Over the years, I’m sure my mother has told me a lot of stories about Joan, her best friend from college – who I’ve only met a handful of times – but there’s only one that has stuck with me and that I think about almost on a nightly basis. It’s the onion trick story.
When Joan first got married she was expected to cook. Which would’ve been fine except for one problem – she hated to cook. And because this was forty-five years ago, before women actively, purposefully embraced the role of not cooking, she was routinely figuring out ways to pretend she was cooking so her husband wouldn’t be disappointed by her complete apathy (antipathy?) towards the kitchen. This is why she started chucking an onion in a 350°F oven an hour before he came home from work. Even if she had no use for that onion in the meal she would ultimately make and eat, she felt better knowing her husband was walking into a house permeated by the smell that signaled stews and soups, roasts and braises — meals that require clocking some serious hours in the kitchen. I never did find out what happened at dinnertime, when she’d serve him something that was more likely inspired by Peg Bracken or a pouch of Lipton Onion Soup mix.
I love this story so much and have been known to employ Joan’s onion trick at holiday parties that are 100% outsourced. (Is there anything more depressing than showing up to a party and not smelling the food?) I’m also proud to say that I’ve also come up with my very own onion trick over the years, albeit one a little more practical. It goes like this:
When I have no idea what to make for dinner, I start caramelizing an onion and then assume a plan is going to fall into place.
Cause when you cook onion slices over low heat in olive oil for even just 15 minutes, you not only have a delicious, happy aroma wafting through the house, you have the start of something special for dinner. The onions, which get all silky and candy-sweet, can be shoved inside an omelet, heaped on top of pasta with cheese, sandwiched inside a California-style turkey burger. And they can be just the thing to prevent a baked potato dinner from feeling like a trip to the Roy Roger’s fixin’s bar, as outlined in the latest issue of Bon Appetit.
About that Bon Appetit! If you follow the food world at all — you know, in all your spare time — you might know that there’s all kinds of exciting things happening at the storied magazine for food lovers. There’s a new editor, a new look, and a new column called “The Providers” (!!!) written by Andy and me. I love a lot of things about the direction Bon App is headed, but what I love most is the re-commitment to helping home cooks like me and you figure out how to do everything a little better. In this new issue you will learn lots of new tricks: how to make perfect pasta (who knew how many things I was doing wrong??), how to make Eric Ripert’s hollandaise sauce in a blender, and how to master those caramelized onions. (Check out page 79!) I hope you — and my pal Joan — will pick up a copy today.