Sunday, October 19, 2014

Spicy Marinated Steak Tacos #SundaySupper

The holiday season is coming and budgets are even tighter with the extra expenses that come along with it. This Sunday, I'm sharing a recipe that won't take a bite out of your wallet. Sunday Supper shouldn't suffer just because there aren't many extra dollars to go around to make decadent meals. You can still make creative, flavorful meals for mere pennies on the dollar.

THIS WEEK, Sunday Supper is being co-hosted by T.R. of Gluten Free Crumbley and David of Cooking Chat!

Join the #SundaySupper conversation on Twitter on Sunday! We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm ET. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. To get more great Sunday Supper Recipes, visit our website or check out our Pinterest boardWould you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement.

I'm not sure if you know, but I am the host of a budget-friendly TV show that is filmed and produced by the City of Winston-Salem. This year we shot 9 episodes of a show called "$20 Challenge" where I took a crisp $20 bill, shopped at a local farmer's market and created a meal for four using the market's ingredients. I always try to use minimal pantry ingredients that most everyone should have on-hand at any time. And if you don't have a pantry, the extra items are fairly inexpensive and can be purchased at discount retailers like Dollar Tree, Big Lots (my favorite) or your local grocer. 

Most weeks on the show, my task to make budget-friendly meals was easy. Some weeks it was hard, but I'm sharing this recipe for Sunday Supper because personally--I love tacos. I can't get enough. I eat more tacos than anything. My diet pretty much consists of tacos, pizza, whole-wheat bread, cake, beer and tacos. I'm like a five-year-old child (minus the alcohol)!

So to make this meal on "$20 Challenge", I spent $15.40! I did have a spicy marinated cantaloupe that cost $4, so you can easily make these tacos for less than $15 including all of the usual taco toppings like: shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, onions, radishes, lettuce and fresh herbs like cilantro or parsley. You can also use dried herbs in the marinade in place of fresh herbs and save even MORE cash. A simple side like rice, corn, or baked beans, can make the tacos into a fantastic meal for four OR MORE!

Spicy Marinated Steak Tacos
1 ¼ skirt steak, trimmed, cut into 4-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons fresh mint
¼ cup fresh parsley
¼ cup fresh oregano
1 bunch chives
¼ cup cilantro
¼ cup jalapeno, diced (remove some or all ribs and seeds for less heat)
2 cloves garlic
Juice from 1 lime
1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon oil
Salt and Pepper

1 10-count package corn or flour tortillas

Put all ingredients in a resealable plastic bag and release all excess air OR a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface to eliminate excess air. Marinate steak for 10 minutes up to 12 hours in refrigerator.

Heat grill or stove on high.

Use a scant 1/2 teaspoon of oil on the pan. Sear on one side until golden brown and slightly charred, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the steak over and cook to medium-rare, about 3 to 4 minutes longer. Let rest 5 minutes then slice against the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Fill each tortilla with 3 to 4 pieces of meat, tomato salsa, sour cream or Greek yogurt, cheese and any other condiments you like.

Don't forget to check out the dozens of budget-friendly recipes and meals put together by other Sunday Supper bloggers below:

Scrumptious Mains (Breakfast and Dinner)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Gluten-free Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies #cookiemonth14

I'm excited about this week's cookie. It's (mostly) allergen-free and uses two new-to-me products from SunButter and Bob's Red Mill that have changed my life.

It's week two of National Cookie Month and this week we are sharing cookies that are the best shippers. Care packages sent to loved ones, soldiers and military overseas and random holiday cookie swaps all beg to have fresh, delicious carefully packed cookies.

I'm not an expert on shipping baked goods, as I've only done it a few times, but fellow #cookiemonth14 blogger Wendy at The Monday Box sends a care package to her son each week, so I defect to her expertise. 
Please check out her blog for best cookie shipping practices.

I LOVE oatmeal butterscotch cookies. They're my favorite and it's been documented. As much as I love them,  I usually have to make them myself because most bakeries cannot guarantee a truly allergen-free confectionery item. A few things I can't have: tree and ground nuts, most stone fruits. I'm not gluten-free, but I empathize with others who have dietary requirements and these cookies are perfect. I've never used a gluten-free baking mix before and Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flour blend completely blew away my expectations. I didn't have to add a thing. I only added an egg and baking powder for leavening.

