Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Massachechetts Dinner in Oregon

I found the original recipes for this dinner in an 1880's cookbook nearly 40 years ago. It is one of our all time favorites.  I have been wanting to go on a picnic, but the weather is so lousey I thought I'd make an indoor picnic.  No bears.
Baked beans are so easy to make. I have been taking them to potlucks since I found this recipe and tweaked it to make it my own. I bake them overnight in a slow oven with the bedroom door closed. That's because they smell so appetizing we wake up in the middle of the night for a little snack before the beans are done. Hence, the closed door. Why cause anymore temptation?

We also love to eat Boston Brown Bread with the beans. By just using ham hocks or broth as seasoning in the beans, we get a full protein with the cornmeal in the bread. And it is a great way to use up the last little bit of a variety of flours before they go stale. The sweetness of the bread is just right for a ham sandwich, don't forget the mustard!

Mom's Potato Salad is my favorite in the whole world. My sisters, Peggy Ann and Debjo, have that real Mom taste in their salads. I limit the amount of eggs in mine due to a non-affinity to egg whites. Don't care for the texture at all.  I also limit the amount of mayonaise, subbing a bit of milk.
I learned much about cooking from my ex-sister-in-law, Marilyn. (She also taught me how to properly cast-on and off when knitting and how to embroider without knots.) She told me about ham hocks as a sensible solution when you want to flavor beans and split peas. In case you don't know about ham hocks: They are the end of the shank half of a ham. If you are looking at the walking pig, they are just above the ankle where the lower leg muscles attach to the bones. They generally don't have much meat, do have some fat, and do have full ham flavor. I keep them in the freezer as part of my stocked pantry. (More about that later.)


Ham slices - leftover from Thursday
Boston Baked Beans
Boston Brown Bread
Mom's Potato Salad
Coleslaw - leftover from Thursday

Boston Baked Beans

1 quart small white beans - navy, great northern, lima
picked over to remove rocks, dirt, stems, nasty looking beans and rinsed
Cover the beans with 2 quarts water, bring to a boil, and simmer until the skins begin to slip. The clear skins will be visible when you gently blow on a bean in a spoon.

In a bean pot, casserole, or slow cooker -
Put in the following:
1 ham hock or 1 quart ham broth with some meat (optional)
1 whole peeled onion
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses I prefer Grandma's Molasses over Brer Rabbit which I find bitter, My 90 year old Aunt Vi concurs.
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dry mustard; not a whit more or your beans will be bitter

When the bean skins are slipping, carefully add the beans and liquid to cover. No need to stir as the resulting sauce will move throughout the cooking vessel. Cover the pot and bake @ 250F for 5 hours. Check the level of the liquid every now and again; if it is low add boiling water to the pot. The longer you cook the beans, the darker the product.

When I cook the beans overnight, I reduce the heat to 225F and cover the pot with foil crimped around the edges. If the beans are dry the next morning, I add boiling water and they rehydrate right away. They taste very yummy.

Stir before serving. I like to remove the bones and fat from the ham hock. The onion melts into the sauce Serves 6 with leftovers.

Boston Brown Bread

Prepare a water bath for the bread – fill a dutch oven 1/3 of the way full with boiling water and have a teapot full of boiling water if more is needed.
Have four 16 oz cans ready, clean and buttered. You will also need foil and string to complete the cans.

Measure into a mixing bowl:
½ cup whole wheat flour 
½ cup cornmeal                 
¼ cup rye flour
¼ cup unbleached flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ cup raisins, optional
Stir together, set aside

Measure into a 2 cup liquid measuring cup:
½ cup molasses    both Grandma’s and Brer Rabbit Molasses are sold by the same company
½ cup buttermilk or 1 TBSP vinegar in the measuring cup and enough milk to make ½ cup
2 TBSP melted butter
1 egg, beaten
Stir together and add to the dry ingredients taking care, this is a quick bread and it is easy to over stir. Just stir enough to mix wet and dry.

Pour the batter into the cans, filling to ½ full. Butter the foil; use it to cover the cans tying securely with string.
Carefully place the cans in the hot water bath, adding more water as needed to bring it to ½ up the cans. Either steam on top of the stove or in a 250F oven for 90 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool for 1 hour, unmold. Great warm or cold. I like to wrap the loaves tightly in plastic wrap. They are best three days later. Really moist and flavorful.

You can mix the flour amounts to suit what you like, and what is on hand just make sure the total flour amount is 1 1/2 cups

Mom’s Potato Salad

5 lbs skin-on potatoes simmered for 40 minutes or until fork tender
Cool in a single layer on a platter. When just cool enough to handle, peel and cut into a ¾ inch dice. Put into a large mixing bowl  
6 eggs - hard-cooked  Bring a sauce pan of water to a full boil, carefully add the eggs one at a time. Bring the water back to a boil, turn off the heat and leave pan on the burner for 25 minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon to a bowl with cold water and crack each shell. Shell the eggs and dice small. Add to the mixing bowl with the potatoes

Now add the following:
1 onion, small dice
6 sweet pickles, small dice
½ cup sweet pickle juice
2 cups Best Foods Mayonnaise (East of the Rockies – Hellman’s)
½ cup milk
2 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper

Mix thoroughly and refrigerate for at least an hour. Best the next day. Serves six with a few leftovers.

Note on the potatoes - Try to peel and dice the potatoes when they are still warm.  If you let the potatoes get cold first, they will not absorb the flavors of the sauce, pickles, and onion.  Also when cold potatoes are used the resulting texture is slimey.  To work with warmer potatoes you can put them on a fork then peel.  Think about the scene where Charlie Chaplin makes two baked taters dance.  Then dice on a cutting board.

Enjoy!  We sure did.  Now we will have lunch tomorrow.  This dinner will also make some frozen lunches for Scott to take to work.  I buy shallow, rectangular plastic containers and freeze leftovers for his lunch.  This one will contain a slice of ham, some baked beans, and some frozen broccoli.  I put together anywhere from one to six lunches with our dinner leftovers.  I'll mention which meals freeze best when I make them.

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