Are You Cheap & Easy As This Farm Wench?

farm wench, Bit of Earth Farm, Not the tawdry kind of cheap and easy. We don’t talk about that where I live, at least not if you want to show your face at the post office or volunteer firefighters’ pancake breakfast.

No, I mean the kind of living our grandparents or great grandparents practiced. Being frugal,making do, and doing what has to be done as easily as possible.

I’m that sort of farm wench. I live this way partially from necessity and partially out of sheer unwillingness to participate in the spend-till-you-wreck-the-earth style capitalism. My family doesn’t care much if we wear clothes till they’re worn out or eat pretty low on the food chain. We’re careful to buy quality when we do buy so our purchases last.

This attitude carries over to our food.We raise what we can, put up as much as possible and buy in bulk when it makes sense. Cooking this way may seem to take time but when the house is stocked there’s no need to run to the store (which is too far for convenience anyway).

cook with beans, Take our old friend, the dried bean. Few food items are as cheap and nutritious as dried beans. Cook up a pot of beans and use them in two or three recipes. If you have the freezer space, freeze a few batches so you don’t have to heat up the house during the summer months. I make bean chili, beans and rice, bean casseroles, bean soup, bean dip, bean pate, bean sandwich spread, refried beans, bean enchiladas, heck, I put beans in dessert. Ever tried navy bean cookies or garbanzo lemon cake?

Cooking dry beans yourself is much cheaper than buying the canned version. Once drained, the actual volume of canned beans comes to about 50 to 60 cents a cup. Dry beans, once cooked and drained come to 15 to 30 cents a cup (depending on type of bean and whether you buy in bulk).

Home cooked beans are not only much lower in salt, they’re also totally free of the toxic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) used in the lining of cans and other food containers. And cooking beans at home is easy. Yes, advance planning is required but planning is required for just about everything except breathing. Soak them the day before, even start the first boil the night before. Turn them on when you’re home, off when you’re not. Beans are forgiving.

cook with dry beans, A pot of life-enhancing pinto beans just finished simmering.  Here’s what I’m making. (I don’t stick to actual recipes, so toss in what sounds good and adjust as you choose.)

Refried Beans (a favorite with my family)

2 cups raw pinto or black beans (or mixture)

olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin

a hefty dash of dry chipotle powder or cayenne powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

Dump the beans in a colander, rinse well and check for stones. This is a wonderful job to assign young children. They enjoy the tactile pleasure of running their fingers over beans in the colander as water pours on them.

Then put beans in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. You can do this the night before, which speeds the next day’s cooking process. If you have time, let the beans sit in the hot water to soak at least till the water cools. Then drain the cooking water, cover them again with fresh water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and let them simmer until done, usually about an hour and a half. (Two batches of cooking water increases the digestibility of the beans I’m told.)  Don’t store beans too long. Old dried beans of any variety take a very long time to cook and lose flavor.

Anyway, drain the cooked beans and get on with it. Heat some oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and cook till translucent. Add the garlic. Then get out your handy blender. Toss the onion and garlic mess in the blender with a bit of water. Whirl it around. Dump this into a large bowl, adding the spices and salt. If you prefer, put a cup or more of whole beans into that bowl for some texture. Then start blending the beans in batches. Depending on your blender, you’ll have to add a decent amount of water to even encourage it to run. At least a cup of water to every two and a half cups of beans. Don’t worry if the beans seem too thin. The thinner they are, the longer you’ll bake them to reduce the moisture content. You’re aiming for cooked oatmeal thickness now. After they’re cooked, you’re aiming for mashed potato thickness.

Once you have the rest of the beans blended and scraped into your bowl, mix everything together. Then scoop into a heavy casserole dish that has been pan sprayed. Bake at 350 for an hour or two. You’ll need to mix every half hour or so while they bake, scraping the dry refried beans from sides and bottom to rejoin their beanie friends in the middle. These beans thicken a bit as they cool.


Serve as a make-your-own-burrito meal with all the fixings. Or stuff into bell pepper halves with fresh corn, salsa and cilantro topped with cheese. Or serve with chips and salsa. Or roll into enchiladas. Or do what you’d like.  We always make a triple or quadruple batch of these beans.


