{Recipe} Perfect Baby Back Ribs- an art or a science?

There’s nothing worse than a chewy, tough rib! I have had my share of terrible ribs, at home and at restaurants. BUT, when I finally get a finger-licking, out-of-this-world rib, I instantly forget all those bad experience and only hear angels singing from above. It’s a crap-shoot when it comes to ribs. I made it my personal mission to perfect The Rib.

Ribs are prepared in a variety of ways…. smoked or grilled or baked or boiled, dry rub or wet rub, sweet or spicy.  It makes me wonder… is it an art or a science? Should I go with pork or beef? What destroys a rib? I’ve been playing around with ribs for years, and I’ve definitely had some hits and misses. I fondly remember when Nick and his roomie Terry first cooked for me a delectable batch of finger-licking ribs. They had an amazing amount of flavor that was intensified due to slow cooking on a charcoal grill. Apparently, Nick doesn’t remember this 16 years later, but I do. Maybe Terry remembers, too? Those ribs have never been recreated, but I still smile when I think about those good ol’ college cooking days.

After a a few dozen practice rounds, I think I have finally perfected my favorite way to prepare ribs. I only use baby back ribs, as I find that St. Louis style ribs are too meaty and chewy for my taste. Nothing wrong with them- hey, I use to live in St. Louis! I just haven’t found a good way to make them tender or enjoyable at home. I just have better results with baby back. I also allow for some resting time during the process… it’s part of the “art.”

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{Recipe} Squash, Squash, Squash

Even though I am eagerly awaiting summer and consistent warmer temperatures, I still find myself obsessed with winter squash! (Okay, I’m also obsessed with sweet potato, but that’s a different blog post.) Though it is not to be mistaken with summer squash as I still haven’t developed a taste for that. Well, I’ll eat it fried. Then again, I’d probably eat anything fried!

It’s a relatively recent fascination. I had never consumed acorn squash, for instance, until last year. My CSA share, thanks to Early Morning Farms (neighbor to my place of employment), expanded my horizons and taste buds. I fell in love with a variety they grow called delicata; its a long cream colored squash with dark green lines. It is divine! Unfortunately, it is long gone from the stores, so I have been consuming butternut squash and acorn mostly in recent months to fill the delicata-void.

So how do I eat it? Occasionally I’ll make a soup with it, but largely, I just bake squash. I love the texture this way, plus it’s simple to prepare. Yes, it takes a little bit of time in the oven, but basically you just cut in half, remove seeds, brush it with something, and bake. EAT!!

Squash is sometimes referred to as a power food because of its health benefits like being a high source of potassium, antioxidants, and nutrients known as carotenoids (like beta carotene). I try to follow a whole food and high fruit/vegetable diet to help curb my chronic urticaria and improve my overall health, so this is definitely a fruit (yes, because it has seeds) that is often found on my dinner plate. Tonight I’m eating it alongside some yummy chicken!

 

Ingredients:

1 acorn squash (or butternut or delicata)

Favorite “grease”

Seasonings, to taste

 

How to bake:

Preheat oven to 375

On a cutting board with a sharp knife, carefully cut squash of choice lengthwise. Scoop out seeds (which you can later bake and eat) and membrane. Use your favorite grease…. like butter, olive oil, margarine spread, or coconut oil, ….. and brush the insides. Place the squash skin side up on a baking sheet. Bake for approximately 45 -60 minutes. The skin will brown and the insides will be very soft. Afterward, season as you like. Sometimes I simply use kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, and other times I use my favorite garlic salt. It doesn’t need much.

Easy! And hardly a recipe at all.

Acorn Squash is readily available year round

Acorn Squash is readily available year round

Xander says it reminds him of a pumpkin.

Xander says it reminds him of a pumpkin.

I bake mine skin side up!

I bake mine skin side up!

Ready to eat!

Ready to eat!

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Activities with Toddlers

Nick spent the weekend away in Atlanta for the SEC Championship (Gators lost- don’t talk about it) so with the weather barely reaching above freezing, I needed ideas of things to do with Xander. He’s in the ‘not taking a nap phase’ and if he does nap, then he doesn’t fall asleep until 10pm. Sure, I had plenty of outings planned like visiting the local animal farm and a train depot… but he needed ACTIVITIES at home to keep his little hands occupied. I did some research on the laptop when his eyes were occupied (watching Little Bear on Nick Jr.) and discovered a great informative list on about.com. Click HERE to read it. We’re working our way through the list. See below.

Making Gingerbread men. The recipe on the website is low fat and yes, it TASTES low fat. Low fat=eating cardboard. The recipe is easy to make and roll but it isn’t very tasty.

Candy Cane Decorating. Xander loved hanging these on our Christmas Tree. My rule is that he’s only allowed to touch the candy canes (no ornaments). Unfortunately he broke more candy canes than he put on the tree. Thank goodness they are cheap!

