Oven Baked BBQ Ribs – Improving on Perfection

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I always thought I had a pretty good idea of the kind of parent I wanted to be, or at least I thought I did.  I had probably been keeping a mental list since I was four years old.  No I was not one of those girls with the baby dolls that knew since she was four that she wanted to be a mom and no judgment to you ladies out there who were.  I only wish I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up at four let alone 34!  But that is a whole different discussion.

I viewed every adult interaction around me as an interview for “could you be my mom or dad.”  Not that I was looking to fill a space or anything, I was perfectly happy with both but, you know, always curious if the grass was greener.

Lesson #1 I will never force my kids to eat foods they hate by mashing all of their food together in one lumpy, brown-gray, disgusting mess.  Yes this happened. No not to me. Might explain why I never slept over someone’s house . . .

Lesson #2 You are never too young to play with makeup.  Thank you Aunt S and the 1980s for allowing me to play endlessly with a ginormous box of eye shadow.  No embarrassing teenage make-up photos here, #lessismore.  Hair on the other hand . .

Lesson #3 Anyone under 10 should not decorate their room by themselves unless they get a do over at 14.  Love you Mom and probably thought you were the worlds best Mom when you let me and RaRa decorate our rooms when we were 8 and 4, respectfully.  The result a disaster mess of pink and wicker that I lived with all throughout high school.  No amount of Abosolut ads could cover those flower heart wreaths. I still don’t even know what I was thinking with the mismatched pink carpet!

Lesson #4 Your kid’s life is exactly that . . theirs, don’t use it as a do-over for yours. Of all the parental lessons I learned as a kid, this one was the biggest aha and took me the longest to realize.  I’ll be honest, sometimes I look at my son and am totally envious of the long and meandering path of life he has in front of him.  He can literally be or do anything he wants. Right now all he wants to do is be at a playground all day or on an airplane to Hawaii – both solid choices – but he does what makes him happy. My only ask is that happiness continue to guide his decisions. So many of us grown-ups forget to do what makes us happy.  Wouldn’t life be so much simpler?

So that is why I broke my family dinner rule this past Sunday night.  I knew if my son tried the BBQ ribs I was making he would love them but I also knew that getting him to try it would mean a ruined dinner for everyone.  Have you ever tried negotiating with a two-year old?  So I caved and made him the two-year-old equivalent to fall-off-the-bone-BBQ-ribs, a hot dog.  The result pure happiness . . . for everyone.

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Oven Baked BBQ Ribs 

Time: 3.5 hours

1 rack of baby back pork ribs

1 jar of your favorite BBQ sauce (I am loving TJs Sweet Carolina BBQ Sauce)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees

Place the rack of baby back ribs on a cookie sheet and cook, uncovered for 1.5 hours.  You can season the ribs with salt and pepper if you like. If your rack of ribs is small or lean I might cut back on this timing by 15 minutes to prevent from drying out.

Cover ribs and continue to cook for 1 hour.

Uncover ribs and slather in your favorite BBQ sauce (I generally only use 1/4 to 1/2 of a jar).  Return to oven, uncovered for another half an hour.

Cut and serve.

Note: I have done this with St. Louis style ribs and just increased the cooking time by half an hour – i cooked uncovered for 1:45 and covered for 1:15.

Oven Baked Baby Back Ribs

Confession – after 5 years of living in an apartment the longing for a BBQ has finally found us. I think it started a few months ago when we went to a friends house warming party in the city and instantly became jealous of their side patio and BBQ. Then it was a “come celebrate our finished patio party” for friends in the burbs and again jealously hit not only for their BBQ but also their amazing vegetable garden. The icing on the cake, our summer Cook’s Illustrated arrived and nearly every recipe in the magazine requires a grill. Really!?! Our jealously for the grill even had us contemplating (only for a split second) relocating. Yes there were other factors involved like sunshine, more space, a garage, a washer / dryer, and, of course, a backyard with a grill. But we just couldn’t stomach leaving our apartment, we just love it too much. So coming to terms with our grill-less state it is. To try to justify to ourselves that we didn’t need a grill I decided to figure out a way to cook my most favorite summer BBQ food ever  sans BBQ. Bring on the baby back ribs. After consulting many different recipes, I decided to go with Mark Bittman’s brown, braise, broil method with a few modifications, of course. It did not disappoint. The hubby and I enjoyed an AMAZING rack of fall-off-the-bone ribs without having to ditch our apartment for a BBQ. Oven Baked Baby Back Ribs

Serves 2

1 rack of baby back ribs

1 bottle of dark beer (I used a porter)

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt & Pepper

Your favorite BBQ sauce

Season the ribs with salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil in dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add ribs top side down and let sear for 5 minutes. Flip over and brown for an additional 5 minutes on the other side.

