Thursday, November 27, 2008

CSA week one - my Thanksgiving meal

I'm not visiting family this year so I thought I'd make a little thematically appropriate dinner for myself. Mainly, I wanted to try making a green bean casserole. As I mentioned in a previous post I've never had it before but I've known about it for decades and I've been curious what the big deal was. I used the Good Eats recipe; it says "Best Ever" right there in the name and the many reviewers agree so I was sold. Maybe I should have used canned ingredients to get the authentic experience, though.

I didn't make any major changes to the recipe beyond halving it, changing to an 8" cast iron to accommodate, and fixing the thoughtless oversight of not including any bacon.

Here's my slightly modified version:


For the topping:

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Nonstick cooking spray

For beans and sauce:

  • 1 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 pound fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and halved
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 thick-cut slices of smoked bacon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half


Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

Combine the onions, flour, panko and salt in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Coat a sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray and evenly spread the onions on the pan. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Toss the onions 2 to 3 times during cooking. Once done, remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use. Turn the oven down to 400 degrees F.

[This is not nearly as easy as Alton Brown makes it sound (and again the reviewers agree). My onions stuck badly, despite a well oiled pan, so tossing didn't work so well and I lost maybe a third of the onions to burning and much of the rest didn't get the contact with the pan they needed to crisp up. I should have used my non-stick cookie sheet instead of a glass baking dish.]

While the onions are cooking, prepare the beans. Bring a gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil in an 8-quart saucepan. Add the beans and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in an 8-inch cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, bacon, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and nutmeg and continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer for 1 minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the half-and-half. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6 to 8 minutes.

[I should have crisped the bacon first, removed it from the pan, cooked the mushrooms and added the bacon back in with the green beans. As it was, the bacon, while adding good flavor, was kind of flabby. I forget to adjust for the thick cut of the bacon I've been buying recently.]

Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 of the onions and all of the green beans. Top with the remaining onions. Place into the oven and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

[And you'd better serve immediately because it's good for five minutes while it's bubbling hot and then it rapidly fades in quality. When it's just warm, the textures get kind of icky. Personally, I would have liked a shorter blanch on the green beans so they'd stay a little crisp, but maybe that's just because my onions weren't. I think both the flavors and textures were best out of the refrigerator the next day. Although neither were really any great shakes; it's beans, onions and mushrooms in a cream sauce. The smokiness of the bacon was a nice addition to that, I think ,but still this is probably a dish enjoyed more out of tradition than for it's own sake.]

Anyway, that's the side dish; I still need some poultry for a proper Thanksgiving. Cornish game hen is a popular choice for those dining solo on this day, but I think it looks rather sad on a little roasting dish in the toaster oven. In an aside at the end of a how-to-cook-your-Turkey TV special I saw Alton Brown cook one in a panini press (probably standing in for a George Forman Grill which is likely far more common in American homes). I haven't got one, but I thought I might be able to cook it the same way I cook grilled cheese sandwiches without one.

Step one is to spatchcock the bird. From what I read on-line that's the same as butterflying, but I suspect there's some subtle distinction in arrangement of the limbs afterwards that I'm missing. I've decided I prefer the word 'spatchcock' so that's what I'm saying from now on. That's simply cutting out the backbone, slicing the meat away from the keelbone, flipping the bird over and flattening it out. That's generally followed by seasoning and oiling both sides. In this case I used the Gullah baked chicken seasoning blend I bought when I passed through the Carolinas last year which gives a good straightforward southern cooking flavor to a bird.

Step two is to heat two cast iron pans over high heat for five minutes or so. I don't know why my camera couldn't capture the cherry red of the back burner you can see there. It would be nice to have burners that could get white hot, though.

Once the pans were piping hot I lightly oiled the large one, turned down the heat to medium high, laid out the hen skin-side up, put the small pan on top (with it's hot bottom against the hen), put my heavy cast iron pot lid on top and squished it down. It took a bit under 20 minutes to cook through and since the small pan cooled I flipped the bird a couple times.

The results are rather better than I expected from a novelty cooking method: crispy browned skin and flavorful not-too-dry (although not noticably juicy either. Maybe I should have brined it.) meat.

And that's my Thanksgiving meal. If I had thought of it, I would have gotten a can of cranberry sauce too. To be honest, I prefer the canned to the fresh. Instead I had a couple chunks of membrillo--the Spanish quince paste that's traditionally paired with manchego cheese. The combination didn't make sense to me at first but it's grown on me over time. I suppose cranberry sauce with turkey makes just as little obvious sense. Membrillo is chewier and not as tart as canned cranberry sauce, but it substituted fine. I considered roasting some turnips and then mashing them up, but I decided to save them for stock which I'll post about tomorrow.

1 comment:

kat said...

Looks like you made yourself a nice meal. To me the green bean casserole is really just a vehicle for fried onions