The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Even the ducks get hot here in July. —

Summer is synonymous with Smoke Outs around The Muddy Kitchen, as most of you already know. We always go simple, if you could call it that: smoked chicken, smoked ribs, smoked duck, smoked lamb, potato salad, baked beans, cole slaw, sun tea, loads of beer, ice cold, fizzy white wine and every neighbor we can gather up.

The Best Baked Beans Ever

A great Smoke Out begins with great meat. Thank you The Meat Market Great Barrington!

In our year-long emotional, physical and spiritual preparation for the big Smoke Out, Tommy and I spend many an hour chopping wood (well, he actually does that without an ounce of help from me), studying up and experimenting with cook time, wrap time, rest time and rub. You can easily have cocktails with us around about February and find us still ruminating on the rights and wrongs of our last smoke, and how we might do things better next time. We are at our most self-critical about smoking. Smoking things wrong can seriously stress us out. 

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Getting the smoker up and running is one of the major man-jobs around here. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— The balance of hard and aromatic wood cut from the property. The ultimate in terroir. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Sauce, rub, brine, prep, sides, and FoodSaver bagging is my domain. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— A proper BBQ is all about the Ketchup and brown sugar. The rest is ever-changing. —

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— Smoked lamb shoulder is a giant leap into the exotic unknown. —

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— Smoked chicken getting its golden bronze tan on. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Hudson Valley duck. Crispy, crunchy, breast-o-rific, and Asian-inspired is always our goal. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

Dinner without Chef Tyler is like a day without sunshine. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Rule #1: All Guests Shuck Corn. Bikini optional. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Sun tea and CountryTime lemonade. A John Denver song? —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Exotic foray into smoked lamb? Sublime. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Thanksgiving is fancy; The Summer Smoke-Out is not. Proper plates not allowed. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Neighbors are the best kind of friends there are. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— The wisdom of the Smoke Out is learned and shared. —

I’d truly like to share our recipe for a perfect smoked duck, or ribs that have just the right amount of peppery bark clinging to the moist, pink meat, but I’m afraid it’s not possible. Smoke is the most elusive flavor there is and the most difficult cooking technique to get right enough to write a recipe for it. Sorry.

I can point you in the direction of Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto. Even Aaron Franklin manages to write a two-pound book on his infamous BBQ and only includes about 4 recipes. Getting it right is more like a way of life. Something you ponder even when it’s February.

Instead, I offer this: Life-changing baked beans.

These gloriously fall somewhere between heaven and heaven’s after party. They are so white trash it hurts, but trust me. If you want to be super classy with your version then use artisan-y bacon. It’s good no matter what. 

Thank you to The Pioneer Woman, who has no problem listing “Pork N’ Beans” as an actual ingredient. This recipe had me at ‘bacon grease’.

The Best Baked Beans Ever
Serves all your neighbors (if you have up to 18 of them)

8 slices bacon, halved

1 medium onion, chopped up real nice

1/2 medium green pepper, chopped up real nice

3 large cans (28 ounces) Pork N’ Beans (I bought mine at Target)

3/4 cup barbecue sauce (make your own or cheap & cheerful)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tsps dry mustard 

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Fry bacon in a big pan — I use my biggest cast iron skillet — until it’s partially cooked and releases about 1/4 cup of it’s bacon grease. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Add onions and peppers to the grease in the pan and sauté until tender. Add the beans back into the mixture and cook a bit. Pour the whole mixture into a greased 13-by 9-inch (or similar size) ovenproof pan.

3. Top with the pieces of bacon and bake until beans are beginning to brown on top and the ‘juice’ takes on a molasses-like thickness. About 2 hours. 

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Yep, the primary ingredient besides…. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— …bacon. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Be classy. Add some classy stuff. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Oh, and did I mention…bacon? —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— Meditate on smoked chicken the rest of the year. —

-- Heaven's after-party. --

— The Best Baked Beans Ever. Heaven’s after-party. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— The pond calls. —

The Best Baked Beans Ever

— <3 —

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Verbless VVednesdays

July 22, 2015

Frog in hiding.

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— The jewels of the garden. Somebody else’s garden. —

I am not a strawberry person. My tastes run toward the more exotic fruit. The eyebrow-raisers like black currants and damson plums. The exotics I couldn’t possibly grow here like Lychee and loquat.

I started a tiny patch of strawberry at one point, with some of the overflow plants from Wayne’s down the road. But I was a terrible mother to those little suckers. I just stuck them in with the grass at the outer edge of the garden and thought I’d wait to see what would happen. Here’s what happened; the grass won, as grass always does, and that was the end of my strawberry-growing career. 

