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Fear Conquered: Can-less Baked Beans
"Whatcha making?" Boyfriend Javelin asks, lounging against the counter next to me. We're in our old house in Cleveland, it's after 7 PM and I'm a little grumpy.
"Well," I start, knowing that no description of what I'm making is going to impress. Because I'm starting with cans - and not even cans of something he likes. "I'm gonna try something with these beans," I say and gesture to the two cans of unopened generic baked beans on the counter. Beans we bought for cheap at Aldi over a year ago.
"Oh yeah?" Boyfriend Javelin asks and eyes the cans somewhat dubiously. "Besides adding onions, what else are you doing to them?"
I get defensive when he quizzes me. Especially in the kitchen. Especially when it's after 7 PM and I just want to eat. Or when I feel guilty about cooking from cans. "Well...I'm adding the onions," I say, scrambling to think up other magic ingredients. To somehow makes this less of a crime. "And maybe some mustard," I say. Yes, mustard, that might work. "And we've got some barbecue sauce I could use up," I continue, wheels turning faster, "and maybe some maple syrup." To balance out all that darn mustard and barbecue sauce I've just promised to add.
Boyfriend Javelin frowns but shrugs. "Okayyyy," he says, drawing out the word slowly. "As long as that's not ALL we're eating. I don't really like baked beans much." But then he doesn't like pumpkin pie, either. Or corn on the cob. Or nuts. Or deviled eggs. Or Boston Market cornbread, for that matter. Yet he's not - absolutely NOT! - a picky eater.
"I was gonna make hotdogs too," I say defensively. And I have a whole new reason to feel guilty. Cheap, prepackaged, processed dogs covered in ice and freezer burn waiting to be nuked in the microwave.
"Are you putting the hotdogs in the beans?" he asks. "Cause that's about the only way I'll eat baked beans."
I try not to sigh. But I don't succeed. It's a very loud sigh that escapes. The start of a hurricane. "No," I snap, pointing to a package of hotdog buns - covered in ice crystals - defrosting on the counter. "I was going to do hotdogs with buns because we need to use up both." I pause and take a vigorous whack at the remaining onion half. "They've been in the freezer for over a year," I go on. But that's not why I pulled them out. And that's not why we're having hotdogs. We're having doctored cans of beans and frostbitten hotdogs in soggy buns because it's after 7 PM and I don't feel like cooking.
"Sooo..." Boyfriend Javelin says, letting the word hang. "Why are we having baked beans again?" He cocks his head to one side. Like I'm some kind of zoo attractions he can't figure out. "We've enough carbs with the buns. What do we need the beans for?"
I suck in air. Like I'm about to dive into a pool. I drop my knife with a clatter to the cutting board and open my mouth to say something particularly nasty. Something I already know I shouldn't say.
Thankfully, he get's there first.
"I'm not saying you shouldn't make baked beans," he says, pausing and giving me the don't-you-dare-say-what-I-know-you're-about-to-say look. We stare at each other for a moment until I finally look down. And feel even more terrible about the lazy cans and cheap processed dogs.
Boyfriend Javelin seems to pick up on it. "I'm not saying I won't like the way YOU make them," he goes on, almost gently. "I'm just saying I don't like baked beans in general. Adding hotdogs is what makes them barely tolerable."
I nod, feeling even worse. Because now, even if he HATES the beans, he'll eat them anyway. Because he knows I feel bad. I turn back to my cutting board. I have to fix this mess of a dinner. Cans, frostbitten hotdogs, soggy buns and all.
That was four years ago. Me, shamefully cooking with cans. And not even good canned beans. Generic canned beans. Yes, the very same guy who insists on from-scratch cooking and goes to great lengths to avoid cans - caught red-handed taking shortcuts!
Lest you get too gleeful, I assure you there are no canned beans in this recipe. But the basic principles of doctoring beans with barbecue sauce, maple syrup and onions hasn't changed. Yet unlike cans, there's nothing boring about these baked beans. They're so tasty, I've even eliminated the nitrate-loaded processed hotdogs entirely.
Like most of my recipes, this final version has seen many iterations. I first had to figure out homemade barbecue sauce. Then the right spice mix for the beans. Then the right balance between spicy, sweet and easy. Finally, I had to eliminate hotdogs. Because no good baked bean recipe should require chopped-up hotdogs.
Four years ago, my guilty mess of a dinner ultimately delivered up hotdog-less baked beans that Boyfriend Javelin managed choke down. The recipe I'm sharing today he willingly eats. It requires no guilt, no doctoring, no dogs. These beans are sweet yet mildly spicy with a little smokiness to finish. And loaded with slow cooked onion pieces, roasted red pepper and tasty bits of bacon. Do these beans taste like Busch's? Absolutely not. Is that a good thing? Hmmmm... Allow me to point out one more time that no hotdogs are required.
