|Bowling Green's Sandy Wicks has the perfect post-presidential election recipe.
Sandy Wicks with her Cowboy Beans. (Photo: Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune)
Her Cowboy Beans - a rich, chunky ham and bean soup - come straight out of rodeo dinners she enjoyed while growing up in John McCain's home state of Arizona.
But Wicks most recently made the Cowboy Beans for an "Obama Mamas' Souper Supper" fundraiser hosted at her home a few weeks ago to benefit the man who is now the president-elect of the United States.
"This is like everything all my family teases me about. I do everything Sandy-sizing," she admits. Whether it's a recipe or home decorating, "I can never sort of leave well enough alone. I tweak it, or add ingredients. Make it your own."
The Cowboy Beans recipe goes back to her years growing up in Arizona "where they raise the pinto beans and cook everything with Mexican influence.
"My mother was a very, very good cook. She was a Kentucky gal who learned to cook Arizonan when we moved out West in the early '50s. She just started incorporating the traditional Mexican.
"At home, we ate a lot of pinto beans and Cowboy Beans in place of when you would normally have potatoes."
Wicks inherited her mother's recipe for the ham and bean soup, "then added a few touches of my own. I added the green chilies, catsup, to give it a base."
"And when I introduced them at Call of the Canyon," the downtown Bowling Green restaurant which the Wicks family opened about a decade ago, "they went over well. It was on my original menu."
She recommends Cowboy Beans for students and newlyweds, two groups for whom money is tight.
"My husband, Jerry, and I ate a lot of pinto beans when we first married. They're cheap. You could buy a pound of pinto beans for 19 cents!"
The couple met as students at Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, and moved to Bowling Green in 1970 when Jerry took a job in the sociology department at Bowling Green State University.
At one point in his career Jerry Wicks traveled to Finland five years running, to teach a four-week class at the business program at the university in Helsinki.
It's the "Helsinki run" that allows Sandy Wicks to laugh and describe her Cowboy Beans as "world famous."
The couple would invite a group of his Finnish graduate students over to the apartment they occupied, for the most authentic American dinner she could dream up.
"I would stick two pounds of pinto beans along with the green chilis in my suitcase" in anticipation of making Cowboy Beans for the students, since neither ingredient can be found in Finland.
"They got a kick out of that because it was so different."
These days Sandy Wicks manages another Bowling Green fixture, the Grounds for Thought coffee shop and bookstore, which the family opened in October 1989.
Her favorite menu for years was steak, Cowboy Beans, cornbread and bread pudding for dessert.
"As our kids came along later it became a family tradition" to demand Cowboy Beans for holidays and other special occasions.
"We serve them on New Year's for good luck. We have no reason; it's just a tradition."
It was the good-luck connection that made her decide to prepare them for the recent Obama fundraiser, which featured seven or eight different varieties of soups made by various co-hostesses.
For those planning to try the recipe, Wicks says the ham hock amount is flexible. "You can use more than four if you want a more ham and bean version. She recommends Belleville's Meat Market. "They are, by far, the meatiest hocks."
Wicks always serves her Cowboy Beans with cornbread - and always a particular recipe for Mexican cornbread, taken from the Arizona Homemakers cookbook, 1968.
"When I was growing up, we'd go to these rodeos around Tucson. They'd dig the pit and have authentic barbecue served with Cowboy Beans, cole slaw and cornbread.
"So it brings back good memories."
2 pounds Pinto Beans
4 Ham Hocks ( Belleville Market's are the best)
1 teaspoons salt (add more to taste)
2 large onions, cut into chunks
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup catsup
1 4 oz. can diced green chilies
Soak pinto beans in cold water overnight. Drain, wash and place in large, heavy pot. Cover with 2 - 3 inches of water. Stir in salt, pepper and garlic powder. Add ham hocks, pushing them into the water and beans. Bring this to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until beans are almost tender (about 2 hours). At this time, remove ham hocks, let cool a bit and then remove the fat and bone and return the meat to the pot. Add onions, green chilies and catsup, stirring gently as to not smash the beans.
Cover, and continue cooking at a simmer, until beans are done ( 1 to 1 1/2 hours). If needed, add a little more water while cooking. Beans should have a little liquid but should not be soupy.
* This feeds about ten hungry ranch hands when served as as the main course. Cowboy beans are great with warm, buttered flour tortillas or with my mom's great Mexican muffins.
1/2 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
1 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp. diced green chilies
1 (12 oz.) package corn muffin mix (or two 6 oz. pks.)
1/3 cup real mayonnaise
1/3 cup milk
Grease 9 (2 1/2-by-1 3/4 inch) muffin cups or line with muffin papers. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, stir together muffin mix, real mayonnaise, egg and milk, just until moistened. In a separate bowl, gently toss together cheese, onion and chilies. Add to muffin mixture. Stir gently, so as to not over mix. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full.
Bake for 15 to 17 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan.
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