Just Plain Yummy

A Taste of Alabama, BBQ Edition

FINALLY! Where have I been??? Sorry folks, my busy work schedule has kept me away from routine Paestry-posting. It’s high time I update this baby.

I’ve been living in Huntsville, Alabama for about eight months now. This has been enough time for me to do some food exploring in the area and report my findings. What else could I possibly discuss for my debut Alabama post than — you guessed it! — good ol’ southern BBQ.

Let me begin by saying the BBQ here is fantastic. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever had back home, of course. Phil’s BBQ remains dear to my heart but the pulled pork and ribs here have won me over.

Everyone has a go-to BBQ place. The “best” one varies, depending on who you talk to. I’ve tried countless places by now and noticed each restaurant has a unique way of preparing BBQ. You’ll be sure to see pulled pork plates, pork ribs, chicken, and brisket on the menu but they’re different at every place. Particularly, the very important BBQ sauce makes or breaks the dish. So without further ado, here are a few examples of what I’ve tried:

Dreamland BBQ
This place originates from the Tuscaloosa area. I like Dreamland because of the delicious sauce on the ribs. It’s vinegar-based, peppery and more runny. The mac and cheese is so amazingly bomb and those baked beans you see there — atomic bomb. No picture, but they also have an unforgettable banana cream pudding made from scratch.

Big Bob Gibson, Decatur
This place has appeared in food shows so it has gained its share of hype. I went there with my brother months ago and it was very good. The sauce is thicker and sweeter. But the real winner is the stuffed barbecue potato loaded with cheese, sour cream, and pulled pork. BAM-ah!

This place is famous for its white BBQ sauce. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of it but it’s a nice sauce that reminds me of thin ranch dressing. This description could be argued among white sauce aficionados.

Gibson’s BBQ, Huntsville
Another place with a similar name in Huntsville. I liked their ribs very much. The sauce is sweeter but I remember the pork was very tender and perfect. The deep-fried okra is also good. Crispy on the outside, pleasantly slimy inside (not pictured, sorry).

This is actually where I discovered a very particular style of coleslaw. I’m used to eating slaw with creamy dressing but here, nearly every BBQ joint serves it in a vinegar-based dressing. The cabbage is chopped more finely and tossed with vinegar and something else that makes it a little sweet. Tangy, if you will. I had a hard time truly enjoying it but the more I have it, the more I like it.

Gibson’s is also known for good pie. Here we have coconut pie. Great with a cup of black coffee.

On a final note, almost everywhere you go there is sweet tea. It’s just sweetened iced tea but for whatever reason, it is so damn refreshing here. I like it with a lemon wedge to cut some of the sweetness.

Just tonight, I went to a really good place in Madison called Greenbrier. Wonderful pulled pork but what wowed me was the most mellow baked sweet potato I’ve ever had. It came whole with the skin still on. Served with brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter for a DIY mash. Just simply good. I wish I took a picture! Next time…

Stay tuned for more updates on a Taste of Alabama.

Uni at the Little Italy Farmers Market

This weekend, some of us went to eat fresh uni straight from the shell. An uni guy sells them at the Little Italy farmers market for $8 each if you want to have it cleaned and ready to eat immediately. For $5 you can take one home and do it yourself. The vendor gets the urchins from a diver who catches them off the coast of La Jolla and Point Loma so we are talking real local. I have to admit it got a little intense for me considering the animal was alive just moments before it was halved with a knife and gutted but it was perhaps one of the freshest seafood tastes I’ve ever experienced.

Uni, by the way is the Japanese name for sea urchin, of which its roe is eaten — rather, savored. I like to call it the ocean’s butter; it is that rich and special. It can be eaten straight-up as we did on Saturday, or with rice in sushi, or in warm pasta sauces, or mixed with olive oil to be dipped with bread.

We also indulged in a few fresh oysters.

And there were of course plenty of bright tomatoes to admire.

Summer’s bounty, I love you!

A Taste of San Diego

I dedicate this post to San Diego and all of its delicious glory. Here is a taste of San Diego in one weekend.

