I first fell in love with cornbread when I was a young child. My maternal grandmother would make cornbread in a cast-iron “pan” that was shaped like little cobs of corn. Being raised in New England, cornbread was not really considered a staple, however it could easily be called a standard, and for me, it was a real treat whenever it was served. (Hush-Puppies, too!) My Mom was renowned for what she did with leftover cornbread and biscuits. She would crumble them loosely into a small pan and then pour melted butter and maple syrup, mixed with a little cream, over the crumbles to coat them. She would sprinkle a little cinnamon and nutmeg on them and would then bake them in the oven for about 20 minutes. She called them “rag-a-muffins” and they were gooey and sweet and yummy.
My first wife’s mother, who was born and raised in Texas, would make the Southern traditional version. The batter ingredients were from scratch. She used melted butter in the recipe and melted bacon fat sprinkled with cornmeal in the cast-iron “spider” (skillet) to bake her cornbread. I never saw her make a bad batch. It was always perfectly cooked with that deep brown crispy bacony crust on the outside; steamy, moist, and delicious on the inside. (It’s a great technique for cornbread: three musts; 1) cast iron skillet only, 2) about 2-3 tablespoons of bacon grease must be melted in the pan in the oven and must be pretty hot, in order to, 3) foam the cornmeal in the bacon fat, about 2 teaspoons, sprinkled onto the hot bacon fat.)
Be it that wonderful “homey” nature of cornbread; or that textural thrill of crunching through the crust; or the nutritional and health benefits of corn; the history of corn having sustained centuries of civilization; or, that “I-just-plain-like-because-it-makes-me-feel-good-when-I-eat-it” thing, but, I consider cornbread to truly be one of those comfort foods that should be on the list of “The Top 10 Comfort Foods I Would Never Be Without”.
I first tasted this recipe at a well-attended backyard summer birthday party. Our hostesses had set out amazingly copious amounts of foods. There were large casseroles of au gratin potatoes, roasted veggies, peppers and onions, hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, and crock-pots brimming with sausages and ham. There were bowls and bowls of salads and baskets of bread and rolls; there was a lot of food served…all of it delicious and certainly plentiful. But, nestled in amongst all the goodies, was this aluminum 9 x 13 pan that held the concoction described below. After my first bite of this warm and rich, rustic and artisanal casserole, the aluminum pan that held it seemed to take on this angelic glow, showing me the way, so to speak; a beacon, a marker of comfort food goodness that would not be denied. Yup, I went back two more times to that casserole that night and did not leave the festivities until I had the recipe in hand.
I just had the chance to visit with my sister Jane not too long ago when she and her clan had come to Florida to visit for Easter. During one of those awesome “kitchen-table” conversations, she revealed to me that she makes this recipe at least a couple of times a month, considering it a staple in their family-meal repertoire, after having eaten some at a Thanksgiving dinner at my place several years earlier. I honestly can’t think of a nicer testimony to the value of this dish. It is one of those throw it all in a bowl to mix it up, dump it in a pan, bake it, eat it…pretty simple, amazingly delicious, and great comfort food.
I’m going to give this to you in two versions. I still have the original recipe card that my friend Kim gave me on the night of the birthday party. She called it “Johnnycakes” and it was a single recipe, about big enough for a 9 x 9 pan. I’ll include it at the end of this article. First, though, I’ll give you my rendition. It has, of course, been tweaked. It’s large enough to fill a 9 x 13 pan and can feed the whole crew; usually reserved for holiday dinners.
Corn Pudding Bread (I)
2 boxes of Jiffy Cornbread mix (or enough dry batter from scratch for two recipes)
2 regular sized cans of white kernel corn, drained
2 regular sized cans of creamed style corn
2 pints of sour cream
2 sticks (1/2 pound) of butter, melted
1 ½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
1 medium-sized jalapeno pepper, seeded, and minced (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350°F. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients, except for ½ cup of the grated cheese, and mix to evenly distribute the ingredients; but, don’t over-stir, which can give you tougher bread. A few small lumps are OK. Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan (glass or otherwise) with some butter flavored cooking spray, or lightly coat with softened butter. Pour the batter into the pan and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the top of the dish with the remaining ½ cup of grated cheese. Bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until firm and the cheese is crispy and the edges of the batter are browned and beginning to pull away from the edges of the baking pan. To keep things simple, I serve it right from the dish it bakes in and I simply put a spoon in it and let folks scoop out however much they’d like. This is a recipe that is best left alone. Leave out the cheese and jalapeno pepper, either individually, or collectively, and you will have a reasonable facsimile of the original (un-tweaked) recipe. Serves a bunch and can be halved easily.
