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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Onion Onion Who Has The Onion

Like my carrots my onions in the garden are not doing
so well either, but be sure I will get more and try again, how can I face winter without onions. I have chives that I can't keep up too they are growing so quickly.

So what can one say about a food staple that also could have its origins in the Garden of Eden. Onions have a known history of over 5000 years. Believed to be first cultivated in central Asian, archaeologists, botanists, and food historians all conclude that the onion is likely from Iran or west Pakistan. The Chinese, Indians, Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all placed a high value on the use of the onion in food, medicine, used by herbalists and even in mummification.

We of course know the value of the onion in cuisine and there is not a world cuisine that does not use the onion in substantial ways. Part of the lily family along with chives, leeks, garlic and shallots. Green onions, scallions or spring onions are all the same, basically are immature plants that have not been allowed to form a bulb. Shallots too are part of this family, believed to discovered by the Crusaders who brought them back to England from Ascalon of ancient Isreal where the name is derived from. Yellow onions are the most common kind found in the local markets as they are the best "keepers" or hold well during winter storage. Pearl onions are baby onions allowed to grow into small bulbs.

Red onions are sweeter than yellows and will hold reasonably well, however they are not sweetest ones available in North America. There are three varieties that hold the sweetness test highest marks. First is Vidalia, any medium size bulb onion grown first in Tooms Co. Georgia. Believed to be an import from Texas, it is grown under strict control in a limited amount of Georgia counties. Named for the farmers market in Vidalia, Georgia. Some of these onions can be as sweet as apples. Best available between Late April and mid June but store well until December.

The next one on our sweet list would be Texas 10-15's, a hybrid onion developed at the Texas A&M University as a vegetable that would resist pink root disease which was the enemy of the Grano onion from which the 10-15 was taken. They are said to get their name because the farmer needs have them planted for spring harvest by October 15th of the year. Sometimes known also as Texas 10-20s as they grow best between interstate highways 10 and 20. 10-15s have a low amount of sulfur (why you cry while handling onions) giving them their sweet taste. No other onion makes a finer onion ring than the 10-15. However as with the Vidalia 10-15s have a low availability, April-June and in a very limited area, many cooks, chefs and even produce vendors have never heard of a 10-15 but if you can get them, cherish them.

Our final sweet onion is actually called that, Walla Walla Sweets. Available from June until August they are regulated by law to be grown in the Walla Walla (Native American for many waters) valley of Washington state. Best used in most cuisines Walla Walla sweets makes incredible onion soups. Said to have been brought to the area in 1800s from Corsica of Italy. Walla Walla Sweets store fairly easily and remain available until December.

Other sweet onions include Imperial Sweets from California, Oso Sweets from South America and of course Maui Sweets from Hawaii. Italian Reds are also considered sweet onions but are best used in a raw state giving color to salad and sandwiches as well as their special flavor.

4                           4                           leeks
1/4 cup                 60 ml                     butter
1 2 cup                 375 ml                   potatoes, pared and thinly sliced
4 cups                   1 L                        chicken stock
1 cup                     250 ml                   heavy cream
2 tsp                      3 ml                      salt
1/4 tsp                  1 ml                       pepper
1 tbsp                    15 ml                    minced chives

Trim the leeks.  Discard the root and the stem ends except 2 in, (5 cm) above the white portion.
Slice and wash the leeks.  Dice.

Heat the butter in an 8 cup (2 L) saucepan.

Sauté the leeks for 5 minutes.  Do not brown.  Add the potatoes and chicken stock.

Cover and simmer until potatoes are very tender.  Press through a sieve or food mill.

Reheat and add the cream salt and pepper.  

Serve garnished with chives.

Vichyssoise is usually served chilled.

 Onion Soup au Gratin
The world knows this soup by the name French Onion but the name in France is "soupe à l'oignon à la lyonnaise" there is no real way of knowing its origin but one story is that it was the creation of Napoleons chef while on the Waterloo battlefield, most likely created by the poor hard laborers of Lyon.

