Raised by her grandparents in a rural town off the coast of North Carolina, Nikki was first introduced to cooking by her grandmother at the age of seven. She spent many summers in the kitchen with her grandmother preparing breakfast and learning how to preserve fresh fruit and vegetables from their garden. It was at that moment that she developed an interest for cooking and by the age of 10, she knew her way around a cookbook and began using them for inspiration. Check out what she had to say inside about cooking for picky teens, how she landed on Food Network and a sexy recipe for a romantic dinner for two!
When did the love of cooking hit you?
My love of cooking hit me when I was about the age of seven. My grandmother introduced me to cooking by teaching me how to prepare breakfast. I spent my summers in the kitchen cooking with grandmother. By the age of 12, I could prepare a whole meal by myself. Cooking for others makes me really happy!
What’s a great easy and quick dish to prepare for picky teens?
Baked Pasta with meat sauce. It’s easy to sneak in veggies like spinach, chunky tomato sauce and you can add chicken, pepperoni, or whatever protein your teen likes best.
Give us a great and sexy recipe for a romantic dinner for two?
Rumors have it that when translated, Mojito means a little wetness. Quite awkward, but if you’ve ever tried the cocktail you’d know it’s all good! My mojito grilled chicken & calypso fried rice invoke the sexiness of a hot & steamy Miami night and the flavors in the fried rice take you to the beautiful beaches of the caribbean.
You are on the Food Network congrats! Tell us about your cooking show and how you landed that gig?
Auditions for the show were held in Atlanta and you were required to bring your best dish. I was one of 16 home cooks from across the country who competed for a $50,000 cash prize on the Food Network’s newest culinary competition series America’s Best Cook. The show was hosted by Ted Allen and the 16 cooks are divided into four teams representing the South, North, East, and West. Each team was mentored by a Food Network chef and I represented Team South, mentored by celebrity Chef Cat Cora. The experience was awesome and it was so cool cooking beside an Iron Chef. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything and as nerve wrecking as it was, I’d do it all over again from beginning to end.
Tell us about your new book?
I’m so happy to have published my first cookbook, A bit of this, A bit of that:Comfort food for the eclectic soul. It’s my baby! It features about 40 different recipes from sauces to desserts that infuse some southern and caribbean food. I’ve remade some classics like macaroni and cheese and meatloaf, lending my own twist and flair. Then there are original recipes like my plantain balls stuffed with jerk chicken. The cookbook is really eclectic with some asian influences, but there is something for everyone, especially if you love comfort food.
Mojito Grilled Chicken Recipe
4 chicken breasts
2 tablespoons mint, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons cilantro, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons agave or honey
1⁄2 cup white or dark rum
1⁄4 cup lime juice
1⁄4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup of Mojito Glaze
IN A LARGE MIXING BOWL combine all the ingredients for the marinade, then add chicken
to marinade and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, overnight if possible.
Preheat grill or grill pan to medium high. Remove chicken from marinade and squeeze off
excess. Place chicken on grill and cook 56 minutes on each side. Brush glaze onto chicken and grill an additional 12 minutes per side.
2 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄2 cup dark rum
1⁄4 cup lime juice
1⁄4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar 1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 tablespoon water 1 tablespoon mint
1 tablespoon cilantro Oil for sautéing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
IN a SMALL SAUCEPAN over mediumhigh heat, sauté garlic in oil until fragrant, making
sure not to allow the garlic to brown. Add dark rum, lime juice, orange juice, and brown sugar to saucepan. Cook on high heat until reduced by 1⁄3, and then adjust to medium heat. In a separate
bowl whisk together cornstarch and water, add to saucepan and cook for 5 minutes, until sauce is thicker. Remove from heat and add mint and cilantro.
Calypso Fried Rice
2 cups white rice
3 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
1 tablespoon coconut manna (optional)
1 plantain, diced (ripe, but without brown spots)
1 cup onion, diced
1⁄2 cup red pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 scotch bonnet pepper (use 1⁄2 or remove the seeds for less heat)
18 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon sweet sauce (available in Asian grocery store, use soy sauce if unavailable)
1 tablespoon jerk seasoning (see page __ for recipe)
1⁄4 cup desiccated coconut
1⁄3 cup mango
1⁄3 cup pineapple
dash of sesame oil (optional)
1 green onion, chopped
Salt to taste
HEAT ONE TABLESPOON of oil in a medium saucepan. Mixin rice, coconut manna, and salt. Stir until rice is coated with oil and coconut manna has melted. Pour in 4 cups of water, cover with lid and bring to boil. Cook until water is absorbed and reduce to low heat. Stir rice constantly to prevent sticking. Cook until done, about 20 minutes.
While rice is cooking, fry plantains until brown. Set aside.
Once rice is done, remove rice from pot and place on a cookie sheet. Allow rice to cool completely before stir frying.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in sauté pan. Add onions, red peppers, scotch bonnet, and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent. Stir in cold rice, black beans, plantains, and oil. Make sure rice is coated with oil; add more if needed to prevent sticking. Mix in sweet sauce, jerk seasoning, sesame oil and coconut. Remove from heat and stir in mango and pineapples. Top with green onions and serve.