Bean Practice

I had a hankering for homemade baked beans and I couldn’t remember the last time I had made them. I checked online and saw that my original baked bean posting was back in September 2010 and after that only one other posting in August 2011. (during hurricane Irene – I should really not wait so long to make baked beans!)

So here we are in 2016 with another hurricane (Matthew) pummeling the country and me working to perfect a very traditional baked bean. The last batches were not too traditional. So this time I stuck to tradition. I ended up making 3 batches (!!!) over the course of a week.

Batch 1: I used a red kidney bean – that’s the bean I had used the last couple of times – but I must have bought some extra giant size and I was out of practice in general so my husband pronounced these “ok, but not great and why are the beans so big?”

Batch 2: My mom heard I was making baked beans and was dying for some so I made a vegetarian & onion free version for her and used a smaller pink bean. I soaked them overnight but was too lazy to do the boil-in-water step but did cook them extra long in the slow-cooker . She pronounced them “delicious, but maybe they could be just a tiny bit more tender.”

Batch 3: I again used the small pink bean and soaked them overnight. This time I boiled them in fresh water for about 10 minutes before cooking them overnight in the slow cooker. I kept them vegetarian and used onion. I am dropping some off at my boss’s house. Hopefully he will pronounce them “an excellent baked bean.”

here is how we like to eat them around here…


Cajun spiced-rubbed steak, corn bread, sliced tomatoes and traditional baked beans


The Recipe:

I used approx. 2 lbs (2 small bags) of small pink dried beans, soaked overnight, boiled for 10 minutes in fresh water (no salt) and drained. Place in a sprayed slow-cooker for easy clean up.

Whisk together:

1 6-ounce can of tomato paste

1 cup light brown sugar – barely (lightly) packed

1/3 cup dark molasses

1/2 tablespoon of dry mustard

1/4 cup ketchup

2 cups very hot water

1 tb of ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups small diced white onion (instead of onion this could also be 4 whole garlic cloves thrown in the slow cooker and fished out later – I tried that in one of my versions.)

Taste the mix and adjust as desired. Remember the flavors will deepen in the pot, but this is a chance to get the general “sweet and tangy-ness” right. Add this mixture to the beans in your slow cooker. Stir well. At this point I like to add 1 more cup of hot water to make sure there is enough “juice” as I cooked these on high, overnight. (or about 8-10 hours) The water level should just be “peeking” out from the beans not actually covering the beans. Use +/- water on that final cup of hot water to achieve the right level. Stir maybe twice during the cooking and scrap the sides down.

TIP: When they are done – tender, smelling good, looking good, tasting good – stir in a 1/2 cup of good quality maple syrup. (I like a dark amber from Vermont.) Add a couple pinches of salt. The syrup at the end gives the beans a warm, sweet undertone. I don’t add it in the beginning because I think the delicate flavor gets lost in all that cooking. (believe me I tried that in the first two batches.)

Farm Days

August in New England is simply the best there is. Warm days, somewhat cooler nights and full, ripe tomatoes

– life doesn’t get any better than that.

fancy lady

fancy lady


Recently I spent a day at the New Hampshire Farm Museum listening to music, learning about daily farming activities before technology made everything easier and visiting some animals. My favorite was a beautifully marked chicken.

Down the street is Mckenzie’s Farm – a glorious operation with amazing produce, still-warm-from-the-fryer cider donuts and pick-ur-own everything – including tomatoes!

Nothing is fresher then a tomato you picked yourself!

farmstand purchases

The day’s bounty!  Homemade pickles, spaghetti squash, just picked blueberries, 2 kinds of garlic, tomatoes I picked myself, summer squash, zucchini and a cuke!

I came home with more tomatoes than this picture – about 10 lbs more!  A “sauce” was in the works!

When I got home I washed, cored and roughly cut the tomatoes. ( I don’t blanch, peel and all that jazz – too much work – and I don’t mind the peels, seeds, etc)

I simply added all the tomatoes to my slow-cooker along with one whole head of fresh garlic and a generous handful of basil leaves from my back yard pot. A little salt and pepper and that was it. I really wanted a “fresh” sauce. I let it cook on high for the day (about 6-8 hours) and stirred it once. The tomatoes were so fresh and sweet that nothing else was needed!

crockpot sauce

After all that time cooking, I used my immersion blender to get the sauce to the smooth consistency I was looking for. I blended the basil and whole garlic cloves right in. Tasted for seasoning (salt & pepper) and let it cook for another hour with the lid half off just to thicken things up a little. I cooled and packed some into the freezer for a taste of summer sometime next January. I used some right away as a sauce for an Italian style turkey meatloaf. It would also make an amazing base for a tomato soup and frankly it was just good enough to drink straight!

Meatloaf mix ( pre-turkey meat) consisted of diced yellow bell peppers, onions, garlic, basil, toasted cheese bread crumbs and

Meatloaf mix (pre-turkey meat) consisted of one finely chopped, spicy Andoullie sausage, a finely diced yellow bell pepper, onions, garlic, basil, toasted cheese bread crumbs, olive oil and an egg to hold it all together.

Italian seasoned turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and fresh tomato sauce. Parmesan cheese on top.

Italian seasoned turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and fresh tomato sauce. Parmesan cheese on top.

Hot & “Board”

The hot weather here in New England has really got me thinking about meals in a new way. That new way being when/if I turn on the stove at all in the house!

Of course the back yard grill is the best option during a heatwave, but even that is just too hot to deal with on an afternoon topping 95 degrees! I will often grill early in the morning while I enjoy my first cup of coffee. The neighborhood is quiet, the temperatures are cooler and I can get my garden watered while I wait for the meat to cook.

