NC State Fair

Cary Student Wins Two Cooking Competitions at 2018 State Fair

Cary, NC – Back in 2017, we reported on Cary student Grace Brescia who won first place in King Arthur Flour Baking Contest at the NC State Fair. This year, not only did Brescia win first place in the content’s youth division again but she also took home the blue ribbon in the Great American SPAM Championship.

Prize Winning Food

Brescia won first place in the King Arthur Flour Baking Contest’s youth category for her Pumpkin Drop Cookies. Last year, Brescia won for her Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies so this year she said she wanted to create a more complicated dessert.

“Last year it was simple because I used peanut butter and chocolate so now I’m working with more spices in my baking,” Brescia said. “It was a pumpkin spice cookie so I used cloves, nutmeg, spices like that.”

This year, Brescia started a culinary class at her high school and she said she is trying to get a well rounded set of skills.

“I’m starting to get more into baking, which I hadn’t done much of until around last year,” Brescia said.

Not only did Brescia win in the baking competition but she also won first place in a competition for cooking with Spam in the Great American SPAM Championship’s youth category.

“The challenge was, I had never tried Spam before so I went out of my comfort zone,” she said. “Its consistency has a meaty texture so it can take on other ingredients and profiles.”

Using that tendency to take on other flavors, Brescia made Hawaiian Pigs in a Blanket with a homemade teriyaki sauce. Her imagination in cooking comes from her father Bob Brescia, who also won third place in the Tar Heel Pork Challenge’s adult category for his Island Paradise Pork Skewers.

“My mom makes smaller dishes and more home cooking but my dad is always trying new techniques and foods from different cultures, from African to Chinese and more,” she said.

Brescia also encourages anyone who enjoys cooking to enter the competitions at future state fairs.

“Even if you don’t win, it’s fun to go and see your food there,” she said.

NC State Fair

Grace Brescia with her award for her Spam Hawaiian Pigs in a Blanket

Winning Recipes

Pumpkin Drop Cookies

Ingredients for cookies:

  • ½ Cup Margarine or Butter, Softened
  • ¾ Cup Granulated Sugar
  • ¾ Cup Packed Brown Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Can (15 oz.) pumpkin
  • 2 ½ Cups King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 ½ tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. Ground Allspice
  • ¼ tsp. Ground Nutmeg
  • 6 Tbsp. Pumpkin Goat Cheese

Ingredients for Confectioners’ Sugar Glaze:

  • 1 ½ cups Confectioners’ Sugar, sifted (remove any lumps)
  • 3-4 Tbsp. Milk or Water
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla Extract (optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease cookie sheet with shortening. Mix butter and sugars in large bowl with spoon. Beat in eggs. Stir in pumpkin. Stir in remaining ingredients.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls about two inches apart onto cookie sheet.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set and golden. Cool one to two minutes; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.

While cookies are cooling, to prepare the glaze place the sugar in a medium sized bowl and slowly stir in the milk/water and vanilla. Combine ingredients a little at a time to make sure you get a smooth and pourable glaze.

Once the cookies are cooled and the glaze is ready, drizzle or pour the glaze on the cookies.

Hawaiian Pigs in a Blanket

  • 1 Can Less Sodium SPAM
  • 1 box Puff Pastry


  • ½ Cup Soy Sauce
  • ¼ Cup Water
  • 2 Tbsp. Sweet Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. Honey
  • ¼ Cup Sugar
  • 1 ½ Tsp. Garlic, Minced
  • 1 ½ Tsp. Ginger Root, Grated
  • 1 Tsp. Sesame Seed Oil


  • ½ Tbsp. Cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp. Water

Instruction for SPAM: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut SPAM into equal squares and sauté on the stovetop until it gets nice sear.

After sauce is complete, put over seared spam and mix together.

Pull out puff pastry and roll till ⅛ inch thick on a floured surface.

Put spam on corner of puff pastry and roll over to create a triangle shape.

Place on baking sheet and put in the oven for roughly 15-20 minutes. To obtain more of a brown crust apply an egg wash over top of the puff pastry.

Instructions for Sauce and Glaze:

Combine ingredients in a saucepan on medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.

To make glaze: Mix 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch with one tablespoon water. Heat sauce on medium high heat and add cornstarch water mixture. Simmer until thickened about one minute.

Island Paradise Pork Skewers

Marinade Ingredients:

  • ½ cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. garlic minced
  • 1 tsp. course kosher or sea salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. ketchup
  • 1 ripe banana, finely mashed
  • 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. white wine vinegar
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 8 oz. Ginger Ale

Grilling sauce:

  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • Red pepper flakes or other spicy pepper to taste

Mix together all the marinade ingredients, except for the Ginger Ale, and blend until smooth. Add ginger ale to marinade mixture.

Cut pork into one inch wide, ¼ inch thin strips

Place pork slices into a sealable, plastic bag and pour in marinade. Marinate pork in the refrigerator for at least four hours or if possible overnight.

Remove pork from marinade and place meat on the water-soaked wood skewers.

Mix together the grilling sauce ingredients.

Cook over medium grill, turning every two-to-three minutes, while basting with grilling sauce. Total cook time can vary but try not to go beyond medium – eight minutes total.

NC State Fair

Left to right: Grace Brescia in first place, Lila Bender in second place, Joseph Dunatov in third place

Story by Michael Papich. Recipes by Grace and Bob Brescia. Photos courtesy of the North Carolina State Fair.