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2/100: Nash County Sweet Potato Chess

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I’ve made no secret about the fact that chess pies are the greatest pies that exist. I mean sure, almost nothing beats a good apple pie and mountain pie is my special birthday treat, but as a category, chess pies rule. For one, they’re versatile. You can make anything from a Tarheel Pie to the Baltimore Bomb to a vinegar pie and they all fall into the same category. Like cousins in an incredibly tasty family. Secondly, they’re a dying art. Growing concern about sugar and fat consumption makes people vary wary of chess pies, meaning you don’t find them as often as you once could. To this I say- everything in moderation and long live the chess pie.

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This month, as an homage to National Pie Month and National Sweet Potato Month, and as the Nash County installation of Tasting North Carolina, I’d like to share the recipe for sweet potato chess pie. A light and soft pie, this chess is a delicate variation of a traditional sweet potato pie. With only one cup of mashed sweet potatoes, as opposed to four to six in a classic sweet potato pie, it has all of the sweet potato flavor with none of the density. And lest you think “sweet potatoes are for Thanksgiving!” I’ll assure you that I had no problem gobbling up my (much more than a sliver) slice last night, late February date on the calendar and all.

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I topped the pie with freshly shelled pecans that had been caramelized with butter, brown sugar, and spices. I’ll admit, the pecans on top and the cinnamon in the crust put this pie over the edge, from “pretty delicious” to “holy sugar high I’m going to eat this whole thing in one sitting.” I’m currently playing the “if I have just a sliver it doesn’t count” game, which, when you have about 100 “just a slivers,” quickly becomes girl you just ate a whole pie. Which is all to say, make this for company.

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I chose this pie as the recipe representing Nash county, which is located in the Northeastern part of the piedmont between Franklin, Wake, Edgecombe, and Wilson, because Nash county is the largest producer of sweet potatoes in North Carolina, and North Carolina is the largest sweet potato producing state in the country (and has been since the 1970s), accounting for 50% of the country’s sweet potatoes. So, if you decide to make this pie, chances are good you’re enjoying a NC sweet potato, probably even a Nash County gem. Nash County is named for the American Revolutionary War Brigadier General Francis Nash, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Germantown in 1777, the year Nash County was formed. Of Nash county’s many townships, I have the most personal connection to Rocky Mount, where a fair amount of Rosemond-side relatives reside. My most vibrant memory of Rocky Mount was a childhood Christmas visit where my brother Reid (maybe aged 5 or 6 at the time) recited the infamous Home Alone line “Merry Christmas, you filthy animal” to my Great Aunt Francis. She did not get the reference and my family still jokes about that moment and the horrified look on her face. Reid has always been good with impressions.

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I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for the generous outpouring of support and interest in Tasting North Carolina. Since I launched the project a few weeks ago I’ve received countless emails, phone calls, and letters about recipes from all over the state and inquiries about how this community can get involved. I am psyched to make all of these delicious foods and I thank you for trusting me with your stories and your recipes. One thing is overwhelmingly clear- North Carolinians love this place and we’re fiercely proud of our food culture. Thank you. I’m prouder than ever to call myself a North Carolinian.

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This post is part of the ongoing series, Tasting North Carolina. Read more about the project here.

Sweet Potato Chess

pie crust:

1 1/4 cups flour

1 tbsp shortening

1 stick butter

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 cup cold water

filling:

1 cup mashed sweet potato (this was about 1/2 a medium size sweet potato. Either get a small sweet potato or do as I did and feed the other half to your pup)

5 eggs

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 stick butter, melted

1/2 cup cornmeal

topping:

1 cup chopped pecans

2 tbsp butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp ginger

Dash of cinnamon

Start with your pie dough, about 2 hours before you plan on making your pie. Stir together sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Work in shortening with your hands. Cube butter and work that in until the consistency is like cornmeal or sand. Stir in water until a ball forms, then wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Peel and boil your sweet potatoes until soft. Combine in a mixer with remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and fluffy.

Heat your oven to 350 and press your pie dough into your pie pan. Pour in filling and bake for 40 minutes or until the top has browned. Let cool until solid.

Combine pecans, butter, and sugar in a skillet and cook over low heat until caramelized. Slather on top of the pie and give it all about an hour to settle. This pie is best served at room temperature.