Corn Pudding Bread (II)
One regular sized can of creamed corn
One regular sized can of whole kernel corn, drained
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 stick (1/4 lb.) melted butter
1 pint (8 oz.) sour cream
Mix all ingredients together. Bake in an 8 x 8, or 9 x 9 baking pan for 40 to 45 minutes at 375 degrees until firm. Cut into squares.
When we have conversations about foods that give us comfort, often those conversations will turn towards the topic of the olfactory tantalization that takes place prior to any eating. Smells of the cakes and cookies, casseroles and stews, biscuits and gravies; you name it; it all sets the stage through our noses to help us settle in to that level of comfort that we needed. One of my personal favorites in the collection of cooking essences that permeate the air in our homes and kitchens is that of the cooking onion.
When you stop and take a moment to think about it, there are a lot of dishes, recipes, and culinary concoctions that onions either start, or, are an integral part of. If you are a moderately experienced cook, or if you grew up in a home where there was at least one cook, then you will be familiar with the uses and smells of cooking onions. I write a lot of recipes and many of them begin with sautéing an onion, or preparing some version of a Mirepoix (please see below), as the base of the dish being made. Chopped, minced, sautéed, and caramelized; the ancient and dependable value of onions in cooking cannot be praised enough. Cook a chili, a stew, or a spaghetti sauce; and leave all of the onion out of the recipe and note the difference in the end result. Your recipe will just not be the same. There are many applications, as well, for un-cooked onions. Their use in sandwiches and salads, in particular, is well-known, wide-spread, ancient, and dependable. Sharp and pungent, they have their own sets of flavor layers.
In an attempt to simplify the tangle of onion myths and legends, please find below how I like to think about onions and how I feel they should fit, naturally, into your views of foods that give us comfort; foods of love; foods that sustain us as individuals and as families. Emphasis in these articles is for simplification and variation, “Cliff-notes” if you will; and not to dummy it down, but more to de-mystify, to remove the voo-doo, and to help you see things related to comfort food in a comfortable way. Your ability to be adaptive, creative, and at ease in your own kitchens will be dependent upon this comfort. We’ll take a look at some basic types, some basic preparation, some recipes, and even a little bit of science…so, take a deep breath and let’s explore the world of onions.
Types of Onions
There are a gazillion different kinds of onions, so, let’s keep it simple here folks. They are wonderful and tasty and basic, but, come on, they’re still just onions.
Yellow: these are the onions you might use the most. They are most often purchased in red mesh bags, in five pound quantities, typically have a deceiving amount of tan papery skin on them and are slightly yellow, or greenish yellow in color, generally a little more pointed at both ends with one end being slightly rounder that the other; sharp and strong in flavor, economical
White/Spanish: a bigger, rounder, fatter white-fleshed onion that is sweeter in taste and more subtle than yellow, not as sharp, generally juicier and with higher yield and thinner skins and fairly rounded on both ends, sold by the pound, moderately priced
Red/Bermuda: very often referred to as a salad onion, the Bermuda onion is actually quite versatile. It is commonly used in salads, often cut and served in rings on top of greens, however, this onion is also commonly used in Latin and Spanish cooking, and is in-between the yellow and the white onions in terms of sharpness, or “bite”. This onion also works adequately when you have a recipe that calls for “onion” and the Bermuda is the only one in the house. Just slightly smaller than it’s cousin , the White, or Spanish onion, the Bermuda is fairly large and round, with a slightly larger base than top, is generally found available year round, and is moderately priced
Sweet Varietal (Vidalia/WallaWalla): these onions are generally bred for their sweetness (think in terms of “dry” and “sweet” wines, the sweeter the onion, the less bite, or sharpness it exhibits) and are praised for their own individual attributes, even geographical attributes specific to the soil they are grown in. They are generally a rounder, thinner skinned onion, slightly smaller than the Spanish onion and with either a tan skin, or white skin, and white, or pale yellow flesh. They are great for jellies, relishes, and chili sauces. They caramelize nicely due to higher sugar content and can be found by the crate from roadside vendors, by the five and ten pound bag, and by the pound. Moderately to highly priced, depending on the season
