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Archive for the ‘Main dishes’ Category

Three onion casserole fresh from the oven.

We decided to spend both Christmas and New Year’s weekends at home this year. We’d traveled for Thanksgiving and that was enough for us. On top of the two long weekends, I also had two personal days at work that I needed to use before the end of the year – so I ended up with two 4-day weekends in a row. For someone who loves to cook, this was pure luxury! Definitely not an opportunity to be wasted – and I tried not to, as I will try to recap in the next couple of posts.

In the spirit of taking a festive approach to this opportunity, I sat down with one of my most appropriately festive cookbooks: The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. Doesn’t the name just say it all? This book does not contain heart- or waistline-friendly recipes. But how often do you have an excuse to cook really decadent party food? (As opposed to a beautiful-yet-healthy potluck dish, for example?) For those rare times when you do – this book does not disappoint.

And indeed, it was not long before I was mentally bookmarking various ideas, but I finally found the one. The one I could not imagine NOT making for a long holiday weekend. It had the simple name of Three-Onion Casserole and was billed as an ‘accompaniment.’ But don’t be fooled: this dish’s size (it filled a 9×13″ pan above the brim), cost (almost $50 worth of ingredients, most of them various kinds of cheese) and flavor (wine, garlicky boursin, herb-flecked dill Havarti, and slow-roasted leeks and onions topped off with crusty, deliciously browned Gruyere) are no side show. If you were to bring this beautiful, fragrant and filling casserole to a winter party, your brilliance and generosity would not soon be forgotten. I didn’t; I just made it for the two of us, for New Year’s weekend.

One more note about this dish: it is labor-intensive, perhaps only suited for one of those 3- or 4-day weekends when cold weather has you trapped indoors anyway. There is simply no way to make light work of slicing this many onions, nor do Havarti or Gruyere typically come pre-grated. Just hang in there and get it done; you will be richly rewarded. It may seem completely inconceivable, but Tomas and I ate this whole casserole by ourselves. Eventually. I think it took about a week… but boy, those leftovers made for the best lunches ever. Like extending the holidays right into the work week.

Three-Onion Casserole (adapted from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, 1985)

3 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 large red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

4 leeks, tough green ends cut off, well rinsed and thinly sliced

1 1/2 cups grated Havarti (I used Dill Havarti and enjoyed the extra boost of herbs. I was unsure of how much solid cheese to buy at the store, but found that a smallish 1/2-pound block of Havarti made more than enough)

2 packages (5 oz. each) Boursin, crumbled

1 1/2 cups Gruyere, grated (one 1/2-pound block was enough; I couldn’t tell and bought two, which cost me dearly but gives me an excuse to make fondue soon)

1/2 cup dry white wine

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13″ baking dish with 1 Tbsp of the butter. Layer a third of each of the onions in the bottom of the dish and season with salt and pepper. Top with the grated Havarti. Create another layer of onions, seasoning again with salt and pepper. Top this layer with the crumbled Boursin, distributing it as evenly as possible. Layer the last third of the onions and leeks on top and top with the grated Gruyere. Dot the remaining 2 Tbsp of butter on top and pour the white wine over all. Bake for 1 hour, covering the dish with aluminum foil after 30-45 minutes or when it is sufficiently browned to prevent the top from burning. Serve immediately (but makes fabulous leftovers).

A mound of onions and cheese (way more than I had imagined - I had to switch dishes to try to fit all the food that this recipe generated!)

The Silver Palate cookbook says that this makes 6 servings, but perhaps that was in 1985. I would argue that it could easily feed 12 people if they help themselves to fairly generous portions. This would be a great side dish for any kind of steak or filet, but I enjoyed it with brussel sprouts, good bread and sweet potatoes.

You might only want to make this once a year, but I can imagine it becoming quite an addictive tradition at that time of year…

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Here I go with the quiche again. It must have something to do with the spring vegetables, fresh eggs sitting on the kitchen counter, and occasions constantly arising where I need to feed a bunch of people easily (i.e. potlucks, people visiting for brunch, a busy week needing several meals prepped at once). Perhaps quiche is the spring garden version of the ever-utilitarian casserole: a vehicle for quickly tossing together a medley of fresh produce that’s easy but looks and tastes like it was a serious effort.

In any case, this is basically a variation on the theme that I started with the very popular Swiss Chard and Onion Quiche last year. It’s so easy to just substitute any other tasty pairing of vegetables and other garnishes, but this one came out well enough that it merited writing up.

