Monday, November 26, 2012

Green Bean Casserole Makeover: Green Bean Poutine

Green bean casserole—you can love it or you can hate it, but you can’t ignore it. In its most classic form, the iconic muddle of frozen green beans, cream of mushroom soup and crispy French onion strips has been making an appearance on holiday tables for years. For this post, I gave the famous recipe from the back of the soup can a well-overdue new look.

I first tried poutine, a glorious Canadian specialty of gravy-covered French fries dotted with cheese curds, during my visit to Quebec in September. Thinking back on its rich, so-bad-for-you-but-who-cares-its-delicious deliciousness got me inspired to make a green bean poutine with fried green beans. It is a green bean casserole that you can eat with your fingers!

I won’t say that my dish is fancy, but it is made up of some fancy-sounding stuff like, “velouté” and “tempura.” I’m also not going to claim that it’s “good for you” just because it’s made with green beans; the beans are still fried and covered in gravy, though I’m pretty sure it has fewer calories than the lard-fried French fry version. And I also won’t say that it’s very photo-friendly, although I did get it to look pretty damn good if I do say so myself.

To make the poutine, I stuck with all of the key elements of the green bean casserole that we all know and love/loathe and put my own spin on them. For the gravy, I made my own “cream of mushroom soup” with a mushroom velouté (a thickened stock similar to gravy) made with homemade mushroom stock, white wine and assorted mushrooms. For the fried green beans, I crushed French onion strips and incorporated them into a tempura batter along with some cold club soda to make the beans nice and crispy. The gravy is ladled onto the fried beans in a bowl and topped with toasted almonds, parsley, and chunks of semi-soft queso blanco cheese. Yum!

Green Bean Poutine:
Yield: 1 big bowl, or 3-4 small bowls
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ shallot, thinly sliced
- 8 ounces assorted mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour, plus 1 cup, divided
- ¼ cup white wine
- 1 ½ cups mushroom stock**(homemade or store bought vegetable stock)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ cup finely crushed French’s French fried onions
- 1 ½ cups cold club soda
- ½ pound string beans
- Peanut oil (or other neutral oil) for frying
- Queso blanco (other other semi-soft cheese), cubed
- Sliced almonds, toasted
- Parlsey, roughly chopped
1) To make the mushroom velouté/gravy: Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until soft. Add ¼ cup flour and cook 1 minute more, stirring continually. Add the wine and stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until thickened, about 15-20 minutes.
2) In the meantime, make the tempura batter: Combine the remaining 1 cup flour, cornstarch, crushed French fried onions, and club soda in a large bowl and mix well.
3) Heat the peanut oil in a fryer or about 2 inches up in a wok or small saucepan until a bit of the batter sizzles when dropped in. Dip the beans into the batter a few at a time, then fry in the hot oil until crispy and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Top the fried green beans with mushroom gravy, cheese, almonds, and parsley. Serve immediately.
** To make homemade mushroom stock, remove the stems from the mushrooms and add to a small pot with about 1 quart of water. Simmer for 45 minutes and strain.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Chocolate-Covered Apples to Ease the Pain in Sandy's Aftermath

I hate to dwell on the negative and would rather just talk about happy chocolate-covered apples, but I’d be remiss to ignore Hurricane Sandy. I’m sure you’ve all seen it on the news—the intense flooding, totaled cars, wind damage, and in many cases, complete destruction caused along the East Coast in the wake of the rare forces of nature that combined to create what was deemed to be the perfect “Frankenstorm.”

Here on Long Island, those in unaffected areas but left in the dark thought that having no power for days was the worst of it, until they could finally turn on their televisions and computers. Yeah, waiting on line for gas for four hours sucks, and being without power is inconvenient, but the apocalyptic scenes of familiar places and nearby towns under water or crumbled away as ash brought a humbling realization: For some, it really is the end of their world.

Long Beach.

In New York City and its boroughs and along the Jersey Shore, so many people have been left in need. Even more heartbreaking, is thinking of the people that lost their lives, and the residents of small seaside towns like Breezy Point, Queens, which have been flattened beyond recognition. Parts of Long Island really got hit hard. Many are suffering from flood damage that no sand bags would have ever held back, and just a few minutes away from me, the city of Long Beach is devastaed. This article written by a Long Beach local, describes the storm as it tore through the area and all that it left behind.

I feel extremely lucky, guilty, and completely in awe of the fact that while I did not even lose power in the storm, so many others close by lost everything. That while I’m sitting here writing this, the National Guard is distributing meals to families without food in the towns I drive through almost every day. And where I enjoyed the beach, the restaurants, and the boardwalk just a few months ago, there are people standing in their businesses and living rooms, knee deep in sand and water, wondering where to begin, if they even have a house or building left to stand in at all.

For New York and New Jersey, this isn’t the first time we’ve faced disaster. Although it will take some time, we will rebuild and come back stronger than ever. If you would like to help, please donate to the American Red Cross. If casting my tiny voice to whoever reads this to help with the relief effort is all that I can do for now, that makes me feel a little better.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling down I like to eat chocolate. Needless to say, I’ve been eating a lot of chocolate lately. Like these chocolate-covered apple slices topped with toasted coconut and melted caramel. They will definitely help to lift your spirits.

Caramel apples are a staple of fall and I love them, but I never eat them off of the wooden stick that they come on; I cut them into slices. So I said to myself, why not put the slices on a stick? Great idea! But it turns out that chocolate adheres better to sliced apples than caramel, so that’s why they are chocolate-covered instead. Anyway, they are much easier to eat than the traditional whole candy-coated apple, and you don’t lose the fun of eating off of a stick—because everyone loves food on a stick.

Chocolate-Covered Apple Slices:
Yield: 16
- 2 Granny Smith apples
- 1, 12 ounce bag semisweet chocolate morsels, melted
- ½ cup toasted coconut
- ½ cup wrapped caramels, unwrapped and melted according to package instructions
- 16 wooden skewers
1) Slice each apple into 8 equal slices; skewer and thoroughly dry each slice. If the apples are going to be sitting around for a little after being sliced, toss them with a bit of lemon juice to keep from browning.
2) Dip the skewered slices into the melted chocolate. Roll half in the toasted coconut, and decorate the other half with the melted caramel. Place on a parchment-lined sheet tray and refrigerate until set.