Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie

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Sweet potatoes possess a “superfood” reputation for the mega nutrients they contain and are widely considered one of the most healthy and versatile vegetables available for the human diet. (Sweet potatoes are also honored by a wonderful Winston-Salem, N.C. restaurant that takes their name.) I remember my Grandpa Lee Quinn always relished the opportunity to bake and eat a sweet potato with supper, correctly believing it to be a smart food choice. I have the same perspective, enjoying the sweetness of such a potato, as long as it’s not drowned in butter and brown sugar. Let’s reserve those ingredients for an occasional sweet potato pie!

I love both sweet potato and pumpkin pies, despite my opinion that they’re very similar in taste and appearance and my understanding that most of America prefers one over the other for the family Thanksgiving table. Am I the only one who thinks it’s easier to get away with making a sweet potato pie year round because pumpkin is so closely associated with fall, both for Halloween and Thanksgiving?

In our kitchen, if it’s a pie, any pie, then it’s acceptable any time!

This is our tried-and-true recipe for homemade Sweet Potato Pie. It’s called “Mama’s” because the ingredients are directly from my wife, Molly’s mother. And also because we added a twist borrowed by the famed Mama Dip’s restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (By the way, Chapel Hill is one of the South’s great foodie towns, if you’ve never been.) “Mama Dip” boils her sweet potatoes, instead of baking them, prior to mashing. We couldn’t tell a difference in taste when we boiled our potatoes, but we did find it to be an easier process overall.

Regardless of how you cook it up, sweet potato pie is truly worthy of the old Alabama song that sings, “Song, song of the South. Sweet Potato Pie and I shut my mouth.

Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie

Ingredients

1 pie crust

1 cup mashed sweet potatoes

1/3 cup melted butter

2 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 pinch salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sugar

Directions

1. Stir all filling ingredients in large bowl.

2. Poke holes in pie crust with fork.

3. Pour filling into crust.

4. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. (#FoodieScore Pro Tip: Sometimes we make mini pies, and the baking time for this recipe is about 15 minutes for such pies in our oven.)

5. You can sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg atop each sweet potato pie either before or after baking.

Foodie Travels: Best We Ate in 2016

2016 has been a year of travel across the South for us. And from east Texas to coastal Georgia to the West Virginia mountains, we have enjoyed the ongoing gifts of incredible local food at every stop.

Many of our experiences have found their way here to #FoodieScore, but there have been too many great eats to have time to share them all. However, as the year comes to a close, we’d like to recap and award favorite designations to some of the best food we ate at restaurants in 2016.

Without further delay, here are the first-ever Year’s Best #FoodieScore winners, our short list of favorite experiences, somewhat categorized in the style of Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”

BEST BURGER

Matthew – Lankford Grocery & Market, Houston, Texas – In a year full of delicious burgers on our foodie travels, this local dining institution gave me the second best burger experience I’ve ever had (after the now-closed Kim’s Kitchen in Stanley, N.C.). The fresh meat, soft yet hearty bun, creamy cheese and fresh veggie toppings on my traditional burger was the perfect bun-meat-condiment ratio. Even Sheldon Cooper would be proud. And the friendly southern-style atmosphere of this place, set right in a neighborhood near the downtown of the nation’s fourth-largest city, was memorable. Lankford edges out a long list in this category, which also includes Al’s Burger Shack (Chapel Hill, N.C.), Betty Bombers (Savannah, Ga.), Burger Bar (Bristol, Va.), Pawley’s Front Porch (Columbia, S.C.) and Secret Sandwich Society (Fayetteville, W.Va.).

