Pork

Baked Beans

In the past several weeks, I have twice experiemented with making baked beans. These are something we had homemade when I was a kid, but that I have never made. I started by looking at recipes.

I can’t take seriously any recipe that starts with canned pork & beans or even canned baked beans, notwithstanding that in younger, single days I made a darn good chili based on Campbell’s pork & beans. These days I focus on what I can make from inexpensive dry beans.

The first recipe I used came from a friend I first met in seventh grade, who turns out to be distantly related, as we are both Howland descendents. The identical recipe can be found online, as the classic Revolutionary War era savory Boston baked bean recipe. For my friend it is her mother’s Howland family recipe. I will distill it below, after I comment about it a little more.

The objective for me with baked beans is for them to be cheap. Tasty, too, of course, but the ingredients should not result in spending much for the amount of food obtained. Salt pork (bacon, in some recipes) was a huge surprise, and not frugal.

For my first attempt, I did want to follow a recipe exactly, so I went looking for salt pork. I assumed this would be tough, having never noticed it in store. Nope. Walmart had it. Hannaford had it. Market Basket had it. Once I looked, there it was, large amounts. It came in small packs for something like $3.49 for 12 ounces. I pointedly bought navy beans, as they seem to be a favorite, though you can use whatever. My friend’s grandfather liked them with lima beans, which seems odd to me, to say the least. I like lima beans (she hates them), but have never had them dried and can’t picture them in baked beans.

I made a recipe-free attempt of my own a couple weeks ago, using pinto beans, no meat product at all, and substantially different everything else. I know this is going to run long, but bear with me and I’ll tell you what I learned from that adventure before the end.

Classic Howland Baked Beans

Soak 1 lb of dry beans over night in enough water to cover them generously. Par boil until fairly soft. Drain and rinse.

Put 1 large chopped onion and 1/4 pound salt pork in the bottom of a slow cooker or bean pot. Cover with the beans. Sprinkle beans with 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 tablespoon salt, and 3 tablespoons of brown sugar. Add 6 tablespoons of molasses, and boiling water to cover.

If you don’t want to soak beans overnight, it’s OK to use the quick soak method, but it is important to par boil the beans until tender and rinse them well. If they are not tender enough to start, the molasses will make them like marbles no matter how long you cook them.

Pea beans or navy beans may be used, or another variety if you prefer.

The traditional way of baking this recipe is in the oven all day, or over night at a low temperature. Use a covered bean pot. Remove the lid toward the end of the baking time to allow the top to brown and to evaporate some of the liquid.

I went a little heavy on the salt pork when I made this, using half, or 6 ounces, rather than 4 ounces. Just as well, since I did not find another use for the remaining salt pork before it needed to be tossed out, making for expensive beans. I used only part of a very large, sweet onion. I may have cooked the beans less soft before baking than I could have, but they were soft enough not be a problem. Then I promptly forgot that precaution, which does not seem to be included in other baked bean recipes, or in the responses on forums where people ask how to avoid their beans being too hard. Old beans? No.

We liked but didn’t love the result of the above recipe, but it had obvious potential. By “we” I do not mean the kids. I did like the salt pork in it, and would love to try that or bacon in the future, but in an otherwise modified recipe.

The next time I made baked beans, I experimented. I winged it, and used the pinto beans I already had on hand. Chili made with those is a staple here. We have it perhaps every two weeks. The exception was the time I tried making white chili, based on nothing more than a description of what my wife had had when visiting family in Oregon. For that I used dry cannellini beans, which had a great flavor and smooth texture. But I digress.

I can’t remember clearly what I used in the pinto batch of baked beans, but my objective was a sweeter flavor, albeit still centered around molasses. Which, incidentally, I also had to buy in order to make the first batch. For some reason, I had thought molasses was far more expensive than it turned out to be. It has the benefit of long shelf life. Not to mention one container of it covering a number of batches of beans or whatnot. Haven’t yet explored the whatnot angle.

The most important lesson od the pinto baked beans involved remembering to cook them soft before baking. They did indeed come out “like marbles.” It was edible, but not the texture I want from my beans. It made up for it somewhat that the beans were so utterly imbued with flavor and transformed, but no more chewy beans for me.

I’m afraid I don’t remember the details. However, I used some onion, as with the other recipe, chopped smalled and layered bottom and middle. I used plenty of molasses, layers of brown sugar, plenty of dry mustard, salt, and a spritz of maple syrup. Not that spritz is the right word for something of that consistency, but just a little, a couple drizzles. I may have used a touch of vinegar, too, and I might not have remembered that except for the hard bean issue. When I saw what had happened and was near the end of the cooking, I tried adding a wee bit of baking soda in case that would help. It naturally foamed up from the acidity. I had the anecdotal impression that it helped ever so slightly, but that could be illusory. At any rate, if it did, it wasn’t enough. I had forgotten the need for uncovering the beans at the end, but wound up doing so because there was too much liquid. That was an additional reason I kept cooking them longer than I had expected. Despite what the original recipe says, I found it didn’t need all day. Just a few hours.

