Taking a Look at Onions

You see them everywhere: the grocery, sandwiches, soups, guacamole, fajitas… They seem to be inescapable. If you can eat them, they are really good for your health, too.

Let us take a look at the ubiquitous onion (Allium cepa).

There are numerous varieties of onions available. We will pare them down to the simplest categories, some of their best uses, and if I can hunt them down fairly quickly, names of a few of the varieties.

The “heat” in an onion is in direct proportion to the amount of sulfur in the soil and the amount of water available to the individual plantings. Apparently ANY onion can be made more or less strong by controlling these two conditions.

SWEET ONION
From Wiki: A sweet onion is a variety of onion that is not pungent. Their mildness is attributable to their low sulfur content and high water content when compared to other onion varieties.
-Vidlia, Texas 1015, Walla Walla, Sweetie Sweet, Sunbrero, Carzalia, and several others
-best for frying as onion rings
-use for: onion rings, gratins, roasted vegetables

RED ONION
From Wiki: Red onions, sometimes called purple onions, are cultivars of the onion with purplish red skin and white flesh tinged with red.These onions tend to be medium to large in size and have a mild to sweet flavor. They are often consumed raw, grilled or lightly cooked with other foods, or added as color to salads. They tend to lose their redness when cooked.
-Turda, Tropea, Wethersfield
-best for eating raw
-use for: guacamole, pickled onion, salads, sandwiches

WHITE ONION
From Wiki: White onion is a type of dry onion that has a pure white skin and a sweet, mild white flesh. This onion is used in Mexican foods or complementing the flavors of other ingredients. The onion can be sautéed to a dark brown color and served to provide a sweet and sour flavor to other foods.
-Super Star, Texas Early White, Ringmaster, White Bermuda
-crunchiest and most peppery
-use for: salsas, chutneys, stir-fries, fajitas

YELLOW ONION
From Wiki: The yellow onion or brown onion is a variety of dry onion with a strong flavor. White inside, its layers of papery skin have a yellow-brown color.It has a rich onion taste and is fit for food dishes like French onion soup. Yellow onions are typically available throughout the year. This onion is higher in sulfur than the white onion, which gives it a stronger, more complex flavor.
-Granex, Highlander, Texas Legend
-best all-around cooking onion
-use for: meat roasts, braised meat dishes, sauces, soups, stews

SHALLOT
From Wiki: The skin colour of shallots can vary from golden brown to gray to rose red, and their off-white flesh is usually tinged with green or magenta.
-Pikant, Atlas and Ed’s Red
-milder and more subtle
-use for: vinaigrettes, egg casseroles, garnishes, pickling for martini onions, Asian/Middle Eastern/Southern European/British dishes

There are a lot of other onions out there. If you can lay your hands of varietals such as a Wakegi, I’itoi, scallions, or any heotrs with names you don’t recognize – try them!

— Ann Cathey

Simple Wine Pairings

A lot of people enjoy wine, but have not yet learned how best to pair wines with food for the maximum enjoyment. While I am not a big wine drinker, my father made sure I was at least educated in the basics. In his honor I will share some of what he taught me.

We start with the simplest of rote teachings that I grew up with: Red wines for red meat (beef, venison, buffalo, etc), white wines for white meat (fowl, pork, etc). That is merely a starting point – there are so many delicate variations to explore that wine enthusiasts, each with his or her own opinions, abound. Let’s just stick with some basics.

There are so many more varieties of grapes being grown around the world that to try to cover them all at once would take a really long time and likely confuse many readers.

All of the wines mentioned below are readily available from numerous vineyards, and consequently from vine to vine are a little different. You may find that you prefer the flavor of a wine from California or Texas over that of the same type of wine produced in Europe, or vice versa. Experiment with the differences and find the wines that you like best.

Personally, there is little difference between a table wine and a cooking wine. A little for me, a little for the pot, as it were. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many people consider wines to be categorized as only to be savored from the glass, while others are good only for cooking, and yet others are only good for making vinegar. As with any taste experience, personal taste is everything.

 

RED WINES

Cabernet Sauvignon is a red wine that often sports hints of cherry or blackberry. It has a  full-bodied, but firm flavor, quite gripping when young. With age, rich currant qualities come forward. Vanilla notes, if present, come not from the fruit but from the oak treatment.
-Food-wine pairing: best with simply prepared red meat.
-Cheeses: Cheddar, Gouda, Edam, Havarti

Merlot is the go-to for most people starting to experiment with wine. It is wasy to drink and excellent for most cooking projects. Most often it will sport black-cherry and herbal flavors.
-Food-wine pairing: any will do
-Cheeses: Gouda, Camembert, Gorgonzola, Brie, Cheddar

Pinot Noir is very unlike it’s cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon. The structure is delicate and fresh with very soft tannins. This is related to the low level of polyphenols. The aromatics are very fruity (cherry, strawberry, plum), often with notes of tea-leaf or damp earth
-Food-wine pairing: excellent with grilled salmon, chicken, lamb and Japanese dishes
-Cheeses: Swiss, Port Salut, Gruyere, Feta

