Monday, December 31, 2012

Clear Toy Candy

I love going to estate sales.  I head straight for the kitchen to see what treasures I can find. 

At a recent sale I was so excited when these were discovered on a table in a little room off the kitchen.

These are small cast iron molds of Christmas shapes.  I adore cast iron.  I don't know why; maybe the heaviness of it, the feel of it, I don't know....I just love it.

This one has a snowflake, a stocking, a star and a gingerbread man

This mold has a drummer boy, a trumpet (my favorite), a gingerbread house, and a dancing bear.

When I was in high school mom taught me how to make suckers by boiling sugar and water to the hard candy stage. We simply laid a lollipop stick on a buttered cookie sheet and poured a little round circle of the sugar mixture over the stick.  So, these brought back Christmas memories; only these are fancier and 3 dimensional.

The molds came with a flyer telling the History of these candies.  It states that in Christmases past children would set out a dinner plate before going to bed.  When they woke up the next morning they would find the plates filled with fruit, nuts and molded hard candy they called "clear toys".

The John Wright Company has reproduced the antique molds, modernizing them with a non-stick surface.  Information on the box of the set I found indicates this set was made exclusively for Williams-Sonoma around the mid-nineties.

The molds are held together with a short, heavy-duty rubber band.

Being a little skeptical about leaks, I set them on an old jelly roll pan.

Over medium heat you will heat the sugar, cream of tarter, water mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Then you'll let it boil until it reaches the hard crack stage at 300°F.

After bringing the candy mixture to right temperature you carefully pour the liquid into each mold.  Insert the lollipop sticks; this kit came with 4-1/2" sticks

Let the candy cool.  The instruction leaflet said that cooling would take 4 to 8 minutes.

Hmmm.....don't think so.  I found that you need to go by the feel of the mold (temperature) and test every once in a while to gently pry them apart to see if they are going to come apart easily and release the candies from one side of the mold.  I used a screw driver tip to slip in between the molds.

I began with the 8 minutes to cool then tried every 5 minutes to check the ease of the molds separating.



Lift out of the molds by gently grabbing the lollipop stick right at the base of the candies and pulling up.  This is a snowflake.

I added a couple drops of green food coloring and natural peppermint flavoring right after pulling the pan off the stove, prior to pouring the candy in the molds.

You can still enjoy this clear candy, even if you don't have 3 dimensional molds.  Simply butter 2 large baking sheets.  Quickly drop liquid from a large spoon onto the baking sheets making the drops round.  Press a lollipop stick into the edge of each lollipop before it hardens.
Clear Toy Candy
Yields 8 individual clear toys

1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
Heaping 1/4 tsp. Cream of Tartar
3 ounces water
Optional:  1 tsp. of natural flavoring and/or food coloring
8 (4-1/2") lollipop sticks

Mise en place:
  • assemble molds and stand upright on baking sheet with sides
  • have lollipop sticks ready to insert
  • if using flavoring and/or coloring, have those standing by
  • measure sugar, cream of tartar and water into a heavy saucepan
  • have a candy thermometer ready to attach to side of saucepan
Heat the sugar, cream of tartar and water mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is completely dissolved.  Cover and let cook 2 - 3 minutes to dissolve the sugar crystals on the sides of the pan.  Remove the lid.  Cook without stirring until temperature reads 300°F on a candy thermometer.  Total cooking time is approximately 25 minutes.  Add a few drops of coloring and the flavoring quickly after removing from heat.

Pour the syrup into molds slowly.  Fill each mold halfway on first pass and do a second pass, filling to the top.  If you fill too quickly the mold will overflow.

Insert lollipop sticks immediately and let cool.  After approximately 8 minutes start testing the molds to see if they will separate completely from the other half of the mold.  If sticks lean after insertion, straighten as liquid hardens.  Denser shapes take a little longer to harden. If you have difficulty in separating the molds, use a knife point or a flat screw driver to gently pry open.

Once molds are cooled and the two halves of mold separate cleanly remove candy from mold by slowly lifting the stick.  If you remove the candy before it has cooled, shape may droop.  If you wait too long candy may break.  Wrap each candy toy in a lollipop wrapper and store in a cool, dry place.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Orange Date Nut Cookies

This is another cookie that I tried for the first time this year and it will definitely become a Christmas regular.

