Growing up, baked beans was a traditional Saturday night supper in our household. While I haven’t continued the Saturday night tradition, I do frequently have baked beans on the menu.
Baked beans make a very economical dish and freeze well for reheating later in the microwave. These are a staple packaged in meal-portion sized dishes in my freezer. I will make up a large batch and then divide them into serving sized containers that will freeze well. I serve baked beans with homemade bread and molasses and mustard pickles and sometimes tomato chow. When prepared ahead, they make a quick and nutritious meal.
We know beans are a good source of fiber and protein so they are good for our diet. Making your own homemade beans is not difficult although it is a somewhat lengthy process: The beans have to be soaked in water overnight, pre-cooked for about an hour or so, then baked in the oven for about 3 hours. The bonus of homemade beans, however, is that they taste so much better than canned beans off the store shelf.
I like to use yellow-eye beans as I find they cook well and are not hard as I find dark beans to be. My grandmother always grew the dark beans solely for the purpose of drying them and using them to make baked beans. I always found the beans to be very hard despite that she would have baked them in a bean crock in the wood stove oven for hours and hours.
Soaking the dried beans accomplishes three things:
1) It softens the beans and lessens the cooking and baking times (the beans also expand to double or triple their size in the soaking process);
2) It allows the beans to absorb the liquid (become rehydrated) thus they will cook more evenly and hold their shape when baked (i.e., they won’t split open or become mushy)
3) It removes the indigestible complex sugars, making the beans easier to digest.
The jury is still out on adding a small amount of baking soda to the cooking process of the beans. Some say doing so will make the beans more tender, particularly if the water is hard. Others claim the soda may also aid in digesting the beans while others subscribe to the theory that the baking soda does nothing for the beans. My mother always added the baking soda to the beans and I continue the practice of adding 1/2 tsp of baking soda when cooking beans. I figure 1/2 tsp will not harm the beans and, if it does do some good, so much the better.
Beans, on their own with no seasonings, can be very bland and tasteless. I don’t think my grandmother added much to her baked beans other than some molasses, brown sugar, and water. My mother always added some onion and ground mustard along with molasses, brown sugar, and water but very little else. I like to gently spice the beans up a bit and, over the years, have perfected a recipe that suits my taste. When an ingredient calls for a “dash”, I use an actual measuring spoon that has the “dash” as a measurement. Spices, and the amount added, are very much a personal preference so each cook should adjust them to his or her own tastes. My recommendation, of course, is to make the recipe the first time using the measurements called for and then decide what needs to be adjusted for the next time. As well, if there is a particular spice that you absolutely do not like, simply omit it. The recipe that I have developed does not use large amounts of any one spice. I did this because I still wanted the original bean taste and didn’t want any particular spice to overpower the natural taste of a traditional baked beans dish.
Some like to add salt pork, regular bacon, or cut-up weiners to the baked beans. I prefer just the beans but that is a personal preference and meats can certainly be added, if desired.
As those of you who have been following my blog will know, I recently went to Woodville Mills, near Cardigan, PEI, to visit a sugar shack that was in operation producing maple syrup. Since I like to add some maple syrup to my baked beans, I thought this was a good time to share my recipe with you so, here it is. Enjoy!
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Maple Syrup Baked Beans
Place beans in large bowl. Add enough cold water to completely cover the beans. Cover. Soak overnight.
Drain soaked beans in colander. Discard water. Place beans in large pot and add 4 cups fresh cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add 1/2 tsp baking soda. Cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally and fork-testing beans for doneness. Beans should still be firm but not hard when cooked. Do not overcook or beans will become mushy and lose their shape.
Drain the beans in large colander, reserving the liquid. Set liquid aside. Rinse the beans with cold water. Place beans in 2-quart casserole or small roaster pan. Add remaining ingredients and 3 cups of the reserved liquid. Stir gently until well combined.
Bake, covered, in 300F oven for about 3 hours or until beans are fork-tender. Check beans 2-3 times during baking and add more liquid if needed.
In large pot, bring water to boil. Add salt, oil, liquid chicken bouillon, garlic, and macaroni. (I like to add some garlic and chicken bouillon to the water so it will flavor the pasta when it is cooking. This provides a subtle taste without overpowering or competing with the cheese which would be the case if the ingredients were added into the cheese sauce.)
Cook macaroni, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent macaroni from sticking to pot. Drain in colander. Return macaroni to pot.
Melt butter in saucepan. Add milk. Combine flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, and dry mustard. Whisk into milk and butter mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring until mixture is smooth and starts to thicken.
Add cheeses and stir until melted and blended
Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and stir until well combined. Turn into a greased 2-quart casserole or divide into greased ramekin dishes for individual servings.
