The Dobsons + Eastern North Carolina BBQ by Marisa Dobson

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Marisa’s Memory

It’s been said that the only thing better than a crab cake sandwich, is an Eastern North Carolina BBQ sandwich (GQ, 2006). As a born & bred Marylander with Tarheel roots, it’s impossible for me to rank those two. I know I crave them equally when the temperatures start to rise. I also know there is nothing as powerfully hunger-inducing as the aroma of slow-cooking pork!

My father’s family can trace our lineage back to pre-Revolution times, starting with William Leigh who settled just outside of infamous Jamestown, Virginia around 1608. His direct descendants have stayed in the Eastern VA and Eastern NC region for generations, including my current relatives living in Windsor and Edenton, NC. I share all this to say that this particular food and sense memory is one that vibrates my core and pulls at my gut. I know my ancestors prepared and ate this food, and that enslaved hands were also responsible for its creation and perfection. It’s a food that I have an almost sacred relationship with — that goes beyond traveling hours for a bite or tending a hot grill in the hot sun. This recipe and process necessarily provides you with plenty of time to meditate on your inheritance.

It wasn’t until I was older that my family started making this regularly at home. Since it’s so labor-intensive, we usually bought the barbecue from one or two Dobson-approved restaurants. The one I most fondly remember was Lane’s Family Barbecue in Edenton, NC (RIP). Down the street from the Cotton Mill where my Great-Grandmother worked, and around the corner from where my Grandmother was born, this humble establishment was tightly bound up in our family rituals. The order was: 3-4 lbs of barbecue, 2-3 lbs of coleslaw for topping, collard greens, hush puppies, and Cheerwine or Root Beer. The pit-cooked barbecue was mouthwateringly vinegary and I distinctly remember a preserved chili pepper heat, both balanced by the creaminess of the coleslaw and the soft & sweet bun. Our style of barbecue is chopped (not pulled) which gives you textural contrast and hits of fat, burnt ends, and juicy meat. I did not get anywhere near to pitmaster perfection this time around, but I do believe this is the best sandwich I’ve had this summer.

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Jamie’s Review

I love pork in all forms and I love Eastern North Carolina BBQ. The piquant flavor of this vinegar-y style makes me want to eat more and more of it. Marisa's version was no exception. It was not as tender as I would've liked but I appreciate how the preparation could be eaten in a potato bun, in a salad, and even with lavash. I only wish I ate it with some proper sides of mac & cheese, french fries, and hush puppies!

***

The Dobsons + Eastern North Carolina BBQ

4-6 lb pork shoulder, humanely raised from a local farm (I recommend Liberty Delight)

2-4 cups of apple cider vinegar

2-3 tbsp brown sugar

2-3 tbsp of red pepper flakes (or if you have some homestyle canned chili peppers, use those!)

Kosher salt

Note: This is barely a recipe — it’s more of a process. I know there are much more knowledgeable people out there making this (including my own brother!) but I’ll share how I did it this time.

Start air-drying the pork shoulder the night before and consider salting. Cut deep diamonds into the fat cap, being careful not to cut past the tissue. Rub about a tbsp of kosher salt over the whole shoulder and let it sit in the fridge overnight.

Prepare and light the grill around 9am for a 5pm dinnertime (if you have a smoker, use that instead!). Let the coals or wood die down until you get a temperature of about 250*. While your grill is heating/cooling, prepare your mop (vinegar sauce).

In a small saucepan, simmer the vinegar. Add sugar & pepper flakes, and stir until dissolved. Taste and adjust to your liking.

Using tongs and a gentle touch, lay the shoulder on the grill with the fat facing up. Soak well with the mop, making sure to get in between the diamonds. I used thick paper towels and cooking chopsticks to mop (I am 1/4 Japanese after all!) but I’ve seen others use porous rags, or you can actually buy a specific BBQ mop like this.