Scallion/Green/Leek/Shallot (Long/Specialty Onions): Much milder in flavor, sometimes quite subtle, and sometimes only available seasonally, these onion are generally grown and distributed for specific purposes where uniqueness of flavor, or subtlety of flavor, are required. Leeks are an important ingredient in the classically well-known and French recipe for Vichyssoise, a potato and leek soup served cold. Scallions see a lot of use in salads and salsas and are useful for some garnishing, as well. Some of these onions are more readily available than others and you should always check availability if you have a critical recipe need. Follow instructions carefully for cleaning, particularly for leeks, which are grown in sand and have fine sand nestled down, in, and amongst the layers; very gritty. Then, there’s “boilers”. These are little mini-onions, sold in one pound bags. You trim off both ends, peel the paper skin off to reveal a nice little raw onion, slightly bigger than a pearl onion. What you do with these little guys is toss them into such dishes as beef stews, chilies, or pot roasts; and, let them cook down until tender (put them in about the same time you would put in your carrots) and serve with the other veggies. Due to their being considered “specialty” types of onions, all these kinds are typically more moderately to high priced than normal
I posted an article on March 20th of this year. It was a quickie. A shameless plug for Mark Bittman, a renowned TV chef and author of the cookbook series that is anchored by the cookbook titled “How to Cook Everything”. Specific to cutting food, he says things like: (paraphrased) “I don’t have great knife skills…all you need are sharp knives, and cut food into shapes that make sense to you for how you are using them.” I contend that the same holds true for cutting onions…keep it simple, know some simple basic skills, and have fun!
Most recipes that call for cooked onions will specify either sliced onions, chopped onions, or minced onions (a.k.a. finely chopped onions). In most of these cases, you will be using a round, or oval shaped onion, and that is the shape we will be addressing here.
Prep: Use a medium to large, flat, stable cutting board of your material choice. Knife size is not very important, however, remember that a large chef knife is probably too big to cut onions, and a paring knife is probably too small. Choose a medium knife that fits nicely in your hand and whose blade is long enough to cut through the entire length or width of the onion you’re cutting, in one cut. Dull knives simply do not work very well when cutting onions. Sharp knives make the job so much more manageable and a sharp knife will bruise the onion less, releasing less of the gas that makes you cry.
Place the onion on its side on the board. If it were an apple, the core would be parallel, or horizontal, to the cutting board. Slice through enough of the root end and the top to leave a fairly nice flat spot at about a third, or a quarter, of the size of the middle of the onion. The root end cut will need to be deep enough to not leave a core at the center.
Cutting just slightly through the outer skin of the onion, from North Pole to South Pole, peel away as many layers as needed to remove the paper and green skin layers of the onion. Be careful not to peel away too much, particularly in the less expensive, thicker layered onions, where one layer could be a quarter of the onion. If you’re not sure whether or not a piece of onion, or onion layer, is edible, bite it and see. If it’s tender and can be bitten through, it’s tender enough to cook. If not, it’s probably better to peel it off. Some cooks prefer to peel their layers off prior to cutting the ends. I say it’s entirely up to you…
Slice: Choose one of the flat ends of your trimmed and peeled onion and place that flat end on the cutting board. The other flat end should be facing up and if it were an apple, the core would be perpendicular, or vertical, to the cutting board. Place your knife across the middle of the flat end and cut down through the onion to the other middle of the flat spot on the bottom. “Close” is good enough, with the expectation that you now have, roughly, two halves of the original onion. They should have big roundish flat spots on the bottoms and rounded exteriors half the size of the original onion. For further illustration, if you were to pull an onion “ring” out of either one of these halves, you would only get ½ (half) a ring.
(For full size rings: don’t cut through the middle of the onion and simply slice through the round body of the onion, all the way through to the cutting board, parallel to your flat ends, with fairly well spaced cuts, about a ¼” (quarter) inch apart. Push through the middle of each slice after cutting to separate the individual rings.
For cooking slices, place the large flat side of one half on the cutting board. Slice through the half onion, all the way through to the board, keeping your knife blade flat and even with the first flat end. Spacing should be about a ¼” (quarter) inch apart. Thinner slices will yield stringier results when cooked down. Slices can be separated into individual strips by pushing the half ring slices apart as you would for full rings, or, the sliced half can be slid into your skillet with your knife from the cutting board and you can separate the sections with your spatula or wooden spoon. If needed, slice the other half onion, and any others that are required for your recipe, in the same fashion.
Chop: Take an onion that is prepped, cut in half for slicing, and is sliced, but still in the shape of the original half onion (slices not separated, slice through but pull the knife out after the slice, leaving it in place with your finger). Now, turn the sliced half so that the slice cuts run basically from left to right, instead of from North to South. Slice through the half onion again, across the original slices, and using the same spacing, all the way across the onion; in a cross-hatch, or crisscross pattern. The double-sliced half can be slid into your skillet with your knife from the cutting board and you can separate the chopped sections with your spatula or wooden spoon.
Minced/Finely Chopped: This one is pretty easy. Just takes a little more care and a little more concentration. Follow the steps as above for regular chopped onion; however, make twice as many cuts, in both directions, as would for a regular chop. In other words, use a 1/8” spacing for your cuts (half the size of a regular chop, hence twice the cuts, OK?) in both directions. That will be about the width of the back of your knife blade, the edge opposite the one that cuts. Slide into the skillet and commence cooking; remember the finer the chop, or mince, the quicker the pieces will cook.
General Tips: Green onions and scallions have their root ends trimmed and then the leaf, or flower end gets trimmed and the green should be checked for edibility. Scallions and green onion leaves and flowers are very often used as garnish for soups and sauces. The onion ends can be sliced across for little rings that can be used fresh on salads, or the rounds can be minced and used in a sauté where some delicacy of flavor is required.
Just the white and the very light green are used in leeks; trim root ends, and all the green but the lightest; cut onion in half the long way and in half again, quartering it; lay the long quarters in cool water deep enough to cover and let sit for a while for the sand to settle. Agitate the pieces to remove all the sand. Drain water and repeat until no more sand appears. There will be serious crunching and serious disappointment if you cook with leeks and don’t clean them properly. Shallots are typically in small knots of sections under one skin; purplish, and almost always requiring a fine chop.
Most onions are soft when cooked through and can be easily incorporated into soups and sauces with an immersion blender or by batch blending in a blender. “Sauté” or “sweat” is to cook over medium heat with oil (olive, preferably), or butter, or a combination of both, until soft and slightly translucent. “Caramelize” is to cook the onions over slightly higher heat and long enough to cook the sugars out of the onions and to brown the onions in their juices and sugars for a sweeter, nuttier, more intense flavor. (See below)
There is an article below that describes why we cry when we cut onions. Sharp knife and safe speed and some say sunglasses and/or running water work to combat the tears…find what works best for you!
Last, but not least, and not an old wives tale: your hands will smell like onion after you cut or chop onion; when your all done handling the onion, rinse your hands with some lemon juice, fresh or from a bottle, doesn’t matter, rub your hands as if you were washing them, rinse with clear water and the onion smell will be gone. Have fun with onions!
A roughly chopped mirepoix on a cutting board.
A mirepoix (meer-pwah) can be a combination of celery, onions, and carrots. There are a lot of regional mirepoix variations, and it can also be just one of these ingredients, or include additional spices. Mirepoix, either raw, roasted or sautéed with butter, or, olive oil, is the flavor base for a wide number of dishes, such as stocks, soups, stews and sauces. The three ingredients are commonly referred to as aromatics. Similar combinations of vegetables are known as “holy trinity” in Creole cooking, “refogado” in Portuguese, “soffritto” in Italian, “sofrito” in Spanish, “suppengrün” (soup greens) in Germany and “włoszczyzna” in Poland.
Caramelizing onions, by slowly cooking them in a little olive oil until they are richly browned, is a wonderful way to pull flavor out of the simplest of ingredients. Onions are naturally sweet; and as caramel comes from the simple cooking of sugar, when you slowly cook onions over an extended period of time, the natural sugars in the onions caramelize, making the result intensely flavorful. You can use onions prepared this way on top of steak, or for onion soup, tarts, pizza, or onion dip. Quantities depend on how much caramelized onions you wish to make. In this example, 5 large raw onions yielded about 2 cups caramelized onions.
