Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country


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Caramelized Onions

One day, while I ought to have been doing something more productive, I somehow mindlessly slipped along a series of virtual chutes and ladders and tumbled into the middle of a worst-foods-cliches list.  (I think it was this list, but I can’t be sure since websites have a nasty habit of expanding, contracting, and replicating themselves in other spots. The one I originally read included a very long series of comments at the bottom, which I couldn’t track down again.) I started to say that I don’t know why I read lists like that since they always rile me up, but my husband–who knows me awfully well–would say that is why I read lists like that one.  Just like articles that purport to tell you that although you may think you know how to scramble eggs or grill burgers or cook pasta, you’ve been wrong all along! Aha! I read these lists just looking for an imaginary fight.  The indignation escapes from me in dismissive little bursts the whole time I’m reading.  “Well,” I’ll say to the online article, “the way I do it seems to have worked perfectly well for the past 20 years, thank you very much.”  Or, “Maybe where YOU are the word velvety is overused, but I got a 660 on my verbal SAT, and I can think of no better adjective for those buttermilk whipped potatoes, so there.”

One comment really rankled me (probably its author wouldn’t care for that verb either, its having been overused somewhere at sometime by someone).  S/he professed disdain for the supposed elevation of “humble” ingredients.  It was the humble part s/he hated.  I can’t tell you why.  Something about not caring for the anthropomorphization of foodstuffs?

So, in the interest of simultaneously combating my virtual enemy and telling you about one of my most regularly used culinary weapons, I now present to you an argument in favor of the “humble onion,” who, like so many of his similarly humble compatriots, can be “elevated” (yes, indeed, elevatedbeyond all expectation by combining him with a pat of butter, a little bit of salt, a pinch of sugar, a shot of acid, and a lot of patience.

By the way, if you watch “The Next Food Network Star” (as I do), you may have noticed that one of the annual rites of passage for the contestants is the creation of a new food product.  Well, if I were on the show (a laughable idea for so many reasons, not the least of which is that I fall seriously short in the likability department), this would be my product.  That’s how much I love it.  And there’s nothing like it on the market.  And I’m pretty sure it would bottle nicely.  Golly, maybe I should be on NFNS, if only so that I could hit the big-time with this idea…

These onions are the foundation for my date-night burgers, my chicken fajitas, my vegetable tacos and grilled veggie sandwiches.  I think of them as one of two onion options when a dish just needs something: if it needs brightness, I use my green-onion-and-herb sauce, and if it needs depth and richness, I use these.  If you ever come to my house on a day when I’m not cooking and you think, “What is it her house smells like?”  The answer is…

The Humble Onion…Elevated

1-2 tablespoons of butter

Approximately 4 large onions, cut longitudinally and sliced into half moons (No need to use the pricey Vidalias or Walla-Wallas here.  Just regular, cheapo onions in the big, mesh bag will do the trick.)

1 teaspoon of sugar

1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt (or more, to taste)

1 tablespoon of good vinegar or citrus juice (I typically use a nice, syrupy balsamic)

1. Melt your butter in a big old pan with high sides.

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2. Slice your onions.

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Four humble onions, cut into half moons. Waiting to be elevated.

3. Dump them into the melted butter.

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Elevation is a slow process.

4. Stir them infrequently over medium/medium-low heat, for a long…

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After 30 minutes, they are limp but not yet browned.

long…

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After 45 minutes…

long time.

5. After nearly an hour, they should have cooked down to only about 1 cup.  Yes.  Really.  When they have, turn them way, way down and add your sugar, salt, and vinegar.  Taste and adjust the balance as necessary. They will probably need more salt.  (You can also add any kind of seasoning blend you want at this point.)

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Elevation is complete…an hour later.

6. Put them on top of or into something…or, heck, just eat them with a fork if you want to.  Here, we piled them onto our date-night burgers–because that’s the way we roll around here.

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Oh, yeah. That’s some goat-cheese-mayo underneath. That burger’s being elevated from both sides, for heaven’s sake!


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Curried Chickpea Cakes with Tzatziki-ish sauce

Everything tastes good after a day at the beach…

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My big boy doing what he does best, with hunky hubby in the background.

Burrowing into the sand, paddling around the shallows, and collecting stones from the surf: high-energy activities.  At the end of each day last week, sun-soaked and heavy limbed, the kids dragged themselves back to the house, where they would have happily eaten just about anything before falling into the kind of deep, dark sleep that belongs only to children in the long days of summer.

But after a week in a little cabin (even a little cabin with beach rights), I am happy to be home–back to my counter space and my spice collection, back to my dishwasher and my weighty silverware.

Before I left to go to the grocery store when we had returned home on Saturday, my husband had just one request: “No more meat!”

So, this meatless meal is an ode to my well-stocked kitchen and its marvelous gadgetry (food processors, strainers, graters, and heavy-bottomed skillets).  It also has the added advantage of making great use of our bumper crop of green onions.

Curried Chickpea Cakes with Tzatziki-ish Sauce

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2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 cup of croutons or about 1/2 cup of panko breadcrumbs

2 eggs

1 cucumber, seeded if it is very seedy

1 1/2 cups 2% Greek Yogurt (like Fage)

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 green onions, roughly chopped

a big handful of cilantro leaves, chopped

the juice of one lime

2 tablespoons (or more) mild curry powder

oil and/or butter for pan frying

1. In your food processor, grind your croutons, if you’re using them.

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Otherwise, add the drained and rinsed chickpeas and the bread crumbs to the food processor and pulse to grind them together. You just want to break the chickpeas into pieces, not obliterate them

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2. Peel and grate your cucumber into a wire mesh strainer and sprinkle it, right in the strainer, with about 1 teaspoon of salt.  Allow it to hang out there for a while.  This will pull the extra water out of it and allow it to drain.

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3. Transfer your roughly ground chickpeas and bread crumbs into a large bowl.  To the bowl, add the olive oil, curry powder, about 1/2 cup of yogurt and about half of the chopped green onions.   Season with salt to taste.  Then add the eggs.

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4. Heat enough oil and/or butter (I like to use a combination of both) to cover generously the bottom of a heavy skillet.  Form about six patties (about 1/2 cup of chickpea mixture) and fry them over medium/medium-high heat, flipping once halfway through.

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5. While the patties are frying, mix up your tzatziki-ish sauce. (I’m not sure whether this technically meets the definition of tzatziki, so I’m covering my bases with the inclusion of the “-ish,” but it’s pretty close.)  To the remaining 1 cup of yogurt, add the drained cucumbers and salt, the remaining green onions, the cilantro, and the juice of one lime.

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6. Yum.