Archive for November, 2007

Onion Gratin


Now, back to the really important stuff – food.

(I must learn to jot down or otherwise note the sources of my recipes. Of course, when I started collecting recipes and taking cooking seriously, I had no idea that I would be blogging about it. Heck, no one had any idea that blogs would even exist.  Who knew? I was doing it for my self and my family. So, I apologize that some, maybe even most, recipes provided here have no source. I also apologize to all the cookbook and magazine article authors who developed any of the recipes used in this blog.)

At any rate, here is another orphan recipe collected sometime in 1992 and first prepared for my family then. We love onions, as an accent to a particular dish, or as the main ingredient. Raw, stewed, fried, roasted, bring ’em on. I probably use six to eight pounds per month, if I am doing a lot of cooking. For general cooking purposes, I buy yellow onions in a three pound bag. Occasionally, I find a bag of purple onions, which we love, especially in salads. Vidalias, when available, are a treat, and a big Bermuda onion, sliced nice and thick is perfect on a “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, even if the paradise is only your kitchen table. Green onions, or scallions, can’t be beat for certain things. Love them for salsa, scrambled eggs, salads (if I don’t want to use purple onions).  Shallots offer a distinctly different taste, often described as a cross between garlic and onion. I guess the point is, there is an onion for every purpose under heaven, and I hope there are onions there, too.I found the following recipe and I’m glad I did. It’s a great one for a warm sidedish, and could possibly take the place of a potato. Try this next time you have a few sweet onions on hand.


1 T. olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 medium sweet onions, sliced lengthwise, 1/8″ thick

salt and pepper

1 1/2 lbs. plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeded and squeezed to remove liquid

1/3 c. bread crumbs

1/3 c. Parmesan

1- 1/2 T fresh rosemary, chopped


1. Set oven to 450 degrees. Brush gratin dish with oil or spray with Pam. Scatter garlic in pan.

2. Place onion slices over the garlic. Drizzle with two teaspoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss onions to coat. Bake ten minutes.

3. Meanwhile, mix the crumbs, Parmesan and rosemary in a small bowl. Slice the tomato halves lengthwise into 1/4″ wedges. Remove dish from oven and toss the tomatoes with the onions. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper, followed by the crumb mixture.

4. Return to the oven and bake 25 minutes.

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Our 2007 Thanksgiving meal was delicious and I send my thanks to my group of helpers. Each year I look back on the different dishes served and consult with my family about the meal in general.  I make notes which I review in the following fall in order to fine tune everything.

This year my notes say that I had the perfect size turkey, plenty of leftovers, but nothing to throw away. We had turkey sandwiches for a couple of days, and warmed up turkey and side dishes for two evening meals. I roasted a turkey roast (white and dark meat held together in  netting) that weighed a little over nine pounds. With no bones, there was no waste.I used separate turkey wings and a leg for the gravy, picked the meat from the bones and froze it two days before Thanksgiving day. It will serve me well when I need it for soup or a casserole.

I made twice as much dressing as we needed. I’ll cut back on that next year. We decided to eliminate the roasted marinated vegetables next year and find something new, maybe Brussels sprouts. Everything else was fine, although we still have mashed potatoes leftover. I guess we can have some potato pancakes this week.

We made two pumpkin pies and one pecan. The pecan pie was gone and we still have a few pieces of pumpkin pie left. That’s fine with me. It’s my favorite.

I’m glad we have the second refrigerator. I was able to keep plenty of soft drinks cold as well as extra milk (for the kiddos), half and half, and general storage so that the frig in the kitchen was always relatively ready to store something conveniently. We used to have an old refrigerator in the garage – not a good place for it. It worked too hard in the summer and not hard enough in the winter. It really just was good for holding pop and beer. When it died, we replaced it with one that we keep in the mudroom. It is rather like an elephant in there, but it is more convenient for us to use and won’t use as much energy. When I think about the tiny icebox my parents had when I was small, I feel like such a spoiled brat!

This week it is back to the old food grind, looking up new recipes, finding new ways to fix good old stand-bys. Tonight we are having Beef Stroganoff with some of the leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving instead of noodles. Later in the week, we can have the leftover Stroganoff with noodles. Num!

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We keep trying to incorporate more vegetables into our diet. I’ve given up trying for the eleven or twelve fruits and vegetables recommended by some experts. I like vegetables, but the thought of preparing, cooking, eating that many in one day, kind of puts me off the whole idea. I’m going for four or five, and that’s counting a glass of tomato juice or V8 in the morning.

