Perfectly Caramelized Onions – An Experiment

Caramelized onions are a food item that can make nearly any dish better. I love to stir them into eggs and dips, or add then as a topping to steak, burgers, or pizza, just to name a few uses.

The key to perfectly caramelized onions is the old mantra – Low & Slow – which means cooking the onions over low heat, and stirring them often for approximately 30-40 minutes. This allows some of the water to escape from the onions first, softening them, and then lets the sugars in the onions reach the correct temperature for the Maillard reaction to take place, browning the onions and adding complex flavors.

Cooking the onions over too high of heat results in uneven cooking, but what are some other mistakes? Can a pan be overcrowd, resulting in over-steaming and not enough caramelization? Experiment time!

Experiment Objective

Determine how heat level and pan crowding affects onion caramelization.

Method 
Step 1. Yellow onions were sliced into strips, and placed into a 10 inch or 12 inch saute pan (each with 2 tablespoons of oil), with the quantity per pan as noted in Table 1. I chose yellow onions since I think they caramelize the best, which was the same conclusion made by J. Kenzi from Serious Eats in his onion experiments.

preExperiment

From left to right: Case 1, Case 2, and Case 3.

Step 2. Pans were placed on a gas stovetop and cooked at the heat level noted in Table 1.

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From bottom to top: Case 1, Case 2, and Case 3.

Step 3. Pans were removed from the stove when the onions were either on the verge of burning or had caramelized.

Table 1. Summary of Onion Caramelization Experiment.

CaramelizedOnionTable

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Results, left to right: Case 1, Case 2, and Case 3 (at 25 minutes).

As expected, the onions cooked under high heat (Case 2) were finished the fastest in only 8 minutes. However, the cooking is uneven with parts browned and almost burnt, and other parts just translucent. The result is a barely there caramelized taste.

Case 2: Uneven browning of the onions.

Case 2: Uneven browning of the onions.

Case 1, with just a little bit of onions for the pan was done in 25 minutes. The result was caramelized onions, bordering on over cooked. If I hadn’t been watching the pan carefully, I’m sure some of the pieces would have burnt due to hot spots.

Case 1: Mostly even browning.

Case 1: Mostly even browning.

Case 3 was first removed from the stove at the same time as Case 1 for comparison purposes. You can see that the onions have started to caramelize, but there are plenty of pieces that haven’t had time to brown. The onions went back to the stove (still over low heat) and fifteen minutes later they were perfect.

Case 1: Slight browning after 25 minutes of cooking.

Case 3: Slight browning after 25 minutes of cooking.

Case 3: Perfectly caramelized onions after 40 minutes.

Case 3: Perfectly caramelized onions after 40 minutes.

Hopefully the pictures convince you why “low and slow” is the best. For a 10 inch saute pan, up to 2 ½ cups can be caramelized successfully, though it will take you nearly 40 minutes to achieve the satisfyingly sweet goodness. My guess is that much beyond 2 ½ cups in a 10 inch pan would run the risk of unevenly browned onions or over steaming, though I didn’t get to that point in my experiment. Hunger won out over my curiosity this time. What surprised me the most was that the under-filled pan could be almost as detrimental as high heat to your caramelization efforts.

The best part of the experiment was getting to consume the results. I managed to restrain myself from eating them right out of the pan and instead devoured the onions served over my favorite sausage. Edible experimentation at its finest!

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UPDATE:

I had a chance to add to my experiment, and this time I used my tri-ply clad stainless steel pan, which can hold a larger amount of onions since it is 12 inches in diameter and holds 5 quarts. I melted four tablespoons of butter in the pan and then added 8 cups of chopped, yellow onions. I was able to evenly brown the onions with a lot of babysitting and it only took a mere 1 1/2 hours.  By combining this with the results from before, I actually get a linear relationship between quantity of onions to caramelize and the time it takes (sorry, not enough data for error bars).  I also prefer my tri-ply pan for caramelizing onions, since it provides extremely even temperature distribution – the last photo shows how evenly golden the onions were, even with such a large quantity.

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Another good tidbit: 8 cups of raw onions reduces to 1 cup of caramelized onions!

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Grilled Spiral Sliced Ham & Pineapple

spiralHam

Spiral sliced ham is one of those food items that is a drool-over main event at Easter feasts, only to be passed by for other protein-laden treats as spring fades to summer. Since turning on the oven during the dog days of summer isn’t fun, why not take the spiral sliced ham to the grill?

