Lord of the Beans

 

Oh man!  Do I ever love baked beans!  In my early vegetarian days whenever I would attend a family picnic, the only thing to eat was generally the beans and the potato salad.  I would take a bun and generous helping of the beans and make a sandwich.  I’m drooling thinking of this.  Despite my love for the bean that is baked, I’ve never been able to quite get it right in my own kitchen.  Bush’s has made out quite well from me as I would purchase whatever was on sale and eat it straight out of the can.  Anyway, imagine my devastation when after the birth of Liam if I even thought of beans he would have horrible gas.  Horrible.  In these days of no longer breastfeeding and working toward introducing more and more solids to his diet, we’ve gotten reacquainted with the bean.  For the record, he hates hummus, but will tolerate a bean or two in it’s whole form.
As I type this out, a serious summer storm is bearing down on my home.  I’m planning dinner and it’s occurred to me that I still have beans in my fridge from Memorial Day.  The original recipe said that it would feed 18 people and she wasn’t kidding!  What makes this recipe so special is that they are slow-cooked for almost 3 hours, allowing for the sauce the thicken and the bacon to flavor.  You could easily leave out the bacon, but I can’t imagine why.  I chose to use different beans than the recipe called for to cook the bacon until crispy.  I’ve had this recipe both ways and both times I made a fool of myself going back for 14ths.  We’ll be feasting on the leftovers tonight with potatoes and my first attempt at homemade chicken nuggets.  Let it rain, I’ll have a picnic indoors!
Baked Beans (adapted from the Pioneer Woman Cooks) 
  • 8 slices of bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 4-5 cans (15 oz) white beans
  • 3/4 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce (I still haven’t found a recipe I like, so we used a honey barbecue from the store.)
  • 1/3 brown sugar
  • 2 heaping Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (she called for distilled or apple, but I could only find my champagne vinegar.  I couldn’t tell a difference.)
Fry up the bacon in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet.  When the bacon is about 3/4 cooked, add in the onion and the pepper and fry until they are tender.  Drain the grease from the pan (if you like).  In a separate bowl mix together the sauce, sugar, mustard and vinegar until well combined.  Add the beans into the skillet and mix with the onions, pepper and bacon.  Then, pour the sauce over and stir.  Heat the bean through and then transfer to a large baking dish.  (I used my lasagna pan so that I didn’t slop 325 degree beans all over myself on my way out to the deck.)  Bake the beans, uncovered, in a 325 degree oven for 2 and a half to 3 hours, or until the sauce is like molasses in consistency.    
 
For your budding foodie: I only give my son a few beans at a time.  He’s now almost 11 months, so he can mash them up just fine, but I don’t like the results in his diaper if left to his own devices with the serving spoon.  That’s just me, though.

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Homemade Eggrolls

 Egg rolls with Sweet and Sour Pork

There used to be a fabulous Chinese restaurant in Mansfield called Bethel’s.  It was house in an old Long John Silver’s (I think) and the whole building had been painted pepto bismal pink.  It’s still there on Lexington Avenue, but it’s closed.  Of all the Asian eateries that I have been to, they had the best eggrolls, hands down.  I say this because I am an egg roll freak!  I love them… particularily when they are vegetarian.  There’s something about biting into one and finding a tiny little shrimp.  I don’t like it.  Egg rolls are very simple to make, and the fillings are very forgiving.  Like I said, I like mine vegetarian, but you could always add diced pork, mini shrimp, beef or chicken to yours.

Eggroll outline:

  • 3 parts cabbage, shredded
  • 1 part carrot, shredded
  • 1 part onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 parts bean sprouts, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • neutral oil (like canola)
  • salt and pepper
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • melted butter (if baking)

Once all the veggies have been shredded, heat a large skillet to about a medium temperature and cover the bottom with oil.  (I once did this with ghee, but the flavor was off.  You need to use a neutral oil in my opinion.)  Add in the cabbage and allow it to cook on its own for a while.  The bulk of the cabbage can be a bit bit overwhelming at first, so let it cook down before adding in the rest of the veg and garlic.  Stir it fairly often so the bottom doesn’t get too brown.  Instead of adding more oil, I often use a vegetable stock or water to keep things from burning.  Once everything is tender, add your salt and pepper and taste to make sure it’s what you want.  Depending on what kind of a sauce you plan to serve with your egg rolls, you will want to season the filling accordingly.  