- Several medium or large onions, yellow, white, or red, sliced in half rings
- Olive oil
- Butter (optional)
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Sugar (optional)
- Balsamic vinegar or wine (optional)
Slice off the root and top ends of the onions, peel the onions. Cut the onions in half. Lay them cut side down and slice the onions lengthwise to desired thickness. Use a wide, thick-bottomed sauté pan or skillet. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil, or a mixture of olive oil and butter (about 1 teaspoon per onion). Heat the pan on medium high heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the onion slices and stir to coat the onions with the oil. Spread the onions out evenly over the pan and let cook, stirring occasionally. Depending on how strong your stovetop burner is you may need to reduce the heat to medium or medium low to prevent the onions from burning or drying out. After 10 minutes, sprinkle some salt and fresh ground black pepper over the onions, and if you want, you can add some sugar to help with the caramelization process. Start small; a teaspoon at a time, and be careful not to burn the onions. You can keep the onions moist and prevent drying out by adding a little water (1-2 TBSPS) to the pan.
Let cook for 30 minutes to an hour more, stirring every few minutes. As soon as the onions start sticking to the pan, let them stick a little and brown, but then stir them before they burn. The trick is to let them alone enough to brown (if you stir them too often, they won’t brown), but not so long so that they burn. After the first 20 to 30 minutes you may want to lower the stove temperature a little, and add a little more oil, if you find the onions are verging on burning. A metal spatula will help you scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the caramelization proceeds. As the onions cook down, you may find you need to scrape the pan every minute, instead of every few minutes. Continue to cook and scrape, cook and scrape, until the onions are a rich, browned color. At the end of the cooking process you might want to add a little balsamic vinegar or wine to help deglaze the pan and bring some additional flavor to the onions.
The caramelized onions can be stored in the refrigerator for several days in an air-tight container.
Or, see this site for further ideas: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Caramelized-Onions
Caramelized Onion Dip
This one is a favorite of the family. Mom still makes it to this day and I promise you that if you try it, just once, there’s a good chance you will never, ever again, pick up a box of bags of vegetable soup mix, or French Onion Soup mix, or completely prepared French Onion Dip. This one is quite simple, can be easily doubled or tripled, is always better the next day, and keeps well. Just like a tub of sour cream will do, there will be some whey liquid that separates while being stored; in that case just stir it up a little bit before serving. When you are caramelizing your onions, try to go for some real depth of flavor by taking them as close to being burned as possible; without burning them. Be sure to use the fresh pepper and be sure to deglaze your pan with a little vinegar or wine.
- Caramelized Onions Recipe, as above (using 4-5 large white Spanish sweet onions or Yellow sweet onions, such as Vidalia)(if doubling or tripling, use two or three times the original amount of onions), roughly chopped after caramelizing
- 16 ozs. Sour Cream (try to avoid “Low or No Fat” versions if you can)
- 3-4 TBSPS finely chopped fresh parsley
Turn the caramelized onions out onto a medium cutting board and run a knife through them to create a rough chop of them, as opposed to using them “stringy”. Combine all three ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl and stir to combine well. Store at least overnight in the refrigerator and for 24 hours if possible. Stir again prior to serving and transfer to dip bowls. Garnish with a sprig of fresh parsley and it is best served with traditional, or ridged, potato chips. This dip can also be served as a dip for crudité, other veggies, and other finger-food.
If you’re feeling wild and crazy and want to experiment a little, try some heat in the form of hot sauce, some smoky-ness in the form of liquid smoke, some additional green herbs, some additional seasonings, or some additional veggies.
There is three ways to bake the onions in this recipe; and, there are about twenty different tweaks that you can apply to your own version(s) of this wonderful and simple dish. No matter which cooking method you choose, when done and opened, you’ll find a wonderfully tender-cooked onion sitting inside, in this delicious broth, similar to what you’d find in the bottom of a bowl of French Onion Soup. You’ll need:
- One Onion per person (don’t use yellow, preferably a Vidalia, or large sweet Spanish)
- One TBSP butter
- One cube of beef bouillon
- Freshly ground black pepper
Peel your onion(s) and take a small slice from the root and stem end. Using either a small paring knife, a grapefruit spoon or knife, or even the edge of a dinner spoon (if its thin and sharp enough), scoop out a 1” deep x 1” across hole in the top of each onion. Fill each hole with first placing a bouillon cube in the bottom of the hole and then topping the bouillon cube with a tablespoon sized pat of butter. Season with fresh-ground black pepper pepper. (Bouillon is pretty salty so it is best to not use any additional salt)
Serve in the broth with a sharp knife for cutting the onions and topped with a sprig of fresh parsley.
