Sunday, 25 March 2012

Homemade Baked Beans

Baked beans! They are the embodiment of cheap, quick food in the British diet and I must admit that I am not impartial to some hot baked beans every so often, particularly winter lunchtimes. My preferred method of eating baked beans is on buttered toast with lots of cheese. But – and this is important – the cheese must be put on the toast before the beans and not on top of the beans, as (in my opinion) this is a much more effective way of turning the cheese to turn into a melted, flavourful mess.
Before I continue this short homage to the humble baked bean and give you the history behind this recipe, I want to thank my brother for lending me his camera – although baked beans do not lend themselves to mouth-watering food photography (and I only had it for the final photos of this recipe) it has been a joy to be able to use a nice camera instead of the old point and shoot that I’ve been using ever since the sad and unexpected sudden demise of my digital SLR (after years of loyal service, it suddenly decided to stop working…). Now all I need to do is figure out how to take the camera off the automatic 0.0000000001 second shutter speed.
This recipe started its life towards the end of last year, when I was doing a quick grocery shop and it occurred to me that making my own beans might be cheaper and better for me (avoiding lots of extra salt and sugar!) than the tinned variety. I didn’t really know where to start, other than the fact that most tinned baked beans are made from haricot beans, so I went to the baked bean section of the supermarket I was in to inspect some tins of baked beans and see what makes the classic baked bean flavour. It wasn’t long before the amount of time I was spending in the baked bean section of the aisle started to attract some strange looks, so I mentally collated the varying details provided in the list of ingredients on different tins, decided that bacon (which was not listed as an ingredient on any tin) would definitely be a good thing to add, and hurriedly left that aisle to gather my ingredients and leave the shop. The speed of my culinary (though admittedly not gourmet) adventure was soon slowed by the overnight soaking required of dry beans, but the wait was worth it! You can use any dry beans that take your fancy – so far (and as you will see if you compare the final photos with the method photos) I’ve tried black-eye beans and cannellini beans and both have worked well. Just make sure you follow the instructions on the packet regarding soaking, boiling and simmering times to make sure your beans are cooked properly. One of the tags I’ve given this is ‘quick suppers’ – not because it is quick to prepare but because, once prepared, it is quick to re-heat (and I think a little tastier for the time the flavours have had to develop) when you want something easy.
What you’ll need:
500 gram packet of dry beans, such as cannellini beans, black-eye beans or haricot beans
250 grams bacon
1 onion
1-2 cloves of garlic
Little bit of olive oil
1/2 cup concentrated tomato puree
About 5 cloves
About 3 bay leaves (I used dried ones)
Salt (optional) and pepper
Lots and lots of water
What to do:
1. Put the dry beans in a pot or large bowl and cover them completely with cold water. Leave the beans to soak in the water for 12 to 24 hours before you want to cook them (every time I’ve made these, I’ve ended up soaking my beans for 24 hours because it has been easier to prepare them the night before I need them rather than in the morning, but if you’re more organised than me 12 hours of soaking should be fine).
2. Finely chop the onion and garlic (or put the garlic through a garlic press) and cut the bacon into relatively small pieces.
IMG_4332 (Please imagine there’s some garlic in this photo. Thank you…).
3. Drain the beans and set to one side.
4. Fry the onion and garlic until softened in a little bit of olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed pot. Add the bacon to the onions and garlic and cook thoroughly (at this point, I feel somewhat embarrassed as I’ve just realised my ‘method’ photo for this stage demonstrates my inability to follow a recipe, even my own, and my laziness – I cooked the bacon and onions all together because I couldn’t be bothered to do the onion first…).
4. Drain the beans and add them to the pot with the onions, garlic and bacon. Add to the pot the tomato puree, cloves, bay leaves, salt (if you’re using it – I found the bacon and tomato puree made it salty enough without adding any more; if you’re not sure, leave out the salt for now and add then add some if necessary at stage 6 below), pepper and enough cold water to cover the beans. Stir everything together well and put the pot on the stove over a high heat.
5. At this point, refer to the bean packet to see how they should be cooked. Most beans (including the cannellini beans and black-eye beans that I’ve used to make this at different times) will need the water to be brought to the boil and then boiled rapidly for at least 10 minutes before turning the heat down to simmer until the beans are soft (all without the lid on the pot).  Depending on the type of bean, this will probably take 1-2 hours. Check the beans occasionally during this time and add more water if they are starting to get dry (I added boiling water) and give them a quick stir every so often to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Some people recommend that you remove any scum that rises to the surface during this cooking process although I haven’t noticed much scum any of the times I’ve made these.
6. When the beans are soft, adjust the seasoning according to taste (this is when I would add salt if it needed any) and liquid according to preference (if it is very wet, you can leave it on the heat for a bit longer to evaporate more water, or stir in more boiling water if it is too dry). If you can be bothered (which I usually can’t), fish out the bay leaves and cloves and either eat straight away or cool and then store for a few days in the fridge, taking portions and re-heating as needed.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Easter Reflection: The Curse of Hanging on a Tree

