Monday, November 17, 2008

Homemade Baked Beans

I had never had a home-baked bean until I was in my thirties. Really! Like most of you I grew up on Van Camp pork & beans. This, my interwebby friends, is the recipe I used for that first ever heavenly-baked-in-a-pot-of-brown-sugar-deliciousness. I have made it in a crockpot overnight, but prefer it baked in a dutch oven because the sugar on the edges caramelizes a little. Mmmmm, mmmm good! BUT, gotta say, cooking this in the crockpot eliminates the need to stir every so often and add more liquid so that might be the preferred method for busy moms. Just layin' out the options. However you choose to make it, you will enjoy the end result!

1 lb. small white dried beans
1/2 c. maple syrup (or molasses)
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 lb. salt pork, scored and cut into chunks
hot water as needed
Soak beans overnight in water to cover by three times the depth of the beans.
Drain beans and put them in a pot, adding more water to amply cover. Bring the water to a slow boil and simmer, partially covered, until softened but not cooked through, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 275°
Drain beans well and transfer to a casserole dish with lid (dutch oven if you have one).
Add remaining ingredients and stir to mix. Add hot water to cover beans by 1 inch. Partially cover pot. Bake 5-6 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water as needed to keep beans moist.

These are head and shoulders above any canned bean you can buy. And they're really easy to make. This makes a great side dish to any kind of meat, but especially pork. You can use the leftover beans and add chopped up hot dogs to make a mean beanie-weenie casserole for the kids' lunch, too.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sweet Potato Casserole

As we head into the season of gastronomic gluttony I wanted to begin sharing some of our favorite holiday recipes.

When we were houseparents for mentally and emotionally impaired teens, one of our favorite meals was a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. And we didn't always wait until Thanksgiving for it! A houseparent at another group home gave me this recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole that quickly became THE must have side dish for turkey. Never being a big fan of the melted-marshmallows-on-top-casserole, I much prefer the crunchy yummyness of this pecan topping. It's really more of a dessert but we can pretend we're getting our vegies, now can't we? *wink, wink*

Oh, and this is the recipe my son has been taking to holiday dinners since he was in college and we left him to spend a year in Uganda. Being the shy, socially backward kind of guy he is, he promptly invited himself to a friend's house for Thanksgiving. And then filched my recipe to make and take himself. I sorta forgot to make a notation on the original recipe though, to minimize the butter (recipe was WAY excessive) and he had a little puddle of greasy goodness on top. So I will list the amount of butter I really use for your cooking and dining pleasure.

And it will bring pleasure, of that I can assure you!

* 2 eggs
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 1/3 cup butter, melted
* 1/2 cup milk
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
* 3 cups cooked mashed sweet potatoes

* 1 cup brown sugar
* 1/3 cup flour
* 3 tablespoons butter, softened
* 1 cup chopped pecans

Beat eggs, granulated sugar, and 1/3 cup butter. Add milk and vanilla. Combine with the mashed sweet potatoes; spoon into a greased 9"x13" casserole. Combine brown sugar, flour, 3 tablespoons softened butter, and pecans, mixing until crumbly; sprinkle over sweet potatoes. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Serves 6.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Baking Powder Biscuits

Since a couple of you asked for a biscuit recipe to go along with the sausage gravy, I'm obligin' by giving you the one I've used for many years. Now I've been making biscuits since I was knee-high to a grasshopper but this is the best recipe I've ever come across. It's from a cookbook my sister gave me that is my favorite. It's the one cookbook that went to Uganda with me and it was the only one I packed in the suitcase to come here (all the other cookbooks took the slow boat to China Argentina).

The Home-Cooking Sampler: Family Favorites From A to Z is out of print but you can pick up a used copy. I checked first and Oh.My.Word! the cheapest used copy was $97.63. Good grief! Then I found the site I've linked to where it's only $15.24. I guess all those folks selling their copy on amazon know the true value of The Sampler :-)

Because, people, Every.Single.Recipe.I've.Ever.Tried.Has.Been.Fantastic! Many of the recipes I've shared on my blog have been from this cookbook. It's falling apart and the pages are stained with vanilla or spaghetti sauce or gunked up flour (the biscuit page).

This is a tried-and-true recipe and it's really not hard to make, requires few ingredients, and...well, you just can't compare homemade biscuits to those in the little round tins in the cooler section of the grocery store. Or even the bags from the freezer section. That's like comparing apples to oranges.

