2 Good 2 Be 4bidden

I recently read a study about comfort food and stress eating.Men eat their favorite comfort foods to celebrate.  And the edible indulgences further raise an already elevated mood.

Yay men.Women crave comfort foods as remedy to the stress and gloom of bad days.

The result speaks to the tragically disordered thinking many women have about food.  That attempt to eat our way to serenity?

Yeah, not so much.  Rather than succor, we’re left with feelings of guilt.So women, instead of thinking of food as an antidote, let’s think of it as neutral; neither magical nor evil.  Healthful food that we need, and occasionally, some well-deserved, mindful indulgences.  Let’s take a page from men, with their uncomplicated, rational view of food.  It’s not our adversary, it’s not out to get us—it’s just food.Last month while judging at the King Arthur flour contest, I was lucky enough to sample one of the best bites, and possibly the very best pie I’ve ever been lucky enough to taste.  It springs from the confectionary mind of Melissa Bentley, of Zebulon, and recipient of my sweet tooth’s eternal gratitude.

Cookie Dough Cream Pie

For Pie Crust:cookie dough crust

1 ¼ cups white sugar

2/3 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 pinch salt

½ cup butter, melted

Cookie Dough:cookie dough pie 21 ¼ cups King Arthur all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. baking soda

½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

¼ plus 2 Tbsp. cup granulated sugar

¼ plus 2 Tbsp. cup packed brown sugar

½ tsp. vanilla

2 ½ Tbsp. milk

½ cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

For Filling:

cookie dough pie 3

¾ cups light brown sugar

1/3 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour

¼ tsp. salt

2 cups whole milk

3 egg yolks

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract


cookie dough pie 4

1 cup heavy cream

3 Tbsp. sugar

½ tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325.

Whisk sugar, flour, cocoa powder, and salt together in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Pour melted butter into the mixture and stir to incorporate. Press dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake crust in preheated oven until the sides are firm and the bottom bubbles slightly, about 10 minutes.

To prepare cookie dough, beat butter and sugars and in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add milk and vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips. Using some of the dough, make 8 small balls. Place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes or until edges are lightly golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Reserve remaining dough.

In a medium saucepan, mix sugar, flour and salt. Stir in 1 cup of milk, mix until smooth, and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until smooth and thickened, about 2 minutes, then remove from heat.

Beat the egg yolks with the remaining cup of milk. Temper the egg mixture with a small amount of the slightly cooled milk mixture then blend this into the larger saucepan with the cooling milk mixture.They sell tubs of chocolate chip cookie dough made safe by the removal of the eggs.  It’s meant to be eaten raw.

But, this pie.

It’s a gorgeous holiday dessert.  And a saner, much less embarrassing version of sitting on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night, eating spoons full of cookie dough by the light of the fridge.Thanks for your time.

It Takes All Kinds

As I write this it is Sunday night, closing day of the State Fair.  I’m a little sad it will be a year until the next one.  But I truly believe I wrung every bit of fun, food, and fellowship from the fair that was humanly possible.

I fulfilled that promise I made to myself to purchase and devour three of the dinner plate sized doughnuts from Peachey’s; one for each day of my attendance.Image may contain: food

fair donut

Image may contain: food and indoor

So, these doughnuts…

The Kid and I judged in three specialty contests under the genial supervision of Lisa Prince, her sister Michele, and the rest of the State Fair staff that make each occasion a sort of quasi-family reunion of judges and staff.  During the SPAM contest yesterday, I was one of four Debbie’s in the room.  That multiple moniker situation was a snapshot of every class of mine in elementary school.I wonder if any of those other Debbie’s thought those snack cakes had been made just for them?

And, I indulged in one of my favorite state fair activities.  It’s a pastime that Petey introduced me to years ago.People watching.

The North Carolina State Fair is a parade of the entire range of humanity from NC.  If you sit still long enough (not the easiest of feats for me), you will see every single one of them.

