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The time of holiday meals is upon us, and it strikes me that I haven’t yet posted the recipe for my extra-technical-and-complicated-yet-remarkable green bean casserole. I’d intended to document the process this Thanksgiving, but Kraken Rum happened, and the casserole was eaten before I could take any pretty snapshots. That’s how good it is– it moves too quickly for pictures. So no pictures– if you want to see what it looks like, you’ll need to make it for yourself.
I notice with some chagrin that the “official Campbell’s recipe” has been modified to include “98% Fat Free or Healthy Request®” Cream of Mushroom soup. Which, ew. The point behind green bean casserole is to take delicious, crunchy, healthy green beans and make them bad for you. (Also: soy sauce? Whut?)
Not that there’s anything wrong with the traditional version: dump some canned green beans, some canned soup and some milk in a casserole dish, stir it up, top it with French fried onions, and bake. Okay, comforting, easy, but what would a *real* green bean casserole taste like? What would it be like if you took the time and effort to make this dish without any of the canned or processed nonsense, and added copious amounts of cheese? What if green bean casserole, instead of a quick toss-together cop-out any schmo can do, was mind-numbingly inconvenient and terribly complicated?
Well now, you are about to find out. The answer is: This is the Gold Standard of Green Bean Casseroles. Many will attest.
- ~2 lbs fresh green beans
- ~1 lb grated mozzarella cheese
- ~1 lb grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 large sweet onion
- 1 pint heavy whipping cream
- 1 pint+ whole milk
- 1 stick butter
- unflavored oil (canola? peanut?) for frying
- unbleached flour
- white pepper
Total prep time: A lazy holiday afternoon. Probably plan on at least two glasses of wine worth of prep. At least.
Total cooking time: 1 hour or thereabouts.
1. Wash your green beans, snap off the ends, then French cut them. You’ve had French cut beans– they’re split down the middle. The best way to do this is with a peeling knife:
The curvy tip is perfect for inserting into the seam and splitting in half. Or a paring knife would work, too. They don’t have to be perfect, but this is a holiday, not a marathon, so don’t rush it.
2. Fill a big stockpot with water, and salt it. Bring to a boil, and place the beans into the water to taste, until they’re mostly tender to the tooth (about 10 minutes?). They’ll cook when baked, too, so don’t make them too soft. And definitely don’t leave them all crunchy– crunchy beans = healthy beans, and we don’t want that! Drain, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process, and set aside.
3. Slice your onion REALLY thin, like paper thin, then chop into segments (about 1 inch). Place in a bowl and cover the onions with milk. Set aside to soak for at least 10 minutes. (This makes a difference!)
4. Mix together a large portion of sifted flour (depending on how big your onion is, this is probably about 1.5 cups), 1 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp white pepper and 1 tbsp paprika.
5. Coat the onions in the flour mixture, then fry in the oil. You’ll likely need to do batches. You want lots of these, as they tend to get eaten while you’re cooking. Once they’re all fried, set aside. Eat some. Share a few. But save most of them.
6. Preheat the oven to 350.
7. Grease a large casserole dish or baking dish. Cover the bottom of the dish with some of your shredded mozzarella cheese (not all of it, now!).
8. In a saucepan on Low, melt the butter into the whipping cream (slowly, now!). Add about 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp nutmeg and 1 tsp pepper. Using a whisk, stir constantly, adding pinches of flour so it gets smooth and starts to thicken. When it’s slightly thick, begin adding about 3/4 of the grated cheddar, a little at a time. Alternate with milk– delicately– some cheddar, some milk, some cheddar, some milk. Some lumpiness is to be expected. Eventually, you will end up with a delightful, smooth cheese sauce. Feel free to play with this sauce. Add stuff, take stuff away, try some different textures, but be sure it’s not at all watery, or you will end up unhappy.
9. Toss the rest of the shredded mozzarella with the green beans, then pour the beans/cheese into the casserole dish.
10. Using a spatula/smoother, scrape the sauce over the beans, smoothing it down so it drips into the nooks and crannies of the green beans.
