An Ode to Onions by Brandy Fernow

Sometimes when I’m teaching a class, I hear someone say “I don’t like onions.” My ears perk up and I can’t wait to change their mind! Generally the dislike is because of the texture or flavor of raw onion. Onions are certainly aggressive in flavor when raw, but cooking them creates a sweetness and tender texture that will only embellish a dish!
I love working with onions – the most common aromatic and essential ingredient that adds depth and flavor to so many dishes. The onion family includes bulb or globe onions, pearl onions, cipollini, shallots, leeks, scallions, chives and their cousin – garlic. Collectively they belong to a plant species called alliums.
In my classes, one of the most common “Ah-hah” moments is learning how to correctly dice an onion.  I will break it down below.
1. Cut the STEM end off and leave the ROOT end on. The root end is your friend!  
2. Place the onion cut-side down on the cutting board and slice it in half lengthwise through the root. You should have two halves and the root should still be on. You wouldn’t cut off your friend, would you?
3. Peel the onion halves – you have two edges to work with, so it’s easy-peasy.
4. With the root end toward the back of the cutting board, slice lengthwise at even intervals, stopping just short of the root end. 
5. Turn the onion and holding the root end, slice horizontally toward the root, again at even intervals. The pieces will fall away as you slice, leaving only the root end, your friend that held the onion together while dicing.
I can guarantee this will yield uniform shaped pieces for even cooking, but I can’t guarantee you won’t be crying at the end. Cutting onions can cause watery eyes or even crocodile tears so guests also love this tip: Freeze the onion for 20 minutes before chopping – it helps contain the sulfuric compounds that make our eyes water.
I always have a variety of onions on hand, as well as bread, cheese and cream – the makings of a classic bread pudding. So I’m sharing a favorite savory bread pudding recipe. I guarantee even those who “don’t like onions” will enjoy the delicious aromas and flavors created from some of the best alliums – leek, shallot, chives and garlic.
Savory Leek and Fontina Bread Pudding
Serves 4
  1. 1 1/2 cups cubed baguette, sourdough or ciabatta bread
  2. 1 tablespoon butter
  3. 1 small leek, white and light green parts only, sliced thin
  4. 1 small shallot, minced
  5. 1 garlic clove, minced
  6. 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  7. 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  8. 3/4 cup grated Fontina
  9. 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  10. 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  11. 2 eggs
  12. 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  13. 1 teaspoon salt
  14. 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place bread cubes in an even layer on a parchment lined sheet tray and toast for 6-8 minutes until dry and just lightly browned. Remove and let cool.
  2. Melt the butter in a medium sauté pan. Add the leek and shallot; cook over medium-high heat until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for 1 minute. Transfer leek mixture to a large bowl and add the chives, Fontina and Parmesan. Fold in the toasted bread.
  3. Whisk cream, eggs, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Pour custard mix into bread/leek mixture and stir to combine. Scoop bread pudding mixture into a casserole dish and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. The custard should be set and the top lightly browned. Garnish with additional chives.
  1. You can add wild mushroom or asparagus to this as well.
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

Thai Chicken Flatbread

Thai Chicken Flatbread
  1. 2 tablespoons Olive oil
  2. 1/2 pound Chicken Breast - boneless skinless cut into chunks
  3. 4 Green Onions - chopped
  4. 1 Carrot - shredded
  5. 1/2 cup Mushroom slices
  6. Jade Mekong Ginger Sauce
  7. Naan flat bread or your favorite prepared pizza crust
  8. 2 cups Mozzarella cheese
  9. 2 tablespoons chopped Peanuts
  10. 4 tablespoons chopped Cilantro
  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Heat oil in skillet and cook chicken cubes until cooked through - about 6 minutes. Season with 2 T Mekong ginger sauce, salt, pepper, add green onions, mushrooms and cook another few minutes.
  3. Spread a thin layer of Mekong sauce over the Naan bread. Top with chicken mixture, a generous amount of cheese, shredded carrots and a few more green onions. Cook flatbreads for about 8 minutes or until cheese is bubbly. Serve with cilantro and chopped peanut garnish.
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Marcel’s Cheese Fondue

