The genius of Dorcas Reilly: More than 100 million Americans will have her dish on the table this Thanksgiving.

This is my first re-post, but it is so seasonally appropriate.

It also came to mind because some relatives I love dearly asked if I could make “the” green bean casserole.

Wait. I don’t do that.

Fortunately, I have wriggled my way into other responsibilities, but I know I am clearly in the minority:

Stock Tips:  Buy Luby’s.  Buy Campbell’s. (from May 2010)

If Luby’s stockholders read the Taste section of the San Antonio Express-News, I thought, NYSE: LUB will tumble dramatically on Monday.

A reader wrote in to the San Antonio Express-News requesting an “old” Luby’s recipe for eggplant casserole.  To the credit of the “new” Luby’s, which is promoting “healthy sensations,” the manager of an area Luby’s said she could not find the recipe.

The Express’ Karen Haram dug up the recipe from a 1994 column.  The ingredients seem more vintage than that.  In addition to eggplant, the casserole includes diced onion, peppers and celery.  Fine so far.  But the add-ins and add-ons include a can of cream-style corn, a can of cream of mushroom soup, bacon bits, two cups of crumbled cornbread and a cup of, believe it or not, shredded American cheese.  Results:  Extremely well-disguised eggplant with the capability of single-handedly supplying more than half of your sodium intake for the day.

Having not purchased a can of mushroom soup for at least 25 years, I thought nobody was cooking this way any longer.  But I am dead wrong.  My cooking evidently is out of step with the majority of America.

Dorcas Reilly gets a lot of the credit (blame?).  According to Rod Taylor in a 2003 article for Promo Magazine:

Reilly was the midwife, as it were, who gave birth 48 years ago to the mother of all comfort foods: “Campbell Soup’s Green Bean Casserole.”

The now 77-year-old Reilly was in charge of the Campbell Soup Co. test kitchen in 1955 when the recipe was created.  “My initial inspiration for the Green Bean Casserole was really quite simple,” Reilly notes.  “I wanted to create a quick and easy recipe around two things most Americans always had on hand in the 1950s: green beans and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup….”

Campbell estimates that 40% of its annual sales of Cream of Mushroom Soup end up in this recipe, which isn’t too surprising when you consider the company also estimates that 1.5 million cans of Campbell’s soup are used as an ingredient to prepare dinner every day….  Although consumers use the recipe year-round in their cooking, Thanksgiving represents the pinnacle of usage with an estimated 20% to 30% of all US households making the casserole for their holiday feast.

Run the numbers on that one and you’ll discover we’re talking 17.6 million homes on the low end.  Figure that one casserole feeds six, and you’re reaching an estimated 105.6 million Americans in one meal, well over a third of the total population, and that’s on the low side as an estimate….  Consider this:  their Cream of Mushroom soup ranks as one of the six fastest moving items in the entire dry grocery category.

And think about all the additional people who purchased other brands of mushroom soup?

Taylor claims:

Last year Reilly appeared at the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame to donate her original copy of the recipe to the museum.  Her now-yellowed 8 x 11 recipe card takes its place alongside Enrico Fermi’s invention of the first controlled nuclear reactor and Thomas Alva Edison’s two greatest hits:  the lightbulb and the phonograph.

That seems like a big stretch for combining cans of soup and green beans, and I could not verify the story.  The National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, is closed right now as it prepares for the opening of a major exhibition, “Inventive Eats: Incredible Food Innovations,” which does, however, sound like a logical time to spotlight Reilly’s contribution to American cuisine.

But wait, is this the same country in which Julia & Julia grossed $95 million at the box office?  Paraphrasing Julia Child’s husband Paul in the film, I thought her book changed the world.

Campbell Soup Company’s stock continues to rise.

Hey, five recipes on the label of every can, all much easier than any of those through which Julie Powell plowed and blogged her way.

Forget my initial market prediction.  Buy Luby’s stock.  Buy Campbell Soup Company’s stock.

A substantive stay-cation at Sustenio

Took a vacation today. Well, not a real one, but a brief mid-day stay-cation, a totally relaxing, pampered experience.

Julia Rosenfeld almost reeled me in as soon as she posted “soft-shell crab” on Facebook. I’ve been following them everywhere this summer – Luke, Bliss, Sushi Zuchi and Where Y’At Third Coast Kitchen. There was a substantial price tag at the bottom of this crab trail, but the Mister stepped forward and offered the master cooking class with Chefs Stephan Pyles and David Gilbert at Sustenio as an anniversary present, one much nicer than mine to him.

Tequila at 11 a.m. was a great start. If classes in college had begun this way, I never would have cut a one. With Cointreau, a jalapeno-infused simple syrup and passion fruit puree each in equal parts to the lime juice, the “passion chile margarita” was a tad on the sweet side. Not so sweet that I didn’t enjoy inheriting Julia’s.

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Smoking and grilling was the billing, and perhaps that is why most of the attendees were male. The main part of the grilling lesson was about using charcoal briquettes and chunks of soaked hardwood, lit with an electric starter. Lighter fluid always scared me to death. I assumed no one used it any more except when actually grilling some place without power, but that probably is one more bit of evidence that I’m not from Texas. Chef Pyles read Cort Sinnes’ condemnation of lighter fluid from The Grilling Book:

If aliens from outer space landed in a typical suburban neighborhood around 6:00 p.m. on any given weekend, when the aroma of lighter fluid is at its most pervasive, they would surely conclude that ours is a volatile atmosphere…. lighter fluid is on  the wrong side of the fence when it comes to a “natural” approach to life….

