Deconstructing: Fear of Convenience Food and Thanksgiving Sides

I know, I know, I am a hypocrite when it comes to convenience foods. I refuse to kowtow to the Midwestern phenomenon known as hot dish if it means one or more of the ingredients comes from a can of condensed soup. Honestly, this snobbishness does not come from my superior taste, because let's face it, my taste isn't actually high-brow.

Place a casserole of Tater Tot Hot Dish in front of me and you'd better back off, because I've got no qualms about sticking my fork in your hand if you get in the way while I am going in for an extra helping. And yes, I judge friends who <*snort*> use cake mix rather than baking from-scratch desserts. But as soon as my friend's rum pecan cake (made using a box mix) makes an appearance on the table I can concentrate on nothing else.

The real issue with me and my convenience food affliction is my embarrassment to be seen with a soup can in my grocery basket. I think it comes from some outdated insecurities about what it means to be a real cook, or maybe just a real goofball.

So, all of you brave souls who wander the grocery store with carts full of cream of mushroom and family-sized boxes of chocolate-lovers double-fudge brownie mix, I salute you. And as Thanksgiving approaches... if you happen to have that green bean hot dish topped with those crispy fried onions that come in a can on your menu, please will you share some with me?

Green Beans with Bacon-Mushroom Gravy and Fried Shallots
For the beans:
1 pound green beans
Salt and pepper to taste.

Trim ends and cook 3 minutes in salted boiling water. Drain and toss with a pat of butter. Season with salt and pepper.

For the gravy:
2 strips bacon, diced
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, diced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cake flour
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon thyme
1 1/2 cups milk or half-n-half
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

In large saute pan cook bacon and mushrooms until bacon is crisp and mushrooms have shrunk and released their moisture. Whisk in butter, flour, mustard, and thyme. As butter bubbles
continue to cook and whisk constantly for about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk and bring to simmer. Whisk in cheese, season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. For a thinner gravy use more milk, for a thicker gravy use less.

For the fried shallots:
1 large shallot
Several Tablespoons of cake flour
1 teaspoon each garlic powder and celery salt
Vegetable oil

Slice shallot into thin strips. In mixing bowl stir together flour, garlic powder, and celery salt. Toss onion strips in seasoned flour. Pour about an inch of oil into medium saucepan with high sides and heat to about 350 degrees. Fry shallots in small batches until crisp and golden, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season with salt.

To serve:
Pour gravy over hot beans and garnish with shallots.


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