Molly – Al’s Burger Shack, Chapel Hill, N.C. – Out of all the delicious burgers we tried this year, Al’s eclipsed them all in multiple respects. Al’s burgers come with a delightful, soft bun that is freshly cut almost all the way through. The bun is still held together on one side, which means the ingredients – the meat of the meal – don’t move around or fall out like with most burgers. I eat a lot of messy burgers, but this bun held it all together for me. That’s one reason Al’s burgers are my new favorite. The second big deal for me is, of course, taste. I got a Swiss and mushroom burger with a garlic aioli sauce. The garlic flavor along with a slew of mushrooms atop a very juicy, perfectly-cooked burger made this sandwich my best burger of the year. Honorable mentions include a mushroom Swiss burger from The Copper Penny (Forest City, N.C.) and the Hey Good Looking burger from Burger Bar (Bristol, Va.).

BEST BREAKFAST

Matthew – Red House Inn in Brevard, N.C. – A bed-and-breakfast often gives you pancakes, French toast, eggs and other mainstays on a B&B menu. This homey B&B in western North Carolina does all that, but they also offer a traditional English breakfast. You get an English muffin, multiple meats, a cooked tomato, beans and mushrooms, along with other breakfast favorites. Everything is hot, fresh, and thanks to the B&B setting, you don’t have to drive to get there. It was a nice walk from our cottage next door to the main house. This was a wonderful place to celebrate the joys of marriage on a Valentine’s Day weekend.

Molly – The Collin’s Quarter in Savannah, Ga. – You can’t go wrong with the perpetually busy, Australian-inspired, unique cafe that is The Collin’s Quarter. (Unless you don’t like Matcha lattes.) (Inside joke.) We decided on brunch and my Avocado Smash was one of the freshest, most hearty, delicious brunches I’ve ever had. Here’s a description from the website: “[Smashed avocado] served on artisan toast bread with feta, heirloom tomatoes, micro herbs, and shaved radishes topped with a poached egg and sesame seeds.” It doesn’t get much better than that, and I didn’t even know I liked radishes! I also had a Madagascar Vanilla Latte. This place even inspired us to try our own poached eggs and smashed avocado toast at home. That makes it a winner in my book.

BEST SWEET TREAT

Matthew – Cupcrazed in Fort Mill, S.C. – A simple follow of this spot on Instagram shows you just how much this place knows cupcakes. Success in Food Network competition proves it, too. Seriously, I can’t explain it any better than this: Follow Cupcrazed on Instagram. You’ll get a daily digital dose of cupcakes. They offer the basic favorites, but they get crazy, too. My s’mores cupcake was righteous. It was so good that we took a box of cupcakes to our family.

Molly – Sweet Paris in Houston, Texas – It was so difficult to choose a best sweet treat spot, because we went to so many! But perhaps the most out-of-the-box was Sweet Paris Creperie, suggested to us by a dear friend for whose wedding we were in town. Their website says, “Welcome to our beautiful world of crepes” and I couldn’t agree more. I decided on a s’mores crepe. It was soft and delightful, filled with marshmallow creme, and covered with a chocolate drizzle, powdered sugar, and flame-torched marshmallows. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything more delicately sweet in my life.

BEST DESSERT

Matthew – Profiteroles at Superior Seafood in New Orleans, La. – A hearty dessert for $2 while traveling 1,000 miles across the southern U.S.? Yes, please! Our meal was great at Superior Seafood, but the $2 desserts topped it off so well. In a city known for its food and for its beignets, I discovered the profiterole, a soft and light pastry with ice cream and various sweet toppings. Other restaurants came close on taste this year, but none offered the corresponding value of Superior’s $2 dessert.

Molly – Banana pudding at Ronda’s Kitchen, Kings Mountain, N.C. – I got local for this one, because the best darn dessert I’ve put in my mouth this year is Ronda’s banana pudding. Let me tell you why. It’s homemade weekly, cooked slow on the stovetop, and topped with fresh bananas just before it’s served. It’s so creamy and sweet, with just the right amount of vanilla wafers swirled inside, that you forget any other banana pudding exists. It’s spoiled me on banana pudding anywhere else. Nom!

