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Alton Brown's Green Bean Casserole

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Our resident food expert dives into the relatively recent birth of green bean casserole.

Unlike many Thanksgiving stalwarts, the green bean casserole (GBC) can’t trace its roots to culinary tradition. It was developed in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, an economist for the Campbell Soup Company. That’s right—like so many American classics, the casserole was developed as a sales tool.

Around the 1930s, big food companies like Campbell’s learned that in order to sell newly developed and processed foods, it was best to pump out recipes that featured them. The GBC was a “jiffy” casserole, requiring few ingredients and little time.

Reilly’s original recipe contains only six ingredients: cream of mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce (exotic for the time), black pepper, green beans (cooked or canned), and canned French-fried onions.

Its economy and flavor—largely thanks to gobs of fat and salt—earned the GBC near instant popularity. But a Thanksgiving feature story published by the Associated Press propelled it to immortality.

Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, which was invented in 1934, had become a pantry staple by ’55. Meanwhile, canned French-fried onions were developed one year earlier, in 1933, but languished until Reilly’s culinary breakthrough.

The bad news: A mere half cup of canned cream of mushroom soup can contain 6 g of fat and a whopping 870 mg of sodium. Canned green beans are ugly and mushy, while canned French-fried onions are downright creepy. The good news: Fresh green bean casserole is a great dish that can be whipped up from scratch with just a little more fuss.

For the topping:
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Non-stick spray

For beans and sauce:
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and halved
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/2- inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup half and half

• Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

• Combine the onions, flour, panko and salt in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Coat a sheet pan with non-stick spray and evenly spread the onions on the pan. Bake in the oven until golden brown, tossing every 10 minutes, for approximately 30 minutes. Once done, remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use. Turn the oven down to 400 degrees F.

• While the onions are cooking, prepare the beans. Bring a gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil in an 8-quart saucepan. Add the beans and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

• Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and nutmeg and continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer for 1 minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the half and half. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6 to 8 minutes.

• Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 of the onions and all of the green beans. Top with the remaining onions. Place into the oven and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Want more good news? You can try out more of my recipes by heading to mentalfloss.com/alton.

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Now go download our new iPad app! Or get a free issue of mental_floss magazine via mail.

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Brain Training Could Help Combat Hearing Loss, Study Suggests
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Contrary to what you might think, the hearing loss that accompanies getting older isn't entirely about your ears. Studies have found that as people get older, the parts of their brain that process speech slow down, and it becomes especially difficult to isolate one voice in a noisy environment. New research suggests there may be a way to help older people hear better: brain training.

The Verge reports that a new double-blind study published in Current Biology suggests that a video game could help older people improve their hearing ability. Though the study was too small to be conclusive, the results are notable in the wake of several large studies in the past few years that found that the brain-training games on apps like Luminosity don't improve cognitive skills in the real world. Most research on brain training games has found that while you might get better at the game, you probably won't be able to translate that skill to your real life.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 24 older adults, all of whom were long-term hearing-aid users, for eight weeks of video game training. The average age was 70. Musical training has been associated with stronger audio perception, so half of the participants were asked to play a game that asked them to identify subtle changes in tones—like you would hear in a piece of music—in order to piece together a puzzle, and the other half played a placebo game designed to test their memory. In the former, as the levels got more difficult, the background noise got louder. The researchers compare the task to a violinist tuning out the rest of the orchestra in order to listen to just their own instrument.

After eight weeks of playing their respective games around three-and-a-half hours a week, the group that played the placebo memory game didn't perform any better on a speech perception test that asked participants to identify sentences or words amid competing voices. But those who played the tone-changing puzzle game saw significant improvement in their ability to process speech in noise conditions close to what you'd hear in an average restaurant. The tone puzzle group were able to accurately identify 25 percent more words against loud background noise than before their training.

The training was more successful for some participants than others, and since this is only one small study, it's possible that as this kind of research progresses, researchers might find a more effective game design for this purpose. But the study shows that in specific instances, brain training games can benefit users. This kind of game can't eliminate the need for hearing aids, but it can help improve speech recognition in situations where hearing aids often fail (e.g., when there is more than one voice speaking). However, once the participants stopped playing the game for a few months, their gains disappeared, indicating that it would have to be a regular practice.

[h/t The Verge]

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Need to Calm Yourself Down? Try This Military-Approved Breathing Technique
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Whether you’re dealing with co-worker chaos or pressure to perform on a project, it’s difficult to excel at work when you're extremely stressed. Can’t escape the office? Take a cue from real-life soldiers and try a technique called tactical breathing—also known as combat breathing, four-count breathing, and diaphragmatic breathing—to lower your heart rate and regain control of your breath.

“It’s one you can use when things are blowing up around you”—both literally and figuratively—“and you need to be able to stay calm,” explains clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, who demonstrates a version of tactical breathing in Tech Insider’s video below.

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[h/t Business Insider]

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