Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How to store Vidalia Onions

The fields that were bursting with vibrant onion tops this spring are now patiently waiting to produce the sweetest crop of 2014. Vidalia season is nearing an end for this year, but with a little careful storage, sweet onion time can stretch into the holidays. These onions are not only special in Georgia, but they are also prized all over the country. No matter where you live, a little Vidalia Onion know-how can lend these famous sweet onions to shine on the Christmas table.

Because Vidalia Onions have a higher moisture content than other onions, they tend to have a shorter shelf life. There are numerous storage options to make them last longer. The key to remember is keeping them cool, dry and giving them lots of air flow.


Storage Solutions for Long-lived Vidalia Onions

1. Wrap each onion loosely in paper towels or aluminum foil and store in the refrigerator.

2. Quickly remove from the bunch any onions that may have gone bad. They will encourage others to take the same turn.

3. Store onions on a cooling rack in a dark, cool closet or in a basement. Leave room between onions so they don’t touch.

4. Fill legs of clean pantyhose with onions. Tie a knot between each onion to separate. Hang in a dark, cool closet.

5. Keep onions away from the potatoes. They don’t get along as well as everything thinks.

If storing the summer's onions for months to come isn't a choice you'd make, freeze now and enjoy later. Chop onions and spread on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer onion pieces to a large zip-top bag and freeze. Cook your favorite Vidalia recipes while onions are still plentiful and freeze for later.
Dinner is then much closer on busy nights and not one precious Vidalia has gone to waste. Try my freezer friendly recipes below.

Oats and Bacon Meat Loaf
2 pounds lean ground beef (7% fat)
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup diced Vidalia Onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 slices bacon

Preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Mix the beef, oats, onion, garlic, eggs, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.

Using your hands is the easiest and fastest way to mix.

Pack the beef mixture into a 4 1/2 by 8 1/2-inch loaf pan.

Cut the bacon slices into 4-inch pieces so they will fit on top of the meat loaf without hanging over.

Place the loaf pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 60 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 160˚F.

Serves 6

Freezing instructions: Line loaf pan with plastic wrap before filling with meatloaf mixture. Pack meat into pan (do not top with bacon), cover with addition plastic wrap. Freeze until solid, about 8 hours. Use wrap to remove frozen meatloaf from the pan. Seal in a large zip-top plastic bag. Freeze for up to 3 months. To thaw, unwrap frozen meatloaf, fit in loaf pan, and place in refrigerator overnight to thaw.
Top with bacon and cook as directed.

Recipe from Quick-Fix Southern by Rebecca Lang
(Andrews McMeel, 2011)

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

2 large butternut squash (about 2 1⁄4 lb. each)
1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 large Vidalia Onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄2 tsp. curry powder
1⁄8 tsp. ground red pepper
3 1⁄2 cups chicken broth
1⁄3 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. honey
1⁄2 tsp. salt
Garnishes: creme fraiche, fresh pomegranate seeds, freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°. Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove and discard seeds.

Arrange, cut sides up, in a jelly-roll pan. Rub cut sides with 2 Tbsp. olive oil.

Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.

Bake at 400° for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until very tender when pierced with a fork.

Cool slightly, and scoop out pulp. Discard peels.

Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.

Add onion; saute 7 to 8 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic; saute 2 minutes.

Add squash, curry, and red pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth.

Process mixture with a handheld blender until smooth. Stir in cream and next 2 ingredients.

Simmer 5 minutes.

Divide among bowls or cups. Garnish, if desired.

Makes: 8 cups

Freezing Instructions: Freeze soup before adding cream, honey, and salt, in freezer-safe containers or a large heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag. Freeze for up to 4 months. Thaw overnight in refrigerator. Bring to a simmer in a large Dutch oven. Add cream, honey, and salt before serving.

Recipe from Around the Southern Table  by Rebecca Lang
(Oxmoor House, 2012)

Chicken Spinach Burritos

1 rotisserie chicken
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well
1 (10-ounce) can tomatoes and green chiles, drained
1 small Vidalia onion, diced
1 cup small curd cottage cheese
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pickled jalapeño slices, diced
4 cups preshredded Mexican cheese blend
18 (6-inch) flour tortillas

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

Lightly spray 2 (9 by 13-inch) baking dishes with nonstick cooking spray.

Remove the skin from the chicken and pull the meat off the bone. Use your fingers to shred the meat by pulling it apart in strips.

Stir together the chicken, spinach, tomatoes and green chiles, Vidalia onion, cottage cheese, sour cream, salt, jalapeños, and 1 1/2 cups of cheese in a large mixing bowl.

Spoon about 1/4 cup of the mixture down the center of each flour tortilla. Roll up and place, seam-side down, in the prepared baking dishes. Sprinkle half of the remaining cheese (1 1/4 cups per casserole) on top of each dish.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Serves 16 (Makes 2 casseroles)

Freezing Instructions:
Cover casseroles with plastic wrap before baking. Wrap well to seal out as much air as possible. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw casseroles overnight in refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator and set on counter for 30 minutes. Bake uncovered at 350˚F for 40 minutes.