And once I get the grill going (gas-fired so it’s easy) I like to make it worth it and grill marinaded meats and lots of veggies. These can be cooled and served later in the day, chopped up on top of salads, or as I did this past hot Saturday, as a composed grouping on a wooden cutting board.


“Lunch on a Board” 

This particular grouping was inspired by the fresh made mozzarella from Wolf Meadow Farm and a fantastic heirloom tomato and zucchini from Stillman’s Farm.

The fresh basil came courtesy of my backyard pot and the steak from my freezer – defrosted and marinated a day prior. A drizzle of olive oil, red wine vinegar, black pepper and some pink Himalayan salt completed this beauty.

TIP: Hot weather entertaining? Grill up everything the day before and serve on large cutting boards or chilled platters with a fresh drizzle of your favorite vinaigrette and some fresh herbs sprinkled over.


Red, White & Blue

A little nod to the holiday that just passed by. Fingerling potatoes in red, white & blue! So simply good – they only need a coating of olive oil, dried rosemary, salt & pepper. (Be generous with the salt, potatoes need it!) Roast on a sheet pan in a 425 degree oven for aprox 30 mins until the potatoes are soft and starting to brown. I served mine with a roast pork loin and a piece charred, toasted bread. There is a green vegetable “off camera.”


I am not sure what inspired this. I think I saw a layered meatloaf somewhere out there in the world and thought “I can make that!”

As usual I had to put an Italian twist on things and make my stuffed meatloaf with fresh spinach, basil and mozzarella. The meat is simply a blend of ground beef, Italian sausage, 1 egg plus one egg white, Italian seasoning and S/P. No bread crumbs, no milk-soaked bread slices – just pure meat. Continuing the Italian twist I even added some Italian seasoning to the otherwise fairly traditional glaze of ketchup and corn syrup. (you can also use brown sugar but it burns easy and the corn syrup keeps the glaze glossy – a little won’t hurt you!)

This is a large and heavy meatloaf best served with a nap and some mashed potatoes!

Production Notes:

I happen to have some leftover ground beef from a big pack so not sure on the actual amounts, but if I had to guess, there was at least 1 1/2 lbs. I took two Italian sausage out of their casing and combined them with the ground beef. I added the seasonings and a dash of Worcestershire sauce (my secret ingredient for everything beef!)

Glaze the loaf initially and bake it in a hot (425 degree) oven for about 40 mins. Glaze again and bake until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees (F)

Home Opener- A Day Later

ready for the grill

Home opener for the Red Sox was yesterday – Home opener for my grill was today!

Both have some meaning around here. Red Sox means crowded subway lines during games and neon colored tags on ladies purses worn as a small badge of pride that they were recently at a game. Home opener for my backyard grill means an entire category of cooking opens up after along winter of “same old same old.”

I was planning on cheeseburgers but since I had the grill on I decided to throw on a few other items I had kicking around in my fridge – creating the “trifecta” of baseball grill food: sausage, hot dogs and burgers.

I did put a twist on things by not just making any old cheeseburger, but a green chili cheese sauce burger. (on toasted English muffin cause everyone knows they make the best rolls!)

green chili cheeseburger.jpg

A green chili cheese sauce can easily be made by melting 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of all purpose flour, creating a roux. Add in about a cup of milk whisking constantly till thick. A pinch of seasoned salt and some black pepper to season. Add in 2 slices of provolone cheese and about 4 oz mild cheddar cheese. Whisk in a few dashes of the green Tabasco® sauce and about 2 oz of chopped green chilies (this is half of the small can – if you want to use the whole can, double the other ingredients and make a big batch of cheese sauce for a crowd!)

Serve warm drizzled over burgers, nacho chips or just about anything!

Retirement Day

or as some might call it … Superbowl Sunday.

I call it Retirement Day because I am hoping a certain quarterback has enough sense to make this his last game. As a Patriots fan I think it’s better to get this guy his last ring and get him outta here.  So that is why today I root for the arch-enemy and not the new young talented star who probably actually deserves the win.

No matter what you call the day, it definitely involves food!

I suggest some nontraditional game day food of stuffed peppers. Filled with spicy Chorizo sausage, rice and tomato sauce – they are big on flavor and easy to make.

(Notice my subtle nod to team colors today.)

The Recipe

2 links ( about 1- 1 1/2 cups) chorizo sausage diced small (I use a fully cooked, locally made version, but you can use your favorite brand)

1 small (about 3/4 cup) sweet onion fine diced

2 large sweet bell peppers – your choice of colors, tops cut off and diced, seed/ribs removed

2 cups +/- cooked rice

8oz can of tomato sauce (I like the “Spanish style”)

(2) 1/4 cup hot water (separate)

1 tsp sugar (or sweetener of choice)

shredded or grated Parmesan cheese to top each pepper ( a couple of tablespoons apiece)

Salt and Pepper to taste

spray a baking dish with cooking spray, add 1 of the 1/4 cups of hot water. Place the peppers in the dish either on their side split in half (as I did in photo) or upright on their ends. Cover tightly with foil and bake 20 mins in preheated 350 degree oven. While those are cooking, saute the chorizo, onion, pepper tops, salt and pepper in a medium hot saute pan till the sausage starts to get a little crispy, the onions are browning and soft. The pan probably won’t need any oil to start as the sausage is quite fatty – but if you feel like it needs it start with a tablespoon of oil or so in the saute.  Turn the heat down and add the rice and the 2nd 1/4 cup of hot water to help re-moisten the cooked rice and de-glaze the pan. Once all combined and the water is incorporated. Add the tomato sauce and sugar and turn off heat. Mix thoroughly and taste for seasoning adjustment. Pull the peppers out of the oven, drain off excess water – they should be a little soft but holding their shape. Fill each of the peppers with plenty of filling, top with some cheese and return to oven uncovered for another 20 mins at 350 degrees.