Nik Snacks

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

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On 11:00 AM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , , , , , ,    No comments
I love pork. Pork chops, pork steaks, BBQ pulled pork, pit-cooked pork, oven-roasted pork, bacon...


I’m into it.

Yesterday I binge-watched a few hours of Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoons from back in the day on Boomerang. While Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote are the stars, it's Porky Pig who's my favorite. With his stutter and prancing around with only a shirt on and no pants, his little round face brought me much comfort and joy.

What a fitting way to celebrate a good time!





Mesquite Grilled Pork Chops
YIELD: 1 chop per person. 

For chops less than 1" thick: 

1. Make a dry rub. In a bowl or resealable bag, mix together equal parts salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, brown sugar. 

2. Pat the pork chops dry and place in the bowl or resealable plastic bag with the rub. Cover. Let rest on the counter for 1 hour. 

3. Heat grill to medium/medium-high heat. Remove the pork chops from the bag and lightly brush or drizzle with oil. 

4. Place on the grill and cook until the pork chop releases from the grill, about 4-6 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side for another 3 minutes. 

More than 1" thick? Increase cooking time per side. Be sure that the internal temp reaches 145°F for safety. To make sure the juices don't run out when you poke the chop with your thermometer, cut a small slit in the side before cooking and stick the thermometer tip in it when checking the temperature.




On 9:30 PM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , , , , , , , , ,    No comments
The past week I've been able to keep calm and reinvest my free time into this blog. I've rediscovered recipes, I've rediscovered my love for creating menus (which is part of the reason why I became a culinary professional) and really relished slowing down 90% to enjoy my house, my family and my joy of cooking. Cooking releases tension in me and facilitates a soothing balmy effect in this upside down world.


Due to the current mobility restrictions and limited funds for eating out at restaurants, I am happily ready to cook every meal at home and share the fruits of my labor with you. If you need help figuring out what to buy when you order or pick up your groceries, here is a comprehensive well-stocked pantry list. It includes non-perishables, refrigerated and frozen food columns.

This week's menu is a mix of simple, easily customizable dishes and leaves a little wiggle room for me to plan for myself.


Many retail grocery stores have pre-seasoned, pre-mixed packages of beef, pork and poultry in the meat section. I bought these chops pre-seasoned with a mesquite spice blend that regional market, Food Lion, sells. There was a BOGO special and I couldn't pass that up. There was also pork butt (aka pork shoulder or picnic) on sale for 99 cents and I scored a 10-pounder. More on THAT next week.




I've put burrito bowls on the menu before and to be perfectly honest, taco bowls are the same thing. Are you a crunchy or a soft taco person? Are you into corn or flour tortillas?


My mother took a Greek cooking class when she was in college and this is one of the very few recipes she remembers from that time period, but she'spassed it on to me. Well, actually, I watched her make it to many times that I know each step by heart. The only difference? I'm going to grill mine! The carrots are leftover from this recipe and the cucumber salad is something I plan to throw together at the last minute.

Remember that pork I told you about buying at the grocery store? Well, we are going to have so much of that leftover, that the only thing left to do is to make sandwiches with it. Something that I learned this week: A medianoche (which means midnight in Spanish) consists of roast pork, ham, mustard, Swiss cheese, sweet pickles and served on a sweet egg dough bread . It's just like the Cuban sandwich, except for the bread. I don't like ham, so I'm using turkey. I don't have crusty nor eggy bread, so I'm putting it on sandwich bread. Regardless, it's gonna be delicious.


I don't know if you know this about me, but I love pizza. It's my favorite food. I've been playing with this pizza dough recipe for almost two years and I'm ready to unleash it. Not only that, but it's gonna be a pizza party with sausage and pepperoni and all kinds of cheeses. I can't wait for you to see it.
But if Friday rolls around and I'm too tired to make, proof and roll out the dough, it's gonna be this pasta recipe.



Supporting local businesses is something that comes naturally to me. Ever since I became a part of the food community here, I've always supported local first. As a matter of fact, my job as food editor for the best alternative weekly newspaper in the state thrives on being HYPERLOCAL. What am I, if not consistent? While I don't have all of the dollars to spend at the restaurants that I enjoy, I can support the local economy the best I can by supporting one restaurant at a time, one day a week (two days a week if this stimulus package money drips down to my level). I don't know who I'm going to pick yet, but I can't wait to share with you what we decide to eat.



Until next time...






I don't remember the exact moment when kale got trendy and popular. I do remember kale being touted as a superfood. Kale was marketed in smoothies. Kale in baked goods. Kale was salted and roasted and marketed as a snack. Then came the pushback. Nobody really liked kale. And even worse, no one knew how to cook it.

But I do.




There are 3 main types of kale:

  • Curly
  • Dinosaur
  • Russian



I use curly kale in this recipe and it's the most easily recognizable. I also got it from Sungold Farm, whose owner, Natalie schooled me on kale many moons ago.

Dinosaur kale is the dark green one with the bumpy-looking exterior.
Russian kale is one that reminds me of oak leaves.It's light and delicate-looking, but is still rough and tumble like the other varieties.

