brunch, sides

retro creamed onions.

April 4, 2013

creamed onions.

In my opinion, holiday meals would be best left to either the older generations, or those of us who maybe wish we had lived in an earlier time than now. I have a little bit of a vintage heart, if that makes sense, and probably idealize quite a bit about what things were like when my grandparents’ generation was younger. Our family’s older generation lives in Florida now, where I just visited, and I’m always reminded of how differently they do things. 

I mean that in a good way; do you know my grandma and my great-aunt still have closets full of old glass dishware, cookware, and serving items with nary a scratch on them? And not “old” like “five years ago,” I mean old like “from their weddings, which were over sixty-five years ago.” We go through the same routine every time I visit: I ogle the dishes, they laugh at me for liking “all their silly old things” and I leave feeling a little less like ever buying anything from Target again. Why? Because the oldies did it right; they didn’t have much, but what they did have, they cared for, and here they are generations later washing and drying the same items that have been in their families for – in some cases – almost a century. Maybe more. Those things appear on every holiday table I share with them, filled with food they’ve been making for years. Our family can be time-warpy in that way; I’m fairly certain my grandma and her sister have been making exactly the same series of holiday dishes for decades, and we all devour them. I didn’t get to spend Easter with them this year – I headed back before that – so this was my way of honoring them and thanking them for keeping traditions alive.

Of all the savory dishes we made this past Easter, this one was my favorite. Creamed onions may not sound like the most exciting thing ever, but if you’re an onion lover as I am, you may feel differently. Onions add massive base flavor to so many savory dishes, but they shouldn’t be resigned to the background. I caramelize onions all the time to throw on sandwiches and burgers (they amp up veggie and turkey burgers wonderfully), to sit alongside plates of steamed vegetables for dinner, or just to eat on their own.

Despite my onion love, I’ve never made creamed onions before. I called them “old lady onions” because they sometimes seem like a forgotten dish nowadays; I blame the pickiness of the younger generations (mine and beyond) because sometimes we like to make fun of our grandma’s favorite dishes just for the sake of it (whippersnappers!) and because arguably, there’s nothing maybe about the look or the name of creamed onions that brings excitement to mind.

But the smell of them; it’s phenomenal. When you cook them, your house will smell like onion candy. And the flavor? You’re cooking down onions – the foundation for all deliciousness – by themselves with some spices, then nestling them into cream and cooking them some more. What do you think they taste like? Does that sound incredible to you? Oh, and also there’s toasted, chive-filled breadcrumbs on top if you’re not sold on this yet. As if there weren’t enough toasted onion flavor for you.

So here’s to the old ladies – most especially, my grandma and my great-aunt Dottie – who continue to make creamed onions despite their picky grandchildren (who should stop sassing the onions anyway; they obviously don’t know what’s good for them.)  It’s because of those two that I even know creamed onions (and a few other choice food items) exist. It’s because of them that I know the value in caring for what you own, and that having a few good-quality things is so much better than owning disposable items you can change out every season. And, let’s be honest, it’s because of them that my mom, my sister, and I feel the need to “rescue” things from the shelves of seemingly every thrift store I walk in to. Our lives are lived, often times, as closely as possible to past generations when it comes to certain things. We have a great deal of respect for the oldies, because the oldies know how to do it right.

Hi, grandma. (She reads this; so, too, does my grandpa. It’s safe to say that before any of you manage to scoot you way over here for new posts, they’ve already read it and talked about it.)

Now, before you ask, this is not their recipe; they do one with pearl onions that I love quite a bit. This is my take on them; a tribute, if you will, to the creamed onions they make for holiday meals. My version uses big fat Vidalia onions, quartered, sauteed, and then baked casserole-style until they are so sweet and smothered in cream that you want to dive headfirst into them. Mine are holiday-friendly in that you can do the first part of things – the saute – they day before if you need to. Then the day of your brunch/lunch/dinner, simply bake them in the oven on the temperature you’re using for the rest of your dishes. I’ll give you the optimal temperature in the recipe, but if you’re cooking more sensitive things at a different temperature, adjust the timing as you see fit.

