- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2008

By the time February rolls around, I am exhausted by the demands of our New England winters. That glistening blanket of snow that had just a month earlier looked so enticing is no longer a novelty, and putting on a gazillion layers of clothing to stave off icy temperatures is all of a sudden annoying.

What I do during this month to get over the winter blahs is entertain. Nothing fancy. In fact, this is the season when I pull out my comfort-food recipes and invite friends over for laid-back gatherings.

Braised short ribs are quintessential comfort fare for this season. Rich and satisfying (yes, even fattening), nothing is better on a cold winter day than short ribs cooked until they are fork-tender, meat falling off their bones.

The following recipe for barbecued short ribs was suggested to me by my friend Matt Sunderland, a talented chef in our area. Although he had nothing written down, he told me that he coated short ribs with a spicy rub, quickly grilled or sauteed them, then slowly braised them in barbecue sauce in the oven.

It took several tries before I turned his verbal instructions into written ones. I combined brown sugar, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne, and cinnamon with salt and pepper for the rub, and used a quick barbecue sauce based on traditional ingredients of ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar and spices. The results were amazing — mouthwatering ribs with a touch of heat and smoke from the rub, and sweet and tart accents from the sauce.

These ribs can be prepared a day ahead and then reheated. I have served them with mashed potatoes and with creamy polenta, both comfort food classics, and rounded out my menu with a salad or coleslaw. Your favorite brownies or chocolate chip cookies would make appropriate finishes to a meal guaranteed to make February a little more bearable.

Barbecued braised short ribs

4½ pounds short ribs (10 to 12 depending on the size)

1½ tablespoons light brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon smoked paprika (see note)

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

1½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

QUICK BARBECUE SAUCE:

1½ cups ketchup

1 cup light brown sugar

½ cup red wine vinegar

½ cup water

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

2½ tablespoons dry mustard, such as Coleman’s

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil for grilling

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish, optional

Pat ribs dry with paper towels. Mix sugar, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne and cinnamon in a small bowl, and rub on all sides of ribs. Place ribs on a large plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight.

For sauce, use a large, heavy flame-proof roasting pan that will hold the ribs comfortably in a single layer. Add ketchup, sugar, vinegar, water, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, paprika, Tabasco, salt and pepper to pan, and whisk until well-blended.

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a stovetop grill pan or large, heavy skillet lightly with oil, and place over medium heat. When hot, sear ribs on all sides until lightly browned, watching carefully so that coating on ribs does not burn.

Place ribs in roasting pan and turn to coat well with sauce. Place pan over 1 to 2 burners on high heat, and bring mixture to a bubbling simmer. Remove and cover pan tightly with a double thickness of foil. Bake until ribs are fork-tender, about 1½ hours.

Remove ribs from oven. Skim off and discard all the fat (there will be a lot) in the pan. Ribs can be cooked a day ahead; cool them and sauce to room temperature, but do not skim off fat. Remove ribs to a separate container. Cover and refrigerate ribs and sauce in pan separately. When fat in sauce has congealed, remove and discard it. To reheat, return ribs to pan with sauce, cover with foil, and place in a 350-degree preheated oven until hot, about 30 minutes.

Serve ribs coated with some sauce and, if desired, sprinkled with parsley. Pass any extra sauce in a bowl. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Spanish smoked paprika, called pimenton, is available in gourmet food stores and in some groceries, or you can order it online from La Tienda www.latienda.com or Penzeys www.penzeys.com. I used the sweet (dulce) style.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “The Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

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