Friday, March 7, 2008

Baked Beans

Baked Beans
Pinto, kidney, pink, or black, you can bake beans to your heart's delight and end up with some amazing results. Baked beans make the perfect (even de rigeur) picnic side dish and they are remarkably simple to make.
Don't confuse fresh beans, like lima or green beans with the dried varieties used for baking. Fresh beans are treated differently, and wouldn't work in most of the recipes you'll find here. Beans are members of the legume family, like peas, and they are an excellent source of protein, iron, and starch. They are also low in fat, which makes them an excellent source of low-fat, high-energy protein replacing high-fat meats and cheeses.
Dried beans come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They're a popular mainstay in many cuisines because they are inexpensive, last seemingly forever once they're dried, and taste delicious when they're cooked up. Baked beans recipes are common for side dishes as well as entrees; however you cook them, chances are your family will gobble them up, so it's a good idea to make a double batch!
Boston Baked Beans
Did you know the nickname for Boston is "Beantown?" That's because they are famous for their Boston Baked Beans. There's a reason for this super popularity – beans are simple to prepare, they're easily stored, and they cook up tasty with just the addition of a few items. They are plain, hearty, stick to the ribs fare that never goes out of style. A typical Saturday Night Supper in Boston and beyond contains a big pot of beans and Boston Brown Bread to top it off.
Boston Baked Bean recipes call for salt pork, bacon, molasses, and a bit of baking soda to cut down on the unpleasant after effects eating beans sometimes produce in the digestive tract. There's no scientific evidence baking soda stops these effects, but many cooks swear by the baking soda technique in all their bean recipes.
To Soak or Not to Soak
You can buy "pre-soaked" beans that do away with the need to soak your dried beans overnight, but many bean purists say they simply don't have the "bite" and consistency that traditionally soaked beans add to a recipe. For best results, soak the beans until they are double in size, about 10 to 12 hours. You can speed up this soaking process by blanching the beans in boiling water for about 1 1/2 minutes, and then soaking for two or three hours in cold water. Many people say that you don't have to presoak beans – just cook them slowly for 10 to 12 hours. For some bean varieties, this may work just fine, but other more tender varieties may tend to lose their skins if they are cooked this long.
Types of Dried Beans
* Black Beans – These beans are catching on in many North-of-the-Border eateries. Served whole, unlike their refried cousins, they have a meaty, rich texture and a thick black skin. These are not the same type as the fermented black beans used in Asian cooking. * Cannellini Bean (or white kidney bean) – These are some of the most popular in Italian cooking, especially soups and salads. They are also known as the minestrone bean.
* Cranberry Beans – If you're looking for an unusual and even beautiful bean, try the cranberry. Creamy white mottled with pinkish red, these are used in many Italian soups and stews. They have a nutty, unique taste. * Kidney Beans – Who doesn't know the humble kidney bean? Shaped like the organ it's named for, the kidney boasts a deep, mahogany skin, and a white, creamy interior. Traditionally they are the beans used in chili. They are also used in Louisiana's traditional red beans and rice. * Navy Beans (or small white beans) – These beauties are normally used in Boston Baked Beans. They are small, but pack a powerful taste.
* Pink Bean (or chili bean) – These small, pink beans are also a common ingredient in chili with beans and frijoles. They are smaller and rounder than the pinto bean. * Pinto Beans – Pinto beans have a mottled skin with a white background and dark speckles over the surface. They are the most common bean used in the United States, and are the requisite ingredient for refried beans (frijoles).