Update 28-Aug-11: I now give the dried beans a salt water soak, this makes them extra tender. Kitchen folklore would have you believe that soaking or cooking beans with salt toughens them, but in fact the opposite is true. Cook’s Illustrated recommends 3 tablespoons salt in one [US] gallon of water; I use the rough equivalent of 2 teaspoons salt in 750ml (3 cups) water to soak 110g of beans (which will yield about the same as a 400g/14oz tin).
I love leaving Stanley in charge of cooking. After a bit of preparation, I can leave him alone to cook my beans to perfection. He never burns them and doesn’t use ANY electricity or gas.
I’m talking about my beloved Stanley thermos, of course. Specifically, my 0.7 litre Stanley classic food jar. This Stanley is lined with stainless steel, and has a wide opening at the top, making it uber-easy to clean. Food keeps hot for hours and hours, and cooking beans is a cinch (and uses a minimum of fuel). It also has a lifetime warranty.
Stanley food jars aren’t easy to find, but one store that stocks them is Philip Morris and Sons in Hereford (Wales). They do mail order as well. If you’re picking them up in person, here’s a tip to save a couple of quid: If the store price is higher than the internet price (£15.99), ask if you can buy it for the internet price. I did and they readily agreed to sell it for the price in their online shop.
I can personally vouch for the superior performance of this Stanley thermos. If you decide to try a different one, I’d suggest making sure the store you buy it from has a good return policy. The first food thermos I bought promised to keep food hot for eight hours, but after six, the contents were barely warm. You can tell how well your thermos is working by touching the outside after you’ve filled it with hot food. The outside should stay cool… if it gets warm, that means the heat is escaping through the sides. Only the cap of the Stanley gets a bit warm… the outside of the body stays completely cool.
So far I’ve tried black beans, chickpeas and flageolet beans in my Stanley. The flageolet beans didn’t soften completely even after all day in Stanley, but the chickpeas and black beans were cooked to perfection (and I decided I didn’t like flageolet beans that much anyway).
You can cook other stuff in a thermos as well, like oatmeal and rice. More info can be found in this article from Bison Survival Blog. Actually, thermos cookery is kinda like a mini haybox cookery, and I’ll bet a lot of haybox recipes will work in a thermos.
If you’re really keen on this type of cookery, and want something fancier than a haybox cooker, vacuum pots are available (though not cheap). They are like thermoses on steroids.
Here’s the basic method I use for cooking beans in my Stanley. I use 110g dry beans, which when cooked makes an amount roughly equivalent to a 400g tin of beans.
Cooking beans in a thermos
Soak 110g dry beans (chickpeas, black beans, etc) overnight (10 to 12 hours) in about 750ml (3 cups) of cold water in which 2 teaspoons of salt has been dissolved (the salt will dissolve after a minute or so of stirring).
In the morning, drain beans, return to pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. (If your beans are old, you may have to cook them longer than this… up to 20 minutes).
Meanwhile, preheat the thermos by filling with boiling water, then capping it. Have more water ready on the boil.
When the beans have cooked for 10 minutes, drain and add them to the thermos. Add freshly boiled water and cap.
Let stand until it’s time to make the evening meal. I leave Stanley alone for around 10 or 12 hours. I’m not sure at what point they are ready… could even be a couple of hours sooner than I leave them for. If they’re not quite done when you check them and you don’t have time to let them sit in the thermos longer, you can finish them off in a pot on the hob.
This saves an hour or two on the hob, and it’s completely safe to leave while you go out.
Every thrifty household should consider getting a Stanley!