Baked beans.

Oven-baked beans, just simmerin' away.

An unusual summer Sunday: J was on call all weekend, and I had signed up for a daylong sewing class in our neighborhood. Meanwhile, J’s mom, Margaret, was scheduled to arrive in the afternoon. And, to top it all off, we had invited James and Zandra over for Sunday dinner. Our Sundays are typically far more relaxed, but this was the exception, and with J being tied to work, the shopping and other dinner preparations were up to me. So, when planning the meal, the mantra was: Keep it simple; make it ahead.

Taking inspiration from the mid-summer edition of Saveur — BBQ Nation — we decided to employ the grill for dinner.  And after debating the various grilling options, we landed on sausages made at our neighborhood grocery store, New Seasons. When I told the eager-to-help man at the meat counter our plan to offer a variety of sausages, he said he’d hosted his own sausage feast just a few days earlier, and it was a huge success. Upon his hearty recommendation, I choose the chicken, feta and spinach links (he admitted he didn’t think he’d like them, and was surprised when they turned out to be his favorite). Then I grabbed a couple of basic bratwurst and a few spicy Polish sausages. The main dish was set, and next it was onto sides.

Saveur had featured a lovely summery cucumber salad in the barbecue edition that intrigued me. Thin-sliced, peeled cucumbers and red onion tossed with sour cream and sherry wine vinegar dressing. I made the dressing the night ahead, leaving the cucumber slicing for the last minute. This was easy enough, but in retrospect, I should have sliced and drained the cukes the night before as one does for tzatziki. Noted for next time.

The menu lacked something. We discussed pasta salad  and potato salad  before finally landing on oven-baked beans, also from the magazine. I’d never baked my own beans, and hadn’t contemplated how making them from scratch would improve the flavor. Of course I should have known. My adaptation adds more onion, less sugar and a touch of bourbon.

Oven-baked Beans

8 to 10 slices bacon, cut into chunks

1 diced large yellow onion

4 15-ounce cans navy beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups barbecue sauce (homemade or store bought)

3/4 cup beef stock

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup molasses

1/4 cup bourbon

1/8 teaspoon clove, finely ground

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon dry mustard

6 to 8 whole, peeled canned tomatoes, hand crushed

Preheat oven to 350. Sautee the bacon in a Dutch oven or deep oven-proof skillet until soft, but not crisp. Add the diced onions and cook until translucent. Add the sugar, molasses, bourbon, barbecue sauce, stock, tomatoes, clove, mustard, salt and stir until mixed. Bring the mixture to a boil to thicken slightly. Add the beans and bring to a simmer.

Cover and bake for 2 hours. Let cool before serving.

The beauty of this recipe is that it can be made ahead, and re-heated either on the stove top or in the oven before serving. In fact, making the beans ahead only intensifies the flavors.

Yep. File this meal under easy, rich, slightly sweet and sublimely summer.

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Mash Tun: Summer Edition

August 6, 2011

Mash Tun's Fried Zucchini

Fried zucchini sticks. (Careful: HOT.)

Saturday night in early August. The seasons have shifted, but our cravings remain much the same. So we head down the street for the familiar burgers,  amiable service and laid-back vibe at our fave neighborhood brewpub.

+ daylight.

Mash Tun’s new outdoor patio (wisteria-covered trellis should start to fill in next year) is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. And  with Pine State Biscuits’ outdoor seating just next door, 22nd and Alberta is a corner to be reckoned with. (Oh … and we discovered the fried zucchini strips. Not listed on the menu as an app; only as a sandwich. Ask for them. Good stuff. )

Pok Pok Noi chicken wings

Sweet, salty, savory Vietnamese fish-sauce wings.

Last Friday. It seems like a lifetime ago, now, but lingering throughout the oceanic week were memories of our casual takeout dinner from our new(ish) neighbor, Pok Pok Noi. Bearing little resemblance to the Thai menus I’m used to, Noi serves up  traditional Thai street food easily eaten standing up, or perhaps sitting on a curb or stoop, food perched on knees.  And, in keeping with the street-food theme,  it’s not uncommon in the summertime to see couples sitting under umbrellas at the two sidewalk tables devouring ears of grilled corn, skewered meats and the like.

Located next door to Grain & Gristle, the tiny restaurant does a brisk takeout business, but you’ll always find people eating at the  few seats at the bar, standing up by the front window overlooking the aforementioned picnic tables, or sitting on the petite patio out back. Walking through the front door, you’re greeted with the unmistakable aroma of fish sauce and chiles. The backlit signage next to the bar depicts the menu’s offerings, and a blackboard details a drinking vinegars and other libations, including bottled and draft beers, cocktails and coffees.

For our living-room picnic, we ordered the Het Paa Naam Tok, a salad made with  forest mushrooms, shallots and lemongrass that arrived with a little container stuffed with a magical mixture of cilantro leaves, mint and a prickly toasted rice powder, When mixed with the meaty mushrooms, the result was an earthy, spicy, bright salad. And then the Papaya Pok Pok salad:  julienned green papaya, tomatoes, and long beans with spicy, aromatic lime and fish sauce complementing the fresh veg. Optional soft-shell black crab makes the dish a bit of a project: biting, sucking, slurping and discarding, but delicious nonetheless. Alongside the dish, a plastic sandwich baggie with a scoop of sticky rice, easily pinched off and eaten with the fingers.

Beyond salads, we ordered the Muu Seteh, pork loin skewers topped with a tiny gem of glistening pork fat,  served with an addictive peanut dipping sauce. But the star of this show is the much-written-about Vietnamese fish-sauce wings: a heap of dark, sticky, sweet, salty, meaty chicken wings, so addictive, savory and satisfyingly filling. The first time we ordered them, I could not fathom making a meal of chicken wings, and yet, that’s what happens.

We say it all the time, and you’ll probably tire of hearing it before we stop: We feel so lucky to live in this amazing neighborhood, and jewels like Pok Pok Noi make our good fortune that much better.