Now comes the fun part.  Allow the filling to cool a bit before you start working with the wrappers so you don’t burn your fingers.  I tend to use the Nasoya brand of wrappers, but I also have some from a specialty store in my freezer that are much larger, but the same basic thing.  Choose a clean surface and lay one wrapper out in front of you so that it looks more like a diamond and not a square.  Place a large scoop of your filling on the upper third of the wrapper and fold the top over.  Then, fold the right and left sides in, bunching all three corners under the filling.  Roll the whole wrap over so that it’s a neat little package and then seal the corner with a dab of water.  Set aside and finish filling the others.  This recipe will fill an entire package of wraps depending on the size of your cabbage.  If you have too much filling, freeze it!  

There are 2 methods of cooking for you to choose from.  You can either brush the tops of your egg rolls with melted butter (so they brown and crisp up) and bake them at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or you can fry them.  I have a deep fryer that I use when I’m feeling brave and we turn the heat all the way up to 375 so the oil is good and hot, then we put in a few egg rolls at a time and fry until golden brown.  Either method turns out wonderful eggs rolls, but I tend to bake them more often than not.  It should also be noted that once they are cooled, they can be frozen for up to 6 months.  I just run them through the microwave for about 2 minutes and they are just a wonderful snack!

Potatoes Anna

My youngest niece turns 5 this weekend.  It’s funny how fast time passes.  It honestly seems just like yesterday, I was driving up to the Akron hospital where she was born to hold her for the first time.  I had never visited anyone in the hospital for a new baby and I was nervous.  I took lots of photos of her little feet.  Today she is a petite blond with tiny feet but plenty of personality.  It is in honor of her, I chose to post about this recipe today.

The original recipe is credited to a chef in the Napoleon era who created the dish in honor of the dictator’s lady friends.  Whether or not this is officially true, I’m not sure we’ll ever be certain of, but if it is… thank goodness for the need to impress!  This dish is consisted of 3 ingredients: butter, potatoes and salt.  It’s time consuming and slightly labor-intensive (if you don’t have a mandoline), but the end result is like heaven.  Crispy, buttery, potatoey heaven.  First you smell the butter and potatoes marrying the oven and then you see them and then… ahem.  Sorry, had to wipe the drool off the keyboard.  I will take this moment to inform you that the French have a special pan for making these potatoes.  It’s made out of copper and is roughly the cost of an arm or a leg.  I kid.  I couldn’t actually find a price for any of the pans I found online, so I assume they expect sticker shock when people read it.  Despite the fact that it was a little bit ghetto, shall we say, I rigged up my own version out of twp 9-inch pie plates and a foil covered brick.  

 

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and melt 2 sticks of butter.  Then, using a mandoline, slice the potatoes on the thinnest slice and then set to work arranging them in the bottom of a buttered pie dish. Beginning in the middle of your pie pan, layer the potatoes around the pan, overlapping the slices.  Sprinkle some salt (and pepper as well if you like) and then pour in a bit of the butter, just to coat the tops of the potatoes.  Continue doing this sequence until you have filled you pie pan about 3/4 of the way.  Make sure that you have thoroughly coated all the potatoes with butter.  If you are skimpy with the butter, they will not crisp up and will be dry and disappointing when you serve them.  You certainly don’t want that!  Place the second pie plate on top of the potatoes and if you want, cover a brick with tin foil and place that on top of the second plate.  You don’t have to do this part, I just wanted my potatoes to be pressed together well so that they came out a little like a cake.  Bake for 20 minutes with the second pie plate and brick, then remove them and bake for an additional 20 minutes.  If you want the bottom to be really brown, you can add more butter in between the 2 bakings.  

Once you are pleased with the brownness of the potatoes, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool just a bit.  Then, brace yourself.  Get 2 oven mitts and a serving plate.  Place the serving plate upside-down over the bottom of the potatoes.  Get a good grip on the pie plate and the serving plate together and flip them over so that the potatoes come out of the pie pan and onto the serving plate.  It is wise to do this over the sink because any excess butter may dribble and make a mess on your floor.  It was a stressful moment, but sooooo worth it in the end!  To serve, you simply slice wedges of the potatoes from the round and enjoy.  I served mine with beef brisket, without a sauce or additional flavoring of any kind.  They don’t need it.  Butter is, in fact, the nectar of the gods and combined with the potatoes in this way, you will find all sorts of reasons to indulge in this rich and unexpected side.