Mop the pork shoulder every half hour for roughly 4-6 hours until it smells amazing and the flesh gives to your touch. Take off heat and let rest.

Grab a large, sharp cleaver and chop it up! Pour any remaining mop onto the pork and toss to combine. Serve with creamy Southern-style coleslaw and on soft white bread buns or Hawaiian-style rolls. These sandwiches go particularly well with corn on the cob, pickles, Crab Chips, and cheap beer.

This Memory Kitchen Series is a creative collaboration between Marisa & Jamie. Each month, one of us will cook a recipe entirely from memory (no long phone calls to Mom, no recipe cards, no cookbooks, no Googling!) and the other will review the dish. The recipe that follows is exactly what’s pictured (all photos by Jamie Sumague, of course!). We have no idea how it will turn out when we start, so expect a few disasters along with the occasional triumph.

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Pizza Stick Dreamz '97 by Marisa Dobson

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Jamie’s Memory

It was the summer of 1997. We still went to malls then. For 7-year-old Jamie, the Lakewood mall meant Sanrio. I wanted to buy the whole store but my thrifty accountant mom only allowed for pencils or erasers. Across from Sanrio was a pizza stand staffed by a handsome and ambitious white guy touting his novelty pizza product. For a few bucks I got to burn the roof of my mouth on an all-in-one pizza stick stuffed with pepperoni bites, cheese, tomato sauce and crusty/gummy bread. We would buy some to-go because my family loved it so much. It was a fleeting bid for some illusory American-ness and so much cheaper than anything at Sanrio.

Fast forward to 2000. My mom got a new job in El Segundo, CA and with it came this portal into the cosmopolitan, LA scene. A definite upgrade from our pizza stand summer. California Pizza Kitchen (CPK for short) was all the rage and there was one close to where she worked. Whenever she was at the office on an odd Saturday, she took me there as a treat afterwards. As a family, we hardly went out to eat. I felt so special sitting in the curved leather booth with real napkins, table service, pizza stands, and white waiters (probably starving actors). Our regular order was a plain cheese pizza and a Thai chicken pizza topped with choke-inducing carrot shreds and cubes of chicken. It was finished with a mysterious brown sauce — not really sure what was Thai about that!

PC: Marisa Dobson

PC: Marisa Dobson

Mom’s hard work and fastidious budgeting means I can eat at and appreciate any pizza joint now (shout out to Lucali’s). Looking back at it now, I realize CPK was not fine dining a la Osteria Mozza! But I had a feeling I would still enjoy this pizza of the past. 

For full-on mall food authenticity, we bought ready-made ingredients: Pillsbury pizza crust straight from the can, with Tillamook cheese (we couldn’t stifle the bougie-ness completely), pre-sliced pepperoni, and Don Pepino’s pizza sauce. The recipe is for the all-in-one pizza stick. We had three taste testers and we got thumbs up from all of them! We also took this opportunity to buy our favorite frozen pizzas of yore, Tombstone & CPK, for comparison. EEeeee…fatties.

Guest star: Jinji Fraser

Guest star: Jinji Fraser

Marisa’s Review

These pizza sticks were mad tight. I mean, they were straight up money. I couldn’t stop eating them and we were definitely saved by the (door)bell. Thank you to our neighbor, Jinji, who helped prevent our pepperoni flavored demise. Of all the recipes so far on this blog, this is the one you should make. It’s very low effort with maximum reward.