Essentially, use the same recipe as for the Swiss Chard quiche (use this ratio of eggs, milk and cream for any quiche actually) but instead of the onions, chard, cheese and nutmeg, add instead:

  • two good-sized handfuls fresh-picked asparagus (washed, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces and sauteed for several minutes in olive oil until bright green and just beginning to be tender with slightly browned edges)
  • several forkfuls of honey goat cheese (I found this beautifully flavored goat cheese at Costco, but you can also use regular goat cheese or, if you’re enterprising enough, mash in some honey with a fork before dropping it into the quiche in small clumps)
  • a handful (I’d say about 2 Tbsp) sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Prepare a single crust and chill for at least 30 minutes or more. Once you’ve taken it out, rolled it flat and arranged it in your pie plate, assemble your quiche. Pour the sauteed asparagus into the bottom of the crust and season liberally with salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne.  Sprinkle most of the almonds over the asparagus, reserving one small portion for the final garnish. Dot the honey goat cheese on top of this until well distributed. Pour the egg and cream mixture (explained here) over it all carefully. Dot a few more bits of goat cheese on top, sprinkle with the last few almonds, and bake as directed here.

This will, as all quiches do, keep very nicely in the fridge for quick lunches and snacks throughout the week. The honey goat cheese really makes it – it’s worth either tracking it down or improvising some of your own!

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We had a little party for our 5 new baby chicks last night – they are one month old and getting ready to move out to their new digs in the garden, so we called it a “coop-warming party” and invited all our friends. Everyone was quite entertained by the idea – one couple, who it turns out also has 3 chickens of their own, thought it was the coolest party they’d ever been to: proof that other “normal” people have chickens too. 

In addition to tours of the just completed chicken coop and plenty of time for everyone to pet and play with the chicks, we served up a buffet of summer patio fare: in addition to the obligatory brats and whole grain rolls, we had salad of watermelon, feta cheese and red onions, grilled tricolor bell peppers, zucchini and yellow squash, grilled polenta cakes, orange cream cheese frosted brownies, a white balsamic custard tart with fresh fruit that went over very well indeed, and cream cheese with fresh chives and garlic from the garden stirred in. The most popular item of the evening, though, appeared to be the chard and onion quiche (I’d made two in the hopes that we’d have generous leftovers to enjoy this week – both were polished off in their entirety, so we will have to cook again tonight – too bad).

1 pie crust

large bunch chard, stems trimmed off and chopped separately, leaves roughly chopped

red onions, sliced – I used several small ones, but I’d say 1-2 large ones would work

grated Pecorino-Romano cheese (again guesstimating, I grated about a saucer full)

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup milk (I used 1%)

1 cup cream (I used table cream that was left over in the fridge)

 a few toasted pine nuts

salt, fresh ground pepper, dash nutmeg and dash cayenne pepper

Directions:

preheat oven to 400 degrees

Saute chard stems in olive oil until softened; set aside

Saute chard leaves in olive oil, seasoning occasionally with salt and pepper, until wilted and tender; set aside

put onion slices in pan with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and a generous dash of sugar; over medium heat let them cook until well softened and beginning to caramelize; try not to stir much to allow the caramelization to begin to take effect

line a pie plate with pie crust and fold over edges

fill bottom of pie with onions

layer chard stems and leaves on top of onions

sprinkle most of the grated cheese over the chard

mix together cream, milk, eggs and season with salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg

pour egg mixture into pie crust

top with remaining cheese and sprinkle with pine nuts

bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes

lower heat to 325 and bake for 35 more minutes, until golden brown and slightly crusty

let sit for a while before serving – at least 30 minutes, but quiche will taste fabulous hours later or the next day

I was paid the highest compliment on this quiche when a native French woman had some and pronounced it truly excellent; she commented on people’s tendency to overbake theirs until the eggs turned runny, and on the excellent flavor of the vegetables. You might as well just call it “garden quiche,” because it could just as well have had any other combination of greens and veggies in it; this is just what was ready for the taking yesterday. I can see by my fast-growing vines that we will soon have the opportunity to try cherry tomato and zucchini quiche, for example. Any good cheese and any tasty combination of vegggies, sausage or other kinds of meat would surely be just as wonderful. Let your imagination run on this one – as long as you have the basic base down, you can’t mess up a quiche!

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