Merrill's baby Clara is finally old enough to eat solid foods. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, Merrill steps into the fray.

Today: Baked beans, with less sugar.

Clara eating baked beans

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For a while we were eating a lot of bean and lentil soups, and Clara really seemed to love them. But then she wanted to feed herself all the time, and they lost their luster. (Soup as finger food does not end well, trust me.)

Looking for another way to give Clara her legumes, I started cooking bigger, plumper beans in just a little bit of liquid, with vegetables and aromatics. This way, they were infused with flavor but she could pick them up one at a time and feed them to herself without making a huge mess.

Read more: Another thing Clara can eat without making a big mess? Her veggies.

Clara eating baked beans

The other week I decided to try a riff on baked beans for her, with a little less sweetness than the versions we all know and love. I simmered cranberry beans with onion, garlic and thyme, stirred in a sauce of chopped tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar and spices and then baked everything in a low oven until the sauce thickened and the beans were very tender.

These baked beans are just a little tangy and just a little sweet -- and they can be more than a little spicy if you feel like amping up the chipotle powder. I recommend serving them with barbecued chicken or ribs, both excellent finger foods in their own right.

Baked Beans

Baked Beans

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 pound cranberry, pinto or cannellini beans, soaked overnight
2 sprigs thyme
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
1 small onion, diced (save the ends for the beans) 
1 tablespoon bacon fat (you can also use oil or butter)
1/8 teaspoon sweet paprika
Pinch chipotle powder (optional)
2 cups chopped canned tomatoes (I use tetra-pack)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

Read More:
Remember when Clara first tackled finger food?
Seriously Delicious Ribs, to have with your baked beans. 
For Dessert: Homemade Fruit Yogurt

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  • Dianecpa
  • KiwiAndBean
  • Veronica S
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  • darksideofthespoon
  • ChefJune
I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


Dianecpa November 8, 2013
I am making your beans today for dinner for the umpteenth time.....fabulous!
KiwiAndBean April 30, 2013
These look delicious! Shockingly, my two year old actually ASKS for plain canned (and unsalted at that!) chick peas and black beans. I ain't complaining...
Veronica S. April 30, 2013
Oh heavens--need to have these at the ready for the next time Miss C comes for a visit! YUM! Her grandmother here needs some face time and a cuddle or two!
darksideofthespoon April 30, 2013
My daughter would love these! I'm going to have to try my hand at them... I LOVE your Cooking for Clara feature, it is great for all of us Mom's who run out of new idea's for little fingers. :)
ChefJune April 30, 2013
Merrill, Clara just gets cuter by the day! How do you ever get any work done? And the beans sound just fabulous. Big kids would probably like to eat them with their fingers too!.....