Cook your onion(s) in one of the following methods:
Conventional: place each onion into an ovenproof ramekin, or small personal sized bowl, with a tight fitting cover, or covered in aluminum foil, and sprayed with a cooking spray, or lightly coated with butter, or oil. Place dishes into a 350°F oven and cook for 30-45 minutes or until tender enough to push a small fork into the middle of the onion with no resistance. Personal preference will then dictate as to whether or not you want to let it/them cook a little longer. Experiment with the cooking times and preferred methods to reach a personally desired finish. It’s pretty hard to screw these up, unless you leave them sitting on your grill for about 2 hours…
Microwave: place each onion into a microwave-proof ramekin, or small personal sized bowl, with a tight fitting cover and sprayed with a cooking spray, or lightly coated with butter, or oil. Microwave the dishes for 8-10 minutes on a high power setting until tender enough to push a small fork into the middle of the onion with no resistance. Personal preference will then dictate as to whether or not you want to let it/them cook a little longer. Experiment with the cooking times and preferred methods to reach a personally desired finish. It’s pretty hard to screw these up, unless you leave them sitting on your grill for about 2 hours…
Grill (Charcoal/Gas): place each onion onto a 10” or 12” square of heavy-duty aluminum foil, drawing up the corners to the top center of the onion, twisting the collected foil at the top to seal the onion(s) in its own little personal onion pouch. Place on the grill over the heat source and cook for 30-45 minutes over medium-high to high heat until tender enough to push a small fork into the middle of the onion with no resistance. (Unwrap it first, don’t poke through the foil or all that wonderful broth will leak out!) Personal preference will then dictate as to whether or not you want to let it/them cook a little longer. Some caramelization can be had by leaving them on the grill, but be careful of burning them. Experiment with the cooking times and preferred methods to reach a personally desired finish. It’s pretty hard to screw these up, unless you leave them sitting on your grill for about 2 hours…you get the idea: very flexible, very customizable, make them your own, and…Enjoy!
Some Tweak Suggestions (I have tried just about all of these and I can vouch for the fact that if you enjoy the base recipe in its finished form, you will have fun experimenting, too!):
- Brown Sugar, Maple Syrup, or Honey (particularly for grilling and caramelization)
- Liquid Smoke
- Hot Sauce
- Chopped/Minced fresh peppers/chilies
- Dried red pepper flakes
- BBQ Sauce
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Soy or Teriyaki Sauce
- Coarse chopped garlic, or chopped roasted garlic
- Minced, or grated, fresh ginger
- Green Herbs (Tarragon and Sage pair quite nicely with cooked onion)
- Alternately flavored bouillons, concentrated flavor pastes, demi-glaces, gravies
- Onions can alternately be chopped, or sliced, and cooked in that form just as easily as whole, reduce cooking time a little bit for cut onions
This one is a real keeper. A real tried and true go-to dip for parties, family get-togethers, or, just when you want to make yourself a tremendous dip to help drown your sorrows in a bag of potato chips. For a creamier version, use more sour cream. For a completely different version add the crumbled and creamed bleu cheese. And, as you should know by now, this recipe is completely adjustable to your personal preference in tastes and textures. You can add more or less bacon, more or less onion, but try not to substitute the horseradish; it just seems to work well with this concoction.
- 8-12 ounces of regular sour cream (try to avoid “low-fat” versions if at all possible)
- ½ to 1 pound of cooked crispy and crumbled bacon
- 2 to 4 TBSPS of green onion, sliced
- 2-4 TBSPS buttermilk, or heavy cream
- 1 to 2 TBSPS grated horseradish
- 2 to 4 TBSPS lemon, or lime juice
- ¼ to ½ cup of crumbled and creamed bleu cheese (optional, for a different flavor twist)
- ½ TSP freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ TSP good quality cooking salt
- Some chopped chive and cayenne pepper for garnish when serving
Combine all ingredients in a medium or large mixing bowl. Mix well to combine all ingredients and stir to a desired thickness and consistency. Salt carefully, if needed; both bacon and bleu cheese may negate the need for any salt, whatsoever. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for no less than two hours and overnight if possible. Remove from refrigeration an hour before serving; mix well; transfer to a serving dish and top with sprinkled cayenne pepper and chopped chive.
Eye irritation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onion)
As onions are sliced or eaten, cells are broken, allowing enzymes called alliinases to break down amino acid sulfoxides and generate sulfenic acids. A specific sulfenic acid, 1-propenesulfenic acid, formed when onions are cut, is rapidly rearranged by a second enzyme, called the lachrymatory factor synthase or LFS, giving syn-propanethial-S-oxide, a volatile gas known as the onion lachrymatory factor or LF. The LF gas diffuses through the air and eventually reaches the eye, where it activates sensory neurons, creating a stinging sensation. Tear glands produce tears to dilute and flush out the irritant. Chemicals that exhibit such an effect on the eyes are known as lachrymatory agents.
