Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Homemade Baked Beans with Bacon

Homemade Baked Beans, Closeup



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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?"

Sliced Onions Sauteing in Dutch Oven

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.

Homemade Baked Beans with Cornbread

"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.

Thickened BBQ Sauce, Ready to Puree

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.



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Photo Tutorial

Boiling Pot of Water
Bring 1 gallon of water to the boil.

Beans in Slow Cooker
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.

Spice Mix
Measure and mix together the spices for the beans.

Spice Mix Added to Beans
Sprinkle the spice mix over the beans and add the bay leaf.

Boiled Water Added to Beans and Spices
Pour the boiling water over the beans and spices and stir to thoroughly combine.

Slow Cooker Covered
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.

Slow Cooked Beans, Drained
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).

12 Ounces of Sliced Smoked Bacon
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).

Diced Smoked Bacon
Dice the bacon.

Diced Bacon Added to Dutch Oven
Add the bacon to the preheated pot.

Crispy Smoked Bacon
Cook the bacon until crispy, stirring frequently.

Crispy Bacon, Draining on Paper Towels
Remove the bacon bits from the pot and drain on paper towels. Drain out most of the remaining bacon fat from the pot.

Onions, Sliced
While the bacon cooks, peel, halve and slice two large yellow onions.

Sliced Onions Sauteing in Dutch Oven
Add the onion to the pot over and saute over medium-low heat.

Sliced Onions, Softened
Saute the onions until softened, about 5 minutes.

Ripe Roma Tomatoes
While the onions saute, prepare your other ingredients starting with 2 ripe Roma tomatoes.

Diced Roma Tomatoes
Core and dice the tomatoes.

3 Cloves of Garlic with Garlic Press
Mince or press 3 garlic cloves.

1/2 Cup Minced Roasted Red Peppers
Mince the homemade roasted red peppers - you will need 1/2 cup, minced.

Minced Crystalizd Ginger
Mince 2 teaspoons of crystallized ginger.

Tomatoes and Minced Garlic Added to Softened Onions
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).

Roasted Red Peppers and Crystalized Ginger Added to Dutch Oven
Next add the roasted red pepper and minced ginger. Stir to combine and cook for another 2 minutes.

1 Cup Homemade Barbecue Sauce
Measure 1 cup of homemade barbecue sauce.

Barbecue Sauce and Maple Syrup Added to Dutch Oven
Add the barbecue sauce and 1/4 cup of maple syrup to the pot.

2 Cups Purified Water
Immediately add 2 cups of purified water.

Quart of Organic Beef Broth
Also add 1 quart (4 cups) of organic beef stock.

Water, Beef Stock and Beans Added to Dutch Oven
Add the reserved beans and stir everything together.

Crispy Smoked Bacon Added to Dutch Oven
Stir in the crispy bacon, cover the pot with a fitting lid and bring the beans to the boil.

Homemade Baked Beans with Bacon
Transfer the beans to the oven and bake uncovered at 375F for 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes until thickened as desired.

Homemade Baked Beans, Closeup
Keep warm for up to 2 hours or serve immediately.

Homemade Baked Beans, Overhead
I highly recommend serving these beans with a side of cornbread or corn muffins.



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Homemade Baked Beans with Bacon

    by Javelin Warrior
     Prep Time: 4 hrs
     Cook Time: 2 hrs

Ingredients (serves 10)
    For the Beans
    • 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
    For the Sauce
    • 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

    Instructions
    1. Preheat the oven to 375℉
    2. 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
    3. 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
    4. 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
    5. Add the barbecue sauce, maple syrup, beef stock, purified water, kosher salt and reserved beans to the pot and stir to combine thoroughly
    6. 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.

      Boiled Water Added to Beans and Spices
       
    • 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.

      1 Cup Homemade Barbecue Sauce
       
    • 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.

      Maple Syrupe
       
    • 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.

      Crispy Bacon, Draining on Paper Towels
       
    • 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.

      Perfect Corn Muffins



    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!

    Four Seasons Food
    Four Seasons Food hosted by Delicieux and Chezfoti



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    10 comments:

    1. Really good stuff! I love baked beans, and I'll be making them tomorrow. Although I'm going to cheat and used the canned kind. I know, I know! I do make them from scratch, too, and in a couple of different ways. Such a great dish, isn't it? And yours looks perfect. Thanks for this.

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    2. lol I'm not judging, John! Bush's makes a decent can of beans and when they're served at picnics, I usually take some ;) I'm so glad you liked this version of baked beans and thanks for the kind words...

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    3. This looks amazing, I am so curious about the crystallized ginger as an addition, how clever! I love home made baked beans but I have never done anything as elaborate as this, very inspiring :)

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    4. mjskit @mjskitchen.comJuly 3, 2013 at 11:51 PM

      So glad to see you putting the cans away for cooking up some real beans! Definitely more time consuming but you there is no comparison in taste! Your beans look delicious and definitely worthy of any Fourth of July celebration anywhere! I'd love them on my table!

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    5. I love crystalized ginger and I seem to be adding to a number of dishes recently - a little sweet and a little spicy :) It's true, these beans are a little elaborate (maybe a lot) but I think the final result is worth it. I'm so glad you enjoyed, Petra!

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    6. You're so kind, MJ! I'd happily bring a pot of these beans over especially if you're making one of your delicious entrees. I hope you have a wonderful Fourth!

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    7. I'm glad boyfriend and beans found a way to get along, even if it did take 4 years! I'm not surprised, I can't imagine anyone not liking these - they look amazing, with such great flavours, I love the addition of the ginger. I really must have a go at cornbread too - being a Brit, I've never come across it but I keep seeing Ina Garten making it and it always looks delicious and so easy!

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    8. I suppose if I push something one him long enough, he has no choice but to learn to like it ;) But he's honest and I know he enjoys these. Personally, the cornbread/corn muffins are my favorite part of this meal. Because I always seem to eat them together. I don't think I've ever watched Ina make cornbread - that must be something more recent...

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    9. OMG these beans look truly AMAZING! And well worth tinkering with a recipe for 4 years for!!! I once made a version of Boston Baked Beans and was very disappointed ..... though it was years ago and I can't remember why.....and have been meaning to give homemade baked beans another shot ever since! And your recipe would definitely do it for me. Glad you converted the boyfriend to them! And thanks for entering them to the Four Seasons Food challenge, the ultimate barbecue side :))

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    10. You're so kind, Louisa! I've never tried the classic Boston baked beans recipe (although I have a couple cookbooks that I believe include a version of it). The spice mix/ingredient list never really appealed so much to me. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post and I'm happy to be able to share with FSF!

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