The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas gets most of the attention around this time of the year, but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I can’t imagine anything better than kicking off the season with a cozy celebration of family, food, traditions (both old and new) and giving thanks for all of our blessings. Having lived away from both our families these past 9 years, I cherish every holiday we get to travel home, Nick’s work schedule permitting, to be with our loved ones. This year, we get to spend Thanksgiving (or Thanksmas) in Omaha with Nick’s family and Christmas with mine in Southern California. Like last year, we also hope to be able to have a mini-Thanksgiving at some point with just the two of us, so I have an excuse to cook the traditional dinner!

So let’s get to the good stuff: the food! I love seeing people share their recipes and traditions during Thanksgiving. After all, food is love. What are your favorites? For some, Thanksgiving means turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing. In the Wegner household, the traditional lime-green pear jello dessert from his mother’s side of the family makes an appearance at the table every Thanksgiving. During Nick’s first Thanksgiving with my family, I tried making it so he could feel like he had a little piece of home with him. Every person in my family was initially horrified at the sight of it- neon, creamy green in the clear glass bowl (there really isn’t much you can do to make this jello look pretty) but soon everyone, to their surprise, fell in love with its sweet refreshing taste after the first cautious bite. I even caught my late Grandma Sue covertly licking the last remnants off the serving spoon when we were clearing up at the end of the meal. To this day, if we are celebrating Thanksgiving in California, my relatives still request I make it and it’s now an official entry in our family cookbook as the “Greteman Lime Pear Jello.”

Nick’s favorite Thanksgiving food is his mother’s stuffing, which I try to replicate every year but can’t get quite right yet. My personal favorite dish at Thanksgiving is the oft-maligned green bean casserole. The Campbells Soup and French Onion kind, I totally admit without shame. Yes it’s not fancy and the cream of mushroom soup is kind of scary to pry out of the can but I know countless others (though they may not want to admit it), who like me, LOVE and look forward to its comforting deliciousness every year. Sometimes I’ll make a green bean casserole with fresh green beans and eat it for the week, that’s how much I love it.

If you’re looking for a homemade version, Deb Perelman of the wonderful Smitten Kitchen blog, wrote a post for green bean casserole this week that was adapted from an Alton Brown recipe. Ms. Perelman (and Alton Brown) rarely make a misstep, so I can’t wait to try it. And it can all be done in one skillet! Score.

I should also mention that Nick loooves canned cranberry sauce (it doesn’t take much to please these Wegners it seems!) I’ve included Alton Brown’s homemade cranberry sauce below. Maybe this is the year we finally fancify our favorite dishes!

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels this week, everyone!

Photo by the Smitten Kitchen

Photo by the Smitten Kitchen

Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions
Adapted a little from Alton Brown and a little from trial-and-error

Serves 6, or more if you: a) have a lot of sides on the table, which I bet you will, or b) use the higher amount (1.5 pounds) of green beans

Crispy Onions
2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons panko or plain breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Canola, safflower, peanut or other high-heat oil, for deep-frying

Mushroom Sauce
3 tablespoons butter
12 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced or coarsely chopped
Few gratings fresh nutmeg (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon table salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

Assembly
1 to 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed and halved (see note about volume)

Make the crispy onions: Toss onion with flour, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Heat a 1/2-inch or so of oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet until a drop of water flicked into it will hiss and sputter. Add onions, just a handful at a time in something close to a single layer, and fry until a light golden brown (they’ll get more color in the oven; I overcooked mine a bit, forgetting this). Remove with a spider or large slotted spoon, let oil drip off a little, back into the skillet, then spread onions out on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining onions. Set aside until needed; this makes a lot.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Prepare the beans: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and boil greens for 5 minutes (for standard green beans) or 2 to 3 minutes (for haricot vert, or skinny ones). Drain beans, then plunge them into ice water to full stop them from cooking. Drain again, and set aside. (If you are adamant about only using one pot, you can boil them in your 12-inch cast iron skillet that you use for the other steps. But a saucepan can be easier.)

Make the mushroom sauce: Over medium-high heat, melt butter in the bottom of a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and saute them until they start releasing their liquid, anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how they were chopped. Add the garlic and saute one minute more. Add the flour and stir it until it fully coats the mushrooms. Add the broth, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring the whole time. Simmer mixture for 1 minute, then add cream and bring back to a simmer, cooking until the sauce thickens a bit, about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently.

Assemble and bake: Add cooked greens beans to sauce and stir until they are coated. Sprinkle crispy onions over the top. Bake for 15 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and onions are a shade darker. Eat at once.

Do ahead, a few ways: Onions can be made long in advance (up to a day) and keep at room temperature, loosely wrapped (they’d get soggy in an airtight container). Green beans can be cooked and kept in fridge until needed, at least one day. Green beans can also be combined with mushroom sauce and kept refrigerated for up to a day. Add onions and bake shortly before serving. Finally, it’s less ideal, but the entire dish can be cooked, loosely wrapped (so the crispy top doesn’t get soggy) and then rewarmed in a low oven before serving. Just keep an eye on the topping so it doesn’t get too brown while reheating.

Cranberry Sauce
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2007
Prep Time:
10 min
Inactive Prep Time:
6 hr 0 min
Cook Time:
20 minLevel:
EasyServes:
6 to 8 servingsIngredients1 pound fresh cranberries, approximately 4 cups
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup 100 percent cranberry juice, not cocktail
1 cup honeyDirectionsWash the cranberries and discard any that are soft or wrinkled.Combine the orange juice, cranberry juice and honey in a 2 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cranberries and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries burst and the mixture thickens. Do not cook for more than 15 minutes as the pectin will start to break down and the sauce will not set as well. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.Carefully spoon the cranberry sauce into a 3 cup mold. Place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to overnight.To unmold and serve, immerse bottom of mold in hot water for 10 to 15 seconds and turn upside down on plate or serving dish. If necessary, carefully run a warm knife around the edge of the mold.

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