How to Make Tender Flavourful Ribs

Recipe for Tender Tasty Ribs

So you want to discover how to transform ribs like these ⇓ into tasty, tender ribs like these ⇑?

Back Ribs

Follow these four easy steps and you too will make tender ribs that have great flavour.  You can choose back ribs or side ribs, depending on what you prefer.

 

A: Flavour Part 1, The Rub

The first step in giving your ribs great flavour is to coat them in a great tasting rub.  I use a brown sugar rub (you can find the recipe here) which my family loves, but if you have a favorite rub for pork, you can use that.

When coating the ribs with rub, start with the underside, then do the ends, and finish with the top side.  You want a thick, even coating on the entire slab.

pork rub coating all sides of the slab of ribs

 

B: The Cooking Technique, in this case, Braising

Ribs have a lot of connective tissue, and to make them tender it is best to cook them at a low heat for a long time, often called low and slow cook.

Braising means cooking in a covered pot in a shallow layer of liquid.  To braise it, the meat isn’t completely covered with liquid, which would boil or stew it.  Instead, the meat is only partially submerged, and then simmered at low temperature until it becomes tender.

Braising ribs in the oven in a sealed foil packet makes them tender

One of the great things about braising is that it’s a hands-off cooking technique.  The oven does all the work for you.  It just requires patience to transform potentially tough cuts of meat into tender goodness.

 

C: Flavour Part 2, Enhance the Braising Liquid

While plain water, broth or even apple juice can be used as the braising liquid, I like to take the opportunity to add even more flavour to my ribs.  To make my braising liquid, I add garlic, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, and Dijon mustard to the water.

After the ribs are cooked, you can use the braising liquid as the base for a sauce for the ribs if you want.  You cook the liquid on the stove-top until it thickens.

 

D: Finger Licking Good, The BBQ Sauce

We prefer saucy ribs, so once the ribs are cooked and tender, the final step is to add our favorite bbq sauce and place ribs in the oven on broil for 3 minutes.  What comes out of the oven are tender ribs with lots of flavour and dripping in sauce.  Just the way we like them.

Tasty tender ribs dripping in bbq sauce

 

So it’s as simple as that:

A + B + C + D = flavourful, tender ribs that will have your family asking for more.

 

I used back ribs for my recipe.  Side ribs (also called spare ribs) can also be cooked using the same technique.  You would simply increase the cooking time for side ribs.  For two pounds of side ribs, increase the cook time given in the recipe below (which is for back ribs) by about 30 minutes.

 

Recipe:  Tender Pork Ribs

Braising ribs makes them tender

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs (1 kg) pork back ribs
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons dry rub (recipe here)
  • ¾ cup (185 mL) water
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) your favorite bbq sauce (we like Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory & Brown Sugar)

Directions:

  1. Place ribs on a plate. Coat all sides of pork ribs evenly with dry rub.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.
  2. Take ribs out of fridge. Pre-heat oven to 250 F.
  3. Make your braising liquid. In medium bowl, add water, garlic, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and Dijon mustard and whisk until well blended.
  4. Place a large piece of heavy duty aluminium foil (one large enough to make a sealed packet for the ribs) on a cookie sheet. Fold the large piece of foil in half.  Place the ribs in between the top and bottom layer of foil.  Tightly fold up one of the short sides of the foil as well as the long side.  Leave one of the short sides open.
  5. Pour braising liquid into the foil packet, and tightly fold up the last side, creating a sealed packet.
  6. Place ribs in oven and cook for 2 to 2.5 hours. When they are cooked, you will be able to use a fork to cut through the meat.
  7. Take ribs out of oven and turn oven to broil.
  8. Remove ribs from foil packet (be careful when opening, as the steam will be very hot) and transfer them to a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
  9. Brush bbq sauce generously over the ribs. Place ribs in oven and broil for 3 minutes, letting the bbq caramelize just a bit.
  10. Remove from oven and serve.

 

Recipe Notes:  I use pasture raised pork, which tends to have somewhat shorter cooking times than conventionally raised pork.  My pasture raised pork back ribs cook in 2 hours.  If using conventionally raised pork, your cook time will likely be closer to 2.5 hours.