Turn off heat and remove ribs from the dutch oven. Let both the ribs and dutch oven cool down for 10 to 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 275.

Add the ribs back to the dutch oven with the dark beer. Cover and place in the oven for 2.5 to 3 hours until the meat is totally tender.

Remove the ribs from the dutch oven and place on baking sheet.

Cover the ribs on both sides with your favorite BBQ sauce.

Turn the oven to broil and place the ribs under the broiler for 2-3 minutes per side. Just long enough to caramelize the sauce.

Cut and serve!

We enjoyed ours with mashed sweet potatoes and some type of fresh pea that you can eat without shelling.

Farmer’s Market Dinner

When I first moved to San Francisco I was enamored with the Saturday farmer’s market at the Ferry Building. It was probably one of my most favorite places to visit – stand after stand of fresh produce, home-made cheese, freshly caught fish, just butchered meat. I swore that I would spend every Saturday shopping at the market and cooking a truly farm to table meal. But alas I soon discovered the rest of the city (and outside the city) and my Saturday trips to the farmer’s market became a small treat to myself when I wasn’t so busy exploring everywhere else.

When I got sick several months ago my exploring and running around came to a screeching halt. There would be no more trail runs for me, no more bike rides to Marin, and no more strolls up and down the monstrous hill to Union street for a little shopping. All of it was a lot to take in but what killed me the most was my inability to simply live my life the way I wanted to. The worst for me, was waking up on a fog-free, sunny Saturday morning and knowing that there was no run in my future. On one of those particularly low Saturday mornings I drove myself down to the Ferry Building farmer’s market and strolled around. There wasn’t a lot of produce but I did grab myself a Blue Bottle coffee and a delicious pastry and it was perfect.

So last Saturday when I awoke to a bluebird sky I knew exactly where I wanted to head, except last Saturday I was also determined to get a little run in as well. Run I did – from Chrissy Field beach to the Golden Gate Bridge (who turned 75 last weekend quite elegantly with a ridic firework display) and back. That was a big win! The reward . . . the hubby took me to the farmer’s market and we shopped for a delicious home-cooked farm to table meal.

It is amazing what a different a month makes. Those barren stands were now overflowing with squash, lettuce, peas, apricots, cherries, and some super early peaches. I was in heaven. We picked up some Flap Steak from the 4505 butcher and settled on steak and salad for dinner with a cheese plate app. Yum! It was truly the perfect Saturday. Thanks hubby for one amazing day!

Wine pairing: We opened up a delish 2006 MacRostie Merlot that we got on the cheap from my favorite friends at D&M Liquors. They literally will taste every bottle of wine they choose to carry in the store and have crates of wines under $15 in the front with great tasting notes making shopping so easy! I know Sideways gave Merlot a bad rap but honestly the wine, when made correctly, is truly delicious. It has darker fruit than a pinot but not has heavy as a cab without a ton of tannins. Simply put it is a great sipping / food-pairing wine. (a little secret because Merlot’s are so out favor you get a great value on most brands)

“Grilled” Flap Steak with Roasted Squash, Walnut, and Manchego Cheese Salad

(an original recipe)

Serves 2

1.5lb Flap Steak (this is more than enough for 2 dinners and a few steak sandwich leftovers)

1/2 cup Soy Sauce

1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar

Salt Pepper

1 head of Butter lettuce

2 small summer squash (we used a paddy pan and a small zucchini)

1/4 cup sliced mushrooms

1/8 cup chopped walnuts

Manchego cheese

Olive Oil

Vegetable Oil

Season the steak with salt and pepper. Be careful with the salt if you are not using low sodium soy sauce. Place the steak in a shallow dish and marinate it for about an hour with the 1/2 cup of soy sauce and 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the summer squash and toss with mushrooms and olive oil (probably a 1/2 tbsp) – just enough to coat.  Place on a roasting pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until they start to lightly brown.  Place the chopped walnuts on a roasting pan and toast for 2 minutes.

