I don’t profess to be a gourmet chef but considering that I got a relatively late start in learning how to cook (except for baking, I barely knew the nuances of the culinary arts until I moved in with Joe when I was 35. At that time I could make sandwiches, Jello and spaghetti), I think I do a pretty good job of it. Generally speaking, if it’s written in a recipe, I can make it and am even experienced enough to know how to make changes to suit our tastes and/or diet/health preferences without ruining the recipe. I can even time everything so it’s all done at the same time. I know my limitations (if it’s made with rice and does not require the use of a rice cooker, I will ruin it) and foods I can cook particularly well (baked goods) and Joe doesn’t often complain about my cooking (when he does, it’s deserved – sometimes new recipes don’t come out as well as they sounded) so I figure I must be doing something right. But every once in a while something will happen with a meal that will completely throw me for a loop.

Such was the case on Saturday.

Our friend was coming over to help Joe with a Photoshop project and in exchange for his assistance, we invited him over for dinner. Cooking for guests is different from cooking for just the 2 of us – it’s not a time to experiment and you don’t want to substitute Splenda for sugar or applesauce for oil because you’re trying to impress. Or at least not totally eff it up. So no rice, either! I decided on something simple but standard – pork ribs, homemade mashed potatoes and Cole slaw (the latter was store-bought. So sue me). Whole Foods’ meats always look better than Publix’s so I went there and got 2.5 pounds of baby back pork ribs.

I had the “when to start cooking what” in my head and took the ribs out of the fridge around 4pm so I could cut them up and parboil them for a half hour before cooking them. They were really beautiful ribs; not a whole lot of fat and with nice chunks of meat on them.

Except I noticed as I was cutting them that as I got to the end of each rib, there was this HUGE bone at the end that I just could not cut at all. I gave it a closer look and holy crap, they had attached the spinal column! They had given me baby back ribs with the back still attached!

I wasn’t sure what to do with that situation…none of my knives were anything near the cutting capacity of a cleaver or a bone chopper or whatever would be needed (not that I would have attempted that with my Shun Onion knives anyway – those things cost a fortune!). So I did what any resourceful person would do, and Googled. No help there. I learned how to remove the membrane from the ribs (shows me…I didn’t even know there was such a thing). I learned the safest way to remove the ribs from the grill. I learned that if you slow cook baby back ribs long enough, it’s very easy to remove the meat from the bone. But how to remove the ribs from the backbone without a hacksaw? Nuthin’.

Meanwhile, Joe was being no help at all and was mocking me for buying something I didn’t know about and waiting for the last-minute to figure out how to cook it (granted, I usually buy spare ribs, not baby backs but the baby backs looked nicer and I figured that except for maybe size and amount of fat, ribs were ribs, right?).

Well, by this time it was already 4:30pm and my ability to make the ribs was already pretty compromised – we had plans for later on in the evening and it was pretty imperative that we eat around 6ish. So I decided to go to the local wings place and bought some ribs…and the sides that came with them because no, they couldn’t sell me ‘just’ ribs.

Of course they couldn’t. Bastards.

The rest of the evening went off well and, save for some more teasing about not being prepared with an unfamiliar food, there were no other surprises.

The next day I went back to Whole Foods, baby back ribs in hand. Pedro the butcher couldn’t have been more apologetic – apparently I was the second person to come back with baby back ribs with the spinal column still attached. I heard him tell someone ‘back there’ that, “you can’t leave the backbone on the ribs for the customers. How are they supposed to cut the ribs?” I heard another butcher say, “Only a newbie would do something like that.” Now that’s what I was talking about! Redemption! Pedro made it all right…cut the backbone off and re-charged me for the cost of the ribs without the extra chunks of bone. My ribs went from 2.67 pounds to 1.5 pounds so I was kind of glad I didn’t make them for our friend because we definitely would have run out of food!

I parboiled the ribs when I got home and will be putting them in the freezer so I can do the rest of the cooking another day. Joe doesn’t blame me anymore but he’s still saying I should have checked the meat more than when i was ready to cook it. So with that in mind, I’m still considering if I’ll let him eat any.