I know the key is variety and portion control. We are told to try for as many colors per day as possible. You could have a carrot at lunch, a sandwich with tomato slices and a few leaves of lettuce – dark green or green and red, please. That gives you three vegetables, maybe. Then at dinner, a salad with a mix of greens, maybe a little spinach thrown in, some bell peppers – they are available red, yellow, orange, purple, and of course, green. That gives you two more for a total of five. Throw in some broccoli, and that’s six. Have some cantaloupe, an apple, or a handful of berries for breakfast or as a snack, and that’s seven, nine if you go for all three fruits. An orange in the morning or a banana and you have your eleven.

I don’t know about you, but that’s more than I want to eat. Just the fruits and vegetables alone would make me full. Forget the meat, dairy, and carbohydrates. But then again, that’s the whole agenda-driven idea behind the dietary recommendations of many activist-nutritionists these days. I tell them, go for it! Just don’t expect me to follow your regime.

Anyway, any time I can combine several vegetables into one dish and make enough to have leftovers, I am happy to do so. For Thanksgiving dinner, we serve winter vegetables that have marinated for several hours, and then been roasted for almost an hour. It’s very good and with a few substitutions here and there, we make the same thing during the summer and cook it on the grill. Tastes great and we chalk up a few more vegetables on our daily diet scorecard.

Here’s the recipe. Feel free to substitute other winter vegetables, keeping in mind that some take longer to cook than others. At the bottom of the recipe I will list the vegetables that we use in the summer or whenever they are available.


3-5 carrots, in 3/4″ chunks
1 sweet potato, peeled, in 3/4″ chunks (optional when serving other sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving)
2 parsnips, in 3/4″ chunks
1 turnip, in 3/4″ chunks
2 red onions, halved crosswise and cut in 1″ wedges
1 1/2 lb. mushroom caps, wiped clean and stemmed
1-2 heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
3 T. olive oil, or canola
2 t. Kosher salt
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. chopped fresh rosemary
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh chopped parsley, about 1-2 tablespoons, optional

1. Combine all the vegetables, except the garlic*, in a large bowl.
2. Mix the oil and vinegar in a small bowl or cup. Pour over the vegetables and toss. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and toss again.
3. Let marinate for a couple of hours, with a stir now and then. (Can be put into plastic food storage bag(s) and turned over a few times and kept in the frig overnight. Don’t forget to prepare the garlic cloves which can be marinated separately or left plain.)
4. Set oven to 425. Spread vegies on a large rimmed baking sheet in one layer. Roast in oven, shaking the pan every 10-15 minutes, for about 50 minutes. Add the garlic to the vegetables after the first 20 minutes.
5. The vegies are done when they turn a toasty caramel color and are fork tender. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve hot or at room temperature.


* the garlic will burn if cooked for the whole time with the other vegetables.

In the summer, the vegetables we use are red onions, zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms, bell peppers cut in l” squares, with cherry tomatoes added the last 5 minutes on the grill. We have a grill “wok” without which, we would lose more vegetables than eat. We sometimes change the marinade, replacing the balsamic vinegar with lime juice and adding a teaspoon or so of soy sauce. Garlic falls through the holes in the wok so we don’t use whole cloves but mince a few cloves and mix with the marinade. These vegetables cook more quickly than the winter ones, so we don’t use a very hot grill and stir the vegetables a few times during the cooking (about 10-20 minutes) to prevent the great carmelization from turning into burning.

I like both versions which really are totally different. We occasionally roast the “summer version” inside in the oven if the weather turns ugly.

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As everyone knows, the traditional Thanksgiving menu is full of food that tends to be, to put it mildly, filling. Supposedly, turkey is rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid with a calming or sleep-inducing effect. Let’s blame all our postprandial lethargy on turkey with a particularly high level of tryptophan. Forget the mashed potatoes and gravy, next to the dressing and gravy, next to the sweet potatoes, next to the green peas, next to the roasted winter vegetables. It’s the turkey that makes us crave a nap. Wake me in time for a piece of pie. Or two.

All the carbs served the fourth Thursday each November, scream for the accompaniment of another taste, something tangy, and a little sweet to offset the heaviness of the rest of the meal. I suppose that is one reason that cranberry sauce appears on most tables, either as the whole fruit or in that ridged perfect cylinder, straight from the Ocean Spray can. I can take it or leave it that way – I’m no big fan. However, I like to prepare it the a little differently than most people do.

Turn the kettle on, boil some water. It’s jello time. Don’t turn your nose up at jello. It gets taken for granted oftentimes. Perhaps it was overused in decades past and I myself rarely use it. In this instance, however, it combines with cranberry sauce and frozen strawberries to make a salad that is easily prepared a day ahead, is very pretty, and supplies the contrast in taste that Thanksgiving dishes call for. It also is good at Christmas time.


