TND – You Had Me at Roasted Mushrooms – Birthday Season 2012 (part 3)

October 18, 2012

I know I’ve said this before, but I believe that there are certain foods you have to have been introduced to at a tender age, and then grown up eating to really appreciate. Marmite/Vegemite is one of them – I was clearly too old by the time I was introduced to it in middle school because I continue to think it’s one of the most revolting things you can put on bread. Ambrosia Salad is another – which I cheerfully embrace in all its mini-marshmallow & canned mandarin orange glory, although I admit that I’d be hesitant to call it a salad per se. It’s possible that baked beans on toast are another thing that you have to have been introduced to at an impressionable age.

I say this because I think my mother has yet to get over her horror at the discovery that I really love baked beans on toast, and I’m pretty sure she devoutly wishes my unholy fondness for it had faded as completely as the pristine British accent I picked up during the 18 months we lived in Hong Kong when I was 8. However, I can still pull out the British accent when I want to (and I tend to slide into it inadvertently when I record voicemail greetings, or read aloud), and I still get cravings for baked beans on toast.

When you tell people who didn’t grow up in one of the pink countries on the map* that you’re making baked beans and planning on serving them ladled over toast they give you deeply skeptical looks and smile politely at you. However, what needs to be understood is that Boston Baked Beans and British Baked Beans are different animals entirely. Although, I’d point out that Boston Baked Beans are traditionally served with boiled brown bread so I’m not really sure why everyone thinks that toast is such a strange accompaniment for British Baked Beans. To clarify the difference – Boston Baked Beans are a pot of bacon-y, molasses-y goodness; British Baked Beans, by contrast, are a rich tomatoe-y stew, sweetened with spicy treacle. They are similar really only in that they both start with small white beans.

British Baked Beans are, it has to be said, generally provided to even the most discerning kitchens by the kind people at Heinz. It is incredibly hard to find a recipe for baked beans on toast that does not start with ‘open a can of Heinz Baked Beans’. Even the guardians of the British slow food movements like Jamie Oliver don’t have recipes for homemade baked beans. However, (a) lacking easy access to cans of Heinz Baked Beans, and (b) loathe to ingest that much processed food even if I could find it, I persevered and eventually unearthed a recipe that seemed to match my recollections of beans on toast. What emerged from my oven late on Monday night were not quite the baked beans of my childhood – the sauce was less syrupy, the beans had identifiable texture, and it took a lot longer to pull together – but they were addictively good and I had to firmly remind myself that I had already had dinner and that I didn’t need to stand over the pot tasting just one more time to make sure the seasonings were right.

Baked Beans on Toast can be eaten over toast for tea, but are also frequently found as an integral part of that venerable British institution – the fry up. A good fry up will cure you of a hangover (not that I would know anything about this), revive you at Heathrow airport after you land at 6am with a six hour layover to look forward to, keep you going all day long if you don’t want to spend money on lunch, and will generally sink a battleship. A fry up should consist – at minimum – of rashers of bacon, bangers, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, fried eggs, and either toasted or fried bread. A reheated pot of baked beans is not absolutely necessary, but appears frequently anyway and should never be turned down if offered.

I observed the spirit of the fry-up, if not most of the actual frying, and split the difference between breakfast and tea and served baked beans on toast, bangers, roasted mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes. Also green beans, because well there had to be some kind of vegetable on the plate, and while mushy peas might have been the more traditional choice, I’m pretty sure nobody at my table was going to be impressed by that much authenticity.

* The pink bits on the map being, of course, all bits of the globe that used to be British and are now part of the great Commonwealth of Nations united by their fondness for the Queen, and a tendency to eat beans on toast for tea.


Baked Beans (on Toast)
Roasted Tomatoes
Roasted Mushrooms
Green Beans

Sticky Spiked Double Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Brandy Sauce


Baked Beans (on Toast)
(serves 4-6 depending on whether it’s Dinner or not, and what else you’re serving – I doubled the recipe, served 7 for dinner, had leftovers for 3 people for lunches, and froze another 3-4 servings for a later date)

1 lb dry navy beans (or other small white bean of choice/availability)
1 medium yellow onion
2 large cloves garlic
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup tomato paste (have more on hand, you may need to add)
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp cloves*
¼ tsp cinnamon*
½ tsp ginger*
1 (28 oz) can crushed or pureed tomatoes (not tomato sauce)
1 cup liquid (water or stock, or some combination thereof)**
salt and pepper to taste

Cover beans with at least 2” of water and soak overnight.

