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Article & photos by Chef Linda Weiss

Rice/cheese stuffed onions in a single row on crystal plate.  Photo by Linda Weiss.

Thanksgiving had two meanings for me as a child. First, I was born on Thanksgiving Day, and occasionally it was on or near my birthday. Secondly, it was the day that our family would get together from across the miles.

Back then we rarely went away to anyone�s home, but instead went up the 'lane' to my grandparents' house where we sat down to eat a delicious meal at the long table in the dining room. The chairs held aunts, uncles and cousins who had gathered from out of town.

 My grandmother would make chicken and dressing, not turkey and dressing. There was a reason that she never made turkey and my father told me what the reason was once but it has long ago slipped away.

What I do remember is that my grandmother pre-cooked the chicken in a roaster, pulled it apart and placed it on top of the dressing before baking both in the oven. The chicken came out slightly golden and the dressing stayed moist from the chicken. We had green beans too, but not the casserole kind (I love those too). And, we always had rice, even if we had dressing or sweet potatoes. And, we always had English peas. These were a few of the traditional foods at my grandmother's and they are with us, too.

The sideboard in my grandmother�s dining room was laden with cakes and pies that had been removed from the long table before everyone's arrival. You could count on having a lemon-jelly cake, which is a delicate white or yellow cake with lemon curd dripping from the layers, and pecan pie since we had an entire orchard full of them between our houses.

It was a wonderful day of family togetherness and I still remember how happy my grandparents were that all their children were together and home, especially my dad who had been away in the war for 2 years.

Another generation of children and grandchildren meet at our house now and we still have some of the same old favorites from my childhood. Along with those, there are some that we have developed as a family over the years, such as the pumpkin-thyme rolls and the rice stuffed onions that you see below.

So from our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving,  and I hope that you will enjoy some of our favorites at your house. Linda

Slow-rising Pumpkin-Thyme Rolls

2 envelopes active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110-115 degrees)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup canned pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling)
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3-4 cups all-purpose flour
Olive oil, for greasing the bowl
2 tablespoons melted butter, for greasing the pans

Pumpkin-Thyme roll on blue and white plate.  Photo by Linda Weiss.Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a large mixer bowl and stir to dissolve. Using the paddle attachment of your mixer or a wooden spoon if making the rolls by hand, beat in the eggs, pumpkin, room-temperature butter, sugar, thyme, salt and cayenne.

Add 3 cups of the flour and beat until smooth, gradually adding more flour as needed to make a soft, sticky, but still manageable dough (depending on weather, plan on using 4 cups flour- that�s what I used). Make sure the dough is well mixed.

Oil a larger bowl and scrape the dough into it, turning the dough to oil it on all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch the dough down, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Grease two 8-inch cake pans with the melted butter. Punch the dough down again and shape it into 18 round dinner rolls, arranging them in the pans with about ½-inch space between each. (If dough is too sticky to handle easily, lightly butter or oil your hands.) Cover the rolls with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the rolls until browned, 20-25 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

To shape these into cloverleaf rolls, butter a 12-muffin pan, tear off tablespoon-size balls, place 3 in each muffin cup and bake as directed. Yield: 18 rolls if using cake pans.

Rice & Cheese Stuffed Onions

Rice & cheese stuffed onion topped with a sprig of rosemary. Photo by Linda Weiss.

8 yellow onions, about 4 ounces each
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
1/3 cup raw long grain rice
1-2/3 cups chicken broth (divided)
1 sprig lavender if available or ½ teaspoon Herbs of Provence
2 tablespoons grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh pepper

Peel the onions and then cut a very thin slice from the bottom of each one. With a sharp knife cut a wide cone-shape from the top of each onion, reserving the centers (it's easier after cutting the cone to use a melon baller to remove the onion pulp). Blanch the onion cases in a large pot of boiling, salted water until crisp tender, about 7 minutes. Drain in a colander under cold running water to stop the cooking process. Drain well, placing hollow side down. 

Chop the onion centers. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add 1-1/2 cups of the chopped onion, sprinkle lightly with salt and saut, tossing occasionally until soft and lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Add the lavender or Herbs of Provence. Add the rice and stir for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover tightly, and simmer until the rice is tender. This will take about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Remove the lavender sprig and discard. Stir the Swiss cheese and 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan into the rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the filling into the onion shells, mounding up slightly, and place them in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle the filling with the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan.  Place the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and 2/3 cup chicken broth around the onions in the baking dish. Spray a piece of foil with cooking spray and cover the onions tent style.

Bake in a preheated 350' oven for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until onions are golden, about 20 minutes longer, basting frequently with the broth and butter in bottom of pan.

---Posted November 20, 2009---


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