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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Southern Sonker: A Cobbler Cousin

As a native of Mount Airy, North Carolina, better known to some as "Mayberry," I grew up eating  strawberry or sweet potato sonker often for dessert. "Sonker" is a cousin of the cobbler that I later learned is also native to Surry County. It's a wonderful comfort food and potluck staple.

Exactly what constitutes a cobbler depends on where you grew up. To me, a cobbler is fruit baked with a pie crust top, though not in a pie pan. So no, I don't think a sonker is another name for a cobbler, but then my sonker recipe below may look exactly like what you'd call a cobbler.

The New York Times had an article about the topic last year: "Sonkers, Grunts, Slumps and Crumbles." I love Alma Venable's  quote in the article, "You have the violin and you have the fiddle. The sonker is the fiddle."

And Our State magazine featured the dessert recently as well in "A Foothills Twist on Pie: The Sonker."

Sonker Festival 

If you're local, it's worth a visit to the Sonker Festival, held annually on the first Saturday in October in Lowgap, NC. No admission, just a small charge for sonker by the cup. They serve up all kinds - strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, cherry, sweet potato and more, all to the twang of old-fashioned bluegrass music. Proceeds benefit the Franklin-Edwards house restoration project, at which the event is held.

Dip-sy Do? Or Don't?

My family made mostly strawberry and sweet potato sonkers and never made the "sweet dip" to go along side, though my husband's family prefers blackberry sonker and would never skip the sweet dip.

Though many use the traditional "cuppa cuppa cuppa" recipe, referring to equal parts self-rising flour, milk, sugar, butter and fruit, my family always preferred the recipe below. I'm also including my gluten free, dairy free "cheat" version (for my family with allergies).

Traditional Sonker Recipe

1 stick butter, melted
4 cups of fruit, macerated
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup and 1 tbsp of sugar
1 cup of self-rising flour
1 cup milk


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Melt butter in a 9x13 pan or deep dish baking dish (Feel free to melt it in the oven as it warms.)

3. In a cast iron pan or saucepan, stew fruit and 1/4 cup of the sugar sprinkled on top just until bubbling to get the juices flowing.

4. Mix flour, the rest of the sugar, vanilla and milk in mixing bowl and pour into baking dish (some prefer to wait and pour over once fruit is in the dish).

5. Pour fruit and all the juice into the baking dish. (Don't worry, the batter will rise to the top.)

6. Bake for 45 minutes or until top is golden and juices are bubbling.

Serves: approximately 8

Easy Peach Sonker (gluten free/dairy free)

1 box gluten free yellow cake mix
1 16 oz bag frozen organic peaches
1 15 oz can peaches in light syrup
1 tbsp local honey (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup Earth Balance dairy free "buttery" spread, melted
10 oz seltzer water (I prefer strawberry or peach flavored)

Serves approximately 8


1. Place peaches into 9x13 or other deep baking dish. (I prefer to cut mine into bite-size pieces for ease and to create more juice.) Drizzle honey on top of the fruit.

2. In a mixing bowl, very gently stir the dry cake mix with butter, vanilla and the seltzer water. (The seltzer water helps the batter rise.) Stir gently just until wet. Do not use a mixer.

3. Pour batter over the top of the fruit and fold in the fruit. Sprinkle cinnamon on top.

4. Bake 45 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Celebrity Chef Pat Neely Visits Winston-Salem

It has been a wonderful couple of months for foodies and particularly Southern foodies here in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Just a few days ago, we met and watched the first TV Queen of Southern cooking, Nathalie Dupree, make biscuits and shrimp and grits. This week, we'll be honored to see another Food Network star, Pat Neely, of the show "Down Home with the Neelys." This foodie town keeps growing! Don't miss these opportunities to learn from and meet the best!

A Conversation with Pat Neely 
My post-event photo with Pat Neely!

