In The Kitchen: Maple Baked Beans

This is a recipe loaded with potential.  It requires planning ahead because the beans have to be soaked overnight in the refrigerator.  Then, they need about 5-7 hours of roasting time in a low oven.  Despite all the time it takes, these are well worth the effort.  They don't require a lot of baby-sitting, nor a lot of chopping.  The only real test of your kitchen mettle is time and patience while you allow them to develop to their tasty potential.

I watched Ina Garten of the Barefoot Contessa make these beans on her show.  It was the first time I was tempted to move beyond the can.  Now, I'm cursed, because it will not be possible to go back to the old way.  They were that good.  You can find the recipe here on the Food Network.  Mike and I agreed that the beans are delicious as is, but they have plenty of potential for experimentation.  I served it with slices of grocery store ham, then we had it as leftovers last night.  Mike thought it was better to chunk the ham into bite-sized pieces and mix it in.  We both want to try serving the whole thing over a toasted crusty bread, like sourdough.  That might just be the piece de resistance.

Okay, I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking about that particularly worrisome characteristic of beans.  Let me think how to say this. . . (pause to turn off the smoke alarm--it always goes off when I think) . . . .  I'll use a term Erik used when he was three years old.  You can eat these beans without risking "gassy 'splosions."  Neither Mike nor I had any problem with that.

Here are my notes about the recipe:  First, Ina calls for 1 tablespoon "Chinese chili paste."  I wasn't exactly sure what she was referring to here.  I used Thai red curry paste, and that made the dish just slightly too spicy for us.  If you like some heat, you might actually like it this way.  The heat had died away by the second day.  So if you make it a day ahead and then reheat it, you won't notice any problem with the heat.  Nevertheless, the next time I make this dish (and there will definitely be a next time), I'll use Chinese chili-garlic sauce.  I looked up "Chinese chili paste" on the internet, and chili-garlic sauce appeared.  I think that might be what she meant.  She lives in New Hampshire, and sometimes regional differences make themselves known.

Secondly, I think the 6-7 hours of roasting time in the oven could probably be done in the crockpot.  That would use less energy than the oven, and it would be a little easier.  I think if I were going to do this, however, I'd probably fry the bacon up ahead of time.  I'm not sure the crockpot gets hot enough to cook the bacon.  Also, I just chunked up the bacon and stirred it in.  I didn't bother with putting half of it on top since I didn't think that really made any difference.  It might keep the beans from drying out, but that wasn't a problem when I made it.  I ended up adding just one-half cup of the cooking liquid during the entire roasting time, but I think the beans would have been fine without it.

Finally, I've given you some ideas about different ways to serve this dish.  This morning, I warmed up a single serving of beans in the microwave and then topped it with a fried egg.  Dee-lish!  A protein-packed breakfast for sure.  And with George itching for a walk, it's a good way to start the day.

With the Fourth of July coming up, this would be a good dish to try for your family celebrations.  Enjoy!

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