Recipe from Quick-Fix Southern by Rebecca Lang
(Andrews McMeel, 2011)

Copyright 2013 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Best Lunch Box Ever!

The countdown has begun. We start back to school in a week and a half. Second grade is fast approaching and all the signs are pointing that way. A new backpack is awaiting for new adventures, school paperwork is complete for turning in to well-rested teachers, and bedtimes are creeping back to an earlier hour. We are getting ready for new beginnings and a brand new year.

It's not often I find my seven year old son on the sofa watching Sports Center while marking pages in a cookbook. Yesterday, he was enthralled with Katie Morford's new book Best Lunch Box Ever. He takes his lunch to school four days a week and a snack each day. Like most moms, I'm always trying to put together meals that are travel friendly and contain enough goodness to keep him going until the school bus spits him out in the afternoon. All while making them appealing to him in the lunchroom. Trust me - that's a lot easier said that done.

When I saw Camden reading (and enjoying) Katie's book, I was thrilled. I'm taking it as a sign that lunch boxes will be easier for both us. As a mother, I love that she included a chapter on making over leftovers to be appealing for little people the next day. Those are my favorite kinds of lunches. From basics of picking out the right packaging to keeping lunches cool or hot until noontime, Katie's included it all.

The recipes that Camden marked as his favorites are BLT Roll-Ups, Sweetie Pie Quesidillas, Crispy Applewiches, Sour Cherry Oatmeal Bars, and Everybody Loves Chocolate Pudding. Both of us are super-excited about the DIY Microwave Popcorn that has kernels popping in brown paper lunch bags instead of the less-desirable version we've all known for years.

May all mothers everywhere find this school year opens with lunch boxes that are less stressful and healthier for those we love the most. Thanks to Katie, that's entirely possible.

Sweetie Pie Quesadilla

I've been making chili with black beans and sweet potatoes for years. This takes those two winning flavors and pairs them with melted Monterey Jack cheese for a quesadilla that is far more satisfying than the norm. Cooking the quesadilla over medium instead of high heat allows the sweet potato to get tender by the time the outside is crispy and the cheese is melted. Leftover cooked vegetables such as broccoli, zucchini, or peppers can be chopped up and substituted for the sweet potato.

Makes 2 servings

3/4 cup coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese
Two 8-inch whole-wheat flour tortillas
1/2 cup grated peeled raw sweet potato
1/4 cup cooked black beans, drained
2 tablespoons mild green taco sauce
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Sprinkle half of the cheese evenly over one tortilla. Scatter the sweet potato over the cheese, followed by the beans. Spoon the taco sauce over the beans and top with the remaining cheese and the remaining tortilla.

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Put the quesadilla in the pan and cook until golden brown and crispy, 2 to 3 minutes. With a spatula, flip the quesadilla and cook until the second side is golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the quesadilla to a cutting board and let cool for a few minutes.

Cut into quarters. Wrap or pack into two containers.

MAKE-AHEAD NOTES: can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator. In the morning before school, reheat in a pan or pop into the toaster oven to restore crispiness, if you like.
*Recipe and photo from Best Lunch Box Ever.

Sour Cherry Oatmeal Bars

The sweet-tart taste of sour cherry jam over a crumbly, brown sugar–sweetened dough is pretty scrumptious. The recipe is a twist on a fruit crisp I’ve been making for years, only in this version the crust shows up on both top and bottom, and jam subs in for fresh fruit. I cut the bars into petite squares that are just big enough for a lunch-box treat (or an after-school snack along with a glass of cold milk). If you can’t get your hands on a jar of sour cherry jam, feel free to substitute apricot or raspberry instead.

Makes 20 bars

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick oats)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup sour cherry jam

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper so that it drapes a couple of inches over two sides.

In a large bowl, add the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt and stir with a fork. Add the butter and, using an electric mixer on low speed, mix until the ingredients form a uniformly crumbly mixture, about 45 seconds. Add the walnuts and continue mixing on low speed until they are evenly distributed, about 5 seconds.

With your hands, press two-thirds of the dough firmly and evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. (If the dough sticks to your hands, cover it with a piece of parchment paper as you work.)

With a spoon, spread the jam evenly over the dough. Sprinkle the remaining one-third of the dough evenly over the jam. You will see the jam peeking through.

Bake until the top is deep brown and the jam along the edges begins to darken, 45 to 50 minutes.

Let cool in the baking pan for 30 minutes.

Run a knife along the two sides of the pan that don’t have an overhang of parchment paper. Grab the two ends of parchment paper and carefully lift out the sour cherry oatmeal square and transfer to a cutting board.

Cut into 20 bars. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days in the pantry or 2 weeks in the freezer.
*Recipe and photo from Best Lunch Box Ever.

Recipes and photos from Best Lunch Box Ever used with permission. Photos by Jennifer Martiné. Copyright 2013 Best Lunch Box Ever by Katie Sullivan Morford, Chronicle Books.

Copyright 2013 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC. All rights reserved.