Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving Dinner Afterthoughts

The big news in the indoor garden right now is the success of our saffron crocus. These bulbs are normally planted in spring and bloom in early fall. I purchased the bulbs at Stanley's Greenhouse in late October, and they were already beginning to show signs of sprouting. I took a chance and planted them in a pot that I moved into the garage when frost was predicted. I was rewarded with a bloom on Thanksgiving Day. Its three anthers provided a tiny pinch of the world's most valuable spice. I am encouraged, and will be growing more of these beautiful bulbs next year. They should go dormant in a couple of months, and I can move them outside next April. After a season of growth outdoors, they should bloom beautifully next October. Most people don't think of saffron as a backyard crop, but it is actually no more difficult to grow than our familiar spring-blooming crocuses.

Prior to Thanksgiving we are bombarded with recipes for all the traditional goodies. This year, I decided to save the recipe advice for after the holiday, because I wanted to try some new recipes and report on them. Our favorites were new takes on traditional dishes: dressing and green bean casserole. You can enjoy these for Christmas, or anytime.

(6 muffins)
                Among food lovers, there are two schools of thought about Thanksgiving dinner. One school holds that the turkey must contain stuffing, and the steamed savory bread pudding that results is always known as “stuffing.” Down South, however, the same savory pudding is cooked in a separate pan and is called “dressing.” Even though the available shortcuts are usually identified as “stuffing” mix, they perform equally well as “dressing,” hence, my use of “dressing” here. I created this recipe primarily because a whole bag of dressing mix makes too much for just the two of us.  After I made it, however, I realized the method results in lots of crunchy crust and a moist but firm center, exactly what I am looking for in Thanksgiving dressing. You can use this method with any dressing recipe, adjusting the quantities so you have about three cups of uncooked dressing. Or, if you are expecting a crowd, the recipe can be easily multiplied.

2 cups Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned dressing mix
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
½ teaspoon rubbed dried sage leaves
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg
1 cup chicken broth, preferably homemade

                Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 6-muffin tin. (Each muffin cup should hold about ½ cup.)  Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir to mix well. In a separate small bowl beat the egg with the stock until well mixed, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the dressing is evenly moistened. Spoon the dressing into the prepared tin, dividing it equally. Take care not to “pack” the cups, as the stuffins will not be fluffy. Place in the oven and bake until the top is lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Green Bean Casserole in a Vidalia Onion
(2 servings)
                The method for the onions comes from the late master chef, Charlie Trotter, in his cookbook “Vegetables.” The rest is the standard casserole, made better with home cooked goodness. Using the canned fried onions maintains the connection to the original dish.

2 whole Vidalia onions, approximately the same size
6 ounces white button mushrooms, chopped
3 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups milk, divided
½ cup canned green beans, drained
¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Canned fried onions, to garnish

Prepare the Vidalia onions. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Trim the root end of the onions so they will sit upright. Carefully remove the onion skin. Set the onions in a baking dish and add cold water sufficient to cover them halfway. Set the dish in the middle of the oven and bake for 1½ hours. Using tongs, carefully turn the onions upside-down and continue cooking another 1½ hours. Remove the dish from the oven. Using tongs, transfer the onions to a wire rack to cool completely. When the onions are cool, remove any blackened outer skin. Using a spoon, remove some of the onion flesh, leaving a cavity surrounded by two or three layers of onion. Refrigerate the onion flesh and use it for another purpose. Set the prepared onions aside while you complete the dish.

Place the mushrooms, minced onions and butter in a medium saucepan. Set the pan over low heat and warm it until the onions begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and cook on low for 5 minutes. Uncover the pan, add the flour, increase the heat and cook, stirring, until the fat is incorporated into the flour, about 2 minutes. Pour in one cup of the milk and cook, stirring. The mixture will become very thick. Remove the pan from the heat, and transfer all but about  ½ cup of the mixture to a heatproof container. (Use the reserved mushroom mixture just as you would condensed cream of mushroom soup.)

To the mushroom mixture remaining in the saucepan add the green beans, thyme, salt, pepper and remaining  milk. Place the pan over the heat and stir to combine the ingredients. Spoon the bean mixture into the reserved onions. Set the onions in an oiled baking dish, topping them with any of the bean mixture that remains. Sprinkle a few fried onions on top. Bake at 350°F until hot, about 15-20 minutes. Serve garnished with additional fried onions.

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