BEST SOUL FOOD

Matthew – Sweet Potatoes in Winston-Salem, N.C. – Perhaps the place I was most excited to visit this year for its southern and local flair, Sweet Potatoes did not disappoint. We enjoyed brunch while on a one-night weekend excursion. My chicken and pancakes (a take on the famed chicken and waffles) were like a slice of grandma’s old kitchen. Crispy, flavorful, boneless fried chicken tenders, atop a light and rich sweet potato pancake. And the brunch macaroni and cheese was a creamy, light appetizer to start us off. We lucked out with a window seat, so we got to take in Winston-Salem’s outdoor arts district, while also getting a view of the entire restaurant, which filled up immediately after opening on a Sunday morning.

Molly – Time-Out Grill in Chapel Hill, N.C. – Clearly Chapel Hill was a win for us foodies, and Time-Out had it all. We made a late-night stop upon our arrival into town, with no idea the caliber of soul food we were about to encounter. We sampled a chicken and cheese biscuit, broccoli casserole (the warmest, heartiest broccoli casserole you can imagine), sweet tea, country ham, and even a slice of pecan pie. A great stop for any hungry passerby at any time of day or night, Time-Out is a 24/7 soul food capital for North Carolina.

BEST MEXICAN FOOD

Matthew – El Rey in Houston, Texas – We eat Mexican food often, and most restaurants offer a similar set of familiar favorites. Not El Rey. Maybe that’s what you’d expect of a restaurant just a few hours from the Mexico border. But it struck me how surprised people were when I told them how great the food experience is in Houston. Folks seemed further surprised to discover Houston is one of the nation’s largest cities. El Rey was not just Mexican. It was Mexican and Cuban and other ethnic food goodness. We had tacos with plantains. We had fish tacos. We had fajita tacos. This place was a mix of the tastes of Mexico, San Diego, Miami and more. And the restaurant space itself gave off a very boutique cantina vibe. Best Mexican experience all year.

Molly – El Rey in Houston, Texas – Nope, that’s not a typo. When we were discussing our favorite Mexican food of the year, both of us chose El Rey. Another great suggestion from our awesome friends in Houston, my favorite fish taco of all time can be found here. Just crispy enough, just flaky enough, on a warm flour tortilla, with all the right toppings. Fish tacos, for the win.

BEST ITALIAN FOOD

Matthew – Big Mike’s in Brevard, N.C. – This is the definition of a local Italian-American joint. Red-and-white plaid tablecloths. Delicious pizza dough. Sweet tea to drink. Sports memorabilia all over the walls. Big Mike’s had great pizza, great garlic knots and a homey feel. It’s the kind of place that can turn lunch into lunch AND dinner. And that’s a good thing.

Molly – Dino’s in Bessemer City, N.C. – My mom and dad recommended Dino’s after they visited a few times and enjoyed the plethora of options this local Italian place has to offer. My stromboli was on point, Matthew’s pizza was on fleek, and the appetizer plate my mom shared with us gave us a taste of fried zucchini, fried mozzarella and more.

BEST BARBECUE

Matthew – Tie between Peace-N-Hominy Q Shack in Belmont, N.C., and Lexington Barbecue in Lexington, N.C. – Peace-N-Hominy is a chic modern Q Shack. Creative menu. Tasty meat. Decorated space. Lexington Barbecue is the legendary classic. All the favorites. Delicious meat. Non-fussy decor. Two different sides of the barbecue experience completely, both thrilled me in different ways with their range on the barbecue restaurant scale. And they offered something different than our three barbecue restaurants here where we live in Cleveland County, N.C.

BEST SEAFOOD

Matthew – Desposito’s in Thunderbolt, Ga. – If you want fresh, flavorful seafood presented simply without frills, this is your spot. Right off the water in coastal Georgia, I don’t know that Molly and I have ever visited a more hole-in-the-wall restaurant with more simple decor. And I don’t know that we’ll ever have boiled shrimp and deviled crab with more flavor. This place has served stars like Michael Douglas, and it’s been featured in publications nationwide. We understand why, and it has the distinction for me of serving the best seafood we ate all year.

