It is Thanksgiving, a holiday near and dear to the hearts of my family. There are many memorable moments from Goldstein family Thanksgiving dinners. Over the next few posts, you’ll have the pleasure of reading some of the most hilarious highlights of our Thanksgivings gone by, written by both me and my brother Alan. These stories are the stuff of legend.
Holidays are perhaps the most profound times when food becomes the connective tissue of our family experience. When you have a holiday dinner with family, you hope the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, all those classic dishes, will transport you back to childhood. Think of your own family’s classics, be they green bean casserole with French fried onions on top, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows or cornbread dressing. The one special dish that takes me back is the pearl onions in cheese sauce that was a constant, unchanging feature of our holiday tables.
My mother made this dish every Thanksgiving and I myself have served it to many a holiday dinner guest. Small boiler or pearl onions are cleaned, peeled and boiled until they are soft, but still hold their shape. They are anointed with a simple cream sauce to which my mother added a bunch of Velveeta. Ah, Velveeta, the magic time machine of food items, instantly whisking me back to my youth. This creamed onion dish does it every time.
In my effort to try and class up some of the middle American dishes passed down to me, I have tried a wide variety of other cheeses in this sauce and many of them have fabulous results. Soft blue cheeses like gorgonzola, saga and Roquefort work very well and add a pleasant sharpness to the dish. Good melters like jack and provolone are also very nice and can stand up to a little heat from cayenne pepper or a shot of Tobasco. Avoid the harder cheeses that might become grainy when melted. If the concept of Velveeta is amenable to you, you can start with Velveeta, become intimate with the recipe, and then try whatever cheese strikes your fancy.
Two bags of boiler onions or pearl onions
2 tbsp of butter
2 tbsp of flour
2 cups of milk
1 small block of Velveeta, or the good melting cheese of your choice.
Seasoning to taste
As described earlier, just peel the onions and boil them in water until they are soft but retain their shape. The way to test is to stick a sharp knife through the side of the largest onion. If it slides out easily, they are done. In a sauce pot, make a roux with the butter and flour and cook it briefly until it just loses its raw taste. It’ll begin to take on a slightly nutty aroma. Pour the cold milk in and stir with a whisk to break up the lumps of flour. Let this sauce come to a full boil and thicken, but stir it constantly. Then take it off the heat and add the cheese. Stir to make sure the cheese is all melted. Season it with your favorites.
Despite the lovely softness of the sweet onions and the rich texture of melting cheese, there is one small problem with this dish. I feel it is only fair to warn you that the combination of boiled onions and cheese can come together to form….hmmmm…how shall I put this….a somewhat aggressive reaction in one’s lower abdominal region. One Thanksgiving, when we were in college, my best friend Jenny came to dinner at our house for Thanksgiving. I was working at the small public radio station in town doing a late night jazz show from 11pm to 1am. We ate a huge dinner, complete with swinging helpings of onions and cheese sauce, and Jenny accompanied me to the radio station for my shift. On the way there, we both perceived a general unease in the intestinal regional like a distressed piglet trapped in a burlap sack. By the time we arrived for my shift, we were both doing our best to relieve the growing pressure in our swelling bellies. We attempted to purge as much as possible before we entered the building. But despite our best efforts, we were unable to hasten the inexorable effects of the onions. We had no choice but to hold on for dear life during my song breaks, when a live microphone in a tiny radio studio would surely betray our condition.
We did our best, and laughed and laughed about the hilarious predicament. Toward the end of my shift, I was about 45 seconds away from a live break. The song was ending and I was getting ready to announce the music when I noticed Jenny reading the newspaper and weeping with laughter. She showed me the source of her laughter…a small box add in the paper for an interior air filtration system. The headline read TOXIC, ODOROUS AND OFFENSIVE GASES?
Well, I lost it and with just seconds before my live break, I was undone. I turned on the mike and tried my best to back sell the song I had just played, my voice quivering, but I was unable to keep my composure and my abrupt intro to the next song was choked by the kind of belly laugh that takes your breath away.
This year, Alan and I will be together for Thanksgiving and he has banned the onions and cheese sauce from the Goldstein Thanksgiving menu. However, feel free to add this holiday classic to your own repertoire. But be forewarned. Serve Bonnie Goldstein’s onions in cheese sauce at your own risk!