I really like creamed spinach but I love creamed kale even more because of the hearty texture.
Most creamed kale recipes call for heavy cream, but it's expensive and I didn't have any, so cream cheese came to the rescue. It melts so nicely with the addition of butter and milk. Chopped onions and garlic meld into the cream while a splash of vinegar wakes everything up. I sincerely hope you enjoy this recipe.




Creamed Kale
Serves 2-3

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 small onion, minced (about 1/2 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces cream cheese
1/2 lb fresh kale, chopped, large stems removed (curly is preferred)
1/3 - 1/2 cup whole milk (or water, if you're out)
1-2 Tablespoons apple cider or champagne vinegar (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium low heat.
2. Add onions and garlic and cook for several minutes until onion is translucent and garlic is turning golden brown and very fragrant.
3. Add in chopped kale and toss carefully in the butter and oil. You may have to add this in two batches.
4. Cover pan and allow kale to wilt, tossing occasionally.
5. Add in cream cheese, break up with spatula and let melt into the pan. If it starts to burn turn down the heat.
6. Pour in milk and stir. Add more milk, if needed, for creaminess.
7. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle on vinegar, if using. Serve hot.


Have any leftovers? They taste great the next day or even 4 days later. Make a sandwich like I did with hot Italian sausage and yellow mustard on a baguette. It's good eatin'.




I'm completely obsessed with my Instant Pot pressure cooker (which does a far sight more than meets the eye).

I bought it for the low, low price of $50 (including shipping) on Amazon Prime Day last year and I haven't looked back. I use it for EVERYTHING: pasta, potatoes, hard-cooked eggs, rice, beans, oatmeal, making chicken stock, even cheesecake. Yeah. Cheesecake.


But the best parts about the Instant Pot are that anyone can use it and you can cook things in a fraction of the time, aounsupervised. I love that I can just put on the lid and take a nap or get some work done in my home office while the food is percolating away.

This recipe is no different. It's simple, yet tasty. The acid from the vinegar cuts through the fatty pieces like butter while the vegetables fall apart with the mere suggestion of a fork. I sincerely enjoyed this dish and I hope you do too.

Apple Cider Braised Chuck Roast
Yield: 3-4 servings

2 Tablespoons oil (not extra virgin olive oil)
1 (2 lb.) chuck roast, room temperature
Salt and ground black pepper, for seasoning
1 large onion, sliced
1 whole head of cabbage, cut in 2-inch pieces
1/2 cup apple juice
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1. Turn Instant Pot to sauté. Swirl a little oil into the pot. Season meat heavily with salt and pepper on all sides. Sear meat on all sides, until browned on all sides.

2. Add onion, cabbage, potatoes, apple juice and apple cider to the pot.

3. Press CANCEL on the Instant Pot. Cover and seal the pot. Manually set PRESSURE COOK for 45 minutes.

4. When the Instant Pot signals the cook session is completed, let natural release for 20 minutes. After that, manually release the remaining pressure.

5. Open lid carefully, shred meat with 2 forks or serve in chunks with sauce and vegetables.

Alternatively, preheat oven to 400 F, season and sear the chuck roast in a braising pot on top of the stove; Add vegetables, deglaze the contents of the pot with the apple juice and apple cider; Cover and place in the preheated oven to cook for 3 hours. Continue with step 5 of the recipe.



On 6:00 AM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , ,    No comments
I heard an urban legend about making a cheesecake in an Instant Pot



I laughed. 
I scoffed. 
I turned up my nose. And then I did a little research. 

I read an article from The Kitchn that described in horrible detail about how it all works. Science is a thing and it's wonderful to behold. Pressure cooking depends entire on moisture and I worried about the cake getting wet. There's an app for that.
I worried about the flavor. There's an app.
I worried about the appearance. There's an app.
And then I sucked it up and I tried it. 



It's lovely.

It has to sit covered overnight in the refrigerator, but it's worth the wait. 
It's light and fluffy when it emerges from the pot but overnight, the bubbles sink in and the texture of the cake becomes thick and dense. 12-24 hours later, you have a real, live cheesecake on your hands. And on your fork. In your mouth.



I topped mine with a sour cream/granuated sugar mix and then put canned cherry filling on top to hide the dips and creases on top, courtesy of the paper towel put in place to sop up the moisture during the pressure cook.

The largest pan that will fit in the Instant Pot is 7 inches, but I own a 5-inch springform pan, so that's wha I used and my measurements are for the same. You can find recipes for other sizes (6-inch, 7-inch, ramekins) but this size was perfect for 3 people after a good-sized dinner.

So go on. Get out of here! You have some cheesecake to make.

Instant Pot Cheesecake
Yield: 1 5-inch cheesecake, Serves 3-4 

INGREDIENTS

For the crust:
Cooking spray
3/4 cup cookie crumbs 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted or oil

1 (8-ounce) package Philadelphia cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2T milk or water
1 large egg
2T all-purpose flour
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/8 t salt
For the sour cream topping:
1/4 cup sour cream
1 t granulated sugar


1. Coat a 5-inch-springform baking pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom with a parchment paper round. Pour 1 1/2 cups of water in the bottom of an Instant Pot and set a trivet with handles on top. Make sure they are up. Otherwise, fold a long piece of aluminum foil into a wide strip to use as a sling.