Taste-testing the pizza sticks alongside the frozen pizza was surprisingly telling. The CPK crust was the crunchiest but definitely tasted like some Californian’s idea of pizza (too healthy). The pizza stick was by far the tastiest and had a contrast of textures that was genuinely enjoyable. And, my childhood frozen pizza of choice — Tombstone — held its own with the cloying, yet so satisfying grease pooling sauce. When we were deciding on the subject for this post, we polled a few friends about their childhood memories of pizza. Often, they’d fondly recall a cardboard-y, saucy, greasy slice and associate it with birthdays, after-school, family outings. We hold these pizzas in our heart. Enjoy this nostalgic 90s dream…

***

Pizza Stick Dreamz ‘97

Makes 2 breadsticks 

1 can of Pillsbury pizza crust

6 Tbsp of Don Pepino pizza sauce, 3 Tbsp for each (Do not substitute for any other brand. The consistency is superior!)

Pre-sliced pepperoni, reserve 12 for filling and 4 for topping for each breadstick

2/3 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese, divided 

1 Tbsp of melted butter

1 tsp of garlic powder

Pinch of salt

Dried oregano, large pinch

Kraft Parmesan cheese, large pinch


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Open Pillsbury pizza crust can as per package instructions.

Carefully roll out dough onto oiled cookie sheet and evenly divide dough in two. Pat each side with oiled fingers into rectangles,

Pre-bake dough for 4 minutes at 400 degrees. The dough will puff up slightly but will still be white.

Spread 3 tbsp of pizza sauce on each half. Chop pepperoni slices and sprinkle them on top of dough. Scatter 1/3 cup of mozzarella cheese evenly on each.

Roll dough lengthwise carefully with seam side facing down. You should get one spiral.

Mix melted butter with garlic and pinch of salt. Brush garlic butter around each breadstick.

Top each breadstick with cheese (put cheese down first so pepperoni can stick), pepperoni halves, Kraft cheese, and oregano.

Bake breadsticks at 400 degrees on top rack for 10-13 minutes or until golden brown on greased cookie sheet. Turn sheet around at 5 or 6 minutes.

Let cool, or burn your tongue and enjoy!

This Memory Kitchen Series is a creative collaboration between Marisa & Jamie. Each month, one of us will cook a recipe entirely from memory (no long phone calls to Mom, no recipe cards, no cookbooks, no Googling!) and the other will review the dish. The recipe that follows is exactly what’s pictured (all photos by Jamie Sumague, of course!). We have no idea how it will turn out when we start, so expect a few disasters along with the occasional triumph.

Our Birthday Strawberry Shortcake by Marisa Dobson

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Marisa’s Memory

My little brother and I are born on the same day, six years apart. It was (and is) the best birthday present I’ve ever received! Since our Dad is a chef (now chef instructor), our birthday traditions centered a good deal around our favorite foods. We were allowed to dictate the family meals for the day. Banned sugary cereals and silver dollar pancakes for breakfast, tender ribs and mac & cheese, bulgogi on the tabletop propane grill with bowls of white Kokuho Rose rice, cream of crab soup, sushi, apple strudel, Kahlua trifle — all these were on regular birthday rotation. We were “gourmet babies,” as my Dad says. On our 12th and 6th birthday, we celebrated by going to an O’s game and stuffed ourselves with hot dogs, Old Bay fries, and ice cream. The O’s won that day. Fast forward to last year, when we continued the tradition by having a glorious kamayan spread in our backyard in Baltimore! (Thank you, my darling Jamie.)

Our birthday is in April, right when the first berries of the season start making an appearance. I have a very clear memory of shopping in a rural Food Lion with my Mom and being totally taken in by the display of pre-made Yellow Sponge Cake Dessert Cups, Reddi Wip, and quart containers of unnaturally giant strawberries. I remember begging my Mom to buy the whole setup for my birthday, but my organic-gardening, vitamin-pushing Mom was not about that life. As a kid regularly denied Oreos, there was something sinfully alluring about those perfectly uniform yellow cups. (I also remember she did give in and buy them for me one time, and they were pretty awful.)

Instead, we were treated to homemade strawberry shortcakes! Mom, the designated baker in the family, would make the crumbly shortcake biscuits. Dad would throw the metal beaters and bowl into the freezer for a few moments, before whipping heavy cream with fine white sugar and a dash of vanilla. The slightly unripe, early strawberries would be soft and limp from sitting in sugar for a few hours, a natural red syrup forming at the bottom of the bowl. Every time our birthday nears, I start to crave this simple dessert.