Adapted from this delightful slideshow on foodnetwork.com regarding Easter side dish ideas and recipes. I may have a vintage heart, but my brain appreciates being able to google “easter side dishes” and come up with these beautiful offerings. Go, technology! The carrots I made came from this slideshow, also.

Creamed Onions

for the creamy onions:

  • 3 pounds Vidalia or other sweet yellow onion
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (plus more for seasoning to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup whole or 2% milk
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

for the crumb topping:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup Panko (or regular finely ground) bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chives
  • sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

If you do make these the day before, make it up to the part just before you mix together the bread crumbs. Store tightly covered in your refrigerator and get them out about an hour before you want to put them in the oven to get them back to room temperature. Check them before applying the bread crumb topping; onions will soak up the cream overnight, so you may want to add around a 1/4 cup of milk or heavy cream (your choice) and mix it in before you bake them. 

Make the creamy onions:

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, stirring them to coat in the butter, and cook for 10 minutes, covered with a loose piece of aluminum foil, stirring occasionally. Remove cover, stir in nutmeg, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes uncovered, stirring so all the spices are incorporated.

Add wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove the mixture to a large bowl (or the casserole dish you will be using; it’s just temporary) and set the pan back on the stove. Add the heavy cream, milk, and flour, whisking over medium heat until smooth and just thickened. Add the onion mixture back in to the pan, reduce heat to medium-low, and stir until onions are covered evenly in the cream mixture. Check for seasoning and add more as needed, then pour into the casserole dish.

This is where you stop if you’re making these the day before you need them. Let them sit out to cool to room temperature, cover tightly (important, unless you want everything in your fridge to smell of onions) and then place in the fridge until you need them. Hold off on making the crumb topping until you’re ready to get them into the oven.

Make the crumb topping:

Mix the bread crumbs, chives, salt, and pepper together until blended. Melt the butter and stir it in to the crumb mixture, using a fork or whisk to incorporate and break up the mixture a bit. Pour evenly over the onions and bake, covered loosely with a sheet of parchment paper, in the preheated 350˚F oven (which you remembered to turn on even if you made these the night before) for 30-40 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes more to brown the crumbs. Serve right away (as if you could help it.)

I suppose if you have normal people at your party, this serves maybe 8-10 as a side dish. If you have more than a few onion lovers – just warning you – it may serve less.

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26 Comments

  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina April 4, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know that I was always referred to as “the grandma” of the group of friends that I grew up with.

    Translation = I want these onions.

    • Reply shannon April 7, 2013 at 10:39 am

      this does not surprise me one bit. translation = i love you. 🙂

  • Reply Abbe@This is How I Cook April 4, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    I love onions but I have never had creamed onions. In any case these sound delightful and rich and creamy and oniony. Oh shoot! I’m ready to be a grandma and I’m really not kidding about that!

    • Reply shannon April 7, 2013 at 10:41 am

      oooh, Abbe; if you love onions, you must try these sometime for yourself. I don’t love to like, super-push recipes on people, but seriously…massive onion love going on here, grandma or not! 🙂

  • Reply Candy April 4, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    YES! Grandmother & great aunts always make the best food.

    • Reply shannon April 7, 2013 at 10:41 am

      Candy, i couldn’t agree more.

  • Reply Monica April 4, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    So interesting because I’ve never heard of creamed onions, either. You are so lucky to have your grandma and family keep these dishes alive for you…and it looks like you’ll be doing your part to keep the tradition going. I can just imagine that closet of treasures you speak of. It’s a shame that so many things we buy now seem to last only a season or two instead of being things we can actually pass down.

    • Reply shannon April 7, 2013 at 10:50 am

      I need to research the creamed onions thing, i feel; this may be one of those recipes i run across from my family that are either regional or are around for a very specific reason. I’m going to try and find out.
      I AM lucky to have them care so much about the recipes and food they grew up with, for sure. You rely to a certain extent on each generation to pass things down, tangible or intangible, and if there’s even one person who breaks the chain, then you lose things. That’s never happened yet, and it’s certainly not going to happen with me or my sister (or my daughter, i’ll make sure of it!) 🙂 it really is a shame things seem so temporary now; certainly it’s cost-effective in the short-term, but maybe not in the long term if we keep having to rebuy. i know i’ve cracked down on my own “temp purchasing,” but it’s difficult.