Toss In What You Have Beans

olive oil

1 large onion, red preferred

2 or more cloves garlic

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds (optional)

1 large bell pepper

3 cups cooked beans—black beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans or mixture is good

1 pint home canned tomatoes and hot chili peppers, OR
Rotel tomatoes and chili
peppers OR 2 fresh tomatoes,
chopped plus one small minced hot chili pepper

1/2 cup cranberries, chopped OR 1 small ripe mango, diced

1 teaspoon sea salt

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

2 small cooked sweet potatoes, diced OR 1 ½ cup cooked
quinoa, brown rice or
pasta

Heat oil in large pot, add onion and cook till translucent. Add garlic, cook a minute or two longer. Then add cumin seeds and bell pepper. Cook, careful to avoid burning cumin seeds. Mix in beans, tomatoes and chilis, cranberries and salt. Simmer 10 minutes or so. Stir in cilantro and starch of choice. Heat through. This is better then next day when flavors have blended. Wonderfully colorful with cranberries, mixed beans, cilantro and sweet potato.


Chocolate Beanie Squares (delicious and flour-free)

There are recipes out there for bean brownies. But really, don’t call them brownies, because they don’t have the texture of brownies. You’re asking to have your dessert rejected. And if possible, enjoy the real pleasure of subversive cooking and don’t tell anyone there are beans in the dessert until AFTER they’ve enjoyed eating. Then chuckle all you want.

1 ½ cups cooked, drained beans (navy beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, or pinto beans)

3 eggs

¼ cup butter, melted

¼ cup cocoa powder

dash salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

EITHER dash of vanilla extract OR dash peppermint oil

½ cup honey

¼ cup mini chocolate chips or shaved chocolate

6 ounces milk chocolate chips or shaved high quality
chocolate

Option (when using vanilla, not peppermint) ½ cup peanut butter, divided

Put beans, eggs and butter in blender. Pulverize into smooth slurry. Dump out into mixing bowl. Add cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and mix. Add honey and chocolate chips, mix. Now for your choices.

MINT: If you are making mint squares, add the mint oil, scrape the batter into a prepared (greased or sprayed) 8 x 8 pan and bake at 350 for approximately 20 to 30 minutes, just until the middle is firm but not dry. As soon as your remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the 6 ounces of milk chocolate evenly over the top. Immediately cover the top with a cookie sheet to hold in the heat. After a minute or two, remove the cookie sheet and spread the melted chocolate with a knife. For an extra spectacular presentation, sprinkle with peppermint candy canes you’ve heartlessly chopped into pieces. Cut when cool.

PEANUT BUTTER: If you are making peanut butter squares, add the vanilla extract and mix in ¼ cup of the peanut butter. (It helps to melt it a bit or toss it in the blender in the bean step—now I tell you.) Scrape the batter into a prepared (greased or sprayed) 8 x 8 pan and bake at 350 for approximately 20 to 30 minutes, just until the middle is firm but not dry.  As soon as your remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the 6 ounces of milk chocolate evenly over the top along with dollops of the remaining ¼ cup peanut butter. Immediately cover the top with a cookie sheet to hold in the heat. After a minute or two, remove the cookie sheet and spread the melted chocolate with a knife. Cut when cool.

Make all the bean jokes you want. I live with fans of Blazing Saddles, The Onion and XKCD online comics. Chewing and guffawing are a constant around here.

About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of "Free Range Learning," a handbook of natural learning and "Tending," a poetry collection. She lives on Bit of Earth Farm where she's a barely useful farm wench. Although she has deadlines to meet she often wanders from the computer to preach hope, snort with laughter, cook subversively, ponder life’s deeper meaning, talk to chickens and cows, sing to bees, hide in books, walk dogs, concoct tinctures, watch foreign films, and make messy art. Blog: lauragraceweldon.com/blog-2/ FB: facebook.com/FreeRangeLearningCommunity FB: facebook.com/SubversiveCooking FB: facebook.com/laura.euphoria Twitter: @earnestdrollery
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