Day Two: Green Bean Casserole

I don’t make anything fancy for Thanksgiving.  I like, and my family likes, a good homey kind of Thanksgiving.   One that we have eaten in some iteration for as long as I can remember.

I figured out a long time ago my food is far better when I don’t try to hide behind fancy.  Don’t get me wrong I like fancy and I enjoy cooking gourmet meals but in my early days of cooking I would hide behind fancy instead of doing the hard work of using good culinary methods and sourcing quality ingredients.  If you do the later homey becomes fancy and incredibly delicious.

My definition of quality ingredients has varied over the years but I think I have finally landed squarely in the Jacques Pépin camp.  What I like about Chef Pépin is he uses what is best in the moment.  Summer fruits in winter? To which I am quite certain he would say,  don’t be afraid to use frozen because they more than likely taste far better than anything in the fresh produce department.  I feel the same way about green beans.  I didn’t always, but a well sourced bag of frozen Frenched green beans far out ways the hassle of blanching fresh beans and frozen is worlds ahead of canned.

I provide the usual suspects at my Thanksgiving table, like this casserole, but I choose my ingredients and cooking methods carefully so as to get the best out of each dish.  In the recipe I call for making a velouté, a mother sauce in the culinary world.  (For folks around Indianapolis of the right age and if you ever ate at the LS Ayres tea room you will more than likely know this sauce as Chicken Velvet Soup.  There, the secret is out, I just taught you how to make chicken velvet soup using this green bean casserole recipe, simply leave out vegetables and you have it or, for that matter, leave in the onion, carrots, and celery.)

For Thanksgiving, this is a dish where I would have all the ingredients ready in advance.  If I felt the need I would get it into the casserole dish on Wednesday but I would leave off the potato chips or onions, until right before I am going to bake it in the oven.

2 TBS. unsalted butter

2 ½  TBS. all purpose flour

⅔ C. yellow onion, minced

½ C. celery, minced

1 ½ C. chicken broth, unsalted (or turkey stock-hint, hint)

2 TBS. heavy cream

1 pound frozen Frenched green beans, thawed in a colander to drain excess water

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

2 oz. potato chips, crumbled (you can use crispy onions here too)

 

  1. Place a medium sized heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.  Add butter and let it melt.
  2. When the butter has melted add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to make a roux/paste.   Stir constantly but gently until the butter/flour mixture smells like popcorn and turns from yellow to golden.
  3. Add onions and celery.   The roux will clump up around the vegetables.   Cook the vegetables for 3 minutes.
  4. Add the broth to the pot, turn the heat to high, and stir continuously until the liquid comes to a boil and thickens.   
  5. Reduce the heat to low and allow the sauce to cook and thicken.   Taste, add pepper and salt, stir, and taste again.
  6. Combine the sauce with the beans and spread into a buttered gratin.   Spread the crumbled chips over the top and bake at 375F for 35 minutes or until bubbly and brown.
  7. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

 

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Bar Pizza—It’s What You Crave

There has never been a more one-of-a-kind pizza like the bar pizza.  For the most part they are never good,  many times they are awful, but that has never stopped anybody from ordering one. Patrons order them because they are drinking.  Combine it with hunger and it makes these pizzas far better then they would ever be if a shot of better judgement was in hand.  Without exception a bar pizza reigns over the pink pickled eggs languishing in the murky liquid of the large glass jar back by the whisky.  Bar pizzas are also infinitely better then the microwavable cups of Spaghetti-Os or the burritos ensconced in a cardboard tortilla.  Even so, that doesn’t make them good. Continue reading →

Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

Is it the heat in August, or the midday cicadas—grinding, grinding, grinding—that reminds me of the time of year?  The horizon, corn pollen and gravel dust, is smudged.  This is the first August I can ever remember going outside after lunch to find it refreshing instead of repressing.  The sun is as bright as on a crisp fall afternoon and the humidity is nowhere to be found—grinding, grinding, grinding.

I like to hear the corn grow and without the humidity there is nothing from which the growing pains can echo.  An ambulance, siren blaring, leaves town.  The sirens grow louder until the emergency vehicle turns north on the state highway.  The sirens begin to fade.

It has been like this all summer and  I am being robbed.  I like the heat.  It is the humidity and heat that makes my vegetables grow.  I have nothing growing in my garden this year.  By rights I should be eating okra.  I should have so much zucchini I have to feed it to the chickens.  I should be looking forward to garden succotash and fried chicken but my lima beans died long ago in the continual down pours of early spring. I should be picking fresh field peas and pole beans but I never even got the baskets down from the cabinet.  I should be cutting sweet corn from the cob and freezing it.

I rock gently in an easy chair on the front porch and eat a pimento cheese sandwich.  From out across the fields I can hear the announcer for the high school football game calling plays.  I think back to all my first days back at school.  I feel the butterflies in my stomach,  another summer grows quite.

 

Pimento Cheese

(Makes 2 cups)

3 cups cheddar cheese, grated (about an 8oz. block)

2 teaspoons yellow onion, grated on a micro plane

3 tablespoons jarred pimentos plus 1 tablespoon pimento juice

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Nathan’s mustard

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon Tabasco sriracha

1 tablespoon ketchup

fresh ground black pepper to taste

  1. Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Stir gently with a spoon until everything is combined.  Let sit for an hour before serving.  Store in the refrigerator tightly covered.