I'm very excited to be attending a meet and greet with celebrity chef Pat Neely the evening of June 4th at 7 p.m. Pat will be at the Arts Council Theatre talking about his latest cookbook Back Home with the Neelys: Comfort Food from our Southern Kitchen to Yours, co-authored by him and his wife, Gina. Shannon Smith of Fox 8 will talk with Pat about his life, his cooking, his television show and his love of barbecue. Pat will sign cookbooks following the conversation, and there will be a reception featuring some of the dessert recipes from the Neely's cookbook.


Tickets for the conversation with Pat Neely are $15 for general admission and $35 for a ticket and a copy of the cookbook. The event is sponsored by Bookmarks Book Festival.

Eat & Greet with Pat Neely

The next morning, June 6th, at 8 a.m., Pat Neely will appear at one of my favorite downtown restaurants, Sweet Potatoes, for an "Eat & Greet." The event includes a full breakfast of friend catfish, pecan flapjacks, apple smoked bacon, sausage cream gravy with sweet potato biscuits, cheese grits, peach almond crisp and more, all based on the Neely's recipes and prepared by Sweet Potatoes' chefs.

During the meal, Pat will discuss the cookbook, his life and his Food Network show. Tickets for the eat and great are $52 and include the full breakfast and a copy of the cookbook, Back Home with the Neelys.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Celebrity Chef Nathalie Dupree Visits Winston-Salem!

Winston-Salem is again excited to host celebrity chef Nathalie Dupree during its An Evening of Southern Food event to kick off the Salute! NC Wine Festival in downtown Winston-Salem this Saturday. I'll be there with my mouth watering and fingers crossed I get to be pop up on stage for a taste with any of the three featured chefs! (I resisted the urge to name this post "You, Me & Nathalie Dupree!" You're welcome.) 

Live Cooking Demos

The event features fun interactive LIVE chef demonstration by local celebrity chefs in their own right,  Chef Jeff Bacon of Triad Community Kitchen and Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen and Bar, followed by Chef Nathalie Dupree, who will explore some classic Southern recipes with a new twist.  Nathalie will feature two dishes that incorporate local southern food and progresses step-by-step so that the audience can follow along and ask questions. Michael Hastings, Food Editor of the Winston-Salem Journal will be the Master of Ceremonies and will talk us through the chef demonstrations.  

The Food & Wine
Chef Grandinetti's NC Pork with duck
fat roasted potatoes

As a teaser for the event, they've released the dazzling menu being prepared for Chef Tim Grandinetti's food demonstration: Pan Roasted North Carolina Pork with Coffee, Chocolate, Cinnamon and Texas Pete Chipotle Chile Glaze Duck Fat Roasted Potates! A few lucky members of the audience will get to join the chefs onstage for a sneak a taste. 

Don't worry, they haven't forgotten that this event is part of Salute! Wine Festival! Guests will enjoy some fine North Carolina wine, as well as small bites, and get to enjoy a custom ice sculpture for the event by Fire & Ice! Attendees will go home with the recipes demonstrated.

Celebrity Chef Nathalie Dupree

South Carolinian Nathalie Dupree is a best-selling author with 15 cookbooks and more than 300 television shows for The Food Network, PBS, and The Learning Channel. The Founding Chairman of the Charleston Food and Wine Festival, she also was a founder of Southern Foodways, the Atlanta and Charleston Chapters of Les Dames d' Escoffier, the American Institute of Wine and Food and the International Association of Culinary Professionals, of which she was two-time President.

But don't let all those credentials intimidate you. I was thrilled to attend a wonderful biscuit-making demonstration by Dupree held at the local treasure of a farm-to-table restaurant Mary's Gourmet Diner (pictured here). Nathalie is both down-to-earth and funny while she delivers great cooking instruction and general good advice. My biscuits have never been better!

Me & Nathalie Dupree with her
cookbook Southern Biscuits

Book Signing

There will also be a chance to get your favorite Nathalie Dupree cookbooks signed, sponsored by BookMarks Book Festival. I had her sign her cookbook Southern Biscuits for me (because, obvi, How could I not??) and another for a wedding gift. In this book not only are there recipes of many biscuit variations, but also helpful instruction on why and how: the use of different flours, biscuit and pan placement and the way your oven heats.