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Fettuccine in Creamy Tomato Sauce with Kale and Bacon

I love pasta.  Pasta dinners have been a staple in my house most of my life.  Lately, I’ve found myself in a pasta rut.  I always find myself making one of two tomato based pasta sauces.  I love both sauces, but sometimes I want to change things up.

I wanted to find a way to include more vegetables in my pasta dishes.  But I didn’t want to abandon tomatoes altogether, as I regularly have access to fresh, vine-ripened, locally grown tomatoes.  The solution was simple, really.  Creamy tomato sauce.

Creamy tomato sauce is actually quite easy to make.  You start by building a regular tomato sauce, and then add cream and Parmesan cheese at the end.  These two ingredients totally transform a simple tomato sauce into something smooth and creamy, but not too rich.

Kale is still abundant at the grocery stores and at the farmer’s markets which have just opened up again for the new season.  It seemed like the obvious vegetable to use.  And if I was going to use kale, then of course I needed to also include kale’s favorite buddy, bacon.  Bacon and kale are fantastic partners.  They should be used together as often as possible.

Pasta in Creamy Tomato Sauce with Kale and Bacon

I used half and half cream, which is 10% cream.  You can use a heavier cream if that’s what you have.  It will make your sauce a bit richer than mine.

The brown sugar mellows out the acidity of the tomatoes.  It gives the sauce a smoother finish.  If you like the acidic bite of tomatoes, or are trying to avoid added sugar, you can omit it.

This fettuccine in creamy tomato sauce was a big hit at my house.  Plus, it’s easy to make.  Creamy tomato sauce has been added to my pasta rotation and will grace our dinner table often.

Kale and Bacon Fettuccine in Creamy Tomato Sauce

 

Recipe:  Fettuccine in Creamy Tomato Sauce with Kale and Bacon

Recipe adapted from Julia’s Album

Makes 4 servings

Easy Pasta Dinner Fettuccine in creamy tomato sauce with kale and bacon

Ingredients:

  • 10oz (280g) fettuccine noodles
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 1 medium onion, small dice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 medium size fresh red tomatoes, small dice
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 bunch kale (about 10oz or 280g), washed, stems removed and sliced into thin ribbons
  • 1 cup (250 mL) half and half (10% cream)
  • ½ cup (125 mL) grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. In large pot, bring water to a boil and cook fettuccine according to package directions.
  2. In large pan, on medium-high heat, cook bacon until crisp. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to cook bacon in two batches.  Keep bacon drippings in pan, but transfer cooked bacon to a plate, break into large pieces and reserve for later.
  3. In pan with bacon drippings, on medium heat, add onions and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until onion start to soften. Add garlic to pan and cook one minute more, until garlic fragrant.
  4. Add chopped tomatoes to pan. The liquid from the tomatoes will deglaze the pan. Scrape up the browned bits into the tomato mixture as they will add flavour to the sauce.  Add salt, Italian seasoning, paprika and brown sugar.  Stir well.
  5. Add kale to pan. Stir until kale wilts, about 3 to 5 minutes. Cover pan and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes and kale cooked.
  6. Add half and half cream to pan and bring to a boil. Add Parmesan cheese.  Reduce to a simmer and stir, about 1 to 2 minutes, until cheese melted.  Remove from heat.  Add ¾ of bacon pieces to sauce.
  7. Add cooked fettuccine noodles to sauce and toss until well coated.
  8. Serve pasta on individual plates, and garnish with reserved bacon and extra Parmesan cheese if desired.

 

Orange Sesame Beef Recipe

Orange Sesame Beef stir fry recipe

Stir fry is one of my go-to choices for weekday diners. It’s easy to make, relatively quick, and super flexible.  No matter what vegetables I have in the fridge, I can usually whip up a stir fry. As for meat, beef, chicken and pork have all found their way into my wok at one time or another.  Even leftover meat gets a second life in my wok.  Leftover steak, roast beef or pork tenderloin have all been transformed into stir fry in my kitchen.

Although I have my ‘usual’ stir fry, lately I’ve been branching out and trying out different flavours. I have some toasted sesame seeds in the pantry that have been catching my eye a lot lately.  So a stir fry featuring the flavour of sesame seeds seemed appropriate.  And what better to pair with sesame than orange?  The result is this orange sesame beef stir fry.