2 small packages or 1 large package of strawberry jello
2 c. boiling water
1-10 oz. package frozen strawberries, thawed
1 can cranberry sauce, jellied, not whole berries

Dissolve jello in boiling water. Add strawberries and cranberry sauce. Mix well. Put into a mold or a 9 X 9 pan and refrigerate until well set. Unmold or cut into squares and serve.

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Our Thanksgiving Day menu is pretty traditional. We enjoy it that way. I understand that green bean casserole is served a bajillion times on Thanksgiving Day, but we don’t have it. Here is our menu:

Cheese Plate and Assorted Crackers with Mixed Olives

Roast Turkey, Dressing and Turkey Gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Bourbon Sweet Potato Puree with Carmelized Pecans
Roasted Winter Vegetables with Balsamic Vinegar Glaze
Cranberry-Strawberry Gelatin Salad
Green Peas
Parkerhouse Rolls and Butter

Pumpkin Pie and Whipped Cream
Pecan Pie

Kinkead Ridge Dry Riesling
Beaujolais Nouveau
(if it is released in time)

It seems like a lot when listed like that and I guess it is. We have favorite dishes for some people that I “must” fix. The same thing happens at Christmas. I try to simplify our Christmas Eve feast but each person has a “must have dish” and I wind up fixing the same thing every Christmas.

I compensate for the challenging menu by preparing as many things in advance as I can. I have already provided the recipe for my make-ahead gravy. Another dish that’s easy to make ahead is the sweet potato puree casserole. It has a subtle bourbon flavor and delicious crunchy pecans garnishing the top. You can find the recipe at the end of this posting. I hope you will give it a try. (The bourbon isn’t necessary. Rum could be used, or just rum flavoring, or nothing at all. It would still be good.)

Traditional family meals help to bind family units. It’s rather like a homecoming celebration, reaffirming the connections, especially ones that are stretched by distance. Everyone shares a table, or two; conversations are gentle (no politics allowed); the food and drink hold no surprises but are not boring, either. We know what we are getting, and look forward to it. Everyone pitches in and it becomes a family effort. I have a clipboard with the necessary chores listed with suggested times. “Volunteers” can sign up for the tasks that appeal to them or risk being assigned tasks by General Morgana. I don’t run a tight ship, but I try to keep a little order in the chaos.

This year we will have family members in age from 90 to 6 months. Those at the extreme ends are excused from chipping in. The rest vary in age from 2 years to none of your business. I hope a good time will be had by all.


6 lbs. sweet potatoes, baked until tender *
3 T. Bourbon (optional)
1 stick unsalted butter, divided, 3T., 3 T., and 2T.
8 oz. Pecan halves
salt and pepper
1 t. Kosher salt
2 T. dark brown sugar

1. Split the baked potatoes, and scrape out the flesh. Put half the potatoes into the bowl of a food processor with half the bourbon, and 3 T. butter. Process for 30 seconds or until pureed. Put into a large bowl. Repeat with other half of potatoes, bourbon and 3 T. butter.

2. Mix the two batches together. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Transfer to a 2-3 quart gratin dish or other baking dish. (Can be made to here 2 days ahead of time and kept refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.)

4. Turn oven to 325. Spread pecans on a shallow baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Toss pecans with the remaining 2 T. butter, and the 1 t. Kosher salt. (The pecans can be prepared 2 days ahead and stored in an airtight container.)

5. Arrange pecans on top of puree and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake in upper third of oven at 325-350, until heated and pecans are slightly browned, about 35 minutes.

* I often use plain, canned sweet potatoes. (Make sure you don’t use the candied ones.) It works out just fine. Puree them and follow the rest of the recipe as directed.

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I am always looking for ways to save time in the kitchen without sacrificing flavor and quality. The Thanksgiving meal consists of so many dishes that need to be ready to serve simultaneously. I try to do as much prep work ahead of time, and also prepare some dishes that won’t suffer by reheating at the last minute.

Gravy is one of those last-minute dishes. You have to wait for the turkey to be taken from the oven, you have to get the drippings from the pan, separate most of the fat from the juices, then proceed with the directions. At the same time, you are mashing potatoes, getting the cold dishes from the frig, checking casseroles in the oven, etc. etc. etc.

I can eliminate the worry about gravy by preparing it a day ahead of time. I found the basis for this recipe (I think in Woman’s Day magazine) quite a few years ago and have monkeyed with it now and then and here’s the current version.