We didn’t really hang out at the virgin grill much; most of the food preparation was inside where we sat at clothed tables facing the open demonstration kitchen with two mounted screens providing overhead views of the action.

This method of learning to cook is quite appealing. Twomey by Silver Oak Cellars, Sauvignon Blanc 2010 arrived at the table while gazpacho was being prepared.

In fact, Chef Pyles’ method of cooking is appealing as well, scurrying sous-chefs having chopped everything in advance and placed it conveniently in front of him in tidy little containers. Plus, none of the food had to be prepared completely; like Keebler elves, cooks in the main kitchen out of our view were preparing what we were served.

But Chef is a bit testy; the containers were hard to open and the blender not delivered prior to being requested. We think he should have knocked back a couple of those mood-improving margaritas first or learn to disguise his peevishness.

Ah, but the smoked tomato gazpacho with goat’s cheese-horseradish panna cotta and olive oil powder was amazingly good. The addition of a small red beet gave it a deep, shocking violet hue.

On to a glass of Emina, Medina del Campo, Verdejo, Spain 2010. Even though my soft-shell crab was the runt of the litter, measuring about three inches from toe to toe, Pyles’ method of grilling it made it my favorite preparation of the seasonal delicacy. The crabs were simply brushed with a basil pesto and placed on the grill, resulting in less grease than most recipes. The accompanying tomato-ginger jam was perfect on the side, although knowing 3 cups of sugar were used to make 3 1/4 cups of jam is unsettling.

Next, a pour of Ritual by Vermonte, Casablanca Valley, Chile, Pinot Noir 2009. Loved the molasses marinade – soy sauce, dark beer, dark molasses, lemon and orange zest, lemon verbena and fresh ginger – for the quail and the way it caramelized while grilling. Corn pudding tamales stuffed with goat cheese and sautéed onion were a wonderful invention, particularly with the morita chile salsa.

Finally, a Becker Vineyard, Provencal Rose 2011 and rosemary-citrus grilled peaches with jamon serrano ice cream. In the preparation, the serrano ham was discarded as was most of its flavor; I longed for little bits of it in the ice cream. The grilled peach was a perfect summery touch.

Was the class worth its $75 price tag? I don’t think anyone left complaining. We were well-entertained, well-fed, professionally served and left with a nicely spiral bound booklet of recipes.

Will the Mister see a return on the investment, aside from the fact that I feel cheerfully rejuvenated from the retreat? While I didn’t experience an a-ha moment that will revolutionize my cooking forever, I do plan on talking him into grilling soft-shell crab the next time we cook it. I’d like to make the tamales but fear that scurrying sous-chefs made that look a lot easier than it is. I also think I’ll make the morita salsa some time.

The salsa was so good Julia enticed our server to bring me a small bit to go to take home for the Mister. And, as I don’t venture to the north side that often, she suggested chicken and mole tamales from Tamahli for him.

That was my intention when I exited Wurzbach, but Ali Baba International Food Market lured me into its parking lot instead. So strangely, I came home from Sustenio with all kinds of cupboard-filling food products we didn’t need. But Ari’s “honey with aligned nuts” – pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, roasted chickpeas, walnuts and raisins in honey – seemed crying out for our next cheese plate. And the fresh still-warm Syrian bread was too hard to resist. So the Mister’s pre-band-gig snack ended up being the bread, warmed with cream cheese and what I billed as the morita salsa. Whoops, the server snuck me tomato jam instead. Still delicious.

Thanks, Chefs. Sustenio seems to be a great addition to San Antonio. I’m certainly still content hours after my visit.

Grandma’s rusks refuse to be rushed…

This description of a treasured recipe handed down to husband Lamar was published in the 2012 February-March issue of San Antonio Taste Magazine as part of a feature article I wrote on artisan breads:

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Grandma – my husband Lamar’s grandmother, Virginia Lamar Hornor (1895-1988) – always claimed the secret to her rusks was her ancient gas Chamberlain stove. The recipe she used was handed down through the Lamar family as they migrated from Georgia to Mexico to try to earn a living in the decades after the Civil War.

The best guess for the origins of this rustic bread is that shortages of white flour during the war led to a more creative use of graham flour, a version of whole wheat. While born out of necessity, the recipe remains a family favorite for its taste, probably boosted by a heavy dash of sentimentality.

To me, and perhaps to Lamar’s mother as well who declined to tackle it, the recipe is hardly one at all. What is “enough” graham flour? Four cups? Six cups? What kind of “sponge?” How much white flour is “sufficient?”

But Lamar gamely picked up the tradition where Grandma left off. Through the years, he has developed some rather picky (my word) rules about preparation and ingredients; although I admit they enhance the flavor.

A yeast cake yields better results than dry yeast, and we finally have been able to find the cakes in the refrigerator section of Central Market. We have switched to King Arthur Premium 100% Whole Wheat Flour because its texture and flavor more closely mimics the harder, if not impossible, to find graham than standard, more finely ground whole wheat flours. And it must be freshly purchased; no matter if the canister is already full.

The nutmeg must be freshly grated, again for texture and taste. Early efforts to grate the hard kernel almost always resulted in blood, but I recently purchased a new one at Melissa Guerra’s at Pearl that offers ample protection for the fingers.

All mixing and kneading is done by hand because the only way to determine when the proportions are correct is by feel.

Warning: Rusks refuse to rise when rushed. Even when preparing for an evening meal, they should be covered and set out the night before for the first rise.

How this banker by day, baker by night knows how much flour or water to add when defies my understanding. I’ve decided it is an inbred bread sense, similar to the way he plays the guitar by ear. I don’t have it, but should you, this recipe could become a treasured one for your family as well.