Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pile 'em on.............

Onions, oft maligned, can become the star of the show if you prepare them with a little love and some time.  Raw onions can taste harsh, and can turn an entire dish into disposal fodder if you aren't careful.  Onions need to release some of their oil, then their sweetness comes to the fore, and they balance dishes with strong flavors with a bit of sweet flavor and texture.  Caramelizing onions, allows them to reduce down and become sweet, caramel-like and smoky, making them even more delicious.  The best news?  You don't have to stand over them and cook them for hours, just load up your slow cooker and let them do their thing.  You will be amazed at how easy this is, and how beautifully they turn out.  So pile them on burgers, pizza, flat breads, steak, pastas, and add a layer of caramelized onions to your next batch of mac and cheese.  These slow cooked onions freeze beautifully, and you can bring them out for additions to soups (French onion, anyone?) and stews.  One of my favorite dips is a caramelized onion and Gruyere dip that is terrific served warm with baguette slices, pita chips, or fresh veggies.  Try it for your NCAA Championship party tomorrow night! 

Caramelized Onions
Makes about 5 cups
Make sure to use sweet onions, like Vidalia, Walla Walla, Texas Sweets, 10/15’s or Maui onions; these onions are 6% sugar, and can only be labeled “sweet”.  Ordinary brown onions will give you a harsh flavored dish, where the sweet onions will yield sweet and buttery onions.  Once cooked the onions can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. 

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 teaspoon dried thyme
¼ cup chicken broth
6 large sweet yellow onions, sliced in half, and sliced in half moons

  1. In an insert for a 5 to 7-quart slow cooker, combine the butter, oil, sugar, salt, Tabasco, thyme and chicken broth.  
  2. Stir in the onions, and toss to coat with the butter mixture.  
  3. Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours, stirring several times during the cooking process, until the onions are golden brown, watching them at 10 hours, to make sure they don’t burn.
  4. Remove the onions from the cooker, cool the onions and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze for 2 months. 

Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Dip
Serves 8
3 cups cooled caramelized onions (see preceding recipe)
5 drops Tabasco
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
3 cups shredded Gruyere cheese (or Emmenthaler or imported Swiss cheese)
1.       One round loaf of sourdough or French bread, top cut off, insides hollowed out leaving a 3/4 inch to 1-inch shell. 
2.     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
     When the onions are cooled, stir in the Tabasco, mayonnaise and cheese. Transfer to the hollowed bread bowl, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the dip is bubbly.  Serve with crudités, toasted bread cubes (from the inside of the bread) or crackers for dipping.   
Cook’s Note:  This is delicious made with Havarti with dill cheese and about 2 cups of lump crab added.

I'm in Bloomington with our son Ryan until I return to West Lafayette on Tuesday for two more classes, then it's on to DC and Pennsylvania for a bit of visiting and classes.  We are looking forward to the NCAA championship game tomorrow night.........go Bulldogs!  I'll be back with some more thoughts on food this week. 

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