This Ain't Yer Mama's Green Bean Casserole

We're well into November, and just a few short years ago that would have meant a whole lot of nothing to me. I would have been focusing on tailgate parties, recovering from Halloween, and buying a plane ticket so I could fly to my sister's in Dallas and lay on her couch for the entirety of the Thanksgiving weekend.

Getting married meant that my days of laissez faire attitudes about holiday planning are over. I have two additional sets of parents to factor into the mix. It means that I can no longer be the baby of the family and expect everyone else to do the lion's share of the cooking and planning and cleaning and executing of the holiday hoo-ha.

It also means that I should be moving toward creating some family traditions of our own; things that I know the Nugget will grow up hearing about, remembering, and looking forward to as the years go by. I have a few years to establish and perfect all this, because he's not even one. To him, Christmas and Thanksgiving are less exciting than a good poo.

And, it means that I will probably be having to host my own Thanksgivings from here on out, with Mr. Meat and Potatoes' family. And all of this means I need to begin to perfect some of my own Thanksgiving recipes.

I asked some of my friends what their favorite dishes for Turkey day were, and I got quite a few answers, most of which included vast amounts of butter and sugar. I love butter and sugar. Still, we can't have just that for Thanksgiving, much as I'd like to. So today's article will focus on side dishes and the bird itself, and next week we'll dig into the dessert part of the show.

I get tired of the same old same old on Thanksgiving and Christmas. If I ever see another green bean casserole, I'll probably hurl. Still, some things are non-negotiable. You have to have turkey, and you have to have mashed potatoes. You also have to have dressing, but at least you can mess up your dressing with some interesting ingredients, like oysters or brie or cornbread or something. Still, I wanted some dishes that were new to our turkey table, but still had a Thanksgiving-y feel to them.

First, I came up with this:

Leek and Bacon Tart

1 pie crust
8 strips of bacon, cut into small pieces
2 lbs leeks, just the green part
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sage
1 tsp marjoram
1 tsp cracked black pepper
6 large eggs
1 C half and half
1/2 C sour cream

1) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line your tart dish or pie pan with the crust. Or, you can do it free form, (also called a galette) which ends up looking really rustic and cool.

2) Cook the bacon until it's firm but not crispy. Remove it from the pan but leave the grease it rendered.

3) Cut the green parts of the leeks into small pieces, and saute them in the bacon fat until they are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

4) Beat the eggs in a medium sized bowl until they are broken up, and then add the half and half and sour cream. If you can get creme fraiche, it's good instead of sour cream, but I can't usually be bothered with creme fraiche.

5) Arrange the bacon and leeks on the bottom of the pie crust, and then pour the custard mix over it. Bake for 20 minutes or until the custart has gotten firm and golden brown.

This will amaze and impress your inlaws, and if you are like me you'll have to explain what a leek is to your husband.

Also, if you are like me, your husband will be really disappointed if he doesn't get his green bean casserole. But, since I can't bring myself to open a can of cream of mushroom soup on Thanksgiving, why don't we try to whip up a green bean casserole that is, oh, I don't know... FRESH?

Updated Green Bean Casserole

For the topping:
One recipe of The Pioneer Woman's onion strings.

For the beans and sauce:
1.5 lbs fresh green beans, ends snapped off
1 C mushrooms, sliced
1 T olive oil
3 T butter
3 T flour
2 C milk or half and half
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp nutmeg

1) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Also, bring a large pot of water to a boil.

2) When your water is boiling, dump in your beans for about 5 minutes to blanche.

3) While the beans blanch, heat the butter in a saucepan until melted, and then add the flour to make a "roux". Once you have your flour/butter base stirred together, begin adding milk in small increments and stir wildly with a wisk to avoid lumps. Let the white sauce thicken, and add salt, pepper, and nutmeg for flavor. Also, if you have some chicken or beef broth around, you could sub some for part of the milk for extra flavor.

4) In a small saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, and saute the mushrooms and garlic until they are tender. Salt and pepper to taste.

5) Place the drained beans and mushrooms into a 9 x 13 casserole dish and pour the white sauce over. Heat through, and then start on your onion strings while it bakes.

