I won't be hosting Thanksgiving this year. We'll be joining friends at their house, with an assortment of other folk. Of course I'll cook a thing or four to contribute, whatever I'm assigned. But I thought I'd offer up these few recipes, for three elements that have become as essential to Thanksgiving dinner as the turkey itself when I do host: Creamed Onions, Cranberry Chutney, and Buttermilk Pie. These recipes were all posted previously on my cooking blog – A Cooking Life – which I have let go dormant in favor of this here blog.
The creamed onions are a departure from the bland white dreadfuls of my youth, made eminently edible with pan-roasted onions and a sauce spiked with wine, cheese, and chicken stock. The upgrade has apparently been well-received, as I keep finding my recipe (and the accompanying photo) swiped and claimed as someone else's all around the internet. You know what they say about plagiarism.
Creamed Pan-Roasted Onions
I've gotten some desperate feedback on the way this 'recipe' was presented, imploring me to write it up as a 'real' recipe so people could actually follow it (is this really so challenging?). Well, generally I'd implore right back that people learn how to cook without needing every little thing spelled out for them, but I'm in a charitable mood, so...
2 lbs. whole pearl or boiling onions
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
a very generous pinch of kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper
• • • • • •
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 small onion or two small shallots, peeled, studded with 2 whole cloves
1/4 of a bay leaf
4 whole peppercorns
sprig of fresh thyme
1/2 cup homemade chicken stock or canned broth (I'm partial to College Inn)
1 cup heavy cream
• • • • • •
2 tablespoons AP flour
1/2 cup grated sharp WHITE cheddar cheese (for god's sake, don't use that orange stuff unless you're from Wisconsin)
a few gratings of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
This will make about a quart of creamed onions.
Peel the onions, which can be a kind of a drag, but this should help: put the onions in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. After a minute, drain off the water. This softens the papery skin and keeps it from splitting and shattering while you're trying to remove it. Using a sharp paring knife, trim off the root end of the onion, leaving a little of the hard pad intact. It will soften as it cooks, and it will keep the onion from slipping apart. Starting at the root end, peel away the outer layer of skin, then trim the tip.
Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet large enough to hold the onions in a single layer (12" is about right). Add the onions, season lightly with the salt and pepper, then cook the onions gently for about 45 minutes, swirling and shaking the pan every so often so that they're lightly browned all over and cooked through. Lower the heat if they start to brown too quickly.
While the onions are cooking, make the sauce. Place the clove-studded onion or shallot in a small saucepan along with the bay leaf, peppercorns and thyme, and add the wine. Bring gently to a simmer and reduce the wine by about half. Add the chicken broth and heavy cream, bring back to a simmer, then turn off the heat, cover, and let steep for 10 or 15 minutes. Strain and reserve the liquid.
In another, slightly larger saucepan, proceed as for a basic bechamel with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour, substituting the strained liquid for the milk. Once the sauce is thickened, whisk in the cheese. Season the sauce very sparingly with salt (the cheese will have made it somewhat salty already) and pepper and a few gratings of nutmeg. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the cooked onions into the sauce and stir gently to combine.
You can make the onions a day or two ahead and hold them in the refrigerator.
Spicy Cranberry Chutney
This is ridiculously easy to make, and with its zip and zing it's a nice change from the standard cranberry sauces.
1 heaping tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt (if using standard table salt, reduce by half)
1 cup sugar
¾ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne or ground red chile
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 12 oz. bag cranberries, washed, and any crummy-looking ones discarded
Makes about 2 cups chutney.
In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients except for the cranberries. Bring carefully to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until sugar is dissolved and raisins are soft and the liquid is slightly thickened.
Add cranberries and return to a gentle boil. Cover and cook until all the berries have burst and the sauce is slightly thickened. Check and adjust seasoning with salt and cayenne (I use up to a full teaspoon of cayenne for a hotter chutney). Remove from heat and let cool, then refrigerate until ready to serve.
I believe Thanksgiving is the quintessential pie holiday, and the more of them the better (because the day after is, in my family, national Pie for Breakfast Day – π4B!). The method I describe here for baking and filling the crust applies for any custard-filled pie, as it obviates the problem of soggy-bottom pie.
This pie is bright, tangy, and lightly creamy – kind of like the lightest possible cheesecake. It's worth trying to get real buttermilk (most commercial offerings are just cultured skimmed milk), which is slowly becoming easier to find here in New England. Many bigger grocery chains are carrying buttermilk from Kate's of Maine. Otherwise, you'll be just fine making this with the cultured skim milk kind.
For whatever reason, most pie recipes include a recipe for pie crust. This makes sense if it's a special crust – graham cracker or chocolate or something. But for a straight-up butter-and-flour pie crust, I think most experienced bakers have their own tried-and-true recipe. If you don't, any basic recipe for a single 9-inch crust will work for this.
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp flour
1 tsp cardamom
pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
2 cups real buttermilk
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract (or the seeds scraped from one fresh vanilla bean)
grated zest of one lemon
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell
Heat the oven to 400°F.
Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl and blend well with a small whisk.
In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolks with about half a cup of the buttermilk and whisk vigorously to blend. Add the dry ingredients and whisk until well combined, then add the remaining ingredients and whisk until perfectly smooth. Set aside.
Line the pie shell with foil or parchment and fill with dried beans or other pie weights. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and pour the filling into the piping hot crust. Bake for 10 minutes at 400°, then lower heat to 350° and continue baking until the center of the pie is just set (it should still quiver slightly when shaken) about another 35 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack before serving (the custard will still be very loose until it is completely cooled).
Wishing you all a lovely Thanksgiving. I'll be busy in my annual quest to overdose on mashed potatoes and gravy.