The first thing I notice is the candy-coated shell of each human:The (usually young) (usually) female dressed in a symphony of inappropriate clothing; short, tight skirt or dress and gravity-defying shoes that would be uncomfortable to stand in, let alone walk miles in on varying terrain.

The fall enthusiast that is rushing the cooler weather in enough, too-heavy layers of clothing to have their third heat stroke by lunchtime.And conversely, the guy that can not, will not, admit summer is over and shows up in shorts and flip-flops no matter how frigid the temperature may be.

The city slicker dressed in their best facsimile of country cousin.  If you look carefully you’ll see the tags they forgot to remove from their spanking new, ridiculously expensive designer over-all’s.

Dontcha just wanna run him over with a John Deere?

The fascinating human interactions:

The couple on a first date.  Their desire to be easy to get along with will result in numerous moments of paralysis brought on by indecision of what to do, where to go, when and what to eat.  When exiting the fair one member of this couple is likely to be burdened with a mammoth stuffed animal that is three-quarters the size of the bearer.tiredThe family consisting of two ferociously exhausted parents and their brood of multiple children under the age of five.  Each child will want to go somewhere and eat something different and they want it, NOW!  Mom and Dad would just like a nap.

The farmer or rancher that has finished his business at the fair and is ready to go home.  And, his wife who hasn’t been on a date since last year’s fair and won’t be ready to leave until at least next Tuesday.That kid with that noise-making toy that sounds like all of the cats on the planet are screaming at once with a couple of faulty bag pipes thrown in.  If the toy is silenced, the sound is immediately replaced by the unearthly shrieking of a furious, empty-handed toddler.

Petey is the pooch, the kitten is the rest of the world.

Petey has a patient soul and could sit for days studying the humans that populate this earth.  I, on the other hand, have always hated to slow down long enough to take notice of my fellow man.

But the older these aging bones get, the more attractive sitting and looking become. Thanks for your time.

We Have A Winner

I just wrapped up my third year of working with Lisa Prince of the state ag department, WRAL’s Local Dish, and Flavor NC on PBS.  At the State Fair I help judge some of the specialty contests.  These are the competitions sponsored by entities such as King Arthur flour, SPAM, and the North Carolina Pecan Growers.

It’s a huge honor, and more fun and food than any one person should have, but somebody’s gotta do it, and I will proudly take this bullet on behalf of the people of North Carolina.There are folks that have been doing this for years and have judged 20-30 contests.  I’ve only done nine, but have learned a few things.  About entering cooking competitions, and a few other random truths.  I’ll start with those unrelated, incidental lessons.Traffic and parking: However long it takes to get from your house to the fairgrounds on the odd, non-fair Tuesday, quintuple it.  For weekend fair days, multiply it by six or seven.  For opening or closing day, just spend the night before out in the parking lot.

When sampling sixteen or seventeen pies, take no more than two bites each.  If you feel unable to control yourself with an especially delicious entrant, get it away from you.  And even those two bites can add up.  Post-judging, it’s probably best to dial back the midway munching.  Maybe only have one turkey leg, and either ice cream or funnel cake, but not both.If you plan to enter any type of cooking contests, I have a few tips.  They may not give you the win, but sometimes the difference between placing and being an also ran is quite narrow, and this advice may give you a few extra points.

Flavor and seasoning: Taste, taste, taste.  Make sure your food is seasoned.  If it’s a processed food such as SPAM, be careful your dish isn’t too salty.  Other foods need more salt.  There’s no way to get it right without tasting. Acid is your friend.  Dishes should have balance.  Rich, fatty foods need something to break them up, and the best way is by adding the acid of citrus juice, vinegar, or tangy dairy such as yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk.  It will make your dish stand out in what can be a sea of mouth-coating, stomach-churning, heaviness.Make your dish at home, over and over, tweaking the recipe as needed.  Get your most brutally honest friends and family to give you feedback.  The girlfriend that doesn’t want to hurt your feelings is doing you no favors if she will not tell you the truth.  On your end, if you can’t take criticism and comments, contest cooking is probably not for you.If you don’t like the theme ingredient, pick another competition.  In the SPAM contest, the kids made their entries all about the SPAM.  Many of the adults tried to hide it.  Bad idea.  You must embrace the food and celebrate it.  This isn’t a game of, “How to get the kids to eat liver without realizing it”.  It’s to elevate and showcase the chosen ingredient.


