Root Beer and Maple Bacon Baked Beans

Why is it that rustic-looking dishes (ahem, I mean not photogenic dishes) are by far the best to create and enjoy?

Root beer baked beans with Vermont maple bacon almost wasn’t a dinner reality for me, but I am so glad it turned out to be in the end.  The saga started last Sunday. I had wanted to make this recipe since the night before, but I just didn’t want to drive, walk, or take the bus to the grocery store to make it happen.  I procrastinated with coffee by the glow of the computer. Then I decided in the late afternoon to power walk to the local Whole Foods, even if navigating the aisles on a Sunday is not my idea of fun.  I needed to go there no matter what, I realized, because the star ingredient for this recipe is New England Maine Root, which I can’t get anywhere else in my neighborhood.

I first tasted a Maine Root soda in – where else? – Portland, Maine. I ordered a blueberry soda with a burger. It was unexpectedly good, fizzy, and had just the right amount of blueberry. Maine Root sodas use only cane juice as a sweetener, a superior ingredient to high fructose corn syrup. Since that first taste, I’ve tried several other flavors at restaurants in the Boston area. They even have a pumpkin pie.

I found everything at the grocery store except the canned cannellini beans, which bizarrely were out of stock. A bean conspiracy, I bet. I dodged some lady arguing with a stock person about the canola oil to get to the bulk goods section. I considered buying dry beans, but with the evening approaching I decided against it. On the walk home I (of course!) ate some of what I bought at the store. My parents taught me well; you always snack on something after grocery shopping.

After sticking my head into every convenience store in case they had cannellini beans (they didn’t), I made it to another grocery store and found them.  I finally got started late in the evening. Drinking one of the root beers motivated me. I used the end of my batch of maple smoked bacon instead of the applewood smoked bacon called for in the original recipe.  The extra maple flavor was too good to resist. I added a few extra strips of bacon too.

And what was the result of all that grocery searching? Downright awesome baked beans for dinner. I love making dishes that are usually overlooked. Up until this recipe I believed all baked beans came from a can or that they were those delicious things that accompanied smoked meats at a barbecue restaurant. Now I’m even thinking they would go well with a southern-style Thanksgiving feast. The root beer gives a great sweet flavor reminiscent of a mild barbecue sauce, and the chili powder adds a subtle contrast. Plus, maple and molasses jive so well. Sop up the delicious thick sauce with some cornbread.

The real point of these beans was to enjoy the strange-sounding baked beans on toast.  I toasted fresh no-knead bread with a heaping spoon of baked beans and then melted some havarti cheese on top. I used to doubt the power of beans on toast. No longer.

Root Beer and Maple Bacon Baked Beans

Adapted from Epicurious (originally from Bon Appetit)

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:
6 slices maple bacon, cut into small lardons (cubes)
3 cups onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 15-ounce cans of cannellini beans, rinsed and patted dry (You could also use the equivalent in home cooked beans.)
1 1/2 cups artisanal root beer
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons dark molasses
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a large oven-proof pot on the stove over medium heat. Cook the bacon until crispy. Remove and blot with a paper towel.

2. Cook the onions in the bacon grease until they are golden brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Stir often to keep the onions from burning.

3. Add the garlic, and cook a minute more. Then add the beans, root beer, vinegar, molasses, mustard, and chili powder. Mix vigorously to scrape all the good bacon and onion bits from the bottom of the pot into the mixture. Add the cooked bacon. Salt and pepper to taste.

4. Bring to boil. Then move to preheated oven and cook uncovered for 30 minutes until the sauce thickens.

Roasted Apples and Delicata Squash with Thyme-Maple Marinade

I went apple picking a few weekends ago. It was the first time Brian had ever gone as well as the first time he had eaten  apple cider donuts. The last time I went apple picking was ages ago but it definitely was a rite of passage as a kid. I noticed a lot  of state license plates at the orchard though; I guess I never thought about how New Englandy the tradition was. It is funny to move home after college and find it all so interesting, like some strange anthropological study in your childhood. A study in food too, since there is so much more eating involved now than there was when I lived here in high school.

