Nik Snacks

Bite it and write it. That's what I do.

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On 11:54 AM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , ,    22 comments
One of the first things I ever learned how to make was a biscuit (well, I'm sure there were at least eight of them, but you know what I mean). My grandmother let me peer over the counter as she sifted flour, cut up butter, and rolled her way across the counter.



I got to pat dough.

I got to play with yeast (cake and granulated).

I got to use real butter, margarine, and trans fat-free buttery spreads.

One time and one time only did we use Crisco. It was butter flavored and it could have been sawdust-flavored for all we cared. It was gross. Yuck.

I have a hard time referring to cookies as digestive biscuits because I've only known biscuits to be ethereal bundles of flaky, fluffy, luxurious joy.


Every night Grandma made dinner with a meat, two vegetables, and a bread. 90% of the time it was biscuits. It was a special treat to get Jiffy cornbread, topped with butter, studded with corn and diced jalapenos, or swirled with fresh herbs. But the biscuit ... Oh! The biscuit. High upon its pedestal, to this day it stands high above the rest.


When it comes to baking, it's an exact science. That's why many cooks say they don't or can't bake. Honestly, it takes skill, dedication, and pure concentration to measure, weigh, and calculate ingredients. When you cook, you can literally throw anything in a pan, turn on the heat, stir it, and it's done. It's easy to master the science of coagulating and denaturing of proteins or the breaking down of cellulose.



The Chop Shop of Biscuit Making

Flour: Unbleached all-purpose flour is the trademark of American baked goods.


Whole-wheat flour will make us all heart healthy, but it will also make your biscuits heavy and dense. I'd rather be light and fluffy. Sorry. LOL. The bran in the whole wheat flour cuts the gluten strands and makes it short (the premise behind shortbreads and shortcakes), causing the bread to be dense.


The best combination of flour for biscuits is one part all-purpose and one part cake flour. Cake flour is soft and has a lower gluten protein percentage. It clumps in your hand when you squeeze it. Swans Down is my favorite. To make your own: Add 2 Tbsp cornstarch to 1 cup all-purpose flour. It's a reasonable facsimile, but only do it if you must must must.



Self-rising flour is one of the most wonderful inventions ever. In any self-respecting Southern woman's cabinet, there are two bags of flour: regular all-purpose and self-rising all-purpose. You never know when you'll need one or the other. Preferred brands include: Gold Medal, Martha White, and White Lily.

I'm going to be honest, my grandma really didn't like having huge bags of flour with little white girls on it, so we usually had Gold Medal.

Self-rising flour sometimes tastes salty, so that's when adding your own baking powder and baking soda comes into play.

Leavening: This is what separates the women from the girls. It's what makes the biscuits rise and get fluffy. Whichever leavening agent you use, it works like this: it reacts with the moisture, heat and acidity in the dough to produce carbon dioxide--which then becomes trapped as bubbles within the dough. Yeast, buttermilk, sour cream, baking soda, and baking powder all all acceptable agents. Using them correctly is key.
If using self-rising flour, skip this step. The baking soda and powder are already included.
Yeast is a beast. It's living, real, and unkind in foreign lands. Sugar feeds it. Salt kills it. Potato starch nourishes it. Heat inhibits it. One wrong move, and it's over. Yeast is why I don't bake bread. It makes me want to cry. I like kids, but I don't want to babysit any yeast.
Buttermilk is simply soured milk full of cultured bacteria. It gives biscuits a slight tang in taste. To make your own, add 2 Tbsp white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup milk. Let sit for 10 minutes e voila, you have soured milk. It is NOT the same as buttermilk, but it will do in a pinch.

For baking powder, I prefer Clabber Girl. There is a lip on the inside that you can scrape your measuring spoon against to level your powder. Ingenious!

Fat: Cutting the fat means something entirely different when it comes to biscuits. As we all know, fat equals flavor. My preferred fat is ice cold cubes of salted butter. Shortening (Crisco), bacon fat, margarine all can be used. Cooks will swear by shortening, but I don't like to use it because it changes the mouthfeel of the biscuits to something more akin to plastic than biscuit. I've used oil in a pinch, but butter makes it better. For sure.