But I do have a soft spot for strawberry jam. Nothing conjures up images of childlike wonder more than strawberry jam spread lavishly on soft white bread. So when Keith came over and told me he could set me up with a whole mess o’ strawberries, I was in. As you know, Keith’s inside track is always to be trusted. Trusted. And trusted. And this was Keith’s personal stash.

— Keith loves his strawberry patch and it loves him back. —

— Jewels can be found everywhere. —

— Enough for jam? —

Meanwhile, as I was preparing to make my strawberry jam; my mom visited. 

And along with my mom came my dad. Along with the two of them came the Lasners. Along with the Lasners came the Kushners (yes, the Kushners of Burning Man fame.) And along with the Kushners came this:

— Oops. —

— What…how…who…where…when?”

 The scene was quite chaotic out in front of The Muddy Kitchen. What to do about the pretty dead bird, who to do it, how and with what, where, when?

— Lou steps up. —

It was Louis himself who emerged from the crowd like Katniss Everdeen with a pair of field gloves.

— When in the country, bring gloves. —

Okay, then it was over.

So, back to my strawberry jam.

— Hulling strawberries is a heck of a lot easier than cherry pitting. —

My jam guru is Rachel Saunders and her book of impeccable recipes – The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook – is an absolute must-have. If you follow Rachel’s recipes to the letter, you will have perfect jam every time. I, of course, don’t, but my interpretive jam often still comes out pretty yummy. The addition of liquor always turns something originally made for kids into a swoon-worthy treat for grown-ups too! But don’t worry – the peanut butter and Wonder Bread won’t mind.

— Is it jam without the lemon juice? –

— Call me old-fashioned, but sugar is the most magical ingredient to cook with. —

— Magic in the making. —

— Grand Marnier + honey + whiskey = Drambuie? Sure it does. —

INTERPRETIVE STRAWBERRY JAM (Thank you again, Rachel Saunders!)

3 lbs 14 oz hulled strawberries

2 ½ lbs white cane sugar

4 oz plus 2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 ½ oz Grand Marnier + 1 dash of vanilla + bit of honey + dash of whiskey (Saunder’s recipe calls for Drambuie, but who in the world happens to have a bottle Drambuie lying around? I read the ingredients in Drambuie and winged it.)

Put 5 teaspoons in the freezer before you begin. Combine the strawberries with 4 oz of the lemon juice in a 12 quart pot. Turn up the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly. After a few minutes, as the mixture begins foaming a little around the edges, gradually raise heat to high, stirring often.

Boil for approximately 20-30 minutes, gently scraping the bottom every few minutes. Like with all jams, the mixture starts to get a darker, shinier look as you go. In other words, it starts to look more like jam! It takes approximately 25 minutes.

Turn off heat and let things settle just a bit. Take all the foamy junk off the top with a spoon. Add the Grand Marnier + dash of vanilla + bit of honey + dash of whiskey (or Drambuie, if you’re one of those people who has it hanging about). Return to medium heat and cook, stirring frequently. If necessary, gradually lower the heat to prevent scorching.

After a few minutes of bubbling, the jam should again look glassy and dark. To test for doneness the Rachel Saunders way, “remove the jam from heat and take a small representative half-spoonful (one containing both the liquid and the more solid portions of the mixture) and carefully transfer it onto one of your frozen spoons. Replace the cold spoon in the freezer for 1-2 minutes.”

When you take the spoon out from the freezer, it should be the consistency of jam…not too watery. Strawberries take a little longer to get to this ‘jam-state’ than most fruits. Don’t skimp on the last few minutes of cooking. Nobody likes watery strawberry jam!

Pour into jars sterilized according to manufacturer’s instructions, process for canning or store in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

— For grown-ups too. —

Take your boots off before you come in here!

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Verbless VVednesdays

July 14, 2015

Insta-girlie office. 

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1. Find and remove the tick. No easy task: the smaller the tick the more Lyme-y they are. In June, the dreaded “nymph” is everywhere. They are about the size of your smallest freckle. I keep jewelers glasses in my bathroom and check out every inch of flesh in the house. I have found one burrowed in […]

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Turtle House is where my husband’s best and oldest friend, Frankie, once called home. When Frankie wasn’t hanging out with us at The Muddy Kitchen, or at Rose’s down the way, Frankie was at Turtle House looking out onto the crystal clear waters, reading in the hammock and enjoying his piece of magical paradise.  Once you […]

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Verbless VVednesdays

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Summer dreams. 

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THIS is Why You Don’t Plant Tomatoes in April

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Take your boots off before you come in here!

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