Traditionally made with either vermouth, dry red or white wine, French Onion Soup is a great meal when made with plenty of onions that have been 'caramelized.' I say caramelized because I believe the natural sugars come out somewhat when cooking onions as directed below, but truthfully the onions are browned. The sugar you taste is what you add rather than what is cooked out of the onion.

I neglected the alcohol because I simply don't think it adds much value to this recipe as much as hard apple cider. Don't think a Yankee Chef can concoct a traditionally high-end French soup without showcasing vermouth? Think again!

2 pounds onions, halved and thinly sliced

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 tablespoon oil

2 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons flour 5 (15-ounce) cans beef broth

1/4 cup hard apple cider

10 slices French bread, toasted well

2 cups shredded Swiss or Monterey Jack cheese (see note below)

In a large kettle or heavy pot, add butter and oil over medium low heat until butter has melted. Add the onions and stir until all onions are coated. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes or until the onions are softened but not mush. Remove lid and add brown sugar. Raise heat to medium-high and caramelize the onions for 10 minutes, or until the onions have browned and have reduced significantly.

You will need to stir quite often during caramelization but don't worry if there are pieces stuck to the bottom of the pot, these will come up shortly. Reduce heat to medium-low again and stir in the flour until well. Keep stirring for 2-3 minutes, or until the flour has taken on a brownish color. If it is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of beef broth, stirring to prevent lumps. Stir in the hard cider, trying to 'pick up' the burnt fonds that have collected on the bottom of the pot. Add the beef broth, stir to combine and cover. Cook an additional 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 400-degrees F. Ladle soup into 10 oven-proof bowls and top each with the toasted bread. Sprinkle the cheese on top of each slice and back on a large baking pan for about 4-5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. You can also simply [place the bowls under a broiler, at least 3 inches from heat source, until the cheese has melted and browned.

If you don't have oven-proof bowls, sprinkle the cheese onto each slice of toast and bake (or broil) until the cheese has melted and top each bowl of hot soup with the cheese toast.

(Monterrey Jack Cheese) about 8 ounces, or use slices Crispy Crusty Rice much like the Persian polo but a little more flavorful. The crisp rice gives this dish flavor that can't be found with any spice. Adding just a touch of curry and cayenne lends itself perfectly without overwhelming the natural taste of the crusty rice. Enjoy this side dish with your choice of protein, as rice goes with just about anything you can dream up.

1 cup rice

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/2 small onion, minced 1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or chili powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch black pepper In a large saucepan, heat 6 cups water to boiling over high heat. Add the rice and cook, uncovered for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Let rice sit in colander until completely drained. During this time, add butter to a large skillet until melted over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until tender. Add cooled rice, cayenne pepper and salt and 1/4 cup water. Stir until rice is coated with everything. Now spread out the rice mixture evenly over the bottom of the skillet, cover and cook about 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender and a crispy crust has formed on the bottom. When done, use a spatula to remove rice dish from skillet and "flip" onto a serving platter. Makes about 4 servings.