11. Top it off with all of the rest of your cheese, then a thick layer of fried onions.
12. Bake for one hour. Or, longer if the temperature is lower because pies and poultry and such are also baking. Or, if you want it faster, jack that sucker up to 450 and back for 1/2 hour. You can cook this over a period of time. If the onions get really dark without burning, it’s done.
Also, don’t pre-make this the night before to bake the next day. Why spoil a delightfully inconvenient process?
I’m telling you, you will never go back to the icky Campbell’s version again, ever. Well, maybe, but you’ll never be able to eat any green bean casserole again without thinking of this one. And I am serious, here!
UPDATE! The lovely E has procured the only known photograph that proves the existence of the Gold Standard Green Bean Casserole! In spite of the blurry, sasquatch-photo-like quality of this image, you can FEEL the golden glow of its power calling you!
Although a man of questionable literary talent, William Shakespeare was a marvel at cooking out-of-doors. When it came to open-flame cuisine, the Bard was far more capable than most realize, and was, in fact, much better known for his “Gryled Lyme-Hyssop Filet of Pike With Glaze of Tamarynd” than any of his only moderately successful dramatic works.
Those of us “in the know,” however, often find clues as to Shakespeare’s interest in fine cuisine encoded within the language of the plays themselves. Take, for instance, this little paean to the barbecue from one of his lesser-known plays, “All’s Well Done That Ends Well Done.”
Shakespeare’s Seven Stages of Barbecue
All the world’s a grill,
And all the men and women merely diners,
They have their tongs and spatulas,
And one cook in his time bastes many meats,
His barbecue consisting of seven ages. At first the salad,
Green and crisp in the mixing bowl.
Then, the wine– poured from the bottle
And shining in the glass, creeping down throats
Willingly to stomach. And then the snacks,
Crunchy, like chips, with a salty ballad
Made to his muncher’s tummy. Then a fishy,
Full of strange odors, and breaded like the perch,
Subtle in flavour, glazed, and garnished in citrus,
Soft and delightful,
Even in the diner’s mouth. And then the meat
In fair round belly, with good fat lin’d,
With marinade severe, and portion of formal cut,
Full of fine juices, and succulent goodness,
And so it plays its part.
The sixth age shifts
Into the clean and sofa’d sitting room,
With creamed ice in bowls, and cake and pie,
The ruddy glows well display’d, a belly too wide,
Turning again towards the red grape,
And decaf coffee all around. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second helpings or mere oblivion,
With scrapings filling the brown eye’d dog,
Sans meat, sans bread, sans cheese, sans everything.
Dang, leftover half-of-a-porkchop! What the devil am I going to do with you? I am a modern conscientious meat eater, and therefore I feel bad throwing away any part of a noble animal that was sacrificed for my palate. Not only that, but since I try to buy sustainable, you’re freaking expensive– you might not be enough for a meal, but you’re still probably a couple of bucks worth of meat!
I guess I could chop you up and toss you in some rice or soup or something, but surely there’s something more interesting I could do with you– some way I could stretch you out over a few more meals. Wait a second… I know what we should do. We should turn you into a seasoning!
This is a great trick that gives you a little something that adds instant umami to any dish. It’s especially nice if you’re trying to cut down on your meat intake and want to add a little meaty flavor to a dish. The nicest thing is that it contributes to the ethos of ‘waste-not, want-not’– it’s perfect for small-scale quantities of leftover meat that you might otherwise have thrown away.
Next time you make pork or beef* and you have just a little left over, either before or after a meal– grab your chop and slice it crosswise really thin– about 1/4 inch. When you’ve used the entire portion, you can dredge the individual pieces in seasonings, or just leave as-is, depending on your preference. I dredged mine in a mixture of 1 part sea salt, 3 parts chili powder.
Arrange your slices on an oiled rack on an oven pan of your choice, not touching:
Now, here’s the deal: what we’re trying to do is to dry these guys out, but not to the point where they turn into jerky. We want them to have the consistency of a dry hard cheese. What this means is that we’ll need to pay attention to the process and check frequently. This isn’t just something you can stick in the oven and walk away from, because it’ll be different for everybody depending on the initial done-ness of the cut, the seasonings you used, and the vagaries of your oven. This is one of those cases where being specific in the recipe instructions wouldn’t necessarily give you the desired results.