Prior to making the dough for the cookies a filling is made with dates, orange juice and orange rind.  I'm so thankful that dates can be purchased already chopped.  I have a not-so-fond childhood memory of being required, every Christmas season, to sit at the kitchen table and chop up those sticky whole dates

Process with the knife blade.  You will want the date mixture very smooth.

The cookie has three layers so the dough will be divided.  If you have a kitchen scale, separate the dough and weigh into 3 equal pieces.

Line a 9" x 5" loaf pan with foil allowing the sides to hang over.

Knead half of the pecans into 1 portion of dough.  Press into the bottom of the loaf pan taking care that the layer is even and firmly tucked into the corners.

For the middle layer, knead the date orange mixture into a portion of the dough.  When well incorporated press onto the top of the bottom pecan layer. Use enough pressure to try to keep any air pockets from forming.  The more even and neat you make your layers the nicer your cookies will look.

Knead the reminder of the toasted pecans into the last portion of dough.  Press this onto the top of the orange date layer.  Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.  Mine stayed in over night.

When you are ready to slice your cookies  preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Turn the firm, molded dough out onto a cutting board.  Remove and discard the foil.  This is what your dough looks like from the side.

Slice the dough lengthwise into 4 sections

My loaf pan sloped a tad on the ends so I trimmed off the end to make it even.

Now you can start your cutting with a straight edge.

Slice each cookie about 1/4" thick and place them 1" apart on the prepared cookie sheet.

Bake for 9 to 10 minutes  or until lightly browned.  Cool slightly on baking sheets, remove to wire racks to cool completely.

I baked one batch until they were quite brown and they crisped up; almost like a thin biscotti.  The  norm should be a little softer.  Lovey  liked the over done batch to have with his coffee so all turned out well.  However, remember what makes this cookie fine in NOT being over baked.  Soft and chewy is what you want.

In addition to the fact that these cookies taste great, here are some other reasons they can be your friend during the holiday:
~ The recipe yields a large quantity, making it a good selection to make for a holiday cookie swap
~ Being a "slice and bake" type of cookie, they're great for keeping a batch of the dough in the refrigerator during the holidays.  You'll be able to slice off a few and stick them in the oven when someone stops by for a visit.

Orange Date Nut Cookies
Adapted from Christmas Cookies published by Oxmoor House
Yield 8 dozen

1 (10 ounce) package chopped dates
grated orange rind from 1 medium orange
1 Tbsp. orange juice
1 cup butter softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup pecan pieces

Mise en place:
  • set out butter to soften
  • line a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with aluminum foil, allowing foil to extend over edges of pan.  Set aside
  • cover cookie sheets with parchment paper
  • toast the pecans for 8-10 minutes or until browned and aromatic; cool
  • grate rind from orange
  • juice the orange
  • measure out sugar & vanilla
  • measure out flour, baking powder and salt
  • finely chop pecans and divide in half
Position knife blade in food processor bowl and add the dates, orange rind and orange juice.  Process 45 seconds or until dates are finely chopped.

Beat butter at medium speed with a heavy duty electric stand mixer until blended.  Gradually add sugar, beating until blended.  Add egg and vanilla, beat well.

In a small mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Gradually add to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended.

Divide dough into 3 equal portions.  Knead 1/2 of the pecans into 1 portion of dough; press into prepared pan.  Knead date mixture into 1 portion of dough; press in pan over pecan dough.  Knead remaining pecans into remaining dough; press into pan over date dough.  Cover and chill at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Invert loaf pan onto a cutting board, remove and discard aluminum foil.  Cut dough lengthwise into 4 sections.  Cut each section of dough crosswise into 1/4-inch slices.  Place slices 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 9 - 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool slightly on baking sheets,; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Baking - Rosemary Shortbreads

Christmas means it's time for holiday baked goods to be made and shared.   I have my regulars that I make each year like my sister's Bourbon Balls., fudge, and iced sugar cookies in Christmas themed shapes.  Aunt Bill's Brown Candy is another Christmas tradition but I'm not making it this year because it's easier to make with an extra pair of hands; which I couldn't muster up.

In addition to the Bourbon Balls, I made fudge, chocolate peanut clusters, Orange Date Nut Cookies, Poinsettia Sugar Cookies and Rosemary Shortbread.

