The day-long barbecue
Despite writing about food and cooking, most of the time I’d rather just be eating. Eating is immensely more fun than cooking. But there are those rare days when I go all Betty Crocker and want to spend the day in the kitchen. Ever since the grocery store started carrying fresh ears of corn I’ve been waiting to feel like cooking them. You can’t have sweet corn with some lame, easy recipe. Corn made me think of cornbread, and cornbread brought me to ribs. Soon my imaginary dinner had ballooned to epic proportions. In order to cook the rib recipe I’d found, I had to get up in the morning and get them good and seasoned and in the slow cooker by noon in order to eat before 9. I supposed it was my punishment for not having a grill.
Part 1: For the Carnivores
As usual, I procrastinated. On Father’s Day, I decided ribs and cornbread were the perfect tribute to my dad, since I couldn’t be in Michigan to cook them for him. I changed out of my pajamas and hoofed it to the store to pick out a slab of meat. I know most people seem to like their ribs as fatty as possible, but I’m not a tiger and I’d rather not be munching on chewy fat. Give me tender meat, please. As it turns out, the least fatty-looking slab was also the bloodiest.
After taking it out of the package, I felt briefly like becoming a vegetarian. The bones on the backside of the ribs thunked unpleasantly on the wooden cutting board. But my resolve is terrible and after mixing all the spices in the dry rub (brown sugar, paprika, chili powder, salt, cumin, black pepper, white pepper, oregano, cayenne pepper, and a pinch of white sugar), it smelled too delicious to renounce.
The recipe gave no instructions for the dry rub, so I sprinkled it on and gave the slab of ribs a nice massage. By the time I was done, I figured they were relaxed enough to handle five hours in the slow cooker.
I’d accidentally gotten half the amount of ribs I was supposed to. I was very afraid, as usual, of burning them. So I called my mom for advice, and, as a bonus, she was at my grandparents’ house, so I was able to get excellent cheffing advice from both mom and grandma. I put a little water in the bottom of the slow-cooker to keep it moist, and decided to cook it on high for three hours and on low for two.
Part 2: For the kids. Or the alcoholics
For dessert, I wanted to make the mojito pops I was too impatient for when I first got my popsicle molds. I bought an incredible amount of citrus, deciding on the spot in the grocery store to use half fresh lime juice and half from a bottle. Since I don’t have a juicer, I juiced four of the limes by hand. This is a very effective way to make a gigantic mess while giving your entire kitchen a strong lime scent and finding any undiscovered cuts on your hands. The recipe also called for two peeled limes and a peeled lemon. As it turns out, lemons and limes don’t like to be peeled much. I cut them up into wedges, as directed, and hoped these effing popsicles would be worth it.
According to the recipe, though, that was the hardest part. It could only get better. Supposedly. I mixed the lime juice with soda water and regular water in a pitcher, then added the sugar, lime and lemon wedges, mint leaves, and rum. Next, I was supposed to “muddle” them, which is just the cutest word ever. The recipe said I could use a wooden spoon if I didn’t have a muddler, and I should smash all the ingredients together. After a few fruitless minutes stabbing into the pitcher with a wooden spoon, I just had some really well-mixed liquid with whole fruit and leaves floating at the top.
Hoping to get some more leverage, I poured the whole mess into a big bowl. This only succeeded in getting the counter and floor very sticky while I muddled away. The fruit stayed stubbornly whole. In desperation, I tried using a potato masher…
. . . to no avail. I wondered if it might be better to add more rum and just drink it. But I hadn’t spilled this much to just up and quit. So, I went at the fruit with my bare hands and a knife, cutting and ripping them apart. In retrospect, I may not be very good at peeling citrus.
I kept muddling, and then I just had smaller bits of fruit. None of it was mashing. I thought it would ruin the popsicle to bite into a large chunk of lime. Finally, I got out my stick blender and pureed the shit out of it. I poured it into the popsicle molds, spilling more, where the pureed fruit and mint floated resolutely to the top. The rest of this recipe was supposed to be easy? What a lie that was. I shoved the mess into the freezer and took a swig out of the rum bottle. Moving on.
Part 3: For the bakers
When I get in cooking moods, I like to make everything as difficult as possible. I decided to make the cornbread from scratch. With the ribs steaming in the slow-cooker and the popsicles probably sucking in the freezer, I preheated the oven. The recipe I had for the cornbread used plain yogurt instead of butter.
Because the recipe said so, I was very careful NOT TO OVERMIX, and when I went to pour the batter into the pan, I saw unmixed bits of flour. I stirred it around in the pan and hoped for the best.
Part 4: The Big Finish
While the cornbread was baking and the ribs were allegedly finishing, I took the sweet corn out on the front steps to shuck. Honestly, it was my main reason for getting the corn—sitting on the front steps barefoot while peeling the corn is one of the first kitchen-related things I was allowed to do as a child. It always makes me happy, even though I have to spend a great deal of time trying not to think of the stringy bits as hair.
Back inside, I boiled the corn and waited. Because I’m a freaking expert, I’d timed it so that the corn bread came out first with a little time to cool, and then I turned off the slow-cooker so I could add a little barbecue sauce to the ribs, and then turned off the boiling water.
I was afraid of the ribs so I ate them last. It’s hard to mess up corn, so that was perfection. The cornbread was a cakey texture, but it wasn’t as sweet as I’d like. Next time I’d add a little honey. This time, I poured honey on top. And the ribs. They were so tender the meat slid right off the bones. They were spicy, but the barbecue sauce helped to keep it from being too spicy.
Writing this, I feel ready for a nap. Between the popsicle fiasco and talking on the phone to my mom, grandma, grandpa and dad, I didn’t leave the house all day. I went to the grocery store at 10:45 in the morning and ate at 5. I have a newfound respect for stay-at-home parents. One big meal for myself and I’m SPENT. On the phone, when I told both of my parents and my grandparents that I was cooking a big dinner for myself, they all said the same thing: “Good for you!” as in, congratulations on doing something that is probably a little depressing. But I disagree. And yes. Good for me.
The mojito pops were supposed to freeze for over 12 hours, but I don’t have that kind of patience, especially after how annoying they were. I wasn’t going to wait around for someone who toys with me like that. So I wrestled a half-frozen pop out of the mold, leaving half of it in the bottom. Despite all the troubles, it was pretty tasty. The club soda had given the pop a nice texture, and I could taste the rum. It was really more like a rum-and-lime pop, with a little mint, but I’ll have no problem eating all of them. Next time, though, I’ll just do the smart thing and make myself an actual mojito instead.