Monday, November 29, 2010

Homemade green bean casserole

Happy Monday after Thanksgiving!  Did everyone survive without suffering any charred turkeys, family quarrels, and shopping crowd-induced trampling?  Ha ha, I sure hope so! :)  This super extended weekend was just the way I like it to kick off the holiday season -- bustling!

It all started when relatives arrived on Wednesday afternoon from Illinois and Maryland for the Kemp tradition of baking homemade pizzas (8 of them!) the night before Thanksgiving.  Don't ask me how why we fill our stomachs with fluffy carby goodness on the eve of the biggest eating holiday of the year, but we do.  And it's delicious.  And tradition!  My ultimate favorite this year was topped with mushrooms and bacon... mmmm, I'm drooling just thinking about it now.  You must try it!

The turkey day feast was picturesque, including the best bird my mom has ever cooked (not that they aren't all good, this year's was just in a league of its own).

After some major indulging and before even more indulging with the pies (apple, cherry, pecan, pumpkin), there was the obligatory food coma nap in the family room.  We were lulled to sleep by the not-so-gentle sounds of a Mythbusters marathon...

And, what is quickly becoming the most hilarious (to some people, anyway) part of family gatherings, the age continuum cousins picture (minus one).  From left to right, youngest to oldest.  Mm hmm... about 13 years separate the oldest and youngest.  Gulp :)

All in all, it was a fantastic Thanksgiving, full of traditions, as it should be.  But you know I had to rock the boat just a little, or at least try.  When I approached my parents about making something for the feast, I was met with tons of resistance.  Why!?  As they said, it wasn't due to any doubts in my cooking abilities, it was because our family is crazy about traditional foods.  You can bet your life that the same foods will be on the table year after year: stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn pudding, jellied cranberry sauce, and my personal favorite green bean casserole.

I totally love the stuff -- GBC (green bean casserole), that is.  Truth be told, I could ignore all of the other fixings, including turkey, if I could get my fill of green bean casserole.  The classic side dish has been around since the mid 1950s, when Campbell's first presented a recipe that appealed to home cooks everywhere due to its convenience of ingredients and ease of preparation.  Canned green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and french fried onions, tossed together and baked for a quick and delicious side dish.  Can't get much easier than that, can it?

True, it can't get much easier, but it could sure use a boost in the flavor department.  I have never been crazy about canned green beans -- too mushy and bland for my taste.  And the mushrooms?  There are, what, 3 specks in a can of soup... I need more mushrooms!  So, much to my family's chagrin, I decided to mess with tradition... and it was a success!

I spotted a recipe a few weeks ago over at another Pittsburgh food blog and knew in an instant it was a classic.  She scored it from Cook's Illustrated, and after seeing the pictures, drool, I was hooked.  (Note: Her pictures are totally better than mine.  With the hustle and bustle in my parents' kitchen with company all around, I really skimped on picture quality.  My apologies!)  Real green beans.  Real mushrooms.  And yes, real cream with a little garlic.  Top it with french fried onions and bread crumbs?  Get out of my way!  I had to make this, for GBC would never be the same again.  It was so freakin' good.  So good that no pictures were taken of it being plated.  Nor did enough survive to make it through the weekend.  Take THAT, tradition!  And here is the recipe, just in time for the holiday season...

Fresh Green Bean Casserole
(adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, who adapted it from Cook's Illustrated)
-serves 10-12

A few notes: Instructions for preparing ingredients ahead of time follow the normal recipe.  Also, this reheats wonderfully, and though the crunch of the fried onions is a bit dulled, the flavors are even better the next day.

For the topping:
4 slices sandwich bread (I used wheat), torn into quarters
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups canned fried onions (about 6 ounces)

For the beans and sauce:
2 Tablespoons salt
2 pounds green beans, rinsed and ends trimmed and halved
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound white button mushrooms, wiped clean, stems discarded, and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 Tablespoon)
Ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

For the topping, pulse bread, butter, salt and pepper in a mini food processor until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about ten 1-second pulses.  Transfer to a large bowl and toss with onions; set aside.

Preheat oven to 425F.  Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot.  Add 2 tablespoons of salt and beans to water.  Cook beans until bring green and tender to your liking (I like them on the softer side), about 7 minutes.  Drain beans in a colander and spread on a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain.

Add butter to now-empty pot and melt over medium high heat until foaming subsides.  Add mushrooms, garlic, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.  Cook until mushrooms release moisture and liquid evaporates, about 6 minutes.  Add flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Stir in broth and bring to a simmer and keep stirring.  Add cream, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until sauce is thickened and reduced to 3 1/2 cups, about 12 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add green beans to sauce and stir until evenly coated.  Arrange in an even layer in a 9x13-inch glass baking dish.  Sprinkle bread crumb and onion topping and bake until top is golden brown and sauce is bubbling around edges, about 12 minutes.  Serve immediately.  And, you may gush like a proud parent when guests slowly admit that it's better than the canned version.  I did :)

If making ahead: Bread crumb mixture can be stored in a container in the fridge for up to two days.  Do not mix onions with bread crumbs until ready to use!  Beans can be cooked and mixed with sauce up to 24 hours ahead of time.  Pour beans and sauce in dish and cover with plastic wrap and store in fridge.  When ready to bake, remove plastic wrap and heat the casserole in a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes, remove and add topping, and bake as directed above.

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