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A new chapter in New England. And baked beans.

A few weeks ago, I made the move from Ohio to Massachusetts. I’d visited Rhode Island many times, and love it up here. I figured I’d try to live up here for a bit. I mean, we only live once, right?

My new kitchen, while bigger than my previous kitchens, is in desperate need of counter space. It’s greatly lacking. And by lacking I mean non-existent. There is a built in hutch/cabinet made to look like a Hoosier cabinet that has some space, but not enough to do any work. Lucky for me, I own a 50s metal cabinet that is perfect counter height. It only offers about 3 feet of counter space, but it’s better than nothing!

Inspired by my new digs, and the freezing temperatures, I decided to make a pot of traditional-style New England Baked Beans. I’ve made a few batches in the past, and I’m still tweaking the recipe, but this batch turned out pretty good. This is a good recipe to make for a crowd as it makes a lot. Lucky for you, I’ve included an idea of what to do when you’re sick of eating baked beans every day.

New England Baked Beans

  • 1 lb dried navy beans
  • 1/4 lb salt pork, or 1/2 lb bacon, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, cut into quarters, root end left on
  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 c real maple syrup
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • whole cloves

Soak beans overnight.

The next morning, bring beans to a boil, then simmer until tender (parboil), 45-60 minutes. Preheat oven to 250°

Reserve 2 c bean cooking liquid.

Stud onion quarters with whole cloves, 2-3 per quarter.

Baked Beans & chili 001

Fill  a bean pot (or deep casserole) with half of the beans. Place 2 quarters of the onion and 1/2 of the pork, or bacon, on beans, then fill with remaining beans. Top with remaining onion and pork, or bacon. Combine remaining ingredients with bean liquid; pour over beans.

Baked Beans & chili 002

Cover and bake 6-8 hours, checking occasionally to make sure it doesn’t dry out. Uncover the last 1/2 hour of cooking.

New England Baked Beans

New England Baked Beans

Baked Bean Chili

Amounts will vary depending on how much beans are left

  • left-over New England Baked Beans (I had almost 2 c)
  • crushed tomatoes (I used 1 jarred pint)
  • diced onion (1 small)
  • chopped, roasted chilies, jarred or frozen. (I used about 1/4 c)
  • garlic, minced
  • chili powder
  • cumin

Sauté onion and garlic in a large sauce pan until soft. Add chilies. Combine the rest of the ingredients in pan, and simmer, about 30 minutes. Serve with shredded sharp Vermont cheddar, crackers and diced onion. Or whatever you like on your chili.

Baked beans & chili fixin's

Baked beans & chili fixin’s

This is a unique, but surprisingly good, take on chili. It makes a thick, hearty meal. Great for chilly New England nights.




Moving and Mexico

I recently moved from one apartment to another. While I did get a bigger kitchen, at least by square footage, I lost counter space and cupboards. It’s still a tiny kitchen, but I can still cook. In fact, the kitchen was the first room I unpacked. All of my dishes and pans are put in their place. All my spices and dry goods are set. The cookbooks take up several two-foot stacks against the wall. The rest of the apartment is mostly in boxes. I hate moving. I live among boxes for a long time until the new place “speaks” to me. I just don’t know where I want things until I live in a space for a while.

One box that did get unpacked was the collection of travel memoirs. You know, the Under the Tuscan Sun, Year in Provence-type books, and one called On Mexican Time. It’s a languid postcard from Mexico by Tony Cohan. There are no recipes or funny stories of locals, but a beautiful read none the less. It makes me long for Mexico.

I’ve been to Mexico just a couple of times. One time was a day/evening trip to Tijuana just to wander the streets, eating 3-for-a-dollar tacos and drinking Mexican Pepsi. The other trip was a 10-day excursion to Puerto Vallarta, for a honeymoon (for an ill-fated marriage).  That trip was spent mostly on Bahia Banderas at Juan’s beach shack, drinking Sol and eating whatever he caught that day. There was occasional forays into town, and brief sightings of whales.

What do I remember most from my trips to Mexico so long ago? Tortillas and the warmth of the Mexican people.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Mexico. I go through phases of food, but often go back to the simplicity of Border and coastal Mexican food. Re-reading On Mexican Time came at the right time. Making some sort of meal to put in tortillas is about as easy as it gets, and since I’d just moved…  I ended up trying homemade flour tortillas, re-fried beans and rice. I found a simple recipe -no lard!- for tortillas in my trusty Border Cookbook by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison. And surprisingly, a good recipe for beans in Better Homes and Gardens Mexican (2012). Some good, fairly authentic recipes in that magazine.

My very loved Border Cookbook

The flour tortillas came out quite tasty, but I needed to added a bit of salt to the beans. I’ve been eating everything in the tortillas all week. Give them a try for this weekend.

Texas Flour Tortillas

from The Border Cookbook

2 c all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil

3/4 c lukewarm milk or water

Sift together flour, salt and baking soda into a large bowl. Pour in the oil and mix with your fingertips to combine. Add the milk or water, working the liquid into the dough until a sticky ball forms.

Dust a counter with flour and knead the dough vigorously for 1 minute. The mixture should be “earlobe” soft and no longer sticky. Let the dough rest, covered with a damp cloth, for about 15 minutes. Divide the dough into 8 balls, and cover again with damp cloth, for about 15-30 minutes. (At this point the dough can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours. Bring the dough to room temperature before proceeding.)


Dust a counter with flour again and roll out each ball into a circle approximately 1/4 inch thick. *this was far too thick for me. I rolled them to about 1/8 inch and they were still too thick. Obviously, the thickness is up to you. These will be irregular shaped. If you want a perfectly round tortilla, feel free to cut into a circle. To avoid toughening the dough. try not to re-roll it.

No fancy gadgets needed

Heat a dry griddle or heavy skillet over high. Cook the tortillas 30 seconds on each side, or until the dough looks dry and slightly wrinkled and a few brown speckled form on both surfaces.

Almost done…

Keep warm in a cloth lined basket, or reserve for future use.

Re-fried Beans

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens ‘Mexican’ (magazine)

8 oz dried pinto beans (1 1/4 cups) (I used a combination of pinto and white beans. It’s what I had)

8 c water

1/2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp bacon drippings or olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

Rinse beans. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven combine beans and 4 cups of the water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour. (Or place beans in water in pan. Cover and let soak in a cool place overnight.) Drain and rinse beans.

In the same sauce pan, combine beans, 4 cups fresh water, and the salt. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until beans are very tender. Drain beans, reserving liquid.

Mash away

In a heavy large skillet heat bacon drippings. Stir in garlic. Add beans; mash thoroughly with a potato masher. Stir in enough of the cooking liquid (about 1/4 cup) to make a paste-like mixture. Cook, uncovered, over low heat for 8-10 minutes, or until mixture is thick, stirring often.*I added more salt because the beans were too bland for my taste.

Homemade re-fried beans…that taste good!

I served the beans and tortillas with a side of quick “Mexican” rice. That is, cooked riced with onions, salsa and spices. Leftover tortillas and beans make a great grab-n-go breakfast with the addition of some cheese, salsa and eggs. This style of tortilla would also make a good substitute for flat breads in a variety of Middle Eastern dishes. Heck, use them to make quick, individual pizzas. The possibilities are endless…