 

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Chocolates + Almonds

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So as some of you may know, and may care, I am training for the Wrightsville Beach marathon this March. Since I’m basically just extending my training from the 21 mile trail race I did in January, I’m trying to spend this time fine tuning my method and packing in a lot of cross training like yoga and biking to make sure that I’m as strong as possible when I cross the starting line St. Patrick’s Day. Part of the fine tuning has been finding the right foods to fuel my runs. Over the summer my body had a terrible time adjusting to running in the heat and I fought a lot of nausea, which lead me to energy chews and sodium tablets for my hydration pack. I also incorporated a lot of granola bars, nuts, and pretzels into my long runs.

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Recently I started bringing dark chocolate covered almonds with me on runs to great success. They serve the same purpose as gus or energy chews and they’re a lot more delicious. Not to mention better for me. Instead of a medley of chemicals, salt, flavoring, and gelatin I know what I’m munching on is a whole food with a good balance of fats, calories, and sugar to give me a boost of energy in the short term and fuel for the long haul.

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Wanting to ever simplify (and being frugal) I made a batch this week. And when I got lazy and tired of picking the almonds out of the melted chocolate I scooped the rest of the mix into a lined baking pan and made almond bark. Perfect for runs, for afternoon snacks, or as a night time treat.

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Chocolate + Almonds

4 cups dark chocolate

2 cups raw almonds (unroasted, unsalted)

Optional: sea salt

In a double boiler melt chocolate, stirring occasionally until smooth. Pour almonds in and stir to cover. Line a rack with wax paper and place almonds, separated by a 1/4″ or so, there for a few hours or overnight to dry. To make almond park line a baking sheet with wax paper and pour in, 1/2″ thick. Cover with a handful of raw almonds and let sit to harden.

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Almond Grit Cakes with Clementines & Honey

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One of the very best things about the internet is the community. It has it’s ups and downs, definitely, and sometimes having a public blog that is open to criticism leads to reading, well, criticism of my person and my recipes and my life which sucks but the trade off for the positive is huge. I’ve met people and made connections and friendships that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Not to mention of course that this blog and everything that it is and has become wouldn’t be possible without a supportive community. The readers, the commenters, the people who email to tell me that the like/love/adore the blog make it all worth it. So, thanks friends.

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Through some chain of mutual friends (real and internet) I met the lovely Carrie from Plums in the Icebox on twitter. She’s a Baltimore native and we became friends on the internet and in real life.  She’s great- sweet, intelligent, witty, talented, and a Jill of all trades. Professionally she writes for Bliss Tree and recently she reached out to me about contributing to a “Brunch Off” series she has in the works. The concept is simple- two food bloggers create a brunch menu using the same seasonal ingredient and readers vote on which one they prefer. The ingredient was clementines (something I’ve been buying in bulk for a few months) and I love a good challenge, so count me in!

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My goals with this challenge were to create something fun, tasty, and unique to my niche, Southern food. Surprise to no one I chose grits as a foundation ingredients (are you getting sick of grits?). Sweet grits made with cinnamon, ginger, and almond milk formed into cakes and lightly fried. Topped with fresh clementines that had been tossed in local raw honey. Something light, full of flavor, and designed for brunch. That is to say, complimentary to mimosas and bacon.

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Dan and I tried some this morning and I’m happy with how they turned out. The grits were the perfect base- not overwhelmingly sweet with a good crunch thanks to the slivered almonds and a richness thanks to the almond milk. The clementines in honey were so simple and amazingly delicious, the perfect tribute to two of nature’s most wonderful ingredients. I like that it isn’t anything audacious (like fried chicken eggs benedict) or overdone (like french toast), just an unassuming combination of complimentary flavors and textures. Head over to Bliss Tree to see the Brunch Off, make both recipes, and tell me what you think!

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Almond Grits Cakes with Clementines & Honey

Serves 4-6

grits:

2 cups almond milk

1/2 cup stone ground grits

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp powdered ginger

1/2 cup corn flour

1/4 cup slivered almonds

Dash of cinnamon/ginger

topping:

3-4 clementines

2 tbsp honey

Pinch of salt (optional)

The grits cakes need to be formed at least an hour before being fried, though the night before is ideal.

In a medium saucepan combine grits, almond milk, honey, and spices. Cook over medium heat unti the grits are thick but still creamy. Pour into cupcake pans and chill for 1 hour or overnight.

Chop clementines in half or thirds and toss in honey. Let sit.

Combine corn flour, almonds, and spices and heat 1/4″ of oil in a heavy pan. Carefully (I used a fork so my hands didn’t warm the grits) coat the grits cakes in the flour mixture and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until crispy. Top with clementine mixture and a sprinkle of salt.

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