Homemade Ranch Style Beans


The kids were home for the long Labor Day weekend and I knew that Morgan had been longing for a certain something that is hard to find around here and yet a staple in every grocery store back in Texas (where she spent her early childhood and still visits). Ranch Style Beans. This is a brand of beans with a particular spicy flavor. It’s not the same as a West Virginia pot of beans–which can be spicy but is centered more on the ham or bacon flavor of the meat cooked with it. The spices are much stronger in Ranch Style Beans. But, finding them on a store shelf around here–not so easy! It’s been a while since I actually even had possession of a can of Ranch Style Beans, but that flavor is unforgettable and is completely Texas. Texas…. Tex Mex. Chili gravy! It hit me. THAT’S THE FLAVOR.

I make my Tex Mex Cheese Enchiladas with a chili gravy. What if I put a chili gravy in a pot of pinto beans? RANCH STYLE BEANS! I was sure of it. I whipped up a pot for Morgan this past weekend and served it up for the taste test.

Morgan: “This tastes exactly like the Ranch Style Beans at the store!”

Then she popped her hand over her mouth and her eyes grew big as if she’d just said something horrific.

Morgan: “I know you want it to taste better than the store because it’s homemade!”

Me: “No! That’s perfect! That’s a compliment! I wanted it to taste exactly like the beans at the store!”


Here’s how to make ’em.

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How to make Homemade Ranch Style Beans:

You can start with a 15 ounce can of prepared plain pinto beans, or start with one cup of dried pinto beans. If starting from dried, wash the beans and cover them with water. Bring to a boil then turn off the heat, put on the lid, and let soak for one hour. Drain the soaking water then run cold water in the pot to rinse the beans again, drain the water, then cover the beans again with water and bring the pot to a simmer on the stove. While simmering the beans, prepare the chili gravy.

Chili Gravy
1/4 cup lard or vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 cup water

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and continue stirring for a few more minutes until you have a nice, light brown roux. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and continue to cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Add water, stirring as sauce thickens. Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer for 15 minutes.
Once the simmering beans start to soften (or immediately if using a can of prepared beans), drain the simmer water (or liquid from canned beans) and pour in the chili gravy.
Add water to adjust the thickness of the sauce and to completely cover the beans. Let the beans continue to cook until softened, adding water as necessary during the cook. Add more salt at this point to suit your taste, if you like.
These beans are perfect as they are in the classic version, but they can be served (or even cooked) with chopped onions or jalapenos as well and are also sold in those variations. As you can see in the picture above, I added some chopped jalapenos to my pot. And they were delicious!

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Peanut Butter Apple Cookies


I’m a big fan of cookies (who isn’t?) and I make batches almost every week for workshops. I made these peanut butter apple cookies for this past weekend and they were a big hit. Peanut butter and apples are a natural combination–think of dipping a slice of apple into a jar of peanut butter! And yet you rarely see them together otherwise. But why not? I took my favorite peanut butter cookie recipe and added some fresh diced apple. Moist, delicious, perfect.

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How to make Peanut Butter Apple Cookies:

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup diced fresh apple (peeled and cored)
1 1/4 cups flour

Beat butter and peanut butter together with all the ingredients except the apple and flour. Stir in apple then stir in the flour. Wrap and chill dough for about an hour or until easy to handle. Shape into balls and place on a cookie sheet. Bake at 375-degrees about 8 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies (depends on size of cookies).
These cookies are so easy, so good, and with just that little twist of something different to your average peanut butter cookie to make them special.

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The Slanted Little House

"It was a cold wintry day when I brought my children to live in rural West Virginia. The farmhouse was one hundred years old, there was already snow on the ground, and the heat was sparse-—as was the insulation. The floors weren’t even, either. My then-twelve-year-old son walked in the door and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die." Keep reading our story....

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