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Fresh Green Bean Casserole

Back in the day, we wrote actual letters to Santa. We’d drop our carefully crafted wish lists into the post box and hope for the best. Nowadays, Santa has e-mail and a facebook page. He checks Amazon.com to learn of each little girl and boy’s greatest wishes and he uses his webcam to compose personalized video messages for tech savvy toddlers. And if that weren’t enough, Santa now deploys an army of tiny felt-dressed elves to maintain constant creepy surveillance in our homes. My, how times have changed! But ultimately, all kids are just hoping to end up on the nice list and to receive that special item from their wish list.

As a kid, I repeatedly wished for the Barbie Dream House; the one like my cousins had. Heck, I would have settled for the Barbie Camper, ’cause that was also pretty sweet. I never actually received either of those items. Ahem, Santa! Like many young boys, my husband’s childhood wish was for a Craftmatic adjustable bed. And though he’s certain he was on the nice list (at least some of those years) he never received that Craftmatic bed. I’m sure Santa had his reasons.

Like most parents, I have every desire to make my children’s Christmas wishes come true. Their delight is my delight. But, I can not bring myself to purchase one of the items on my four-year-old’s wish list. The item whose features (squeamish, beware) are described as:

  • Create your own delicious treats!
  • Eat bubbling brains and zombie skins
  • Inject spiders into the eyeballs
  • Watch the Zombie’s jaw rip open as it pukes out a brain barf beverage
Seriously. Go ahead and read that last part again. I couldn’t make that up if I tried. Boys are gross. How about some nice Legos instead?
But enough disgusting zombie talk. Let’s talk Christmas dinner. For many families, green bean casserole is standard fare for Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. My family was not one of those families. But it became part of my tradition once I started spending the holidays with my husband’s family. The crispy onion straws had me at hello.
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My version of a classic green bean casserole tastes much like the canned cream of mushroom variety found on many holiday tables. Only my version is made from scratch with fresh, delicious ingredients. It’s hardly any more work and the result is noticeably fresher and more vibrant. The dish can be mostly prepared a day ahead of time, making it super easy to pop in the oven on Christmas day!
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Fresh Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, lightly steamed and cut into halves or thirds
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2 cups baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper
  • Homemade crispy onions straws*

* Click HERE to see the Pioneer Woman’s step-by-step guide to making crispy onion straws. Her procedure calls for a candy thermometer. And while a candy thermometer would be useful, it is not necessary. Just give the oil several minutes to get really good and hot. Then, test a very small batch of onions. The oil is hot enough when the coated onions bubble frantically and quickly become golden brown and crispy. The onions can be made a few days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container. They will loose some of their crispiness in the container, but will re-crisp nicely when baked on the casserole!

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the steamed and chopped green beans in a large casserole dish. Set aside.

Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped shallot and mushrooms. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until they are tender and golden. Sprinkle the flour on top of the mushrooms. Stir and cook for an additional minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken. Reduce the heat. Add the parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

Pour the mushroom sauce over the green beans, then give the dish a little shake to help the sauce settle over the beans. Top the mixture with the crispy onion straws and bake for about 20-25 minutes until bubbly hot.

**You can prepare the dish ahead of time up to pouring the sauce over the green beans. Then, cover and refrigerate until preparing to serve. When reheating, allow the beans and sauce to bake for about 10-15 minutes before topping with the crispy onion straws. Once you’ve added the onions, give it another 15-20 minutes to finish baking.

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Santa’s Favorite Cookie – Pfeffernussen

According to my father, Pfeffernüsse are Santa’s favorite cookies. As children, we took this statement to be truth, without question. Even now, though I’m grown, and have long understood that Santa exists more in spirit than in flesh, I still believe that Pfeffernüsse are Santa’s favorite cookie.

Christmas was always a magical time for me. I held on to my belief in Santa for longer than most children and cried tears of true grief when I discovered the truth. And though I felt briefly, but truly, heartbroken the year I found out about Santa, I am thankful to my parents for the magic they added to the holiday. As a parent, I am conscious about instilling an understanding of the true meaning of Christmas in my children. But, as much as I want them to understand the theological significance of the day, I yearn for them to feel the same swell of excitement I felt as a child on Christmas morning.

My first Christmas, post-Santa, was just as special, but for entirely different reasons. As the oldest of my siblings, I became the first to learn of and share in the traditions which made our Christmas so special. I giggled as my dad climbed up to the attic with jingle bells in hand, to stomp around in Santa fashion. I held my breath as I tiptoed upstairs with my mom to help gather the wrapped gifts from Santa. I enjoyed sips of my dad’s Christmas Eve eggnog. And best of all, once my siblings were sound asleep, I was allowed to sneak downstairs to help my parents decorate the tree.

The tradition of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve was my most favorite tradition of all. Weeks before Christmas, my family would select our tree. The tree would then wait outside until Christmas Eve, at which point, my father would set the tree in the stand and string it with lights. That was it. My siblings and I would go to bed, convinced we heard Santa on the rooftop, just as we drifted off with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. In the morning, we’d awake to a brilliant, fully-decorated tree, in a living room magically filled with gifts. By all appearances, Santa had come during the night, winked his eyes, and transformed our living room into a Christmas vision. There was nothing like that moment, peering down the stairs to see the tree, fully adorned, for the very first time on Christmas morning.

As much as the memories of that tradition fill me with joy, I’ve been reluctant to begin it with my own family. I just don’t have the self-control necessary to wait until Christmas Eve to put up our tree. My compromise with this issue has been to set up a small undecorated tree on our kitchen table, near our plate of Santa’s cookies, for Santa to decorate each year. And though I suspect that pfeffernüsse was more of my father’s favorite cookie than Santa’s, you can bet there will be some pfeffernüsse on that plate for Santa.

This was my first time making pfeffernüsse, which are a peppery German cookie, so I turned to a reliable source for cookie recipes; Martha Stewart. I made her recipe as written and it was fantastic. No alterations required. The dough comes together easily and the flavors are exactly as I remember. I’m certain that my dad (my childhood Santa) will enjoy tasting these delicious cookies.

Santa’s Favorite Pfeffernüsse

Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart’s Pfeffernussen

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups Flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 stick Butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Molasses
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup Confectioner’s Sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the flour, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside. In another bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, and molasses until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla. Beat for another minute or two until well-blended. Gradually blend in the flour mixture until a smooth dough forms. Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll balls, about 1″ in diameter. Place the balls on the lined baking sheet, about an inch or so apart. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the cookies are golden and slightly cracked. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Place the confectioner’s sugar in a container. In small batches, gently toss the cooled cookies in the sugar. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes 2-3 Dozen

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