Marcel's Cheese Fondue
  1. 1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
  2. 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  3. 1 cup Dry white wine (Pinot Grigio, preferred)
  4. 1 garlic clove, smashed
  5. 1 pound Raclette Mountain cheese (Marché)
  6. ½ pound Cave Aged Emmental cheese (Marché)
  7. 1 tablespoon Kirsch
  1. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of the wine.
  2. Place the remaining wine and garlic clove in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over moderate heat.
  3. Shred the cheeses.
  4. Slowly whisk in the cornstarch mixture and simmer, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened (1 min).
  5. Reduce heat to low and add the cheese in handfuls, whisking constantly, until each addition is melted. Whisk until the fondue is smooth. Stir in the Kirsch. Serve in a fondue pot.
  6. Serve with: crusty bread, raw or roasted vegetables, thinly sliced apple or pear, cooked potatoes, sliced salami…
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Aged Cheddar and Beer Dip

Aged Cheddar and Beer Dip
  1. 2 tablespoons of butter
  2. 3 tablespoons of flour
  3. 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme
  4. 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
  5. 1 (12 oz.) bottle lager
  6. 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature, cut into 6-8 pieces
  7. 6 ounces of extra-sharp cheddar, grated (1 ½ cups)
  8. 6 ounces of Gruyere, grated (1 ½ cups)
  9. 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
  10. Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  11. ½ cup coarsely crushed pretzel rods, plus whole pretzel rods for serving
  12. Celery stalks, for serving
  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour. Cook, whisking about 2 minutes. Add thyme and mustard, then gradually add beer, whisking constantly until smooth. Bring to a boil and cook 1 minute more.
  2. Reduce heat to medium. Add cream cheese, a piece at a time, whisking constantly until smooth. Whisk in cheddar and Gruyere, a handful at a time, until melted. Remove from heat. Add Worcestershire. Season the dip with salt and pepper.
  3. Serve, sprinkled with pretzel crumbs, with pretzels and celery.
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Garden Bounty by Julie Szimon

I love vegetable gardening!  Well, let me rephrase that.  I love to get organic plants or seeds and plant them in my garden with organic soil, water them, weed them and see what happens.  I don’t know what the PH level of my soil is.  I don’t use any chemicals to make things grow bigger.  I just plant. 

Growing up in the city, we never had a garden.  We lived in a two-flat on the north side of Chicago.  We did have an apple tree in the back yard that took up most of the space.  Each year I was allowed to climb up the tree and pick the apples on top that no one could reach.  Those apples were then cooked down by my grandmother and made into applesauce.  She would can the applesauce in mason jars so we could enjoy it all winter long. 

When we moved to the suburbs I started a small 4’x8’ vegetable garden.  As time went on, my vegetable garden grew to a 25’x35’ enclosed area with 8 raised beds and an open space for berry bushes.  Each Spring I plan out what worked well last year and I try to add something new.  I love to see how the new plants grow and what culinary creations I can come up with when they are ready for harvest. 

I like to plant peppers and the garden always produces an abundance of them.  Some sweet ones and some hot ones.  I have used them in salsas and salads and I have even pickled them.  Last year I decided to make hot pepper jelly with them.  It was so good!  I made several batches and canned it for myself and gave some as gifts.  My favorite way to enjoy the jelly is on toasted bread or crackers along with some goat cheese.  It’s sweet and hot and delicious! It also came in handy over the winter months when friends dropped in for a glass of holiday cheer. 

This year the peppers are looking good, so another batch of hot pepper jelly will be coming.  The recipe I use is great just the way it is but don’t be afraid to be creative with the pepper mixture.  I added some red peppers for color, cracked black pepper, fresh thyme and some dried lemon peel.