But I'm gonna let you in on a few "secrets" that no recipe will be able to teach you. First of all, you really, really need a pastry blender. Don't know what that is? It's a handy-dandy kitchen tool that allows you to easily incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients so you end up with a light, fluffy creation. I have used a large fork in the absence of a pastry blender, but it doesn't do the job as well. You can pick one up for $5-10 at any store that carries basic kitchen utensils.

But even more importantly, biscuits require a "light hand" and by that I mean you want to work the dough as little as possible. Once I add the wet to the dry ingredients, I mix just until the dry is incorporated. AND THEN I STOP. Over-beating is a common mistake and one I don't want you to make.

1-3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cornstarch (or just use 2 cups of White Lily flour if you're fortunate to live in the South and have access)
4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons butter
3/4 cup milk, approximately
melted butter for brushing on the tops

Preheat oven to 425°. Lightly grease heavy baking sheet (I actually don't do this).
In a bowl sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter until well incorporated.
Gradually add milk, mixing very lightly. Now at this point I get a clean linen towel ready on the counter, dust liberally with flour and spoon the gooey biscuit mixture onto it. I flour my hands and gently, GENTLY PEOPLE, form the dough into a circle about 8" across.
You can use whatever you like to cut out the biscuits. I had a small wine glass picked up at a garage sale because it was the perfect size for cutting biscuits. I dipped it in flour between each "cut". This last time I didn't cut them into circles at all. I just dipped a sharp knife in flour and cut the circle into 8 pie shaped wedges and baked 'em. Looked more like scones, but who cares?
Brush with melted butter. Place pan on middle rack of the oven and reduce immediately to 400°. Bake until very lightly browned, about 15-18 minutes.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sausage Gravy

Being from the south, gravy is considered one of the major food groups. We like to put gravy over just about everything. Oh y'all from other parts of the country may call it sauce or some such, but it's just gravy in one of its many forms. You can have white gravy, brown gravy, red eye gravy, pepper gravy, and my all-time-favorite, sausage gravy. Which is really just white gravy with sausage, but keep that under your hats, 'kay?

When I signed on to be a missionary, it was with the understandin' I wouldn't have to give up my gravy. And because a dear friend gave me her amazing recipe for homemade breakfast sausage, I can have some of the best biscuits and sausage gravy anywhere in the world. And you can, too, 'cause I'm gonna share it with you.

Now I realize y'all have access to some mighty fine sausage right at the local Winn Dixie. I'm not exactly a sausage snob but I do like Jimmy Dean for that right amount of fat and seasoning which is absolutely essential to a good gravy base.


1-1/2 lb. ground pork (or you can mix it up with 1 lb. ground pork, 1/2 lb. ground beef/veal/venison)
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried sweet marjoram
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt (I use coarse salt)
Simply add seasonings to meat and mix together well, forming patties to fry.
NOTE: If you use really lean meat, you will have to add oil to the skillet or it will stick. Having the butcher grind a little fat into the ground meat is a good idea in terms of both flavor and the need for fat to make gravy.

1 lb. breakfast sausage (homemade or store bought)
butter as needed
2-3 tablespoons flour
2-3 cups milk
salt and pepper to season
As you can tell, this is not an exact science. I fry up the sausage until it's done, then move it to a platter while I make the gravy and then I crumble up the patties and mix them back in.
To make the gravy you need to make sure you have a few tablespoons of grease in the pan. If the sausage was too lean, you'll need to add butter to make up the deficit. Once it's melted, add the flour. And as to how much flour? That depends on how much grease. You want to make a roux with the flour and grease that is thick but not impossibly so. And you want to stir that constantly for 3-4 minutes over the medium heat so that it starts browning just a little but not burning. Take the skillet off the burner for a minute and add in the milk. Again, this is a by-the-seat-of-your-pants skill that you learn as you go. If you added about 2 tablespoons of flour, you can figure on adding 2 to 2-1/2 cups milk, if you added more flour, it will take more milk. What you want to end up with is a gravy that's not runny but isn't so thick you have to cut it either.
Once you have the gravy to the right consistency, add the crumbled sausage back in, and season as you like with salt and pepper. And for goodness sakes, enjoy over steaming hot biscuits for the best breakfast in the world!