By Marcia Pilgeram
Separating fear and fiction from facts has become an enormous task in these crazy times. For me, being in the travel business has brought another layer of anxiety. Right now, I am just plain relieved to have 50 people joining a local bride and groom for a fairytale wedding to Belize, as it’s been over a year in the planning. I have others coming up with similar plans, and I only hope their outcomes can be as good.
I’m on the Travel Advisory Board for food magazine Saveur, and specialize (surprise) in culinary and foodie tours, especially in Italy. Needless to say, I’ve had to cancel trips for many clients who were headed there. I not only worry about these clients but the impact on the lovely people I have met over there, who contribute to their families’ income by teaching authentic cooking classes in their modest homes and family villas.
About as far as you can get from Italy is a young man I befriended in Cambodia named Da Kriel. He works at the hotel where I stayed and augmented his income by offering private tours, including cooking classes, in the village of his grandmother (his parents are deceased). When not working, he volunteers his time at an elementary school and depends on generous tourists to provide book donations. Today, he reports that a third of the hotels are closed and money is very tight. Recently, I asked him for his address and he reported that he’s never had a piece of mail, so he wasn’t sure how I could send him anything. I’m sure toilet paper is the least of his concerns.
But here in the United States, news reports say that people are wiping out entire shelves of toilet paper and antibacterial products. Recently, I witnessed a gentleman checking out at the grocery store, his entire cart overfilled with rice, macaroni and beans. The woman helping me said it’s a daily occurrence. Loads of people stockpiling loads of goods out of fear (and, I am hopeful, once the panic subsides, lots of this foodstuff will find its way to our local food bank).
I am not fearful, but I am anxious, so I too have made some extra trips to the store for “prepper” supplies. But I filled my cart from the fresh aisle with ingredients like garlic, tomatoes, mushrooms, cabbage, peppers, onions and such. Because when I feel like this, I take comfort in cooking — real cooking — and so I laboriously peel and slice and dice my angst away. These projects keep my hands and, for the most part, my mind busy
I can’t imagine my house without the omnipresent onion (and my oldest daughter, Ryanne, reports that she inherited the onion gene). Sometimes, I’m not even sure what I am going to make, but I find myself, with my sturdy Wusthof in hand, chopping or slicing or dicing these familiar favorite flavor enhancers. I cook them in copious amounts of butter or olive oil, depending on what I have decided to make. Yesterday, I cooked them until they begin to take on a golden, then brown hue. Then I simmered them in Guinness, and an hour or so later they were ready, finished with a melt-in-your mouth silkiness, achieved with low heat and a lot of patience.
There are myriad types of onions: red, which I mostly use for fresh or raw for garnish, white for pickling and hamburger rings, yellow (including Spanish) for cooking in dishes like meatloaves and sauces, and specialty onions like Walla Walla (including organic), sweet onions from Peru and Hawaii and Vidalia’s from Georgia. Sweet onions are milder and have a higher moisture content, and I use them when I am making things like chutney, jams and caramelized onions. There are also little gems like cipollini, shallots and pearl onions that are all delicious additions to soups and stews.
This week, I am hosting a couple of get togethers for my ladies’ groups traveling to Ireland with me next month. To honor them, and Saint Patrick, who’s special day is right around the corner, I’ve been preparing some of my favorite Irish foods to serve: shepherd’s pie, Irish soda bread with Kerrygold butter and Irish cream crème brulee. And those caramelized Guinness onions? They’ll be topping a lovely tart.
I can think of a half dozen substitutes for toilet paper, so I should be fine with the current shortage. You’ll find me stocking up in the produce aisle. Because there’s really no substitute for a good onion.
Caramelized Onion and Guinness Tart Recipe
This rich and tasty tart can be served hot, cold or in between. Serve as an appetizer or with a salad, as an entrée.
• 1 8-inch square frozen
• 1 cube butter
• 3 sweet onions, sliced very thin
• 2 cloves garlic, crushed
• 1 tbs brown sugar
• 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
• Salt and pepper
• 1 pint Guinness
• 2 eggs
• 1/4 cup sour cream
• 1 1/2 cups shredded
Thaw puff pastry while you prepare the tart ingredients.
Place a large saute pan on medium heat, add and melt butter, then add onions and garlic. Turn down to low and let them sweat for a couple minutes. When soft add in brown sugar, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook on medium, stirring, until it is golden brown. Add half the Guinness. Let this mixture cook and caramelize for 45 minutes or so, stirring every now and then. If you need a little more Guinness, add it. If you don’t, drink it! The onions will be golden and sweet when they’re done.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Roll out the puff pastry and fit into an 8-inch tart pan. Using a fork, poke holes in the bottom so the crust doesn’t bubble up while baking. Whisk together eggs and sour cream. Spread caramelized onion on tart shell and top with 1/2 cup cheese. Top with egg mixture and remaining cheese. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the cheese turns into a delicious crust. Cool and serve.
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