1                              1                        French baguette stick, about 3 in. (7 cm) in diameter.
3 tbsp                    45 ml                    butter
2 cups                   500 ml                  thinly sliced Walla Walla Sweets onions
1/4 cup                 60 ml                     all-purpose
4 cups                   1L                         mild beef stock
1 cup                     250 ml                  red wine
1 tbsp                    15 ml                    Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp                    15 ml                    Soy sauce
          Salt and pepper
3/4 cup                 180 ml                   grated medium Cheddar
3/4 cup                 180 ml                   grated Swiss cheese
1/4 cup                 60 ml                     grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325 F (160 C).  Cut French bread into slices about 2 in. (1.5 cm) thick.

Bake in oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until bread is dry and lightly browned.  Set aside. Turn oven on broil.

Melt butter in a saucepan; cook onions over low heat, stirring occasionally until onions are a rich golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Sprinkle flour over onions and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Add the stock, wine, Worcestershire, soy and salt and pepper; simmer for about 30 minutes.

Transfer soup into serving bowls and top each with a slice of toasted bread.  Combine cheeses and sprinkle over bread.

Place under preheated broiler until bubbly and lightly browned.

Beef Bourguignon
    1 pkg (14 g) dried porcini mushrooms
    3 lb (1.4 kg) boneless beef cross rib pot roasts
    4 Oz (113 g) thickly sliced bacon, chopped
    3 tbsp (45 ml) vegetable oil
    1 yellow onion, chopped
    1 large carrot, chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 tsp (2 ml) each salt and pepper
    1/3 cup (75 ml) all-purpose flour
    1 bottle (750 ml) red wine
    1-1/2 cups (375 ml) beef broth
    3 sprigs fresh parsley
    2 sprigs fresh thyme
    2 bay leaves
    1 pkg (10 Oz/284 g) pearl onions
    1 tbsp (15 ml) butter
    3 cups (750 ml) button mushrooms
    2 tbsp (30 ml) brandy
    2 tbsp (30 ml) minced fresh parsley


Soak dried mushrooms in 1/2 cup (125 ml) hot water for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim fat from beef; cut meat into 1-1/2-inch (4 cm) cubes and set aside.

In Dutch oven, sauté bacon over medium-high heat until crisp; transfer to paper towel-lined plate. Drain fat from pan.

Add 1 tbsp (15 ml) of the oil to pan; brown beef, in 3 batches and adding remaining oil as necessary. Transfer to bowl. Drain fat from pan.

Add chopped onion, carrot, garlic, salt and pepper to pan; cook over medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with flour; cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Reserving soaking liquid, remove mushrooms and chop; add to pan along with soaking liquid, wine and broth. Bring to boil, scraping up any brown bits. Tie parsley, thyme and bay leaves together with string. Add to pan along with bacon, beef and any juices. Cover and braise in 325°F (160°C) oven until meat is fork-tender, 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Meanwhile, in pot of boiling water, boil pearl onions for 3 minutes; drain and chill in cold water. Peel and trim, leaving root ends intact. In skillet, melt butter over medium heat; brown pearl onions, about 5 minutes. 

With slotted spoon, transfer to bowl.

Add mushrooms to skillet; fry until browned, about 5 minutes.

With slotted spoon, remove beef to separate bowl. Add pearl onions, mushrooms and brandy to liquid in Dutch oven; bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until thickened and onions are tender, about 25 minutes. Discard herbs. Return beef to pan and heat through. Sprinkle with parsley.
Polish Onion Buns
I can remember these being baked fresh weekly by Grandmother on Sundays after church or any special occasion.
1 cup of lukewarm milk
2 tsp yeast
2 tbps of sugar
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1/4 cup of melted butter
4 cups of white bread flour
2 medium yellow onions
2 tbps of oil
1/4 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese

Mix your sugar and warm milk, sprinkle with the yeast and allow to get very foamy.

Mix the flour, salt, eggs and your yeast mixture blending thoroughly. Add melted butter and mix into a smooth ball.

Cover and let it rise until it doubles in size.

Dice the onions, saute with two tablespoons of oil with a pinch of salt until soft and golden color. Allow to cool as the dough rises.

