A Better Bean


Last week I showed you how I made an off-limits food available again by a good recipe and a smart substitution. This week I’m sharing a better recipe for a holiday supper staple: the Green Bean Casserole.

It’s a simple side dish to prepare, made so by canned cream of mushroom soup, beans and fried onions. All that’s usually needed is a can opener, some milk and some pepper.

For all that the flavor of the dish is palatable to most diners and it does add a token green vegetable to the holiday table, the highly-processed ingredients leave much to be desired. So, this year, I set out to make the dish that we all enjoy in a way that did not make me ashamed to bring it to table.

I began with the onions. From my experience with the Indian Cooking Challenge I’d fallen in love with a certain coating for fried onions that would make the humble ring or blossom blush. With that taken care of, it was simply a matter of devising a substitute for the condensed soup. The answer? A mushroom veloute (aka white sauce made with stock, not milk). While this version takes a few moments longer to prepare, the end result was far superior to the pre-fab original.

Green Bean Casserole from scratch

We opted to use flat Italian or Pole beans as they have more surface area to collect flavor and are easier to spear with a fork. The chili powder in the onion batter can be increased or decreased to taste and adds a wonderful dimension to the finished dish. Of course, if you’re a fan of onion rings you might want to make extras to allow for, uh, quality control 😉

Yes, we still fry the onions–this is, after all, a recipe best saved for holidays–but our sauce is miles better than the preservative-laden canned stuff that would otherwise be used.

A Better Green Bean Casserole

2 lb Green Beans, fresh or frozen 

Fried Onions

2 Onions
5/8 cup Gram Flour (aka besan aka garbanzo bean flour)
1 Tbsp Salt
1 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 cup Water, as needed
Canola Oil for frying

Mushroom Veloute 

2 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Flour
1/4 cup minced Mushrooms
1 1/3 cup Vegetable Stock
Salt and Pepper to taste

Serves 6-8

Prepare the Onions

Heat oil to 350° Fahrenheit while you prepare the onions for frying.

Peel and quarter the onions, slicing each quarter into quarter-rings. You want pieces up to 2 inches long and no more than 1/4 inch thick.

Combine the gram flour and spices and then the water, a little at a time, until a thin paste is formed, like that of pancake batter. You may not need all the water, then again you may need more. Use your discretion.

Toss the onions in the batter enough that the batter evenly coats all the onion pieces.

Fry in batches (I suggest dropping 3 tong-fuls at a time, depending on the size of your fryer). With either the frying basket or a spider-strainer, break up any clumps of onions that appear to form and fry until the onions are a light golden brown. (Remember that fried foods darken by 2 shades after removing from the fat.)

Drain the onions on paper towels until cool.

Make the Veloute

In a sturdy saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat and whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook the roux over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly, but do not let the roux darken.

Whisk in a small amount of the vegetable stock and stir until smooth. The first addition will cause the roux to bubble up or clump, this is normal, just keep stirring until it smooths back out.

Keep stirring in the stock until half has been incorporated, then add the minced mushrooms. Continue adding the stock until it’s all in, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until thickened.

**Both the onions and the veloute can be made ahead and stored in the fridge until needed. The veloute can even be frozen for longer storage.**

Assemble the Casserole

Steam the green beans until tender. 10-15 minutes in the microwave does the job well, but use the method you’re most comfortable with.

In a large bowl, combine the beans, veloute and half the fried onions.

Butter a casserole dish and pour the combined ingredients into it.

Bake at 350° Fahrenheit for 25 minutes, until heated through and bubbling. Sprinkle the remaining fried onions on top of the casserole and put back in the oven for 5 minutes, or until the onions are crispy around the edges.


The Tale of the Turbo Turkey


Like many others, this past Thursday, we prepped our Thanksgiving turkey and loaded him into the oven in plenty of time to allow the recommended 15-20 minutes per pound, plus resting and carving in order to have dinner ready at a respectable 5:30ish that evening.

Like previous years we brined it and then slathered it with an herbed butter and stuffed it’s cavity with onion, apple and lemon wedges, and in it went at precisely 11 a.m.