Tickets are still available for the Salute! Presents: An Evening of Southern Food with Nathalie Dupree. At only $30, this is a great deal for a celebrity chef cooking demonstration including two local chefs, wine and small bites! Tickets are available online, by calling 336-727-7403 and by visiting the Winston-Salem Journal offices at 418 N. Marshall St. Note: Must by 21 or older with valid ID to attend.

If you go, post your photos and Tweet using hashtag #SouthernFoodWS so we can follow and
Chef Bacon's catfish with caramelized
ramps & tomato jam


An Evening of Southern Food with Nathalie Dupree
Friday, May 30, 2014
6:30 PM

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Holy Shiitake! Seasonal Produce at Competition Dining’s Fire in the Triad

To read about the previous quarterfinal battle between Chef Kevin Grohman of Meridian Restaurant in Winston-Salem and Chef Russell of B. Christophers in Greensboro, see my earlier post here. Follow me on Twitter at @SouthrnBiscuits to view live tweets and pics of the battles.

The Competitors

It was a privilege to once again be a judge at the Competition Dining Fire in the Triad Quarterfinal battle at the Empire Room in Greensboro last night. Contenders were Chef Timothy Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant and Chef Kevin Reddick of Millennium Artisan Restaurant, both located in downtown Winston-Salem, NC.

The Secret Ingredients: Holy Shiitake!

I'm truly enjoying being able to type "Holy shiitake!" again and again and it being somewhat relevant here. I think there was a missed opportunity when naming this farm, but shiitake happens, I guess (see, still relevant). The secret local ingredients are unveiled to the chefs each competition date at noon. They prepare their menu for 100 guests without the use of cookbooks or the internet. The secret ingredients tonight were fivefold from Fogwood Food in Reidsville, NC: shiitake mushrooms, arugula, organic Smith Farms pea shoots from Stoneville, NC, Swiss chard and butter pecan syrup. Whew! That was a mouthful about to be a mouth-full. Mushrooms are a favorite of mine, so I had high hopes for the evening.

With our Competition Dining host,
Jimmy Crippen

The Experience

What I love most about these food competitions is that people slow down and think about their food. We waft the air to deeply breathe in the aroma of each dish; spin the plate around to admire the presentation (sometimes checking the photo freshly posted to Twitter to see how ours compares), and then I deconstruct my dish to taste the flavors individually and then all together, paying close attention to the use of the secret ingredient(s) of the night, and finally, consider the creativity of the dish so we can score all appropriately.

All this pondering takes time, which helps you get all six courses down without bursting, though I still can’t clean every plate without regret, especially if I’m not wearing my stretchy “Thanksgiving pants!”

The Dishes

Course 1
Black Drum-Crab Mousseline Stuffed Manchester Farms Quail, “Toad in a Hole” Old Mill of Guilford Grits Cake, Citrus Laced Smith Farms Pea Shoots, Pomegranate Fowl Demi (Chef Kevin Reddick)

This dish had a lot going on – four protein sources in all: crab wrapped in bacon, quail and egg. The grit cake was perfect and the quail egg was also just right – a combination of softly cooked and runny. The lemon glaze was a great compliment to the pea shoots, which had a taste similar to strong alfalfa sprouts. The quail and crab were fine, but I could have done without one or the other and still would have been happy with this dish.

Course 2

Braised Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Belly (also the official pork of the Biltmore House), Fogwood Foods Shiitake Mushroom Polenta, Smith Farms Arugula Spiked Fruit Salsa, Crispy Yukon Chip (Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant)

I’m sometimes not a fan of pork belly, as I often get more belly (fat) than pork, but this Cheshire Farm pork belly was not too fatty and full of flavor. The creamy shiitake polenta was dense, but a good pairing with the pork. Although I liked the idea of the fruit salsa, it just wasn’t flavorful enough to match the strong flavors of the pork and polenta. Loved the Yukon chip which also added drama to the presentation.