Bake, uncovered, in 350F oven for 20-30 minutes.
Serve with a green salad and fresh homemade biscuits.
I recently paid a visit to Cows Creamery at its factory location on the outskirts of Charlottetown, PEI, where I was met by my two tour guides, Yvonne and Andrea. As I soon learned, Cows is a whole lot more than its renowned premium quality ice cream.
With humble beginnings back in 1983, Cows has evolved into a large diversified operation that produces, along with its iconic ice cream, three varieties of cheddar cheese as well as its newest dairy product, creamery butter. You’ll also find this company producing several food items such as chocolate-covered potato chips plus a line of novelty items (including its whimsical cow-inspired clothing line). For the purposes of this field trip, however, my focus was on the dairy side of Cows’ operations.
Cows Ice Cream
Cows began producing and selling one variety of ice cream (vanilla) on the Cavendish Boardwalk in 1983. It wasn’t long before customers soon started associating Cows with premium-quality ice cream. A short while later, Cows opened their first ice cream shop in downtown Charlottetown and you can still find it there on the corner of Queen and Grafton Streets, just across from the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
Over the years, Cows added and operated, on a seasonal basis, several more outlets – Peakes Wharf in Charlottetown, Gateway Village at the foot of the Confederation Bridge in Borden-Carleton, and on “The Confederation” ferry that runs, May-October, between PEI and NS. Of course, their new creamery near Charlottetown also sells ice cream year-round in the retain outlet. Cows has also added several off-Island locations that include Historic Properties in Halifax, NS; Whistler, BC; Banff, AB; and Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON.
Today, Cows produces some 32 flavours (yes, 32!) of high-end premium ice cream with catchy names like my favourite, “Wowie Cowie”. All the ice cream is made in their PEI creamery using milk produced on PEI dairy farms and as many locally-produced ingredients (e.g., berries) as possible.
The ice cream is then shipped to their various retail outlets in PEI and across the country.
On the day of my late afternoon March visit, the ice cream operation was not in production mode. However, their retail outlet was selling the delectable ice cream! Cows ice cream is served in their tasty signature waffle cones that are hand-made in each store. One bite and you know this is no ordinary ice cream cone. It is so good that it could almost be described as a specialized dessert crisp cookie in and of itself! The silky smooth ice cream holds its shape in the cone and does not melt too quickly like other brands made with less premium quality ingredients.
Single scoop (waffle cone included) is competitively priced at $3.75 + tax (at time of writing in March 2012) with other high-end ice creams.
The best way I can describe Cows ice cream is that it’s an experience unto itself, right down to the tip of the cone! For me, Cows ice cream is the benchmark against which all other ice creams get rated and I’ve found no other commercial brand to date that tops it. Just a word of caution, though, their ice cream is downright addictive!
Cows Creamery expanded its production line in 2006 when it started making cheddar cheese. Today, their cheese line includes three varieties: Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar (the strongest and most robust of the three); Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar, and Cows Creamery Applewood Smoked 2 Year Old Cheddar.
Just as with their ice cream, Cows makes their cheese using milk that comes from small rural local dairy farms around PEI. Not only does this mean they are using fresh, quality ingredients but they are also supporting local dairy producers. The cheeses are made using the English method and, in fact, my tour guides told me their recipe has its roots in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland. The cheeses are all-natural products made from unpasteurized milk with no color added. So, if your vision is of a bright orange cheese, you won’t find that at Cows. What you will find, though, is a natural-colored cheese with full-bodied authentic cheese flavour.
I must admit I have never been a fan of old cheese, preferring instead the much more subtle flavours offered by mild and, on occasion, medium cheeses. I was somewhat reluctant to try Cows cheese for the reason that other “old” cheese varieties I have tried in the past always tasted stale to me and had what I can only describe as a distasteful flavour. However, lesson learned – never be afraid to try new things and discover how accepting your palette might be to new and different tastes. Cows’ cheeses are indeed good. So good, in fact, the cheeses have already won several prestigious awards in Canada and the US. Manufactured at their Charlottetown Creamery, the 20-pound cheese wheels are shipped to distributors all over North America. Look, or ask for, Cows cheeses in local specialty cheese shops, farm markets, or grocery deli counters in your area. On PEI, Cows’ pre-packaged cheese can be found at local supermarkets, at the Farmers Market in Charlottetown and, of course, in the retail outlet of the Cows Creamery near Charlottetown, PEI.
I asked my tour guides what the primary intended uses of these cheeses would be since they only manufacture old cheese varieties – i.e., are they meant for snacking cheeses, cooking, etc. They suggested that the cheeses can simply be eaten on their own or used in salads, soups, casseroles, on burgers, or in grilled cheese sandwiches so these are very versatile products.
As per my usual practice when I visit a local producer, I like to take their product and use it in a recipe. I decided I’d put Cows cheeses to the real test and make “Mac ‘n Cheese” (recipe follows at end of this blog). The reason I chose Mac ‘n Cheese is because the pasta (a rather tasteless food item on its own) would not compete in taste with the cheese. This would allow the cheese to “star” without being masked by other strong flavours and I would find out if I liked Cows old cheddar. What I did was use 1 cup each of Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar and Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar. Well! Let’s just say, I can probably never be satisfied with Mac ‘n Cheese made with any other cheese in the future! The result was a rich, full-bodied cheese-flavoured Mac ‘n Cheese experience. As mentioned above, Cows cheeses are naturally colored which means they are a very pale neutral (yellowish) color so, if you are accustomed to seeing a rich orange-colored macaroni dish, this will not give you that. However, I think you’ll find the robust, true cheese flavour will more than make up for any lack of deep color.
In the summer of 2011, Cows introduced their newest product — butter sold in ½-pound packages and available unsalted or sea-salted. Just as with their ice cream and cheese products, their butter is of premium quality with 84% butter fat versus 80% found in regular butters. I have tried the sea-salted and it is one fine butter…particularly spread on fresh buttermilk biscuits straight out of the oven!
Cows Creamery Butter can be purchased on PEI at the Cows Creamery in Charlottetown as well as at the Co-op on Walker Avenue. Off-Island, it can be found at Pete’s Frootique in Halifax and Bedford, NS, as well as in various stores in Ontario and in the Vancouver, BC, area.
In 1985, Cows introduced a whimsical line of clothing for their staff to wear. They soon discovered that customers wanted to buy the staff clothing! As a result, Cows began selling T-shirts and sweatshirts that bore images based on puns related to cows or farming. This line has expanded to include a whole line of souvenir items and clothing.
Cows’ logo and images are very unique and recognizable. In fact, a few years ago, I was strolling down a very crowded street in Freeport, ME, when I came upon a couple sporting Cows T-shirts – you can identify these T-shirts in a crowd anywhere!
Visitors arriving on PEI by air can expect to find, as they step into the terminal at the Charlottetown Airport, a large statue of a black and white shiny cow advertising “Cows” products. Particularly during peak tourism season, it is not uncommon to find people posing for photographs with the cow as the backdrop. This is probably the most photographed cow on PEI (or anywhere, for that matter)!
Cows opened their new creamery facility just outside Charlottetown in 2009. They offer tours that start with a video in their theatre room, followed by a stop by the T-shirt printing shop where you can watch the Cows images being transferred on to clothing. Your next stop on the tour will take you by the infamous ice cream making room where you can watch this delectable treat being made. From there, you’ll see the large wheels of cheese undergoing the aging process. The last stop on the tour would, no doubt, be a huge hit – the tasting room where you’ll sample the ice cream made on the premises. Tour prices (as of March 2012) are: Adults $6.00; Children $4.00; and Children Under 2 years of age are admitted free. The tours run May 15 – October 15 and are available off-season by appointment only.
PEI has no shortage of good quality locally-produced food products available. The great thing about Cows Creamery products (apart from their obvious high quality) is that they are produced right here on Prince Edward Island. As a home kitchen chef and food blogger, I have a lot of time and respect for companies, such as Cows, that use local products in their manufacturing and, in turn, support local producers. As anyone who knows me well will attest, I like to use the freshest ingredients possible and premium-quality products in my cooking and baking. It doesn’t get any fresher than buying from local producers and manufacturers.
My Island Bistro Kitchen's Macaroni and Cheese
Published: March 21, 2012
Ready In:55 mins
A rich, flavorful macaroni and cheese dish using Cows Creamery Cheese
In large pot, bring water to boil. Add salt, oil, liquid bouillon, garlic, and macaroni. I like to add some garlic and chicken bouillon to the water so it will flavor the pasta when it is cooking. This provides a subtle taste without overpowering or competing with the cheese which would be the case if the ingredients were added into the cheese sauce.
Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent macaroni from sticking to pot. Drain in colander. Return macaroni to pot.
Melt butter in saucepan. Add milk.
Combine flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, and dry mustard. Whisk into milk and butter mixture.
Cook over medium heat until mixture starts to thicken.
Add cheeses and stir until melted and blended.
Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and stir until well combined.
Turn into a greased 2-quart casserole or divide into greased ramekin dishes for individual servings.
Bake, uncovered, in 350F oven for 20-30 minutes.
Serve with a fresh green salad and homemade biscuits.