Tuesday, April 15, 2014

2014 Fire in the Triad Preview #CompDiningNC

Nik Snacks is the official series blogger for Fire in the Triad! I tell the story of each competition night with photos and with words. Each night there will be a recap here and Wednesday morning, there will be commentary on the Triad's first food podcast, Tart & Tangy Triad.

Starting April 22, 2014: Each evening, two of the region's best restaurants “battle” it out side by side in a single elimination, “Iron Chef”-style format. Each chef must create three courses, for a total of six plates, each using a “secret” North Carolina ingredient. Diners determine the winner by voting via smart phone/tablet app.Download it in Google Play or iTunes.

About Competition Dining: In 2013, this unique 15-dinner competition dining experience has traveled across the state of North Carolina to Asheville/Blowing Rock (Fire on the Rock), Wilmington (Fire on the Dock) and Greensboro (Fire in the Triad). Raleigh (Fire in the Triangle) and Charlotte (Fire in the City) are slated for later the summer and fall.

At stake in each series is a grand prize of $2,000 and the coveted “Red Chef Jacket.” 
Fire in the Triad Champions: Team Noble's Grille in 2013

Each regional champion will move on to the Final Fire-Battle of Champions in November.
Tickets for each preliminary round cost $74.78 ($59 plus tax and service, excludes beverages).
Tickets for regional semifinal and final rounds are $87.46 ($69 plus tax and service, excludes beverages). Pick your battles and join us for as many dinners as you like.
Be sure to purchase tickets early as battles fill up fast.


Matthew Culpepper of The Quiet Pint Tavern in Winston-Salem
"My competitive advantage is that I constantly create specials, beer dinners and event menus that are outside of the box." This is Culpepper's first appearance and the restaurant's first appearance in Fire in the Triad. It should be noted that the restaurant opened to fanfare from celebrity chef Brian Duffy of Bar Rescue fame. He designed a menu and was on-hand for opening night of the restaurant. The Quiet Pint is now trying to shed that image and emerge with a new identity.

Tim Thompson of Marisol in Greensboro
"My competitive advantage is that I am local! I grew up in Jamestown, NC. I know North Carolina ingredients, because I know North Carolina."
This is Thompson's 2nd Fire in the Triad appearance. He competed in 2013 during the first sold-out battle of the series season.

Michael Harkenreader Undercurrent in Greensboro
This is Harkenreader's 2nd appearance in Fire in the Triad. Competed in 2012, made it to Fire in the Triad finals and lost to chef George Neal of 1618 Seafood Grille in Greensboro.

Tony Stevens Cast Iron Kitchen in High Point
 "My competitive advantage is that I have 20 years ownership experience, which makes for competitive quick thinking." This is Stevens' and the restaurant's 1st Fire in the Triad appearance.

Mark Grohman Meridian Restaurant in Winston-Salem
This is Grohman's 2nd appearance in Fire in the Triad. He was dealt an unfortunate hand of under-ripe watermelon in 2012, handily beat Chef Mack Parker of Diamondback Grill to meet his end against Chef Timothy Bocholis of Bistro B in the Fire in the Triad semifinals in 2013.

Jody Morphis Fincastles in Greensboro
"My competitive advantage is passion, creativity and working with a little to get a lot."
This is Morphis' 1st Fire in the Triad appearance as executive chef, but 2nd time competing. Jody competed as flex chef in 2012 with Chef Kristina Fuller of Crafted and The Bistro at Adam Farms, now closed.

Chris Russell B. Christophers Restaurant in Greensboro, formerly in Burlington. This is Russell's THIRD Fire in the Triad appearance. He exited early in 2012 and 2013. Is the 3rd time the charm?

William Kevin Baker J. Peppers Southern Grill in Kernersville; Last year it was Chef Juan Guzman who floated to the 2nd round. Change in ownership and chefship, Chef Baker is poised to make his 1st Fire in the Triad appearance.

Tim Barbrey Perky's Bistro in Jamestown
"My competitive advantage is being able to utilize different techniques using local ingredients and incorporating a variety of different sauces. I take pride in creating dishes with unique pairings." This is Barbrey's and Perky's 1st appearance in Fire in the Triad. He'd better watch out because...