Hot Pepper Jelly
  1. 12 oz. of jalapeno (or variety of) peppers
  2. 2 cups cider vinegar, divided
  3. 6 cups of sugar
  4. 2 - 3 oz. pouches of liquid pectin
  5. 5 - 8 oz. half pint glass-preserving jars with lids and bands
  1. Prepare/sanitize glass jars, lids and bands per manufacturers directions.
  2. Puree peppers in a food processor with 1 cup of cider vinegar until smooth. Do not strain puree.
  3. Combine puree with remaining 1 cup of cider vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add liquid pectin and continue to boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  4. Ladle hot pepper jelly into hot jars leaving ¼ inch headspace. Wipe rim. Secure lid and band. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when pressed in the center.
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Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
  1. 2 ounces unsalted butter (one half stick)
  2. 4 tablespoons flour
  3. 1 teaspoon each; dry mustard, white pepper, chile powder, and salt
  4. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  5. 32 ounces whole milk
  6. ½-1 pound cheese of choice, grated (I like to combine cheeses and grate myself; soft cheeses work best)
  7. 1 pound dry pasta
  1. In a large Dutch oven, melt butter and then add flour to make a roux. Allow the roux to cook for 3-4 minutes to cook the flour taste out and for the mixture to darken a bit. Season with dry mustard, white pepper, chile powder, salt, and nutmeg. Add milk in slowly, whisking as you go. Over medium high heat, gently stir the béchamel sauce until it begins to thicken. This will take about 10-15 minutes.
  2. Once the sauce has thickened, slowly whisk in grated cheese a handful at a time, whisking after each addition so cheese can be completely absorbed (you have now created a Mornay sauce from the béchamel base)
  3. Taste sauce and adjust with spices used earlier (dry mustard, white pepper, and salt)
  4. Turn sauce to simmer and prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and retain the pasta water.
  5. Combine pasta and sauce, at first you may not need all the sauce but as the mixture sits, the pasta will absorb more and more of the sauce. Add more as the sauce gets absorbed to achieve your desired consistency. If the sauce is too thick, thin with pasta water.
  6. Serve with breadcrumbs, bacon bits, sun-dried tomatoes, or any number of accompaniments if desired.
  1. At Ladies Night Out, Kelly used Rigatoni and equal parts Vermont White Cheddar, Baby Swiss, and Monterey Jack.
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Pasta with Tomato-Blue Cheese Sauce

Pasta with Tomato-Blue Cheese Sauce
  1. 1 ½ pounds pasta (angel hair or thin spaghetti)
  2. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  3. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
  5. dash of sugar
  6. salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  7. crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  8. 3/4 cups crumbled blue cheese
  9. 3/4 cups heavy cream
  10. 4 cups baby spinach
  11. half and half, for thinning
  12. extra blue cheese crumbles, for garnish
  1. Cook pasta according to package instructions.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil. When hot, add minced garlic and cook for a minute. Pour in drained tomatoes. Add sugar, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low. Stir in crumbled blue cheese. Add cream and stir, then a little splash of half-and-half if sauce is too thick. Cook for a minute or two, tasting and adding more seasonings as needed.
  3. At the very, very, very last minute. toss in spinach. Immediately toss in the cooked and drained pasta. Serve immediately!
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
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Croque Monsieur

Croque Monsieur
  1. 2 T. unsalted butter
  2. 3 T. all-purpose flour
  3. 2 cups hot milk
  4. 1 t. kosher salt
  5. 1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
  6. pinch nutmeg
  7. 12 ounces Gruyère, grated (5 cups)
  8. 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  9. 16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
  10. Dijon mustard
  11. 8 ounces baked Virginia ham, sliced but not paper thin
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside.
  3. To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted. Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.
Adapted from Barefoot in Paris
Adapted from Barefoot in Paris
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

Cucumber-Feta Toasts

Cucumber-Feta Toasts
  1. ½ baguette
  2. 6 t. extra-virgin olive oil
  3. 3 ounces feta
  4. ½ t. fresh lemon juice
  5. coarse salt and ground pepper
  6. 1 small English cucumber, thinly sliced crosswise
  1. Preheat oven or toaster oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Split baguette lengthwise and lightly brush cut sides with 2 teaspoons olive oil. Bake until golden around edges, 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mash together feta, 4 teaspoons oil, and lemon juice with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Spread feta mixture evenly over toasted baguette and top with cucumber slices. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and a drizzle of oil. Cut into pieces to serve.
Adapted from Martha Stewart Appetizers
Adapted from Martha Stewart Appetizers
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Cheese-Stuffed and Bacon-Wrapped Grilled Jalapenos

Cheese-Stuffed and Bacon-Wrapped Grilled Jalapenos
Serves 8
  1. 24 medium jalapeño chiles
  2. 8 ounces shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
  3. 12 slices bacon, cut in half crosswise
  1. Using a small paring knife, make a slit in each jalapeño from the stem end to the tip, being careful to not cut the jalapeños completely in half. Spread the jalapeños open and scrape out the seeds. Stuff each jalapeño with some of the shredded cheese, wrap with a half slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick.
  2. Preheat a ribbed stovetop grill pan over medium heat. Grill the jalapeños, turning frequently, until the bacon is crisp, brown and cooked through.
  3. Transfer the jalapeños to a serving platter. Remove the toothpicks and serve.
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/