Saturday, November 30, 2013

Creamed Onions—Love 'Em or Not?

pearl onions used to make this dish
For me and one daughter, at least, Thanksgiving dinner would seem impoverished if it lacked creamed onions. My son, however, gamely tastes them each year and shudders slightly. Are creamed onions an acquired taste, I wonder. In a group of eight people, I mentioned that I was making this dish for Thanksgiving dinner, and half the people in the group chimed in that they loved it; the rest shook their heads and made yuk faces.

Oddly enough, my creamed onions don't even have cream in them. I make a white sauce using  a half-and-half combination of onion water and milk. I add this to a roux made of butter and flour. Then I add a bit of grated cheese. The crumb topping is made of buttered breadcrumbs with just a dash of grated Parmesan. Still, it is a richly flavored dish with numerous textures.

Creamed onions is the only dish that I make using pearl onions. In the past, I have tried these small orbs in other dishes and been less than satisfied. They seemed slippery and hard to eat. However, a quick browse through some online recipes made me think I should try again. Anyone out there have a favorite recipe to share?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Behold the Beautiful Cranberry

Although I bemoan summer's passing, I look forward to autumnal foods, especially cranberries. I love these ruby-colored fruits, both as a photographer and as a cook.  When I was a kid, we used to have two types of cranberry sauce on the table: jellied and whole berry. I prefer the whole-berry type, and unless I'm having a very large crowd, that's the only kind I serve on Thanksgiving.

Whole-berry sauce is one of the easiest foods to cook. Simply wash the berries and pick out the wrinkled weirdos. Then add about a cup of liquid, 3/4 cup of sugar, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Let simmer until all the berries burst, about 10 minutes. Then let cool.

I really like the combination of orange with cranberry, so I use orange juice for all or part of the liquid. I also add the orange zest, chopped up, to the berries as they start to cook. If I have a lemon, I might add a bit of that as well.

Cranberry-orange sauce is not only great with turkey, but also with pork, chicken, and biscuity types of breads, including scones. Because it's so easy to make, I usually keep some on hand for most of the autumn and winter. Many people swear that it helps keep them healthy, since the berries are high in fiber, Vitamin C, and other nutrients. Be that as it may, I like it for its look and tart-sweet flavor. It brightens up the table and the taste buds.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Comforting Cauliflower

For some reason, this time of year makes me crave cauliflower. I noticed that the last posting I did on cauliflower was early fall in 2012. Maybe the cold weather makes me want comfort foods. Cauliflower has all the ingredients of a good comfort food: it's bland, nearly colorless (I have not tried the purple, green, or yellow varieties and probably won't), and pairs well with other foods. Its meaty texture (if not overcooked) allows it to shine as a satisfying main course.

Last year, I gave readers the fastest recipe, one that I use often. This time I'm going to give you the most comforting recipe, cauliflower and cheese sauce. To my mind, roasting the vegetable first rather than boiling or steaming it gives it a superior texture. Break the head up into florets, toss them with a Tbsp. of olive oil, and bake at 425 for 20-30 minutes, turning once or twice. The florets should be lightly browned and tender. Then pour them into a shallow casserole or pan, and make a cream sauce using 2 Tbsp. butter, 2 Tbsp. flour, a cup of milk, and salt and pepper to taste. (Melt the butter, stir in the flour, let cook a minute, then remove from the heat and gradually beat in the milk. Return to the heat and stir until thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.) I usually add a bit of mustard and paprika as well.

After the cream sauce has thickened, add about 3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Stir until the cheese melts, then pour this sauce evenly over the cauliflower. Reduce the oven temperature to 400. Sprinkle 1/4 panko bread crumbs over the top and and bake until bubbly and hot. If the crumbs aren't browned, run them under a broiler for a few minutes. Be careful not to burn them, but toasting them lightly adds a nice crunch.

Serve either as a main course or as a side dish. Baking the sauce with the vegetable and crumbs adds a nice toasted cheese taste and texture to the dish, as well a satisfying crunch. I've never been a huge mac and cheese fan, but I think the reason is because I had this dish instead.

By the way, if you don't have the ingredients for cheese sauce, you can always substitute Stouffer's welsh rarebit, but you may want to thin it a bit with milk.