Next I will try making them less sweet than the second experiment, but with beans cooked into submission ahead of time. They were delicious, and went fantastically with a burger or bread and butter, but less brown sugar would have improved them. If I can have some on hand anyway, perhaps from a sale, with the rest to be used for a different meal, I’d love to add some bacon.

I’ll try to remember to post about what I do and how it turns out.

Shredded Pork Tacos

Okay, I have mention a couple topics I was going to talk about once I felt I had time. Close enough.

First, shredded pork tacos, as shown in this pictorial. The kids normally get the various ingredients loose on their plate, which is handy for pictures that show said ingredients.

Here is the recipe as originally found [dead link – glad I replicated the recipe below] here:

4 Flour tortillas (or taco shells)
1 Cup chicken broth
1/2 Cup enchilada sauce
1 Boneless pork roast 2 1/2 lbs
Choice of toppings such as shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato, olives (ick), avocado, sour cream, or presumably anything else you might think is appropriate.

Trim the fat and put the pork in a crockpot, add broth, and cook on low 8 – 10 or high 4 – 5 hours.

Remove meat and discard broth. Shred meat. Put 2 cups of the meat in a medium saucepan, mixing with the enchilada sauce and heat on low to medium heat until hot.

Heat the tortillas or taco shells as needed and assemble as desired, like any other taco.

I was tempted to experiment, but I stuck with the recipe as closely as I could. In my case, “chicken broth” meant a single chicken bullion cube dissolved in a cup of hot water (I fill a Pyrex cup and microwave 2 minutes, then drop in the cube).

In my case, I had five frozen pork loin steaks that came to about the right weight, which it turned out made exactly two batches of meat filling. I used the crockpot on high about four hours, flipping the meat a few times.

The pork came out tasty but extremely salty. Probably salt content of the bullion combined with the cooking method soaking it in so well.

I had a 10 oz can of I forget which brand of enchilada sauce. That made half a can close enough to what the recipe required for each batch. I would imagine brands of the sauce vary. I can see why you’d use it as a quickie surrogate for the type of liquid and spices you’d use in traditional taco meat.

We used our standard burrito size flour tortillas, which we heat on a round flat pan, flipping a time or three as needed. When I start burning my fingers, it’s hot enough. Heh. You can tell, and it’s a matter of taste whether you want only to soften, or to crisp them slightly. The former is more traditional, but kids happen.

I shredded a bunch of cheese. For this sort of thing we usually do a mix of Monterey jack and medium cheddar, but it depends what we have. The second night of these it was mostly a Colby/jack marbled cheese that’s tasty on crackers. The anti-veggie crowd might stop there, or there plus sour cream.

We had lettuce and tomato on hand, so I cut up some of that. The girls have a surprising love of that stuff, especially tomato.

We put it together and it was fantastic. It tasted oddly similar to something you’d eat at Taco Bell. Fascinating.

Which makes me think of my reaction when I bought cumin for the first time. Cumin smells like Taco Bell. So I assumed cumin is an ingredient of enchilada sauce and… Helllloooo Google!… I looked it up and sure enough, it is. In fact, my impression is that enchilada sauce is essentially Mexican gravy. Some recipes call for tomato sauce. Others don’t. They all call for oil, flour, water or beef stock, and spices, prepared similarly to the way I would make gravy. Go figure.

Anyway, I was looking at recipes for barbecue shredded pork when I found the taco recipe. Those are an interesting and varied lot. I’ll want to try the taco variant again, but in a more do-it-yourself, experimental way. I’d also like to try the barbecue variant, which I should be able to pretty much make up as I go along. I wouldn’t object if anyone has a good recipe to share, though.

On a final note, some of the barbecue shredded pork recipes actually call for cloves. I’m intrigued by that. I have some whole cloves and would love to use them more. They smell divine. I had thought of them as being much stronger and more bitter than these give the impression of being. I could see it being good, imbuing the pork with a hint of cloves to work with the relatively strong flavor of barbecue sauce.

Burritos

[Edited]

One thing we eat all the time is burritos and related items. They’re easy, flexible and tasty.

The ingredients start with flour tortillas. These can be from the store, or they can be homemade. For the former, we prefer Manny’s brand Market Basket’s store brand. Usually it’s the burrito size, but the smaller ones work fine too. For the latter, we naturally like Mama Jedi’s Flour Tortillas. These are much tastier than store bought, if a lot less uniform.