Line a baking sheet with a parchment paper.

Punch down your risen dough and roll to 1 cm thick. Cut 3 inch circles. With your finger or a shot glass make holes in the middle and put the onion filling in.

Arrange on your baking sheet, leaving them space to rise some more.

When you brush with all your dough them with a lightly beaten egg. Top with cheese.

Bake in preheat 350F oven for 17 minutes or until golden brown.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

For The Love Of The Carrot

Well I know I am a very good chef, as do many others, especially those who get to eat my food. However being a good chef does not mean you're good at other things regarding food. I don't hunt or fish, bring your animal I will butcher it for, dress it and cook it any way you may want, I just can't kill it. What I am good at killing seems to be my plants, household ones or those in my garden, I just can't seem to get that relationship working.

This year, Dianna, the grandkids and myself decided we would plant a garden. We planted onions, corn, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, herbs, potatoes, beets beans, peas, and watermelon. So far the no sign of the cucumbers, and carrots, going to have to replant these, bummer.

The carrots of course are of the orange variety the most popular of the carrot family but actually not an original color.  Purple, white, black, and red were the most common colors of this root veggie but the orange one was a man made development to celebrate the Dutch House of Orange they cross bred the red and yellow breeds until they came up with the color of today's sweet and popular type.

Carrots have history and date back to 5000 years or more, they possibly were a product of the garden of Eden (Adam knew what he was doing, so why not I). Said to be first dug up in Afghanistan traders of Asia, Africa, and Arabia all use carrots as a means of currency. The Romans and Greeks valued carrots as an important commodity. Found in the Pharaohs tombs and throughout Egyptian writings and drawing carrots were considered very important especially the purple variety (purple being the color of royalty.)

Carrots were considered as medical or an aphrodisiac long before they were considered a food staple. The Danvers carrot was to become America's carrot (a carrot developed in Danvers, MA. in 1871) but even still was popular with the general population until after the return of the "Doughboys" from WW1 who had carrots in the cuisines of Europe.

Today the carrot is essential to mist cuisines, no stock is possible without a carrot addition, the Mirepoix of French cuisine cannot be made without carrots, from savory to sweet carrots play an important role in cookery.


6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1  Yellow onion, chopped
1/4 c. Finely chopped ginger root
3 cloves garlic, minced
7 c. Chicken stock
1 c. Whipping cream
1 1/2 lbs. Carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 tbsp. Fresh lemon juice
Pinch curry powder
Salt & ground pepper
Snipped fresh chives or parsley

1. Melt butter in large stock pot over medium heat. Add onion, ginger and garlic; saute for 15-20 minutes.

2. Add the stock, cream and carrots. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered over medium heat until the carrots are very tender, about 25 minutes.

3. Puree the soup in a blender or processor (fitted with steel blade), or with a hand blender. Season with lemon juice, curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chives or parsley. Serve hot or cold.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup shredded carrot
½ cup raisins
½ cup chopped walnuts
8 ounce crushed pineapple
2 eggs
½ cup butter (melted)
1 teaspoon vanilla


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In large bowl combine dry ingredients: Flour, Sugar, Baking Powder, ground cinnamon and ground ginger.
Stir in carrots, raisins and nuts.
In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients: undrained pineapple, eggs, butter and vanilla.
Stir into dry ingredients until just blended.


Spoon into greased 2 ½ inch muffin cups.
Bake in 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center is clean when removed.
Remove from pan and cool on wire rack.


4                                              4                                        eggs
1 cup                                     250 ml                                 sugar
1 cup                                     250 ml                                 vegetable oil
2 cups                                   500 ml                                   all purpose flour
1-½ tsp                                 7 ml                                        baking powder
1 tsp                                      5 ml                                        salt
2 tsp                                      10 ml                                     cinnamon
2 cups                                   500 ml                                   carrots ‑ grated
1-½ cups                              375 ml                                   apples ‑ pared, cored, grated
1 cup                                     250 ml                                   raisins
1 cup                                     250 ml                                   slivered almonds
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until very light and frothy.  Add the sugar gradually, beating until very light.  Gradually whip in the oil.
Sift together the flour with baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  Slowly add to the egg mixture.  Stir in the carrots, apples, raisins and nuts.
Pour into a greased 9" spring form pan and bake in a preheated 350°F (180°C) oven for 1-½ to 2 hours or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Cool in the pan 10‑15 minutes before removing, turn cake out and cool completely.  Frost with cream cheese frosting.