The less the dough is worked, the more tender the biscuits will be. Knead the dough just until it comes together in a ball. Gently rework the scraps and use those, too. It's hard times right now--waste not, want not.

Placing the biscuits close together helps them rise and stay fluffy. Placing them apart makes them crustier.

To cut biscuits, a biscuit cutter isn't needed. If you have one, that's great, but the floured rim of a drinking glass, shot glass, or the top of a Mason jar will do. Use a knife if you want square or diamond shaped biscuits.

Stacked, crusty biscuits waiting to be buttered.

Buttermilk Biscuits Yield 12 to 16 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
8 Tbsp butter
1 cup buttermilk

Basic Biscuits Yield 12 to 16 biscuits

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 Tbsp butter
1 cup milk

(Follow instructions for either recipe)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Sift dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut butter with your fingers, fork, or pastry cutter until the mixture looks like course crumbs. Pour in the milk and stir it with a fork until the ingredients are moistened. Lightly flour the counter or another work surface and turn out the dough. Pat into a circle between 1/2 and 3/4 inches thick. Cut biscuits into desired shapes. Rework scraps and cut them into shapes as well. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.




THIS is why I'm glad to be Southern. 
Thank you, Jesus, for small miracles.

*NOTE: This post was updated and refreshed in 2020. But biscuit-making has been the same since forever, so there's that...
On 9:00 AM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , , ,    1 comment

I wrote a thing about pimiento cheese this week and it got me thinking about what goes into GOOD pimiento cheese and it starts out with: 
"There used to be a time when the only debate about pimiento cheese was whether to spell it with an “i” before the “e.”

If you've ever worked in a restaurant in the south with this spread on the menu, you probably call it "pimp cheese". These days people do try to pimp out their cheese spread studded with pimentos. But not me. I KISS IT. Keep it simple, southern lady.



Mayo or May-nah

I don't care what you use. Diehards use Duke's mayo. I use Hellman's. I do not condone the use of Miracle Whip for any purpose except to leave it in the store where you found it. 

The mayo simply binds the cheese shreads together with the pimientos, making the spread creamy and palatable. I like adding cream cheese to my recipe because it gives the recipe more stability. If you're at a picnic, this version is less likely to melt and get weepy. Also, it helps spread on crackers and bread easier.



Classic Southern Pimiento Cheese 

Yield: 1 quart


4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz cream cheese, softened
¾ cup mayonnaise
2 jars (4 oz each) diced pimentos, drained or 1 cup roasted red peppers, finely diced
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce 


1. In a large mixing bowl, place the cheddar cheese in an even layer. Scatter the cream cheese, mayonnaise, pimientos, smoked paprika and hot pepper sauce over the cheddar cheese. Using a spoon or rubber spatula, mix the pimento cheese lightly until it is smooth and spreadable, without overmixing.

  1. 2. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator up to one week.



Shred your own cheese. Use a food processor (which I really dont recommend) or a box grater, but I definitely recommend shredding your own cheese instead of using store-bought shredded cheese.

I don't recommend a food processor because most of the time, it OVER-processes the cheese and it becomes a matted, mottled clump of cheddar and not only is the texture off, it throws of the balance of flavor once you mix everything together because you have to OVER-mix it all to make it taste like something.

Can I use packaged pre-shredded cheese?

Of course! You can use whatever kind of shredded cheese you want (but sharp cheddar is best). Pre-shredded cheese does have a light coating of cornstarch to keep it from clumping together, but if you're okay with that...
It also makes the cheese not cream together as well as cheese that is freshly shredded from a block of cheese. But sometimes the spread can be TOO creamy (too much mayo, too much stirring, too much trying) so pre-shredded cheese is 1 less step and a foolproof way to pimiento cheese nirvana.



