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Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.
     ~Aesop proverb~

 During my Sunday conversation with my mother, she once again worried about the rising costs of groceries.  Like many elderly, she lives on a fixed income.  Because we grow about 75% of what we eat (I canned  and dried over 500 jars this year), I'm sort of oblivious to rising food costs.  For the rest, I use my price-book method and buy at the lowest price and stock up.  Like a mini commodities trader, I always buy  low.  Meat is usually the most expensive item on the shopping list, so it makes sense to find substitutions for it.  Here's some ideas:

First, use meat sparingly.  More like a flavoring, rather than the main focus of  the meal. It is a tradition in New England to have baked beans and brown bread for Saturday night dinner.  A few rashers of bacon that wouldn't satisfy  one becomes a rib-sticking meal for several, with plenty left over. Does anything smell more wonderful  and homey than to come in from the cold and smell the smoky aroma of a pot of beans?

Another way is to add beans to stretch the quantities in soups and stews.  For instance, in chili, rather than using your usual amount of hamburger, halve it and add an additional can of beans.  We have always added kidney beans to our sloppy joes.  Makes it go from 6 skimpy portions to 8-10 servings.  Now days we completely eliminate the hamburg and make them with just the beans.  It is one of our favorite vegan junk foods.  You can add mashed beans to meatloaves.  Red beans and rice is a classic "poor mans" food.  Here's the recipe:

Red Beans and Rice

1 lb. dry red kidney beans
2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp.  pepper
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. cumin
1 quart water
1 lg. smoked ham hock (it's important it is smoked)
3 tsp. salt
1 1/2 C. chopped celery
1 1/2 C chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
cooked rice

Sort and rinse beans.  In a large Dutch oven, place all the ingredients except the rice.  Bring to a  boil, the simmer 3-4 hours or until beans are tender.  Stir occasionally, adding water as needed to make a thick gravy.  Just before serving, remove the bay leaves and ham hock.  Remove and chop the meat from the hock and return the meat to the pot.  Serve over rice.

Note: We like to serve this with cornbread and our home-canned corn relish.  To make this vegan, we substitute two  Morningstar Italian sausages (a soy product) for the ham hock.  It makes little difference in the taste and reduces the amount of fat and cholesterol.

Consider using beans as the main source of protein.  Because I have a thyroid condition I cannot eat very much soy (it interferes with the medicines effectiveness) so we make our own bean cakes.  They taste better than the store ones and  cost a lot less.  Here's the recipe:

Black Bean Cakes

1 1/2 C.  salsa (drained in a sieve)
2 cans black beans (rinsed and drained)
1  (8.5 oz.) pkg. corn muffin mix (we use Jiffy)
2 1/2 tsp. chili powder

Mash the black beans.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and form into patties. (Hint:  put the patties into the freezer a while to firm them up)  Fry in a small amount  of olive oil until browned and heated through.

Dried beans are the thriftiest way to buy beans.  I recently stocked up on a 15# bag of  of pinto beans for $10.  That's 66 cents a pound.  I also bought some one pound bags of black beans from the Dollar General for 69 cents.  They were on the reduced for quick sale rack. Dried beans will last forever if they are kept dry.  I do admit that it is a pain to deal with the reconstituting of dried products, so when I'm bored I can up a batch.  (my pressure canner is never put away).  Here's how:

Canning  Dried Beans

Wash and pick over bean.  Cover them with water and set overnight.  Drain.  Cover the beans with a couple inches of water (at least two) and bring to a boil.  Boil for one half hour, stirring to keep them from sticking.  Pack the beans into hot sterilized pint jars.  Add 1/2 tsp. canning salt to the jars. Pour cooking liquid over the beans.  Remove air bubbles.  Allow 1 inch headspace.  Wipe the rims and place hot steralized lids on jars.  Screw down the rings.  Process for 75 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.

I realize that not everyone has a pressure canner.  You can prepare a batch of beans and freeze them in quart sized containers.  One pound of dried beans is more or less equivilant to 3-4 cans of beans.  At  $1.50 a pound that's less then half the price of the canned ones. They last about 6 months in the freezer.

Here's what a 1 lb. bag of dried beans will yield:

6 C.  black beans
7 1/2 C.  garbanzo beans
5 C.  pinto beans or kidney beans
6 C.  white kidney beans (cannellini)


  1. I'm listening Jane and yesterday we had spagetti with half the hamburger -used the other half for chili -we put in more beans. Today -our first no meat day in a very long time-potato soup! I can't wait to try your beans and rice.
    Thanks so much

  2. Vickie, I bet you didn't even miss the extra meat. It's an easy, painless way to cut back.


  3. I have already begun the cutting back on the ground beef in recipes but have not fully embraced more beans in my life, even tho' I know they are healthy. Might be a good goal for this winter to develop a couple of new easy bean dishes of some sort. Now beans and bacon does sound good; bacon is a personal favorite! (-:

  4. Sandy, next to coffee and baking bread, I don't think there is a more homey scent. I try not to eat meat, but confess when it comes to baked beans, warm out of the oven, I can't resist.


  5. I am going to try your black bean patties. I used to go to a vegan restaurant in Boone that had killer ones, but they closed. Sigh. I haven't been able to recreate them, but your recipe sounds close! Yummers!

  6. Matty, they are a bit of a bugger to handle, but as I said, if you pop them in the freezer for a while, they hold together bit easier. I like these so much better than the ones you buy in the freezer section. They give vegetarian food a bad name in my opinion. Wish we had a vegan restaurant around here. They even put meat in the salads at the local eateries!

  7. I bought some Brown Beans for Swedish Style Baked Beans today at a Lutefisk dinner I attended. They served these with the meal and they were good so thought I'd give them a try - my first foray into soaking and baking beans.

  8. Sandy, here's how you prep beans for baking. Sort through them and remove small stones and debris (I've never found any, but just in case), Add enough cold water to cover by 2-3 inches. Soak overnight. Drain and rinse. Cover beans with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer covered until beans are tender (the skins will crack when you blow on them. Some beans are stubborn and it can take up to1 1/2 hours for this. Lutefisk aye? I never found the courage to try it when I lived in Wisconsin. Wish I had.

  9. Thanks, Jane. I printed that out so I'll have it handy when I make my beans!

    Lutefisk is an acquired taste for sure, but taking my Mom and Dad around to these dinners over the past few years has made me a Lutefisk lover. Plus the ambiance of these meals is wonderful, too.

  10. Ok Jane, one more bean question. How soon after I soak the beans must I bake them. Can they be soaked a day or two ahead of the baking?

  11. Sandy, you can refrigerate them for several days or if you want to use them later, you can always freeze them for up to 6 months. To freeze them, just leave a little of the "broth" in with the beans. As a matter of fact, before I started canning them, I used to freeze them a lot. Freezing and defrosting seems to help soften them. When I bake beans I like them to become mealy so I tend to let mine really soften up before baking.


  12. Recently I've tried the dried black beans, and both ways they were on the tough side, even though they were cooked for hours. I will try them again in hopes of more tender beans as do like them. We like a lot of different kind of beans. I'm going to cook up some black eyed peas with a bit of ham for New Years, not because I'm superstitious or anything, I just love black eyed peas and look forward to making them. I think I'll even add some kale or mustard greens to the batch this time as I have both.