Rub-a-dub… RIBS!

ribs with slaw

OK, so I don’t know about your husband, but there’s something about Father’s Day that brings out Mike’s inner cave man.  And when I say “inner cave man” I am referring to the innate, undeniable desire for a big ‘ol piece of meat on his plate for dinner.

We eat meat.  I like it too.  I’m just sayin’ that it seems like guys like it a whole lot more than we do.

Funny enough, although I’m not a big meat eater, when I do eat meat, I really prefer it on the bone.  Cooking meat on the bone always yields more flavor; any foodie can tell you that.  But I like the bone there too.  Can’t really explain it but there you go.

Over the past few months I’ve been checking out some fun Southern Foodie blogs and playing around with different rub situations.  There are many ways to make tasty meat rubs that include everything from coffee grounds and dry mustard, to celery salt and paprika.  ‘Round here we have agreed that the one I’m posting today is a real winner in the taste department, and I love it because all the ingredients are likely in everyone’s cupboard already (or, if not, they’re not so exotic that they’ll go untouched after you whip up these babies.)

As a Midwestern transplant to the west coast, I will admit to having a very limited rib background.  My journey thus far have taught me a few things: First off, the key to yum-ola ribs is definitely slow cooking them on a low heat.  Smoking them over hickory and coals would likely be ideal, but I hardly have the time–or, let’s face it, the inclination–for that kind of rib action.  My oven does the trick just fine.  Secondly, rubs ROCK.  I really love the voodoo they do to ribs and other meats too.  You can use today’s recipe on  chicken, a pork roast, etc…

So as we are not even close to getting into a summer groove yet, allow me to get right to the point and back to a bunch of tasks that, for whatever reason, have yet to be completed in my home.

Michelle’s Caveman Ribs (These are super easy to prepare, but they do need 3 1/2 hours to cook.)

Ingredients: (which, by the way, I do not actually measure.  Big shocker, I know.)  your basic rack of pork ribs–3 or so pounds, 1/2 cup loosely packed cup of brown sugar, 1 tbsp. chili powder, 1 tbsp. oregano, 1 tbsp. garlic powder, 1-2 tsp. cayenne, few healthy shakes of salt and black pepper.

Directions: grab yerself a cookie sheet.  Place a piece of aluminum foil on it.  Pat rack of ribs quick-dry with a paper towel.  Spread/pat rub on both sides of the ribs and place them on the foil.  Sprinkle any last rub on top with the “u” shape up so that all that yummy stuff can rest there and turn into a de-lish glaze when all is said and done.  Should look something like this:

pre cooked ribs

Wrap the foil around the ribs and cook all cozied up like that at 250 for 2 hours.  Then open foil up and cook like that for another hour and a half.  When they’re done they will look something like this:

cooked ribs

And they will taste like heaven.  At least I hope they have these in heaven…

I recently served my ribs up with some cole slaw, as pictured above (see my recipe under salads) which was pretty much the tastiest dang combination we’ve had in a while.  Cave man happy = good Father’s Day.

Play around with your rub.  It’s cool and very “in” right now!  Try things like onion salt, cumin, celery salt, paprika, chipotle powder… Hope you enjoy!

 

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Double Header

cake

So we threw a double-header birthday party last Saturday (Rhea’s favorite part of the cake pictured here.)  Two of my three kiddos turn a year older within a week of one another, and this year I decided to combine and conquer.  It was a total blast–so much fun, in fact, that I didn’t even think to grab my camera much during the festivities.  I was completely immersed in the excitement!

Lucky for me my kiddos have made friends with children of parents I love to hang with, so, I’ll admit it, it was kind of like a big party for me too.

I love to throw parties.  LOVE IT.  I always wanted a big sunny house so that I could cook up a bunch of food and make pitchers of sangria, and then invite over my family, neighbors and friends to eat, drink and be silly with us.

Entertaining can be expensive though–and I am a thrifty girl by nature.  I won’t short change my guests’ party experience and I wouldn’t dream of serving cheap, crummy food (heaven’s no!)  For me there’s something about the challenge of working from a budget and making due with clever vs. expensive/easy that gets my party juices flowin’.  Even if I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still do stuff from scratch and play the party-budget game each time.  Keeps my on my toes and my children don’t need wedding-reception style parties to celebrate life anyway.

Here are my top 7 tips for throwing BIG, fun, manageable and affordable fiestas:

1. Plan ahead with food prep.  Making your own food is key to saving money.  I shopped for groceries on Wednesday and started prepping food on Thursday.   Working on my menu on Thursday and Friday helped break up my efforts and not make the time investment feel so burdensome.

Prepare as much as possible before the party to insure a more relaxed time for the hosts!  Even though we served grilled chicken at Rhea’s party, I baked the chicken on Friday.  This way Mike could toss it on the grill for 10 minutes to warm it up.  Done!

2.  Double up or share resources if possible.  By throwing two parties in one day I cleaned my house once, prepared a ton of food once, and cleaned up once.  My middle child is already pondering ways to stretch the dollar for her October birthday–and even suggested we team up with another October-baby friend so the families could share some of the costs. “Plus we invite the same kids anyway, mama!”  I don’t know if these plans will materialize but that’s my girl!

3. Choose food items wisely. For example, I made a triple batch of my cole slaw.  Cabbage is inexpensive, and cole slaw actually tastes better after sitting in the fridge for a couple of days (made mine on Thursday!)  Grayson (first party) wanted Dodger Dogs and Rhea (fiesta numero dos) wanted chicken and ribs.  Cole slaw goes with both!

Make pitchers of lemonade or punch instead of purchasing expensive juice boxes  (saves on trash too.)

4. Bake your own cake.  No-brainer from a financial standpoint.  I like Trader Joe’s Vanilla with real vanilla bean cake mix.  It tastes homemade and if you’re not a baking fan (hi!) you can save the headache and still impress your guests.

5. Instruct kids to write thank-you notes before the party.  I got this idea from my sister, Deb, and I absolutely love it.  “An attitude of gratitude” is a very important concept at our house.  Rather than having my kids write out thank you notes for gifts, they now write out a “thank you for helping me celebrate” note that gets handed out to guests upon departure.  Not only is there more motivation to write notes before the party, I like the emphasis on thanking friends for their presence, not just their presents.

Grayson’s (dual immersion kindergarten) notes are in Spanish as that’s the only phonetic system he can use at the moment.  Each note says “Thank you for coming to my party!”

thank you notes

6. When appropriate, include kids in financial decision making.  Like I said, I stick to my party budget.  We usually have pinatas for our birthdays, but I suggested to Rhea and Grayson that since we were doubling up our party fun, we could splurge a little and get a bouncer for the day–but doing so would mean no pinata for either one.  I want my kids to feel celebrated, yes, but I think it’s important for them to understand that money doesn’t magically appear in my wallet in copious amounts.  We can do a lot of things, but we can’t do everything.

7. If you can swing it, I really must advise you to rent a Gy-normous Tweety Bird Bouncer like this honkin’ thing:

bouncer

Although we normally don’t go the “bouncer route” for our birthdays, by doubling up Mike and I could justify the cost.  And then, for an extra 15 bucks we got this larger, super-ridiculous bounce-house. (I mean, seriously, does it get more ridiculous than this?)

My kids, seen here with a neighbor, were literally speechless when they saw this thing inflate.  12 or so kids could easily jump around inside.  Between the two parties, neighbors coming over in between and my extended family wrapping things up at the end, there was someone jumping up and down in this thing for eight hours straight.  Toh-tally worth it.

Thank you, everyone, who took time to come bounce-eat-drink with us on Saturday.  Rhea and Grayson had a ball (and Josie too!) and so did Mike and I.  We feel extremely blessed to have our three amazing kids and so many great friends to party with!

Savory Crock Pot Ribs

crockpot ribs

Well you had to know this was coming.  I mean come on.  What kind of winter menu doesn’t include at least a few crock pot recipes?  Certainly not a menu from a born and bred Midwesterner!

I actually have two crock pots, thankyouverymuch.  One is a 4 quart (pictured here) and the other is about twice the size.  Sometimes I use them both at the same time and I don’t even have to defend myself because that is perfectly OK.

Crock pots/slow cookers have a reputation as being rather unsophisticated.  To this notion I say “pish-posh!”  Actually these gadgets are the hippest cooking tool in town as they allow on-the-go meal planners to prep in advance, walk away for many hours and then come back to a delicious meal and a kitchen that smells like heaven.  Cutting edge, baby.  That’s me.

One of my fave blogs is Crockpot 365 (featured along the sidebar to your right.)  Stephanie Odea has come a long way (I remember when her blog was ad. free) and business endeavors.  She totally cracks me up and tell me this: How can you not appreciate someone with an “unusual obsession with her crockpot but is OK with that?”

I like Stephanie’s recipes because she uses normal ingredients and always gives her family’s (and often friends’) honest verdicts of whatever she “crocked.”  Stephanie is also a believer in substituting or simply leaving out ingredients that she doesn’t have on hand (Amen sista!)

I do step away from some of the “not quite food” items that Crockpot 365 recipes list at times (condensed soups, soda, sometimes sauces) but as Stephanie would approve, I simply substitute or delete completely and happily get on with my life.

Today I am sharing one of my pork ribs recipes (not from Crockpot 365.)  I really should have called this recipe “This One Time” because I don’t really use a single recipe when I make ribs in the crock pot.  We like ours flavored with something sweet (honey, brown sugar) something tangy (balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, orange juice) and something salty (soy sauce, salt)  Feel free to put on your “Stephanie” and substitute away.  You can also check out Crockpot 365 for more delicious crocky fun.

AND… I’ll be Michelle-izing one Stephanie’s posts for my Feb. 26  Hometown Pasadena Mangiamo Post.  It’ll be tangy.  It’ll be easy.  It’ll be yum-ola.

But for now, I give you…

“This Time” Slow Cooker Ribs

Ingredients: 2 lbs. baby back pork short ribs, 3 garlic cloves, 1/4 chopped onion, 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce, 1/3 cup honey, few dashes pepper, sliced oranges on top.

Directions: mix liquids (including honey) and drizzle over meat.  Add rest of ingredients placing the oranges last on top.  The liquid didn’t cover all the meat, so part way through I flipped the ribs over.  Not necessary; just tried it.  Cook in a 4 quart crock pot on low for 4-6 hours or until done.  Serve with rice which is perfect for the extra broth.  Yum!

Note: I don’t always use oranges, but my mom’s tree is still producing prolifically so I pretty much don’t make anything around her without them these days…