Blind Lady Alehouse
in Normal Heights. An entire wall of this establishment is pretty much a set of windows, which I love. Sunlight streams in and hits our glasses, making our delicious beers glow like lanterns.

Left: An imperial stout (forgot name) and Alesmith’s Lil’ Devil. Right photo: Coronado Idiot IPA and Coronado Orange Wheat.

Clams and mussels

Ice cream cones from Mariposa — also in Normal Heights. Banana is one of my favorite flavors. I kept hearing about Mariposa so I was determined to try it. Very nice ice cream that is on the icier, less creamy side.

Banana walnut and maple walnut

Cafe Zinc in Solana Beach.

Salad and a vegetarian quiche

A pink hydrangea

Bronx Pizza in Hillcrest. By far my favorite pizza joint in all of San Diego because I love New York-style pizza. By the way, my friend and I almost finished the entire pizza! Just two slices left, which will be wonderful as leftovers tomorrow. Just needs a quick trip to the oven. I may also add sliced fresh tomatoes and baby spinach to jazz it up.

Cheese pie at Bronx Pizza

Hillcrest Farmers Market, where have you been all my life?? I can’t believe I’ve been going to the La Jolla market all this time without ever stepping foot in any of San Diego’s other fine outdoors markets. I was so impressed by Hillcrest. I actually left to get more cash from an ATM so I could buy more. Toward the end I had to tear myself away before I spent a fortune on all the fine produce. Next, I’ll have to visit Little Italy’s market.

Loved how these were still in a mangled bunch. Wild!

Edible flowers

Radishes and a vegetable I do not know.

Bright heirlooms. Tomato season is finally here.

Raw zucchini with chili and lemon

I must have a few words about these samples. One produce stand went the extra mile and seasoned them. It caught my eye immediately. I tried the tomatoes mixed with cilantro — divine. But what blew my mind was the sliced zucchini plate pictured above. It was so zesty! Not only was it attractively sliced like so, it was seasoned with lemon, salt, and a Mexican chili spice. It was truly inspiring. I also didn’t know one could eat zucchini raw.

Tomatos with cilantro

Below: Fresh Mexican juice. I had the watermelon and it was so beyond refreshing. It was the perfect thing for a sunny, hot walk down the market stands. Next time I’m getting strawberry.

Thank you San Diego for another wonderful weekend of eats. See you next time.

Confronting the Chicken

It’s something I do all the time these days, literally and figuratively — confront the chicken. Some of you may have heard me use that phrase before. It’s what I say to be brave when the going gets tough. It’s also very apt in describing those chilling moments before I handle raw poultry. I really do have to confront it, as I would confront any difficult task that needs to be done. So in my latest cooking adventure, I learned how to NOT be chicken, while cooking the chicken. When I got slammed with the flu a couple weeks ago, it was the perfect chance to give it a whirl. I dragged myself out of bed, went to Ralphs and bought a bird to make a nice broth. Believe it or not, it was the first time I have ever prepared whole poultry. This is what happened next:

It didn’t go as planned, but the broth turned out beautifully. I quite believe it cured me faster. By the way, this experience was very different from a previous one involving chicken thighs because this little guy was whole. It seems absurd to be so afraid of a nicely butchered, clean chicken but I can’t help myself. Am I among millions of Americans who have become dependent on mechanically separated chicken pieces, tightly packaged in styrofoam trays? Probably. Unfortunately, the more my protein (meat) source resembles its original form, the more intimidated I get.

Late-night Food Craving, Round Two

Things I want to devour right now:

a big fat juicy steak, grilled (medium rare)*
strawberry cupcake with cream cheese frosting
fresh strawberries
grilled cheddar cheese sandwich
chopped romaine with black olives and balsamic vinaigrette*
Dungeness crab legs
fried okra
tomatoes fried in olive oil
poached eggs on toast
cheese enchiladas with a pile of chopped iceberg lettuce
buttered baguette and salami sandwich

*really want

Somehow, it helps to make this list. Actually, not really. Mind you…I demolished a Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets and fries for a quick dinner tonight. What is going on? I’m still hungry!