Earlier in the year, I spent some time with some of my older cookbooks, in particular The New Basics Cookbook, which was once a favorite of mine – as evidenced by its spattered pages and cracked binding – but in recent years, hasn’t really inspired me. I still use the Mac and Cheese recipe (which uses penne and gruyere), but that’s about it.
In the chapter on beans, I found a fairly simple recipe for red beans with rice, so I made it, in hopes that it might meet The Child’s approval. She adores beans, and as a result I’ve learned to appreciate – if not love – them, but we’ve gotten tired of many of my standby bean recipes.
In the New Basics recipe, the beans are supposed to bake for 90 minutes, but at the end of that time, they were still disagreeably watery. I cooked the beans for another hour, then another, and finally the texture was just right. The Child loved them.
After three and a half hours of baking, I had enough beans for one dinner (for two) and one lunch of leftovers (for one).
In my universe, that’s not enough food to warrant that kind of oven time, so I doubled the recipe and cooked it in the slow cooker, where it cooked fine, but there was still the problem of too much liquid. I made the recipe several more times, and finally got the liquid balance right. The Child adored each of my efforts.
I found it all rather bland, though I was happy enough to keep making it, since she happily continued to eat it.
I didn’t go looking for another bean recipe; in fact, I was looking for a blackberry scone recipe when I checked The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook out of the library. But on flipping through the pages, I found a baked bean recipe that promised to be a “fresher, cleaner” version of traditional baked beans – which I love but, you will not be surprised to learn, The Child does not.
The Big Sur Bakery does not lie. These beans are everything baked beans should be – lightly sweet, lightly smoky, lightly spiced, robustly flavorful. The sweetness is not overbearing, there is no overly assertive vinegar or tomato or anything as I’ve found in some recipes. The seasoning was so perfect I found myself eating it straight from the pan, and though the beans would be great alongside pork, I made rice, something I could make quickly, so that I wouldn’t have to wait to eat those beans.
I might have had a few spoonfuls while the rice was cooking.
The recipe needs a bit of advanced planning. You won’t get the same result using canned beans, which won’t stand up to the long cooking time needed to infuse the beans with flavor. But most of the time is untended, and none of the ingredients are hard to find.
I made a couple of minor substitutions: First, I used vegetable broth instead of chicken stock, which I thought I had on hand and, well, didn’t. I substituted 1 tsp of dried herbs for the fresh oregano and thyme, same reason. And I omitted the parsley because I just don’t like it.
Also, I didn’t use freshly ground coffee – I use Folgers, so that’s what went in. Yes, I live in Seattle and I use Folgers. (I run it through a fancy French press, if that makes the idea more palatable. It makes all coffee wonderful. Really.)
I was pleased to have an ample supply of leftovers the next day. Sadly, though, I made this recipe on the first day of school, so The Child disappeared into her bedroom with her dinner, so she could continue analyzing the day via skype with her friends). Her jury, at least, is still out.
- 1 pound dried red, navy, or cranberry beans
- 1 small onion, halved
- 1 small carrot
- 1 small celery stalk
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 3 ounces bacon, diced (3-4 slices)
- 3 tbsp whole-grain mustard
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground coffee
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- Place the beans in a large bowl, cover with water and soak at room temperature overnight. Drain the beans and place them in a medium pot with the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, garlic, stock, and bacon. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, but not mushy, about 30-45 minutes (they will cook further in the oven). Skim off any foam that forms.
- Strain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard the onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaf; set the beans aside.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a small bowl, combine the mustard, brown sugar, ground coffee, ground pepper, salt, and reserved cooking liquid. Combine the beans and the sauce in a baking dish, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until the beans have absorbed most of the liquid. Remove from the oven, and stir in the herbs.
The original recipe calls for "freshly ground coffee." I used Folgers and it was fine. Folgers also makes a nice cup of coffee when used in a French press. I live in Seattle. I know coffee. Trust me.