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I turn out several home-cooked meals a week, but I know my cooking limitations. If I can acquire from elsewhere a first-rate Peking duck, say, or a ganache-covered chocolate cake, I will. The problem arises I crave something complicated that I can't get nearby. On a cold winter day, it's a bowlful of old-fashioned Quebec-style baked beans, infused with the flavours of maple syrup, tomatoes, brown sugar and mustard, and cooked in a slow oven.

Sadly, this indigenous Canadian delicacy is not available at most restaurants (unless you count the tasteless baked beans served in some diners, which I do not). The big deterrent to making baked beans is that you need about 17 consecutive hours of (mostly idle) soaking, preparation and cooking time.

Seventeen hours sounds daunting, until you appreciate that baked beans are the perfect dish to make on a day when housebound by work or weather. What better reward than a steaming dish of fragrant beans after a long day of toil in a home office? Or after an interminable Sunday devoted to the teeth-grinding supervision of a child's homework project?

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The main draw of the baked beans undertaking is the sweet, satisfying goodness that can be found in a meal of maple-syrup beans served with thick slices of buttered brown bread and a salad of mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette.

The labour required to make this recipe is strictly of the unskilled variety. Soak, boil, drain, stir, and bake are the basic procedures -- no finesse required. And aside from the dried navy beans, every ingredient is probably in your cupboard right now.

MAPLE BAKED BEANS

Though traditional recipes call for salt pork, bacon, or ham, I've always made mine sans meat, and never noticed any lack.

The more devoted carnivore may want to serve crisp cooked bacon or thick-cut ham alongside, over top, or mixed in.

2 cups dried navy beans

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

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½ cup brown sugar

2/3 cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

½ cup ketchup

Salt and pepper

Wash beans in colander and pick them over, removing any stones or broken bean bits.

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Soak beans overnight. Drainbeans, return to saucepan and cover with about 6 cups fresh water. Bring to a boil on stovetop, lower heat to medium-low, and cook uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes or until just tender.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Drain beans and place in deep covered casserole or ovenproof cooking pot with lid.

Add other ingredients, stir and cover with 4 cups boiling water.

Bake covered for 6 hours, checking and stirring at hourly intervals. Stir in boiling water as needed to keep them from drying out.

Serves 4.

Kim Moritsugu is a Toronto novelist. Her latest book is The Glenwood Treasure.

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