Timothy Grandinetti Spring House Restaurant Kitchen & Bar in Winston-Salem says,"My competitive advantage is ..."Revenge" is a dish best served cold!" This is Grandinetti's THIRD appearance at Fire in the Triad and he is fresh off an international win of MOST DELICIOUS during Dishcrawl's Battledish in February 2014.

Kevin Reddick Artisan in Winston-Salem
"My competitive advantage is that I have a broad culinary background with a lot of experience in all aspects of the kitchen, a blend of old and new technique and most of all a true passion for food." This is Reddick's 1st Fire in the Triad appearance.

Donny Smith New Town Bistro and Bar in Winston-Salem
This is Smith's 1st Fire in the Triad appearance. It should be noted that I chose to celebrate my 30th birthday at New Town and Donny was responsible for showing me and my friends a good time and executing a great menu.

Richard Miller Graze in Winston-Salem New restaurant name, chef de cuisine (basically, the MAN IN CHARGE) of Graze (formerly WS Prime) "My competitive advantage is being an active, hands-on Chef who works in the kitchen, not in the office. Talent for creating complex flavors from simple ingredients." This is Miller's first appearance in Fire in the Triad.

Brandon Sherrill District Roof Top Bar and Grille in Winston-Salem
"My competitive advantage is my eclectic experience working in different restaurants gives me a wide range of styles which, in my opinion, work well in a competition of this caliber."
This is Sherrill's 1st Fire in the Triad appearance.

Travis Myers River Birch Lodge in Winston-Salem
"My competitive advantage is I think outside the box and will bring complexity with high volume precision to each menu item." This is Myers' 2nd Fire in the Triad appearance, as he competed in 2013. Myers is also the most social media savvy chef Competition Dining has seen. Follow him @chef_myers on Twitter.

Mitchell Nicks Mad Hatter in Greensboro
This is Nicks' 1st Fire in the Triad appearance.

(PHOTO COURTESY: Competition Dining)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lamb Souffle

Spring is here! It's time to clean out the wardrobe, find your rain boots and start eating springtime foods like: Cadbury eggs, Peeps, ramps, peas, salads, and lamb.

March, you were pretty much a beast for 28 of your 31 says, in my opinion. You are officially in time out. See you in 2015. There was way too much snow and not enough sun. All of that is behind us now and I'm going to focus on you now, April. Actually, I'm going to focus on lamb.
I love lamb. It's my favorite meat. And I formulated the lamb souffle for the folks over at Buffalo Creek Farm & Creamery (buffalocreekfarmandcreamery.com) in Germanton, NC. It's perfect to usher in the new season while still warming up your insides against the still-chilly evenings.

Shepherd's Souffle

4 T butter
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
5 oz. soft chevre
1 ½ cups heavy cream
2 cups cold, cooked, finely chopped leg of lamb
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 t yellow mustard
½ t paprika
1 t black pepper
3 eggs, whites and yolks, beaten separately,
2 T butter
2 T chopped parsley, fresh.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Rub inside of an 8-inch  soufflĂ© mold with 2 tablespoons of the butter. 
Coat with breadcrumbs; tap out excess. Set aside.
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat cream, remaining bread crumbs, 
2 oz. of the chevre, butter and cook until thickened. Take pan off the heat. 
Add chopped lamb, golden raisins, mustard, seasonings and beaten egg yolks. 
In a separate bowl, beat whites of eggs until stiff, then carefully fold egg whites 
and remaining chevre into the meat mixture. 
Turn into the buttered baking dish. 
Place souffle dish in a 13x9 metal baking pan. 
Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of dish. 
Bake 35 minutes or until souffle is puffed and golden brown on top 
and soft set in the center.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Plated: Meal delivery service + coupon

Pan-seared pollock over wilted arugula and fingerling potatoes 

Want to make delicious-looking dishes like this without having to trek to the grocery store, buy the groceries, put them away, plan your meal, cook, clean up and put away the leftovers? Well, now you can.
A fairly new home delivery service, Plated, is now on the scene and takes care of most of the hard work. No pre-planning, no waste and in 30 minutes or so, you have a meal fit for a king. The founders of Plated were on the NBC show, Shark Tank last week, and the internet is putting Plated on the map.
Here’s how it works: Pay per plate ($15) or you can choose to sign up for a membership and each plate price is reduced ($12).
American Express isn't the only way to receive benefits. Plated Membership has its benefits, too. Auto-shipments, preference guides, free shipping and more!
Each week, 7 chef-designed recipes are featured. The dish options include 4 healthy meat and fish options and 3 vegan/vegetarian dishes.