I removed individual slices of the ham from the bone, and then carved up a fresh pineapple as its grilling companion. The pineapple received a sprinkling of tijon seasoning, a chili-lime salt with a sweet undertone, before being kissed by flames.

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grillledPineapple

 

I grilled the ham for 1-2 minutes per side, and the pineapple 3-4 minutes per side over medium heat until grill marks formed and the pineapple began to caramelize.

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The result was a refreshing dinner without the hassle of a stuffy kitchen. What items have been new grilling adventures for you?

 


 

Grilled Spiral Sliced Ham & Pineapple

1 spiral sliced ham
1 or more fresh pineapple(s)
tijon seasoning or other lime-chili seasoning

Preheat a grill to medium heat. Remove enough ham from the bone to feed your crowd; set aside. Remove the stem and skin from the pineapple, and then cut into ½ inch thick slices. Sprinkle both sides of the pineapple with the lime-chili seasoning. Place the ham on the grill and cook for 1-2 minutes per side or until grill marks form. If grilling in batches, remove from the heat and keep warm. Place the pineapple on the grill and cook for 3-4 minutes per side or until grill marks form. Serve the ham and pineapple immediately.

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Firecracker Coleslaw

As July fourth approaches, it usually means an abundance of picnics and barbecues to celebrate Independence Day. Most certainly the typical fare of pasta salad, potato salad, burgers and franks will be present, as will be . . . coleslaw! For my contribution to this weekend’s festivities, I’ve decided to bring my vibrant and irresistible coleslaw with a fiery kick.

I start with a bit of red cabbage, yellow pepper, and golden delicious apple . . .

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Which get shredded into a kaleidoscope of slaw.

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Mayonnaise and sriracha sauce provide a creamy/spicy coat and a dash of celery seed gives a bit of extra crunch.

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That’s it! The bold flavor and color are sure to be a hit. Also, a quick side dish means more time to relax this holiday weekend, spend time with my family, and reflect on how thankful I am for a free country and the individuals who selflessly defend our freedom. Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

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Firecracker Coleslaw

½ lb red cabbage
1 yellow pepper, seeds and stem removed
1 golden delicious apple, cored
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon celery seed
Shred the cabbage, yellow pepper, and apple and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise, sriracha sauce, and celery seed, making sure all ingredients are evenly distributed. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Spiced Iced Coffee

One of the latest trends in employee perks in New York businesses is an office delivery of kegs . . . kegs of iced coffee.

I have to admit that I think this a brilliant service – and I give kudos to Joyride Coffee for creating a niche market.

Since their service doesn’t extend to Denver (yet), I decided to brew up my own batch. There is quite a bit of debate regarding the merits of cold brew (which Joyride Coffee uses, but takes a bit of time) versus hot brew (which can result in watered down coffee), though to be honest, I haven’t experimented enough with iced coffee to pick a side.

I tend to start my day with a cup or two of piping hot coffee, so I decided to create my version using a variant of the hot brew method. To avoid watering down the coffee I made an ice bath, which means my coffee was poured into a glass surrounded by ice water. I let it cool for about 20 minutes before mixing in my sweetener.

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I stirred a bit of Chinese five spice and powdered sugar (which dissolves faster) into some almond milk, and then added it to my coffee.

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To create a truly decadent morning treat, I even added a bit of whipping cream.

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My only remaining question is: what is the proper etiquette when drinking coffee from a keg at work? Stein or coffee mug?

steinOfCoffee

 


 

Spiced Iced Coffee

1 cup brewed black coffee
½ cup original flavor almond milk
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
¾ teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
Whipping cream (optional)

Cool the coffee using an ice bath, making sure that the coffee is completely submerged. While the coffee cools, stir the almond milk, powdered sugar, and Chinese five spice together until well mixed. Once the coffee is cool, add the flavored milk to the coffee. Garnish as desired and drink immediately.

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Cedar Plank Salmon with Spinach Chimichurri

If you haven’t done so already this year, why not fire up the grill to celebrate the start of summer? Making an easy and delicious cedar plank salmon with spinach chimichurri is just the way to kick-off days filled with warmth and sunshine.

Cooking fish on a wood plank is a foolproof, yet impressive way to prepare a meal. You get a wonderful, smoky flavor without the worry of your meal falling through the grate and it saves on mess and extra heat in the kitchen. Triple win!

Simply soak the cedar wood plank in water for 1 to 2 hours, then pre-heat the grill to medium heat (~350 F).