Instead of using pre-made butterscotch chips, I took my idea one step further and made SunButterscotch chips! A blend of roasted white chocolate, SunButter and a pinch of salt produce roasty, toasty, sweet chips that I had to stop myself from eating by the handful. SunButter allowed me to have the first 'butter and jelly sandwich I've had in EIGHTEEN YEARS! Nut-free and soy-free, and made from non-GMO sunflower seeds, I'm always going to have this in my fridge! I love this stuff! Squeeeeeee!

Oatmeal SunButterscotch Cookies
Yield: ~24 cookies

These cookies bake up crisp and sweet, just like gluten-filled cookies.

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar 
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
6 oz. Bob's Red Mill Gluten-free flour 
1 egg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup SunButterscotch chips (recipe to follow)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream butter and sugars together until smooth. Add vanilla and eggs; beat well. In a separate bowl, blend flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Stir flour blend into wet ingredients. Add oats, SunButterscotch chips and mix well. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto ungreased cookie sheet. 

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool one minute then transfer to wire rack. Makes about 2 dozen cookies. 

SunButterscotch Chips
Makes 2 cups
1 1/2 cups White Chocolate
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups SunButter

Preheat the oven to 250°F
Sprinkle the white chocolate chips on a baking sheet and place it in the oven for ten minutes.

Remove it from the oven and spread it out with a dry spatula.
Continue to cook it in the oven for an additional 30-40 minutes, stirring and spreading it out with the spatula at 15 minute intervals. Cook until the white chocolate is peanut butter brown color.
Remove from the oven and scrape it into a medium bowl with a pinch of salt and the SunButter. Stir the ingredients until they are thoroughly combined.

To make chips: Line a sheet tray with plastic wrap, foil or wax paper. Place the SunButter mixture in a piping bag fitted with a small tip or plastic bag with a small hole cut in the corner of the bag. Lightly squeeze the bag and make a chip the size of a nickel. Repeat. Place the sheet tray in the freezer for a minimum of 30 minutes. When ready to use the chips in the above recipe, use them in the recipe frozen.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Food Blog Forum Asheville #FBFAsh

In late August, I attended the 7th annual Food Blog Forum in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina. The conference was held in and around the historic Biltmore Estate, the largest private residence in America! And it's located in my home state! (Little known fact: Do you know where the 2nd largest private residence is located? Still in North Carolina--In my hometown!)

And even though Asheville is only 2.5 hours away from me, I'd never been to Biltmore.

This trip was truly a once in a lifetime experience and I feel forever changed. Not only did I get to meet dozens of new-to-me bloggers, but connect with real-life blogger friends and Twitter followers I've been stalking following since I began blogging in 2007, a few of my culinary heroes and eat and drink my way through the best of the best of the city of Asheville.

Remember that feeling you used to get when Santa Claus left gifts for you or the Easter Bunny left you a basket brimming with candy? Or the Tooth Fairy managed to slip her (or his) hand under your pillow and leave money? That's exactly what this trip was. I swear.

I spent time with my blogging buddies Kathy Hester of Healthy Slow Cooking and Janet Cooper-Bridge of at the historic Omni Grove Park Inn and I could easily see why presidents, dignitaries, playwrites, artists and authors were inspired by the climate, the mountains, the rolling hills and the fresh, clean air. I was inspired too. The spa, there have to be over a dozen nooks and crannies available to sit and write.

It all started on Sunday evening at the Doubletree Asheville reception. The hotel used to be the Biltmore Dairy which supplied milk and other creamery items to the house and surrounding areas. In the lobby there is a huge display! We were handed swag bags chock full of goodies AND we were treated to a self-guided assembly line of items to add to another swag bag provided by Foodtopia. The reception was in the outdoor garden area and we were treated to cocktails, ice cream, canapes and good ol' mountain music--bluegrass. It was magical and beautiful and a perfect start to the conference.