Course 3
Cast Iron Seared Maple Leaf Farms Breast of Duck, Fogwood Foods Buttered Pecan & Scallion Couscous, Swiss Chard & Four Pepper Ragout, Tempura Shiitake Mushroom Caps (Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant)

This dish was a favorite of our table. The duck was perfectly cooked and not greasy. The pearl couscous was a little soft, but soaked up the four-pepper ragout beautifully, which left a lingering heat on the palate, though the pepper must have overpowered the butter pecan flavor, as I couldn't find it. My mushroom caps were a little limp, but that didn’t keep me from loving this dish.

Course 4

Grilled Loin of Venison, Fresh Vegetable Melange, Dehydrated Smith Farms Pea Shoots, Bing Cherry Jam, Natural Reduction (Chef Kevin Reddick of Artisan)

This was another favorite at our table. Though many were leery of venison in general, they all decided it was better than they expected. I thought my venison was a little overcooked and flavor was a little lacking, but the vegetable mélange, where our shiitake mushrooms were found was packed with flavor along with the bit of tart bing cherry jam. Although it was the lowest scoring dish of the evening, (perhaps others were put off by the venison?) all around it was a great hearty fall or winter dish.

Course 5

Pâte Brisée, Cinnamon Crème Fraîche, Fogwood Foods Buttered Pecan Crème, Dehydrated Apple Chips (Chef Kevin Reddick of Artisan)

This was not surprisingly the highest scoring dish of the evening (did you read that description?? Hello Miss American Pie). As our host Jimmy Crippen always says, these battles are often won and lost with the desserts. The pâte brisée (a.k.a., pie crust, shortcrust pastry) was a mouthful of sweet apple pie comfort food with creamy butter pecan and I finally found the cinnamon crème fraîche on the underneath it all (more please!).

Course 6

Tuxedo Cake with Flavors of Chocolate and Orange, Fogwood Foods Buttered Pecan Brittle. (Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant)

The cake, while it was was very pretty and moist and the orange drizzle was gave a light fresh citrusy flavor, there was nothing that stood out about it. The pecan brittle didn’t seem to belong, and since it was supposed to be the highlighted secret ingredient in this dish, felt more like an afterthought.

The Winner

The scores of the “pros” and the “joes” were tallied and Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant won by seven tenths of a point! “That was too close,” said our self-proclaimed competitive victor. But he came in with a plan and felt that the plan made the difference. Kudos to Chef Grandinetti and his all-woman team!

You Be the Judge!

You can be the judge, too! Attend Competition Dining and you and vote your palate at an upcoming Fire in the Triad or other Competition Dining event across the state of North Carolina, all highlighting our North Carolina produce and artisan foods. Got to be NC! For tickets and more information, visit

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fire in the Triad Quarterfinal Battle Chestnut Flour

Moi, excited about the evening.
Photo credits: Kristi Maier of Competition Dining.
Last night I was excited to once again be a judge and special guest at Competition Dining Fire in the Triad! This was no ordinary Fire in the Triad battle, but the quarterfinal battle between Chef Mark Grohman and team of Meridian Restaurant in Winston-Salem and Chef Chris Russell of B. Christophers restaurant in Greensboro (formerly of Burlington), NC. 

The Chefs

Chef Chris Russel of B. Christophers & Chef Mark Grohman of Meridian Restaurant

MeridianRestaurant is a local favorite here in Winston-Salem, for good reason. Though I haven’t had a chance to visit B. Christophers restaurant in Greensboro yet, the samplings I’ve had by Chef Chris Russell at Fire in the Triad battles are great incentive to put it on the top of my list to visit next time I’m in Greensboro. One treat at these events is hearing the chefs' backstory. 