Lightly coat the deboned and deskinned fish with a bit of olive oil and place on the soaked plank. Then, set the plank directly on the grill. I prefer to use direct grilling since it produces the right amount of smolder to flavor your fish. By pre-soaking the plank, you shouldn’t have any issues with spontaneous flames, but keep a spray bottle of water handy just in case.

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Close the lid of the grill and let cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked through.

In the meantime, prepare the chimichurri sauce.

Chimichurri is an Argentinean green sauce, typically consisting of parsley and garlic plus some spices, that is served with grilled meat. For this recipe, I decided to make spinach the main ingredient in my chimichurri, with pimentos, lemon zest, garlic, and parsley to round out the flavors.

chimichurriBefore

All the sauce ingredients get added to a food processor and blended until smooth – done!

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Once the salmon is cooked, remove from the plank and plate, topping with a generous amount of the chimichurri and serving with rice to soak up any of the extra sauce.

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You will barely be able to keep yourself from licking the plate clean.

salmonGone


Cedar Plank Salmon with Spinach Chimichurri

(2) – 6oz salmon fillet
1 cedar plank, soaked for at least 2 hrs

2 cups fresh baby spinach
½ cup fresh curly parsley
½ cup chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon diced pimentos
2 cloves of garlic
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Place the cedar plank in a large bowl of water and let soak for 1-2 hours.

Puree all of the spinach, parsley, onion, pimento, garlic, oil and vinegar in a food processor until a smooth sauce is formed; transfer to a small bowl and stir in salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve; at least two hours.

Once plank is well soaked, preheat a grill to medium heat. Lightly brush the salmon with olive oil, then place the salmon on the pre-soaked plank and place plank on grill. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until salmon is just cooked through.

Remove salmon from grill, transfer to plate and drizzle with a generous amount of chimichurri.

You should have plenty of extra chimichurri sauce – it is actually enough for about two more fillet, but I like to pour the extra sauce over my rice!

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Rhubarb & Apricot Compote Parfait

What is one of the best ways to sneak an extra serving of vegetables in at breakfast or dessert? Pretend the vegetable is a fruit!

Rhubarb is actually a vegetable, despite its famous use in strawberry-rhubarb pie. It is also delicious in savory dishes, but one of my favorite ways to eat it is in compote form, which is just a fancy way of saying a sauce you can use like a jam or finishing syrup.

First, I chopped the rhubarb (just the stalks, not the toxic leaves) into approximately 1 inch slices,

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Then I chopped a few fresh apricot, adding sweetness, color, and great flavor to the mix.

apricot mixedFruit

The fruit, along with honey, water and a vanilla bean were all added to a large pot and simmered together for a few minutes. The vanilla adds a lovely undertone, but if you don’t have any handy, this compote will still be scrumptious if you skip it – I promise.

The end result is a sweet-tart, delicious mixture that is the consistency of thick applesauce.

rhubarbCompote

Once it cooled, I layered it generously with some Greek style vanilla yogurt and topped it off with my favorite granola.

This has been a great way to start my day this week, and soo easy to put together. It even did double duty as dessert one night!

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Rhubarb & Apricot Compote Parfait
Compote
1 lb fresh rhubarb, chopped in 1 inch slices
½ lb fresh apricots (about 4), pitted and chopped
½ cup clover honey
½ cup water
1 vanilla bean

Parfait
Rhubarb-apricot compote
20 oz of Greek style vanilla yogurt
granola for garnish (optional)

 

Add the rhubarb, apricots, honey and water to a large pot. Scrape the seeds out of the center of the vanilla bean, and add both the seeds and the pod to the pot. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for another 15-20 minutes or until the rhubarb has started to soften. Remove from the heat, remove the vanilla pod from the pot, and let the rhubarb mixture cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. Makes ~2.5 cups of compote.

To make the parfait, layer equal amounts of the Rhubarb & Apricot Compote and Greek style vanilla flavored yogurt in a glass. Garnish with granola and serve. Makes 5 parfaits.

 

 

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Does Color Affect Taste?

When you pick up a sports drink or your favorite mineral infused water, do you chose by its flavor, nutrients, or color? Does the color of your food or beverage impact the way you think it tastes?   beverageColors These questions intrigue me and have actually been on my mind for decades. When I was in middle school, I had the pleasure of being an unsuspecting test subject for another student’s science fair project. He secretly colored apple juice different colors and recorded how each person thought the drinks tasted. I don’t remember his results so why not conduct a similar experiment with my family?

