Great fortune

There is nothing better than smoky baked beans on cheesy toast.

A) True

B) Not false

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We’ve been in need of some serious, down-to-business comfort food. This past week has been a rough one, full of disasters large and small: Tash broke her wrist, I tried to make a healthy vegan queso using eggplant puree, and the weather turned cold and snowy again. 

So we put away our hopes and dreams, and did the only thing that made sense in a world spinning out of control: we made beans.

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Not just any beans, though. These ones were slow-baked until dark and treacly, with just the slightest bit of spiciness around the edges. We then loosened it with a bottle of maple beer and a few dashes of liquid smoke, and heaped the whole thing on top of toasts — toasts that had first been spread with knobbly homemade mustard and slices of apple smoked cheddar, and broiled till golden.

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I don’t think that I’m qualified to talk further about the wonders of beans, because the likes of Tamar Adler have spoken so simply and precisely about them. If you haven’t read An Everlasting Meal, you are wasting your life. In it, she talks about her “five bean method” when testing if a pot of simmering beans is done, as indicated when they become “velvety to their absolute middles.” She writes of the necessity of time, good olive oil, and good salt. But most importantly, for me, she relates this anecdote:

“I once lived with a Tuscan in a house in San Francisco. I would cook a pot of beans weekly, and our bean meals followed a regular pattern. The cooked beans would sit in their broth for a half hour, contenting themselves with their last swallows of olive oil and herbs. When my Tuscan decided their time was up, he would stand ceremoniously, clear his throat, slice bread, open wine, and put olive oil on the table.

Then we would eat just beans and bread, and we would drink wine. I would do it all happily, he intently, glowing with genetically imprinted joy at his great fortune to be sitting there, eating beans, beans, beans.” 

Now go and do likewise. – Rachel

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Natasha’s Aunt Joy’s Baked Beans

  • 6 cups navy beans, cooked
  • 1 large can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lb bacon (or omit this and add a drop or two more of liquid smoke)
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1/8 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar 
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • A couple dashes each of Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke
  • 1 bottle of beer (we used this)

Mix everything except for the beer in a large casserole (or oven-safe pot). Add water to just cover. 

Bake at 300 F for 4 hours. Check on it every so often and stir to keep from burning.

Just before serving, add beer and let cook for a minute or two more.

Heap on top of cheesy toasts.

Notes on the toasts:

All hail to Tash, who single-handedly (literally!) made this bread.

Slice it (or any other good bread) up, and spread it with mustard and a layer of thin-sliced apple smoked cheddar.

Broil until the cheese is melty and golden (keep an eye on this, cause the broiler always moves faster than you expect it to).

Immediately top with the baked beans and go to town.

Although this is clearly the go-to recipe for baked beans, we’ve also bookmarked this one. Imagine it with goat cheese toasts instead of smoked cheddar, and a bit of fresh rosemary on top. Yes.

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