto, and found it terribly hard to keep my cool. She was such an inspiration to me when I was starting to cook, it was hard not to gush.

    These photos are so great, such smiles!

  26. Mary Ann on 22 Nov 2012 at 6:10 am #

    After reading your post and the comments above, I am realising for the the first time at 33 years old that I was not the only 8 year-old reading Canadian Living! Canadian Living magazine, the Urban Peasant and the Frugal Gourmet were my favourites growing up; I have fond memories of watching cooking shows where real chefs actually cooked on Saturday afternoons on PBS (and was pleased to find that PBS has been airing various Julia Child cooking shows during that time slot recently)

  27. Stephanie on 22 Nov 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    Oh man, that first photo is making my mouth water. Amazing shot!!

    Loved this post: the writing, the photos, the recipe. Favorite!

  28. Maureen on 23 Nov 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    CL has been a staple in my kitchen for 35 years.I have NEVER had a CL recipe fail. I love all the coookbook speicals from the 80’s the best. They also did a series where they did mini cookbooks for every province. Those were gems.

    I don’t like the newer version of the magaizne as much-not enough food stuff for me!

    I can’t wait to see Elizabeth and Rose’s new book.

    And forgive me for being a tad boastful but CL beats any US magazine for quality and dependablity. Only in Canada you say? :-)

  29. Cheryl Arkison on 25 Nov 2012 at 4:07 am #

    Oh what a conversation that must have been! Lucky ladies all around.
    PS LOVE your scarf.

  30. Tina on 30 Nov 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    I used to buy the Canadian Living Food magazine in the 1980s – which was a stand alone magazine and back then and separate from the other Canadian Living magazine. It would be a special treat during my university budgeted grocery excursions. I still cherish the 6 I have, especially the Christmas issues and they still get pulled out and used every Christmas. My husband is known at his office for a spiced almond recipe from one. Years later and they are still a great read and full of fabulous recipes and advice.

  31. Double Gingerbread Cupcakes » Dinner With Julie on 01 Dec 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    […] repertoire of really good stuff that I make all the time, like normal home cooks do. I told this to Rose Murray a couple weeks ago, and she agreed – her son always said “you never get the good stuff […]

  32. Claire D on 02 Dec 2012 at 11:49 am #

    I remember having French Onion Soup as a child on really cold days. Other kids had a PB&J when they got home from school, but I was lucky and got soup – this looks scrumptious – Yum!

  33. Tagknits on 05 Jan 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    I have to agree, Canadian living is my go to cookbook. I have bought it as a shower gift for many family members. I have lost track of how many of their cookbooks I have. Making the soup tonight for my DH and I, not sure what the kids will eat.

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