Stock and Crock: The National Western Stock Show and 2 mini-Crock soups (Onion Soup au Gratin and Roasted Tomato)

This week I said something I never thought I would say out loud. I said, "C'mon on Otis, C'mon Theo, we're going to the Stock Show!" It might seem like an odd place for a vegetarian, but The National Western Stock Show has deep roots in Denver (106 years) and I thought it was something that we should see, even if it's not exactly my cup of tea.
There were tons cowboys and cowgirls. And I'm talking about the real deal. Like, classic fringe jackets and spur-heeled boots. People that know how to lasso and are comfortable riding horses. They don wide-brimmed hats...and they're not worn ironically. No, these are not the kind of cowboys you'd see in Madonna's 'Don't Tell Me' video. These are real American cowboys.
There were show horses and and shiny belt buckles. And there were black Angus cows and bulls-- being sold for their exceptional blood line and lineage. There were endless rows of vendors selling belts and farming machinery. There's a lot of money, history and livelihood tangled up in this stock show, the second largest in the United States (not surprisingly, Houston hosts the largest show, though I heard a report on Colorado Public Radio that said the mile-high show was the biggest). And while I haven't eaten meat in about 25 years (a purchase of goldfish for my 10th birthday started that ball rolling), I can accept that humans have consumed meat for (many) thousands of years, and the farmers and ranchers involved in this show are the real deal. No Con-Agra, no big factory farms here (at least that was what I was told). Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention the petting zoo-- llamas, alpacas, pot-bellied pigs, goats, sheep and ducks-- who made their journey from a farm in Medford, Oregon. Otis had a blast! 
After leaving the stock show, it was time to head home. I made a great Onion Soup Au Gratin from a recipe that my mother-in-law passed on to me, which I adapted only slightly. I also came across a Roasted Tomato Soup recipe from Smitten Kitchen that I made a few months ago-- in a mini crock-- which I had neglected to post. So here it is, better late than never! 

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Traditional French Onion soup uses veal or beef stock, but here I went with a good quality vegetable stock and a 1/2 teaspoon bouillon cube. I cut a few slices of Udi's French Baguette and topped the bread with a really nice Gruyere that I picked up from our local cheese shop.
Onion Soup Au Gratin (Adapted from my mother-in-law's recipe)
Serves 6
3 medium onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
6-8 cups of vegetable broth
Salt + Pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon vegetable bouillon cube
1/4- 1/3 cup of Sherry (the original recipe used Brandy. Use what you have.)
Toasted white bread, to fit crock (I used French Baguette)
2/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Saute onions in butter and oil, on a low flame, stirring occasionally so that the onions caramelize. This took me well over 1/2 hour (but that might have to do with the high-altitude here). The onions should be the color of caramel. If they don't get soft and caramelized here, they will be kind of tough when served (that's not very good!). 
3. Add broth, salt, pepper, bouillon cube and simmer for about 12-15 minutes.
4. Add Sherry and cook for another 5 minutes
5. Toast bread slices (I used 2-3 per crock) and cover with Gruyere cheese. Heat it in the oven until the cheese begins to melt. This will only take a minute or so.
6. Ladle onion soup mixture into the crocks, filling about 3/4 of the way.
7. Stir about 1-2 tablespoons of Parmesan into each crock.
8. Float toasted bread with melted cheese on top of each crock. Add more cheese if desired.
9. Put the crocks on a baking sheet, just in case they bubble over during baking.
10. Put the crocks in oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is melted and bubbly.

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I made this recipe a few months ago and never got to posting it. It's from Smitten Kitchen and was loosely adapted from an old Bon Appetit recipe. I went a step further and put a shakshukah-like twist on the dish by topping it with a fried egg.
Roasted Tomato Soup (Courtesy of Smitten Kitchen)
Serves 4 (though closer to 6 if served in mugs)
3 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large or 4 small cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon (or more to taste) dried crushed red pepper
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock


4 1-inch slices from a large loaf of rye bread, whole wheat sourdough or bread of your choice (or 16 1-inch slices from a baguette), toasted until hard and lightly buttered on one side
1 tablespoon grated raw onion
1 cup coarsely grated cheddar (or more to taste)

Make soup: Preheat oven to 400°F. Wrap garlic cloves in a tight foil packet. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on large baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper (I used 1 full teaspoon of Kosher salt). Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil. Add foil packet of garlic to tray. Roast until tomatoes are brown and tender (garlic will be very tender), about 1 hour. Cool slightly.

Unwrap garlic packet and peel cloves. Transfer cloves, tomatoes and any accumulated juices to a blender or food processor and pulse machine on and off until tomatoes are a chunky puree. Transfer tomatoes to medium pot and add thyme, crushed red pepper and stock and bring to a boil Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and adjust seasonings to taste.

Create cheddar lid: Preheat oven to 350. Arrange four ovenproof soup bowls, crocks or large mugs on a large, foil-lined baking sheet. Stir grated onion into the warm soup. (I love this last-minute suggestion of onion.) Float toast slice(s) in each bowl, buttered side up and divide grated cheese generously over top. (If you’re using a wide bowl, you might find that you want more cheese to create a thick, broiled lid.) Bake soups on tray for 15 to 20 minutes, until cheese on top is bubbling and brown at the edges. If you’d like it even more bronzed on top, preheat your broiler and finish soups for a minute or two under it. Serve immediately.

Do ahead: Soup can be prepared one day ahead, and kept covered in the fridge. Rewarm before serving, or before finishing with cheddar crouton.