Any excuse for a little cupcake porn. AmIright people?

Read the brief carefully.  You might make the best cupcake anybody’s ever eaten in the history of cupcakes, but if the instructions are to make a breakfast item, you will lose.  It will probably break the judges’ collective hearts to eliminate your cupcake, but they, and you, have to follow the rules.

I have seen winners who’ve been cooking for decades, and others who’ve only been at it for weeks.  So my final advice is—go for it!Thanks for your time.

My Favorite Monday

If you’re ever out shopping and you see a crazy lady filling her cart with Brach’s pumpkins, Boo Berry and Franken Berry cereal, singing, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, and looking more like a demented Disney princess and less like a serious journalist, that’ll be me.

My birthday and dogwood blooms may both occur in the spring, but fall is my favorite season of the year.And the very best of all, the high holy days of the fall, is the North Carolina State Fair.  I love it like a diva loves drama.  I look forward to it all year long.

For the past few years, I’ve had a couple very minor roles in the fair of my own.  These roles may be minor, but my delight of them have been colossal.The Kid and I have begun working with Flavor NC host Lisa Prince in judging specialty cooking contests.  And as a writer, I’ve been invited to attend the State Fair media luncheon, the Monday before opening day.

In addition to receiving information about the fair from various state and local officials, it’s a showcase of new food that will be there.  An all-you-can-eat fair food buffet.

You heard me right, a bounteous feast of fair food, and we’re the first lucky lucky folks to indulge.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday was that red-letter day.

One of my favorite savory items comes from last year’s winner of the best new item; Arepa Loca.  An arepa is a kind of pocket bread sort of thing.  It’s grilled crispy on the outside, split, and normally filled with a shredded beef, chicken, veggies and such.

Those locas son terifico.  The food is fresh, carefully made, and delicious.  The folks are friendly, kind, and very patient with the kind of person who can’t decide and doesn’t have a whole lot of arepa experience (that would be me).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis year they invented the arepa burger.  They filled the arepa with a moist tasty burger, tomato, onion, and those little potato sticks.  Then dress them with two sauces; a pink aioli, and a cilantro chimichurri-like concoction.  This was the item that intrigued The Kid most, and I was requested to make sure I try.

It’s kind of an odd combo.  I don’t even like cilantro.  But gosh this was good.  I don’t know how light this is, but it feels both healthy and indulgent at the same time.  And I could eat a stack of their fresh, crispy arepas as high as an elephant’s eye.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPastry chef, Lionel Vatinet, owns the astonishing bakery La Farm, in Cary.  Almost everything he makes is the best of its kind I’ve ever eaten.  His Carolina Gold rice bread is my absolute favorite bread.  His desserts are the stuff of dreams.  He makes his own potato chips, for cripe’s sake.

But he is also some kind of confectionary wizard.  Last year he made a life-long raspberry hater devour his chocolate raspberry whoopie pies.  I know, right?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis year, he made s’mores.  But these are not the s’mores of camping trips of yore.  The crazy Frenchman makes the Graham crackers and marshmallows from scratch.  Then he made chocolate ganache for dunking, and before it dried, sprinkled on candied bacon.

I’m not fond of the texture of marshmallows.  I love the flavor, but it feels like some kind of sentient sponge in my mouth and I just can’t. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut of course Chef Lionel’s treat was so good it transcended any gelatin weirdness.  I took one bite out of politeness, and Could.Not.Stop.Eating.  I foresee more s’mores in my future, and probably a few road trips to Cary after the fair.