Syrah, or Shiraz, is a very popular wine for both drinkability and table pairings. The shiraz variety gives hearty, spicy reds. While shiraz is used to produce many average wines it can produce some of the world’s finest, deepest, and darkest reds with intense flavors and excellent longevity. It offers aromas and flavors of wild black-fruit (such as blackcurrant), with overtones of black pepper spice and roasting meat. The abundance of fruit sensations is often complemented by warm alcohol and gripping tannins.
-Food-wine pairing: meat (steak, beef, wild game, stews, etc.)
-Cheeses: Sharp Cheddar, Edam, Gouda, Roquefort

Zinfandels are sporty wines offering raspberry, blackberry, black cherry, raisin, and prune flavors. For decades zinfandel was California’s grape, though now it is grown all over the west coast of the United States, in Australia, Italy, and elsewhere, and its ancestry has been traced to Croatia. California zinfandel remains the model for all others, and it grows well and vines distinctively all over the state.
-Food-wine pairing: any will do, though very acceptable with fruits
-Cheeses: Double Gloucester, Asiago, Bleu, Feta, aged Gouda or Cheddar

 

WHITE WINES

Chardonnay is often wider-bodied (and more velvety) than other types of dry whites, with rich citrus (lemon, grapefruit) flavors. Fermenting in new oak barrels adds a buttery tone (vanilla, toast, coconut, toffee). Tasting a moderately priced Californian Chardonnay should give citrus fruit flavors, hints of melon, vanilla, some toasty character and some creaminess.
-Food-wine pairing: it is a good choice for fish and chicken dishes.
-Cheeses: Brie, Asiago, Havarti

Riesling wines are much lighter than Chardonnay wines. The aromas generally include fresh apples. The riesling variety expresses itself very differently depending on the district and the winemaking. Rieslings should taste fresh. If they do, then they might also prove tastier and tastier as they age.
-Food-wine pairing: dry versions go well with fish, chicken and pork dishes.
-Cheeses: Bleu, Colby, Brie, Edam, Gouda, Havarti

Pinot Grigio creates light, zippy, food-friendly white wines that do not clobber the palate with oak and alcohol. Its alter ego, pinot gris (same grape, different name), has become the white wine of Oregon, where it produces lively, pear-flavored wines that may carry an additional fruity sweetness. The California version  is a bit heavier, while vintners in Washington make intense, tart wines that match well with seafood.
-Flavors: Citrus, fresh pear, melon, Fuji apples, seafood
-Cheeses: Goat cheese, Muenster, Gouda, Edam, Asiago

Sauvignon Blanc is generally lighter than Chardonnay. It tends to show an herbal character suggesting bell pepper or freshly mown grass. The dominating flavors range from sour green fruits of apple and pear through to tropical fruits of melon, mango and blackcurrant. Quality unoaked Sauvignon Blancs will display smokey qualities. They offer bright aromas with a strong acid finish.
-Food-wine pairing: a versatile food wine for seafood, poultry, and salads.
-Cheeses: Gruyere, Mozzarella, Asiago, Neufchatel

For the host or hostess who does not wish to keep a cellar of wines, simply keeping one red and one white that are versatile on hand will cover most casual occasions. A good Zinfandel is also a catch all for a lot of people as it goes with so much.

There are tons of information out on the internet for those who wish to develop their wine palate. One sight of particular interest is Wine Enthusiast [http://www.winemag.com/], which offers Wine for Beginners [http://www.winemag.com/wine-for-beginners/]. The article offers some valuable information up to and including storing wines and investing in them. This site was a primary source for material used in this blog.

My primary investment in wine is what it will do to a roast or add to chicken or duck when cooking, and I freely admit it. Your relationship with wine will develop to suit you.

Happy Sipping!

— Ann Cathey

Not the Turkey You Were Looking For

For Thanksgiving this year, I was unfortunately unable to secure the turkey I was looking forward to cooking and consuming. Instead, I wound up scrounging in the kitchen to come up with a passable meal. I think this one counts as a win.
IMG_0471We had a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Wine for Dummies collection to start with, that my partner found in, of all places, a dollar store (but not for a buck). It had a lovely, dark color, a somewhat fruity nose, and a delightfully full-bodied tartness.

IMG_0476In the chest freezer I found a pound each of ground buffalo and lamb. When mixed with the right spices (onion, garlic, and white pepper) and with a bit of red wine, this became what is affectionately known as a BAM loaf. With all the ingredients thoroughly mixed by hand, it went into a 300F oven for about two hours.

IMG_0475Then there were the sweet potatoes. they were peeled and washed rather than simply baked whole. We played with spiral cutting them, the spirals becoming “butterflies” and the leftover chunks going into a pan to roast. We seasoned with garlic, cinnamon and seasoned salt. While the chunks cooked to a turn, the spiral butterflies did not bake so well. I think we will try deep frying them next time.

IMG_0481In a heating skillet we dropped some butter and minced garlic with white pepper. Once it was browned a bit in went some sliced crimini, fresh baby spinach leaves, and a couple of tablespoons of red wine. Stir, heat to wilting stage, and serve!