Playing with green playdough. I love homemade playdough. It lasts longer than store-bought varieties and it’s moister and softer too. I didn’t have red food coloring so I only made green. Hint: add cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice to make brown, smelly playdough. My fool proof recipe is 2 cups Flour, 2 Cups warm water, 1 Cup table salt, 2 TBs vegetable oil, and 1 TB creme of tartar. Combine all ingredients in a pot and stir constantly over low heat. After nearly 15 minutes the dough will come away from the sides of the pot. When no longer sticky, take out and kneed. Add spices or food coloring at this time. And kneed until mixed. Store in a ziplock bag after use. It keeps forever! Beware, don’t allow pets to eat it! It induces immediate vomiting. Kali, our dog, has learned the hard way. Many times.

Happy Belated Thanksgiving

Hope everyone had a splendid Thanksgiving! We sure did. I’m thankful for a wonderful husband, a joyful child, and plenty of love to go around.  On a side note, have you ever cooked a turkey or a chicken cloaked in cheesecloth? It’s kinda cool. And it helps browns the skin beautifully. Soak the cloth 15 mins in broth (or melted butter) then wrap the bird. Start the cooking process with the breast side down. Remove cheesecloth near the end of the cooking process and flip the bird. Allow the breast to brown and remove once the internal temperature has reached its safe temperature. The whole outside will be beautifully browned and crisp! To learn more about using cheesecloth (for a variety of projects), click here! Cheesecloth can be found at your grocery store in the kitchenware aisle.

my turkey wearing cheesecloth

 

beautifully browned. Yum!

 

 

Apron Madness!

Nick’s 12 hour work days are becoming habit these days so I’ve been trying to learn how to entertain an only child / toddler / active boy during the meal making process. Coloring books, playdough, and water color painting only lasts so long before Xander is underfoot whining for my attention. Since I prefer to make a healthy home cooked meal instead of relying on take out or frozen meals, I need at least 30 minutes in the kitchen to cook. So as of recently, I’ve been involving him in the cooking process… teaching him new words, showing him what I’m doing, and instructing him on stove safety. He appears to enjoy it! He even drags in his bathroom step stool so he can be closer to the action! The only thing missing is an apron around his neck A.K.A “Mommy’s bib.” So, I sat down the other night and searched Etsy for some child-sized aprons for Xander. Etsy.com is a marketplace where people can sell their home-made stuff… there’s a ton of junk on there, but occasionally, with the right search, you can find some gems! I wish I had a sewing machine… or better yet, knew how to sew!!

How about this little dinosaur apron with matching hat from Etsy seller Key2Life?

dino

Or this personalized rocket ship one fom Etsy seller tinygreenapples?

xander

Or maybe this wipe-off smock style apron from Etsy seller Omydarlinkids?

smock

Etsy also has a wonderful selection of fun, flirty aprons for women too! I love this one from Etsy seller Wonderlandavenue.

meapron1

Or this colorful apron from Etsy seller MadameCulinaire!

meapron2

Finally, check out this pink flirty apron from Etsy seller momomadeit! Gotta love the wine bottle and cocktail glass in the pic! Do you think it comes with the apron?!!

meapron3

I love (cheap) blueberries!

It’s THAT time of year… when berries are fresh and sold by the pound at a fraction of the cost that they normally are sold for. However, when you buy fresh berries, you must tend to them immediately either by freezing or consuming. This weekend I purchased a $4.00 2lb box of vibrant blueberries and immediately decided to try out a new recipe– Lemon Blueberry Muffins (with flax seed and summer squash puree). I plan to warm them up and serve them at breakfast tomorrow. The rest of the berries I’ve washed and put in the freezer for future Blueberry Banana Smoothies (Xander’s fav), Blueberry syrup, Blueberry yogurt pops, or Blueberry pancakes.  Freezing blueberries is simple… wash and pat dry. Then place on a baking sheet in a single layer. Place in the freezer and freeze. When frozen, take out of the freezer and place in small airtight containers or Ziploc baggies. I use glass Pyrex containers.

ready to freeze!

ready to freeze!

Here’s Nigella’s yummy recipe for Blueberry Syrup (you MUST try it!!):

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries

Directions

Put the syrup and blueberries into a pan and bring to the boil.

Let bubble for 2 to 3 minutes and allow blueberries to burst, and then pour into a jug and bring to the breakfast table with the pancakes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers; happy belated Thanksgiving to our Canadian readers; and happy Thursday to everyone else! Nick has a nice long 4 day weekend so Xander will certainly be spoiled by Monday. He loves his Daddy and often plays favorites when he is around. Our turkey breast is in the oven browning and all the fixings are preprepared and waiting for my attention. On the menu this year is my Mom’s famous homemade stuffing, homemade mashed potatoes, jello salad, rolls, corn, and pumpkin pie. Oh, and lots of gravy! We’re staying at home and doing T-day by ourselves (but cooking for an additional person– our elderly neighbor who doesn’t go anywhere for holidays despite the fact that his daughter lives 40 minutes away. We send a plate over to him to enjoy instead of his regular Papa Johns pizza).  As usual, I’m enjoying the cooking process…. and let’s see. I’m thankful for our health, our good fortune, and hopefully a win against Alabama in December. Cross your fingers for the Gators! Nick’s already scouting tickets and airfare for the National Championship. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday!