Country Style Spare Ribs

Recently a friend prepared roasted pork bellies as an appetizer. I liked it so much I prepared a modified version using country-style spare ribs. The main cooking theme is low temperature, long cook time with the bellies layered atop sliced wedges of Granny Smith apples. What I discovered was that with a little modification the apples become a major feature of the recipe. The process is fairly easy as long as you plan ahead.

While shopping earlier in the week, I found a nice small package of center cut country-style bone-in spare ribs:

Center Cut Bone-in Country Style Spare Ribs ©

Center Cut Bone-in Country Style Spare Ribs

A day head, if you want, dry rub the spare ribs and refrigerate, covered, for 14 to 18 hours. I used a quarter cup of basic pork dry rub augmented by an additional 1 to 2 teaspoons of cracked anise seed.

Spare Ribs with Dry Rub Applied ©

Spare Ribs with Dry Rub Applied

Preheat the oven to Convection Roast 300° F. Prepare your mise en place:

Core and cut apples into wedges ©

Core and cut apples into wedges

First, core the Granny Smith apples and then cut into wedges lining the bottom of your cooking vessel. I used a Le Creuset cast iron pot with cover. To the pot add 2 ounces of apple cider vinegar and 2 ounces of white wine, I favor Prairie Fumé from Wollersheim Winery in Wisconsin, it is a very crisp, clean, un-oaked wine. Place the spare ribs atop the apples and dab with barbecue sauce to taste. I was out of our home-made sauce so I used Sweet Baby Ray’s, it has a fairly mild, sweet taste.

Ready for the oven ©

Ready for the oven

Using my cook-top, I brought the liquids to a quick simmer before covering the pot and placing in the oven; I didn’t want a cold cast iron pot to draw down the oven temperature.

Finished Cooking ©

Finished Cooking


Cooked Spare Ribs ©

Cooked Spare Ribs

After cooking for 2 hours, turn the temperature down to 275° F and then 1 hours later, slightly crack the lid to allow some of the steam and liquid to escape, browning the spare ribs; cook for another 1/2 hour then remove the lid and cook for 1/2 hour more.



Apple Confit ©

Apple Confit


Remove the spare ribs and keep warm.





Scrape the apple mixture into a colander and strain off as much of the pork essence that you can. Discard the fat:

Excess fat rendered ©

Excess fat rendered







Mash the apple confit to the consistency of applesauce. Layer some of the apple confit on the plate then top with spare ribs. Add your vegetables du jour and serve while still hot.

Finished Meal ©

Finished Meal



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Potential Colony Collapse Disorder Solution

A solution for Colony Collapse Disorder possibly available as soon as this fall. That is the great news, the good news is that it is completely compostable, using no fungicides or pesticides thereby avoiding the dreaded Monsanto collateral damage syndrome. Essentially it uses a simple change in temperature to sterilize the male Varroa Destructor leaving them amorous but shooting blanks.

Even creationist have to love this science.

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Voles Damage Blueberry Bushes

Blueberry Bush Spring 2015 ©

Blueberry Bush Spring 2015

I don’t have my driveway plowed because of the damage typically done by the plow boys so I was somewhat confused as the snow receded this spring, such as it has been, and I noticed various blueberry bushes scattered around the yard. Speaking with a retired Professor from the Thompson School of Agriculture I found out that this was most commonly the result of a vole infestation.

Blueberry Bush Spring 2015 ©

Blueberry Bush Spring 2015

Blueberry bush branch damaged Spring 2015 ©

Blueberry bush branch damaged Spring 2015


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Annual Oyster River Spring Regatta

The 2014 – 2015 winter was long and unwelcome but eventually spring arrives. A few weeks ago the Oyster River in Durham, NH lost it covering of ice and now flocks of geese and seagulls are common sites again. Four swans continue to check their breeding grounds above the dams then return to the river with hopes that tomorrow will bring warmer weather and clear access.

Although ice is out in the river, there are numerous pieces of the former ice shelf along the shore line hung up in the shallow parts of the river waiting for a good high tide to dislodge them. Each spring we’re entertained by the seagulls when they catch an iceberg as the ebb tide begins. Sometimes they will drift down into the bay below the sewer treatment plant and fly back across from the Beard’s Creek inlet and attempt to catch another ride. I have never seen them feeding, just sunning and enjoying the ride.

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Christmas in Montréal

Just returned from a wonderful three days in Montréal, still dreaming of a brown Christmas in southern New Hampshire. I see little value in winter other than putting all the insects down and replenishing the water table.

Place d'Armes, Vieux Montréal  © T20R11

Place d’Armes, Vieux Montréal © T20R11

The five-hour trip to Montréal lets us arrive in time for lunch. Their weather was as mild as ours and we enjoyed walking around the old City as well as venturing around Place des Arts. After attending a Christmas concert, we returned through the dancing water park that is part of Place des Arts; rotating prisms replace the water jets during the winter.

Rue jeanne-Mance, Montréal © T20R11

Rue jeanne-Mance, Montréal © T20R11

Rue Jeanne-Mance, Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal  ©T20R11

Rue Jeanne-Mance, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal ©T20R11

The restaurant scene in the old city has improved significantly in the last few years, we found many new favorites and didn’t have the time nor inclination to return to our old favorites. Much more on restaurants later.

If you are going you might want to download the Bookenda app. It lacks a mapping feature which makes it more difficult to use than OpenTable but many of the restaurants that I wanted to sample used Bookenda. It is always advisable to make your reservations well before you leave as the more popular restaurants, especially around the holidays and other major events.