Anybody wanna carpool?Thanks for your time.

Flavor -N- See

Petey had one piece of advice: “Make sure you’re quiet when they’re filming.”

And in two days I only interrupted eighty-six times (not really, just twice).

Every Friday on the WRAL noon news, Brian Shrader, traffic guru and daytime anchor appears with Lisa Prince of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  Together, they cook recipes with seasonal North Carolina products.  Their segment is called Local Dish, and they’ve been doing it for around twelve years.The co-hosts make dishes that are NC authentic, tasty, and original, or twists on old favorites.  After making hundreds of recipes, it gets tough to come up with new ones, so they count on reader submissions.

And, that’s how I made Lisa’s acquaintance.

In the fall of 2014, WRAL was soliciting recipes for holiday gatherings.  On Christmas at my parents’ house, we have a buffet.  I make a ham and either mom or Heavenly Ham prepares a large roasted turkey breast.  And mom makes baked beans and her famous baked macaroni and cheese.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We also have a few cold salads.  So, I sent in my high-country potato salad, with broccoli and cheddar cheese.

And then I forgot all about it.

In the early summer of the next year, Lisa sent me a note.  In it she thanked me for participating and told me they were going to make my salad for the Fourth of July show.  I was thrilled—I watched Local Dish every week; it would be a thrill to see one of my dishes made on TV.  I wrote back, thanked her, and told her I was (at that time) a food writer at the Herald Sun.  She then wrote back, telling me that she organized the specialty food contests at the State Fair.  Would I be interested in acting as judge for a few of them?

She had me at “food”.

I went, had a blast, and met some really nice people that are almost as obsessed with food as me.  A couple weeks later I bought her a cup of coffee and interviewed her for a column.  Since then I’ve judged at a few more fairs.

If you’ve wondered how I feel after judging…here you go.  Like a piggy that won the prize.

I’ll let you in on a secret: she thinks I’m doing her a favor by working the cooking contests but judging at the State Fair is truly one of the highlights of my year.  The Kid started judging last year.

Last week I met Lisa, her sister Michele Holland, and David Dalton at Whiskey Kitchen in downtown Raleigh.  Lisa had invited me to a taping of Flavor NC, a PBS show she hosts that celebrates the producers and cooks of North Carolina grub of all types.  If it’s grown, raised, gathered, fished, or plucked by Tar Heels, Flavor NC is all over it.


From left: Michele Holland, Whiskey Kitchen’s executive chef Clayton, David Dalton, and Lisa Prince

In addition to being Lisa’s right hand at the state fair, Michele’s also associate producer of the show.  Her organization and ability to anticipate the needs of the shoot are scary. But, best of all, she is a giant nerd whose love and allegiance to Doctor Who, the multiple Star Trek series, and Supernatural closely resembles the geeky fanaticism of The Kid and me.

crowley snow

Our puppy, Crowley.  Named for a character in Supernatural.

David is cinematographer, editor, show-runner, creator, and owner of Flavor NC.  He’s also kind, funny, and cheerleader of both our state and its food.  His SUV is packed so full of television equipment that there’s not room in there for a bottle of Coke and a tomato sandwich.

Next week I’ll dish on the two-day shoot, talking about shy farmers, walls of whiskey, and why I should never trust my own judgement before consumption of caffeine.Thanks for your time.


The Cookie Conundrum

When is a cookie not a cookie?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen that cookie’s fate rests upon it not being a dessert, but a snack.

For the past few years, it’s been my honor to help judge a few of the food competitions at the State Fair.  One of the juries I sat on was for pecans.  It was also the very first outing for The Kid.  Our child studied for four years at culinary school, so has the chops and desire to be a fellow food judge.

The North Carolina Pecan Association were the sponsors of the contest.  The parameters were pretty wide open—except, no desserts.  For a few reasons.

pecan desserts

Nope. Sorry.

