Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Daily Beans! ~ Navy Beans & Ham with Cornbread Fried In Chicken Grease

     Southern Style Daily Beans!
     It is easy to think that there is nothing special about today's Daily Beans recipe.  For many people, a bowl of beans are what good memories are made of.  On second thought, that expression really does not sound right.  A better saying would be something like "Old fashioned simple country style cooking is what good memories are made of!"      
     To me, today's plate of food has special memories.  The first year that I lived in Vegas was a "hand to mouth" living experience.  I moved to Las Vegas on a shoe string and I did not have much of a bank roll to work with.  I worked a few low paying jobs till better opportunities came around.  Most of my income came from hours of handicapping and cashing $2 horse race wagers back in those days.
     During that time, I quickly figured out that a person could eat better and get more for their money by dining in casinos.  One cannot buy food in a grocery store for less money than the price of promotional food at Las Vegas casinos.  Promotional items like cheap buffets, late night breakfast deals and daily entrée specials sold for pennies on the dollar back in those days.  Bargain hunters living on a shoestring budget could eat big and eat fairly healthy for less than $5 a day in Las Vegas casinos back then.  
     One of the best bargains, as far as getting a belly full of hearty healthy food was concerned, could be found at the old fashioned snack bar style diner in the Binion's Casino next to the craps table pit.  A hand written special du jour was posted on the daily menu board and the name of this blue plate special never changed.  The special was called "The Daily Beans."
     The chef's choice of beans changed almost everyday.  Lima Beans, Pintos, Black Eyed Peas, Butter Beans, Navy Beans or Red Beans were the chef's Daily Beans surprise from day to day at Binion's.
     Sometimes the Daily Beans at Binion's were the same beans as yesterday and the beans has simmered for so long that they were like a bowl of thick bean gravy.  There are some down home country folk that would give up their prized possessions for a bowl of old mushy leftover beans, just because comfortable food like this brings back good memories of simpler times gone by.
     Big pieces of roasted ham were always cooked with the Daily Beans at Binion's.  A huge piece of cornbread was served up with The Daily Beans too.  The beans were ladled into a bowl on a plate, till the bowl was overflowing.  The Daily Beans at Binion's was a great tasting healthy meal that cost about $1.50 about a dozen years ago.  The Daily Beans filled up a hungry belly for a long time, so this casino special was a good low budget bargain.
     I still have many good memories of conversations with fellow gamblers and the cooks at that little diner service counter while eating a bowl of The Daily Beans when times were tough.  Yes, beans truly are what good memories are made of!

     Navy Beans & Roast Ham
     This recipe yields 2 hearty portions. 
     Keep in mind that this recipe is a simple pot of stewed navy beans & ham.  It is not a bean soup!  
     Step 1:  Soak 2 1/2  cups of dried navy beans in a container of water over night in a refrigerator.
     Rinse the beans under cold running water.  (Check for stones.)
     Step 2:  Place the soaked navy beans in a small pot.
     Add 1/2 cup of small chopped onion.
     Add 8 ounces of hand torn chunks of roasted ham.
     Add a 2 ounce piece of salt pork.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.  (Do not add too much sea salt because the pork and ham are already salty.)
     Add enough water to cover the beans with an extra inch of liquid.
     Step 3:  Place the pot over medium high heat.
     Bring the beans to a gentle boil.
     Boil the beans for 17 minutes.  Add water as necessary to keep the bean covered with liquid.
     Step 4:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer the beans, till they become tender.
     *Add water as necessary.  Keep the beans covered with about 1/2" of liquid.  Stop adding water, when the beans are plump and they can absorb no more liquid.
     Step 5:  Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
     Mash about 1/5 of the beans in the pot.
     Simmer and stir, till the mashed beans thickens the broth and the broth turns into a thin bean gravy.
     Keep the navy beans & ham warm over very low heat.  
     Cornbread Fried In Chicken Grease: 
     This recipe yields about 6 or 7 pan fried corn cakes. 
     Chicken Grease or Bacon Grease is often used for flavoring food or for pan frying in southern states.  Nothing is wasted when cooking old fashioned country style farm food.  
     Since health concerns are a prime issue in modern times, using straight fatty grease for pan frying is only an option.  Adding a few tablespoons of roasted chicken grease to some vegetable frying oil will create plenty of flavor, while reducing hard cholesterol profile intake.   
     Step 1:  Pre-heat a cast iron skillet over medium/medium low heat.
     Step 2:  Place 1 1/2 cups of corn meal in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 cup of Masa Harina.  (Prepared corn flour.)
     Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda.
     Add 1 teaspoon of baking powder.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt.
     Add 2 pinches of black pepper.
     Mix the dry ingredients together.
     Step 3:  Add 1 tablespoon of roasted chicken grease.
     Add 1 whisked large egg while stirring with a whisk.
     Step 4:  Add a little bit of lukewarm warm milk at a time, while stirring, till the cornbread mixture becomes a wet bread dough consistency.  (About 1 cup to 1 1/3 cups of warm milk is good for a start.  The consistency will be adjusted in Step #5.)
     Step 5:  Let the mixture stand for 15 minutes.
     *The corn meal will soak up the excess liquid.  The spoon-bread dough should be a thick yet slightly wet consistency that can be gathered on a spoon.  In other words, the spoon-bread dough should look like an extra thick batter.  Add a splash of water if it is too thick or add a few teaspoons of Masa Harina if it is too thin.    
     Step 6:  Add enough vegetable frying oil to the hot skillet, so the oil is about a 1/4" deep.
     Add 3 or 4 tablespoons of roasted chicken grease.
     Let the oil reach a temperature of 350ºF.
     Step 7:  *Depending on the size of the skillet, the corn bread may have to be fried a few patties at a time.  Be sure to add a little more oil and chicken grease if the level of oil runs low.
     Spoon a couple of big dollops of the cornbread dough into the hot grease.  (about 1/3 cup each)
     Press the cornbread dough with a spatula, so it forms a flat oval shape that is about 3/8" thick.
     Pan fry the cornbread patties, till the bottom side is crispy golden brown.
     Flip the cornbread patties with a spatula.
     Pan fry both sides are crispy golden golden brown and the center is piping hot.
     Step 8:  Set the pan fried corn bread on a wire screen roasting rack on a drip pan to drain off any excess grease.
     Keep the cornbread warm on a stove top till the the rest of the batch is cooked.

     Navy Beans & Ham with Cornbread Fried In Chicken Grease:
     Place a soup bowl on a serving plate.
     Ladle the navy beans & ham into the soup bowl, till the bowl is full to the brim or till the beans are overflowing.
     Place a couple pieces of cornbread fried in chicken grease on the plate.
     Serve with softened sweet butter and a bottle of hot sauce on the side.
     This simple Southern country style recipe gets plenty of flavor from just a few ingredients.  A bottle of Tabasco is a nice accompaniment for this hearty meal. 

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