Jazz up baked beans

These are Jan’s Quick and Awesome Baked Beans. Although the recipe gets a jump start with canned beans, they look and taste homemade thanks to the zing provided by barbecue sauce, vinegar, Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce. They take on a little extra depth from smokey bacon and slow-cooked onions and sweet bell peppers. These are the perfect answer for what to bring to your next potluck or tailgater.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez, for the Gazette-Times

This is one of those weeks when my topic was a little hard to pin down. The starting point was baked beans. It’s that time of year, after all, when such robust dishes shine. In fact, we are downright craving them.

But would I need to apply an external hook to validate the subject, that was the question. Like potluck dinners, for instance. These days, with our zoomy lifestyles, potluck gatherings make loads of sense. The pressure’s off a single host, so gatherings can be more spontaneous and frequent.

And at the height of potluck season, what with school, scouting, and sports gatherings galore, we’re all frantically flipping through recipe files for something simple-yet-tasty-yet-unique. Like baked beans. But to relegate such satisfying offerings exclusively to potluck or otherwise “company” fare is really selling baked beans short. And in the process, I might add, shortchanging you the cook. Be it the sidekick to a tender, juicy rack of ribs or whole-roasted chicken, or as a stand-alone star, accompanied by cornbread and a hearty tossed-green, baked beans can really hit the spot.

One of the hearty main dishes of our nation’s colonists was Boston Baked Beans. But the dish was actually popular throughout all of the colonies. Because baked beans could be made a day ahead, this dish was a favorite with those whose religion restricted work on the Sabbath. Often it was served fresh for Saturday night supper, and then warm or cold for Sunday.

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As the West was opened to trade and transport, beans went along for the ride. No range cook would dream of hitting the trail without a good supply of dried beans. In fact, mealtime was often referred to as “bean time.” Some cooks placed their beans over a slow fire to cook up to five hours. Others buried the bucket of beans in a hole with hot embers. Everyone in camp, from cook to cowboy, would tend the fire throughout the day.

There’s no getting around the fact that baked beans definitely are crowd-pleasers and thus, the perfect solution for autumn gatherings. Also, there’s that portability factor: baked beans travel gracefully from kitchen to whatever venue you are bringing them to, be it tailgate party or cross-country ski trail, without suffering in quality.

Besides, they simply hit the spot. I would guess that most families have a standard baked beans offering that has survived from generation to generation. If not, perhaps one of these will become just that!

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or find additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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