Friday, October 24, 2008

Fake baked beans

I have already admitted my love affair with beans. When it comes to baked beans, however, I am particularly nostalgic.

I have two childhood memories of baked beans. My mother used to make the real deal, the true baked beans soaked overnight and then slow cooked in the oven all day. She would use the same white Corning casserole dish for the beans that would scorch on the rim as the liquid reduced in the oven. The smoky sweet smell of bacon and maple syrup would fill the house all afternoon, and I would wait in anticipation for dinnertime. Back then, I was impressed by foods that were the result of hours of preparation. To my young mind, the caché of baked beans was only surpassed by pierogies, made from scratch only by my grandmother on her indulgent yet infrequent visits.

My second memory of baked beans is of the canned variety, which I also adored. This instant version, accompanied by steamed weiners and buttered toast, was often served for lunch at my then best friend's house by her English nanny. These lunches, along with others such as Kraft Dinner, Alphaghetti and instant chicken noodle soup, were my interpretation of high class food. Somehow I was aware and impressed by the expense of purchasing prepared food at a higher price. Strange though how at age eight, fine dining to me was either the result of hours of preparation or none at all.

And so, my beans. Until recently, I have satisfied my baked bean cravings by cracking a can of Heinz: Cravings are rarely met by cooking food that requires 24 hours of preparation. I have now created a recipe for fake baked beans, cooked on the stove in 20 minutes rather than in the oven for 8 hours. They taste better than canned, though probably not as good as the real thing. Slow cooked food, no matter how hard I try, can never be replaced.

Serves 3-4
1 Tbsp oil
1 small onion, diced
1 19-oz can navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup water
1 Tbsp blackstrap molasses
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup (optional)
In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, cook the onion in the oil until soft and translucent. Add the beans, water, molasses, tomato paste and mustard. Bring to a boil and stir until all ingredients are incorporated. Reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes with the lid off until the liquid has reduced by half. Season with salt and pepper. If using, stir in maple syrup.

NOTE: If you want to add bacon, dice two strips and fry in the oil before adding the onion. Continue with the rest of the recipe as described above.

Photo: Fake baked beans.