Monday was full of informative sessions and great food. The evening was the most magical experience I could ever have imagined.

We caravaned to a parking lot and boarded coach buses that took us right to the front door of the Biltmore Estate. We went on an after-hours, behind-the-scenes kitchen tour. We saw how life as a guest and a kitchen employee would be during the Edwardian era.

Now... when I went to Versailles, I was overcome with emotion and the sheer history involved in the palace. I felt the same way touring the house. Looking out of the same windows, standing in the same kitchen, catching the same glimpse of the copper pots and pans nearly a century old really overwhelmed me. As a regular tourist/guest at the Biltmore, you are not allowed to take photographs. Guess who was allowed to take photos! I took a selfie in every. single. room. Not all of them turned out, but I was so super stoked to be at the Biltmore, see the Biltmore and soak up all of the history, I couldn't resist.

Dinner was another ride and short walk where all 5 of the property's restaurants awaited us with buffet style eats. Biltmore Estate wine was available for drinking (Did you know Biltmore is the most visited vineyard in the world)

Tuesday, the last day was just as fantastic as the first. A quick ride to Highland Brewing began 4 hours of eating and drinking.

Sassy Nik

Sometimes you experience something so grandiose and beautiful that you want to hold it close and keep it to yourself as long as you can. That's exactly how I felt about this conference. I took more than 200 photos and met dozens of bloggers and even though I'm telling you about my time, it doesn't begin to scratch the surface of how transcendental this trip was for me. I can't wait to go back to Asheville very soon and capture a few more pieces of foodie heaven.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Red Velvet Sugar Cookies #CookieMonth14

It's week one of National Cookie Month and #CookieMonth14 and we are all sharing our family favorite cookies.

I have to be honest: My family doesn't have a favorite cookie. We are mostly a cake & pie family. Our holidays and celebrations are flour-fueled cake frenzies spackled with buttercream and flat icing. But we're also a Southern family and we love red velvet cake (okay, maybe it's just me) so here I get to start a new tradition with my newest creation:

The plethora of sponsors for Cookie Month '14 have been generous and this week I'm featuring Bob's Red Mill All-purpose Flour, GIR Spatulas and supplies from restaurant supplier, KaTom.

This is not my first experience with GIR (stands for Get It Right) spatulas. I've been collecting spatulas of all colors, shapes and sizes for over a year. Once a successful Kickstarter project, GIR has absolutely gotten it right. High-heat safe (up to 425°F), ambidextrous and available in numerous colors, they are one piece and easy to clean. Made of silicone and true works of art, I'm looking forward to getting more products from this great company.

This is, however, my first time using Bob's Red Mill All-purpose Flour. It's unbleached and softer than the other brand of flours I use and I was sent a generous 5lb bag, so plenty more experimenting will happen this month!

So when baking, I usually hand-mix everything. I hate washing dishes and it takes just as much time to whip up a batch of cookies by hand in a bowl. Hand-mixing produces a more dense cookie (or cake) and that's the way I like my baked goods. And what better to stir the batter and scrape the bowl than a GIR spatula?

Red Velvet Sugar Cookies
Yield: 24 2-inch cookies 

1 1/2 cups Bob's Red Mill All-purpose   Flour
1/3 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
1/2 cup Dixie Crystals Extra Fine Granulated Sugar
1 egg, beaten
40 drops red food coloring
1/2 tablespoon milk or cream
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl and cream together until light in color. Add egg, food coloring and milk. Beat to combine.

Gradually add flour mixture to bowl, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap or place in 2 airtight containers. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375° F.
Sprinkle work surface with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking.

If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill. Cut into desired shapes, place at least 1-inch apart on a greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack.

Use a chilled cookie sheet or chilled baking pan turned upside down and covered with wax paper to help keep the dough chilled and to make rolling out the dough easier.

