Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Weekend Comfort

A trip to the local farmers’ market on Saturday mornings always means a stop at Charles Quality Organic Meats. I’m always in anticipation, wondering what’s going to look amazing this week, what’s going to be irresistible. Well, this week it was 5 lbs. of pork side ribs. I think of BBQ’d ribs as one of my favourite “comfort” foods that can be made and enjoyed all year long.

There are countless recipes available for BBQ’d ribs and I know that throughout North America, methods of preparation vary dramatically and can be very specific from one region to another. Over several years and through trial and error, I have developed a recipe for barbequed ribs that gives me the results I look for. I like barbequed side ribs to have the right combination of grilled flavour and colour, be fall-off-the-bone tender and have a delicious, sticky, BBQ sauce coating. The Cattle Boyz BBQ sauce in this recipe is Canadian made in Calgary, Alberta and “hands down”, is my favourite commercially made sauce. Whether I use pork side ribs or baby back ribs, I always use locally raised Ontario pork. This recipe for ribs takes a little time to prepare, but is well worth the effort.

Catherine’s “Weekend Comfort” BBQ Ribs

On the underside of the ribs, use a knife to lift up the thin, skin-like membrane. Grab onto the membrane (using a paper towel makes it easier to hang on to it) and pull it right off of the slab of ribs. Heat a grill to medium high heat and sear the rib slabs on both sides until they are a rich brown colour and have grill marks. (I use a grill all year long.) Allow the ribs to rest for 10 minutes before proceeding.

Cut the ribs between the bones to achieve portion sized pieces (usually every 2 ribs). Arrange the pieces in a slow cooker. Fill half way with water and cook on high for 3 hours and ½ hour on low. Close to end of their cooking time, set the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. and prepare the sauce.

In a large bowl, combine the following ingredients together thoroughly using a whisk;

½ cup ketchup
¾ cup packed golden brown sugar
½ cup white vinegar
¾ cup bottled b.b.q. sauce (I use Cattle Boyz Original BBQ Sauce)
¼ cup steak sauce
few dashes of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
freshly ground black pepper and salt

Remove the ribs from the slow cooker and arrange them bone side down, in a single layer on either a foil lined baking sheet or large dish with no higher than 3” high sides. Spoon the sauce over the tops of the ribs using about half the quantity of the sauce. Bake the ribs on a middle rack in the oven for half and hour. Remove the ribs and cover with the remaining sauce. Put the ribs back in the oven and after 10 minutes, turn off the heat. Leave the ribs in the oven for an additional 20 to 30 minutes, until the sauce is hot and has glazed onto the ribs.

There are so many side dishes that are a great accompaniment to BBQ’d ribs. Here is one of my favourites:

Catherine’s “Smashed Red Skin Potatoes”

5-6 red skin potatoes
1 tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
½ cup melted butter
freshly ground pepper and salt to taste

Clean and cut potatoes in quarters or halves, but do not peel. Put potatoes into a heavy saucepan with enough cold, salted water to cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil and cook on medium high, uncovered or half covered, for approx. 20 minutes or until tender when pierced with a sharp knife.

Meanwhile, finely mince the garlic cloves. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a small sauté pan and cook the garlic on medium low heat for about 2 minutes, or just until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. I like to use about 4 garlic cloves, but this can be varied depending on how much garlic you prefer. If you like a more intense garlic flavour, add an additional clove or two. Drain the potatoes. Add the butter, garlic and oil. Mash the potatoes using a hand held potato masher or a pastry blender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Winter Escape

I recently returned from a week of heavenly bliss in warm, subtropical Marco Island, located on Florida’s southwest coast. Over more than twenty years, I’ve made many winter escapes to this lovely island and have been fortunate to stay in a condo directly on the beach while there. The condo unit has a fully equipped kitchen, a dining room with a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico and an outdoor grill for vacationers’ use. This, of course, gives the option of eating in if desired. Over the years I’ve been to many restaurants on Marco and surrounding area, including The Blue Heron and Marco Polo Restaurant, which were both excellent in service and food. In more recent years, however, I’ve been eating out much less often and have been taking advantage of the great local fresh food options.

Oh, I know, probably many of you are thinking that a vacation should be an escape from the kitchen as well as the cold, but a relaxing beachside vacation lends itself to eating at least some meals “in”. Eating in has it’s advantages; we can dine as we are in bare feet, shorts and a tee and not worry about getting caught in a long wait line for a table in a restaurant. The economical advantages are obvious and rewarding. I can buy something that would be a higher end entrée item in a restaurant, such as a fabulous steak and accompany the meal with a great wine that I might not choose at a restaurant because of the high mark up. While on Marco Island, dinner preparation is always kept down to basics, with store bought hummus and crackers for appetizers, pre-washed salad greens, bottled champagne vinaigrette, prepared tartar and cocktail sauces and a variety of sorbets to finish.

On Marco Island, my favourite place to buy fresh seafood and other culinary delights is Paradise Seafood and Gourmet Market. They have an extensive fresh fish and seafood menu that changes daily and can include yellow fin tuna, grouper, snapper, crab, oysters, flounder, shrimp and many other selections. Chef Scott and his team prepare a number of irresistible items. I absolutely love their crab cakes, which take only minutes to cook and their beautifully spiced, peel and eat shrimp. These two items are must haves for me when I am on Marco Island! Their Key Lime Tarts are a lovely ending to any meal. For more information check out their website at

You know you are in nearby Naples when you see Jaguars and vintage T-Birds in the parking lot at The Fresh Market. Don’t be concerned though, the luxury vehicles and their well dressed owners are not necessary a reflection of the prices inside. Stepping into The Fresh Market, customers are welcomed by a huge display of fresh cut flowers. There are so many delightful things in this warm and inviting market. I was impressed by the quality and variety of the cuts of meat, selection of coffees and wines and the lovely bakery items. I couldn’t resist the Angus New York strip loins on special while I was there and picked up a few for the B.B.Q. For locations and information, their website is

Next time you are planning a beachside vacation, consider accommodations that include partial or full kitchen facilities, such as a condo, apartment or even a house rental if you are traveling with a larger party. Just being able to prepare breakfast and some lunches can save you money and valuable time that can be spent enjoying the sun and the beach rather than looking for restaurants for every meal. When you arrive at your destination, kick off your shoes, raise a glass and toast the incredible sunset. Cheers!