I decided to test this concept using mashed potatoes. Yes, I colored perfectly good, made-from-scratch mashed potatoes with food dye, but I thought it was a worthy cause in the name of science (and my curiosity). coloredFood The toddler poked each color, and ultimately chose the blue potatoes to taste . . . and then spit out. However, I don’t think the spitting out is related to the color, he later spit out the non-dyed potatoes. coloredFood_what to taste My preschooler started with the pink potatoes, and cleared her plate of every color. Either she doesn’t care about the color of her food, or she remembered our experiment earlier in the day (read on to see what I mean).

My husband’s first reaction was, “That looks like Play-Doh®”. Then after scanning the color options he took a bite of the blue potatoes (which he must really trust me if he thought it could be modeling clay). This bite was eaten with a grimace, since he expected something sweet, not mashed potatoes. Later he explained his selection process: he thought the pink looked like cotton candy, and the yellow and blue also appealed to his candy taste buds, but he chose the blue since it was the closest to his reach.

Interesting, but inconclusive results.

Why didn’t I just use the colored water in the variety of hues pictured above? The short answer is it didn’t have the element of surprise. My daughter helped me color the water,

beverageColor3

and then after photos, mix each colored sample together to create what I would call a drab olive green. drabolivegreen Which she wanted to drink.

According to her it tasted good, and tasted like water. Yep, I can’t fool the three year old.

Consequently, I think the element of not knowing that all the colored items are the same food or beverage is key to the success of this experiment.

Clearly my sample set of three isn’t enough to get a convincing answer, though it was still fun to try. Plus you don’t have just my data, research by Hoegg and Alba suggests that color DOES impact beverage choice .

If you or a budding scientist in your house decides to try a similar experiment, I’d love to hear about it. Just remember (especially if the work is being used for a science fair) that the informed consent rules apply since it involves human participation.

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No-Bake Amaranth & Currant Cookies

To add variety to my family’s diet and explore gluten free options, I have been trying different grains. Amaranth is a gluten free, pseudo-cereal (it’s actually a seed) that packs an impressive amount of nutrients – it is high in calcium, iron, potassium, and protein – in its small frame. It can be used in a variety of ways, such as bread, a substitute for other grains in salads or soups, and a porridge-like breakfast cereal. While I personally find that the earthy tones are a bit over powering when eaten like a porridge, I love the unique flavors it adds to these no-bake cookies.

You may ask why no-bake, and the simple answer is laziness. While this recipe could easily be tweaked if you are following a raw diet, I really just wanted to try a simple and quick recipe that could satisfy pestering kids or a craving for sweets. The added bonus is they are a guilt-free solution with very little sugary ingredients.

 

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The nutty flavor of the little yellow seeds (which are fun to play with in a sensory bin kind of way, according to my preschooler) is enhanced with a quick dry toasting.

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This nutty flavor is balanced with the buttery taste and mouthfeel of the almond meal and coconut oil. A bit of currants and almond slivers add just the right amount of texture.

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It is hard to believe that such a small amount of oil and honey can hold these cookies together, but it works. With no oven heating either, this recipe is going to be a year round favorite in my house.

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The true testament to their tastiness is the fact that my picky toddler kept begging for more, and my husband polished off the plate shortly thereafter. Perhaps I should have made a double batch.

 eaten


No Bake Amaranth & Currant Cookies

1/4 cup amaranth grain
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 cup amaranth flour
1/8 cup almond slivers
1/8 cup dried currants
1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 ½ tablespoons honey

Pour the amaranth grain into a non-stick skillet and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently. Toast the seeds until they turn a light brown color and a few seeds pop. Remove from the heat and pour the seeds into a large bowl.

Add the almond meal, amaranth flour, almond slivers, currants, cinnamon, and salt to the bowl and stir together.

Add the vanilla, coconut oil, and honey, then mix until the dough holds together (add more coconut oil if necessary to get the dough to hold together). Form into balls or cookie shaped disks, moving quickly to prevent the heat of your hands from melting the coconut oil.

You can eat them right away, but they firm up nicely after a few hours in the refrigerator.

Makes 1 dozen, 2-inch diameter cookies.

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A Start of Something New

 

After years of intent, I have finally made this blog happen. Since it is meant to be a celebration of my food adventures, it deserves a proper start with a proclamation of goodwill & thanks – a cheers.

Traditionally, cheers involves the clinking of glasses and well wishing. To my daughter, cheers involves clinking together whatever she is holding, and most often a fork. How fitting for a food blog!  With fork raised high, I thank you for joining me on my journey and encourage you to dig in.

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