Most pecans are purchased in early October through late March and are used for holiday baking.  Bakers and confectioners are actually the largest buyers of shelled pecans.  Pecan trees are also AB; or alternate bearing.  This means if you have a bumper crop one year, the next year will literally be slim pickings.

Because of this, growers are keen to expand the list of non-dessert use of the nut.  Consistent, stable use throughout the year is a good thing, and a familiar goal for pecan farmers.

A pecan grove.

Another bit of pecan intel?  They are the only native American nut and were only domesticated in the 1880’s.

So, back to the contest.

The field was wide open, except for the forbidden desserts.  Which made it kinda worrisome when one entry turned out to be a cookie.  But if it really was a cookie, and thus a dessert, it wouldn’t be able to compete.

All of this led me back to the original question, “When is a cookie not a cookie?”.I argued as valiantly as Perry Mason in a death penalty case.  But it became moot when enough foods were sampled that were ranked higher by the judges. and were not desserts.

But not all the judges; they were my favorite bite of the day.

NC Pecan Cookiespecan cookies1 cup butter, softened

1 egg

½ cup brown sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup pecans

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup powdered sugar (for decoration)

In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar, salt, egg, and vanilla. 

Add in flour and mix well.  Cover and refrigerate at least two hours. 

Preheat oven to 375.  Using a mini ice cream scoop, scoop the dough and place them 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.  Flatten the dough with the bottom of a glass.  Then press a pecan into the top of the dough.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.  Dust the tops with powdered sugar.

Enjoy!pecan cookies 3I have a couple of thoughts about the recipe and directions.

Even after placing a pecan on the top of each cookie, you’ll be left with a lot of pecans.  I would keep a couple dozen whole with which to top them, then chop the rest into chips.   I‘d toast the chips in a frying pan on medium until they’re mid brown and fragrant.  When adding the flour, I would also add the cooled, toasted nuts.One of the things I liked best about the cookie was the crispy/chewy texture.  And, they were flat-out delicious.

Ag commission employee, television host, and specialty food competition organizer Lisa Prince works crazy hard and is one of the nicest people I know.  Today, during the final contest of the fair, Agricultural Commissioner Steve Troxler came in and presented her with the superintendent of the year award.20171022_143737She deserves it; and I hope it came with a big, fat check.

Thanks for your time.

Scene and overheard

Saturday I had my first go as a cooking contest judge at the 2017 NC State Fair.  It was for sweet potatoes.  Being judge-y and opinionated seems to come easy for me.Some takeaways: who knew sweet potatoes make such a delicious quiche?  A sweet potato pie is not fully dressed without a crunchy pecan streusel on top.  Sweet potato puree is a genius eggnog emulsifier and sweetener. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA quarter cup mayonnaise and a quarter cup barbecue sauce mixed with three-quarters of a cup of Greek yogurt makes a dressing for sweet potato salad that has the perfect mix of sweet/salty/smoky/acid, and tastes amazing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo matter how delicious it is, it’s folly to eat more than three bites of any one entry.  And with a belly full of sweet potatoes even Al’s French fries aren’t very appealing.

Afterward, Petey and I walked around the fair for a while.  And there were a few takeaways from that portion of our day, as well.rice-bread-1La Farm has a terrific setup just inside gate one, with baked goods, sweet treats, and sandwiches.  They have my favorite, Carolina Gold Sourdough bread, but they sell out quick.  Although, if you manage to score a loaf, they’ll hold it for you until you’re on the way out.Anne’s Dumplings is at the Kerr Scott building with plenty of her ambrosial One Dressing.  If you buy two bottles, they’ll give you a cookbook written by their founder, Anne.  And that’s also where you’ll find D’Vine Food with their refreshing, addictive Muscadine Cider Slushie.Image may contain: drinkAnd as usual, there are crazy things for sale.

At a booth selling some kind of space-age wallet: “Is your too-thick wallet giving you problems?”