2. Place cookie crumbs in a bowl. Add melted butter or oil and stir until the crumbs are just moistened and press together easily. Transfer the crust crumbs to the prepared pan and use a shot glass to tightly press it into the bottom and sides of the pan.


3. In a food processor, add the cream cheese, sugar, cream, eggs, flour, vanilla, and salt. Pulse, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until smooth. Pour the filling into the prepared pan and smooth out the top with a spatula.


4. Cover the pan with a paper towel. Cover the paper towel with a piece of aluminum foil, carefully crimping the foil tightly around the edges of the pan. This is to prevent water from pooling on top of and ruining your cake. If you’re using a trivet with handles, place it in the bottom of the Instant Pot insert with the handles resting on the sides so the cake will be easy to remove when finished. Otherwise, use foil as a sling. Fold a 12-inch piece of foil lengthwise and place the sling under the pan and then place the pan in the pressure cooker.


5. Lock the lid into place and make sure the valve is set to seal. Use the manual setting to set the pressure cooker on HIGH pressure for 13 minutes. Natural release for 10 minutes. When the cook time is complete, let the pressure cooker naturally release pressure for 10 minutes, then do a quick release of the remaining pressure. Gently remove the pan from the pressure cooker and uncover. The cheesecake should be mostly set and should not jiggle. 
The top will look lumpy

6. . Stir together the sour cream and sugar in a small bowl. Spread onto the cheesecake and let cool in the pan for 1 hour.


7. Refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. Refrigerate the cheesecake for 12 to 24 hours before removing from the pan and slicing to serve.






On 6:00 AM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , , , , , ,    No comments
This is one of those dishes that is easily thrown together on a busy weeknight. It's only a matter of chopping up a few ingredients, opening a can and shoving it in a pre-heated oven.

As a matter of fact, if you're a meal prepper, you can prepare the vegetables, season the chicken, throw it in a gallon-sized zip top bag and have it on reserve when you need it during the week.


As far as preparation goes, if you need to speed up your prep time, you don't even need to brown the chicken before placing it on the vegetables. You can place it on top, raw, and then proceed with the rest of the directions after that. It's a very forgiving recipe. As a matter of fact, the idea was born out of the fact that I was running short on time one evening and still wanted to cook a full dinner. The only thing I didn't make that night was an additional starch or bread to sop up the rich pan sauce this recipe makes..


So enjoy the simplicity of this dish. Your family and your tastebuds will thank you.




Mushroom Braised Chicken
Serves 4-6, Yield: 4 thighs, 4 legs

Ingredients

4 chicken leg quarters
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 Tablespoons oil
4 cups green cabbage, chopped
1 lb. white potatoes, sliced or quartered
1 can cream of mushroom soup (with garlic) mixed with 1 cup water or stock

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, add 1 Tablespoon of the oil. Add the chicken and cook, turning once or twice, until golden brown on both sides, about 8-10 minutes total. Transfer the chicken to a plate to rest. Cover.

2. In a 9×13 baking dish, add the cabbage, the remaining 2 Tablespoons of oil and season with salt and pepper.
Add the sliced potatoes on top of the cabbage.

3. Return the chicken and any juices from the plate to the pan and pour the diluted cream of mushroom soup over the chicken. Braise the chicken for 65 minutes. Let it rest 10-15 minutes.

4. Divide the chicken among dinner plates, spoon the mushroom sauce, cabbage and potatoes over the chicken and serve. 


On 6:00 AM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , , , , , , ,    No comments


There are only TWO kinds of grits: good and bad. Let me tell you how to make some good ones.

Grits are a staple in the modern Southern kitchen. Made for breakfast (with butter, jam, jelly, cheese or sugar for garnish and flavorings) or for dinner (usually with shrimp or fried fish), ground corn never tasted so good.

The thing about cooking grits is that a little makes A LOT. It expands when it cooks and holds a lot of liquid in order to make them soft and palatable. The recipe below takes that fact into account.

Don't have grits in your pantry? Use cornmeal. Polenta is yellow cornmeal but ground in such a way that the grain produces a chewier finish. Stay away from the tubes of pre-cooked polenta and instant or quick cooking grits. White corn grits are usually smoother and silky when finished. And so are these. Enjoy.


Old Fashioned Southern Grits
Yield: 4 servings, 1/2 cup each

1 cup grits
1 cup milk
3 cups water

Directions

1. Boil 3 cups of salted water (3 tsp of salt is PLENTY)
2. Stir in 1 cup of grits (any kind--white, yellow, stone ground, but NOT INSTANT GRITS)
3. Add 1 cup milk (or cream, coconut milk, oat milk, etc.) Stir.
4. Lower heat to LOW. Cover. Let cook 20 min.
5. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Garnish with whatever.
Serves 4.