Be sure to check out my cookie month partners and their amazing recipes:
Jess at The 104 Homestead
Kathie at Homespun Seasonal Living
Tessa at Homestead Lady
Chris at Joybilee Farm
Sheila at Life, Love, and Good Food
Wendy at The Monday Box
Shari at Pure Grace Farms
Angi at Schneiderpeeps
Lauren at Wicked Spatula

The following companies generously sponsored various cookie month projects. I may not have used all of them in my recipes, but this project is in no small part thanks to the incredible contributions of: Bob's Red MillThe Daily MealIndia TreeKerryGoldKing Arthur FlourProduct of GIRKaTomSunButter, and Wilton.

DISCLAIMER: I have been compensated and received product in exchange for this post, but all opinions and views are my own. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

National Homemade Cookie Day

October is National Cookie Month and TODAY is National Homemade Cookie Day.

This month I've been challenged with NINE other bloggers to create a new cookie each week, share tips, tricks and highlight the products of more than a half dozen sponsors and culinary content providers. Follow us and contribute your own love of cookies by searching #CookieMonth14 on your favorite social media sites. Start by checking out our Pinterest board to get ideas for making your own cookies! Below is an overview of what to expect each week from this amazing group:

October 1st: Kick Off with Homemade Cookie Day

Oct 5 - 11: Family Favorites Cookie Recipe with my favorite baking tips
Oct 12 - 18: Best Shippers (cookies that ship well in the mail)
Oct 19 - 25: Best Gift Cookies 
Oct 26 - 31: Best Freezers (cookies that freeze well)

Be sure to check out my Cookie Month partners and their amazing recipes:

The following companies generously sponsored various cookie month projects. I may not have used all of them in my recipes, but this project is in no small part thanks to them and their incredible contributions: Bob's Red MillThe Daily MealIndia TreeKerryGoldKing Arthur FlourProduct of GIRKaTomSunButter & Wilton.

DISCLAIMER: I have received free product in exchange for participating in #CookieMonth14, but all opinions are my own. Now onto the cookies...

To kick off the month, I want to share my best cookie recipe. I made these cookies for the first time last October while preparing to enter the World Food Championships in Las Vegas. These cookies are the best cookies I've ever created and I'm superbly proud of them. Originally, I made them as sandwich cookies with an Earl Gray tea whipped ganache. While incredibly vibrant and floral, they are too rich and decadent to be sandwiched like an Oreo (because these little beauties are in fact grown-up Oreo cookies, although not vegan [sorry, not sorry]) In short, they whip up quick, bake very quickly and are intensely flavorful and fun to make. Who doesn't like a little sugar-crusted cookie?

Dark Chocolate Orange Cardamom Cookies
Yield: 20

   1 1/4 cups self-rising flour
   3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (1/4 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder and 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, mixed)
   1 teaspoon baking soda
   1 1/2 cups sugar, plus more for flattening cookies
   10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
   1 large egg, room temperature
   1 Tablespoon orange zest, grated
   1/2 teaspoon cardamom, ground

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Into a medium-size bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powders, baking soda; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 1 egg, orange zest and cardamom; beat to combine. With mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture; continue beating until dough is well combined.

Using a 1 1/4-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Dip bottom of a glass in sugar; press to flatten cookies to about 1/8 inch thick. (You may need to carefully remove dough from glass with a thin metal spatula.)

Transfer to oven, and bake until cookies are firm, about 10 to 12 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Monday, September 22, 2014

$20 Challenge [Sausage And Mixed Pepper Ragu + Pumpkin Grits] #dcfarmkt

Welcome to the NINTH episode of $20 Challenge!

To prove that you can eat locally grown food AND stay within your grocery budget, the Dixie Classic Fair Farmers Market and the City of Winston-Salem is sponsoring the $20 Challenge twice a month  through September 2014.

I will stage a live cooking demonstration in which I will prepare a meal for a family of four for $20 using ingredients I buy at the market that day.

Did you not make it to the market on Saturday? Watch the $20 Challenge on WSTV-13 on Time Warner Cable (Channels 74.3 and 1303) OR subscribe to the City of Winston-Salem's You Tube channel.

September is the last month for the $20 Challenge in 2014. As a matter of fact, this episode is the last episode of the season. I'm sad yet glad it's all over for now. Waking up early on Saturday mornings and not knowing what I was going to cook week in and week out was a little taxing on my foodie brain.