Molly – Superior Seafood in New Orleans, La. – My hat’s tipped to Superior Seafood on this one, mainly due to the incredibly superior shrimp and grits I had the pleasure of eating here. Shrimp and grits are where I set my bar for the quality of a seafood or southern restaurant. I have sampled them in many places, but Superior Seafood’s were exactly…perfect. No gravy, instead a simple, flavorful, delicious “tasso cream” sauce. Perfectly-cooked grits. Perfectly-flavored, sauteed shrimp. Tiny squares of sausage. I savored every bite.

What’s the best thing you ate this year? Have you tried any of our favorites? You can find out more about most of the restaurants above in our Foodie Travels section!

Pictured Above (clockwise from top left): Lankford Grocery cheeseburger in Houston, Texas; Cupcrazed s’mores cupcake in Fort Mill, S.C.; El Rey fish taco in Houston, Texas; and Red House Inn English breakfast in Brevard, N.C.

Crispy Down-Home Fried Chicken

When Matthew said he wanted to make fried chicken inspired by Winston-Salem restaurant Sweet Potatoes‘ original recipe, my head starting filling with my own visions of what fried chicken means for a southern kitchen. My mom never made fried chicken, at least not the kind that actually comes with a bone inside it. So my frame of reference for fried chicken was limited to fast-food experiences (Bojangles, KFC, Popeye’s) and what I read in books. Yes, books. In my imagination, fried chicken is the kind Minny Jackson teaches Celia Foote how to make in “The Help” – the kind soaked overnight in buttermilk, seasoned with simple ingredients, then fried in a huge vat full of Crisco, which, as Minny points out, is just as vital for a southern cook as our mayonnaise.

Sweet Potatoes’ recipe follows much the same pattern. We used chicken legs and soaked them for at least 6 hours in the buttermilk mixture. Then, we “dredged” the chicken in a flour mixture and popped it in the pan, which was full of hot oil. When our chicken was finally done frying (we used a meat thermometer to be sure), we sure did enjoy it with our homemade biscuits, seasoned green beans, and a sweet potato hash Matthew came up with on the spur of the moment. It was a feast worthy of any southern kitchen, and it certainly lived up to the best of my imagination.

Here’s the recipe we used, which we tweaked for our own tastes. Feel free to change as needed, add your own sides, and enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. chicken

Oil for frying

(Buttermilk mixture)

1/2 quart buttermilk

1 tbsp. salt

1/2 tsp. garlic salt

1/2 tsp. thyme

1/2 tbsp. pepper

 

(Flour mixture)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch

Directions:

1. Combine buttermilk, salt, garlic, thyme and pepper. Add the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

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2. Heat the oil (about 1 inch deep) on medium-high in a large cast-iron pan.

3. Combine flour and cornstarch in a bowl. (The original recipe called for adding a tablespoon of chicken or seafood seasoning to the flour mixture. We didn’t, so it’s optional.)

4. Dredge the chicken in the flour+cornstarch mixture and coat it thoroughly.

5. Add the chicken to the pan and brown on one side for 10 minutes.

6. Turn the chicken over and keep frying until it is done, turning when necessary. Chicken is done when a thermometer (in the thickest part) reads 165 degrees.

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7. Remove from the pan and place the chicken on a plate covered with paper towels or another material for removing some of the grease. Serve and enjoy!

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Matthew’s take: Just watch chef Stephanie Tyson fry chicken and talk about her method. I believe your mouth will be watering afterward, just like mine was (unless you don’t like chicken altogether). This fried chicken was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside when we enjoyed it fresh from the pan. When I took a couple of pieces to work for lunch a couple of days later, I was amazed that it was even more flavorful and even better. The buttermilk soak makes all the difference in the flavor. The time you fry and the rotation of the chicken as it cooks inside and fries outside is the key to getting a combination of a nice, golden brown colorful appearance and the delicious taste of meaty chicken on the inside. I would recommend this recipe against any fried chicken prescription out there. Knowing the story of the chef who passed down the recipe certainly makes a difference as well. (And so does the memory of eating in her delightfully Southern, North Carolina restaurant.)