Here’s how I did it:
1. I did not preheat the oven. Once I’d prepped my pan, I placed it in the oven on the second-to-lowest rack and set the temperature to “low broil.” If you don’t have a “low broil” setting, you can probably get away with about 500 degrees.
2. I checked the meat every ten minutes.
3. Since the meat was in the oven as the temperature increased, it lost its liquid very slowly, and allowed me to adjust as needed until the meat was at the perfect consistency. It took about 45 minutes to get where I wanted it– again, about the moisture level of a nice, hard chunk of parmesan, with no charring. This is important.
Because, now that you’re done, you have these nice, hard little nuggets of meat, and you take your microplane grater (if you don’t have one, you’re crazy, but could use the fine side of any old cheese grater), and shred those nuggets down to a dust!
The nice thing is that, since you’ve come pretty close to dehydrating the cut, this stuff’ll last quite some time. You’ll be able to use it on salads, in soups, on rice, on pasta. It’s as spicy as you prefer, and adds a lovely undertone of savory umami to anything you add it to.
Best of all, it means not wasting any of that expensive meat you bought down at the farmer’s market. Sure, you could just buy bacon bits, but those are salty, expensive and overwhelming. You’ve already got a quarter of a cut of pork roast your kid didn’t finish, so why not use it all?
*Theoretically this could work with chicken or fish, but we haven’t tried it yet, so won’t recommend it.
We live on the top of a fairly high ridge in West Seattle, which is surmounted by a line of huge bigleaf maples, each one hundreds of feet tall. They’re striking, and creak in the wind, and generally fantastic to have so close by– majesty of nature, etc. Every year, around this time, they are covered with what must be hundreds of thousands of cute little yellow-green flowers:
I remembered having read somewhere that these blossoms are edible, and quite delicious; however, to find enough for more than just a little taste, one typically has to stumble across them fallen from the tree (or have access to the local ladder engine). This year, however, to my delight, one of the maple branches wast juuusst low enough to allow me to stand on a step-stool and pluck a solid few handfuls of the blossoms.
They fell away quite loosely, and were already sweet to the taste. I just popped the entire cluster off of the end of the branch. Each cluster of blossoms had about thirty tiny flowers covered in yellow pollen. A good few also had soft, underdeveloped leaves that would soon grow into the six-inch wide monsters that give the tree its name.
The entire cluster is edible, and if I’d had enough, I would have put some aside to use on a salad. The flavor is somewhat like honeysuckle crossed with the tiny inner leaves of the artichoke (which makes sense; the artichoke is also an undeveloped flower). They have a slight astringency– almost a “gaminess”– that adds depth to the taste.
I had about a cup and a half of blossoms. Since they’re so naturally sweet, I didn’t want to pickle them in straight white vinegar– I wanted to retain the sweet undertones. I used the following recipe, and the results were fantastic:
- 1 and 1/2 cup maple blossoms – stems and young leaves can be included
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp white sugar
1. Separate the blossoms from the stems and leaves. Retain all parts tender enough to eat.
2. Pack the blossoms/parts into a small (1/4 pint) jar or container. Since this is a quick-pickle that won’t be perserved (unless you can manage to find enough blossoms to make it worthwhile), the jar needs only be clean– no need to boil it or anything.
3. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the vinegar and sugar to a simmer.
4. Pour the hot brine into the jar. Lid, and refrigerate.
That’s all there is to it! They should stay good for two weeks or so.
I’ve been enjoying these on salads, over rice, in stir-fry– a little go a long way. They’re the very definition of piquant, and if I had more, I’d try them on hot dogs instead of relish, or as a topping for a light and flaky pastry of some kind. Ah well; the window for harvesting these guys is pretty short, so now we’ll have to wait until next year.
Plus, as an added bonus this fall, when I’m out in the cold raking the hundreds and hundreds of enormous brown, wet leaves out of our yard, I can raise my fists towards the towering maples above and shout, “I HAVE EATEN YOUR YOUNG!”