Secret Ingredient: Chestnut Flour

Most all of the North Carolina foods for Competition Dining are provided by Southern Foods. The secret ingredient for this battle was (drumroll….) High Rock Farm chestnut flour. High Rock Farm is located in Gibsonville, NC. (Sending out some local gluten free foodie love!) As one with family members with gluten allergies, I for one, was thrilled about the secret ingredient.  However, neither chef seemed too thrilled about the chestnut flour challenge, as it was the first time for both using the flour, but they both stepped up for delicious and creative results in this “Iron Chef”-style competition. I'm happy for the local gluten free find and will try it out myself soon!

The Libations

During the cocktail hour, I sampled Hummingbird Helles by Red Oak, a golden lager that like all of their draughts, is fresh and cold-aged, not filtered or pasteurized. Plus, I scored some awesome Red Oak swag – a Red Oak/Hummingbird pint glass and hefty pewter bottle opener!

Another first taste was wines from Jones von Drehle, a new winery in Thurmond, NC. Another to put on the must-visit list! Representative Diana Jones was in attendance to talk about their wines.

Now, on to the main reason we’re all here – Gourmet NC food!

First Course: Poached Lobster and Andouille Sausage, High Rock Chestnut & Cheese Grits, Chestnut Flour Tempura Asparagus (B. Christophers) 

This savory Southern dish was a big hit at our table. You’ve never had cheese grits like this, but the chestnut flour made them a welcome and hearty compliment to the spicy Andouille sausage and the chestnut flour-coated asparagus tempura was a delicious surprise.

Second Course: Little River Crab and Mascarpone High Rock Chestnut Pyramid, Red Oak Chestnut Battered Lobster Claw, Melted Leek Fonduta, Chive Oil (Meridian)

The “pyramid” dumpling was a creative use of the chestnut flour, though tougher than your usual flour pasta, it had great flavor. But the use of the chestnut flour in the Red Oak beer batter for the lobster claw was a favorite, and no one was complaining about a second course of lobster!

Third Course: Jamaican Jerk Style Pulled Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork, High Rock Chestnut Jalapeño Corn Fritter, Jicama, Fennel and Red Cabbage Slaw (B. Christophers) 

Presentation was lacking in this dish (none at our table looked this good), and I think the scores showed this, but the delicious savory-sweet jerk pulled pork made up for it. Although the description of the corn fritter sounded great, it was a little disappointing. The red cabbage slaw added nice color and crunch.

Fourth Course: Grilled Herb-Marinated Venison Loin, High Rock Chestnut Spaetzle, Chestnut Roasted Carrots, Red Wine Coriander Reduction (Meridian) 

Schlemiel, Schlimazel, Spaetzle & Venison Incorporated! What is spaetzle? Folks at my table wondered, even after tasting it. Literally, “spaetzle” means “little sparrow,” but culinarily, it is a type of egg noodle or dumpling found in German, Austrian, Hungarian and Swiss cuisine.

The chestnut flour spaetzle was a nice, (to risk repeating myself --) hearty, though chewy, compliment to the beautifully presented venison and roasted carrots, though the venison was the star of this dish. My venison was quite rare, while another tablemate’s was quite well-done. Still, his dish was a favorite at my table, myself included. The red wine coriander reduction was a saucy cherry-on-top.

Fifth Course: Chocolate High Rock Chestnut Cake, Fresh Mint Ice Cream, Chestnut Whipped Cream, Bing Cherry Sauce (B. Christophers)

This dessert was like an upscale ice cream sandwich, complete with fresh minty ice cream between two slices of thin, firm, chestnut flour cake. Everyone was impressed and I thought it would be hard to beat… until it was, in my opinion. Though this dessert ranked the highest score between the two.

