December 28, 2016

Dear friends,

Like many of you, I cooked for a crowd at Christmas. Probably unlike many of you, I planned on a crowd of just two. My family met after Christmas this year at my niece’s in Columbus, so Tony and I spent the actual holiday with a ham, a full fridge and a crackling Yule log on Netflix.

I was delighted. “We won’t have to cook for a week,” I told Tony on Christmas Eve as I wedged a pumpkin pie into the refrigerator between a platter of antipasto and bowl of potato salad. There’s Champagne! Green bean salad! Blue cheese-stuffed olives! Cool Whip!

We are still wallowing in the bounty. For breakfast this morning (Tuesday) I had a slice of pie, two pieces of green-onion tamago (Japanese cold omelet) and a couple of bites of shaved ham. I won’t quit until we’re gnawing on the bone.

One item that is disappearing rapidly is the green bean salad. I’m alarmed. It is everything a green bean salad should be: A symphony of textures and flavors, mostly savory with a touch of acid and a hint of sweet.

The recipe is new to me, although I found it on Bon Appetit’s web site so some of you may be familiar with it. Of course, I tinkered a bit. Basically, fresh, al dente green beans are tossed with fried garlic chips and onions, toasted slivered almonds, and dried cranberries in a slightly sweet apple cider vinaigrette.

The original recipe calls for cooking the green beans in boiling water for just one to two minutes, until “bright green but still very firm.” Oh, no you don’t. Green beans should be cooked until the starches at least begin to turn to sugar, and chewing them is not a major investment of time. Back in the early 1980s the new al dente-vegetables trend was a backlash against the mushy, overcooked veggies that until then had dominated restaurant (and home) cooking. “Al dente” was never intended to mean “almost raw.”

Take your time when you fry the onion and thin garlic chips. The garlic must turn golden brown and become crisp, which requires pllenty of oil and fairly low heat.

If you’re stocking your fridge for New Year’s, you might want to make a double batch of this salad.

CRANBERRY-TOASTED ALMOND GREEN BEAN SALAD

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1 1/4 lbs. green beans
1/4 cup olive oil
2 fat garlic cloves
1/3 cup thinly slioed onion
1/2 cup (about 2 oz.) slivered blanched almonds (matchstick shape)
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tsps. honey
Sea salt

Trim beans and cook in plenty of boiling water until tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Drain and refresh under very cold water to set the color and stop the cooking. Drain well.

Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a medium skillet. Peel and thinly slice garlic cloves vertically. Slowly brown garlic, onion and almonds in the oil. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add cranberries, vinegar and honey to oil in skillet and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, until cranberries are juicy. Toss with green beans and the garlic mixture in a bowl. Season with salt, toss again and taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.

TIDBITS

Okay, I’m humiliated. My Christmas shout-out last week was not written as a plea for attention. I was not trying to guilt-trip you into praise. At 67, I have honestly wondered lately whether I’m too old to be relevant and I certainly have no desire to mellow into a nice, sweet old food blogger.

Please. I’m anything but nice.

Still, I must have sounded needy because I got a lot of emails along the lines of “Don’t worry, we love you and sleep with your cookbook under our pillows,” so OK. I’ll keep writing if you keep messaging me occasionally with questions, restaurant recommendations, recipes to try and snarky comments. Agreed?

And happy New Year, you bums.

THE MAILBAG

From Judy S., Scottsdale, Ariz.:
Merry Christmas! My gift to you is this recipe that is guaranteed to warm you up during any winter cold spell. The recipe comes from Jan D. Atri at http://www.jandatri.com, who has articles in the Arizona Republic and has had several restaurants over the years.

I hope you enjoy the soup as much as we do. Depending on my mood, I sometimes add smoked paprika after tasting.

CHARRED RED PEPPER SOUP

6 red bell peppers
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large leek, cleaned well and chopped
2 medium red or white potatoes, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper

Wash and pat dry peppers Place on a baking sheet and broil at 400 degrees until charred and blistered, turning every few minutes. Remove from oven, place peppers in a paper or plastic bag and close tightly.

Let stand for 20 minutes. Remove from bag and discard skin and seeds.

Melt butter and olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat Add leek, potatoes, carrot, onion and peppers. Saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth and cream. Simmer for 25 minutes.

Place mixture in a blender, in batches if necessary, and puree. Caution: Start blender on low and place a towel over lid to avoid hot liquid from spilling out. Strain through a sieve and return to saucepan.

Simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Makes about 8 servings.

Dear Judy: The soup sounds wonderful and I’ll definitely try it. Thank you so much.

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