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I am decidedly not a baker (as I mentioned here in Bmore Art). At a family dinner this week, it took all my willpower not to ask Mom for a few tips before embarking on this! I resisted, and I’m sorry to say, the biscuits were a disaster. My guess is I added way too much butter, and I now know the oven temperature was way too low. The biscuits were raw in the middle but too brown on the bottom to continue baking, tasting a little too much of baking powder and not even a hint of sweetness (I added 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar? Maybe I should’ve used regular sugar??). There will be no recipe to follow this week, as I didn’t want anyone out there in internet-land to mistakenly recreate these. Frowny face.

I managed to not screw up the whipped cream, however! I might’ve improved on that a little with this fragrant Penzey’s Mexican Vanilla. I also decided to add a bit of lemon zest to my macerated strawberries, which I will definitely be doing in the future. And let’s be real folks, anything with a big dollop of freshly made whipped cream is going to be delicious. After the first couple of disappointed and angsty bites, I started to genuinely enjoy it and I cleaned the whole plate. I mean, how could I not? The remainder of the failed biscuits are now going to be reincarnated as croutons. Nothing that a good olive oil and sea salt can’t fix.

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Jamie’s review

I first tried strawberry shortcake when I was a vegan about seven years ago. If I recall correctly, the filling was a strawberry-infused cream and not the macerated strawberries like Marisa produced. I couldn’t enjoy this shortcake since I am sadly allergic to strawberries. Boo. I, nevertheless, enjoyed my rendition of blackberry short cake. Thanks for accommodating me, Marisa.

The biscuit wasn’t worth the calories but it didn’t bother me that it wasn’t fully baked. I have no reference. I’ll gladly take some fruit, whipped cream, and simple carbs anytime.

This Memory Kitchen Series is a creative collaboration between Marisa & Jamie. Each month, one of us will cook a recipe entirely from memory (no long phone calls to Mom, no recipe cards, no cookbooks, no Googling!) and the other will review the dish. The recipe that follows is exactly what’s pictured (all photos by Jamie Sumague, of course!). We have no idea how it will turn out when we start, so expect a few disasters along with the occasional triumph.

Lola's Kare Kare by Marisa Dobson

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Jamie’s Memory

My lola cooked effortlessly and with authority. She passed away in 2013. I rarely ever saw her since I was growing up “in the States” but now and then she would come stay with us for two to three months at a time. My memories of her are few and far between, but I remember her being most comfortable in the kusinà. She was a dominant figure when she cooked in her Parañaque kitchen but was somehow timid in my parents’ home in California. I was too young and ignorant to care about my culture then. Significantly, this post was inspired by a very short and foggy memory I have of my lola preparing the ingredients and garnishes for kare kare. The kitchen in my mind was dark but she was illuminated by the golden light of the exhaust hood as she ground peanuts in the mortar and pestle. I don’t even remember eating the meal. What matters to me now was that the moment was ours alone. When I asked my brother about his fondest memory of her, the first thing he said was “I remember I was her favorite.” [eye roll] “She always wanted to make sure I was fed because that was one of the few ways she knew how to express her love.”

The kare kare I know in my tastebuds is from my mother. The box of Mochiko sweet rice powder and half-full jar of Skippy or Jif meant kare kare for dinner. I never tried making my favorite dish when I lived with my parents. It wasn’t until I was in my master’s program in NYC when I called my mother and asked her for her recipe. I longed for the ulam of home. I was a vegan then (!) so I couldn’t use the oxtail meat broth as a base. All I really had was the layer of peanut butter. I can’t even recall what my thickening agent was. Even though it was missing a lot of essential ingredients— oxtail, tripe, and most importantly, bagoóng— I was delighted to eat it. Eating warm rice with the sabaw is my favorite part. My mom would subo this holy offering to me as I sat on her lap as a young child.