                                                                             CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
9 oz                                        255 gr                                    cream cheese ‑ softened
¾ cup                                    180 ml                                   butter ‑ softened
1 ½ tsp                                  7 ml                                        vanilla extract
4 cups                                   1 L                                           sifted icing sugar (confectioners)

Beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until very smooth and fluffy.  Gradually beat in the icing sugar until spreading consistency.

Carrot Apple Pate
1.5 pounds peeled, sliced carrots
1/2 pound Gala apples
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small diced onion
4 large diced garlic cloves
¾ teaspoon cumin
1 ½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cilantro
¼ cup orange juice
1 Tablespoon grated orange rind
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and slice carrots and apples, rinse and then add to a large pot of salted boiling water, and allow cooking for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until firm but tender. Drain and then set aside until needed.

Using a medium size saucepan or skillet on medium heat add the oil tablespoon of oil to cook the onion and garlic for about 5 to 7 minutes or until tender.

Using a blender add the cumin, oregano, cilantro, orange juice, orange rind, salt and pepper as well as the onion and clove mixture and the cooked carrots. You may choose to chop and blend or puree depending on what is most suitable for your purposes and taste.

Pour into a mold or loaf pan and then place in the refrigerator to chill for 4 to 6 hours before serving.

Slow Cooker Beef & Carrot Pasta

1/4 cup plain flour
1kg stewing beef, cut into 5cm cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
24 pearl onions
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup beef stock
3 sprigs thyme
3 large carrots, peeled, roughly chopped
Cooked pappardelle pasta, to serve
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

Place flour in a a mixing. Season with salt and pepper. Add beef and stir to lightly coat the beef in flour, shaking off excess. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add half the beef. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes or until browned. Spoon into slow cooker. Repeat with oil and remaining beef.

Reduce frying pan heat to medium. Add remaining oil and onions to pan. Cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and tomato paste. Cook for 1 minute. Pour in wine. Bring to the boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes or until wine has reduced by half. Add stock, thyme and carrots. Bring to the boil. Spoon sauce over beef and stir to combine.

Cover and cook on HIGH for up to 4 hours or LOW for 6 hours. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon or the pasta, sprinkle with the parsley and serve.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Vanilla, You Know You Want It!

Recently I received a comment on my writings from my blog "From The Heart" a teaching blog dealing mostly upon faith (find it at 

Here is the comment "I believe what you said made a lot of sense. However, think about this, what if you added a little information? I am not suggesting your information is not good, but what if you added a title that makes people want more? I mean The Suddenlies of God Are For You | From The Heart is kinda vanilla."

So I thought it would behoove us to take a look at vanilla and see if it is just the ordinary, plain, unassuming seasoning that is implied about the writing.

 Next to saffron, vanilla is the most expensive spice in the world with pods costing 50-200 dollars per pound depending on the quality. The finest and most expensive of this edible orchid originating in Mexico is the Madagascar pod. Its expense comes from the fact that workers must care and harvest the each pod by hand. Each is loving inspected daily and only harvested when tip begins to split, hand picked and carefully sun-dried by day then wrapped in wool by night so the pods sweat and the best flavor is developed.

Good vanilla beans should be dark, long, wrinkly and moist. A quick look and most people would reject them believing that exact would be a better way to go. However the finest grade of vanilla (gourmet) is well worth obtaining. Use a vanilla bean in foods such as ice cream, custards, cake batters and sauces, slit the bean lengthwise down the center using a pointed knife, scrape out the tiny seeds and add them directly to your mixture. You can also split the vanilla bean in half and drop the entire pod into a cooked mixture such as custard, and remove before serving. Vanilla beans can often be used several times depending on how strenuously they have been used. Simply rinse the bean, dry it and store for future use. You can also take a bean that has already been used several times, rinse and dry it, and add it to your sugar or coffee jar to impart a delicate flavor, place the vanilla bean in the jar with the sugar or ground coffee and keep in a moist free dark environment for at least 30 days.

