Baked Beans

Every fall since childhood, I've watched my grandmother make these beans. When I was 18, and finally moved out into my own place, one of the first things I purchased for my kitchen was a bean pot. You can't find too many of them in stores anymore, but you can find them online at Amazon and a few other places. You don't need to spend more than about $20-30 to get a good one.  Amazon does have one that isn't too expensive. You want one that looks like this. You can also use a Le Creuset dutch oven with the cover, although you don't need to.

I make a big batch of these babies at least once a month from September to February. The molasses and mustard give it a nice complex flavor, and the apple gives it a bit more sweetness. Try them over a baked potato with just a bit of Gorgonzola or sharp cheddar. Or just as they are.


To make it: 

The recipe is pretty simple: soak about a cup and a half of beans overnight. I use a few different varieties, including Money and Calypso beans (available from a small grower here in MA), but I also use Dark Red Kidney beans quite often. 

When you're ready to make the beans, drain them and rinse them with cold water. In the beanpot, combine:
1/2 cup of molasses;
1/2 cup of brown sugar;
a heaping tablespoon of good stoneground mustard;
a pinch of salt and pepper;
one apple, quartered and cored;
one onion, peeled and quartered.

Pour the beans into the pot and give it a good stir, then cover with cold water and stir again. Cover the pot and bake it in a 350°F oven for about 6 hours, stirring about every hour or so, until beans are soft and most of the liquid has thickened into a sauce. You may need to add a bit of water during the cooking process; the beans should always be covered with water. Also, many recipes call for salt pork or some bacon; you can absolutely add that if you want to, but I never have, and the beans come out wonderful.

Tomato soup with zucchini and potatoes

When I was in college, like many other college students, I was pretty darn broke. The good thing was that I was a vegetarian in those days (I try to be now, but not very successfully), so I became very good at finding ways to keep my kitchen stocked without breaking the bank, and I came up with some really terrific recipes that cost me very little to make. One such recipe was this soup: Campbell’s Tomato Soup as a base, made a bit richer and heartier with some sauteed vegetables. This recipe is good for 2-3 servings, and keeps beautifully.

To make it: 
  • 2 medium-sized zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into 1/8″ slices
  • 1 medium-sized onion, chopped roughly
  • 3 small potatoes, cut into smallish cubes
  • 1 tbsp butter (or non-hydrogenated margarine)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pinches dried thyme
  • 1 tsp garam masala (an Indian spice, available at most supermarkets; if you can’t find it, use a dash each of nutmeg, cumin, and a bit of cinnamon. It’s not the same, but it’ll work)
  • Lots of fresh-ground pepper (I like the 5-peppercorn medley)
  • 2 cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup (don’t try to use another kind - it doesn’t work as well)
  • 1 bottle of Wolaver’s Organic Brown Ale

In a largish skillet (preferably one with high walls) or smallish dutch oven, melt butter and add onions and garlic. Saute over medium heat until onions are a bit translucent and add potato. Cook for another 5-7 minutes and add zucchini; saute another 3 minutes. Add spices and stir to incorporate; add tomato soup and beer. Stir to incorporate the ingredients, and cook on low heat for about 15 minutes or until potatoes are soft. Serve with a bit of shredded parmesan or romano cheese.

Cucumber-Tomato salad with dill

This is an incredible dish for summer. It’s cool and refreshing, and has just the right level of spice to it. It’s also very easy to prepare. Makes four servings.

To make it: 
  • 1 English cucumber, cut into 1/8″ half-moons
  • 3 plum tomatoes, cut in quarters lengthwise, then in half widthwise
  • one handful (about a dozen) pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (preferably light)
  • 1 tsp dill
  • 1 tsp Penzey’s Trinidad Lemon-Garlic Marinade seasoning OR:
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of garlic powder
  • pinch of dried ginger
  • freshly-grated zest of 1/2 lemon

Add all ingredients in a large bowl (I tend to layer cucumbers, then tomatoes, then olives, then spices, then vinegars and oil). Toss to coat.

Relatively Guiltless Eggplant Parm

I came up with this recipe as a way to combat the greasy nature of traditional eggplant parm - baking the eggplant gives you the same texture with much less fat, while ricotta, crushed tomatoes with basil and reduced-fat mozzarella give the overall dish a nice cheesy flavor without being too heavy.

To make it: 

Serves about 4, if not more.

  • 2 large eggplants, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
  • 1 package Italian Style Seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs, beaten with a few tablespoons water (you want it about the consistency of whole milk)
  • extra-virgin olive oil (see notes in prep instructions)
  • 1 lb part-skim ricotta
  • 1 package reduced fat mozzarella (about 12 oz.)
  • 1 large can (about 32 oz.) crushed tomatoes with basil (or regular crushed tomatoes and 1 bunch of fresh basil, sliced thin)
  • salt, pepper and minced garlic to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a couple of cookie sheets with EVOO. You want even coverage, with a fair amount left for each side to get a bit of oil on it; otherwise, the eggplant gets dry and doesn’t take on the nice melty texture that I like in my eggplant. Dip eggplant slices in egg wash, then bread crumbs, and arrange on cookie sheet. Bake for about 20-30 minutes until brown on both sides and very soft, flipping halfway through.

Once eggplant is cooked, make a layer of crushed tomatoes at the bottom of a deep baking dish. Add a layer of eggplant, then a few dollops of ricotta, then a handful of mozzarella and some more tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic and start a new layer. Continue until all ingredients have been layered in the dish, and bake for about 10-20 minutes until cheese is melty and browned on top. Serve with pasta.

Penne Portabello with Balsamic-Gorgonzola Sauce

This is a very heavy dish, but the balsamic gives it a lighter flavor. It’s one of my favorite dishes, especially in winter. This will serve four people, but I don’t recommend leftovers. In my experience, it doesn’t reheat well (but I’ve also only had leftovers of this dish once).

To make it: 
  • 1 pound penne pasta (preferably whole-wheat)
  • 1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • 4 portabella mushrooms, sliced, marinated in 1/4 cup Newman’s own Lite Balsamic Vinaigrette for 1/2 hour
  • 1/2 package Neufchatel cheese (aka reduced-fat cream cheese)
  • 1 pint half and half (you can also use 1% milk, but add a bit more Neufchatel to the mixture)

Put 1 gallon of water on to boil. When the water boils, add pasta. Cook pasta for 10-12 minutes until al dente. Drain pasta and set aside.

Saute portabella mushrooms in vinaigrette for about five minutes until they start getting tender. Add half and half or milk and heat through. Add Neufchatel and gorgonzola and continue cooking over medium heat until cheese is well incorporated and sauce is thick. Toss over pasta and serve hot.