I am in North Carolina and have been on my toes since the plane landed. I have never been to the South, and though I know there are other states that can be considered more southern, I don’t care! One day I’ll make my way to Georgia, sample some Creole cuisine and possibly lounge by the bayou, but for now I will take a Carolina.
I am traveling around with my friend George. George had a show on Food Network called Ham on the Street. Maybe you remember it? If not, basically all you need to know is this: he’s a big man (I’m going to say 6’3″), he loves to eat comfort food (thus our southern location), and he’s, well, a ham!! I had the fortuitous chance to accompany him on his cookbook tour as his cooking assistant. So far so good, but today is really only day two of the week and a half tour. He has written a book called Take This Dish and Twist It. It’s about foods that are easy to prepare and perfect for entertaining. I think I’ll feel pretty good about the total irreverence for brunoise and julienne over the next few days…
I have to quickly mention a store I popped into while I was running errands in Conneticut for the upcoming food shoot. Some of George’s friends had mentioned a grocery store in town that was somewhat of a tourist attraction. A supermarket you say?? I was intrigued. I love supermarkets. When I travel somewhere new, my first destination is a local market. You get a feel for locals and their cuisine, and can find some very unique items, all under one roof. This market is called Stew Leonard’s and it is basically the most absurdly kitsch place I’ve ever encountered. Not only was it featured on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, but there are singing cartons of milk (please note chocolate moustachioed milk, my favorite), cow moos drone over the sound system, and even costumed cows roam the dairy aisles. Yes, I understand the draw of this place is the milk. They fill the containers right on site!! Whoa. This definitely merits a field trip if not only to see how many people can crowd around to stare at machines dispensing milk into containers, but to hug a man in a cow suit.
Anyway, our first gig together was to prepare four desserts for a brief blip on the morning news. We made twinkie tiramisu, pb&j bread pudding, a berry soup and raspberry cheesecake brownies. If you’re in the mood for indulgence, I recommend the bread pudding. It’s definitely an extravagance, but if you want to combine one of the easiest desserts, preparation wise, with a classic combo (who doesn’t enjoy a pb&j every now and then?), then this is a crowd pleaser. You basically prepare your classic bread pudding but add peanut butter to the liquid you are going to soak your stale bread in. After the liquid is absorbed, you dollop peanut butter and your favorite choice of jelly on top, and cook at 325 F for about half an hour.
Now, aside from feeling like a five year old in lunchtime heaven, I get to do a bit of traveling with him as well. If only I could put Seoyoung in my backpack and steal her away from work for a week…hmm, she is awfully tiny. Traveling is one of my favorite ways to experience new food, and I am so excited about the prospect of sampling ye ol’ Yankee Doodle’s macaroni, pork with vinegar sauce, or even bbq’d oysters! I want it all…but under our time constraints I’m not sure how much I am going to be able to try. But try I will, and I will sacrifice my cholesterol if it means I must try several pit master’s creations in one day. So be it.
Today was a rather lousy start to this sentiment, however. After unloading our ungodly oversized bags into the hotel, we jumped in the mini-van (don’t judge, George likes them!) and drove around until we found Carolina’s BBQ restaurant. The restaurant had a cartoony redneck painted on the front and a special pork plate featuring ribs and pulled meat, and their “famous” sauce. We hopped out of the car while it was practically still moving and bombarded the waitress with questions about the authenticity of their Carolina BBQ. No matter that North Carolina is known for their vinegar bbq rather than the common tomato based bbq sauce (which this restaurant used). We were starving and decided to give it a go anyway. We ordered like New York fiends who rarely get the chance to sample true ribs–ribs smoked for hours, basting racks of other ribs, slowly, over low heat, until the meat is aching to fall off the bones…
Our ribs were perfection. I ate four, George two. I clearly won at the rib eating contest, but George polished off the hush puppies (a first experience for me). We had beans that were mediocre, under seasoned coleslaw, pulled pork that didn’t warrant a second bite, and a gigantic glass of sweet tea to wash it all down with. None of the dishes aside from the ribs mattered, though had they been good would have created an amazing first southern meal. We will still be here for breakfast, so North Carolina can still come out strong in the food game. But then we head to Tennessee where we will continue the search for not only exemplary pork, but outstanding side dishes as well. Wish us luck on the tour, but most importantly on finding that perfect southern meal.