Pimientos Vs Roasted Red Bell Peppers

Technically, both are mild peppers and few people can tell the difference between the two. Pimientos come pre-diced and in smaller jars than red bells. They're also a little bit sweeter and tangier than their cousins. But once you've covered them in mayo and sharp cheese, nobody knows except you and your grocery receipt. 


Additional seasonings and add-ins.
You can include other spices and seasonings if you prefer. Garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne and hot sauce are common. I've even seen people swear by Worcestershire sauce and dried ground mustard (which normally I add to EVERY dish I make that has cheese, but not this). 

You can add grated onion, fresh garlic or olives, jalapeños (the most popular addition, I think) or bacon to jazz it up (or hide the fact that you're boring in real life) if you like. I won't judge. I think I’ve tasted most variations (I've even had a version with carrots that was an attempt at health) but I always go back to the basics. Honestly, one of the main tenants of pimento cheese is simplicity and ease. It takes less than 10 minutes from start to finish and that includes taking a swig of whiskey from a jelly jar after you've wiped down the counter when you got done.

Chips, dips, crudités, breads, crackers, hamburgers, cheesecakes, finger sandwiches... however you're eating your pimento or pimiento cheese, just remember to enjoy yourself.
 

On 3:36 PM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , , , , ,    17 comments



I've never been to Greece (but I've seen it from a boat!) and I really don't know much about authentic Greek cuisine, aside from what my Greek friends have taught me, what I've eaten at restaurants and the annual Greek festival. Nearly every city has an Orthodox church that holds a Greek festival each year and that is where I get MY fix of gyros, spanakopita, loukoumades (ohhhh my gahhhhh), moussaka, souvlaki, and Greek dancing to burn off the millions of calories I've consumed. I can say that my favorite Greek is the gyro (YEAR-oh).

I've made gyros on the blog before. Many moons ago, it was one of my first posts. The ones I made today are soooo much better. And there's an actual photo of the final product!

The gyro is typically a pita filled with hot, juicy thinly sliced meat sandwiched between crisp lettuce, ripe tomatoes and a cool, tangy cucumber Tzatziki sauce. The typical gyro meat you get at a restaurant is sliced off a spinning electric spit and believe it or not, it's a lamb/beef mixture because lamb is expensive and mixing the two meats is more flavorful.

My gyro is 100% lamb. It's a roasted lamb shoulder, actually. The lamb is roasted with garlic, oregano, red wine, rosemary, sea salt and then chilled to solidify and remove all of the excess fat, sliced. Then, more garlic, some oregano and a tiny bit of vinegar are added to a hot cast-iron skillet with the sliced lamb and caramelized. Assembled with fresh tzatziki, lettuce, tomato, pita and wrapped in foil to create a vessel for easy eating, this gyro is packed full of flavor without all of the extra oil and calories.


Sliced lamb shoulder. It looks a little dry, but wait---


Bam. Juicy lamb cooking up in the pan




A little drizzle of tzatziki sauce never hurt anyone

Quick Tzatziki Sauce
Yield: 1 1/2 cups

1 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup cucumber (peeled, seeded, and diced)
2 teaspoons dill, fresh
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Stir until well combined.
Serve with gyros or fresh vegetables

Greek-style Gyro 
Serves 8-10

1 5–6-lb. bone-in lamb shoulder, fat trimmed
2 tablespoons sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
10 garlic cloves, chopped
3 Tablespoons oregano, chopped, divided
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
Sliced lettuce and tomatoes, for gyro assembly
Pita bread, for gyro assembly

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Place lamb in a large roasting pan and season generously with salt and pepper, coating evenly on all sides. Make 1-inch slits all over the lamb and insert the bits of garlic into each slit. Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons rosemary all over lamb.

Using your hands, rub marinade into meat, making sure it’s completely coated. Arrange fat side up in pan. Cover very tightly with foil and place in the oven.