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog April 5, 2013 at 6:49 am

    I love onions! I could so picture myself eating spoonful after spoonful of these creamy onions. Mmm! As for old dishes… I love ’em! When I shoot at my Mom-mom’s I go through all of her old dishes (most of which are from some yard sale) and pick out the perfect one for a great photo. She always laughs at me, too. They just don’t understand.

    • Reply shannon April 7, 2013 at 10:53 am

      Jennie, they were delicious! I’m not ashamed to say this is the only thing i went back for seconds on. Truth. And i know you feel the same way about old dishes that i do; why don’t the oldies understand how awesome they are!?!

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats April 5, 2013 at 7:51 am

    I love old things! We were going through some of my grandma’s things and my mom was all set to throw it all out but i wanted to keep it all. I don’t understand people who throw things out (I suppose that makes me a hoarder)…i feel like having something that belonged to my grandma is so special! Is this recipe from your grandma? Or just inspired by her?

    Also, I’m seriously impressed your grandma reads your blog. Mine is barely able to email…one time i saw her sign into her email (aol, which just goes to show how old she is), and so I IMed her. It was so cute, she took like 5 minutes to type back “Hi Amy.”

    • Reply shannon April 7, 2013 at 11:00 am

      aren’t old things the best! I sometimes feel like a hoarder too, but it’s a matter of space; i feel like when we move into a bigger home and all my old things actually FIT somewhere…;) or is that how hoarding begins?? This recipe is not hers, but rather inspired by all the times i’ve eaten creamed onions and loved them. I need to get their actually recipe for them before next year so i can make our family one for myself.

      my grandma is very up in it, technologically speaking, for someone of almost 90; do you know we got her a Kindle Fire for Christmas this year? for serious, she loves it and is on it all the time. That’s the best story about IM’ing your grandma! Now i’m not even sure my grandma knows how to do that, so i’m impressed it only took 5 minutes. Have you ever tried to imagine, though, how INSANELY DIFFERENT life is now for that generation than it was when they grew up? When you really think about it, it’s incredible what they’ve had to adapt to and keep up with – good and bad.

  • Reply Ashley April 5, 2013 at 8:31 am

    You are such a young whippersnapper!!!!
    But I really want to try these onions! They sound incredible – slowly cooked onions, spices, cream…mmm! And I love your sentiments on staying close to older generations in some of the things we do or how we do them. I treasure the things my grandparents gave me, even the few recipes of theirs we make most holidays.

    • Reply shannon April 7, 2013 at 11:22 am

      i am like, 3 parts young whippersnapper and 1 part total old lady; it’s a good combination.

      ashley, promise; these are terrific, and you must make them because they are super easy and honestly, because i could easily go without meat all the time, i would eat these for dinner by themselves. it’s so cool to hear how you’ve saved recipes and other things from your grandparents too; I feel like every time i catch myself thinking it’s difficult to find common ground with them, i remind myself of those things and it’s not so hard anymore. 🙂

  • Reply Diana @GourmetDrizzles April 5, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Wow, these sound amazing. I adore vidalia onions, and love your twist in quartering them instead of the more traditional pearl onions. Can’t wait to try this one!

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 8:51 am

      Thanks, Diana! vidalia onions are my favorite, also, and this really highlights their sweet flavor. Definitly i’ll be making it again. 🙂

  • Reply Brianne April 5, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    My mom has her grandma’s wedding china on display in the kitchen/dining room at home. She even repainted the room to coordinate: the china is soft yellow, blue, and pink with strong pink accents. Guess what color she painted the kitchen? Yep, MAGENTA. It took a bit of getting used to, but I love going home to my mom’s bright pink kitchen because I know the inspiration for the color means a lot to her. And the china is really beautiful.

    I majorly heart pearl onions. And all onions, really. I can’t do caramelized onions, but I think creamed onions would be quite the treat!

