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Thursday, December 02, 2010

roasted green beans with lemon and pine nuts


the advent calendar

When I was a kid, every November my grandma would send my brother and I each a cardboard advent calendar. We LOVED those calendars—every morning bouncing out of bed to search for the correct number, and then prying open the little cardboard door to find a picture of a sugarplum, or a tiny angel, or an elf, or a reindeer. What IS it about those advent calendars that is so enticing? Aren’t they so much fun?

It’s funny, because I always got the impression that advent calendars were to help us kids understand how many more days until Christmas. Now that I’m a grownup, and am responsible not only for holiday traditions and festivities, but also big holiday bread bakery orders, I don’t exactly yearn for Christmas to hurry up and be here. The twenty-fifth seems to race up on me like a freight train. But even so, I love opening those little calendar doors—or, even better, watching Meredith open them.

Meredith is just like I was: the suspense, the thrill of the chase… and then the joy of opening the door and finding that tiny picture. My friend Georgie and her two boys, Henry and Calvin, sent Meredith an awesome little advent calendar Christmas card. Yesterday’s door was a tiny donkey, and today’s miniature was a row of stockings, definitely hung by the chimney with care.

But that’s not Meredith’s only advent calendar—is she a lucky girl, or what? Her other calendar came from her grandma a few years ago, and is a lot more elaborate. It’s made out of fabric, and has twenty-five little pockets with numbers on them, and each pocket gets filled with a tiny treat, so that each day she can take down a pocket, get the goodie inside, and see what the picture is behind the pocket. To her credit, she actually seems almost as excited by what the picture is behind the pocket than by the treat inside. Yesterday was a gingerbread house; today was an ornament.

You can guess which jolly soul gets to fill those twenty-five tiny pockets. Yes… that would be me. Luckily I actually remembered the thing this year—last year was a bust, but I had a regular cardboard advent calendar for Meredith and I to celebrate each day, so we were fine. But this big calendar with the treats: the challenge is that the pockets are pretty small, and they are flat. You know, rather than being like a little grocery bag with pleats, they are like a teensy felt Ziploc with a string handle. So it’s actually kind of hard to find things that are tiny enough to fit, and then to get them all hung up on their buttons. So I brought one of the pockets with me when I went to Summit Spice & Tea Co. and Over the Rainbow Toys, to make sure the little things would fit inside. I didn’t find twenty-five things, but managed to scrounge up enough Christmasy stickers when I got home to fill the remaining pockets. Phew. It felt like a huge victory to get it all filled and set up for her on December 1st. I only dropped it once getting it hung up—and had to re-hang all the little pockets on their tiny buttons. But I remained jolly!

In the spirit of the holidays, I was testing this green bean recipe to see whether I might want to serve it for our Christmas Eve dinner. It is SO GOOD—especially if you use the fresh green beans from Costco. I don’t think I’ll use this recipe for Christmas Eve, though, because the beans are so amazingly good right when they come out of the oven—crispy and hot and perfect, and I don’t want to be messing around with things right at the last minute. But for a regular dinner anytime? Try them—you will LOVE them!




roasted green beans with lemon and pine nuts

This recipe is based on one by Ris Lacoste in a Cooks Illustrated magazine. I used a small fraction of the oil she called for, and it was still plenty rich and VERY delicious! She calls for roasting chunks of garlic with the green beans, but I used garlic oil (already in my ‘fridge—see recipe options below) because I didn’t want to deal with chunks of burned or raw garlic. Garlic always seems to roast faster than the other veggies when I try it. However, if you are reluctant to make the garlic oil (either variation), just use regular olive oil.

And if you want to try roasting the garlic like she recommends (but I didn’t try this), Ms. Lacoste says to take a whole head of garlic, peel the cloves, quarter each clove lengthwise (if the cloves are small, halve them), and add them to the green beans before roasting, and toss them with the olive oil.

Adding the Parmesan cheese is delicious, but it’s kind of like gilding the lily, these beans are so good even without it—the lemon zest and pine nuts are wonderful with the crispy but tender beans.

2 pounds fresh green beans, rinsed well, stem ends trimmed
3 tablespoons garlic oil (see recipes, below) or olive oil
about 3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (from 3 medium lemons), plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
kosher salt
¼ cup pine nuts
2 to 4 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 450°F. Put the beans in a large bowl. Toss the beans with the garlic oil, about 2 tablespoons of the lemon zest (use about 2/3 of the amount you have), and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
2. Coat two or three rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray, and then spread the beans on the sheets and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Stir the beans with a spatula and continue roasting until they are lightly browned and tender throughout, another 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, spread the pine nuts out on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the bottom of the oven until just golden, about 5 minutes. Watch them carefully, and stir them around as necessary to keep them from burning. (They go from pale to burnt in a micro-second.)
4. Transfer the beans to a shallow bowl and dress with the lemon juice and the remaining lemon zest. Toss gently to coat. Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese, if you decide to use it, while the beans are still nice and hot so the cheese melts. Serve hot or at room temperature.

the easiest garlic oil:
Mash or mince 3 or 4 garlic cloves and cover with ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Let steep for 30 minutes if you have time. Strain out the garlic and store the oil in the refrigerator.

olive oil infused with roasted garlic:

This is a recipe for the olive oil that I bring to the market to sell when I’ve just made the Alaskan cheese & roasted garlic bread. It’s the leftover garlic oil that we use to roast the garlic—actually, the garlic is slowly poached in the oil, but it tastes so much like roasted garlic that I call it roasted. The garlic is sweet and soft and luscious, and the resulting oil has wonderful, mellow flavor that is intensely garlicky at the same time. Keep it refrigerated. It’ll solidify in the refrigerator, but just scoop out a spoonful and let it come to room temperature, and it’ll be perfectly good. It’s great for roasting just about any vegetable. Or you can dunk your toast in it!

You might be wondering what do you do with the garlic? Well, just use it in anything that calls for roasted garlic! Spread it on toast, put it in salad dressings, or mash it with a fork and add it to a soup or a stew that needs a little perking up. I keep it in a pint jar in the freezer or refrigerator, ready to use any time!

several heads of garlic, cloves peeled
olive oil (you don’t need extra-virgin olive oil for this—the garlic imparts so much flavor that you can use regular olive oil)

1. Put all the whole peeled garlic cloves in a heavy pot. Cover the garlic cloves completely with olive oil.
2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Give the garlic a stir, and then turn the heat down to the absolute lowest possible heat, cover the pot, and simmer just at a bare bubble. Stir the garlic occasionally and continue to cook until the garlic cloves are completely soft and tender, and you can easily squish them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. This will probably take an hour or more, but check after 45 minutes.
3. Uncover the pot and let cool. Strain the garlic from the oil. This garlic can be used in any recipe that calls for roasted garlic. You can freeze the garlic indefinitely (I keep it in pint-sized canning jars in the freezer), and just take

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