Roast lamb, 25 minutes per pound (about 3 hours), until meat is tender and pulls away from the bone.
Remove pan from the oven, lift off the foil and tent the lamb. Let it cool for about 2 hours. at the 2 hour mark, recover the lamb and place it under refrigeration for an additional 4 hours, overnight, or until the fat solidifies and is easily pulled away. Slice the chilled lamb in thin strips.

Over medium heat, in a heavy-bottomed frying pan, lay the strips down and add remaining Tablespoon of oregano, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cook, flipping occasionally for at least 1½ minutes on each side, using tongs or a small flexible spatula to flip them, or until they are crisped and browned. Transfer the strips to a plate to cool briefly, then assemble in your preferred order with the remaining gyro ingredients on a gently warmed flat-bread pita. Fold and wrap in foil to help hold it together. Serve.
On 5:00 AM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , , ,    No comments
NIKKI SAYS RELAX #SangriaSaturday IS HERE. Be as cool as a cucumber. As cool as a cucumber dripped in melon, gin and fresh mint can be!



You are MINT to be chilling with this Cucumber Melon Sangria recipe. Your favorite Riesling or other semi-sweet white wine pairs perfectly with the botanicals of gin, diced cantaloupe and a fresh minty garnish. It's exactly what you need to chillout for the weekend. ENJOY!


If you like the video(s), SHARE SHARE SHARE. If you REALLY like the sangria video(s), gratuities and donations are always appreciated and welcome!
Cucumber Melon Sangria 4 cups cantaloupe OR honeydew melon, cubed 1 cup sliced English cucumber 1 750ml sweet white wine 1 cup fresh mint leaves Ice 1. Combine all the ingredients except the fresh mint leaves in a pitcher; stir. 2. Allow sangria to sit and macerate at least one hour in the refrigerator. Overnight is best. Stir in mint leaves just before serving.
On 6:00 AM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , , , , ,    No comments

The sunlight, warm summer nights and opressive days of 100% humidity are almost over. But the craving for sangria last year-round, doesn't it?

STRAWBERRY GINGER SANGRIA


Combine your favorite rosé with fresh strawberries, fresh ginger, ale and a fun sugared rim. This week’s sangria recipe is sweet, sharp and approachable.
I hope you’re enjoying my sangria videos as much as I enjoy making them. 
If you REALLY like the video(s), gratuities and donations are always appreciated and welcome! 💰



Strawberry Ginger Sangria

1lb strawberries, sliced
1/4 cup ginger, peeled, sliced
1 (750ml) bottle rosé wine
1/2 cup brandy or whiskey
1 (12oz) can/bottle ginger ale
Ice
Add the strawberries and ginger to the bottom of a large pitcher. Pour wine and brandy over the fruit and stir to combine.
Place in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours to macerate. Before serving pour in the ginger ale. Serve in a glass with ice and the fruit.
NOTE: For a fun twist, rub the rim of each glass with a cut strawberry and dip each rim in a bowl of sugar. Add a little sweetness to your sangria fun!


On 9:48 AM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , , , , , ,    1 comment
I love sweet potatoes. And sweet potato lasagna is a personal love letter to my favorite vegetable.


Did you know that North Carolina is the top producer of sweet potatoes in North America? Louisiana is a close second.

We  in North Carolina hold these vegetables near and dear. Sweet potatoes are our official state vegetable. Examples of types grown here are: Beauregard, Carolina Rose, Carolina Ruby, Cordner, Hernandez, and Jewel. But the most coveted sweet potato is the Covington sweet potato.

It's the traditional orange sweet potato with copper and rose-colored skin with sweet, smooth, bright orange flesh. It's the beauty queen of the parade. It's what grocers want in their stores and little known fact: the emoji is based on the Covington shape 🍠


We even have a Sweet Potato Festival to commemorate and celebrate this native crop. Winston-Salem has an award-winning, culinary mecca called Sweet Potatoes (Well shut my mouth!!) that leaves everyone hankering for Southern cuisine for days afterward.