No.  A too-thick wallet has never been a problem.  A wallet so thin and devoid of contents it almost floats away?


Never have I ever…

Too thick?  That’s a big negatory, Bandit.

I have a peculiar congenital defect.  My hips move less like a human’s, and more like the sticky bottom drawer in a warped, aged dresser.  I can’t hula, or even hula hoop for that matter.  The fetching swing of a girl’s hip on me looks more like the lurch of a drunken zombie or Frankenstein’s monster.  As you might imagine, this severely limits my dance moves.

I could probably river dance, where hip movement is prohibited.  But twerking was completely out of the question.

Or, so I thought.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause, Gentle Reader, they have invented a twerking machine.  Oh sure, they may say it’s for exercise and call it a whole-body vibration machine.  But if you stand on that puppy, you’ll be involuntarily twerking harder than Miley Cyrus in a teddy bear one-piece. And if you don’t feel like dancing, the view you’ll have standing behind the twerker will either send you into paroxysms of hilarity, or deeply traumatize you, requiring hundreds of hours of therapy, or possibly even institutionalizing.

For me, the sight induced flat out hilarity.  I could’ve stood there and gazed at the twitching of humanity all day.  Although I now have the mechanized ability, I still don’t think that twerking is for me.At any one time, approximately 90% of fairgoers are eating.  My estimate is the combined total of calories consumed by everyone on the grounds in one hour is at least 40 thousand bajillion and twelve.

In all my observations, I noticed something miraculous.  Maybe it’s the food, or the Autumn nip in the air, but there’s an overriding mood of the crowd.  It’s the joviality and good will similar to the height of the Christmas season.

I guess that makes Steve Troxler Santa Claus.

Steve Troxler (center), unidentified woman (right), and the best beard of the State Fair (left).

Thanks for your time.


Life May Not Be Fair, But October Certainly Is

I am full of the milk of human kindness. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a related note, I’m also full of about 27 pounds of fair food.

Today was the 2017 North Carolina State Fair media luncheon.  Each year the Ag Department holds this event to give the press all the information we need to cover the fair.

And this is where vendors show off the edible inventions that will have their debut this year.

Everybody that visits the fair every year (and if you don’t; shame on you, and get yourself to the fair this year) has their favorites.

Today I had a couple items that may become an annual must.Lamb burgers NeomondeNeomonde Bakery and Deli has a tent every year for baked goods and demos near the chapel.  But they also serve hot food at a spot near Dorton Arena.  And that’s where you can get their lamb burger.  It has fresh mixed greens, caramelized onions, and a harissa yogurt sauce all on their freshly baked brioche bun.  It’s pretty darn tasty.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis year La Farm introduced a hand pie.  This particular hand pie might remind you of a particular rectangular pastry tart from your youth that comes from the grocery store.  My mom never bought them, so I never developed a taste for them, but Petey was raised on them, and still occasionally indulges.Hand Pies La FarmMy very own grown-up kid may never eat those mass market, cardboard things again.  He loved Chef Lionel’s pies filled with fresh strawberries and Nutella.  The chocolate/rye pastry was perfect.  It was flaky and delicious, drizzled with chocolate ganache and sprinkled with big sugar crystals.

The award for craziest treat that probably shouldn’t have tasted so good came from Chef’s D’lites.  They had one of those deep-fried sweets that are usually stunt foods.  But the deep fried key lime bites worked.  The crispy/creamy/bright/citrusy combination was irresistible.  It’s probably a good thing they’re only available once a year.Steve Troxler and new food winner Arepa LocaAfter downing all this crazy fair grub, we get to vote on the best new food at the fair.  The winner this year, Steve Troxler, Agriculture Commissioner informed us, won by a landslide.

It was the arepas from Arepa Loca.  Arepas are little Columbian savory cakes made of masa, split and filled with meats and veggies.  They’re a popular street food found in many Latin American cultures.  You may know them as gorditas or pupusas.

