Backyard baked beans

A simple food adventure for cooped up families

Maybe it's the pandemic talking, but I can't remember the little blue flowers in my front yard ever looking so vivid, or the sun on my face feeling this blissful. I'm grateful for this new season like never before. As the temperature slowly nudges its way out of the refrigeration zone, I've been outside as much as possible, digging in the dirt, pulling weeds and cutting brush. After several weeks of grey clouds and scary newscasts, even mundane outdoor chores like up cleaning up sticks and leaves is actually fun and refreshing.

Following a particularly full day of yard work this past weekend, I thought it would be fun to reward the kids with a cookout. We stoked up our little fire pit with armloads of collected sticks and roasted an odd variety of sausages and dogs that I scrounged up from the back of the freezer, wrapping them in sliced sandwich bread because we didn't want to run to the store to buy buns. It was a delicious, slipshod meal pieced together much like our lives have been. Apparently social distancing, like hunger, is a pretty good sauce.

My eldest requested "canned beans in sweet sauce" to go with the hot dogs, but my pantry was sadly void of her beloved baked beans. However I did have plenty of dried beans on hand and an InstantPot. The resulting recipe will likely become my new favorite potluck dish (once the world is ready for potlucks again). These beans were warm, satisfying, and just lightly sweet. Speed up the process in a multi-cooker or slow cook them all day in the oven. This recipe can be made vegan by omitting the bacon and substituting two tablespoons of oil. Serve over cooked brown rice for a satisfying stand-alone meal.

Backyard baked beans
1 pound great northern or navy beans
4 ounces Smokey bacon, or two tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 large onion, dice
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeño (or substitute 1 green bell pepper), diced
1 6 oz can tomato paste
2-4 tablespoons brown sugar, to taste
¼ cup molasses, maple syrup, or honey, to taste
2-4 tablespoons mustard (I used Dijon), to taste
2 teaspoons salt
Black pepper and cayenne, to taste

Soak the beans overnight in a large pot with plenty of cold water. Alternatively you can bring the beans to boil in a large pot of water, then turn off the heat and let them sit for one hour. After they have soaked, drain and rinse the beans and set aside.

Sauté the bacon over medium high heat over the stove on in an InstantPot until the fat begins to render out. Add the onions and peppers and sauté until slightly softened. Add the tomato paste, brown sugar, molasses, mustard, salt and the drained beans, and stir to combine. If cooking in an InstantPot, add three cups water and stir. Lock the lid and cook for 40 minutes under high pressure. When the cooking time is up, let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes before quick-releasing the remaining pressure. If cooking in a Dutch oven add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil on the stove, before transferring to a preheated 300 degree oven for 6 hours, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender.

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