Supplying ample water to the reaction, while peeling onions, prevents the gas from reaching the eyes. Eye irritation can, therefore, be avoided by cutting onions under running water or submerged in a basin of water. Another way to reduce irritation is by chilling, or by not cutting off the root of the onion (or by doing it last), as the root of the onion has a higher concentration of enzymes. Using a sharp blade to chop onions will limit the cell damage and the release of enzymes that drive the irritation response. Chilling or freezing onions prevents the enzymes from activating, limiting the amount of gas generated.
Eye irritation can also be avoided by having a fan blow the gas away from the eyes, or by wearing goggles or any eye protection that creates a seal around the eye. Contact lens wearers may also experience less immediate irritation as a result of the slight protection afforded by the lenses themselves.
The amount of sulfenic acids and LF released and the irritation effect differs among Allium species. On January 31, 2008, the New Zealand Crop and Food institute created a strain of “no tears” onions by using gene-silencing biotechnology to prevent synthesis by the onions of the lachrymatory factor synthase enzyme.
This past weekend Michele found some real nice eggplant at the farmers market. One of my favorite comfort foods is a simple eggplant parm…warm, tomato-ey, gooey, cheesy…all of the above. There is a little bit of frying to be done to accomplish this dish, but with a system and a tip or two, it’s not too bad, and, of course, the end-product justifies the preparation needed.
You’ll need some spaghetti sauce for this recipe. Now, I have done it both ways. When I had a lot of eggplant and it was going to be a great big honking dish of parm, I will usually make a tomato sauce from scratch. This recipe will be using a regular sized jar of prepared tomato sauce (which now comes in a huge variety of flavors). There’s no hard and fast rule for “it’s got to be home-made sauce…I figure about one jar of sauce for every average-sized eggplant.
You know how an eggplant is usually bigger on one end than the other? What I’ll typically do is cut full slices from the small end and full slices from the big end also, but these slices are then cut into half to make two half circle slices. This makes the frying of the larger pieces a little more manageable and helps to better fit the fried pieces of eggplant into layers as you build your parm.
One large eggplant, unpeeled, cleaned and sliced into ½” or ¾” slices, if slices are too big, they can be cut in half to make two semi-circles
One jar (1 lb. 10 oz.) of your favorite tomato sauce
4-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ cup cooking wine (red preferred)
½ cup brown, or turbinado, sugar
1 heaping tablespoon of dried basil
½ cup vegetable oil
One stick of butter
2-3 large fresh eggs
1 tablespoon water
1 cup white all-purpose flour
2-3 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 pound of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated parmesan or Romano cheese
Preheat oven to 325°F.
For the sauce:
Into a medium saucepan over medium heat, empty your sauce, garlic, wine, sugar, 4 tbsps. of butter, and the basil. Stir well to combine and simmer while the eggplant is being fried, stirring occasionally. If there are other additions you’d like to make to the sauce, this would be the time to do it. (Hint: If your using “jar” sauce, put the cover back on the jar after emptying, turn the jar upside-down on the counter and wait about 10 minutes. There will be about another ½ cup or so accumulated that can be added to the sauce in the pan.)
For the eggplant:
Place three medium bowls, or high-sided plates, on your counter. In the first bowl, place the flour; second bowl, two eggs, beaten with the tablespoon of water; and in the third bowl, the breadcrumbs. For each slice of eggplant, first coat with flour, then dip in the egg mixture, and finally, coat with the bread crumbs. In a large heavy skillet, or griddle, on medium heat, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add an approximate tablespoon of butter and lightly stir to mix. Fry each piece until golden brown on both sides, replenishing the oil and butter as needed. Watch your temperature carefully and monitor the doneness of each piece to assure that none are burned.