 

 

 

 
IMG_0487The plate turned out attractively, and everything passed the discriminating taste testing. Voila!

— Ann Cathey

Winking Owl Merlot

Let me begin this writing by saying that I am not a wine drinker. I have problems with the tannic acid inherent in wine, though I find the flavors fascinating, My palate was given a good basic education by my father, who has tasted many wines form all over the world in his lifetime. I took his teachings and have applied them to my passion for cooking.

Winking Owl is a small vineyard located in Modesto, California. It does not have an independent website. Winking Owl produces wines for the private label of ALDI (a supermarket chain originally based in Germany). In spite of being offered for under $5 a bottle, Winking Owl produces some decent little table wines. We have found them to be wonderful for cooking!

Our latest experience was with the Winking Owl Merlot. This richly hued wine is soft and smooth on the palate, though without the customary dryness normally found in a good Merlot. The flavor was distinctive, offering hints of berries.

The first half of the bottle was used to slowly cook a piece of pork in a crock-pot. The second was used with beef. In both cases, the wine took a supporting role, offering a nice bouquet and background to the dish without overpowering the flavor of the meat. It blended well with the garlic and herbs used each time.

DSC_0206Any red wine used in cooking will be absorbed by vegetables if they are allowed to cook in it directly over a period of time. With our pork dish, fresh carrots lined the bottom of the pot used. They took on the flavor of the wine without losing their intrinsic flavor, proving the Winking Owl Merlot not exceptionally strong as some Merlot can be.

DSC_0212With the beef, red potatoes were cooked in such a way to allow the wine to be absorbed. The potatoes, served with a bit of butter and a dash of salt, turned out to have an enhanced flavor rather than being totally overpowered by the wine. We were pleased with the result.

Rather that cooking with an expensive wine that you might be better served drinking, give the Winking Owl Merlot a try in the kitchen. You may be surprised by its versatility in enhancing your dishes!

More information on Merlot wines may be found here.

On a scale of 1-5 –
Appearance: 4
Nose: 3
Flavor: 3
Body: 3
Overall: 3

— Ann Cathey

Manager Markdowns Make Magnificent Meals

My partner in food and I went grocery shopping today, and wound up finding a lot of interesting items on clearance. We typically go to as many as five local groceries to find things we like. Fortunately, those five stores are all within a 2-3 mile strip along the north loop in Conroe.

To some people “manager markdown”,  “quick sale” or “clearance” marked on food items means the food is nasty or is beyond saving. Not so! For vegetables and fruits, they have not “gone bad”, but are no longer attractive in one way or another. For meat, it means you must either cook it when you get home or freeze it. Meat cannot legally be sold here in the United States if it is aged past human consumption, according to several grocery butchers I have spoken with.

On this week’s shopping adventure, we caught some interesting items in the mark downs at several stores that happened to lend themselves nicely to a single meal.

It all got started with a bottle of inexpensive Winking Owl Merlot at our first stop. I wasn’t sure what we would do with it, but I cook with red wines frequently. That made the bottle a good investment.

DSC_0204We still had no dinner plan while shopping at the second store. This rapidly changed when we found a two and half pound package of boneless pork loin backribs marked down for quick sale. Half of this was put into the freezer after we got home for later use.

This was followed by a package of “gourmet blend” mushrooms, crimini, shiitake and oyster, marked down at another store. I thoroughly enjoy crimini and shiitake, though do not recall having oyster mushrooms before. My partner told me he trusted my judgement as I reached for some tiny, “three-color” cipollini onions and he picked up a small bunch of fresh, thin, tops-on carrots.

Upon arriving home, everything was cleaned and cut appropriately. We loaded the carrots into the bottom of a crock-pot. Next in went the meat. I stuffed some roasted garlic (also bought on clearance and stored in my freezer last month) into the cuts in the top of the meat. The finely sliced onions were sprinkled on next. The mushrooms were already cleaned and broken down into smaller pieces, so they were sprinkled over everything else. A half-bottle of wine was poured over everything, gently so as not to disturb the layers. A sprinkle of Herbes de Province and the pot was sealed and allowed to work it’s magic.

DSC_0203We had to wait several hours while the dish cooked, but we were able to distract ourselves with some lovely Boar’s Head Edam, also found on clearance today. The cheese was served at room temperature with “woven” wheat crackers. It took the edge off while we waited on our meal.

DSC_0208Finally, the wait was over. The delicious aroma of the cooking pork had filtered through most of the house, teasing us with anticipation. I almost burned myself in my haste to get that pot open and get at the treasure inside.

The meat was cooked through, as I insist on with pork, and the carrots were firm without being crunchy. My mouth was watering in anticipation as we plated up.

DSC_0211Dinner was served up with some leftover fingerling potatoes roasted in butter, garlic and dill from the night before. The saltiness of the potatoes was a good contrast to the sweetness of the carrots and mushrooms.

DSC_0215

Keeping your eyes peeled at the grocery for mark downs can lead to some interesting meals in the kitchen. Give it a try and see if you don’t manage to save a few bucks and find some new favorites!

— Ann Cathey