4-5 lbs. turkey wings*
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, cut in chunks
2 celery ribs, cut in chunks, with leaves
4-5 cloves garlic
olive oil or Pam
10 c. turkey or chicken broth, divided, 1c., 7 c., 2 c.
4 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1 t. dried
1 c. dry white wine
2 T. butter
3/4 c. flour
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Turn oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Place poultry pieces in roasting pan with the vegetables. Add a tablespoon of olive oil (or spray with Pam) and toss them around to coat. Roast uncovered for 1 1/2 hours, stirring once or twice. Remove turkey and everything to a 5-6 quart heavy pot or Dutch oven.

3. Add 1 c. broth to the roasting pan and scrape up any browned bits that remain and add to the pot with the turkey and veggies. Add 7 cups of the turkey broth and wine and thyme. (Refrigerate the remaining 2 cups of broth until the next day.)

4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, about 1 1/2 hours.

5. Remove turkey.(When cool, pull off the skin and save the meat for another use.) Strain the broth into another pan, pressing on the veggies to extract as much juice as possible. Discard the vegetables. Let the sauce cool slightly and then refrigerate, overnight is great, so that the fat rises to the top. The next day, remove and discard as much of the fat as your diet requires.

6. Whisk the remaining 2 c. of broth into the 3/4 c. flour until smooth. Bring the gravy to a gentle boil in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour/broth mixture and boil 4-5 minutes to thicken and to cook the flour. Stir in butter and salt and pepper to taste. Serve or refrigerate in smaller containers up to 5 days or freeze up to 1 month.

7. If making a day ahead, start reheating in heavy saucepan over medium low heat at least a half-hour before serving. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan. (If using frozen gravy, let it thaw in the frig a day ahead.)

*(or use wings, drumsticks, necks, also giblets –liver discarded-(if you can’t find those parts, use chicken wings, necks, backs, whatever. You just need 4-5 lbs. of “bird” pieces)

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Many people have already ordered a turkey to cook and serve for Thanksgiving dinner, from a small 12 pounder to one of the giant 27 pound big guys. Me? I take advantage of the turkey roasts available at a nearby free range turkey farm. I order a 10-11 pound boneless turkey roast, consisting of both white and dark meat. I also get an extra drumstick or two if I’m expecting a lot of guests who prefer dark meat. We usually serve 14-17 people and have plenty of turkey left over for sandwiches and casseroles.

The advantage of the turkey roast instead of a whole bird is mainly its predictable cooking time. I am always very happy that I don’t have to jump up right after the meal and pull the remaining meat from the carcass. Also, the roast is a compact size that I can store for a day or two in the refrigerator very easily before Thanksgiving Day arrives, and I never put stuffing in the turkey anyway, preferring to cook it as a casserole.

I still have all the drippings from the turkey roast that I would get from roasting a whole bird. So I can use the drippings for gravy if I wish. (I always make my gravy a day ahead. Watch this blog for the recipe in a few days. All I have to do is warm it up gently before we eat – no rushing around to make sure the gravy is prepared at the last minute frantically removing any lumps that perversely appear.)

Smaller turkey breasts are readily available in groceries and make a tasty meal any time of the
year. They cook relatively quickly and can be served with a variety of sauces if you don’t want a traditional gravy for the meal. Here is a fruity sauce good on Thanksgiving or any other day of the year.


(Number of servings determined by size of turkey breast. Double the remaining ingredients if a large breast is used.)

Boneless Turkey Breast
1 T. olive oil
3 green onions, sliced thinly
6-7 sliced mushrooms
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T. parsley
1 T. butter
Drippings from pan, fat removed if desired
1/4 – 1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. fruit sauce (small 8 oz. can cranberry sauce with whole fruit or 1 c. apple sauce)
1/4 c. heavy cream
Salt and pepper

1. Roast turkey according to package directions and weight.

2. Remove turkey from oven, place on cutting board and tent with foil to keep warm. Reserve drippings. (Use fat separator if desired and discard the fat that rises to the top.)

3. In heavy bottomed saucepan, heat 1 T. olive oil over medium heat and saute green onions and mushrooms, five minutes. Add garlic clove and parsley and cook, stirring, for one minute.

4. Add juices from roasting pan.

5. Add chicken broth, fruit sauce, and bring to a slow boil. Lower heat to low. Stir in the 1 T. butter and the cream. Heat gently until steaming. Add salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile, slice the turkey.

6. Serve turkey with the sauce.


The same sauce can be make with roast chicken, or pork roast or even pork chops. If using pork roast or chops, brown the pork in a skillet in hot olive oil, remove to oven roaster and roast as needed. Prepare the sauce in the skillet keeping the browned bits in the skillet to add flavor to the sauce. Nummy.

(See separate posting “I’ll Give you the Raspberries” for another sauce that would be great with a turkey breast. Use search term “raspberries”.)

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