Molly’s take: This chicken, as I said, lived up to my expectations. Soaking it in the buttermilk really makes the meat tender and flavorful. It is perfect when prepared and cooked this way. The frying took longer than I imagined, but I didn’t have enough oil in the pan and my burner was on too low. So that’s why I suggest turning it up to medium-high heat and frying in at least an inch of oil. Once it was done, it was delicious! Crispy outer covering with a tender, juicy inside. We can’t wait to try it again!

 

Foodie Travels: Sweet Potatoes, Winston-Salem, N.C.

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When a line forms at a restaurant’s doors before it opens, that’s a good sign. When an artist asks if he can photograph your food for a series he’s doing for the restaurant’s wall decor, that’s another good sign. When your waitress advises you how you can work the menu to get the best sampling to please your tastebuds, that’s ultimately a good sign.

Prior to a recent quick weekend trip to Winston-Salem, N.C., Molly discovered this restaurant with a food name and a tempting menu full of Southern delights. Let me be the one to tell you that everything we read and saw and dreamed of in regards to this place came true. Sweet Potatoes is the stuff of legend in this northwestern corner of North Carolina’s Triad region, about two hours from Charlotte. The first indicator of that fame? The place was full within 15 minutes of opening when we experienced our first brunch during our recent visit.

After being the first ones through the door, we were seated by the corner window with the accompaniment of a pleasing playlist of jazz flowing through the air. Sweet Potatoes has a story behind its name, and the food by that same name is the inspiration behind many of the dishes on the menu. Following a very hospitable consultation with our suggestive but not insistent menu expert (waitress), Molly and I both settled on sweet potato-inclusive main courses. She had the “Un-French” Toast with a sweet potato base and a delicious strawberry sauce, and I had the Chicken and Sweet Potato Pancakes, a glorious local take on the Southern favorite, Chicken and Waffles.

That left us wondering about several other almost-chosen menu items, including a Three-Cheese Macaroni and Country Ham Souffle. No problem. Our waitress suggested the modestly priced savory dish as an appetizer to share, and that’s just what we did. The creaminess of the macaroni and cheese was boosted by the high-flavor taste of the ham, and it was one of the most tasty opening dishes I’ve experienced in all my foodie travels. And it was just enough to be an opening course.

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On to the main dishes. Molly’s “Un-French” Toast had a deep sweet potato flavor and gooey interior, countered by a slightly crispy outer crust, and supplemented by a surprisingly but perfectly paired taste of strawberries and their juices.

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My pancakes were light, fluffy and had the spice and sweet of a piece of sweet potato pie, while the fried chicken tenders (read more about the chef’s delicious chicken coating here) had the best seasoning taste I believe either of us have ever had in a fried piece of chicken.

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Along with the delicious Southern culinary experience, there’s an artsy feel on all sides and senses at Sweet Potatoes. Combined with the jazz, your eyes get a sample of local art and photos from the nearby performing arts scene. Both are ideal fits for a restaurant that sits in the heart of Winston-Salem’s Trade Street art district.

During our brunch, a number of folks continued to wait outside, hoping for a seat. Some ultimately went elsewhere, while others stayed put, obviously knowing the delayed entry would be worth the wait. I was quite possibly as excited about trying this restaurant as any I’ve ever scouted online. And it was every bit as good as I hoped it would be.

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A few final tips for your visit: Arrive early. Arrive hungry. Put down your phone while you’re there. This is one of those places that every one of your senses must experience in full effect.

 

Sweet Potatoes

529 North Trade Street, Winston-Salem, N.C.

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