The finest beans (actually the fruit) are grown as I said in Mexico or Madagascar, but good quality beans also come from Tahiti, India, Sri Lanka and Uganda. The cream of the crop is called Bourbon vanilla (no whiskey here) the name belongs to the "House of Bourbon" a royal European family that held thrones in Spain and Italy but their stronghold was France.

Gourmet Grade Beans
Typically sold in singles or pairs, with rich dark color, silky sheen, and high moisture content. These beans are very expensive, and are best used “in the raw.” when ripened. Further processing is not the purpose of these beans. A white crystalline substance can sometime be found upon  the pods and valued because this is natural vanillin.

Grade I Beans
Approximately 18cm long, with even coloring and flexibility. These beans make the highest quality extract.
Grade II Beans
Approximately 9cm long, and a good deal thinner than grade 1, grade 2 are more brittle than grade 1 beans. These are commonly used for making extract.
Grade III Beans
These beans are otherwise known as “chops” or “cuts.” They are beans that have imperfections such as over ripening, warts, blemishes, inferior color, etc. These are the most common grade used for industrial extract production.

Pure vanilla extract is made by macerating and percolating vanilla beans in a solution of ethyl alcohol and water. Double and triple strengths are available at higher costs. It takes 250 components obtain to the flavor profile of vanilla. The extract solution must contain 35% alcohol and a minimum of 100 grams of vanilla beans per liter of solution.

Artificial vanilla extract, contains no vanilla but rather is derived from Ester of wood rosin, which comes from pine stumps, in other words wood pulp. It is synthesized from guaiacol, a coal tar derivative; or produced from lignin, a byproduct of the paper industry. Caramel coloring and flavoring is added to disguise the unpleasant odour and taste of the wood by product. This common ingredient that is often labeled as " flavoring" it also found in lemon lime soda, cake mixes, cereals and candy.

 Another "natural flavoring" is  Castoreum,  extracted from the beaver anal glands once found in artificial vanilla (but claimed no longer used) however it  is used to make artificial raspberry  found in: artificially raspberry flavored products such as cheap ice cream, Jell-O, candy, fruit flavored drinks, teas and yogurts.

More Than Great Taste

The vanilla bean and pure extract have a flavor which nothing else can duplicate, in fact for the baker vanilla is second only to salt in use as a seasoning. When one looks at the flavor profile of vanilla (over 250 components) we can readily see that vanilla exists for one simple purpose, to complete what it is being blended within. A custard without, boring, with perfection. Baking is never complete without its addition, it is the life of basic ice cream. 

Why in addition to our common idea's, vanilla is used as an air freshener (the most common), repels insects (mosquitoes, black flies, and ticks hate its odor) a quick relief from a minor burn. The extract will freshen up your fridge from unpleasant smells, remove the paint smell of the air and even deodorize the microwave. I use it in making my wife's perfume. Why a vanilla patch worn while dieting will actually help you lose weight as it sends signals to your brain tricking your brain to think you have eaten and you are full, (maybe it thinks you just had dessert) but eating two scoops of French vanilla ice cream won't help with the weight loss with or without the patch. Vanilla extract has an array of vitamins and minerals including the B-complex and calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc for good health. The essential oils have the ability to help in cancer treatment by reducing the free radicals within the body. Vanilla has the ability to act as a mild tranquilizer and sedative, an antidepressant, and helps to fight inflammation from fevers. As  aromatherapy patients report it has a calming, soothing effect. It can even be successfully used to combat mild sleep disorders.

Stick With It

So if vanilla is all this and so much more I think I will stick with it and remain vanilla in my thinking and writings. I will let the other flavors catch up. Like vanilla my writings may need you think on what I have given out for thought and if you ponder upon them and study for yourself and decide your course of action, perhaps then they have helped you to complete the tasks of a victorious life, and my little bit of vanilla essence has been a good thing.