What was different this year? This year we got to use our 18-quart Roaster Oven. While we used it last Christmas for the duck and last Easter for the stuffed leg of lamb, this was it’s inaugural turkey and we were so excited to be able to have the oven free all day to use for side dishes and the like. From previous experience we thought the roaster ran a little hotter than a full-sized oven (we figured from the smaller space it had to heat and closer proximity of the food to the element) so we only heated it up to 325 to begin with, then decided to bring it down another 25 degrees when it continued to sizzle and pop (probably from the butter rub, but we wanted to be careful). We thought that would be enough to compensate.

(Hamilton Beach 18-Quart Roaster Oven via Amazon.com)

There I was, happily going about my comprehensive to-do list (a must, I’ve discovered, for stress-free party and holiday prep) and checking things off right and left as the turkey roasted. I peek in to make sure everything is going according to plan and…

The turkey? Our 16 pound turkey? Was done.

After only 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Sure, it wasn’t golden-brown and picturesque done, but it was most certainly done in the sense that the leg meat was starting to pull away from the bone. And, just to be certain, we checked it’s temperature–definitely done. In fact, we used 2 thermometers (1 dial, 1 digital) just in case one was off.

Nope. Stick a fork in it–that bird was done!

And we were still 3 hours away from dinner.

Now, you might wonder, as we did, what is the best way to proceed when you’ve got a cooked turkey that needs to be held 3 hours. First of all, letting it rest for so long wasn’t a good idea as it would have cooled down too far and spent too much time in the temperature danger zone (40-140 degrees Fahrenheit, where most of the icky bacteria thrives). Completely cooling it off and reheating it before supper was also dicey as we could end up with dry, mealy meat. Not a tasty treat!

Instead we opted to turn the roaster down to 200 and hold it there for most of the afternoon. This way the turkey would be kept plenty hot (and, yes, we checked periodically) but shouldn’t dry out. And it was a success, as far as we can tell (still hot and tasty at dinner and not a bit of it was dry).

Of course, I didn’t think to take a picture until after dinner, but the next day when I used our first bit of leftovers, I did sneak a quick shot of our brunch:

Herbed Turkey Scramble with Spiced Cranberry SauceBetween plenty of leftover turkey and the dozen egg whites I had after using the yolks in the pumpkin pastry cream for pies, I concocted this quick dish of Herbed Turkey Scramble.

Simple whisk together any available egg whites (you could easily use whole eggs, too, if you didn’t have spare whites) along with salt, pepper, sage, parsley and garlic powder and pour them into a hot frying pan. Cook until beginning to set then stir in diced turkey and crumbled cheese of your choice (we used farmer’s cheese). Serve with some Spiced Cranberry Sauce, another leftover.

Simple and delicious.


So, has anyone else encountered a super-fast roasting oven?
And what do you do with all of your leftover turkey?

What To Serve Before the Turkey?


Tis the season for roasting turkey and serving it up with all of the trimmings. But what, if anything, comes before it?

Back when we would gather for a 1 or 2 o’clock dinner it was quite common to skip breakfast (maybe grazing on the dishes as they were prepared–all in the name of quality control, of course) and just eat one big meal mid-day. Sometimes we’d have a relish tray set up: some deviled eggs, stuffed celery, that sort of thing. But it wasn’t really needed.

Due to family schedules we’ve pushed our main meal to 5:30 or so for the past couple of years. Not only is it no longer feasible to skip breakfast, we often have folks show up an hour or so before supper is scheduled plus the inevitable wait for the last one or two guests to arrive.

This means appetizers are called for. Just a little something to keep the hunger pains at bay (because usually a late breakfast led to a skipped lunch).

So far I’ve had a request for a delicious cheese we stumbled upon a few years back. St Andre is a double (almost triple) cream cheese that, when brought to room temperature, is amazing spread on slices of baguette–like butter, but better.

To go with it, I’m also preparing another family favorite, a simple combination of softened cream cheese, crab meat and cocktail sauce, layered in that order, that when scooped up with a buttery cracker is fantastic far beyond it’s otherwise simple preparation.

I like threes, though, so am casting about to find another little nibble to add to the pre-supper spread. What are you serving before the bird?