A slow simmer in one pot

by Betty Thompson


Early settlers learned to make baked beans from the Indians who buried their bean pots in the embers of a fire or in a preheated hole beneath it. Settlers only fired up the brick or stone ovens once a week and devoted the day to baking.

Beans were cooked overnight in the last of the brick-oven heat. Cracks around the door were sealed with mud or clay to prevent heat from escaping.

Today, one-dish dinners are for busy people with little time for cooking. Imagine putting everything in one pot and returning hours later to find such dishes as a spicy chicken chili with sour cream and fresh tomatoes; Chinese-style fragrant pork simmered with fresh ginger, tangerine peel and star anise; or baked beans with Canadian bacon and pineapple.

Moist cooking is one of the easiest ways to prepare meals. A slow simmer tenderizes tougher cuts of meat and restores dried beans into money-saving dishes and conserves fuel. Large quantities can be cooked at one time -- enough for several meals. All of this month's recipes can be cooked in a heavy pot on top of the stove, baked in the oven between 250 degrees and 300 degrees or cooked in a crock-pot.

The meat in the fragrant pork recipe can be stewed or braised. Braising involves first browning the meat which contributes to flavor and reduces the overall cooking time a little. But added steps mean more work and dirty dishes.

Vegetables added at the beginning of slow-simmered dishes result in well-done vegetables. If crisp vegetables are preferred, add them near the end of the cooking time.

To preserve crispness, Chinese cooks stir-fry the vegetables before adding to simmered meats except for root vegetables which are simmered with the meat. Only enough vegetables for one meal are prepared. Left-over meat with additional stir-fried vegetables may be used as sauce for noodle and rice dishes . Using this method one could simmer enough meat for several meals and vary the vegetables used.

You can start the recipe for baked beans, below, by cooking dried beans, or use canned beans for convenience. Baked beans in tomato sauce, according to the Better Homes and Garden Heritage Cookbook, was the first successful canned convenience product. The credit belongs to Gilbert and Frank Van Camp, who in l861 began processing the popular vegetable combination.

Over the years, quite a controversy in New England has arisen over whether beans are best made with brown sugar, molasses or maple syrup. Placing pineapple into this recipe was not even a consideration.

Baked Beans

This dish, a favorite of Jeannie Medley of Arcata, makes a large quantity, but it improves with age.
2 (31-ounce) cans pork and beans
3 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans
1 pound Canadian bacon or ham cut into cubes
2 chopped onions
2 green peppers, chopped
1 (15-ounce) can crushed pineapple
1 (28-ounce) bottle ketchup
2 cups brown sugar
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons dry mustard
5-6 shakes of liquid smoke

Mix together in a large, heavy roasting pan and bake three hours at 250 degrees, or put all ingredients in a large crock pot. Bake on low for six hours.

Variation: Cook two pounds (about 5 cups) dried beans (navy, pinto, kidney or baby lima or a mixture). Cook according to package directions. Reserve two cups liquid and drain. Use cooked beans and liquid in place of canned beans in recipe.

Fragrant Pork with Bamboo

Chunks of pork simmer in an aromatic sauce. For a hot-and-sour version, add one teaspoon chili paste and two tablespoons cider vinegar at the end of the cooking time.
2 pounds pork butt cut into 1-inch chunks
2 strips tangerine peel
6 green onions cut into 1-inch lengths
3 slices fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup dry sherry or stock
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 stick cinnamon
3-4 star anise or 1 teaspoon anise seed
1 can bamboo shoots, drained (cut in pieces)
4 cups Chinese cabbage cut in thick slices
4 carrots peeled and sliced
2 new potatoes, cut into chunks

Combine all ingredients except vegetables and mix well. Simmer covered over low heat for two hours or until meat is very tender. Add the vegetables and simmer another 20 minutes or until tender.

Variation: Try celery, mushrooms, green beans or spinach

For slowcooker: Use 1/2 cup water. Combine seasonings. Place meat on top then add vegetables. Cover and cook nine hours on low heat or five hours on high.

Golden Chicken Chili

The beans and hominy make a tasty vegetarian dish without the chicken. Recipe adapted from Family Circle, September 1995.
2 cups Great Northern dried beans
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 pickled jalapeño peppers, seeded, deribbed and chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground chili powder
1 1/2 pounds, boneless skinned chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound summer squash, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 (15-ounce) can hominy or corn, drained
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tomatoes, diced

Cook beans according to package directions. Drain and reserve one cup liquid. To the beans, add garlic, onions, chili powder, cumin, coriander, chicken, zucchini and hominy.

Cover and simmer 25 to 30 minutes or until chicken is tender. Turn off heat, add lime juice, salt, pepper, sour cream and cilantro. Garnish with sour cream and chopped tomatoes.

Slow-cooker method: Combine dried beans and three cups boiling water in slowcooker. Let stand while preparing other ingredients.

Add onion, garlic, jalapeño, cumin and chili powder. Place chicken and squash on top. Cover and cook on low heat for seven hours or until beans are tender. Stir in hominy, sour cream, salt and lime juice. Garnish with diced tomato and cilantro.


Betty Thompson has taught cooking classes locally since 1974.

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