Meanwhile heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high to high heat. Use 1/4 to 1/2 tbsp of vegetable oil in the pan to coat.  When the pan is hot and the oil is almost smoking place the steak in the skillet. If you have a steak as big and thick as ours and you want a rare steak, you probably want to cook it for 5 minutes a side (10 minutes total on the stove) and then place in the oven to finish it off for about 7 to 10 minutes. Adjust this time depending on thickness or desired doneness.

While steak is resting, assemble the salad. Layout the leaves of the butter lettuce (cut into smaller pieces if you have a large head of lettuce). Place the roasted squash, mushrooms, and walnuts on top. Using a vegetable peeler, top the salad with shaved pieces of Manchego cheese. Dress with your favorite salad dressing – we used olive oil, lemon, and gray salt.

When the steak has rested for 5 to 10 minutes slice and serve.

Indian Lamb and Spinach Curry

Ok I will admit it I thought that the slow cooker was today’s wedding registry equivalent to the fondu set, a fun, have-to-have kitchen item that got used once and never touched again. In fact, our slow cooker sat in its box for a good 6+ months post our wedding before we even touched it. When we did, we used it for what else but . . . chili.

We hosted our annual Superbowl party last year and committed to running a half marathon that morning. The challenge how do you have dinner ready for 15+ people with varying degrees of dietary restrictions when you will be spending your morning running 13.1 miles?

Enter the slow cooker and an amazing recipe for veggie chili. The hubby and I prepped all the ingredients the night before. The morning of our race, as we ate toast and peanut butter, we pulled out the slow cooker, dumped in the ingredients and set the timer.

When we returned home several hours later, exhausted and sore, there could not have been a more amazing feeling (or scent) to knowing that your little slow cooker had just created a perfectly cooked batch of veggie chili for your soon to arrive house guests. (If only it could clean the house too!) The dish was such a hit its on the docket for next weeks Superbowl party (fortunately or unfortunately the half marathon is not).


Determined to test the capabilities of this little pot of amazingness I settled on a recipe for Indian Lamb and Spinach Curry. (1) I have never cooked Indian food before (2) I am a total sucker for lamb and (3) It seemed like the perfect challenge.

Our slow cooker did not disappoint delivering a delicious pot of flavorful, tender, and totally delicious curry. Is there anything this thing can’t do? I am a total slow cooker convert – so sorry to have ever doubted you and I hope you enjoy your new place in the front of our cooking gadget cabinet. A fondu set you are not.

Indian Lamb & Spinach Curry (adapted from Meals in Minutes Slow Cooker)

Serves 3 and was made in a 3.5 quart slow cooker

2 1/2 tbsp Canola oil

1 chopped yellow onion

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 in ginger piece peeled and grated

2 tsp ground cumin

3/4 tsp cayenne pepper

3/4 tsp ground tumeric

1 cup beef broth

1 1/2 lbs boneless leg of lamb cut into 1-inch cubes

salt

3 cups baby spinach

1 cup plain yogurt

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the onions and garlic and saute until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger, cumin, cayenne, and tumeric and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer. Pour in the broth, raise the heat to high, and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up the browned bits on the pan bottom. When the broth comes to a boil, remove the pan from the heat.

Put the lamb in the slow cooker and sprinkle with 1/2 tbsp salt. Pour in the contents of the frying pan. Cover and cook on the high-heat setting for 4 hours (or the low heat for 8 hours).

Add the baby spinach to the curry and cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes. Just before serving stir in  2/3 cups of the yogurt into the curry. Season to taste with salt. Spoon the curry into shallow bowls and serve, passing the remaining yogurt at the table. The hubby and I had some rice with our curry but you could totally enjoy it as is as well.

Bolognese

Somehow California missed the memo this year that the official start to winter was almost a month ago. Rather than be socked in with rain and debating whether to wear my rain coat and freeze or my winter coat and be drenched, I have seen nothing but blue bird skies and 60 degrees temperatures making the debate do I wear a coat today or not.