There are times when I find or re-find the verses that confirm references to things in the Bible that I know and hear from being in church and talking to Christian friends. When that happens, I always feel a sense of wow-ness. That is how I felt a couple of weeks ago when I came across this passage:

“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.” (Deuteronomy 21: 22-23a, ESV).

Although these verses aren’t directly talking about Jesus’ crucifixion, for me they brought home anew what Jesus’ crucifixion means for me in real terms. These few verses talk about death by hanging on a tree as being so bad that it is cursed by God. Jesus’ crucifixion, in which He took on the punishment for my wrongdoing, my sin, and of the sin of all mankind, shows that God takes wrongdoing, or sin, so seriously that the just punishment - hanging on a tree - is one described as cursed by Him. But it also shows that God has such love, grace and mercy that instead of making me undergo that punishment, He willingly took it on Himself. What an amazing thought as we head towards Easter, a time to remember Jesus’ death and celebrate His resurrection.

“He (Jesus) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2: 24, ESV).

Monday, 12 March 2012

Roasted Garlic and Potato Soup

Although the days are gloriously spring-like at the moment, there are still evenings when I find a bit of winter comfort food, well, comforting. Warm soups, stews and casseroles are still very much on my menu, although occasionally I adorn them with a side salad as a nod to spring. I tend to be quite conservative with my soup making, just sticking to flavour combinations that I know and love (that would be any that involve ham…). However, occasionally, the mood for variation strikes me. This is my second attempt at a soup in which garlic takes a starring role. The first attempt was in my pre-blogging days and I only made it once, despite that fact that it was tasty - probably something to do with all the garlic that it involved and fear of having to be around other people in the week after eating it! Since making that first garlic soup, I have discovered the deliciousness that is roasted garlic (such as in these roasted garlic bread sticks) and so, instead of just garlic and potato soup, this is roasted garlic and potato soup (well really roasted garlic and roasted potato soup, but that is a bit of a mouthful). This is very much a some, some and some recipe – although I give a list of ingredients, you’ll need to use your discretion with how much of each to use as I just used some of each as felt right. The cup measurement for the potatoes (before the enthusiasm for precision came to a rapid halt) was based on a 250 ml mug as equal to one cup. The basic soup below can be jazzed up by adding sour cream, milk or cream in place of some of the stock and by liberally sprinkling the soup with bacon, fried onions or spring onions and cooked mushrooms (as we did the second day we ate this soup…).


What you’ll need:

1 bulb garlic

7-8 cups of cubed potatoes (mine were about 1 inch cubes)

Olive oil


1-2 onions

Few litres of vegetable stock


Dried thyme

What to do:

1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5 (190º C or 375º F).

