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:
- 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.
- 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.
For busy moms:
- 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.
- 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.
For people with more time:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.