I asked the owner to fill it the way he likes it.  He stuffed it with beef, veggies and topped it with some guacamole.  They were fresh cakes with fresh, bright fillings and were the favorite of everybody at my table.  I just hope that their newfound fame doesn’t make the lines too long so I can get some more at the fair.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2017 is the 150th NC State Fair, and if you go on Thursday (10/12), you can get in for $1.50.  Food vendors will be selling $1.50 portions, and state fair staff will be handing out free rides and other prizes to attendees wearing commemorative buttons handed out to the first 15,000 folks through the gates when they open at 3:00PM that day.

If this column sounds a little like I’m drunk, I’m really not.  I am flat out giddy.  I love the fair.  It is one of the highlights of my year.  If you need to get up with me for the next couple weeks, I’ll meet you in front of the waterfall at Dorton Arena.  If I’m not there, I’ll be home sleeping it off, getting ready to do it all over again in the morning.150th cakesThanks for your time.

Totally Nuts

I’ve got a riddle for you.When is a pound cake not a pound cake?

When it’s a pound cake (I’ll explain later, I promise).

A few days ago I had my third and final session as one of the judges for the specialty cooking contests of the 2016 state fair.  I was really looking forward to it, because the category was pecans.

Uh oh; here comes the educational portion of the program…

The pecan, or Carya illinoinensis, is actually a variety of the hickory.  The trees, which can grow up to 144 feet tall, are native to Mexico, and from the Gulf coast of Texas up to Illinois.  It is one of the most recently domesticated crops.  Until the 1880’s it was solely harvested from the wild.

A pecan orchard.

And although they have been enjoyed since well before the Europeans showed up, people can still not agree on whether they are “pee-cans”, or “pick-kahns”.

But regardless the pronunciation, these nuts are absolutely delicious, and work well with both savory foods and sweets .  As much as I love pie and pralines, my favorite preparation is salt & pepper pecans; merely generously seasoned pecans sautéed in butter.

I have to ruthlessly limit my exposure though, because I can devour a pound of them while in a pecan-induced fugue state.  Then I regain consciousness into a pecan-induced shame spiral.

The contest last week, in addition to being a heck of a lot of fun, included a notable first in my role of cooking judge.  Heck, it was a first in my entire existence as a human.


This is literally porn to me…

It was cake that was too sweet.  I’ve never even understood the term “too sweet” before. I’m the girl who considers frosting a food group.  I always thought it was a phrase made-up by light weights that couldn’t hold their sugar.

But the phenomenon exists.  It felt like biting into tin foil with a mouth full of fillings.  My mouth recoiled from the sensation.  It coated my tongue and made my teeth hurt.

Happily, there was another cake which wasn’t too sweet, but just right.  It took third place; a pound cake from Chapel Hill’s Cherie Michaud.

Nana and Roux’s Butter Pecan Pound Cake

Cakepecan-cake½ lb. or 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

1 ½ Tbsp. whole milk

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 cup pecans

½ cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine 2 eggs, vanilla, milk, oil and butter in mixer. Begin mixing on low to medium speed. Once blended together, add the last 2 eggs.

In another bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Sift the dry ingredients into the egg/milk mixture. Mix until combined, about 30 seconds.

Place pecans into a food processor and pulse for 30 seconds. Add pecans into the cake mixture and combine for 1 minute or until everything is well blended.

Spray a Bundt pan with cooking spray and sprinkle with sugar to coat. Pour cake batter into pan and tap on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool in pan 30 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely.

Frostingpecan-frosting3 cups powdered sugar

½ cup unsalted butter

½ tsp. cinnamon

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. whole milk

½ tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. salt

½ cup pecans, chopped

Combine butter, milk and vanilla with a mixer. Once combined, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix on low-medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Spread frosting over cake and top with pecans.So, about the pound cake riddle.  Traditional cakes have one pound each of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs, with no leavening (baking powder or baking soda).  It gets it rise from air whipped into the batter, and starting in a cold oven.