1. Toss the cubed potatoes in a liberal amount of olive oil and salt and the spread in a single layer in a roasting tin.



2. Toss the garlic bulb in (yet more) olive oil and then pop into the corner of the roasting tin with the potatoes.



3. Roast the potatoes and the garlic in the middle of the pre-heated oven for about 40 minutes, until the garlic is cooked and squishy to the touch. At this point, remove the garlic from the tin and put to one side, stir the potatoes around to make sure they cook evenly and pop the potatoes back into the middle of the pre-heated oven until they are done (about another 40 minutes, or longer if you want them really crisp and caramelised on the outside, but I was too impatient to wait for that).



4. Remove the potatoes from the oven when they are fully roasted and set to one side.


5. Dice the onion(s) and then fry them in a little bit more olive oil in a large pot until they are soft.


IMG_5752(Unfortunately, steam got in the way a bit in this photo – a recurring problem as you’ll see below…)

6. Cut the bottom (the bit with the fuzzy bits) off the bulb of garlic and squeeze the cooked garlic out of the bulb into the pot with the onions.



7. Add the potatoes to the pot and pour over the potatoes enough stock to cover them generously. Sprinkle pepper, thyme and (if you want to) more salt into the pot and put it back onto the heat.




8. Bring the stock in the pot to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes.


9. Remove the pan from the heat and blitz the potatoes, onions and garlic into the stock with a blender until it all reaches a smooth consistency.



10. Add more hot stock to the pan until the soup reaches your preferred consistency and then adjust the seasoning with more salt, pepper and thyme to taste. At this point you could leave the soup to one side and just heat it up when you’re ready to serve.

11. When you’re ready to serve the soup, or straightaway if you’re hungry, put the pan of soup back on the stove to heat through thoroughly. Very good with fresh, warm bread on the side.


Monday, 5 March 2012

Hazelnut and Chocolate Chunk Brownies

Watching a load of cookery shows the week before last appears to have had one primary effect on me – it lead to me thinking and dreaming about recipe ideas all last week. Primarily ones that involve chocolate. One of the ultimate chocolate baked goods for me is the brownie, and I am periodically gripped by a desire to search for my as-yet-unattained perfect brownie paradise (for another attempt, click here). When I was growing up my Mum would occasionally put macadamia nuts in the brownies she made – something I loved – and I think my brownie perfection would ideally need to include that key ingredient, which this recipe does not. But, if I have to, I’ll accept hazelnuts and chocolate chunks as a second-best substitute for macadamias…especially when the recipe basically involves everything being chucked in the bowl and whisked together (oh and a bit of butter melting). Brownie deliciousness in just over half an hour is always a good thing!

All the cup ingredients below are based on a 250 ml mug as equal to 1 cup, and I baked this in a tin measuring about 7 inches by 11 inches.


What you’ll need

1/2 cup butter

1 cup self-raising flour

Pinch salt

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

100 grams chocolate, roughly chopped

1 cup hazelnuts

2 eggs

1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract

What to do:

1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5 (190º C or 375º F).

2. Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat and then set aside to cool slightly.



3. Sift the flour, salt, sugar and cocoa powder into a bowl, add the chocolate and hazelnuts, and then mix everything in the bowl together thoroughly.





4. Break the eggs into another bowl and add the vanilla extract to the eggs before whisking the eggs and vanilla together thoroughly.



5. Add the melted butter and beaten eggs to the bowl with the flour, salt, sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate and hazelnuts and mix everything together thoroughly with the whisk. If the butter is still warm, pour the beaten eggs into the opposite side of the bowl to the butter before mixing to avoid any egg cooking in the hot butter.





6. Pour the brownie mixture into a greased baking tray and bake in the middle of the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes.

IMG_5627 (This photo comes with many apologies for the poor focus – unfortunately it was the only one I took of this step…)

7. When done, remove the brownies from the oven and devour them warm straight from the pan, preferably with ice cream or cream leave to cool in the pan for a few minutes before slicing and removing from the pan to finish cooling on a cool rack.