Drain beans. Place in a pot and cover with at least 2” of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, or until just tender. Drain beans.

Grate onion and garlic into a large dutch oven. Add drained cooked beans and remaining ingredients to the pot. Bring to a simmer, cover and bake in a 350 oven for 60-90 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if necessary, until the beans are creamy, the mixture is thick, and the sugars in the tomatoes are starting caramelize. Season to taste with additional sugar, salt/pepper, tomato paste, spices.

At this point you can cool the beans to room temperature and refrigerate for 1-2 days, or just continue as below.

The night (or morning) you want to serve this bring the mixture up to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes on the stove top until heated through and desired consistency is achieved (you may need to add more liquid). Traditionally baked beans should be saucy enough to for their gravy to soak into the toast, but thick enough that they stay on the toast and don’t run all over your plate. If you want a creamier texture for the dish you can ladle out ½-1 cup of the beans & tomatoes and mash them and then stir the puree back into the pot.

* Traditionally you’d make this with treacle which has a bit of a spicy bite to it. However, since treacle is hard to find this side of the Pond I compensated for the milder molasses flavor by adding in spices.

** I used all water, but next time I think I’d use half beef stock/half water to give a little extra richness to the flavor

This needs explaining? Actually, wait, maybe it does.

You want a good quality loaf of plain sandwich bread. It can be white bread, or whole wheat, but none of your crusty seeded baguettes, or pumpkin-apple-cranberry loaves, or anything swirled with roasted garlic and sundried tomatoes. There’s a time and place for all of those things, but this is not it. Just good ole plain sandwich bread that can be toasted up and doused in saucy beans.

Roasted Tomatoes & Mushrooms

Preheat oven to 400/425.

Figure on about 2 Roma tomatoes/person
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Dried thyme

Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt/pepper/thyme. Arrange cut side up on a baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with a little honey.

Roast for 45-50 minutes, or until edges are just starting to blacken.

Figure on about ¼ lb raw mushrooms/person
Olive oil
White wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
Dried thyme

Destem the mushrooms. Toss with olive oil, vinegar (or lemon juice), salt/pepper/thyme. Arrange gill side down on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and drain the liquid from the pan (if you’re not doing a full sheet pan this may not be necessary). Return to oven and continue to roast for another 10-15 minutes, or until browned.

In a pan over low/medium heat with just enough oil so that they don’t stick when they start cooking for about 20-25 minutes, turning every 4-5 minutes so that all the sides brown.

Sticky Spiked Double Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Brandy Sauce
I have wanted an excuse to make this cake again pretty much since I washed the sticky residue of brown sugar brandy sauce off the desserts plates last year. I was kindly allowed to bully the birthday girl (same birthday girl as last year’s edition of this cake, oddly enough) into requesting this for her birthday dessert.

Recipe previously given: Belated Birthday Dinner



  1. Am I allowed to laugh at “liquid water?”

    • oops, misplaced parenthesis . . . let me just go fix that.

      Also yes, liquid water deserves mockery.

  2. I am mystified as to where you acquired this early taste for baked beans on toast. Certainly not at your own home !

    • You’re the one who encouraged me to play with the other children . . . there were dinners with the pale thin blond child (Laura?) who lived in the other building at Bowen Hills, dinners with the blond children who lived across the halls from us, and possibly even dinners at the Landells (although now I’m trying to imagine Mrs. Landells serving beans on toast and failing).

      Also, I’m not sure why the concept of beans on toast is so much more exotic than New England Baked Beans with Brown Bread, or pasta and fagioli – they’re all just variations on beans + starch to make a complete meal.

  3. […] on my recent theme of childhood nostalgia, or possibly by eager anticipation of being in London this year for Christmas, this is a meal […]

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