First Prize Onion Casserole

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After my mom died there were so many questions – was I all right? Was my sister all right? Had we eaten? Did we need anything? Did I know where my mom had kept this or that? Months later when we cleaned out her house the questions were still there but had changed – What were we going to do in our lives? Where were we going to go? Could someone have this or that of our moms? And the BIG question – Do you have your mom’s recipe for – her chocolate mousse, her lasagna, her macaroni and cheese, her chocolate chip cookies, her chicken curry, her rice casserole?

I loved the questions about her recipes, her food always showed her boundless love to people, and the fact that specific items had resonated made her love feel received, recognized, and appreciated. I wrote here about finding her chicken curry recipe years after she passed, and finding her kugel recipe. In the last few months I had a similar discovery when looking for her friend’s banana bread recipe I came upon a recipe cut out from the SF Chronicle that looked familiar but instead of being called rice casserole it celebrated the onion. I sent the recipe to some of our family early on a Saturday morning and before too long my phone was ringing with calls and text messages “you found it! That’s her rice casserole recipe! I know what I am making for dinner for the family tonight.”

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It’s a very simple recipe but the first moment the onions hit the butter it smelled like my mom’s kitchen and Monday night dinners. Lately I have been having some tough emotions about my mom, I of course love her so much, unconditionally, forever, but as her daughter I saw more of her layers like an onion. She could bring people to tears in good and bad ways like an onion. To so many she was their rock, their best friend, the wisest woman they knew, the kindest and most fun. But like any deep relationship once you peel the layers of the onion and the day to day as her child at times felt harder – the buttons we pushed in each other, the complicated relationship she had with her family that was inadvertently transferred to me, the ways she could pour out everything for humanity but then be too tired and would take to her bed for days leaving me to take care of myself and at times my sister. Like an onion our relationship could be sweet or have a strong bite to it. But beyond everything she is my mother and just because you lose a parent doesn’t mean that your relationship with them ends or that the complicated feelings become condensed into only the good ones.

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But this casserole is only the sweet memories of comfort and care. The onions have a good relationship with a lot of butter that leave them only tasting sweet and caramelized. My sister and I joke if anything of our moms tasted good it was – butter, sour cream, or half and half – and this recipe doesn’t let down. I served it the way my mom always served it with a big green salad and as much love as I possibly could.

Love All-ways,

Ra

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First Prize Onion Casserole from Marion Cunningham and the SF Chronicle

Ingredients:

5 cups of water

1 teaspoon salt + more to taste

½ cup long grain rice

4 tablespoons butter

4 large yellow onions, cut into ½ inch dice

6 ounces Swiss cheese, grated (1 ½ cups)

2/3 cup half and half (or milk)

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  • Preheat the oven to 325°. Have ready a 9x13x2 inch baking dish.
  • Combine the water and 1 teaspoon of salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Slowly add the rice. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for just 5 minutes; drain well. Transfer rice to mixing bowl.
  • Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add the onins and cook over medium heat, stirring until they are shiny and soft, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add to the rice.
  • Add the grated cheese and the half-and-half. Stir until well mixed. Taste. Salt and pepper to your liking (it will need it).
  • Spread the mixture in the baking dish. Place in the over and bake for 1 hour, until golden on top.

Serves 6

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01 2016

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