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Tuesday, September 21

Dem Beans, Dem Beans, Dem Dry Beans...

Yesterday, I got pulled into a discussion with some friends about beans.  How to cook them, how to season they can affect you (haha...thanks for the laughs, guys!!).  What surprises me is that there are people out there who honestly don't know how to cook and use dry beans (no, not the ones I was talking with...others).

With the cooler weather fast approaching, I would be lacking if I didn't address this for those who need the info.  After all, what's better on a cold day than a hot bowl of tasty pinto beans and cornbread?  Maybe a pot of chili done the old fashioned way, but not much else.  Therefore, today...we talk BEANS!! 

I seriously doubt theres a supermarket anywhere that doesn't carry dry beans. You can find Pinto beans, Ham beans, Butter beans, Lima beans, Black beans, White beans...the list is as varied as the preparations!!  They are inexpensive, too, which means you can stock alot of varieties for little cost.  A typical one pound package of dry beans will feed a family of 4 with plenty of leftovers.  And, because they are dried, they last almost forever!!  So, the choice of which bean is best for you comes down to 2 things...application and taste preference.

Application simply means this...what are you using the beans for?  If they will be a stand alone meal, typically butter and lima beans are the usual choices.  If you are making something like chili, pintos or kidney beans come into play.  Of course, that's not hard and fast as a rule...after all, pintos can stand alone, as well.  Taste preference refers to what kind of beans you prefer.  If you prefer a softer bean, go with pintos or white beans.  If your taste leans towards a firmer bean, limas and kidneys are your best bet.

No matter which bean you prefer, preparation is actually quite easy.  There are 2 very simple methods to cooking dry beans (well, 3, but we'll gloss over one of them).  The first method is overnight soaking, the second and third are the quick soak method.  All these methods require one thing in common...sort and wash the dry beans.  You don't want to be cooking a rock, do you?  Even with the machinery of today, small pebbles and debris can end up in a package, so ALWAYS wash the beans and look them over for anything unusual, then you can start cooking.

Let's go with the first method...overnight soaking.  This method is great to use...if you remember you want beans the next day.  Most of us don't, fact, most cooks don't give alot of thought to what they're going to make for a meal until a few hours before they want to eat.  But, it's a simple process, so let's go over it.  First, wash and sort your beans, then put them into a large stock pot (at least 6 quart).  Fill with cold water until you have at least 2 inches of water over them, cover, and let them sit overnight.  Hard work, right?  That's all, though...nothing else needs to be done.

With the second and third methods, all you need is at least 4 hours before mealtime, which is easier to work with.  Again, wash and sort your beans, and place them into your stock pot.  Cover with enough water to go 2 inches above.  Now, for your second method, bring the pot to a hard boil, then turn off the stove and allow the beans to sit covered for 1 hour.  After that, cook as usual.  You're third method is a variation of that one...but instead of the one hour soak, just turn the heat down to simmer, cover, and let them slowly cook for an extra 30 minutes over what time they'd normally take.  Simple, huh?

Now that our beans are started, we turn our attention to seasoning.  For us old-school hacks, there ain't NOTHING better than pork for seasoning beans.  Ham hock, bacon, fatback, hog just makes them taste WONDERFUL!!!  Yes, it puts fat into the beans, so it's not a necessity...and there are recipes that you won't be able to use it in (chili, for example)...but the flavor it gives is heavenly!!  I won't be going into using the beans for chili today.  We're just gonna focus on a simple pot of beans that can be served as a meal in themselves.

For me, I usually put about 6-8 ounces of meat in for each pound of dry beans.  That would be one large ham hock, about 6 thick slices of bacon (cut in pieces), about 5-6 slabs of fatback, or about 3 medium chunks of hog jowl.   They go in at the beginning of the cooking process, but after the soak.  Along with that, I also add 1 large onion, chopped, 1 1/2 tsps salt, and 1 tsp black pepper.  Cover, and cook on med-low heat for about 2-2 1/2 hours, checking for tenderness to the beans in the last hour or so.  When the beans are soft, they're done.  Hard work, eh? 

Our family loves beans with a pan of cornbead, so I'm going to include my personal recipe for that as well.  I always make mine in my large cast iron skillet.  ALWAYS!!  It helps develop that crust that just makes cornbread so tasty!!  You can go simple with it, of course...pop open a box of Jiffy Cornbread mix and follow the package directions, and you're set!!  I've done that plenty of times, and it's great.  But for those who like homemade, here you are...

1/3 c sifted all purpose flour
1 1/2 c all purpose cornmeal, sifted before measuring
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt OR 2 tbsp sugar (depends on whether you want sweet cornbread)
2 eggs, well beaten
2 c buttermilk
1 1/2 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 350.  Place the butter in your cast iron skillet, and put in oven.

In large bowl, sift all dry ingredients together.  Add eggs, and mix in as thoroughly as you can, then add milk/buttermilk and mix until incorporated (most lumps removed).  Allow to stand for 5 minutes.

Remove skillet from oven.  Pour batter into skillet, then put back in oven and bake for about 35 to 45 minutes, until top is golden brown, and springs back when touched.  Serve warm with beans.

**NOTE : If you can't find all purpose cornmeal, then you CAN use self rising.  Just omit the baking powder and soda from the recipe.**

There you are, folks...a meal sure to satisfy!!  ENJOY!!!

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