Sixth Course: High Rock Chestnut Opera Cake, Bourbon Caramel, Cheerwine-Raspberry Coulis, Coffee Buttercream (Meridian)

Let’s talk nut cake. I was very impressed with the chestnut flour opera cake. I’ve made and had lots of cake made with gluten free flours, mostly almond. So, I’m very aware and accept that any cake made with nut flour is going to be denser, grainier and dryer, rather than the fluffy processed wheat flour versions to which we’re accustomed. Perhaps this is why I was more impressed than other guests at the great job Chef Mark Grohman making this cake as fluffy as he did, and preventing the dryness that usually comes with a nut flour cake with the layers of coffee butter cream. The bourbon caramel was so good we discussed bottling it at my table and the only bad thing about the Cheerwine coulis was that we wished there was more. (I confess, I “sopped” my sauces up with my cake, a practice I usually strictly reserve for my biscuits alone.) Both desserts were wonderful, but I was surprised this one didn’t score higher.

The Winner!

As our host, Jimmy Crippen, thundered, “It almost always comes down to the dessert!”

But this time, Chef Grohman and his crew from Meridian Restaurant still achieved sweet success and prevailed despite their dessert score. Congratulations to Chef Mark Grohman and Meridian on your delicious win!

I look forward to judging next week’s quarterfinal battle between Winston-Salem beloved restaurants Spring House Restaurant and Artisan, two I haven’t tasted the pleasure of competing since Battle Dish in Back in February!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Winston-Salem Chefs Heat Up Competition Dining’s Fire in the Triad

I hit the jackpot when I attended Fire in the Triad of “Got to Be NC” Competition Dining series on the evening that bacon was the featured ingredient. Six glorious courses with the magic of bacon worked into every bite, including bacon tasso sushi, wrapped in collard greens with shrimp lobster bisque, culminating in almond-dusted chocolate-covered bacon for dessert! If you missed my guest blogger post reviewing the event (a.k.a, "bacon bliss"), check it out here!
Whetted your appetite yet? All the more reason to go --  It’s also local food. The series travels across the state to highlight the best culinary talent, agriculture and artisan foods North Carolina has to offer. Several Winston-Salem chefs compete in our area’s Competition Dining series: Fire in the Triad. Full of secret ingredients and similar in concept to the popular “Iron Chef” television show, it’s the only contest where the diners get to be the judge!
The 15 competitive dinners take place April 22 - June 2, 2014 at the Empire Room at 203 South Elm Street, Greensboro, NC.

Chefs from across the Triad applied for the competition. Each chef leads a team of three. The final 16 contenders include eight chefs from Winston-Salem (many are my favorites!), including chef Matthew Culpepper of Quiet Pint Tavern (April 22); Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar (April 30); Chef Kevin Reddick from Artisan restaurant will compete against Chef Donny Smith of New Town Bistro (May 5); Chef Richard Miller of GRAZE will compete against District Roof TopBar & Grille’s Brandon Sherrill (May 6); and Chef Travis Myers of RiverBirch Lodge will compete against Mitchell Nicks of Mad Hatter (May 7). Winners of these rounds will go on to compete with each other in the quarterfinals to determine who qualifies for the semifinals, with the final battle taking place June 2.
The Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series is part of a larger movement. Because we are all chefs, farmers, and/or diners, the mission of Fire in the Triad is to connect and celebrate our community through a dynamic, entertaining, North Carolina culinary experience.
Paying guests savor each of six courses in a blind tasting alongside a panel of culinary and celebrity judges in a series of 15 dinner competitions. Each evening, two restaurants “battle” it out side-by-side in a single elimination format. There are three dishes from each chef created around a “featured” ingredient from a North Carolina farmer or artisan producer. The featured ingredient is revealed to the chefs only an hour before they start cooking, and it must be used in each of the three courses.

Diners, alongside culinary and guest judges, rate each dish and determine who moves on to the next round and who goes home. At stake in each series is a grand prize of $2,000, a handmade chef knife by Ironman Forge in Charlotte, and the coveted “Red Chef Jacket.” The runner-up receives $500. Reservations for dinners are $59, excluding beverage, tax and tip. Reservations for the semi-finals and final are $69. To get a seat at the table, make your reservations early at