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Thanksgiving can be stressful

After the anxiety of Thanksgiving preparations and working hard to avoid being the center of attention it is nice to get out and stretch your legs. Someone has to take the initiative and lead the way:

Ahead of the crowd                                                                                             ©T20R11

Ahead of the crowd ©T20R11

The flock wasn’t far behind:

Pleasant post Thanksgiving walkabout                                                             © T20R11

Pleasant post Thanksgiving walkabout © T20R11

There were over 3 dozen birds circling the house, picking away at the high bush cranberries (cranberries and turkey – who knew) and gleaning the neighborhood bird feeders.




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FDA Finalizes Menu and Vending Machine Calorie Labeling Rules

The 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act did not cover nutrition labeling for restaurants and other ready-to-eat-foods. The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act updated the labeling requirements to include chain restaurants, similar retail food establishments (i. e. chain grocery store deli and other prepared sandwiches and meals) and vending machines with 20 or more locations.

Read the FDA News Release

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Fall Crops

This was an excellent year for backyard gardens and we had good success even though we had difficulties getting into the garden this season. We seemed to get enough rain when needed and the temperatures never got that high or that low. I irrigated the gardens and berries the least in 2014 than over the last the five years.

Summer started poorly as our abundant crop of blueberries fell victim to the squirrels, crows and other birds. We harvested enough Bing cherries from our 4-year-old tree for a pie and the day before I was planning to harvest the Raniers something completely stripped the tree bare. We lost some beets to a wayward woodchuck but he got his just rewards in the end. Then towards early September a pair of woodchucks took up residence in existing river bank nests and managed to completely mow down a most excellent parsley crop not touching a single leaf of the adjoining chervil but they left the main garden alone. We will get on them early next spring and relocate far away.

I managed to rally around the end of July and planted a second crop of beets and another of edible pod peas. We harvested the beets late last week and the peas yesterday but the peas refuse to stop flowering as we haven’t had a real killing frost.

Fall Peas  Durham NH Nov. 2014

Fall Peas
Durham NH Nov. 2014

I regret that I didn’t have the energy to plant more spinach and lettuce crops when the beets and peas went in.

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Safe Cooking

Everyone’s residential oven has hot or cold spots, not all convection ovens operate alike, everyone doesn’t pre-heat the oven for sufficient time to ‘heat saturate’ the surrounding oven walls, and I permanently installed a pizza stone in the bottom of my oven. Oven temperatures fluctuate, greater in gas than electric ovens, the inclusion of a pizza stone helps maintain the temperature. This is also why, I believe, that cast iron cookware is superior to glass in the oven, once the cast iron is up to temperature (typically being started on the stove top) there is much less fluctuation inside the pot’s cooking chamber. My smoker’s cooking chamber temperature varies widely from top to bottom and throughout the smoking cycle and I suspect that barbecue grills have numerous differences between brands and individual operators.

Those are some of the reasons why you need a good thermometer or two or three. Thermometers will help you achieve consistent results.

I am not sure why the FDA overstates many of the temperatures that you need to achieve for safe cooking.  If I cooked a lamb roast to 145° F, no one here would eat it. I would be embarrassed to serve a duck breast at 165° F. I am still confused over the recommendation to cook fresh pork to 145° F, while you should cook fresh (raw) ham to 160° F. Raw oysters and steak tartare are obviously not acceptable; ceviche isn’t recognized.

I never cooked with a thermometer until I started making caramel, I read about the manual method for determining soft ball versus hard ball and quickly came to the conclusions that a thermometer was best for me. After ruining a few lamb roasts by seriously over cooking (thinking I could use some rule of thumb minutes-per-pound suggestion) I bought my first in-oven temperature probe. I rarely over cook lamb or roasts now and when I do it is more a matter of medium versus rare, not completely ruined. At least you can make a wicked good curry out of a medium lamb roast.

One thing that I really don’t do often enough is check the accuracy of my thermometers. Thermoworks, great product line, has publish a simple, downloadable guide for making an ice water bath and a cooler guide for determining the boiling point of water at your home, if you are really annal then they have an advanced calculator that lets you factor in your barometric pressure with local altitude to calculate a more precise boiling point.

If you are cooking chicken, turkey, racoon, bear or other local road kill a thermometer will help keep the holidays safe. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has a concise summary of common bacteria that consumers need to know about. Frequently it is not the last meal that made you sick, it could be something you ate many days ago.

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IDOKI – A New Food Label

Direct from Euskal Herriko Etxe Ekoizleen Elkartea comes a new food label designed to ensure that you get nothing but the best from the Basque homeland.

The IDOKI complements the existing EU Agriculture Biologique (AB) and Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) labels.

AOP and AB and IDOKIThe IDOKI’s focus is on small manageable farms (taille humaine or human size) that grow and produce products from their farm, managed by themselves, with a focus on local sales (proximité) by selling directly at markets and local venues. The IDOKI label requires certain practices and prohibits other practices, focusing on quality and individual management of the complete operations.

If you have never been to the northern border between Spain and France, the beloved homeland of the Basque people, then you have missed a wonderful culinary delight. The de facto capital of Basque is San Sebastian a modest sized city with more tapas bars then I could count. The local wines are as sturdy and reliable as the Pyrenees, a cuisine dominated by fish, pork, rice, espelette peppers and other local herbs and spices befitting the hard-working lifestyle of the Basque.

One can only hope Catalonia along with the former French counties now called Roussillon (Northern Catalonia) will take up the challenge and create a label that protects and encourages their historic culinary delights. Competition isn’t always destructive. The Catalonian and Basque cuisines at times seem very similar but the differences are worth eating, learning about and celebrating.

It is a pure joy to eat and drink your way along the Spanish/French border; start by going south from Saint Jean de Luz to Banyuls on the French side and then return north on the Spanish side from Figueres or Girona to San Sebastian. You might just decide to stay.

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