Italian seared skirt steak with treviso salad, herb dressing 

Tofu mushroom lettuce cups,with scallion & fava bean pancakes The most flavorful recipe, to date (recipe below) 
To get Plated delivered, simply select your delivery date (delivery days vary according to where your ZIP), cook and enjoy your recipes.
All of the ingredients you need are pre-packaged, pre-portioned (to reduce waste) labeled and arrive fresh to your door in biodegradable/recyclable packaging. Included are: ice packs (to keep it fresh if you're not home when it arrives), step-by-step recipe cards with pictures and the potential to feel like a chef any night of the week!
No worries if you can't start cooking the day/night your Plated package arrives. Refrigerate your ingredients and they'll remain fresh for the next 4-5 days!

Plated uses local and seasonal produce whenever possible and sources meats from local, family-owned purveyors. They partner with companies like Sea to Table to make sure the fish is always fresh, and wild-caught when possible.”

This is fantastic service for everyone. If you want to learn how to cook, are busy, in a cooking rut, having a date night, a party, or want to add some variety to your kitchen, this is for you.
Tuesday nights are busy for me because it's my Monday and if I don't eat out for dinner, I come home too tired and too late to want to crank up the stove. I order Plated to come on Saturdays, refrigerate it and throw it together on Tuesday night. No planning. Just a little chopping, throwing it together and eating! Since I'm a chef and I think I know everything, I tweak the recipes sometimes. For instance, I dredged my pollock in Wondra flour because I wanted it to be brown and crispy. I added a little sugar to my gnocci in tomato sauce because I wanted a little more sweetness in the sauce. Nothing crazy, the recipes are wonderful as is--I just wanted to"enhance it" For the less adventurous, there are even You Tube videos to guide you asking if you're unsure or unfamiliar with things on the recipe card. More than just convenient, it's fun!
Baked gnocchi with tomato sauce, in the making

If you're ready to take the plunge, click on this link, get a discount and see what all the fun is about!
Check out Instagram and search for #platedpics to see what others have made.

Tofu Mushroom Lettuce Cups with Scallion Pancakes Serves 2 
(Double recipe for more) 

10oz. cremini (baby portabella) mushrooms
3 scallions
1 head Boston (Bibb) lettuce
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup frozen fava beans (lima beans or shelled edamame will work)
14oz. Firm tofu
1/4 cup soy sauce (or tamari)
1 1/2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/8 crushed red pepper (Optional)
1 Tablespoon Grapeseed oil
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons flour, divided
3 Tablespoons sesame oil, divided
Preheat oven to 450°F. Bring small pot of water to boil, on high heat. Rinse mushrooms and quarter. Rinse scallions and thinly.slice light & dark green parts, discarding the whites. Rinse lettuce and separate leaves. Mince garlic. Set fava beans out to thaw. Drain tofu and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
In a small bowl, whisk soy sauce, vinegar, red pepper flakes, if using, and grapeseed oil. On a baking sheet lined with foil, toss mushrooms and tofu with half the soy sauce mixture, reserving the rest. Arrange in a single layer and roast in the 450° oven for 5 minutes, then add garlic evenly across the mixture and roast for 5 more minutes. Then, switch to broiler and broil until tofu is browned, about 3 minutes. Taste and add salt, if needed.
Place 1 cup for in a large bowl and slowly add 3/4 cup boiling water from the small pot of water and stir continuously, until dough forms. Sprinkle remaining for over a clean, dry work surface and knead dough until elastic and smooth, about 1 minute.
Divide dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Using a rolling pin or large bottle, roll each ball into 1/4 inch thick circles, 5 inches in diameter. Spread 1/2 of the sesame oil over each, sprinkle with salt and divide scallions and fava beans evenly over each, as well.
One at a time, roll pancakes into a log. Curl in one end and wrap around the other end to make a tight coil. Place on flat side and use rolling pin to flatten pancake into 5 inch diameter. Repeat with each pancake.
Heat remaining sesame oil in a large non-stick pan over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add pancakes and cook until golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side.
Divide tofu mixture evenly among lettuce leaves. Serve with hot pancakes and remaining soy mixture for dipping (or drizzling).