 

Pressure Cookers + Chicken and Dumplings

Next to farm fresh brown eggs, nothing conjures up an image of the farmhouse kitchen quite like the site of a pressure cooker. It’s Rockwellian in that it brings to mind iconic images of the aproned farmer’s wife peeling home grown carrots at the counter while on the stove behind her sits a huge pot-like contraption whistling and blowing steam through a small whole in its lid.

The image leaves you with a feeling of wholesomeness much like homemade whole wheat bread. It’s as if the pressure cooker does something magical that only the farmer’s wife knows. After all, for some reason, we always equate wholesome home cooking with the country kitchen. Continue reading →

Barbecue Chicken Pizza (+ How You Should Think About Prep)

 

This recipe is a throwback. It was extremely popular in the 1990s — along with duck confit and tuna steaks, seared rare. I still see it now and again on menus, but it has largely disappeared due to overexposure; we became bored with it simply because it was everywhere.

But, it’s been long enough. Let’s dust off the recipe for barbecue chicken pizza and give it another taste. I can practically make this pizza in my sleep — it was a bar special at a restaurant I worked in, and I made so many of them that I still have dreams about it.

I also realize that I no longer cook like I did at the restaurant. I only have four mouths to feed at home, and the prep for any given dish needs to be relatively quick.

As such, I’m a firm believer in this theory: If you are going to take the time to make one of something, you might as well make two or more. This belief holds water especially when it comes to baked potatoes, doughs, and most of all, whole chickens.

To save time, it also helps to organize and think like a chef — this involves weekly menu planning and daily ingredient prep.These simple steps help me to run an efficient home kitchen, reduce overall waste, and improve time management. Before I adopted this philosophy, I wasted an awful lot of time.

I still cook what I want, but I make those decisions on Monday when I menu plan. Ultimately, I aim to complete the prep work for five meals while cooking the first three dinners of the week. That means that planning ahead can be a lesson in patience: If I want to eat this pizza, I have to wait until the end of the week when most of the prep is done. But once you are in the habit of planning ahead, you’ll find yourself with more time — and better dinners.

Barbecue Chicken Pizza

Author Notes: I make my own pizza dough, and I always make enough for two to three pizzas. I divide the dough into portions after the first rise and freeze what I don’t want to use immediately. When I want to use the frozen dough, I simply thaw it (this counts as the second rise), roll it out, and assemble the pizza. This particular dough is based on Alice Waters’ recipe from “Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, and Calzone”. It is the same dough I always use and trust.

Makes one 10 x 12-inch pizza

3/4 cups warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cup bread flour
1 tablespoon whole milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 1/2 to 3 cups mixed onions, sliced
2 cups shredded chicken
1 1/2 cup Gouda (some people like smoked Gouda but I find it too strong)
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
1 to 2 serrano peppers, sliced into thin rounds
1/2 cup Memphis-style barbecue sauce
Olive oil, for sautéing the onions
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1. Combine the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer or mixing bowl. Let the yeast dissolve, then add the rest of the ingredients. Use the dough attachment on a stand mixer (or a heavy-duty wooden spoon) and mix the dough until smooth; add more flour if the dough seems too wet, but don’t add more than a 1/4 cup at a time. Place the dough on the counter and knead until smooth and elastic. Place the dough into a bowl, cover it with a damp, warm towel, and let it rise for 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

2. Punch the dough down and knead it for a minute. Divide the dough in two, place one half in a plastic bag, and freeze it. Place the remaining piece back into the bowl, cover with the damp towel, and let it rise for another hour.

3. While the dough is rising for the second time, place a sauté pan over medium heat. Add a glug or two of olive oil to the pan and then add the onions. Let the onions wilt, get gooey, and caramelize slowly. Remove them from the heat.

4. After the second rise, remove the dough from the bowl and flatten it out into a small disk. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

5. Heat your oven to 500° F. This is a good time to use your pizza stone; if you don’t have one, use a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.

6. Roll the dough into a 12- by 10-inch square, place it onto a piece of parchment paper, then put it onto a peel or sheet tray. Pour 1/3 cup of BBQ sauce onto the center of the dough. Working from the middle and, using the back of a spoon, spread it in a spiral motion until the sauce reaches the edges of the dough.

7. Combine the remaining BBQ sauce with the shredded chicken and stir until the chicken is evenly coated.

8. Spread a layer of red onions onto the pizza, followed by the chicken, Gouda, mozzarella, and finally, the serranos. Sprinkle some freshly ground pepper and salt over everything, then slide the pizza onto the stone.

9. Reduce the heat to 450° F. Bake for 15 minutes. Once it has browned to your liking, remove the pizza from the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes before cutting. Top with cilantro and parsley and serve.

Small Batch Barbacoa Beef for Tacos

DSCF4507There is something about big hunks of meat cooked over long periods at low heat that appeals to us at a very basic level. Pit-cooking traditions like hog roasts, barbacoa, and luaus aren’t just barbecues — they’re celebrations. They conjure up visions of earthen pits and long buffet tables with folding chairs, all set up for a multitude of guests.

This kind of cooking takes judgement and practice, though, so unless you host these kinds of events on a regular basis, you’re more than likely cooking blind. After all, you probably aren’t buying a whole lamb or calf more than a couple times a year. It could take you a few years to get it right. Continue reading →