That is perhaps all that is consistent about the ingredients here, though cheese is also customary. I could imagine leaving it out if there were no cheese or you were not a cheese eater (the youngest is not a cheese eater in some contexts, despite outgrowing the dairy allergy, and this is one of them). Thus the list of ingredients is mix ‘n’ match, with some combos more likely than others. Possible ingredients are:

Meat – Chicken, Steak, or Hamburger. Presumably pork, venison, etc. could work too.
Cheese – Usually shredded with a grater, normally some combination of cheddar and/or jack.
Refried beans, usually canned but can be homemade easily and cheaply.
Shredded lettuce
Chopped tomato
Corn
Rice
Sour Cream

I’ve also tried adding salsa, and if you were fanatical about onions or such those could work.

Corn or rice are potential sides, as well as potential ingredients [in practice those have become primary, due to preference of the kids, and we have abandoned lettuce and tomato for the most part]. We are more likely to use them if we don’t have beans, lettuce or tomato, or have eaten too many beans too recently.

For chicken, I thaw if needed, cut into small pieces or strips, and cook them in butter or oil I’ve heated with spices. Cook until somewhere between done enough to eat and crisped fairly well. Spices vary to taste. More can be added later in the frying. Typically I use black pepper, red pepper, garlic powder, cumin, cilantro, and a touch of powdered ginger. [I don’t remember ever using ginger! I do use Turkish oregano, which I prefer to Mexican oregano despite the context. Sometimes also paprika or chili powder in modest amounts. Amounts vary depending which meat. I sometimes add a tiny bit of powdered cloves to burger, but would never add that to chicken. Also, I left out salt.] Only the first two are what I would consider absolutes. You can also use chili powder instead or in addition. that is essentially a mix of red pepper, cumin and garlic, though somehow with a distinctive flavor I don’t seem to get from combining the individual items. You can also use some oregano, some celery flakes [I don’t remember ever doing this, though with chicken it could work] or salt, or a touch of allspice [applies more to beef, just as with cloves]. That’s just what I have tried or what comes readily to mind; the sky is the limit. You could make a more traditional poultry spiced chicken to serve in wraps with other ingredients; use the tortilla as a delivery system without pretending to be Mexican about the flavor.

For steak, I thaw if needed and then fry it whole. I either spice the butter or apply a dry rub. The dry rub came out so amazing when I tried it recently that it is likely to become my method of choice. The spices are similar to what I’d use for chicken, but stronger to be able to penetrate. You could use a grill if you have one, make a marinade, pretty much do whatever you want. Cook to your preference. I like steak well done [I’ve become less vehement but still prefer it not too rare], but it’s better if you get it off the heat still slightly pink, or at least not too overcooked. I slice it into thin/small pieces and try to ditch any fat or gristle you’d not want to run into while chewing.

For hamburger, I spice the butter [actually, I don’t normally use any butter, especially for fatty burger, and I just spice the meat], crumble in the burger and cook it up as if I were going to make scrambled hamburger, or were doing the initial prep for a store bought taco making kit. Speaking of which, taco seasoning from one of those would also work [turned out the kids hated commercial taco mix compared to my own], with or without other spices, especially in the hamburger variant. Hamburger can be stirred into the beans if you’re using them, or used as a separate ingredient. You may want to add a dribble of water to the beans to thin them and let the meat mix better. The result can also be served with tortilla chips, rather than as a burrito filling.

Chop, grate, and heat as appropriate for the other ingredients of your choice. A can of refried beans – we have a mild preference for Old El Paso, with Taco Bell probably second, but none we’ve tried are actually bad, and we prefer traditional, but low fat/no fat/vegetarian labeled ones can be okay – heats up quick in a saucepan. [We’ve come to prefer Ortega, which conveniently cost the least, at least at Market Basket.]

You’ll want a big flat frying pan. We have a round one, flat like a griddle, the kind of thing good for pancakes, which is perfect. Use that to heat your tortillas one at a time. Call it medium heat. Lay it down, give it a moment, flip it over, give it another moment. If it starts to have pockets inflate with hot air, it’s probably ready to flip or remove. The goal is to warm and soften, unless you like them crisped a bit. You can use the microwave, but they aren’t as good that way.

With the ingredients and tortillas at the ready, everyone can start piling on whatever they like. If it’s with beans, I usually put beans, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato if available, and sour cream. Speaking of which, we’ve found sour cream is best served with a small plastic “baby” spoon, to get dabs the right size. If there’s no beans, usually I’d smear on sour cream, add meat, rice and/or corn, and cheese.

Fold up the tortilla around the fillings, burrito style, or fold it like a taco if you like. Leftover meat, beans or cheese can be used to make quesadillas the next day.

The beauty of all this is it needn’t be spicy. When I make it, it’s usually less spicy than it probably sounds. Or you can make it more spicy. You can make them more or less meaty. You can make them vegetarian-ish, using just beans plus other ingredients. In fact, bean burritos are quite good, and can be faster to prepare.

Do you make anything similar to these? Any ingredients I’ve overlooked or ideas I’ve not tried?