Since my grad school days, I’ve probably made kare kare four other times and I’ve gotten more comfortable each time. I still struggle with the sabaw because I have yet to recreate the right calibration of sweetness and thickness. I spent almost an hour doing this as I tried to come close to what I thought was the right consistency and flavor. Obviously I could’ve just added sugar but now that I write this, I reckon the sweet rice flour helped with rounding out the flavor. I used cornstarch for this recipe below but I’ll make sure to buy Mochiko next time.

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Marisa’s review

We did not grow up eating oxtail in my family and I envy all of you who did. Since I’ve been with Jamie, I’ve been trying to make up for lost time! Of all the Filipino dishes I’ve grown to love, kare kare is right up there with nilaga, pancit, and mango cake in terms of crave-ability. One of the interesting things about Filipino cuisine versus others is there is less of an agreement on the ideal version of certain dishes. Every Filipino makes adobo, but since there are 7000+ islands, there are at least 7000 versions of the dish. It makes it exceptionally challenging to recreate recipes and certain tightly-held flavor combinations, as the internet, restaurants and cookbooks all put forth different versions.

This version resulted in an intensely flavorful and meltingly tender beef. The whole house was filled with glorious smells for hours. The eggplant soaked up all the sauce, but was still toothsome. The bok choy provided crunch and lightened up the dish, though the green beans were a bit rubbery. Part of me sees kare kare as a bit of a bagoóng delivery device, and my favorite thing to do is to flake off a bit of beef, spoon it up with saucey rice, a bit of bok choy and a swipe of bagoóng -- and then you put that whole riot of flavor in your mouth at once. You get the zing of fermented saltiness, the slick of fat on your lips, and the earthy sweetness of the peanuts. You repeat that a dozen more times until the frenzy is over, and then you add another scant half cup of rice into your bowl to soak up any remnants of sauce. Kare kare is definitely part of the reason I’m marrying this woman. Try it out on someone you love today…!

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Lola’s Kare Kare

2 lbs of oxtail (I bought this from Great Wall Supermarket and salted an hour before cooking)

3 Japanese eggplants, cut on the bias

1 bunch of baby bok choy, steamed

1 bunch of sitaw (Snake beans), cut into two-inch pieces and steamed

5 tbsp of smooth peanut butter

6 tbsp of cornstarch

¼ cup of achuete seeds, for coloring

Garnish with bagoóng and ground peanuts

Serve with rice


Fill up large pot or dutch oven with salted water. Leave at least two inches of space at the top. Boil water, add oxtail. Boil uncovered for two hours or so until meat is fork tender. This can be done the night or two before. When it cools, you can scrape off some of the fat from the surface. Stock should be reduced by half. Reserve stock and set oxtail aside.


The reserve stock is used to make sabaw. Reheat stock until simmering. Add cornstarch slurry (follow package instructions) and stir until nectar-like consistency is achieved.


Add approximately four cups of water to temper saltiness.


Add peanut butter to the sabaw. Stir until dissolved. Taste the sabaw and add more peanut butter to taste. Use an immersion blender to create a smoother consistency. (Lola or my mother didn’t have this in their kitchens.) Sabaw comes together in about 30-45 minutes with light simmering.


Steep achuete seeds in hot water for 10 minutes. Strain. Add strained orange-reddish liquid to sabaw.


Steam bok choy and sitaw for about 7 minutes in a bamboo steamer with separate compartments. I did this separately from the oxtail so the water from the vegetables wouldn’t dilute the sabaw. Set aside when finished.


Add oxtail and eggplant into sabaw. Cook for 15 minutes on medium-high heat to allow flavors to meld. Then add steamed vegetables and toss.


Serve with warm rice. Garnish with bagoóng and peanuts to taste.


This Memory Kitchen Series is a creative collaboration between Marisa & Jamie. Each month, one of us will cook a recipe entirely from memory (no long phone calls to Mom, no recipe cards, no cookbooks, no Googling!) and the other will review the dish. The recipe that follows is exactly what’s pictured (all photos by Jamie Sumague, of course!). We have no idea how it will turn out when we start, so expect a few disasters along with the occasional triumph.

