How To Prepare Green Beans

Green Beans are pretty simple. I like to keep them looking fresh and green, and this can be arranged by blanching them ahead of time, and quick finishing them right at service.

Get out your big pot. Fill it with a good amount of water so that when you drop your beans in it doesn’t slow the boil. Crank it to high, cover, and let it heat up while you prep the beans.

If the beans have the stems or strings, take them right off. Sure, it’s not that fun, but think of all the time you’re saving by doing this ahead! Eat your heart out, Clarence Birdseye*!

Think about how many people are eating. You want to do a serving forkful for each person. To count would be silly, but to estimate, it would be about 10-15 beans.

Grab a big bowl from your cabinet. Fill it with a lot of ice, and then cover the ice with water.

Next, heavily salt the now boiling water in your stockpot. You want to do it when the water’s boiling, because if you do it at the beginning, all you’ll be achieving is a thorough chemical scouring of your pot.

Toss a couple handfuls of beans in, and let them go for about a minute, until they become a deep, verdant green. When this happens, pull them out with a spider, slotted spoon or tongs, and plunge them immediately into your ice bath. This arrests the cooking process and temporarily preserves the fresh greenery of the chlorophyll blooming. No shabby canned beans for YOU this year. Oh, no.

If the water needs to get back up to a boil, let it, and add some more beans, blanching and shocking them in small batches until you have no more beans to cook. It is important that you have a lot of ice in the cold bath, because you want to stop the cooking process immediately. Add more if you must, because a giant bowl of beautiful green beans will go quickly, but a pile of limp and languid overcooked beans will sit untouched, or merely eaten out of obligation and not joy.

Once all your beans are blanched and shocked, fully cooled down, drain the water from your ice bath and put all your beans in a ziploc in the fridge until you’re ready to finish them. This can be achieved by a quick flash in the pan for a minute or two with some butter and almonds, or with a pat of butter, some shallot, and a bit of fresh thyme, pepper, and then covered for a minute with a splash of white wine to quick steam them.

There are many avenues to take after this. For a quick and delicious sauce, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a pan. Add equal parts flour and stir until it is absorbed into a paste. Cook it over medium heat for two to three minutes until it starts to smell nutty and begins to show signs that the flour will brown. When this happens, whisk in two cups of milk, a dash of nutmeg, a pinch or two of sage, and stir until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about two minutes. When this happens, add some shredded swiss cheese and incorporate it until it melts. Finish with black pepper and serve alongside the beans.

You know what I haven’t done? The absolute mainstays. The Classics. Here they are, unflinchingly mine, but tasting like yours.

Green Bean Casserole

So you’ve got your beans, right? Great. They’re blanched and shocked, waiting to be dressed. Here’s how to do your green bean casserole without any oven time.

Slice a carton of mushrooms. Dice one yellow onion. Put a pat of butter in a pan over medium heat, and let them sweat and cook down until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are brown and shiny. They’ll release a lot of moisture. Season them with salt and pepper and remove half of the mixture from the pan, transferring to a bowl. To the bowl, add a carton of heavy cream and puree with the mushroom mix. When it is smooth, pour the cream mixture back in the pan with the mushrooms, and let it come to a bubbling boil. When it does, cut the heat to low and whisk in a tablespoon of flour. Keep stirring. The mixture will thicken. When it does, turn off the heat.

Put your beans in a serving dish. Pour the Mushroom cream over the beans and coat them with the mixture. Now, one thing that I refuse to compromise on is French-Fried Onions. I know they exist, but like so many other things such as French Fried Potatoes, Ketchup, Marshmallows, and a host of others, you never really appreciate them until you try to make them yourself.

Sidebar: French Fries? There’s a reason why we shouldn’t eat them every day. If we had to make them from scratch, there would be far fewer people with heart disease. To be done correctly, the intensive labor associated with making french fries is so high, and in small batches with such little reward, that if we were forced to make our own, most would make the conscious choice not to, because as a sedentary culture, we’re far too lazy. 

Wow. Sorry. I blacked out there for a moment. What were we talking about? French Fried Onions, yes. The onion that rarely exists in nature without a little elbow grease and a lot of vegetable grease. Just buy them. Buy a canister. There is nobody I know who has a book full of recipes that call for French Fried Onions. This dish is the only one. You can eat them once a year, on top of the beans. That’s it.

Open the can, and put some of those babies on top. Do you need to cook them? I don’t recall the strong desire to cook them. I think you don’t. I’m going to say no. No, you don’t.

Okay, great. You now have your green bean casserole.

Cranberry Sauce

Easiest thing ever. Go to cupboard. Open can. Plop can into dish. Put on table.

Dinner is served.

I know that canned cranberry sauce is a staple and a mainstay of many a holiday table, but since the cranberry is in season and so plentiful around the holidays, why not take advantage of fresh cranberries and make your own sauce? On every bag, and I do mean every bag, of fresh cranberries sold around the holidays, there is a recipe for cranberry sauce/dressing/etc. It most often consists of three things: Cranberries, sugar, and citrus.

The easiest thing to do, if you have a Food Processor, is to cut an orange into wedges. Do not peel it. Throw it in the food processor and pulse it until it becomes a pulp. Pour the macerated orange into a saucepan. Most recipes call for up to two cups of sugar, but that’s unreasonable. I tend to think they add that much to make it palatable to children. I say to add 1/4 to 1/3 cup, just enough to cover the orange matter with a short dusting.Whatever extra sweetness you need will come through with the citrus. Cover it with a half/cup of water. Stir to mix everything together, and turn the heat to medium high.  Boil the mixture or stir until all the sugar is dissolved from the heat. Add your bag of fresh cranberries and return to a boil. Turn it down and simmer for 10 minutes.

Now, you’ve got cranberry sauce.

*of the Frozen Foods Birdseyes, known as the father of Modern blanching/freezing techniques.

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