Savory or sweet, I could eat them any day. I am not too keen on adding marshmallows, brown sugar and making a dessert of them, but I am all about adding them to soups, stews, boiling vats of hot oil and microwaves with fork holes poked in them.

I. Love. Them.

When shopping for sweet potatoes, select firm potatoes with smooth skin. Three medium potatoes roughly equal one pound. One pound of sweet potatoes is about 1 1/4 cups mashed.



It's time for me to reveal a recipe that I normally never give out. I first made this dish years ago trying to create something fancy for dinner. It was SO GOOD that my mother's best friend ate it cold from the fridge right out of the pan. Sweet Potato lasagna is indeed my signature dish.

Technically, it's a sweet potato casserole (I suppose), but if you say casserole, no one is impressed. Casserole = shit I put together in a dish and baked it.
Lasagna = composed dish with layers, flavor and complexity.

Am I right?

Sweet Potato Lasagna
Yield: 10 servings (as a side)
Serves 6 (as a main)


2 lb Sweet potatoes, washed, unpeeled, sliced thin (3/16", no more than 1/4")
2 large eggs
16 oz ricotta cheese, skim
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
6 oz fresh or frozen spinach or kale
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
2 tsp nutmeg, ground
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1. Preheat oven to 375° F and spray a baking dish with non-stick spray.

2. In a mixing bowl, mix eggs with the ricotta, Parmesan and red pepper flakes, spinach, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

3. Place a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the baking dish. Take care to put like-sized pieces adjacent to each other. If need be, slice the rounds in half to fill small gaps and spaces in between pieces.


4. Alternate layers of potatoes, spinach and cheese mixture until all ingredients are used up--you should end up with a top layer of potatoes. Lastly, sprinkle all the cheddar cheese on top.

5. Cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake for 55 minutes. The bottom layer of potatoes with be soft and the top layer will be a bit firmer. If you prefer a softer layers, bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes or cover during intial baking with foil, uncover the last 10 minutres to brown the top. Let rest for 15 minutes so the vegetable juices can redistribute.

Okay. Enough talking. I'm hungry.


On 12:03 PM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , , ,    1 comment
Easy, impressive and flavorful. Instant Pot Caramel Glazed Salmon is the kind of dish you make for your significant other's family when it's time to impress them. It's fool-proof and you'll make it a part of your regular rotation of meals. It's that good.


Once again, I'm inspired by NYT Cooking and this recipe is an adaptation of Melissa Clark's Pressure Cooker Vietnamese Caramel Salmon. Her recipe there is a simplified version of one that appears in one of her cookbooks. She takes it from stove and oven to pressure cooker and it all comes together in less than 20 minutes instead of 90 minutes.

It's time to eat

Believe it or not, I've simplified it even more than THAT.






Instant Pot Caramel Glazed Salmon | Nik Snacks

Instant Pot Caramel Glazed Salmon
Yield: 4 servings, 3oz to 5 oz each

4 skin-on salmon fillets (salmon steaks work too)
1 Tablespoon coconut oil or olive oil
1/3 dark brown sugar
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lime (~2 Tablespoons)
salt and black pepper, to taste
sliced scallions (white and green parts, for garnish)

1. Combine the oil, brown sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, ginger, lime zest and lime juice in a bowl. Stir to mix everything evenly.
2. Season salmon with salt and pepper. Spoon half of the caramel mixture in the bottom of the Instant Pot. Place the fish, skin side up on top of the caramel. Pour the leftover caramel over the fish.
3. Set pressure cooker to PRESSURE COOK LOW for 1 minute.
For medium-cooked fish, let the pressure cooker natural release for 5 minutes after the timer beeps. For well-done fish, let the pressure cooker natural release for 10 minutes. Manual release the steam valve the rest of the way.
4. Transfer the fish to a serving plate and spoon caramel from the pot over the fish filets and garnish with scallions.

SIDE DISH IDEAS: white or brown rice, steamed cabbage, ramen noodles, glass noodles, cucumber salad, fresh  cucumber slices, coleslaw, steamed broccoli