6) Place the onion strings "artfully" over the green beans before serving.

I have to say, this recipe makes my soul sing with joy for being released from cream of mushroom soup captivity.

One thing I always find troublesome on Thanksgiving is lack of oven space. I mean, you really do need two ovens if you are going to do a turkey, bread, stuffing, vegetable casseroles, pies, yada yada yada. So if it can be done in the microwave, I am not above it. My friend Trina suggests this sweet potato recipe and ASSURES us that we should not be afraid; the microwave will not hurt your taters one little bit. I have to agree with her that this is a desirable method, particularly on turkey day.

Trina's Sweet Taters

Casserole portion:
6TB butter
2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

In a 2qt glass or microwavable casserole dish, microwave butter until melted. Combine other ingredients. Cover with wax paper and microwave on high for 8-10 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes until the mixture is firm.

For the casserole topping:
3/4 cup of crushed corn flakes
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
6TB butter - room temperature

Combine dry ingredients and cut in butter. Sprinkle over the firm sweet potato mixture and heat on high for 2 minutes until the topping (really just the butter) is melted.

About the turkey. We've tried many different methods over the years. To use a bag or not to use a bag? Fry the turkey? Inject it?

After much ado, we have decided that while a fried turkey usually tastes great and it saves your oven space and a lot of time, there are two big deal breakers if you ask me. The first is that you have to buy a lot of very expensive peanut oil in which to fry it. Secondly, you don't get any glorious turkey dripping with which to make the glorious turkey gravy. Really, I am not a huge fan of turkey, but I LOVE turkey gravy. So Thanksgiving without the good, real-deal turkey gravy is pretty much a wash for me.

What we did decide, was that the best way to get the greatest amount of flavor for the littlest money was to brine the turkey, and then cook it in the bag. You can use whatever you want to brine, but I usually do the following:

1 C kosher salt 1/2 gallon water 1/2 gallon apple cider 10 lbs ice

You need to cook your salt and liquids on the stove until everything is dissolved, and then let it cook completely. The night before thanksgiving, put your turkey, the brining liquid, and the ice into an appropriate container (we usually use a cooler), and set it out in the garage or somewhere cool to absorb that liquid over night. Then cook the turkey on Thanksgiving morning according to the standard directions. I think a bag helps, too.

Here's wishing you plenty of wine and a happy Thanksgiving in advance. Next week: Desserts!


chewyfally 13 years, 1 month ago

That sweet taters recipe looks amazing! At our family Thanksgiving dinners, Orange Jello-O marshmallow salad has been a fixture for years. I thought it might have been a Midwestern thing. Do you hear a lot about jello-o salads at Midwestern Thanksgiving dinners?

Megan Green Stuke 13 years, 1 month ago

My mother always made a jello "salad" for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Usually it was a frozen whipped concoction. My sister makes a 12 layer Jello that I will publish the recipe for next week. It's AMAZING.

chewyfally 13 years ago

Wooot! I love me some Jell-O salad.

rivercitymom 13 years ago

Thanks for the recipes!

I've been wondering if turkey bags are safe. Does the plastic leach into the food?

I've always hated that canned "cranberry jelly." It looks horrible and tastes worse. When I started doing my own Thanksgivings, I learned an amazing thing: you can buy a beautiful little bag of real cranberries in the produce section, follow the very easy recipe on the back (or look online for a myriad of others) and have an awesome cranberry dish that looks very pretty on the table and provides just that little taste of tartness.

Megan Green Stuke 13 years ago

We skip the cranberry canned goo and make a cranberry "relish" that I learned from my sister.

1/2 bag fresh cranberries 1 orange (peel and all) 1.5 C granulated sugar

Toss it all in your food processor and give it a good pulse or two. Don't puree - you want it to have texture.

Megan Green Stuke 13 years ago

I suppose with all the talk about plastic risks I can see your point about the bags, but I will throw caution to the wind and do it anyway. ;)

Megan Green Stuke 13 years ago

Er, I think there is also supposed to be an apple in that relish. I'd probably peel it, but that's just me.

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