I love traditional holiday menus. They are delicious timeless dishes – if you only make them once or twice a year, you never get tired of them. We do a traditional Thanksgiving dinner every year. And by traditional, I mean what (I like to think) the Pilgrims and the Indians ate for the 1st annual Thanksgiving dinner.
I make green bean casserole every year as it is a staple (in my opinion) to a traditional holiday feast. Like most people, I use the same old recipe off the can label. I decided this year, I wasn’t going to use anything from a can. Yes, it meant more work, but I had already dedicated the entire afternoon to cooking anyway, and I had a feeling it would be worth it. Call it a sixth sense…
I knew exactly where I would find the recipe for what I had in mind. A new-to-me cookbook called Cook’s Illustrated (you may be familiar with the magazine). This cookbook is like the evil nemesis to all who believe in secret recipes. I hate the notion of a secret recipe. Recipes were made to be shared. I worship the cooks in the kitchen behind these recipes and the people who published them.
My mother-in-law gave me the Cook’s Illustrated bible for my bridal shower and I haven’t really had much of a chance to dig into it until recently. The title is a little misleading. There are no illustrations here. And that intimidated me because we all know how much I love phood photography. What is in the book, by way of illustration, are the Test Kitchen’s very good diagrams for things like how to carve an herb roasted turkey. Each recipe has a “why the recipe works” blurb that is incredibly informative and explains why it is crucial that the sauce is stirred for precisely 2.69 minutes while hopping on one foot and patting your belly with your other hand. 😉
It is 890 pages of goodness, with recipes for everything from salads, chilies, stew and braises to pies and tarts, fruit desserts, calzones, and coffee cakes to grilling (which we can’t wait to use…once we get a grill and warmer weather). I sit down to “read” it when I’m bored. It’s amazing.
I don’t suggest this book for a beginner in the kitchen. It may be a little overwhelming with 2,000 picture-less recipes and the instructions can be a bit difficult to follow if you aren’t as graceful as you’d like to be with your kitchen utensils or juggling more than two recipes at a time. The recipes are built around technique and this requires quite a bit of culinary skill (some of which I am lacking).
If you are interested in the recipe development process, this is the book for you. I’m eager to go to culinary school one day – lessons at a culinary school in Tuscany are in the works (!!!) – but in the meantime, this book works as my textbook for my self-taught course.
I always tweek recipes, whether it is the technique or the ingredients. I don’t usually follow recipes to a tee and I think that’s okay even with perfected recipes such as the ones in CI. It helps me learn from mistakes and gives me confidence when it enhances the recipe. Taking a recipe and improving or changing it is how new ideas are formed and older ones made richer.
Okay, enough about cookbooks. Let’s get to the good stuff…the real reason why you’re here…
The FOOD!! Welcome to the 2012 HOLIDAY RECIPE ROUND-UP!
(If you imagined me shouting that from the roof-top of a building in my most boisterous voice, then good. That’s what I was going for.)
I have compiled several of my all-time favorite holiday recipes that are tried and true. Some have been in our families for years. Others have been developed by me over the past couple of years. And the green bean casserole recipe is making it’s grand debut but trust me, it was love at first whiff.
Apple-Ginger Glazed Spiral-Sliced Ham
- 1 (7-10 lb) spiral-sliced bone-in half ham
- 1 large plastic oven bag
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 3/4 cup apple jelly
- 3 Tbsp apple butter
- 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
- Pinch ground cloves
Green Bean Casserole Extraordinaire
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
- 4 slices hearty sandwich bread, torn into quarters
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp pepper
- 3 cups fried onions (about 6 oz)
Beans and Sauce
- 2 lbs green beans, trimmed and halved
- salt and pepper
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 lb white mushrooms, trimmed and broken into 1/2-inch pieces (double if you love mushrooms!)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1-1/2 cups light cream
Pulse bread, butter, salt, and pepper in food processor until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer to large bowl and toss with onions; set aside.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 425 deg F. Fill large bowl with ice water and set aside. Line baking sheet with paper towels. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. Add 2 tablespoons salt.
Cook beans until bright green and crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Drain beans in colander, then plunge immediately into ice water to stop cooking. Spread beans on prepared baking sheet to drain.
Melt butter in now empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, garlic, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper and cook until mushrooms release moisture and liquid evaporates, about 6 minutes. Add flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in broth and bring to simmer, stirring constantly. Add cream, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until sauce is thickened and reduced, about 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add green beans to sauce and stir until evenly coated.
Arrange in even layer in a 3-quart (or 13-x-9-inch) baking dish. Sprinkle with topping and bake until top is golden brown and sauce is bubbling around edges, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
To make ahead: Store the breadcrumb topping in refrigerator for up to 2 days and combine with onions just before cooking. Combine beans and cooled sauce in baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. To serve, remove plastic wrap and heat casserole in 425 deg F oven for 10 minutes, then add topping and bake as directed.
–Macaroni Corn Casserole (huge hit at potlucks so you may want to double the recipe. I guarantee you will not have leftovers!!)
–Mashed Sweet Potatoes – Serve with almond butter!…I’m serious.
–Cranberry Pecan Pie – A sure hit at any event!
–Glühwein – Hot wine! You will want to multiply this recipe if you are serving a large group.
Now it’s time to get busy! Make that shopping list and dust off that apron! You have some cooking to do <– but don’t sweat over all the work. The feast will be so worth it! I pinky promise.