I have always been fascinated by television programs that take you behind the scenes at a factory. The one I watched the most was a Canadian program aptly titled How Its Made. If you have ever wanted to watch how something was made, this show probably covered it. They had shows on how gears were made and how light bulbs were made. There were shows about shoes and eyeglasses and copper wire and so many others. I think the show is still on the air and you should really watch an episode or two. The best shows were the ones filmed inside a food factory where you could follow the product from raw ingredients to final packaging. There was a similar show on the Food Network that did the same thing called Unwrapped, which focused specifically on food.
Watching these programs was always interesting and at the same time could be disturbing as well. Some of the parts I liked were, when machines used a puff of air to blow a rotten potato chip off the line or when they showed huge mountains of jellybeans being funneled into a mixer before being bagged. They would always show the start of the food making process too; a worker would wheel over a cart loaded with 50 pound bags of sugar or flour and cut them open with a sharp blade and dump the contents into the giant mixer. The announcer would then say something like "and then 40 gallons of water are added" (emphasizing the 40 as if that amount would blow our minds) as the camera showed a valve being opened to let in water from a large overhead pipe. They always made an effort at some point to focus on an employee who would take a random sample from the production line to a lab to run tests. This was to reassure the viewer that the product met with only the highest quality standards.
The part I found a bit unsettling was the combination of the vast amounts of food being produced along with the breakneck speed of the production. I watched an episode on frozen pies once and it showed how the pie tins raced along a conveyor belt. Meanwhile the crusts were cut with giant rollers and pressed into the pans as they passed below. They zipped under a nozzle, which squirted out the filling, and then a top crust was dropped on before the pies sped into the flash freezer. All made by machines with ingredients delivered by the ton. The workers simply monitored the time and temperature by examining dials and numerical readouts, jotting notes onto clipboards. For me that's not baking, that's not cooking, that's mass production and it wouldn't matter what was being produced. Don't get me wrong, I am sure these companies are proud of their products and they make every effort to ensure they have a quality item that tastes good every time. But somehow when a splash of goop is spit out of a nozzle into a passing tortilla at 35 miles an hour, the food just seems less appetizing. Again that could be just me.
There is one product in particular that I would have liked to see an episode on, Pork and Beans. These were the beans that were served almost exclusively in our house growing up. My mother would open a can, heat them, pour them into a bowl and set it on the table. Now, if you have never had these pork and beans, it might be good to know that there IS pork in the can... but just one very small piece. I should not need to tell you, that piece was always supposed to be served to dad and don't you forget it! Anyway, it would have been interesting to see the cans of beans racing along their conveyor belt path until some contraption neatly deposited exactly one piece of pork per can.
I do have an issue with pork and beans which might be exclusively my own, and that is I detest soggy food. The beans themselves aren't soggy but the broth is not very thick. If you put too many beans on your plate, and say there was a piece of bread or a dinner roll there, the broth would soak into the bread and for me that was a deal breaker. It makes me gag more than just a little.
Pork and beans eventually gave way to baked beans. Baked beans had a much thicker sauce, had a sweet and spicy flavor, and they came in other varieties as well. The next time you're at the grocery store stand in the beans aisle for a moment and look at all the different varieties of pre-made beans on the shelf. If your store is anything like the one near me, you'll see at least ten different varieties of baked beans alone.
I will admit that when time is short, or if I have a number of other things I'm cooking that will need my attention, I often purchase canned baked beans just as my mother purchased pork and beans so many years ago. However there is another option and it's not hard to do, in fact it starts with canned beans. It is possible to make baked beans starting from dried beans, but really, there's no need to do that. You'll end up with the same tasting dish with the same texture either way, so I say leave the overnight soaking and the three hour cook time to someone else.
These baked beans are my favorite for a few reasons:
1. They are simple to make. And you should know by now, that in my book that gets a bonus star right away.
2. Really good flavor that has the ability to be customized to you own tastes.
3. Sauce that is not too runny. It stays with the beans rather than making a puddle on your plate.
I think baked beans are best when grilling and it really doesn't matter what’s on the grill. These beans complement practically everything, but they can definitely stand on their own. You can serve these along side some sautéed vegetables or even a fresh green salad.
I got this recipe and only slightly adapted it from the Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook by Kim O'Donnel. You can check that out here. A fantastic cookbook which I received from a friend a few years back. The same friend I might add that "hounded" me to start writing this blog (Love you E!). I especially like it because it is another one of those dishes that can be adjusted to suit your individual tastes. If you like spicy beans, add more chipotle. If you like a smokier flavor, drop in a little liquid smoke or add some honey if a little sweetness is more your thing. I am also pretty confident you'll find these baked beans perfect as written. The instructions for putting these beans together is so easy you won't need me to give you a step by step guide, the recipe is at the bottom of the post along with a link to download or print.
Before we get there though, I will pass along a few notes I have taken after making these beans a few times. I make these using four cans of beans but you can also make them using just three cans of beans if you want them to be a bit saucier. The beans will be pretty juicy right out of the oven but as they sit and cool they will soak up the liquid, there's nothing wrong with that. Reheating slowly in a small saucepan brings back some of the sauce. You can also add just a bit of water to them if they dry out too much. And all those left over chipotle chilies you have after using just a half of one in these beans? I make chipotle mayonnaise (mix together 1/2 cup mayo, 2 1/2 chipotle chilies, minced & 1 teaspoon of the chipotle sauce). I use it as a sauce for broccoli, green beans, and asparagus. Brussels sprouts too, basically anything green. You can use chipotle mayonnaise in potato salad or in place of ketchup when eating french fries. Thin the chipotle mayonnaise with some lemon juice and it makes a great salad dressing.
Give these baked beans a try, I think you'll like them as much as I do.
1 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon New Mexico ground chile pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced
4 (15 oz) cans pinto beans, drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
Preheat oven to 350ºF with rack in the center position.
Lightly grease a 9 x 7 x 2 baking dish and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl combine tomato sauce, molasses, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, ground chile, cumin, and chipotle. Whisk until the mixture is well blended.
Add the beans to the bowl and stir well.
Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat until hot.
Add onions and garlic and cook stirring regularly about two minutes.
Add the cooked onion and garlic to the beans mixture and stir together.
Pour the beans into the baking dish and bake for 1 hour or until they are bubbling a bit.