I want to share the Rosemary Shortbread with you.  This is a new cookie for me this year.   I love shortbread because it's easy to make and it's not over the top sweet and rich like so many other cookies.  You can bake it in fancy shapes cut from cookie cutters or just slice it into squares, rectangles or triangles.

The addition of fresh rosemary piqued my curiosity.  Rosemary always smells good when cooking with it but there is something different about it when mixed with sugar and butter.  I was revelling in the subtle aroma that filled the kitchen when Lovey walked through and asked if I was making sausage and biscuits.  Wha?????  My olfactory senses weren't picking up on that one at all.

The recipe called for 1/2 cup butter but the dough was clearly not coming together.  I added 2 more Tbsp. of softened butter to the dough and that seemed to do the trick.

The original recipe also called for 2 Tbsp. of minced fresh rosemary.  I felt it was way too much rosemary in relation to the amount of dough so I used 1 Tbsp. instead.   Didn't want to feel like I was eating grass in my cookies.

You can make them in any shape.  I used a small Christmas bell cookie cutter.  I think a snowflake cookie cutter would make a nice shape as well.

This is a cookie that need not be delegated to Christmas alone.  It would make a great tea biscuit any time of the year.

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from Christmas Cookies published by Oxmoor House
Yield 1 dozen

1/2  cup + 2 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup sifted powdered sugar
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. minced fresh rosemary

Mise en place:
  • allow butter to soften to room temperature and place in mixing bowl
  • preheat oven to 325°F.
  • measure out powdered sugar
  • measure out flour
  • mince rosemary
Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.  Gradually add sugar, beating well.

Gradually add flour to butter mixture, beating at low speed until blended.  Gently stir in rosemary.

Roll dough to 1/4 - inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.  Cut with a 2-inch cookie cutter, place cutouts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake at for 18 to 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.  Remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mini Banana Nut Bread Muffins

There was once a little bakery in Jackson, Wyoming on King Street called Bur's Buns & Breads.  It was an institution in the 1970's.  A sign hung over the door with their motto on it, proudly commanding passers by to "get your buns in here".

The owner of that bakery, Laurel Wicks,  wrote a book hailing their motto as the title. 

This muffin recipe is adapted from that book.  The recipe is easy with simple ingredients.  I especially like the addition of ground cloves. The muffins freeze nicely.  You can make  loaves of bread, muffins or, like I did, mini-muffins.

Mini Banana Nut Bread Muffins
Adapted from "Get Your Buns In Here" by Laura Wicks
Makes 2 loaves, 1 dozen muffins or 24 mini muffins
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Mise en place
  • prepare baking pans.  If making loaves, grease the pans and line bottom with parchment paper.  If making muffins use vegetable oil spray
  • preheat oven to 325°F.
  • measure oil into mixing bowl
  • measure and add granulated sugar to the mixing bowl with the oil
  • add eggs to mixing bowl
  • in a small mixing bowl mash bananas with a fork
  • measure the cinnamon and cloves
  • in a medium mixing bowl measure the baking soda, baking powder and flour; combine with a whisk
  • chop pecans and add to the mixing bowl with the flour mixture
Cream together the oil, sugar and eggs.  When this combination is fluffy, add the bananas, cinnamon and cloves.  Blend until smooth.
Gradually stir the dry ingredients mix into the batter.  After smoothly blended, fill the muffin tins 3/4 full with the batter.  If making loaves, divide between two loaf pans.
Bake for 30 minutes if baking muffins; 1-1/4 hours if baking loaves.  Test with a toothpick.
Allow muffins to cool for 10 minutes in pan then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Turmeric Rice

I was a little hesitant in making this side dish.  Primarily because Lovey is so used to his brown rice cooked in broth and lightly buttered.  That's how he likes his rice, plain and simple.

I wanted to try this because I am trying to broaden my appreciation for Indian food.  I Heart Cooking Clubs is providing a good outlet for me to try things and this week it's all about rice.

I planned on baked chicken breasts with Moroccan preserved lemons so I thought this recipe of Madhur Jaffrey's would pair well.

Basmati rice naturally has a wonderful aromatic flavor to it.  This recipe provides even more flavor with the addition of bay leaf, cinnamon stick, whole cloves, cardamom pods, garlic, salt and, or course, turmeric.

These spices were what had me concerned about whether Lovey would like it.  My gut feeling would be that his reaction would be something to the tune of "Hey, what's this in my rice?".