STORY | PRINTABLE RECIPE | HUNGRY FOR TIPS?
|Bring 1 gallon of water to the boil.|
|While the water comes to the boil, add 1 cup of great northern beans, 1 cup of navy beans and 1/2 cup of black beans to a slow-cooker insert.|
|Measure and mix together the spices for the beans.|
|Sprinkle the spice mix over the beans and add the bay leaf.|
|Pour the boiling water over the beans and spices and stir to thoroughly combine.|
|Cover the slow-cooker and cook the beans on the slow-cooker HIGH setting for an hour, then reduce to the LOW setting and cook for another 2 hours.|
|Drain the beans and discard the bay leaf. Reserve the beans for later (or refrigerate the beans if you plan to finish the baked beans on another day).|
|To finish the baked beans, start with 12 ounces nitrate-free smoked bacon rashers. Heat a large pot over medium-low heat (I use my enameled cast iron dutch oven).|
|Dice the bacon.|
|Add the bacon to the preheated pot.|
|Cook the bacon until crispy, stirring frequently.|
|Remove the bacon bits from the pot and drain on paper towels. Drain out most of the remaining bacon fat from the pot.|
|While the bacon cooks, peel, halve and slice two large yellow onions.|
|Add the onion to the pot over and saute over medium-low heat.|
|Saute the onions until softened, about 5 minutes.|
|While the onions saute, prepare your other ingredients starting with 2 ripe Roma tomatoes.|
|Core and dice the tomatoes.|
|Mince or press 3 garlic cloves.|
|Mince the homemade roasted red peppers - you will need 1/2 cup, minced.|
|Mince 2 teaspoons of crystallized ginger.|
|Add the tomatoes and garlic to the softened onions and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Be sure to work the brown bits up from the bottom of the pan (the tomato acid will help to de-glaze the pot).|
|Next add the roasted red pepper and minced ginger. Stir to combine and cook for another 2 minutes.|
|Measure 1 cup of homemade barbecue sauce.|
|Add the barbecue sauce and 1/4 cup of maple syrup to the pot.|
|Immediately add 2 cups of purified water.|
|Also add 1 quart (4 cups) of organic beef stock.|
|Add the reserved beans and stir everything together.|
|Stir in the crispy bacon, cover the pot with a fitting lid and bring the beans to the boil.|
|Transfer the beans to the oven and bake uncovered at 375F for 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes until thickened as desired.|
|Keep warm for up to 2 hours or serve immediately.|
|I highly recommend serving these beans with a side of cornbread or corn muffins.|
STORY | PHOTO TUTORIAL | HUNGRY FOR TIPS?
Homemade Baked Beans with Bacon
Prep Time: 4 hrs
Cook Time: 2 hrs
Ingredients (serves 10)
- 1 gallon purified water, boiling
- 1/4 pound dry black beans
- 1/2 pound dry great northern beans
- 1/2 pound dry navy beans
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 Tablespoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 12 ounces smoked bacon, diced
- 2 large yellow onions, peeled and thickly sliced
- 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup roasted red bell pepper, diced
- 2 teaspoons minced crystalized ginger
- 1 cup homemade barbecue sauce
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 4 cups organic beef stock
- 2 cups purified water
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 375℉
- Add the dry beans and seasonings to a slow-cooker insert, then add the boiling water, stir well and cover; cook the beans on the HIGH slow-cooker setting for 1 hour, then reduce to the LOW setting and cook for another 2 hours; drain the beans and reserve
- Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium-low heat; add the diced bacon and cook until crispy; transfer the bacon to drain on paper towels and pour out most of the bacon fat from the pot
- Add the sliced onions to the same pot and sauté for 5 minutes until softened; add the diced tomatoes and minced garlic and cook for 2 minutes, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot; add the roasted red pepper and crystalized ginger and cook for another 2 minutes
- Add the barbecue sauce, maple syrup, beef stock, purified water, kosher salt and reserved beans to the pot and stir to combine thoroughly
- Cover the pot and bring to the boil; transfer the pot to the preheated oven and bake uncovered for 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes; serve with cornbread or corn muffins
An original recipe by Javelin Warrior. © 2013 Javelin Warrior. All rights reserved.
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Hungry for Tips?
- Slow-Cooker: There are a lot of different ways to make baked beans. The classic method involves baking uncooked beans in enough water to cover for 6-8 hours, gradually adding more water as necessary. I find this method much too cumbersome, so I use the slow-cooker to prepare the beans in advance (sometimes a couple of days in advance) and then finish the baked beans in the oven. Less bean-babysitting required and same(ish) final result.
- Homemade Barbecue Sauce: There's two reasons I use homemade barbecue sauce: 1) I love the the flavor and consistency and 2) my barbecue sauce doesn't include high fructose corn syrup, food dyes or preservatives. However, if you choose to use a store-bought version (which I discourage), you may not need a full cup. Start with 3/4 cup and go from there.
- Maple Syrup: I like sweet and smokey baked beans with a hint of spice. So I always add maple syrup to bring out the sweetness (and add a little smokiness). A lot of classic recipes use brown sugar but it doesn't provide the same underlying flavor notes as maple syrup. If you prefer less-sweet baked beans, leave out the maple syrup.
- Smoked Bacon: The bacon is really the only pork in this recipe and is really what provides a bit of smoke flavor. To maximize the smokiness, be sure to cook the bacon in the same pot as the final baked beans.
- Vegetarian Option: If you're vegetarian, leave out the bacon and use vegetable stock instead of beef stock. You will lose a little depth of flavor and the smokiness, but the beans are still delicious.
- If you like your beans saucier, you will only need to bake the beans for about 1 1/2 hours. If you prefer sticky beans, you may want to bake for 2 1/2 hours. I'm somewhere in the middle. I find canned baked beans to be too soupy, so I bake mine for 2 hours.
- I adore baked beans and cornbread or corn muffins. In fact, it is almost a necessity for me in order to eat baked beans (unless they're served strictly as a side side). If you don't already have a tasty cornbread recipe in mind (or even if you do), check out my corn muffin recipe for inspiration. For me, it's the perfect pairing.
My friends Anneli (from Delicieux) and Louisa (from Chez Foti) host a wonderful monthly challenge called Four Seasons Food (SFS) - check it out and enjoy this month's delicious theme of Barbecues and Barbecue Side Dishes!
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