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 8:54 am

      oh i love that so much! How cool of your mom to design a room around her grandma’s china; what a nice way to blend the old into everyday life, for sure. Although i bet that took some getting used to (wow, magenta!) it’s a pretty awesome reason to have that particular paint color in the house. i love old china patterns; it’s really amazing how much work and artistry went into things like that.

      i promise you, you would love these. just from other things you’ve made on your blog and your love of pearl onions, i can see you digging these.

  • Reply natalie @ wee eats April 5, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    My name is Natalie and I have never had creamed onions.

    And yet, I feel like I’m already addicted to them?

    You’re so right about the “oldies”… It’s hilarious, Aaron’s family will always talk about how his bajillion-year-old granny made the best ___ and so I will write her a letter (she is most definitely not on the internet) asking how she is doing and for the recipe, and she will send me the recipe, which I will then immediately recognize as being on a present-day bisquick box or an OG betty crocker recipe. But she was in the kitchen making them a bajillion years ago… along with enough other moms and grandmas to turn them into those popular recipes that are now on the sides of boxes or in the Betty Crocker cookbook.
    Ah, life.

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 8:58 am

      i’m telling you, i’m going to research this and i would bet i find out that this is some regional thing. or something, i don’t know, but there will be a reason why some people have had them but most haven’t.
      you should feel the addiction starting to take hold. i think the photo is like the gateway drug there.

      oh you are adorable with your granny letter-writing! and don’t you love how everyone’s memories of old food turn into something on the back of a box; it’s happened several times in our family, but there’s a reason why it was good enough to put on the back of a box, right? like toll house cookies. It’s why i collect vintage cookbooks; you look through them and are like “really? this was everyone’s favorite?” but then you make it and you’re like “OOOOOh, i get it now!”
      LIFE. 🙂

  • Reply movita beaucoup April 10, 2013 at 2:56 am

    Preach it, sista! I am an old-school/don’t use that silverware kind of gal. Drives some people crazy, but makes me a favourite with the senior set. My next venture has a vintage theme – and I just know you’re gunna love it. (Soon, kitten, all will be revealed soon.)

    These onions look absolutely amazing. I love, love, love onions. Can’t get enough of ’em. And yet, I’ve never tried creamed onions. Obviously, this must change. We’re really into retro cooking around here (actually, a lot of people in the Maritimes are), so I’m thinking this might be a nice side dish for our next big shin dig…

    • Reply shannon April 10, 2013 at 3:50 pm

      My grandma and great aunt were pretty stoked about this post, i’ll say. I am also a favorite with the senior set, although they think i’m nuts. maybe in a good way.

      QUIT keeping things from me; it makes me FAR to excited and then i get all paralyzed with excitement…i’m ALREADY EXCITED.

      seriously, reason #402 i need to become a maritimer. or honorary one. I think the Food Bloggers of Canada is thiiiiis close to letting me in; i’m like one of you, and you don’t even know it. Please make the onions for your next big seaside thing; please invite all the beaucoups and feed them old lady onions.

  • Reply Katherine {eggton} April 10, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    This is EXACTLY the kind of thing I love to eat around the holidays. I kid you not: it’ll be on my Thanksgiving list this year. It reminds me (in a vague way) of something Molly put on Orangette ages ago–it might have been cabbage braised in cream? So it makes me think that something amazing happens when you let oniony flavors (or whatever flavor you’d attribute to a cabbage) infuse dairy and vice versa. Yum!

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 7:56 am

      you know, i feel like so many people have been all over these onions. which makes me wonder: why don’t more families MAKE THE ONIONS!?!?! who is holding out, here? I could see Molly doing something like this; her recipes are very homey like that…i love her stuff. Now you have my mind on braising cabbage; delicious.

  • Reply Katherine {eggton} November 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    I made this the other day and it was AWESOME. Everyone loved it. I used yellow onions and also threw some pearl onions in there.

    IT WAS DELICIOUS! Thank you.

    • Reply shannon November 17, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      YES!! honestly, i was thinking/dreaming about these onions the other day, because i could eat many servings of them in one sitting. I daresay that with a small obligatory green salad, this could be my dinner any night of the week.
      I like a sweet yellow onion in this, and i like that you added the pearls in: my great-aunt’s pearl onions were the original inspiration for this. Thank you for trying it! i love it when people make my food and like it. it’s a nice feeling.

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