Monday, April 7, 2014

NC Beer Month

April is North Carolina Beer Month. Established for the first time in 2013, the state's growing interest in craft beer, microbreweries and homebrewing has really taken to new heights.

As a matter of fact, on this day (April 7) in 1933, the Cullen-Harrison Act was signed into law, allowing sales of beer with alcohol content of 3.2% or less. Later in the year, the 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st amendment, effectively ending prohibition.

North Carolina is one of the leading states in the Union of beer sales and growth. As a lover and consumer of beer, I am proud to live in this state.
To find events and specials all across the Great North State and NC Beer Month information, go to http://ncbeermonth.com

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dark Chocolate Christmas Cookies #BakedByMcCormick

It's time for Christmas Cookies, again.

I attempted to bake cookies for each of the 12 days of Christmas in the past and it was such a huge undertaking, I didn't get past Day 8. I could have simplified the task, but if you've ever met me, followed me on Twitter or have ever read a post on this blog, you know I don't do anything halfway.

In late November, I attended Mixed once again, to experience all of the fun and goodies that I did last year. This time around, I really did have the time of my life. I had more fun this time than last year. Last year, I was coming off my trip to Paris, Competition Dining Final Fire and I wasn't in much of a party mood. I was, however, in meet & greet mode and I mat some amazing local bloggers and new friends! MAN, I love food blogger's conferences.

This year, McCormick was a platinum sponsor. They went over and beyond to make sure all attendees had a great time and had product to take home. We participated in demos and creating things with Karen Tack and Alan Richardson of Hello, Cupcake!

Learning the "sugar shake" from Alan. It was a life-altering experience that had nothing to do with shaking the sugar my mama gave me.

Upon returning home from Virginia, everyone received a box chock-full of McCormick Creativity Kit full of goodies: pastry bags, a piping tip, extracts, food coloring, and sheets full of ideas for creativity. Armed with inspiration, McCormick flavors and color – I bring you:

I was asked to appear on WFMY-2 once again and I decided to use my new goodies and knowledge to share a recipe for cookies that people can put in tins for cookie swap purposes. I love this recipe because you can add any combination of flavors and colors to create the perfect cookies for sharing.

Watch the broadcast here: WFMY-2

Dark Chocolate Cookies
Yield: 20

1 1/4 cups self-rising flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
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 flavored extract, your choice

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, 1 Tablespoon extract; 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.

NOTE: To create colored and flavored icing for filling your cookies, simply add 25 drops of color to a 16oz. jar of vanilla frosting and 1/4tsp or more of flavoring.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

NikSnacks' 2014 Food Trend Forecast

Every December, I do a web search for "food trend forecast" to see what comes up. It's part of my job to know what's on trend and report accordingly. Below is Nik Snacks' Food Trend Forecast for 2014. This list is in no order of importance, nor exhaustive:

Celebrity farmers

I'm sure Hugh Acheson has a Rolodex full of amazing farmers. I just wanted an excuse to post this photo again.

Chef Boyardee was the original celebrity chef (much to professional chefs' chagrin and a slap to the face of KFC's book) and the rise of famous chefs will not stop, but taking farm-to-fork one more step and rising out of the shadows will be the Celebrity Farmer. Diners and home cooks are intensely interested in where their food comes from and who is pulling the roots from the ground and slaughtering their humanely-raised sheep. As local farmer's markets are extending their seasons across the country and people are cultivating relationships with their "favorite farms", the men and women behind the barn door will soon come to a media outlet near you.