Special thanks to my brother, who was visiting us for the week. He helped taste test and hand model. Mahal kita, kuya. -JS

Obahchan’s Spaghetti & Meat Sauce by Marisa Dobson

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Marisa’s Memory

My Japanese grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2015. She’d always been an industrious woman, constantly running errands for a friend or attending another community meeting. She started to miss those meetings. And then suddenly, the notepad she kept by the phone metastasized into scribbled tear sheets all over her house. 

One of the quirks of this illness is that because she can’t converse about her day, she shares much more detail about times of her life that she can remember. My grandmother was never one to talk about herself or her feelings, so it feels like a surprising gift. It was in one of those conversations that she shared what it was like for her at the Air Force military bases where she lived with my grandfather in the late 60s and 70s. As she waded into assimilation in America, she was instructed how to keep house and cook a short list of dishes — including a spaghetti & meat sauce.

Bizarrely, this is the dish I most closely associate with my Obahchan. Even though I also learned how to use chopsticks, fold dumplings, properly store nori and other Japanese customs from her, it was this dish (and her simple tossed salad) that was requested and served most often at her house when I was growing up. Yes, Kraft Parmesan was always on the table.

Today, it isn’t safe for her to be around burners. She’s still a tremendous eater (you would be shocked at how much this tiny woman can put away!) but now it’s our turn to cook for her. We wanted to start off this Memory Kitchen Series with a loving tribute to Obahchan, as she continues to teach us the importance of shared meals with family and friends.

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This Memory Kitchen Series is a creative collaboration between Marisa & Jamie. Each month, one of us will cook a recipe entirely from memory (no long phone calls to Mom, no recipe cards, no cookbooks, no Googling!) and the other will review the dish. The recipe that follows is exactly what’s pictured (all photos by Jamie Sumague, of course!). We have no idea how it will turn out when we start, so expect a few disasters along with the occasional triumph. 

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Jamie’s Review

Spaghetti and meat sauce was a regular dish in my Filipino-American household as I was growing up so this dish is familiar to me. It’s exactly what I needed on a snowy Sunday afternoon. The slight sweetness of the sauce is similar to my parents' take on the Italian American classic except ours was doctored up with ketchup and sugar. I’m shamelessly overjoyed we had an excuse to buy Kraft parmesan from the can. It reminds me fondly of my father who showered his spaghetti plate with cheesy delight. I enjoyed everything about this dish from eating to packing it up. You better believe I was using the leftover garlic bread to sop up the oily red sauce of comfort. 


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Spaghetti & Meat Sauce

1 1/2 cup of fennel, chopped

2-3 medium onions, chopped

4 carrots, chopped

5-6 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon of kosher salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

2 lbs of ground beef

750 g box of Pomi Strained Tomatoes

2 cups of beef broth

1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp of sugar

1 tbsp of soy sauce

Salt & pepper, to taste
16 oz box of dried spaghetti, prepared per pkg instructions

Heat a large cast-iron pot. Add the olive oil.

Cook chopped fennel, onions, and carrots on medium-high heat for 10 mins.

Add the garlic to the fennel mire poix, stir and cook for 5 minutes.

Add ground beef when the moisture of the mire poix is just about gone and slightly sticking to the bottom. Turn heat up to high and cook for about 10 minutes so fats can reduce.

Add strained tomatoes & beef broth, and turn heat down to medium-low. Bring to simmer and partially cover. Simmer for approximately 2 hours. Salt & pepper to taste.

Boil water for pasta (salt heavily!). Bake your garlic bread while the pasta is cooking. Assemble tossed salad. Pile pasta, top with meat sauce. Enjoy with salad, garlic bread, and a container of Kraft Parmesan for extra assimilating flavor.