Midwest Baked Beans

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Colorful Baked Beans

The weekend of October 21 we boarded a nonstop flight from Seattle to Texas, traveling to Austin for my nephew’s wedding. I’ve never “been there, done that” so off we flew to meet up with everyone in my immediate family: my children, two of the grandkids, my siblings, a girlfriend, a spouse. What a great excuse for a family reunion.

I was shocked at how “young” the folks were in this city and how large the city was – almost a million people. Like I’d pictured, Austin is flat and spread out. What I didn’t conjure up in my mind? Countless food trucks. Extremely hot weather at the end of October. The beautiful river and walking path. Night bats. Some of the varied architecture (Victorian) along 6th Street. And names of establishments spread throughout the city were a kick in the pants: Esther’s Follies, The Broken Spoke, Salt Lick Barbeque, Dirty Martins, The Jackaloupe, Buffalo Billiards, The Thirsty Nickel to name a few. Utterly charming.

Fancy Food Truck

I strolled up and down 6th Street gazing into the many bars and nightclubs and was especially thrilled to enter The Elephant Room on Saturday evening where approximately 15 family members gathered for a jazz performance by Ephraim Owens. The bouncer even carded me calling me “overqualified”!

The following Thursday night 12 of us were stunned by the creative food at Uchiko. Thanks to sister Kay and her friends who have visited Austin, we booked reservations at this highly popular establishment back in August – two months prior to the wedding. Billed as “Japanese farmhouse dining” we decided to order a tasting menu so we could enjoy as many dishes as possible. Two of my favorites? Seared pear, brussel sprout puree and grilled mullet with mint and Jar Jar Duck, presented in a jar (of course) with candied citrus and endive with rosemary smoke that emanated when the lid of the jar was removed. We left stuffed to the gills and convened at The Broken Spoke for live honky-tonk country music and dancing.

Beautiful Brussels Sprout Puree with Grilled Mullet

Saturday night’s rehearsal dinner took place at IronWorks Barbeque.The wedding guests, 90% from out of town, were treated to barbecued beef ribs, chicken, beans, coleslaw, and Texas Toast along with typical Texas desserts: banana cream pudding, fruit crisp, and pecan pie.

The Happy Groom & His Cousins

Barbeque is ubiquitous in Texas and most menus and side dishes seem identical. The beans are good but simple and I started to think about my longtime favorite Baked Bean recipe. I make this as a side for barbequed beef, burgers or chicken and it’s always front and center on the 4th of July. It’s easy as can be and sooooo good.

Midwest Baked Beans (circa 1972)

Serves 10


  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion, diced ¼ inch
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • a few grinds of fresh black pepper to taste (I did eight)
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar (use less if you don’t want it too sweet)
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • dash of tabasco or sriracha (Hot chili sauce)
  • Dash of liquid smoke or hickory seasoning (Wright’s makes a good concentrated type)
  • 1  16 oz can vegetarian baked beans in sauce (Bush’s is my fave)
  • 1  16 oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1  16 oz can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1  16 oz can butter beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1  16 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained

Preheat oven to 350. Sauté onion in olive oil until limp, about eight minutes. Mix sauteed onion with all five types of the beans.

Mix other ingredients (ketchup through liquid smoke) in a separate dish and taste your sauce – add more hot sauce or mustard if you like.

Oil a large porcelain casserole (I smeared it with coconut oil), pour the beans and sauce in, cover well with aluminum foil and bake mid oven for about an hour. Remove from the oven, stir and taste – season if needed with salt, pepper or hickory.

Cook’s notes:

This dish stays hot a long time and is wonderful as a side dish for barbecued beef sandwiches, hamburgers and hotdogs or barbecued chicken.

When I want to kick it up a notch – I add some diced sauteed salami at the beginning.

In the winter I often make this as a main vegetarian dish and make a huge kale or cabbage salad with lots of vegetables for a meatless meal.

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