25 November 2009

Bean There, Done That

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was spelled G-r-a-n-d-m-a-'s H-o-u-s-e. We weren't big on culinary innovations there - the menu may as well have been carved into the cement driveway leading up to her laundry room door, where kith and kin entered (the front door being strictly for Company). As a result, the smells and tastes of that exact meal left their indelible mark on me, and are what I crave each November.

My mother moved back to her Midwestern hometown the same year my Grandmother died, forever upsetting my family's center of gravity. It's taken me a few years to get used to celebrating holidays without my family. But the ex-pats I run with have softened the blow. One of the occupational hazards of emigrating is finding oneself orphaned on holidays. Friends fill the vacuum of missing family, and sometimes are actually more fun. I've learned to cope.

Which brings me to the dish I've volunteered to bring to tomorrow's pot luck for 30 orphans:
Green bean casserole.

I'm guessing that my mother's version of green bean casserole was installed into our Thanksgiving canon somewhere in the neighborhood of 1962, judging by the racy inclusion of ... wait for it ... canned water chestnut. Whose charms were always lost on me. Even without that touch of the "exotic", GBC was a non-starter on my plate. Swallowed up by a mountain of mashed potatoes and drenched in gravy, it was benign enough. But now that I'm focusing all my attention on this one dish, it simply doesn't withstand scrutiny.

The dish doesn't exactly arrive with sterling pedigree. It was originally created to lure Campbell soup cans off the shelf back in the 1950's. The looming threat of nuclear annhiliation must have made processed foods seem like a good idea. The casserole's creator's name was Dorcas, for crying out loud. Would you trust your palate to someone named Dorcas? Surely, a better version exists out there in cyberlandia.

Epicurious.com, my go to for all things culinary, had but one lonely Nigella Lawson recipe for green bean casserole, a casserole in name only thanks to the dish she recommends serving it in.

The Joy of Cooking,"revised for the first time since 1974 for today's lifestyle", has no love for the GBC, and not even a single listing under cassserole! Better Homes and Gardens circa 1996 offered the typical cream of mushroom variety, but I think I might be morally opposed to ever using cream of mushroom soup.

Back on the internet I did a general search and decided slumming it on FoodNetwork.com might not be the death of me. But Paula Deen, Alton Brown and even the non-celebrichef recipes were all variations on the cream of mushroom version

When I volunteered to make this dish, I'd envisioned elevating it out of the realm of (I'm just gonna say it) white trash cuisine. I've never made bechamel sauce, but I was willing. Now I feel to remove the cream of gelatinous beige plop might rob the dish of it's very essence, if not it's raison d'etre.

Does anyone out there have a better way to make this dish?

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