A modern pound cake uses leavening.  This reduces the possibility of failure, but purists feel it’s the cheater’s way, and an affront to all decent pound cakes.  Imagine Martin Luther with a Bundt pan and a manifesto.  A confectionary Luddite, if you will.                                                                              Thanks for your time.

A baking lesson, plus there’s pie!

I have a dirty little secret.Despite possessing a fair hand in the kitchen, I’ve never made a pie with which I was happy.  I haven’t killed anybody, but nobody has ever asked for the recipe, or even seconds.  Humdrum pies are my cross to bear.  With grace and dignity I try to soldier on regardless of the back-breaking burden that fate has chosen for me (besides, my mom makes killer pies, and she’s very generous).

I acted as judge today at the NC State Fair.  The contest was Gold Medal Flour “Best Pie” Contest.  Because there were so many entrants, they broke us into 2 teams of 5 or 6 each. And we got down to work.Almost at the end of our team’s pies Lisa brought around a green silky pie with flecks of lime zest visible.  It was called a key lime fudge.  They gave us all pieces and we chowed down.  I and one other judge at my table loved it. It was almost like two pies in one.  The top layer was tart yet sweet.  The chocolate layer was silky and lingered on the tongue.  I never would have predicted that key lime and chocolate would be so delicious and my very faorite out of a huge assortment of pies.

And we had a ton of pie.  At the end of our voting, I realized that even though I was there to judge, I had gained something I can carry with me to improve every pie I’ll make from now on.

The first lesson is buttermilk does very flavorful things to a pie crust.

Don’t roll you crust out too thickly, or it will not cook, and you will have a pale dough-ey crust,

Don’t neglect salt in both the crust and the filling.Apples can be problematic, cut them small enough so that they are cooked through.  And taste them before you cook them. The last lesson was probably the most important.

Don’t decide you don’t like a food unless you have tasted it. And don’t prejudge a food, or flavors, or people.  Even after living on this rock for more than a half century, delightfully, I am still able to have my socks knocked right off.

Melissa Bentley’s Key Lime Fudge Pie



1/2 Cup Sweetened Shredded Coconut

1 1/4 Cups Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour (plus more for rolling)

Pinch of Salt

1/2 Cup (1stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, cold

3 to 5 tablespoons cream of coconut, cold, as needed

Fillingchoc-lime-pie4oz Dark Chocolate, chopped

1 Cup plus 3 Tablespoons heavy cream

1 (11oz package) white chocolate chips

1 Tablespoon sour cream

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

1/3 Cup Key Lime Juice


Make the crust: Pulse the coconut in the food processor until finely chopped. Add the Gold Metal Flour and salt and pulse again. Add the butter to the mixture and pulse until butter pieces are pea-sized. Pulse in the cream of coconut one tablespoon at a time as needed, until dough comes together. Turn dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, refrigerate for up to an hour. Preheat oven to 375. Roll the dough on floured space until it is 1 inch larger then pie pan. Press into a 9-inch pan, crimp the edges. Set a sheet of foil over crust and fill with pie weights and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until bottom is cooked, 10 more minutes. Let cool completely before filling.

Filling: In a microwave melt the dark chocolate and 3 tablespoons heavy cream, stir until smooth. Let cool to room temperature about 15 minutes. Pour over pie crust and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

In a pan over medium heat, melt together the white chocolate chips and 1 cup heavy cream until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream, lime zest and lime juice. Pour into the cooled crust and refrigerate for 30 minutes.I’d like to leave you with a tip.  If you need a heat source to keep something hot, hollow out a  large pumpkin, and cut holes around it, for ventilation.  Place a Sterno inside the pumpkin and light.  Then set you dish on top.  It’s very festive. Thursday I’m going back for another contest.  I’ll report back and let you know what happened.

Thursday I’m going back for another contest.  This time, it’s pecans (Woo Hoo!).  I’ll report back and let you know what happened.

Thanks for your time.