Everyone from the producers, production crew, farmers, vendors and customers are probably all glad it's over too. What I'm really excited about: planning for next year. We did an amazing job this time around and next year--who knows what's in store for us!

Watch the NINTH episode of $20 Challenge HERE:

Sausage And Mixed Pepper Ragu

A ragu or a ragout is typically a meat sauce cooked down with vegetables. It doesn't have to contain tomatoes and mine simply has a few for flavor and to add a little color and a little acid to the dish. 

In a large skillet, heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add onions and peppers to the pan. Saute for 8-10 minutes, until onions are translucent and peppers are wilted. Add chopped tomatoes and cook the mixture for an additional 3 to 4 minutes.

Make a well in the center of the peppers and onions and place ground sausage in the center of the pan. Use a spatula or fork to break up the meat and brown the meat. Once cooked through and no pink remains, mix the peppers, onions and sausage together. Remove the pan from heat and set aside.

Pumpkin Grits

'Tis the season for pumpkins and squash. I have a confession: I CANNOT STAND PUMPKIN. I stay away from it at all costs. No PSL, no pumpkin spice or anything in my life. But I know it's not always about me and I acquiesce to the onslaught of pumpkin each year,  until peppermit takes its place in December.  

1/2 cup white quick grits (not instant grits)
1/2 cup fresh pumpkin, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a small saucepot, bring 2 cups water to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk in grits. Lower heat to medium-low and cook, whisking frequently, until grits are almost tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add half the butter to the pot and stir it in. If the grits become too thick, add water ¼ cup at a time. Stir in cooked, diced pumpkin 1 to 2 minutes before grits are done. Use a whisk to break up and mash the pumpkin into the grits while stirring. Finish cooking and remove from heat. Stir in additional butter and keep warm.

Scuppernong Grape Gastrique

A gastrique is a sweet and sour sauce made with caramelized sugar, fruit and vinegar. It's the perfect foil to fatty meats and gives a perfect contrast to spicy elements on a plate.

1 pint Scuppernong (or purple Muscadine) grapes, cut in half
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place the grapes in a skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle sugar over grapes and pan-roast for 15 minutes, until they release juice and become noticeably deeper shade of green.

2. Add the vinegar and continue to cook, swirling the pan a few times, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce has thickened to the consistency of thin maple syrup. If the sauce is too thick, add water or stock 1 Tablespoon at a time, continuing to swirl the pan.

3. Remove from heat and add a good pinch of both salt and pepper. Strain out grape seeds and serve warm.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

September is North Carolina Wine + Grape Month #NCWine

September is North Carolina Wine & Grape Month.

North Carolina currently has over 120 wineries and 400 grape growers.
NC-produced grapes and wine makes the state the 10th largest producer of wine in America. North Carolina is also home to the nation’s first cultivated wine grape, the scuppernong (the official fruit of the state of North Carolina!), which is a variety of the muscadine family. On Friday, you will be able to read and see a little bit more about Scuppernong grapes here on Nik Snacks.

The month of September is nearly over, but now is the best time for NC wine events and more.

Muscadine grapes are noted for their superior antioxidant and other properties, compared to other grapes. My grandma used to make muscadine wine and keep it in bottles on top of our refrigerator. Well, most of the wine turned to vinegar, but the few bottles that weren't vinegar actually turned into something good. Varietals from Duplin Winery and Woodmill Winery are two of my favorites. That being said, I've made a new drink using muscadine wine.

My new favorite drink is something I've created call a Southern Lady.

There is another drink called a Southern Lady or a Southern Belle that is made with Southern Comfort or other bourbon spirits, but this drink is made with muscadine wine.

Two parts muscadine wine
One part cake flavored vodka
Top with club soda

It's sweet, fresh and just as polite and demure as can be.

Curious about this grape? Want to take a little road trip? Well, the 10th Annual Muscadine Harvest Festival in Kenansville, NC takes place September 26-27. Nearly 50 wineries will be present for you to sip, sample, taste and find out all about muscadines, scuppernongs and all kind of grapes in between. has a monthly calendar of events at NC wineries, and other information, too. Check it out.