God Bless Gina Mae

May 24 – May 30, 2021

Wednesday:             Bourbon-Brined Pork Chops with Atomic Applesauce

Thursday:                Willie’s Smoked Hot Dogs with Gina Mae’s Baked Beans

(no pictures of the food, but here are three of the Stewartbrothers)

Sunday:                     Family Cookout:  Barbecued Chicken with Gina

Mae’s Baked Beans, Beez’s Devilled Eggs, Cole Slaw.  Apps of Roasted Vegetables with Green Goddess Dip and Willy’s Smoked Hot Dogs with Dijon Mustard

I’ve lost track of what we ate last week.  Partly, because I was under the weather for a bit, and partly because I kept forgetting to take photographs of the food (the mnemonic device I use to keep track of the vast array of dishes on offer at Casa Stuarti).

But you will notice one dish repeated – Gina Mae’s Baked Beans.  I was reading through a number of Juneteenth dishes illustrated in a recent issue of Food and Wine and came across this recipe, accompanied by a narrative about the strict order of merit by which Southerners assign various cooking tasks at their all-important barbecue feasts.

Cooking baked beans, along with mac and cheese, is the assignment of recognized master cooks.  And, if you screw up – burn the beans, get the saucing wrong – you are liable to be demoted to the bottom of the hierarchy, where you will be assigned the task of picking up the groceries for others to cook.

Well, we had already planned to cajole, bribe, threaten and shanghai as many of our relatives as possible to come to dinner on Sunday for a Memorial Day Weekend celebration.  And we planned a true picnic dinner with barbecued chicken (I wrote about this recently), a great new appetizer of roasted vegetables and, I had thought, my own barbecue-baked beans* or Jane’s Fancy Beans, but decided to give this new recipe a try.    I was anxious to see where I might end up in the barbecue hierarchy of Southern cooking.

So, on Thursday, we cooked Gina Mae’s Baked Beans as a trial run for Sunday – I don’t like to use guests as guinea pigs.  After a single taste, Billy and Beez insisted that we switch out our old bean recipes for this one – and I am glad that we did.  I’m used to Billy (who eats everything) and Hoddy praising my cooking, but the proof of these beans was in the eating.  A recipe for 16 was demolished by a mere 12 of us.

So if unforced human consumption is your guide – as it should be – to what to cook, you’ll want to supplant your grandmother’s or family recipe for baked beans with Gina Mae’s.  I only wish I could thank her personally.

*I used to soak my own beans overnight, but gave this up for two reasons.  Above all, it doesn’t improve the recipe and often you’ll find some of the beans remain tough.

NOTE:  By next week, I plan to be back on my game, annoying everyone by taking pictures of the food and, I hope, amusing everyone with a substantial blog post.

ANOTHER NOTE:  The other food find of the week was the dessert that John and Linda brought from Gigi’s Bakery – irresistable mini-cupcakes with a height of flavor that you have to taste to believe (sweetness ascends to my thinking, just as savoriness achieves depths)

[Alas, no picture of these extremely photogenic baked beans]

Gina Mae’s Baked Beans

(adapted from Regina Bradley’s recipe in Food & Wine (June ’21)

Timing:                                         1 hour and 25 minutes

Ingredients:                              Serves 8 – easily doubles

3 slices of bacon   –  1 lb. lean ground beef  – ¾ cup finely chopped Vidalia onions (we used Red onion, which we prefer, and cut them in fairly large dice – again, a personal preference)

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (we used one large clove)  –  1 cup barbecue sauce (we like Sweet Baby Ray’s for this dish – it has a good vinegary tang)

¼ cup brown sugar  –  2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar  –  2 22 oz. cans of Bush’s Bourbon and Brown Sugar Grillin’ Beans)

1 tablespoon smoke paprika (we used a hot variety – don’t if your guests don’t go for heat)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon  –  ½ teaspoon kosher salt (we used a full teaspoon)

½ teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper (we used more)

Prep:

Preheat oven to 350 F

Chop onion, garlic, measure out barbecue sauce, brown sugar and gather apple cider vinegar, beans, salt, pepper, paprika and ground cinnamon.

Cook:

Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-low, turning until browned and crisp, then transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Now increase heat to medium and add ground-beef, breaking up and cooking until crumbly and browned – 6 or 7 minutes.

Remove from heat, push beef to one side and tilt skillet allowing drippings to collect on one side – use as many paper towels as necessary to remove drippings.

Return skillet to medium, add onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cook until onion is soft – about 5 minutes.

Add barbecue sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, paprika and cinnamon and stir to combine.  Stir in baked beans and bring to a simmer over medium, stirring often.  (6-10 minutes).

Pour mixture into a baking dish and bake, uncovered, in preheated oven until bubbling – about 50 minutes.  Now crumble the bacon over the top and bake another 10 minutes.  Let sit about 10 minutes before serving.

(You can make this one day ahead.  Return to room temperature before reheating.)

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