In the Northern Hemisphere, right now is the coldest, darkest, most depressing time of the year, which is why we have people doing everything from lighting bonfires, stringing electric lights, and entertaining anyone who wanders by with food and drink. All in the service of bringing back the sun (or the spring, or whatever belief system you ascribe to). And since most of us do not have time to do much of anything at this time of the year, what with all the bonfire lighting and light stringing and carol singing (who WAS Carol, by the way? Why aren’t these songs called “Barbara” or “Ermentrude” or some other woman’s name?), any ideas which will help in the time saving area are worthy indeed. Here is one.
If you don’t have one, get one. If you have one, get one of another size (the damn things come in every size from ‘makes enough dip for a small crowd’ to ‘small turkey’ size). Personally, as a working mom, I think slow cookers are one of the 2oth Century’s great inventions – right up there with electric toothbrushes and vacuum cleaners as far as I’m concerned. You can make literally everything from soups, stews and chili to baked goods, small roasts, and whole chickens in them. The only thing you can’t make in them are items like salads. Seriously. At this time of the year, when we are all running around either entertaining or running out to someone else’s house to BE entertained, being able to throw dinner into a slow cooker and set it on ‘low’ before you go to work is genius. No more ‘what’s for dinner?’ And if you have vast voracious hoards who come home from school in the afternoon before you come home, and you get that “Mom, we’re starving’ phone call at 3:30 – just direct them to the giant pot of all things good on the counter for just a little bit of sustenance until you do get home (of course, if you have a 16 year old boy, you might want to tell him to go outside and catch and eat a couple of ground hogs first, just as an appetizer – the family does want to have dinner when they come home).
But this is not about ‘168 things to do with a slow cooker during the holiday season’ (although I am fairly sure that someone has done a book with that title out there and if they have not, then after reading this last sentence, someone WILL). There are writers out there who are vastly superior in terms of providing that level of information; my favorite is: A Year of Slow Cooking
However. What I am going to discuss here is the report recently in the news about canned foods and BPA. BPA is a substance which has been in the linings of cans for quite some time. BPA stands for Bisphenol A, which is an organic compound used in making various plastics and resins. This substance, by the way, is banned in some European countries and in baby bottles in Canada. I’m not going to go into the dangers of ingesting this; there are plenty of stories in the news about this and have been for at least 5 years. But the most recent report in November, where research findings were described showing that people who ate canned goods had BPA levels thousands of times higher than people who did not, certainly has caused us here at Chez Siberia to think seriously about replacing canned goods with either home canned (that is, things end up in sealed glass jars) or frozen.
One of the items we use a lot is canned beans. One of the reasons we’ve used them is that a can of beans is such a convenient thing. Want chili or soup or burritos? Just open up a can of beans, rinse and use them. Over the years, Aunt Toby has tried various methods for cooking dried beans from scratch and has had mixed results; using canned beans was so much faster and convenient.
So, let’s circle around again to the slow cooker, shall we (you knew I’d get back to this sooner than later, right?)?
Let’s say you just want to make beans so that you have cooked beans ready to use. You are not trying to make anything in particular; you want beans ready for later. Here’s how:
Step One: check the beans. Take your plate or shallow dish and put enough beans on the plate so that you can see plate in between the beans. Look through them and if there are any little pebbles, dirt, etc. pick that out. Put the beans into the bowl. Keep doing this operation until you have cleaned as many beans as you want to use (remember – when they are cooked, they become a lot bigger – I think it’s a ‘1 cup of dried to 3 cups of cooked’ ratio).
Step Two: Rinse the beans. A lot. And pour through the sieve and rinse again. Once the wash water is clear, then pour out one last time and put the beans back into the big bowl and cover with water and leave overnight.
Step Three: Is there any liquid left covering the beans in the bowl? This is almost magic. If there isn’t, carefully put more water into the bowl until you are just covering the beans. Then take the bowl and pour everything into the slow cooker, put on the lid and set on ‘low’. Leave it all day.
Step Four: it’s tomorrow night. Unplug the slow cooker and allow to cool down. Put your beans into containers and freeze. Voila – you now have beans that you can use anyway you want to. If you want to see directions on how to home can your own beans (this is for home canned baked beans, but it works the same way and I’d just replace the tomato sauce with the liquid in the slow cooker or some water. home canned baked beans
Now, a lot of recipes out there for making beans call for putting in chicken or beef stock, spices, bay leaves, etc. etc. and I cooked mine with onions and cilantro and soup stock. But, I’m going to recommend you put absolutely nothing in with your beans except for water. This way, when you are done, you have a completely neutral product. If you want to make black bean soup with them, you can. If you want to make black bean brownies or black bean cookies – ah ha! You still can.
As good as canned beans, only better.