For the assembly:
Spray a medium covered oven-proof casserole (1 ½ to 2 ½ quart) dish with non-stick cooking spray (butter or olive oil flavored). You could, absolutely, use a 9” x 13” cake-style pan for this, too. I just like the depth of layers you get when you use a higher-sided dish. Ladle a small scoop of sauce into the bottom of the dish. Arrange some slices of fried eggplant in a single layer in the dish, attempting to cover as much area in a single layer as possible. Cut and section a single piece to fill in the gaps as necessary. Ladle more sauce on top of the slices. Cover generously with shredded mozzarella. Sprinkle with grated parmesan or Romano cheese. Repeat layering until all pieces are used up, finishing with the last of the sauce and the two kinds of cheese on top. For one average sized eggplant and one jar of “doctored” sauce, you should get about three, or four, good layers.
Bake covered at 325°F for one hour. Depending on how full the dish is, you may want to put a piece of tin foil under the dish in the oven as there is often a tendency for some sauce to dribble over the sides. Remove the cover and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until the cheese on top is fully melted and getting crispy, but not burned. Remove from the oven and let sit for about 30 minutes. Just long enough to make a salad and tear up some crusty bread to go with your eggplant for dinner. There will always be the eggplant flavor in this dish, but you can make it your own in how you customize your sauce.
OK, so I’m a couple days behind on my posting. I get it. I can’t be slacking here, right? Well, I got to play a great round of golf with my buddy on Saturday…Sunday was a funky day, quiet, but quickly gone, and here I am. It’s Monday night already….yikes!
My wife Michele had found these two great rib-eye steaks for Sunday night dinner. She done good! They were marinated, and cooked to perfection on the Weber. She baked a couple of sweet potatoes, made this killer good cherry-cheese crumbly thing that she had found a recipe for, and had asked the inevitable question: “What else do you want to have with the steaks?”
In a moment of last-minute inspiration, I replied: “Since you’re going to the store, would you get me about a pound of fresh green beans? I’ll figure something out to do with them…”
The following is the result of that inspiration. Pretty darn good if I do say so myself, and like almost all of the recipes presented here, it’s comforting because it tastes good, and comforting because it’s easy and flexible to make.
Father’s Day Green Beans
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of fresh green beans (cleaned, and I like to cut mine into thirds, makes ‘em more “forkable”)
1/2 pound bacon, fried crispy, drained, crumbled into bite size pieces (reserve about 2 Tbsps. of the bacon fat)
1 onion, average sized, not too big, not too small, sliced into medium sized slices
2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsps. honey
fresh ground black pepper
While I’m frying the bacon, I steam the beans for about 15 minutes. Just long enough for them to start to get tender. They’re going to cook a little bit in the pan with the other stuff, so don’t steam them for too long. In the reserved bacon fat, over medium heat in a non-stick skillet, fry the onion slices until caramelized. Add the garlic, honey, pepper, and balsamic vinegar and stir to combine. Over medium to low heat, reduce the mixture until it becomes thicker, about 10 minutes, or until it reaches a consistency that will coat the beans when tossed with it. Drain the beans well and add to the onion/vinegar mixture. Stir from the bottom and toss the beans well with the sauce. Stir in the crumbled bacon just before serving. Serve hot.
One an occasion that I can’t recall, back in the early 90’s, I had the opportunity to serve my sister Peg this broccoli sauce I had been playing with. She fell in love with it and not long afterward had approached me for the recipe because her church (in Derry, NH) was putting together a cookbook. Through the next set of circumstances, Yankee Magazine is publishing a cookbook based on community cookbooks submitted to them for review. In 1994, Peg calls me and says, “Your recipe is going to be in the “Hometown Cooking In New England” cookbook that is being published by Yankee Magazine…”
Even at this point I’m a little skeptical. Who would want to publish that recipe? However, soon after that, the next time I see Peg, she presents me with the cookbook and, sure, enough, there’s my recipe in print…
Broccoli & Wine Sauce
(Excerpted from “Hometown Cooking in New England” (Yankee Magazine/Yankee Publishing, 1994)
Finding new ways to serve broccoli can become a challenge, so having a repertoire of sauce recipes comes in handy. This one is versatile enough to use with other vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots and green beans. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, so keep that in mind as you prepare the vegetables and other foods on the menu. When the sauce begins to thicken, keep an eye on it and stir more often to prevent scorching.
1 bunch broccoli
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup orange juice
Grated rind of 1 orange
1/2 cup dry white wine
Cut the broccoli into serving size portions and steam until crisp-tender. Meanwhile, sauté the garlic in the butter or margarine and oil in a skillet, but do not brown. Add the orange juice, orange rind and wine and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to a syrup, stirring frequently. Pour over the fresh steamed broccoli, toss and serve immediately.