This orange sesame beef is a bit sweet, has lots of sauce, and big bites of crisp vegetables. I like to use medium width rice noodles as the base layer for this stir fry as the noodles are the perfect vehicle to pick up all the saucy goodness.

Beef Stir Fry Recipe Orange Sesame

I used round steak for this recipe, which has lots of nice beefy flavour, but many cuts of beef would work, including sirloin steak, skirt steak or flank steak.

My family doesn’t like crunchy broccoli, so I cheat a bit when making stir fry. I microwave the broccoli for two minutes on medium high heat (with a bit of water in the bowl) before adding it to the wok.  It gives the broccoli a head start, making it a bit more tender, but still keeping its shape and a nice bright green colour.

You will note that in this recipe, the sesame oil doesn’t get added until the end, and the wok gets removed from the heat right after that. Sesame oil has a high smoke point, so it is safe to stir fry in it, but it also has a very intense flavour.  Using it as the oil to fry in would bring too much sesame flavour to the dish.  A little sesame oil goes a long way to adding that rich sesame flavour to food.

 

Recipe: Orange Sesame Beef

Serves 4

(recipe adapted from Orange Sesame Chicken from Clean Eating Magazine Nov/Dec 2013 issue)

beef and vegetable stir fry orange sesame

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup orange juice
  • 5 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 lb round steak (or other steak suitable to stir frying), sliced into ¼” strips
  • Brown rice vermicelli noodles, medium
  • 1 small onion, large dice
  • 1 red pepper, chopped into 1 ½” pieces
  • 1 head broccoli, cut into small florets*
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced
  • Toasted sesame seeds

Directions:

  1. In medium bowl, whisk together orange juice, soy sauce and flour. Set aside.
  2. In large wok, heat canola oil on medium-high. Stir fry beef until almost cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. If wok too crowded, cook beef in batches. When cooked, transfer beef to a plate and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare rice noodles according to package directions.
  4. In wok used for beef, still on medium-high heat, add onion and stir fry for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add red pepper and broccoli and stir fry another 5 minutes, until vegetables are tender but still crisp.
  5. Add ginger and garlic and cook 1 minute.
  6. Add cooked beef to wok. Pour in juice mixture and cook until sauce thickens, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add sesame oil and stir entire mixture. Remove from heat.
  7. Drain rice noodles, and divide among bowls. Top each bowl with beef and vegetable mixture and sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds.

*If you prefer your broccoli a bit more tender, place in a microwave safe bowl with a bit of water, and microwave on medium high heat for 2 minutes before adding to the wok.

Family Friendly Chili Recipe

Chili labeled 1

There is something so comforting about curling up with a warm bowl of chili on a cold winter day. Fortunately, it’s also an easy meal, as chili is incredibly well suited to being made in a slow cooker.  Prep it in the morning, put it in the crock pot, and let the slow simmer meld all the wonderful chili flavours together.

The spicy smell and heartiness of chili evoke memories of childhood.

There are many different styles of chili.  For me, it has ground beef and kidney beans, the way my mom made when I was a kid.  This version incorporates my childhood memories of chili.  It has lots of chili flavour, but not heat, which makes it a family friendly meal.

Chili labeled 4

When we were kids, mom served toast with our chili.  Nowadays I prefer to have some vegetables with mine, so I made a winter slaw to accompany this hearty dish.  The crispness of the vegetables and the tangy flavour of the dressing are a nice contrast to the warmth of the chili and its sauciness.  The slaw recipe is available here.

Chili labeled 2

If you have children or other family members that don’t like much heat in their food, go ahead and make the recipe as written below.

If on the other hand you want some heat, add one more tablespoon of chili powder, up to a half teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper and a jalapeno pepper.

