January 2008 ~ Nik Snacks

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


On 9:30 PM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in ,    1 comment

I have recently rediscovered scallops.As a little girl, my grandmother would sometimes buy them to accompany our weekly Friday night dinners of fish, hushpuppies, cole slaw, and vegetables of choice. My grandmother casually put one on my dinner plate when I was three years old. The round disk had been pan-fried and was the same shape, size, and color of the hash browns we used to get at the Hardee's restaurant down the street. The crispy, golden outside encased a piping hot, farinaceous inside that was always a special morning treat. I was amazed that grandma had taken the time to make hash browns for our sea-fare. I popped the "hash brown" into my mouth and was greeted with the bitter, fishy taste of a scallop. I immediately cried foul and my grandmother explained to me that it was a scallop. Seafood. I was mad at grandma. At the scallop. And my dinner. I swore off scallops for 23 years. In 2008 they have resurfaced as a delectable little treat that can only be described as: "Yummy."

I have issue with fleshy foods. I like seafood, but only in small quantities. I only order popcorn shrimp from the children's menu and gingerly eat those with what else? A shrimp fork. The crayfish and crawdads my Creole cousins pile on their plates don't make it past the preliminary perusal of the family buffet table. I don't care that the heads, eyes, and antennae are still attached. I just don't want to sink my teeth into anything that is akin to munching on my hand.

The cute little mollusk we all know and (now) love came back in a surprise visit while I was cooking dinner for a co-worker and his family.

I made flounder in a tomato creole sauce and thought it ingenious to add sauteed bay scallops to the plate. I wasn't planning on eating them. The dinner was for the enjoyment of my friend and his family. Dare I taste my own wares? Dare I put my lips around the very animal that made me swear off most seafood for nearly a quarter of a century? I used a full-sized four prong fork for this one, folks.
And as my tongue touched the pearlescent nugget... it melted into creamy, buttery mollusckan bliss. I have arrived. Or at least the scallop did.

Needless to say I have a new recipe for sea scallops.
It can be used as an appetizer or a main course. It is simple so it could make the date night dinner list. And to be honest, you can cut out the middle man and use Pacific Natural Foods Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup and then it makes the"We-only-have 20-minutes-so-let's-hurry-this-up-or-I-will-starve" dinner list.

Pan Seared Scallop in Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Sauce Serves 2

1 small head garlic
1/2 lb plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 large red bell pepper (1/2 lb)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 tb parsley, chopped fine
1tb butter
1tsp olive oil
2-4 sea scallops, cleaned, muscle removed

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Cut off and discard top of garlic head and wrap remainder in foil. Arrange tomatoes, cut sides up, in a foil-lined 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking pan and sprinkle lightly with salt. Add whole bell pepper and garlic (in foil) to pan and roast vegetables in middle of oven 1 hour.
Cover pan with foil, then let stand about 20 minutes. Unwrap garlic and squeeze roasted cloves from skin into food processor. Peel pepper, discarding stem and seeds, and transfer all the pan's contents (juice and all) to a food processor or blender.
Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, then purée sauce until smooth. Using a sieve or mesh strainer, strain sauce into serving dish or other container. Use a ladle, spoon, or rubber spatula to press sauce though. Garnish with parsley during service.

Pat scallops dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat butter and oil in cleaned skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking, then sear scallops, turning over once, until golden brown and almost cooked through, about 4 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.

Pour sauce slowly onto plate so that it surrounds the scallop.

The finished product.
On 8:39 PM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in , , ,    2 comments
Pumpkins seem to peak around late October and phase out after Thanksgiving. Their peak really is ending around now, the early winter months. If you can still find some on the vine, their skins are rough, tough, and thick. The flesh is edible, of course, but very sweet, watery, and starchy. Pumpkins are probably the most notorious of the winter squashes.

Canned pumpkin can be found year-round in the grocery store and there ain't nothin' wrong with that! With that in mind, I have provided here below another easy baking recipe. This loaf is similar to the pumpkin loaf found at Starbucks and during a taste test involving customers, not many could tell the difference (except that mine was better).

Pumpkin Loaf

2 cups Dixie Crystals Extra Fine Granulated Sugar
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
4 large eggs
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Stir or cream together the sugar and oil in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time until each is incorporated. Add vanilla. Beat. Sift dry ingredients into separate bowl. Mix in wet ingredients until all incorporated. Pour into two well greased loaf pans or one 9X13 cake pan. Bake in 350 degree oven about 1 hour. Cool completely before turning out onto cooling racks or slicing.

For lower fat opportunities: Substitute equal amounts of unsweetened applesauce for the oil. Using 2 egg whites instead of a whole egg reduces calories and cholesterol. I wouldn't use more pumpkin puree for this purpose because pumpkin has such a strong flavor and it might overpower your loaf and make it unpleasant. Also, substituting 1/4 cup egg substitute (such as Egg Beaters) for each egg is a reasonable option. Using egg substitute in place of eggs tends to make this loaf rubbery, because egg substitute has no fat. To improve the texture, add 1 tsp canola oil.
Using 100% Splenda or other artificial sugar in baked goods is not something I recommend. If you must use it, use a baking blend or make your own blend.

Pumpkin pie spice is a blend of spices you can find in the spice section of your local grocery store. This eliminates the need to attemt to find spices you may not have in your cabinet. It's a ground mix of any combination of cinnamon, clove, allspice, mace, nutmeg, or ginger. I like to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and so should you.

A closer look at this wholesome cake...

On 7:52 PM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in ,    2 comments

The following recipe is my "go-to"
chocolate cake recipe whenever I need to make a cake quickly.

I am not a fan of chocolate. I will eat a Cadbury egg at Easter (I am nearly 30 years old and I still ask my mother to make an Easter basket for me), I will drink a hot chocolate if offered but I do not dream of/crave/pine for chocolate. I am of a weird sort, I know. But this recipe is easily customizable for the chocolate lover in you.

Easy (Fo-Sheezy) Chocolate Cake

2 cups cake flour
2 cups Dixie Crystals Extra Fine Granulated Sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/4 cup baking cocoa
1 cup water
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt

Sift flour and sugar into large bowl.
Bring 1 cup butter, 1/4 cup cocoa and water to a boil in saucepan. Pour over flour mixture; mix well. Add buttermilk, baking soda, 1 teaspoon vanilla, eggs and salt and mix well. (A handheld mixer works well here. A spoon will do just fine with you are of the low-tech kind)Pour into greased and floured 10x15-inch cake pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean.

Substitutions: orange juice, double strength coffee, extra chocolatey milk, bourbon, Kahlua, creme de cacao, creme de cassis can be substituted for all or a portion of the 1 cup of water.

Cupcakes are also an option. Reduce baking time by 5 to 8 minutes. And don't forget to grease up the individual paper muffin cups, if youre using.

The list can go on but these are the tried and true additions I have found make this cake a winner.

  • Use the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can find. I use Ghirardelli cocoa powder and Swans Down cake flour to make this cake.
  • You can also make this cake 1 cup cake flour and 1 cup all-purpose flour to achieve similar results. The crumb will be denser.
  • DO NOT use self rising flour. It contains salt and baking powder already. Since baking is a science, the amounts in the self-rising might mess up the end result of your cake.
  • Make sure everything is room temperature.
  • If you are out of or don't have buttermilk on hand, just add a 1tb of white or cider vinegar to the 1/2 cup of milk and let sit 10 minutes.
On 6:26 PM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in ,    2 comments
As we all know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I hear people every day, "I don't eat breakfast because...[insert crazy reason here]." I can honestly say that when I eat breakfast I eat less during the day and I'm able to make myself feel as if I'm eating more by supplementing with snacks. Snacks are the best thing since...I don't know what, but they are indeed the best. Snack time in kindergarten? Remember that? There was reason why we took turns bringing a snack for everyone to enjoy. There was a reason why we had recess in elementary school. It was to eat S-N-A-C-K! But I digress. We are supposed to be talking about breakfast. Let's save snack for another day.

Breaking the fast. To go without food (especially for a personal or religious reason) is called a fast. Ending that period of time in the morning is what we call breakfast. And this morning, my friends, what a break it was! I made homemade pork sausage with biscuits before going to work. The following recipe isn't difficult but I suggest you make them on a day when you're not rushing out the door to meet the kids' school bus on time.

Nikki's Sausage Patties

1 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground turkey
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1/2 tb Dixie Crystals Extra Fine Granulated Sugar
1/2 tb rubbed sage
1/4 tb thyme
1/2 tb crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tb paprika
1/2 tb garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in large bowl; mix well. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Heat large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Use 1 tsp canola oil to grease pan so patties don't stick. Add as many sausage patties as will fit without crowding skillet. Cook sausage patties 4 minutes, turning halfway through cooking. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue until no longer pink in center. The sausage mixture will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To freeze, portion into a cylindrical shape (or other managable portions), wrap in plastic wrap and again in foil.

Recipes are only guidelines, not an exact science. Only when baking should you follow recipes to the letter. The measurements above are to my personal tastes. I love spice. I love pepper. Spice aids in digestion and ground black pepper is the simplest form of spice I know. I encourage you to tweak the recipe and find what suits you best.

I use kosher salt because it flakes over the food evenly resulting in the need for less salt.
I use extra fine sugar for the same reasons plus is dissolves easier in whatever you're making

The sausage patties formed and ready to cook in the pan.
I love the way the flat top stove looks with its coils all aglow. It makes me feel all warm and tingly inside (or outside if I hold my spatula too close). I use a cast iron skillet for EVERYTHING because it is durable and holds heat well after you turn off the eye.