While it is definitely making me tired of my fall wardrobe, bummed that I bought a ski pass this year, and worried for what this means about the general well-being of our planet, I am not complaining one bit. Especially when it means that the tan from my winter beach vacation lasts beyond my first week back.

I think most of Hollywood would share in my same sentiments. They were all looking very tan last night at the Golden Globes. My sister texted that they had really overdone the bronzer / spray tans this year but I have a sneaking suspicion that the golden hue was actually natural.

So in honor of it being officially winter but not really winter in SF I wanted to make the most wintery dish I knew – Bolognese. Shockingly I have never made Bolognese and for some reason it just sounded so delicious, and homey, and wintery. I guess I must be craving the season on some small-scale.

I sifted through the cookbooks and landed on a recipe for Tuscan Meat and Tomato Ragu from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia’s Italty. Not only did it feel totally authentic with a mix of pork, veal and sausage but it seemed pretty straightforward and easy to make.


I was a little nervous when the sauce first came together – it seemed pretty watery and not at all tomato based. But as it sat simmering for close to 3 hours the flavors really blended together and the sauce thickened up perfectly. Just as I hoped it was totally delish (although I will admit it does not make the best food pics).

Tuscan Meat and Tomato Ragu

Makes 9 cups

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms

1 medium onion, in chunks (1 cup or more)

2 celery ribs, in chunks (about 2 cups)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 lb ground veal

1 lb ground pork

1 lb sweet Italian sausage, removed from the casing and crumbled

1 tsp salt, or to taste

2 cups of red wine (I used a Dynamite Vineyard Merlot)

28oz can of San Marzano canned plum tomatoes crushed by hand

Meat, poultry, or vegetable stock, or water, as needed

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Soak the dried porcini in a cup or so of hot water for at least 1/2 hour.

Using the food processor, puree the onion and celery to a paste. Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium-high heat, scrape in the paste, and stir it for 3 or 4 minutes as it steams and starts to caramelize.

Add all the meats to the pan, raise the heat, and continuously turn and loosen the chopped meat as it sears and browns. Sprinkle 2 tsps salt over the meat, and keep tossing and breaking up any lumps, until all the meat is colored and has started to release moisture. Cook, frequently stirring, to evaporate the wine. Meanwhile, lift the reconstituted porcini pieces from the soaking water, squeeze them dry, and chop into bits. Stir the porcini into the sizzling meats. When the wine has almost evaporated, pour in the porcini water (but not the sediment), stir, and cook until it too has disappeared into the meat.

Pour the tomatoes into the pan, slosh the container with 2 cups of water, and stir that in. Cook, covered, until the tomato juices are bubbling, than lower the heat and simmer the sauce, partially covered for 2 to 3 hours – the longer it perks the better! As the sauce reduces, add stock or water as needed to keep the meat covered by liquid. (I didn’t find that I needed any.)

Taste, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Use right away or – for best flavor – let the sauce sit for a couple of hours or up to 2 days (refrigerated). Loosen sauce with water or stock, if necessary, when reheating.

Greek-Style Lamb Pita Sandwiches

I have a new-found love . . . my Cooking for Two cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen from 2009.

Sorry Ina and Giada there is a new favorite book in the house and it does not involve either of you. I do feel awful cheating on you both but I promise I would not have done it if it wasn’t worth it. And this book is worth it.

As you all already know I love my mom. I especially love her when she lets me raid her cookbook collection and then proceeds to buy me the cookbooks she is not willing to part without. This cookbook was definitely one of them. It’s a bit hard to find because it is out of print (in fact the copy that I own happens to be an old library book) but worth a look.

I find that most people I know attempt ambitious dinners for Sunday night – they have the weekend to flip through cookbooks or magazines, grab all the necessary ingredients, and spend the entire day cooking. I wish I could say that this was me. In fact, I think I aspire to be one of those people but come Sunday I am literally exhausted from my weekend.

After 4 years of living in California you would think I would get used to the idea that I can be outside year round, but I can not. I keep telling myself that I will stay in the following weekend to clean the closets, cook a stew or catch up on the stack of magazines I am collecting but then it is sunny out or above 50 and the plan goes out the window. I feel guilty sitting inside when it is so nice outside so I, in turn, over plan myself and then it comes time for dinner on Sunday night and I am spent.

