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.

 

Advertisements

Day One: My Turkey Stock Recipe

It’s my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving is.

Amy is lying down and not feeling good when I walk into the bedroom to ask if she wants to have Thanksgiving dinner at our house this year.   She hesitates, not saying what we both already know, about how we are planning to put the house up for sale,  but by the look in her eyes I know she wants too so I jump in and tell her I think we should and she agrees. Continue reading

Dinner Rolls and a Bonus Southern White Loaf

I have been, and will continue to be a believer in simple good recipes that follow great technique.  I often feel as though complicated directions and hard to find ingredients set us up for disappointment and failure. Don’t get me wrong.  I understand the law of diminishing return.  That today’s worlds best recipe will be boring tomorrow.

We need to search out new tastes, techniques and flavors but it is also important to return to the classics.  For me, I also like to share my childhood favorites with my children.  These rolls are a part of me.  They connect me to my past, and by sharing them, they connect me to my children. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Turkey

Hen and Tom Broad Breasted Bronze As with anything in cooking there are many ways to cook a turkey. It is only limited by your imagination. Beer can, the Louisiana Turducken, deep fried, you name it and someone has attempted it, some with better results then others. Simply put, I am from the midwest. When it comes to the holidays I want to know what I am getting into. On the holidays I don’t like change, I am good with tradition and see no need to break with it. Continue reading

Shoofly Pie, with or without gluten

Shoofly Pie

In the dessert world, there is a whole mess of what I like to call pantry pies: pecan, pumpkin, the chess family, derby, custards (like sugar cream), and last but not least, shoofly (or its aliases: shoo-fly, molasses, sorghum, or Montgomery). All of them are good with coffee, exceptional for breakfast, and of course, we all know that they are standards at the Thanksgiving table. 

The least known of this group is the shoofly. While most have heard of it, few, I will wager, have eaten it. Maybe it’s all the molasses, which can be overwhelming, or maybe it’s because it isn’t much known outside of Pennsylvania Dutch country and a few select pockets of the South. Continue reading

Dinner Rolls

Dinner Rolls

First off don’t ask the host where they bought them. I mean, please, that is like rolling up a wet towel and smacking someone in the ass. It is the exact same insult as asking someone where they bought their meat after they have served you and you have eaten the best steak of your life. People do it to cooks all the time. I want to tell them it was road kill an hour ago. To those that do this do you understand what you are saying. Do I need to explain it is not a compliment to tell someone, “anyone could do what you just did as long as they know the right place to shop.” I know there was a time when this might have been a compliment but I still haven’t figured out when that was .

And you say but Tom this is about dinner rolls not steak. Your right. OK. Dinner rolls. There is no such thing as a quick roll. No, be quiet. Let me finish, please, hear me out. My definition and understanding of quick rolls isn’t that they are any easier to make but just means a lack of prior planning. I don’t mean by you but by the person who called it a quick roll. It isn’t any easier to make a quick roll, you still have to mix the dough, let it rise, usually twice, but after the second rise you bake it. What a quick roll lacks is time, not less effort. This is what is important. This is the step that separates the baker from the apprentice, a quick roll from a great roll. After the first rise let the dough rest overnight in the refrigerator. You need to know that the amylase rest overnight in the refrigerator helps to convert more starch to sugar and this step is what gives bread a deeper taste and a beautiful crust color. When bread dough is in the right hands it goes from a bland communion biscuit to manna from heaven.

Southern cooks, for example, have for centuries been more passionate about their bread products than most. Take Edna Lewis’s Yeast Rolls from Sponge Batter in her book A Taste of Country Cooking. It is a potato roll that is made over the course of two days. If you read the recipe it is more than “just a recipe.” This is a total act of submission, not to the dough, and is a huge gesture of respect for her dinner guests and a desire to serve them the best. Look how beautifully she writes her directions, “After setting overnight the sponge will be aromatic and light as sea foam..” Sea foam, what a perfect way to describe a starter, could it be any more visual. You can feel the love Edna Lewis has for her dinner guests in her recipes, without even tasting her food, you know it is going to be spectacular.

On the other hand, the other day I was looking for a kids show on PBS for Vivian when I came across Cooks Country. I saw Christopher Kimball doing his test kitchen science and talking about rolls with one of the researchers on the show. They did an audience taste test of frozen store bought rolls and they snuck in a homemade roll that fell flat against the store bought. I wanted to know more about the home made roll. Who made it? How was it made? ( actually I was thinking if Kimball’s staff can’t bake a better roll than a store bought roll and this is the best Kimball can do then why on Gods green earth would I want to use his recipes.) Then I thought why would a show like Cooks Country do this? Hasn’t country cooking always stood for home made. Then it dawned on me, the reality is most people don’t care until they are actually eating a really good roll made by someone who cared enough to make it right. I don’t know, maybe I am weird, maybe I care to much, but I guess I look at the world of food and eating a little differently than most people. I guess I look at dinner rolls as part of the foreplay of passionate and great meals. Need I say more, or should I just finish with take your time, there is always room for improvement, it takes practice, and don’t let anyone tell you it is not worth the effort and if they do you might want to divorce them from your guest list.

MAKES 9

1/4 cup water, body temperature

1 teaspoon dry active yeast

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt, heaping, if you use a fine grind salt only use 1/2 teaspoon

3 tablespoons raw wheat germ, toasted in a saute pan until nutty smelling

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened, plus some for brushing the rolls

2 large eggs

1. In the bowl of a mixer add the water and sprinkle in the yeast and let it bloom.

2. Once it has dissolved add the rest of the ingredients adding the butter last. Save the butter wrapper.

3. Using a dough hook mix the dough until it becomes elastic. Sit tight on adding any water the dough looks dry but it takes some time for the butter and eggs to hydrate the flour.

4. It should form a loose ball and pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. Remove the dough from the bowl and kneed it a few times until it is smooth and elastic.

5. Grease the inside of the bowl wiping it with the reserved butter wrapper.

6. Place the dough into the bowl and cover the bowl with a warm damp towel or plastic wrap and set it in a warm place. Just above room temp is fine. Set a timer for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.

7. Punch down the dough. Divide it into 9 equal pieces. Using the palm of your hand and rolling in a circular motion roll the pieces of dough into nine balls.

8. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit into a 9 x 9 inch cake pan and place it on the bottom of the pan. Place the rolls into the pan keeping a little space between them. Cover them loosely with plastic wrap and put them into the fridge.

9. The next day remove them from the fridge and let them slow rise until they get to room temperature or have doubled from the original size from the day before.

10. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake the rolls for 15 minutes and then brush them liberally with butter. bake them another 15 minutes until the tops are golden brown and delicious. Remove them from the oven and let them cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving.