Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Drunk Green Beans

OK, that's not really their name.

Except that it is for the sake of the recipe.

In my family, from the time I was born until now, these have always just been referred to as "green beans". But I needed a way to differentiate mine from the people who just open a can of green beans, boil them in the can water, and throw in a pat of butter to finish them off. These are on a whole other level. They needed a cool name.

I have no idea where the idea came from, but they became a staple in my family. My very first memory of green beans, and every green bean that my mom or grandmother ever cooked after that was drunk. I always assumed my grandmother brought the idea over with her from England. Maybe she had a friend here in the states cook them that way, and she stole the idea. Maybe she just invented it one day. Maybe my mom came up with the idea. I have no idea. Maybe I should ask.

The drunk part comes from sherry. If you don't know what sherry is, it is wine fortified with brandy. It's fabulous! I adore sherry, especially in cooking. Please go out and get yourself a bottle of GOOD dry sherry. I've seen really good sherry for less than $5 a bottle at liquor outlets. Don't be afraid if all you are ever going to use it for is green beans. It lasts forever in your cabinet or pantry. Just don't use that cooking sherry stuff. Or if you do, don't tell me about it. Just like with wine, if it's not good enough to drink from a glass, you shouldn't cook with it.

As with most of my recipes, this truly is a method. It can truly be a clean-out-the-fridge side dish, or it can be a well planned Thanksgiving dish that will become a tradition in your family for years to come. As for the onions.....I don't care if you use white, yellow, red or green. I don't care if you use Vidalias or pearls. Go fancy and use shallots. Heck, use chives. Just get the onion flavor in there. Typical week nights meals, I use yellow or green since those are what I always have on hand. Holiday meals I usually use shallot. Just cause it sounds fancier.

And of course, (as my best friend in the entire world will be happy to hear), the water chestnuts are optional. Leave them out if you hate them as much as she does. Put them in if you want a unique crunch. Or if you want to make the meal look more complicated that it actually is. ;)

All that really matters is that you get the green beans drunk.

Well drunk, then cook the alcohol out. Unless you want the kids to sleep well!

Drunk Green Beans

2 pounds of green beans, stem removed & snapped (or whole if you like!)
3 strips of bacon
1/2 cup of chopped onion (or scallion, shallot!)
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 can of sliced water chestnuts
2 tbsp of butter or olive oil (optional, you can use the bacon grease!)
1/2 cup of sherry
salt & pepper to taste

Steam the green beans (steaming retains nutrients, you can boil them if you like) 5-6 minutes. You want them completely cooked, as they will continue to cook as you cook everything together. While the beans are steaming, fry your bacon to the crispiness of your liking. Drain bacon well on paper towels.

Here is where you have a decision to make. If you want the bacon flavor absorbed into your mushrooms, use the bacon grease. As heavenly as bacon-soaked mushrooms are, I prefer more caramelization on my mushrooms than you will get if there is any salt in the pan, so saute' mine in a separate pan in a mixture of unsalted butter & olive oil. This takes patience and time, but I cook them slowly over medium heat until they are well caramelized. You can cook the garlic & onions with the mushrooms, or be cooking them in the bacon grease in your other pan (this is my favorite option as it maximizes the flavor of both the onions AND the mushrooms!).

Combine green beans, onions, garlic, mushrooms & water chestnuts in one pan (either the one with the bacon grease or the one with the butter....which ever is larger!). Heat together over medium high heat til everything is hot and coated in the grease/butter. Holding pan off of an open flame, add the sherry. Scrape the pan well to deglaze. Continue to cook until the sherry cooks down. You don't want it completely dry, but you want a thicker sherry/butter/bacon grease sauce that just lightly coats everything. Salt & pepper to taste. Add crumbled bacon. And most importantly......ENJOY!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Harvest Oatmeal

Well, I supposed I should start with (yet again) another apology for slacking on this thing. Life has been incredibly busy. Cooking all these yummy meals takes up what little spare time I have, leaving me zero time to write about it. I know I still owe many of you recipes and I promise to really, really try to get caught up as soon as possible. How's that for open-ended? :)

Oatmeal. It's one of those things that I have a hard time thinking of as good food. My mom is not a fan of oatmeal, so as a kid, oatmeal came out of those little packets. And you added boiling water. As much as I loved those little packets, when I grew up, I still tended to think of oatmeal as a quick & easy breakfast for kids. Good quality, whole-grain oatmeal was an ingredient to make really yummy apple crisp and add a unique texture to muffins. It really wasn't a stand alone breakfast.

I still made it from time to time when I needed a quick, easy, HOT breakfast. However, I always just mimicked my favorite brown sugar-cinnamon flavor from childhood. I'd follow package directions, add a clump of brown sugar, a dash of cinnamon, a pat of butter, and a splash of milk. Stir and eat. Good? Yes. But I still didn't really think of it as a quality breakfast.

Then I had kids. As a baby just starting to eat solids, my oldest got that baby oatmeal and some homemade fruit baby food. Then he got a little older and liked more flavor and texture. So I would make my standard oatmeal and mix it with a little homemade chunky applesauce or some finely diced apples. My thinking: cinnamon-apple is one of the flavors in the little packets that kids love so much. And over time when my family was having oatmeal for breakfast, it became a healthy version of those little packets.....lots of cinnamon, fresh apples and raisins mixed in.

Then one day we walked into a bakery in a suburb of Dallas that we'd never been to. On the breakfast menu was "Swiss Oatmeal". Since I'd never really thought of oatmeal as something fancy that anyone would really order out, I'd always ignored it on the rare occasion I'd actually seen it on a menu. But this sounded different. Along the lines of what had become my standard homemade oatmeal at home, but better. A combination of all my favorites fall goodness, but things that had never really occurred to me to add to my oatmeal at home. It was chalked full of apples, craisins, raisins, and nuts and served.......are you ready for this??.......COLD. That part made me squeem a little bit. Cold oatmeal? Um, not.

But I tried it any way. Everyone in line ahead of us was ordering it and it looked so good. And it was. The granny smith apples were tart. The raisins sweet. The craisins sweet-tart. The nuts crunchy. And the brown sugar, spices, and milk just make it sweet, creamy and warming. Even if it was cold.

Now I knew that I'd never make it ahead of time at home so it would have time to get cold. Who really makes oatmeal the night before, unless you're cooking it all night in a crockpot? But I still decided to make a mock version of it at home, even if it was hot. After all, it really wasn't that much different than what I'd been making for years.

Over time I've created my own version and called it "Harvest Oatmeal". It always involves my favorite fall flavors, even if it isn't exactly the same every time. This oatmeal really is more of a method than a recipe. I don't ever make a special trip to the store to make sure that I have the exact ingredients to recreate the restaurant version. After all, when you have a gala apple at home to use up, are you really going to miss the tartness of the granny smith? Well maybe, but you decide if it's worth running out in the cold.

Harvest Oatmeal

4 servings of prepared oatmeal (make your favorite according to package directions)
1 large granny smith apple, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 pear, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup craisins
1/2 cup walnut pieces
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (more or less to taste)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cardamon
milk, half & half, heavy cream

Easiest directions ever - stir all ingredients, except the milk (H&H or cream) together in the pot you cooked the oatmeal in. Spoon into dishes. Serve with a splash (or two) of the milk of your choice (I say the creamier the better!!) You can always chill for later if you want to try the restaurant version. :) And remember, use your favorite apple/pear combination (or whatever you have on hand!) and omit anything you don't like.