 

Recipe – Family Friendly Meat and Bean Chili

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Chili labeled 3

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups onion, medium dice (about 1 large onion)
  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 2 cans (796 mL, 28 oz) no salt added whole tomatoes
  • 1 can (540 mL, 19 oz) no salt added red kidney beans
  • 1 can (540 mL, 19 oz) no salt added white kidney beans
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons ground chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 ½ teaspoon table salt
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in large frying pan on medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes.  Remove onions from pan, and place in crock pot.
  2. Add ground beef to pan and cook through until no pink remains.  Drain fat if necessary.  Add cooked beef to crock pot.
  3. Open tomato cans and use immersion blender to break down tomatoes.
  4. Add tomatoes, kidney beans, sugar, oregano, pepper, cumin, chili powder, paprika and salt to crock pot.  Give everything a good stir and cover.
  5. Cook chili in crock pot on high for 6 hours or low for 8 hours.
  6. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle some cheddar cheese on top.

Recipe Note:  For a chili with heat, add one extra tablespoon of chili pepper, up to 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a jalapeno pepper to crock pot at same time as other spices.

 

Cooking with Fresh Herbs: Chicken with Blackberry Sauce

Chicken Recipe Chicken with Blackberry Sauce

This chicken dish has become one of my favorites. There are several reasons for that. One of them is Greg’s reaction the first time I made it. He came into the house when I was almost done cooking, and excitedly exclaimed “It smells like a restaurant in here!” It was a compliment. And it was true. The shallots and fresh rosemary used in the blackberry sauce were really fragrant and made the food smell very appetizing. As this was early into my journey of cooking from scratch instead of making, uh, heating up, processed food, these wonderful smells were pretty uncommon in our kitchen.

Sprig of fresh rosemary - photo by Fir0002

Sprig of fresh rosemary – photo by Fir0002

I think a second reason I like this chicken with blackberry sauce so much is that this dish is what first introduced me to using fresh herbs. The recipe, which is from the August/September 2011 issue of Clean Eating magazine, calls for fresh rosemary. So off to the store I went, in search of fresh rosemary. It was easy to find, and I discovered that I like rosemary. The only problem was that the amount of rosemary in the package was far more than needed in the recipe. Not liking to waste food, I had to find other uses for it. My first success was combining it with garlic to make roasted potatoes. It didn’t take too long to figure out how to use this wonderful fresh rosemary, and then to move on to using other fresh herbs, like sage, dill and thyme.

Fresh herbs bring such vibrant flavour to my food that they have become a necessity in my kitchen. So much so that at this time last year I decided I would have to create a herb garden. Once I thought about it, I decided that if I was going to get Greg to dig up a garden for me, I might as well make it big enough to plant some vegetables too. Last year’s garden was a success. I had fresh herbs from the garden from late May until late November. It’s now late March, and I keep looking out the back window, feeling despair as I see my garden, still buried under several feet of snow. It feels like winter may never end this year. I want spring to arrive, so that I can plant again, and have the ability to go pick the herbs I need to prepare tonight’s dinner.

So you see, this chicken with blackberry sauce isn’t just a meal the family enjoys eating. It is also the reason I now have a herb and a vegetable garden.

This recipe is simple and easy to make. There are not very many ingredients, and only a bit of chopping for prep.

While making this dish, I learnt the technique of deglazing a pan. Deglazing is when you add liquid to the pan and scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom and they end up as a part of the sauce. Not only does it add flavour to a sauce, it also makes cleaning the pan quite easy.

Recipe: Chicken with Sautéed Blackberry Sauce

(recipe from Clean Eating magazine, August/September 2011 issue)

main dish idea chicken with blackberry sauce

Ingredients

  • 4 6-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 2  9- to 12-oz breasts cut in half)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped shallots (1 large shallot)
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • ½ cup pomegranate juice*

Directions

  • Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.
  • In large skillet (not non-stick), heat oil on medium heat. Add chicken and cook, about 6-7 minutes per side, or until it is cooked through. If the skillet is not large enough for all the chicken breasts to fit with space between them, cook in batches. Once cooked, transfer the chicken to serving plates and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • While the chicken is resting, place the same skillet on medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook about 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Add rosemary and cook about 1 minute more, until shallots are tender.
  • Add the blackberries and pomegranate juice to the pan, deglazing the pan by scraping up browned bits from the bottom. Cook until the liquid is reduced to a thin layer, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Top chicken with the blackberry sauce and serve.

* Note: If you don’t have pomegranate juice, you can substitute a half/half mix of cranberry and orange juice. Don’t go with just cranberry juice as the result is just a bit too tart.