Before the rice and liquid are added to the pan, the spices and garlic are tossed into extremely hot vegetable oil.  I wish I knew how to describe the aroma that came from flash cooking them like that.  I wasn't even able to take time to snap a photo of it I had to move so quickly.

After 20 minutes a fluffy, aromatic and wonderfully flavored rice emerged from the pot.  The turmeric gave it a slight yellow tint.

My husband has been surprising me a lot lately.  I held my breath when he began to eat and the first thing he said, after thank you, was how much he really, really liked the rice!!  I believe 'fantastic' was the word he used.  He may be expecting this more and more!  Which is just fine with me.

Turmeric Rice
A recipe by Madhur Jaffrey
Serves 4 - 6

2 cups long grain basmati rice
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
4 cardamom pods
1" piece of cinnamon bark
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. salt
22 ounces water
chopped chives as garnish (optional)

Mise en place
  • put rice in a bowl and wash in several changes of water.  Drain & leave in a strainer set over a bowl.
  • place the cloves, bay leaf cardamom and cinnamon bark in a small prep bowl
  • peel & finely chop the garlic and set aside in a small prep bowl
  • measure turmeric & salt into a small prep bowl and set aside
  • measure out water
Put the oil in a heavy based saucepan and set over a medium high heat.  When the oil is hot and beginning to bubble, put in the cloves, bay leaf, cardamom pods and cinnamon.  Stir once or twice and add the garlic.

As soon as the garlic turns medium brown put in the rice, turmeric and salt.  Stir gently for a minute.  Now add the water and bring to a boil.

Cover tightly, turn the heat down to very, very low and cook for 20 minutes.  Stir the rice with a fork to separate the grains and serve garnished with chives.

I'm sharing this recipe at IHCC.  Go check out the other Madhur Jaffrey rice dishes people are sharing.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Toasted Walnut-Chicken Salad Spread

I participate in a neighborhood book club.  December is our month to vote on the eleven books we'll be reading for the next year and who will be the hostesses each month.  Since we don't review a book in December we come together with food and wine.

Well, we do that every month anyway, but it's more of a pot-luck in December. Our December hostess provides us with a dessert, coffee and wine and the rest of us bring appetizers. 
I made this chicken salad spread to be served with crackers.  I adapted it from 'Cozy Country Christmas', a Gooseberry Patch book.  I was able to prepare it the night before which was really nice since my train normally gets me home about 20 minutes before I need to head over to the hostess' house.

I realize that the above photo looks like I just threw it on the serving plate.  And I did, really.  I just gathered up a big ol' spoonful and slapped it down on the plate.  No time for fussiness tonight.  I blame the Trinity Railway Express for getting me home so late.  By the time I pulled into the driveway I should have already picked my neighbor up and been at book club.  So yes, I literally threw it on the plate; didn't care at the moment if it looked like a pretty ball or not.  Oh yeah, I rushed to take a photo of it as well.

 I toasted the walnut halves and chopped them up once they were completely cooled.

When cooking the chicken breasts, I went simple.  I didn't want a lot of other flavors to dominate in the chicken salad so I did a simple simmer with homemade celery salt and celery tops with lots of leaves.  Once the breasts cooled I chopped it up finely in the food processor.

I minced the celery and onion up quite tiny since I wanted them to be in bite-sized pieces.  I used a center stalk of celery so it would be more tender.  I did not do my mincing in a food processor because I wanted the celery and onion to have definite shapes.

Once combined with the mayonnaise the spread was covered and put in the refrigerator over night.  The walnuts weren't added at that time.  I added the chopped toasted walnuts right before serving so they would be nice and crunchy.

My thoughts on this recipe:  Prior to adding the walnuts to the spread I tasted it and thought it was OK but no different than any other chicken salad or chicken spread.  But once I added the walnuts, W-O-W!  The walnuts turned a blah,  so-so spread into a spread that was crunchy with a great toasted flavor.

I kept a little bit of the spread for my lunch the next day and Lovey tried it.  He normally won't even eat chicken salad but he tried this for some reason and he told me that it was really good.  And that's really surprising coming out of his mouth.


Toasted Walnut-Chicken Spread
Yields 2-1/2 cups
Adapted from a recipe by Mary Ellen Jernigan from Chesapeake, VA

1-3/4 cup cooked chicken (about 1-1/2 to 2 boneless chicken breast halves)
1/2 cup walnut halves
2/3 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
1 stalk celery
2 Tbsp. red onion
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
assorted crackers

Mise en place:
  • measure out mayonnaise
  • finely dice celery
  • finely dice onion
  • measure out salt
  • measure out garlic powder
Toast walnuts.  Spread walnut halves onto a baking sheet with sides. Toast in a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes, or until browned and aromatic. Allow to cool completely. Once cooled roughly chop and set aside.

Place chicken in a pot and cover with water.  Add celery salt and celery tops to the pot.  Bring to a boil then turn down heat and simmer until done, about 20 minutes.  Skim off any white foamy scum as it forms on the surface.  Drain and allow to cool.  Roughly chop and place in bowl of food processor.  Pulse until finely shredded.  Pour into large mixing bowl.

Add celery and onion to chicken and combine thoroughly.  In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, salt and garlic powder.  Add to chicken mixture and mix well.  Cover and chill.  At this point you can cover and refrigerate over night.

Just prior to serving fold in the toasted walnuts.  Serve in a small bowl or form into a ball shape on a plate.  Serve with an assortment of crackers.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Potato Salad Bites

Our neighborhood hosts a Christmas Party each year.  Two residents open up their homes to everyone in the neighborhood.  It provides a nice opportunity to visit with neighbors you know and meet new neighbors you haven't met.  There is also a lot of great food and wine.

One of the reasons the food is good is that residents who attend bring a savory dish or a dessert.  And we have a lot of ladies who are talented in the kitchen!  The HOA provides the adult beverages.

The festivities begin at the home where the savory hors d'oeuvres are served.  After about two hours the party moves to the second home in the neighborhood where all of the sweeties are waiting for everyone.  Dessert wines and sparkling wines are added to the beverage selection.

This year I signed up for a savory hors d'oeuvre.  I found this recipe for bite sized potato salad starters in a holiday magazine/booklet that a co-worker gave me around 5 years ago.

Try to select potatoes that are of similar size.  Also, when selecting the potatoes, keep in mind the size; you want these to be bite-size.  I would suggest selecting a few extra because, well, it's inevitable that some will fall apart as you prepare them.

When you boil the potatoes, keep a close eye on them and cook only until they are done.  If you cook them too long or vigorously the skins will start to split pretty bad.  Some will split any way but don't wig out about it.  Be gentle when you halve the potato and scoop the meat out of the potato.  Once you have scooped the pulp out of the halves, lightly sprinkle each half with kosher salt.

Toss the potato pulp, onion, pickles, & parsley in a mixing bowl.  The original recipe called for pimiento-stuffed olives but I opted to use Claussen Kosher Dill Sandwich Slices.  I think these pickles have the best flavor and are easy to mince.

Speaking of mincing, the onion and parsley should be minced as well since the appetizers themselves are small.

I suggest combining the mayonnaise, mustard, and pepper in a small mixing bowl  before adding to the potato mixture.  Once the potato salad is combined, taste for seasoning.  Between the saltiness of the dill pickle and the Dijon I doubt you will need to add any salt; remember the potato halves are lightly salted already too.

I will say this about the recipe.  It's labor intensive and time consuming.  You probably don't want to include this on your menu if you are making multiple dishes for a get-together.  But, if this is the only thing you are preparing for an event it's well worth the effort.

Part of me feels bad about trying new recipes out on un-suspecting neighbors but it's a great way to know whether or not I would serve something again. 

This recipe is good cocktail party fare.  It proved to be one that people really liked; they disappeared quite nicely.

Potato Salad Bites
Yields about 32 appetizers
Adapted from a recipe by Stephanie Sheridan from Plainfield, Vermont

20 small red potatoes
salt for sprinkling
1/2 cup minced kosher dill pickles
4 tsp. minced fresh parsley
2 tsp. minced red onion
1 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
2-1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp ground pepper
extra minced parsley for garnish

Mise en place:
  • rinse potatoes off
  • mince pickles, parsley & onion and place in medium mixing bowl
  • measure mayonnaise, mustard and pepper into a small mixing bowl
  • mince extra parsley and set aside
  • prepare an ice bath of ice cubes and cold water
Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; cover and cook for 10-12 minutes or until tender.  Drain and immediately place potatoes in ice water; drain and pat dry.