Last Sunday I could not bear the thought of another turkey burger dinner so to the cookbooks I turned and stumbled on a recipe for lamb pita sandwiches. It seemed like the perfect solution to my turkey burger rut and it was. Not only was it super easy to make it was also delicious! I have found a new Sunday night dinner go to (or even weekday!).

The lamb meat is juicy and tender and the home-made tzatziki could not be easier. This is a definite make again meal and does not even need any tweaks. I heart you America’s Test Kitchen!

Greek-Style Lamb Pita Sandwiches with Tzatziki Sauce (Cooking for Two America’s Test Kitchen 2009)

Serves 2

Tzatziki Sauce

1/4 cucumber, peeled, halved, and seeded, chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)

salt

1/2 cup Greek Yogurt (I used non-fat FAGE)

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 small garlic clove, minced

2 tsps chopped fresh dill

Pita Sandwiches

2 (8-inch) pita breads with pockets

1 small onion, chopped coarse (about 1/2 cup)

2 tsps fresh lemon juice

2 tsps minced fresh dill

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

8 oz ground lamb

2 tsps vegetable oil

1 small tomato, sliced thin, for serving

1 c shredded iceberg lettuce, for serving (I used romaine hearts)

1 oz feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/4 cup), for serving

 

For the Tzatziki Sauce:

Toss the cucumber with 1/8 tsp salt in a colander set over a bowl and let drain for 30 minutes.

Combine the yogurt, drained, cucumber, lemon juice, garlic, and dill in a bowl and season with salt to taste.

 

For the Pita Sandwiches:

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 F. Trim the top quarter off each pita bread, then tear the trimmed quarters in to 1-inch pieces (you should have about 1/2 cup of pita pieces.) Stack the pitas and warp tightly with foil.

 

Process the onion, lemon juice, dill, garlic, salt, pepper, and pita bread pieces in a food processor to make a smooth paste, about 30 seconds, then transfer to a medium bowl. Add the lamb and gently mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions and roll into balls. Gently flatten the balls into round disks, about 1/2 inch thick and 2 1/2 inches in diameter.

 

Place the foil-wrapped pitas directly on the oven rack and heat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the patties and cook until well browned and a crust forms, 3 to 4 minutes.

 

Flip the patties, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until well browned and a crust forms on the second side, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer the patties to a paper towel-lined plate.

 

Spread 1/4 cup of the tzatziki sauce inside each pita. Divide the patties evenly among the pitas and add half of the tomato slices, 1/2 cup shredded lettuce, and 2 tbsp feta to each sandwich.

Rib-Eye Steak with Arugula and Roasted Red Peppers

I can not tell you how many perfectly good pieces of meat have faced their second slaughter in our kitchen. Honestly, I come close to shedding a tear every time we cut into a steak only to realize that the sear isn’t just on the outside, it’s brown all the way through!

We’ve cooked steaks in a skillet on the stove top, in a skillet on the stove top then in the oven, in a skillet in the oven, but never in a saute pan on the stove. Giada, you truly are a genius! No tears in this kitchen last night.

I have to say both the hubby and I were a bit skeptical with the saute pan technique. First of all, we were terrified that searing a steak in our beloved All Clad saute pan would ruin it. Secondly, we did not think that a medium-high flame would be high enough to do the drink. Neither of us have ever been so happy to be proven wrong.

So what is this genius technique? Heat a large saute pan with a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil on a 1lb 1 inch thick rib-eye steak then rub it in with salt and pepper. Place the steak on preheated skillet and cook it roughly 5 minutes a side. DO NOT move the steak once you put it down, this ensures you get a great sear on the outside. When the steak is done, take it off the saute pan and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

So a perfectly cooked steak would have been enough for me, but then Giada puts it on top of this delicious and simple salad and it really is pure perfection.

For the salad, place 1 and 1/2 cups of washed and dried arugula on a large tray. Add 3/4 cup of rinsed, dried, and sliced roasted red peppers.

For the dressing, whisk together 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and any juices from the steak that accumulated on the plate.

Put it all together with a little shaved Parmesan cheese and you have quite the Thursday night meal. We were planning on reusing the herb butter from Monday night’s salmon but it was perfect as is.

Thank you Giada – no more ruined meat in this kitchen again!