The biscuits! If you don't know how to make a biscuit, you must not be Southern. And we won't hold that against you. A box of Bisquick in the pantry will do just fine. On the fly, I use the Heart Smart Bisquick because it is low in fat, cholesterol and high in calcium and fiber. To make these biscuits taste better (because sometimes low fat means low taste), I add Molly McButter to the mix.

My breakfast. I added a cup of grapefruit juice, a multivitamin, and I was on my way to greatness.
On 11:25 AM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in ,    1 comment
Seeing as how (one of) my job(s) requires me to spend every weekend in Greensboro, I feel as if I should get to know the place a little better, take in some scenery, experience some night life.

Printworks Bistro is a restaurant in the newly opened Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, NC. What drew me to the restaurant/hotel was an article in the News & Record about how Proximity is hoping for a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. This hôtel particulier is sustainable, using recycled materials for its building, solar panels to generate energy for heat, and other energy/earth saving ideals. I try to keep green whenever I can, and any establishment that I can find that is doing it's part to save the world from destruction is high on my list. In March of this year, I plan on taking a trip to Napa Valley to the Gaia Napa Valley Resort and Spa, the only gold-certified LEED hotel in the US at this time.

I don't have a rubric on which to base my satisfaction levels of an establishment, but this hotel ranks pretty high. It's clean and fresh, with modern furniture I wouldn't dare put in my apartment (too austere for my tastes, but perfect for the clean lines of the hotel). The beds are plush and comfortable. There's even a set of waffle-terrycloth robes in the closet to cozy up in while you watch cable on the flat screen TV or traffic whiz by on Benjamin Parkway. Free wi-fi is surely a draw for many and plenty of plugs/outlets and extra amenities to make you want to stay when you're in the triad area.

Front of hotel. The window underneath the "X" is the room where we slept.

The bathroom. Walk-in glass walled Terrazzo shower and soaking tub with windows that open onto the sleeping room.

The closed doors that hide the joy that is the bathroom. There is also a curtain for more anonymity.

A waterfall in bathtub. How chic. How luxurious. Aveda bath products are the toiletry of choice here. Peppermint shampoo and conditioner, Refreshing bath bar, and Rosemary Mint lotion were part of the arsenal in the bathroom. I wish I had forgotten a toothbrush, comb, or razor to see what delight I'd find.

The Chop Shop

One of my many joys is shopping. Every chance I get, I shop for new gadgets for the kitchen. I think of myself as a no-nonsense kind of gal. I don't have a need for an avocado slicer, a corn kernel cutter, or a shrimp deveiner. I need practical, durable, reasonably priced items to fill my kitchen. Today: Sur la Table.

I've been patronizing Sur la Table (SIR-la-tahbl) since late last year when they had FREE knife sharpening. I couldn't drive there fast enough. The limit was two so I chose my Santuko and slicer knives to test the waters. One day later I went back to retrieve Fric and Frac and they were as sharp as the day I received them in culinary school. They sharpen knives regularly for $2 an inch. I heard a rumor they'll offer the service for free again in April.

They are in the midst of their Winter Sale, 20%-50% off select merchandise. Sur la Table is an expensive William-Sonoma. Specialty gourmet stores are all expensive. But if you want quality and know what you are looking for, specialty is where it's at. I visit the store every Saturday and sometimes on Sundays. Last week it was for a sharpener for my Santuko. Regularly priced at $19.95, on sale for $9.96.This week it was for a heart-shaped Le Creuset pot. Resists chips, stains, scratches and possibly Pompei-esque destruction. Who cares if it is in the shape of an overused muscle? Regularly priced at $50, on sale for $29.96. Le Creuset pots and pans are expensive. And heavy. Wise investment, I say. The sale ends in February, so now is the time!

On 9:22 PM by Nikki @ NikSnacks in ,    No comments

I'm a sucker for coupons and free stuff. I don't have the time to sit down with a mug of coffee on Sundays, nestle in a chair on the front porch, or at the kitchen table to clip coupons any more. I get my advertisements through annoying pop-up ads, television commercials, and the occasional link on my favorite Websites.

Well, I found some coupons for some restaurants around town. Some of these seems to be worthwhile. Others, don't waste the printer ink.

On 9:13 PM by Nikki @ NikSnacks   No comments

Thanks for coming to view my little baby.

I promise that I will post about/for/on/with/at (and any other preposition you can muster) food, videos, links, and a plethora of other food related memorabilia as soon as I can. This blog is going to be ultimately exciting for you AND for me. My menus and schedules of public tastings will be posted here. This is going to be the ultimate. I will have to refrain from making it about myself (Deep down I want it all to be about me), but the reason why we're all here is because of the food.
Yes, I will have general musings about the world at large, television, celebrities, and other news-worthy items too! And that's only because that's who I am as a person and experiencing those things are what shape me as a chef.
Hot damn, it's going to be good in 2008, people. Very good.