Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Baby-back ribs with sauerkraut and prunes

"You can't teach a class like that," said Jason when I mentioned the idea of teaching a cooking class for new Moms. At yesterday's playgroup, many Moms brought up the subject of cooking dinner and how it never happens these days. This got me thinking...

Is it possible to cook with 4 month olds? I say, "Absolutely!" Jason said I was a little crazy. "In a good way," he added quickly. "The problem is you are not willing to compromise the taste for convenience." I tried to protest that all our weekday dinners are convenient, but he just shook his head. "Give me an example," he said. "How about salmon teriyaki or bluefish with crispy potatoes?" I answers. "No good -- it requires buying fish and none of the Moms from your playgroup will be comfortable doing that." Somehow I never thought of buying fish as inconvenient. I just stop by the Wulf's fish market on my way home from Isis playgroup and pick up fish for 2-3 days. It only takes 5-10 minutes vs. fighting the big isles and lines of a regular supermarket. But I kind of saw his point. Most people don't do that even WITHOUT babies, and this is not the best time to pick up new habits.

This ban on fish dishes was making the idea of the class into a real challenge. When my trump card of a 10 minute dinner was gone, I was getting a little desperate. "And don't even think about something that requires chopping an onion. You have to remember -- 1 onion for a normal cook is like 10 onions for you." I was getting more depressed by the minute. Was there really no way to help new Moms get past the pizza takeout phaze? "Think frozen chicken breasts, Helen. These dishes should require no shopping and no chopping." "You are right," I said. "There is no way I can teach this class."

Besides my unwillingness to compromise on taste, I have another annoying little trait: I like a challenge and have a hard time getting cooking puzzles out of my head. So this morning, I finally came up with a dish that satisfied Jason's requirements of no chopping or last minute shopping, and my requirement of yumminess. Slow roasted baby-back ribs. Inspired by a dish my Mom used to make when I was little and by our first snow here in Boston, I put together this simple dish and fell head over heals in love with it. The meat came out fork tender with bold pigginess and the sauerkraut with prunes provided excellent sour and sweet accents. Simple, yet interesting.

Feel free to buy your ribs frozen to save yourself a shopping trip. They'll taste just as good. The sauerkraut and prunes are pantry items and don't require last minute shopping either. I add potatoes, kale, and onions to this dish, but they are all optional. Potatoes are an easy addition, but if you are averse to prep tasks in the kitchen, I recommend skipping kale (washing it is time consuming), or onions (for obvious reasons).

Baby-back ribs with sauerkraut and prunes

Serves 4-6 people

4 Lb baby back ribs, cut into 4 rib sections
3 Tbsp olive oil
1.5 Lb sauerkraut (2 Lb if skipping the optional veggies)
1 cup prunes (2 cups if skipping the optional veggies)
Salt and pepper
***optional veggies to use if time permits***
1 red onion, diced (optional)
1 bunch kale or collard greens, large stems removed and discarded, leaves chopped (optional)
1.5 Lb boiling potatoes (red skinned or yukon gold), peeled and quartered (optional)

Browning the ribs:
  1. Preheat the broiler and wrap a broiler pan with foil. Dry the ribs well on paper towel, season with salt and pepper on both sides and rub with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Place the ribs meat side up in the broiler pan and broil 4 inches away from the flame until nicely browned, 7-10 minutes.
  2. Flip and broil just until the underside loses the raw look, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the broiler and set aside. Reduce the oven to 275F.
Finishing the dish
For busy moms:

  1. Squeeze out the sauerkraut to remove extra liquid. Toss it with prunes (and potatoes seasoned with salt if using) and 2 Tbsp oil in an oven proof dish that can also accommodate the ribs in one layer.
  2. Place the ribs on top of the veggies along with all the juice that accumulated in the broiler pan. Cover the baking dish (use foil if you don't have a cover) and place in the oven until potatoes and ribs are fork tender, 2.5-3.5 hours. Don't worry too much about catching the exact moment. This dish is hard to overcook.
Finishing the dish
For people with more time:
  1. While the ribs are cooking, set a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add 2 Tbsp of oil. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt to the skillet and cook until tender and golden brown, 10-12 minutes.
  2. Add the kale or collard green (as many as will fit in the pan), stir and cover for a few minutes until the greens are wilted and there is space in the skillet for more greens. Keep adding greens until they are all in and wilted. Season to taste with salt.
  3. Season potatoes generously with salt. Squeeze out the sauerkraut to remove extra liquid. If your skillet is big enough for all the veggies and ribs, continue adding them all to the skillet (if not move the wilted greens to a baking dish that is large enough to fit all the ingredients). Add potatoes, sauerkraut and prunes to the wilted greens and stir well to distribute the veggies evenly.
  4. Place the ribs on top of the veggies along with all the juice that accumulated in the broiler pan. Cover the skillet or baking dish (use foil if you don't have a cover) and place in the oven until potatoes and ribs are fork tender, 2.5-3.5 hours. Don't worry too much about catching the exact moment. This dish is hard to overcook.


Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

What a great idea, Helen! The shopping issue reminds me of when our first daughter was brand new. I would come home from work and could tell Marion and the baby both needed a break. We said baby Claire suffered from "mal de mere"--sick of mom. So I would trundle her into a pack on my chest, zip my coat around us and head to the grocery store just a block away to figure out what dinner would be. Marion would generally cook whatever I brought home, and both she and Claire would be better for having had the break.

Helen said...

Hi Terry,

He he, I can just picture you with little Claire in your jacket :)

Jason helps tremendously with shopping. There is a Whole Foods near his job, so he often runs out there before heading home. I am willing to cook whatever he brings home. When cooking with babies, it does help to understand basic cooking principles, so that you don't have to rely on recipes. Seriously, at this stage, I am willing to cook anything. I think one of our desperate dinners was French lentils, sauteed onions, and a can of tuna (just because all three were on hand). It was not bad for a pantry meal :)


Wicked Good Dinner said...

I absolutely LOVE cooking with prunes and dried fruits. What a great recipe!

Julie said...

All my mother's favorites, she would love this.

Anonymous said...

Why not teach a class on shopping for fish? Just take people into the fish market and show them what you do, and why. This mother of a five year old (harder in some ways to cook with this five year old than when she was an infant...) would love it! BTW, this recipe sounds wonderful.

Helen said...

I do teach a class on shopping for fish :) It's called One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. In case you are in Boston area, you can check out my class schedule.


Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

Just popped back in to say happy holidays to you and your family, Helen. With a brand new baby and all, I know your plate is full right now, in a most wonderful way.

Anonymous said...

I have a 4 month old and I try to make the effort to cook, but it can be daunting. Dinnertime coincides with screamy time.

It's usually chicken breast, steak, or pasta. Every once and a while we have to stop at the store to get somehting. I always dread it, but it's never as bad as I anticipate. She's usually pretty well behaved, it just takes 5 times longer than it should.

If she's a fussy mess when I'm trying to cook and then eat, well, she'll live. I have to eat some time.

Anonymous said...

Interesting food combination. ;-)

Happy, happy New Year!


Gypsy at Heart said...

I made them. They turned out as delicious as you said they would. Every forkful with the falling apart ribs the tangy taste of the sauerkrat and the sweet bit of the prune. Loved it. So did my husband. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I really find the combination of ribs with prunes kinda interesting. Actually, I have never even considered prunes as an element in a dish. I may have to rethink this.

Magpie said...

Damn, that sounds good.

I came over here from BipolarLawyerCook, with trepidation because I don't really like fish, so I'm thrilled to find this.

Will my 4yo like it?

Helen said...

Hi Magpie,

Will your 4 year old like it? I hope so. Try it and let me know :)


Janet said...

mmmm, I made this tonight, substituting boneless pork ribs for the babyback and swiss chard for the kale or collards and YUM! Very delicious :-)

Anonymous said...

Its simply tempting.

Guillermina Jauch said...

Thanks a lot for showing how to prepare this recipe!