Brian managed to do all the picking. He has some strange an affinity for climbing trees and attempting to reach those untouchable apples,  the ones that stare at you all glistening in the sun while you settle for finding low limbed stragglers still good enough to eat. I don’t remember what kinds of apples he picked while up there, I just schlepped our bounty around while snapping photos of the almost barren apple trees. I also ate a lot of apples while meandering the orchard. But isn’t that a rule made to be broken?

Although the apple picking season has come and gone, I wanted to write about something I made with what we took home. Other than eating an apple two or three times during the work day, I really enjoyed sneaking apple slices into otherwise regular meals. It started with oatmeal, then moved to yogurt cake, then super hearty breakfast muffins, finally pancakes and now roasted with squash in a sweet and savory marinade.

Alongside the apples I roasted delicata squash from the same farm. I may or may not have picked the best apples for roasting, but I couldn’t care either way. The apples and squash were tossed in fresh sprigs of thyme, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil, a few dried spices, and mashed garlic. Then the whole thing was roasted for nearly hour, smelling subtlety sweet and tempting me to poke around every so often with eagerness and a sharp fork. Spinach and sausage accompanied the dish on the side when finished.

This recipe by no means reinvents the wheel. I merely made it up while staring at the round squash considering the striations of its skin, whether to sauté or roast it, and how I could ultimately eat sausage with whatever I created. But I like celebrating the fall. It makes the looming winter, which is far off I tell myself, more palatable.

Roasted Apples and Delicata Squash with Thyme-Maple Marinade

Makes 4-6 servings, depending on size of portion

Ingredients:
1 pound delicata squash, sliced into thin half moons with the skin intact
2 apples, unpeeled, sliced and diced into thick chunks. Try to keep these a bit larger to hold up while roasting
1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 clove of garlic, mashed

a pinch, around 1/8 of a teaspoon, of dried sage and rosemary

4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:


1. You can eat the skin of delicata squash! I like this new found information.

2. Preheat the oven to 400

3. Place squash and apples in a large baking dish where they are evenly spread around.

4. In a separate bowl, mix apple cider vinegar, olive oil and maple syrup. Add the garlic clove and the pinch of dried rosemary and sage. Mix again.

5. Drizzle marinade over squash and apples. Toss a few times to ensure an evening coating.

6. Place sprigs of thyme over the squash and apples.

7. Roast until tender, around 1 hour. Check often though, because ovens vary widely in actual temperature. I also rotated the pan a few times to ensure even heating because my older oven seems to not always cook so evenly.

8. When finished, salt and pepper to taste.

Maple Butter + Spice Popcorn





I came across this variation of good old fashioned popcorn from a friend’s shared items on google reader. It is funny how much the internet has become one big recipe box for me. My interest was sparked by the mere mention of maple and butter. 


I had just spent the day with Brian in Portsmouth, NH where the weather was a mash up of fall meets summer. The air had a bit of that fall smell and chill, but the sun was out in full force. When I came home, I just wanted to spend the night in with the pumpkin beer that populates the bottom shelf of our fridge and movies. Enter the found recipe for maple butter + spice popcorn to accompany a night spent watching one epic movie

Although Maple syrup is not a fall food per say– since it is tapped in the spring–in my mind it is perfect when combined with the autumnal flavors of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. 


Maple Butter + Spice Popcorn


Serves two

Ingredients:
1/3 cup popcorn kernals
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
a pinch of ground cloves and nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Pop the kernels as you like. I used the stove top method

2. Melt the butter in the microwave. Whisk in the maple syrup. In another dish, mix the spices and salt. Set aside both until the popcorn is popped. 

3. Drizzle butter-syrup mixture over popped popcorn. 

4. Toss the popcorn with half of the spice mixture.  Test, and toss with more if you like.