Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lightened Up Green Bean Casserole

It will come as a surprise to no one when I tell you that I am a big fan of Thanksgiving. Besides being a holiday whose sole purpose is the celebrate food (let’s face it, that whole giving thanks concept is just an excuse to stuff our faces...and I’m okay with that), it’s one of only two holidays where my whole family generally congregates together - the other being our Passover seder, which I consider Thanksgiving for Jews (plus singing!). I love family congregation! Which is why I also never miss a wedding, graduation, or other fun family party.

Due to my current reduced circumstances, Husband and I decided to forgo travel this year and just stay at home. Thankfully our families are awesome - his parents (and their canine companion), my parents, and my sister, her husband and my nephew are all coming to town to celebrate with us. Yay! Also due to my reduced circumstances, I have a lot of alone time on my hands, and I spend a lot of it thinking about food. Okay, most of it.  As a result I’m not just excited for Turkey Day, I am Thanksgivingsessed! I had the menu all planned out a month ago. Actually, more like two. I have since also created an Excel spreadsheet that details ingredient totals, my shopping list, a to-do list for the week, and a full schedule for the day before and the day of. I may be crazy, but the first step is admitting you have a problem right? Anyway, I’m also playing it smart. I’m planning to tackle most of the cooking myself, so I have to make sure I have my game plan all worked out. How else would I have realized that while I'm baking two pies, I only have one pie plate?  No worries, the problem is already solved.  I do get flustered cooking on a schedule, but with everything planned to a T, how could anything go wrong? Yes, I know I just ensured that everything will go wrong. But between all the guests, there will be more than enough cooks in the kitchen to sort things out. I’m breezy!

Besides being in need of a fun project, our families have been so awesome and supportive this year, we’d really like to treat them a nice dinner. It’s the least we could do. So we’re going all out! A 16lb heritage turkey, free-range and organic of course, brined and roasted, and with all the fixins around the table: gravy, cranberry applesauce, grilled mashed potatoes, sourdough apple pecan stuffing (technically dressing since Husband is squeamish about bird germs), beets with a balsamic reduction, hashed Brussels sprouts, sweet potato rolls, and - as I mentioned - two kinds of pie for dessert. Apple and buttermilk pumpkin pie, with vanilla ice cream on the side. I’m sure I’ll be posting all about it after next week. Of course, a lot of those recipes aren’t mine (some are!), so I’ll post links at the bottom of this post in case someone is in need of ideas.  I can vouch for them all except the stuffing, though I'm sure it'll be delicious. And if those don't entice, I may have developed my own Thanksgiving side last weekend. Read on!

This isn't my first time hosting my family for Thanksgiving, but it is the first time since my big transformation. I wanted to keep all the familiar flavors, but put the Julie spin on them, so last weekend I tried out some recipes - roasted one of those cheap $5 turkeys from Vons and made gravy from pan drippings for the first time (killed it!). I also used it as an excuse to make some dishes that didn’t quite fit into my Thanksgiving menu.

See, I had been toying with the idea of green bean casserole. Thanksgiving + Food Network = lots of mention of green bean casserole. I was thinking of the one traditionally made with condensed cream of mushroom soup and crispy fried onions on top. That dish doesn’t so much scream yummy deliciousness to me, more like heavy, preservative-induced stomachache. But the flavors of the casserole still appeal. Plump green beans in a creamy sauce with earthy mushrooms and fragrant herbs, topped with sweet onions and just a little crispy crunch for texture. Sounds good, right? Well I set about seeing if I could lighten the dish up and make it into something presentable. I don’t know if I accomplished presentable, but it sure was tasty. 

I started with frozen green beans - haricot verts from Trader Joe’s, actually. Then I created the mushroom cream sauce using evaporated milk. I hadn’t used evaporated milk before, and the stuff is just great. It’s just milk with some of the water evaporated out, so it’s already nice and thickened, but much lighter than using cream. I caramelized onions, since that’s my favorite way to eat them. But caramelized onions are soft and buttery, not crispy crunchy. No problem. After the onions caramelized, I added a little butter to the pan with some bread crumbs, and tossed everything together. I topped the green beans coated in the mushroom cream sauce with the onions and bread crumbs, and after it baked up, it came together juuuuust right. Plump green beans, creamy mushroom sauce, and sweet onions with a crunch. Mission accomplished!  Panko bread crumbs would probably  be even crunchier and better (I buy whole wheat panko), but I had some whole wheat bread to use up, so use whatever is easier for you.  Next time I might experiment with throwing some walnuts in as well, though I would probably catch flack from Husband, since he's really not a walnut fan.  It's terrible, I know.

I'm always fascinated by other families and their own traditions.  What are you doing for Thanksgiving?  Pot luck or solo hosting?  What's in the menu?  And finally, how delicious is Thanksgiving food?  Right?!

Green Bean Casserole

Makes about 18 servings

2 16oz bags of frozen green beans, thawed (or fresh and blanched)
16oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1 medium shallot, minced
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 TB dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp celery seeds (optional)
1 cup white wine
2 TB flour
4 TB unsalted butter, divided
2 medium onions, quartered and sliced
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs (~3 slices of bread) or panko bread crumbs
2TB olive oil
kosher salt to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. You’ll also need a 9x13” baking dish. 
  2. In a medium skillet, heat 1TB olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sweat the onions until their water is released, stirring often to prevent browning. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn golden brown and caramelize, about 45 minutes. 
  3. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, heat 1TB olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of kosher salt, and cook until the mushrooms have given up their water and softened, about 7 minutes. Add the paprika, pepper, cayenne, thyme, sage, and celery seeds, mix everything together and cook for 1 minute. 
  4. Clear a space in the pan and add 2TB of butter. Once it melts, mix in the flour, and let the mixture cook for a minute or two to remove any raw flour flavor. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the browned bits. Simmer the mixture until about half the wine has cooked out. Add the evaporated milk and stir to combine everything. Let the mixture simmer for about 3 minutes, until it has thickened a bit. 
  5. Turn off the heat and stir in the green beans, tossing until they are well coated in the mushroom mixture. Pour the green beans into your baking dish and set aside. 
  6. Once the onions have caramelized, add the white wine vinegar and toss to coat. Melt the remaining 2TB of butter, and when it has melted, add the bread crumbs and toss until the bread crumbs are well-coated with butter and evenly mixed with the onions. Spoon the bread crumb and onion mixture over the green beans in an even layer. Bake the casserole for about 45 minutes, or until the topping is a crunchy golden brown. 

Links for Thanksgiving dishes:
Cranberry applesauce
Sourdough apple pecan stuffing
Sweet potato rolls
Hashed Brussels sprouts


  1. Yum! I am actually in charge of green bean casserole for Thanksgiving this year, so this is helpful :)

  2. Since I DO know my way around a kitchen, I'm assuming that you will not be doing ALL of the cooking, right? Or am I relegated to sous-chef duties?

  3. Ha, what are you planning for your version, Kelly?

    Oh mom, of course you know your way around my kitchen! You can do whatever you want. There will be plenty to do that day. Not to mention a movin', groovin' grandson to enjoy!

  4. you can put a line through the husband part of me coming, obv. where was this dish at thanksgiving? it sounds delicious and CLEARLY we didn't have enough food. ;p

    we had an awesome time, dude. and EVERYTHING was delicious. if you're reading this and you're jealous about what all we got to eat, you should be. it was fabulous.

  5. Honestly, I didn't even consider green bean casserole for Thanksgiving, since we've never had it before. Anyway, I think the brussels sprouts went over way better. :p

    Thanks for coming! There's nothing I enjoy more than feeding you! :D