Drunken BeansSoaking dried beans for hours is a noble cooking effort: something to be proud of and to then enjoy the tasty rewards. It’s an exercise that says you care about what you eat and how you cook it. Cook’s Illustrated, as always, almost teases its readers with its methodical efficiency, like a dare. The January/February 2015 issue includes a recipe for “Drunken Beans” (recipe below), whose steps include the soaking, the stove top, and the oven. The provocation for me? Tequila and beer! Read on…

Drunken Beans
Cook’s Illustrated, January/February 2015
Serves 6 as a main dish

1 lb. (2 1/2 cups) dried pinto beans, picked over and rinsed
30 sprigs fresh cilantro (1 bunch)
4 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped fine
2 poblano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup tequila
2 bay leaves
1 cup Mexican lager
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 limes, quartered
2 oz. Cotija cheese, crumbed (1/2 cup)

Dissolve 3 Tbsp. salt in 4 qts. cold water in large bowl or container. Add beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 275 degrees F. Pick leaves from 20 cilantro sprigs (reserve stems), chop fine, and refrigerate until needed. Using kitchen twine, tie remaining 10 cilantro sprigs and reserved stems into bundle.

Cook bacon in Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel–lined bowl and set aside. Add onion, poblanos, and garlic to fat in pot and cook,  stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat. Add tequila. Return to heat and cook until evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes. Increase heat to high; stir in 3 1/2 cups water, bay laves, 1 tsp. salt, beans, and cilantro bundle; and bring to boil. Cover, transfer to oven, and cook until beans are just soft, 45 to 60 minutes.

Remove pot from oven. Discard bay leaves and cilantro bundle. Stir in beer and tomato paste and bring to simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer vigorously, stirring frequently, until liquid is thick and beans are fully tender, about 30 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Serve, passing chopped cilantro, lime wedges, Cotija, and reserved bacon separately.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

I soaked my beans overnight for 12 hours. Easy.

The recipe asks to count 20 cilantro sprigs, pick the leaves, reserve the stems and bundle the stems with the “remaining” 10 sprigs. I try to respect the notorious precision of Cook’s Illustrated, but here I eyeballed the cilantro thing instead: my bunch of cilantro included far more than 30 sprigs, so I just pulled out one-third of the bunch to use in the flavor bundle. That was fine for me.

How do you feel about poblano peppers? I’ve avoided them thus far, since I have a youngster at my table. But now we’re ready. My mouth and nose tell me that poblanos are not as “spicy” as bell peppers. That’s right. When I slice an innocent bell pepper I get a rush of heat that I don’t get with the poblano. The poblano is harmless, and I’m happy to now welcome it into my world.

You know how I feel about my Dutch oven: it’s one of the superstars of my kitchen. The Dutch oven triumphs here, on the stove and in the oven. I poured one-half cup of tequila blanco into the pot. It did indeed smell boozy as it cooked. I added one cup of Dos Equis Mexican lager too. After 48 minutes in the oven, my beans were “just soft.” The final taste was rich, complex, fortifying. The bean texture was perfect (see “tasty rewards” mentioned above): tender/firm with no “blowouts.” I added 2 1/2 tsp. salt to the pot at the end.

The garnishes do really add to the final pleasures. Lime juice, cilantro, bacon. Crumbly Cotija cheese is less salty than feta. Swoon and celebrate.

Savory Corn Muffins w/Cheddar & ScallionsI also made the “Savory Corn Muffins with Cheddar & Scallions” from the same January/February 2015 issue of Cook’s Illustrated (recipe below).

Let me say that these were the best corn muffins that I’ve ever had and have ever made. Yep. Why make any other?

The fluffy/puffy batter was a kick. After baking for 17 minutes, these were moist and fantastic. Wow.

Savory Corn Muffins with Cheddar & Scallions
Cook’s Illustrated, January/February 2015
Makes 6 muffins

1 cup (5 oz.) cornmeal
1/2 cup (2.5 oz.) all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
.63 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. dry mustard
pinch smoked paprika
.63 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 1/2 scallions, thinly sliced

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease 6-cup muffin tin. Whisk 3/4 cup cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pepper, dry mustard, and smoked paprika together in medium bowl.

Combine milk and remaining 1/4 cup cornmeal in large bowl. Microwave milk-cornmeal mixture for 1 1/2 minutes. Whisk thoroughly and continue to microwave, whisking every 30 seconds, until thickened to batter-like consistency (whisk will leave channel in bottom of bowl that slowly fills in), 1 to 3 minutes longer. Whisk in sour cream, melted butter, and sugar until combined. Whisk in egg, cheddar cheese, and scallions until combined. Fold in flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Using portion scoop or large spoon, divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups (about 1/2 cup batter per cup; batter will mound slightly above rim).

Bake until tops are golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 13 to 17 minutes, rotating muffin tin halfway through baking. Let muffins cool in muffin tin on wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from muffin tin and let cool 5 minutes longer. Serve warm.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Dried Pinto Beans (1 lb.) = $2.11
Cilantro (1 bunch) = $1.26
Onion (1) = .36¢
Poblano Chiles (2) = .62¢
Limes (2) = .98¢

PREP TIMES: overnight soak for beans, then devote 2 hours to the prep and cooking; the muffins need 30 minutes of your time
tender/firm pinto beans are rich, complex, fortifying; moist corn muffins are cheesy

Now that I’m feeling like quite a daredevil, I want to dabble with some yeast next time. I want to make the “Swedish Cinnamon-and-Cardamom Bread,” from the January/February 2015 issue of Saveur. See what happens when you come back to my site next week.