Peel 4 of the potatoes (pick out 4 that the skins split a lot; finely dice and place in the medium mixing bowl with the pickles, parsley & onion.  Cut the remaining potatoes in half.  With a melon baller, gently scoop out the pulp, leaving a 3/8" shell and toss in with the other potatoes; set shells aside.  Toss the potatoe pulp lightly with the onion mixture; this will break up the rest of the potatoes.  Gently stir the mayonnaise mixture into the potato mixture combining well.

Sprinkle the potato shells with salt; stuff with potato salad.  Sprinkle with paprika.  Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.  Garnish with the extra parsley if desired.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Upgraded Green Bean Casserole

Green beans prepared at our house are usually steamed, buttered and sprinkled with lemon juice.

I have never cared for left over green beans.  They are hard to revive to their original fresh and snappy selves.  Kind of like take out french fries with your hamburger.  By the time you get it all home the fries are a pile of limp starch sticks; they're never the same as if you'd stayed and enjoyed your burger and fries at the burger joint.

This year I opted to steam enough green beans for Thanksgiving dinner but instead of left overs the next day I tried a green bean casserole recipe from the November / December 2006 issue of Cook's Illustrated.
In the taste department it's a far cry from the recipe we're all familiar with that we can throw together in our sleep.  This one is definitely worth the extra effort.  I want to clarify here that I certainly don't turn my nose up at the original green bean casserole; I'll eat the whole pan of it if it's plopped down in front of me.

This recipe makes a dish we so love even better.  I will be coming back to this again and again for several reasons.

One, the green beans maintain their bright, verdant color and have the perfect bite to their texture.

Two, the from-scratch mushroom sauce is bursting with fresh mushroom flavor.  It can't even be compared to the salty, gelatinous mushroom soup concentrate we are accustomed to.

Three, is the twist to the french fried onion ring topping.  With the addition of a little bit of white bread crumbs (I used a couple of leftover Parker House Rolls) and butter to the onion rings made for a more sophisticated topping.

Four, and very important to me, is that Lovey really, really liked these.

It halves nicely which is what I did here.  I'm giving you the full recipe below.  If you do half it bake it in a 2-quart (or 8-inch x 8-inch square) baking dish.  The components of the casserole can be prepared ahead of time.

My recommendation?  Go ahead, break from tradition and try this the next time you want to make green bean casserole.  You may just start a new tradition in your household.

Green Bean Casserole
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated November-December 2006 issue
Serves 10-12

For the Topping:
4 slices white sandwich bread
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/4 tsp. table salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
3 cups canned fried onions (about 6 ounces)

Tear each slice of bread into quarters and place in the bowl of a food processor.  Add the butter, salt and pepper.  Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about ten 1-second pulses.  (NOTE:  You can prepare the topping ahead of time to this point and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator over night.  The onions will be added right before baking.)  Transfer to a large bowl and toss with onions; set aside.

For the Beans and Sauce
Table salt
2 pounds green beans
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 pound white button mushrooms
3 medium garlic cloves (about 1 Tbsp.)
Ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1-1.2 cups heavy cream

Mise en place:
  • rinse beans, trim ends and cut in half; set aside
  • pop stems off mushrooms, wipe mushrooms clean and break into half-inch pieces (you can  also dice them to half-inch pieces)
  • finely mince the cloves of garlic
  • measure out flour
  • measure out chicken broth
  • measure out heavy cream
  • adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 °.
  • fill a large bowl with ice water
  • line a baking sheet with paper towels
Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven.  Add 2 Tbsp. salt and beans.  Cook beans until bright green and crisp-tender, about 6 minutes.  Drain beans in colander and plunge immediately into ice water to stop cooking.  Spread beans on paper-towel-lined baking sheet to drain.

Add butter to now-empty Dutch oven and melt over medium-high heat until foaming subsides.  Add mushrooms, garlic, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper; cook until mushrooms release moisture and liquid evaporates, about 6 minutes.  Add the 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 to 3-1/2 cups, about 12 minutes.(if you are halving this recipe this cooking time will be reduced to about 6 minutes to 1-3/4 cups).  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 by 9-inch) baking dish. (If preparing ahead, cover dish with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator for up to 24 hours - then remove plastic wrap, heat casserole in a 425° oven for 10 minutes then add the topping and bake as directed).  If not, sprinkle with topping and bake until top is golden brown and sauce is bubbling around edges, about 15 minutes.  Serve immediately.