This is a great way to use up your leftover brown rice, especially if you just happen to have dried wakame seaweed hanging around the house. What, you don’t usually keep dried seaweed around? Why not?
We also call these either “bluffins,” since they’re kind of a mix between muffins and biscuits, or “seabiscuits,” because that’s kind of funny!
- 2/3 cup dry wakame seaweed, reconstituted (should result in about 2 cups seaweed)
- 2 cups flour
- 1 1/2 cup cooked brown rice
- 2 eggs
- 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt (not Greek)
- 2 tsp powdered buttermilk
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Drain the seaweed thoroughly, squeezing as much excess liquid out as possible. Chop coarsely.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, yogurt and butter together until well-mixed. There may be small lumps, which is fine.
- Add the rice and seaweed to the liquid, once again mixing thoroughly.
- Add the dry ingredients and mix well, until a dough is formed. Add flour as needed. The dough should be clumpy, but should hold together well.
- Grease a standard 12 cup muffin pan (nonstick spray works great!).
- With a large spoon, fill each cup with dough.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until an inserted fork comes out clean.
Seabiscuits are good with any meal, as a savory accompaniment to pretty much any dish, breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack time!
3 days to go, 18 backers, $866 pledged! We still have $2134 to go– if you’ve been thinking of backing, now’s the time to do it.
And, of course, thanks a ZILLION to everyone who has backed so far! Regardless of whether we end up making the goal, we’ll be thanking our backers with a concrete prize of some kind (as yet to be determined…).
Now then– are you in?
1. Food and cooking are deceptively simple acts that are encountered by everyone, every day, and everyone has his or her own opinion on just what tastes good. However, as with effective spiritual practice, good cuisine requires both intelligence and wisdom, both individual experience and a willingness to trust the classics and the experts. Instead of The Gospels or the Dhammapada, you’ve got Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Instead of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, you’ve got Harold Mcgee.
2. Sure, people can cook without ever having cracked open a book on the subject. Some people can cook intuitively with very little need for recipes or measurements, but the food they cook tastes so good because of the processes described in the books they don’t read. If I intuit that searing a lamb shank and then slow-roasting it in liquid makes for a delicious lamb shank, it doesn’t make my process any more “valid” than a recipe for “Braised Lamb Shank” in The Joy of Cooking. Studying what the experts have to say give you a foundation for your own practice.
3. This doesn’t mean you have to follow what Jacques Pepin says to a “t”– indeed, the best instructors are the ones who teach you how to improvise every now and again. But, this improvisation isn’t “making stuff up,” it’s personalization. Myths are recipes for spiritual practice, and deviating from them here and there should be encouraged. However, you can’t make hollandaise sauce using rum and tuna fish, any more than you can make enlightenment using Ken Wilbur and ayahuasca.
4. Just as with spiritual practice, if you don’t try to figure out what you’re doing when you’re cooking something, you’re gonna end up screwing up. You can substitute baking soda for baking powder all you want because you think it’ll work, but you’re gonna end up with some nasty cookies. And you’ve got a bunch of nonsense out there, too– no matter how many dumb jerks in restaurants are trying to pass off tilapia as Chilean Sea Bass, there’s a huge difference for those who choose to take the time to understand it.
5. Cooking depends to a great extent on the imperfection of the world, on the need to kill to survive, no matter if you’re killing animals or plants. Nonetheless, it’s also the perfect example of the spiritual seed hidden in all things that can manifest in the simplest form: a perfect brioche, a melt-in-your-mouth grilled sirloin, a piece of raw salmon wrapped in a thin layer of nori.
6. There’s a reason so many food critics describe eating as a “revelation,” or “sublime.” As far as I’m concerned, if the flavor of the tenderest slow-cooked forkful of corned beef with a little caramelized carrot and potato isn’t enlightenment, I don’t know what is. For you, it might be the first bite into a hand-picked tomato fresh off the vine, or a swallow of a perfect Italian vino rosso that doesn’t even have a label.