Root-to-leaf cooking
Radishes in France at a outdoor market

As food waste becomes a concern for diners, home cooks are going to want to use every part of the food they buy. Nose-to-tail cooking has been trendy in recent times and while plant-based cooking (read: vegetarian) has always been on-trend, people are starting to understand and respect vegetables in a new and different way. Roots will be pickled and canned, stems will be braised and roasted, while leaves will be tossed and dressed.


With the crazy phenomenon of the Cronut in 2013, there are knockoffs and reasonable facsimiles of the coveted dessert all over the place. For those of us not willing to trek to New York and stand in line for hours on end to get the original, we are willing to create fancy doughnuts at home and demand our favorite patisseries create them for us. Be they dusted with sugar, filled with custard or sprinkled with candied bits of zest, we want them and we want them now. And for the record, the best doughnuts are spelled with a "ugh"as in "Ugh, I just can't get enoUGH" and made with yeast. Cake need not apply here.

Housemade Hot Sauce

There is going to be a Sriracha shortage due to the shutdown of a large hot sauce supplier in California. Over 100 million pounds of chilis will rot if they can't come up with a solution to the problem. I came up with a solution a few months ago and I believe others will follow suit: housemade sriracha. Top Chef has done it, Kelsey Nixon has done it. It's bound to catch on. People love their hot sauces to add flavor and flair to their dishes. It's just a matter of time, everyone will have a crock of peppers fermenting on the kitchen counter.


With the popularity of blenders (VitaMix, Kitchen Aid, Oster, Ninja) people are throwing fruits and vegetables into their machines at breakneck speeds. An alternative to making and freezing breakfast burritos in the morning, a morning juice with a few scoops of protein powder will be a way to get whole nutrition in 2014. Jack LaLanne knew what he was talking about.

Exotic burgers

Grass-fed beef is pretty "exotic" for a lot of people. The differences between beef from a cow and meat from a bison (American buffalo) don't vary much, but people are still freaked out by food sources they're not familiar with. "Don't ask, don't tell" in the food world refers to the fact that people don't question where their food comes from or how it's prepared. For more 'adventurous' eaters, beef is a meat of the past. Meats like goat, rabbit, pigeon and ostrich will be raised on a small-scale (featuring those celebrity farmers!) and find a place on upscale menus across the country.

To hear more of my Food Trend Forecast, listen to the 12/10 episode of Tart & Tangy Triad podcast where I'll talk about everything foodie and trendy with my cohosts, Stephanie and Tim.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sweet Potato Pie #HappyThanksgiving

I love sweet potato pie. It's the only pie I will ever eat (on purpose). I am not a fan of pie in general. I don't care for the crust, the filling (be it fruit, vegetable or mineral). I know this revelation will be a disappointment to my friend and cookbook author, Nancie McDermott, but 'tis true. I prefer cake. Lucky for me, Nancie also wrote a cake cookbook, so methinks she won't be too cross with me.

Pre-Thankgiving dinner table
Since I don't care for pie, it's got to be a special occasion for me to eat it. Thanksgiving is a good enough reason as any to stuff my face with it!

I took an informal poll on Facebook about which fall pie is better. Sweet Potato or Pumpkin. Actually, I declared sweet potato superior and others weighed in. Most of the responses named other pies as best. The most popular (and one I've never eaten because of my allergy), Pecan Pie. So, for all of you Pecan Pie lovers, here is the one and only pic I will ever post of one.

Be excited.
I will, however, post my favorite Sweet Potato Pie recipe. It strikes a perfect balance of sugar, creaminess and it still lets the sweet potatoes shine without being strangled with Fall-inspired spices. Enjoy.

Nikki's Sweet Potato Pie
Yield: 6-8 servings

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup Dixie Crystals extra fine granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cup (10 ounces) evaporated milk
4 cups mashed, cooked sweet potatoes
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 unbaked pastry shell (9 inches)

In a bowl, cream butter and sugars together. Add eggs one at a time; mix until all are incorporated.

Add milk, sweet potatoes, lemon zest, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; mix well. Divide mixture and pour into 2 pie shells.

Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool.
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