In Search of Whole Grains: Wheat Berry Salad Recipe

whole grain salad with orange and pomegranate

What Are Wheat Berries?

In my quest to add more whole grains to my family’s diet, I have discovered wheat berries.  What is a wheat berry, you ask?  Wheat berries are the entire wheat kernels, which includes the bran, the germ and the endosperm.  Only the hull has been removed.

wheat kernels

Uncooked hard red wheat kernels

Wheat berries, or wheat kernels, are what get ground into wheat flour.  There are different types of wheat berries.  Hard red wheat kernels are typically ground into all-purpose or bread flour.  Soft white wheat kernels are typically ground into cake and pastry flour.   Whether it is hard red wheat or soft white wheat, the wheat berry is a true whole grain.  While wheat is not new to me or my family, eating it in the form of the entire wheat kernel is.

I was able to purchase my wheat berries in bulk form at The Bulk Barn. What I found was hard red wheat kernels.  I haven’t found any at my local grocery stores, but some natural food stores do stock them.

Cooking with Wheat Berries

So, what to do with wheat berries?  While they can be eaten plain in the place of rice, I wanted to do something different with mine.  I found a recipe for a wheat berry salad on theKitchn which I adapted.  I wanted a great winter salad that takes advantage of some of the produce that is available in winter.  And so, a wheat berry salad with feta, citrus and pomegranate was the result.

whole grain salad

The first time I made the salad, I used a clementine as my orange.  It was sweet and juicy, and I would recommend using a sweet orange if available.  The second time I used a Cara Cara orange.  Any type of orange would work.  If I had a blood orange I would try that, as it would also add a bit more colour to the salad.  The pomegranate adds a pop of colour to an otherwise beige salad, as well as a burst of juiciness and some crunch.

The cooking time for the wheat berries can vary, depending on the type of wheat berry used and how tender you want them to be.  Soaking overnight to soften the kernels is not necessary.  I didn’t and they turned out fine.  It is however important to rinse the wheat berries before cooking them.

The recipe for the onion vinaigrette makes about one cup, which is four times the amount needed for the salad.  It stores well in the fridge for several weeks and can be used on mixed greens salads, or you can make the wheat berry salad again, maybe trying a different type of orange.

Recipe: Wheat Berry Salad with Feta, Citrus and Pomegranate

Recipe adapted from The Kitchn

winter salad with oranges pomegranates and wheat berries

Ingredients

Salad:

  • ½ cup hard red wheat berries
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) onion vinaigrette (recipe below)
  • 1 orange
  • ½ cup pomegranate arils
  • 1/3 cup (1.5 oz, 43 g) feta cheese, cut into small cubes
  • small handful of Italian parsley leaves, chopped

Onion Vinaigrette:

  • 2 tsp (10 mL) olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • ½ cup (125 mL) olive oil
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tsp (20 mL) sugar
  • ½ tsp salt

Directions

  1. Start by cooking the wheat berries.  Rinse the wheat berries.  Add 1 ½ cup (375 mL) water and the wheat berries to a medium sauce pan.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until the wheat berries are tender, which could be up to 90 minutes, depending on type of wheat berries.  Start checking for doneness after 40 minutes.   I cooked mine for 70 minutes.  When done, drain excess water from wheat berries.
  2. While wheat berries are cooking, make onion vinaigrette:
    1. Heat two teaspoons olive oil in skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and a bit of salt and cook until translucent and soft, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic and thyme and cook another one to two minutes.
    2. If using an immersion blender, transfer onion mixture to a tall sided container.  If using a regular blender or food processor, transfer it to the appliance’s container.  Add ½ cup olive oil, cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, sugar, a small pinch of salt and a bit of black pepper.  Blend until smooth, using an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor.  The vinaigrette will keep in fridge for several weeks.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the drained wheat berries with ¼ cup onion vinaigrette.  Stir to combine.  Cut the orange into segments and dice into small pieces.  Cut the pomegranate and remove arils.  Add the feta cheese, orange pieces, pomegranate arils and Italian parsley.  Toss and serve.  Leftovers will keep well in the fridge for up to one week.