Beans, Beans the musical fruit, the more you eat, the more ..... money you save.

Beans have always been a great way to cut the food costs down to a bare minimum, as long as you have some beans at home you can easily rustle up a good meal for the family. You can also save a lot more money by buying things which go well with beans when you see them on sale, smoked sausage is good as is pork of any variety. A lot of people tend to think beans are a lot of hard work for very little pay off. I disagree. Most of the recipes I use at home involve long cooking periods but generally very little input on my part, the crockpot really comes into its own when using beans.

Some of the best recipes using beans are the simplest and a few of my favourites are:

Boston Baked Beans

These are outstanding. They are at least 100 times better than those tins of baked beans, the ones in the runny "tomato" sauce, you know the ones I'm talking about. I love these when they're maybe a little overdone and some of the smaller ones start to break down in the sauce ans make it really thick. The basic recipe I follow is;

1/2 to 1 cup Bacon - lardons, rashers, even leftover ham works, basically whatever you have or whatever is cheap.

1 1/2 to 2 cups diced Onion - again white or brown skinned onions, whichever's handiest.

1 1//2 cups of dried white beans either soaked over night and cooked according to packet instructions or the quick method of placing dried beans in cold water, bringing to rolling boil for ten minutes covered, turn off heat and leave beans covered in hot liquid until cool plus about an extra two hours. Remember never salt beans until they are fully cooked.

Garlic to taste two or three cloves is usually about right, about a tablespoon of ready minced.

1/3 cup Brown Sugar

1/4 cup black treacle (molasses)

1/3 cup golden syrup

2 tbls Worcestershire sauce

2 tbls English mustard

3 tbls tomato paste (concentrate)

salt and pepper to taste

Basically, in a large ovenproof pot brown the bacon (if using ham you may want to add a little oil), remove bacon from pan and saute onions and garlic in the bacon fat over a low heat for about five minutes until tender, being careful to keep the garlic moving so as not to burn, seriously if it burns, chuck it and start again, add bacon back into pan along with beans and stir gentle to coat beans add all other ingredients and cover with enough water to come about an inch above the surface of the beans, cover and bake in the oven one of two ways. Either pre-heat the over to 180C (350F) and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the beans are tender or, like I do, put beans in oven and then turn the oven on to it's highest temperature, once the over is heated give the beans about ten minutes and then turn the over back off again. You have to heat the oven anyway, there might as well be something in there cooking.

I normally cook my beans this way because I'll make them first thing in the morning without a specific meal in mind, they can then be reheated on the stovetop or in the microwave. I also make a double batch of these and freeze in zip lock bags for later. This takes away the temptation to buy tins of beans. I've cooked these from frozen in the microwave and I've never had any problems with them but that one's probably going to be a personal choice.

Smoked Sausage and Red Lentil Soup

I am blessed with a daughter who loves lentils. Happy days.

About 2 cups of diced smoked sausage again if you only have a cup, that's fine, chuck in some ham or chicken, whatever's on the go and needs used.

2/3 cup diced onion

1 tbl oil

2 cloves of garlic chopped finely or minced

1 1/2 tsp paprika smoked or regular

A pinch of chili flakes use your judgement heat, if you like food hot, throw a load in there, if it's for the kids, leave it out.

1 cup of split red lentils

a chicken or vegetable stock cube

a can of chopped tomatoes undrained (or whole and chop em in the can with a knife)

About three cups of water

Saute onion and garlic in oil for a few minutes, add smoked sausage, chili and paprika and cook for a further 2 or 3 minutes, crumble in stock cube and add tomatoes and water. Bring to a rolling boil and add lentils, continue boiling for two minutes and then reduce to a simmer for a further 20 minutes until lentils are tender and soup is thickened, use less water if you prefer this to be more of a stew or to make it easier for little ones to eat by themselves.

Pea and Ham Soup

Remember that ham bone, tucked in the back of the freezer you knew you'd use for something. Yep. Well go get it.

One ham bone

2 cups of chopped onions

1 tbl oil

salt and pepper

1 bay leaf

1 stock cube (chicken or vegetable)

1 lb washed spilt peas

about 5 or 6 cups of water

Saute onion and garlic in oil over a low heat for about five minutes, add bay leaf and crumble in stock cube, add ham bone, split peas and water and bring to a boil. reduce temperature and simmer gently for at least an hour until peas are tender, then remove bone. Allow to cool and then process or blend until smooth.

If I can't be bothered to look at a pot sitting on the stove, I'll put this in the over at about 150c for an hour, I've also done the sauteing inside and then brought the whole pot outside and plonked in on top of the barbecue while I'm cooking other things and just leave it there to sit until the coals die. It's worked overtime so far and saves me cooking in the house.

For great recipes using beans, head over to visit Jenn's Frugal Food Series at Frugal Upstate

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