Manilla Clams with Spicy Charred Tomatoes and Pancetta

Greetings, Mystic Meows!

I really do love seafood. Heck. I just love food! And I love to eat… and cook, of course! 😛 I especially enjoy clams. Not too big on eating them raw, I must admit, but I can get down on a bowl of some yummy linguine with clams, stuffed clams, clam chowder. I think you get my drift.

When I’m setting out to create these recipe blogs, I’m never really quite sure what I’m going to make until I take a look at what I have in terms of ingredients, and basically work around that. I haven’t had clams in a while, and it’s another one of those dishes that remind me of Summer on the East Coast.

So I set my devilish cooking plan into motion, bought some beautiful Manilla Clams and a bunch of Mother Earth’s bounty from the farmers market, including some freshly baked Ciabatta bread that I used in this recipe. I suppose this dish is a fusion of Italian and Spanish flavors, but also wanted to keep the ingredients fairly simple and easy to prepare. As with any recipe, you can adjust and play around with different ingredients.

One thing’s for sure. The end result is just delicious. The following recipe made enough for about 2 entree portions or enough for 4 people to share as an appetizer. Enjoy!

Manilla Clams with Spicy Charred Tomatoes and Pancetta

3 pounds of Manilla Clams, cleaned and washed

1 pint of ripe cherry or grape tomatoes

4 oz of small diced pancetta ( or 4 slices of bacon)

1/2 medium size yellow onion, sliced thin

2 large cloves of garlic, chopped

1/4 cup of chopped parsley

1 cup of chicken stock, white wine, or water

1 small red chili pepper

1. In a non stick skillet, put the tomatoes in the pan with no oil over medium heat and begin to char the tomatoes, gently shaking the pan to get a nice hard sear on them. They should look like this :

2. Once the tomatoes are charred, reduce the heat a bit and add the diced pancetta or bacon. The pork fat will render out and will help to further cook the tomatoes. Cook until the bacon is nice and crispy. Leave the pork fat in the pan, as it will become part of the sauce itself.

3. Add in the onions, garlic, a few slices of the red chili and saute until the onions just start to wilt. At this point you can smoosh the tomatoes with a fork to start to create the pan sauce.

4. Add in the clams and deglaze the pan with the 1 cup of water, stock, or wine, and cover the pan to allow the clams to open and release their juices. Some of the clams might take a bit longer to open. Discard any dead clams ( you’ll be able to smell which ones) and make sure not to reduce the sauce too much. Add more liquid if you need to.

5. Once all of the clams are open, sprinkle in the parsley, and taste the sauce for salt, pepper, and heat from the chili’s. Add more sliced chili peppers if you like it spicy!

For the bread, I stuck with the stove top, melted some butter and pan toasted the bread slices. I made sure not to burn the bread, but also wanted a nice char on them. Over all I was going for layers of smokiness that lent itself well to this dish.

Put those clams in a bowl, pour the sauce all over them, drizzle with olive oil, slice the bread and add them in with the clams to soak up all the yumminess and go eat!! Mussels would also be fabulous with this sauce as well, but I enjoyed the chewiness of the clams.

I hope you give this one a try sometime. It’s a really nice mystic meal to make for yourself or share with family and friends. Until we eat again, dear reader… Happy Cooking and Happy Eating!!

Cheers, hugs, and meows!

Xo Nikki 💕✨

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Bacon and Mushroom Flatbread with Fresh Mozzarella and Fontina Cheese

Greetings, Mystic Meows!

The title says it all. However, what is the difference between flatbread and Pizza? Hmm… 🤔 The only real difference to me is texture. Flatbread is thinner and crispier. A bit more cracker like around the edges. Pizza tends to be a lot thicker and doughier. They both allow for an endless amount of toppings, and are always fun to make.

You can also use pizza dough to make flatbread by simply rolling the dough out much thinner than you normally would. Flatbreads are usually in the shape of a rectangle, where as most pizzas are round. So is it all in the name? Is a flatbread still a pizza even though we’re calling it a flatbread? Doesn’t it taste just as good?

Hell yeah, it does! I was in the mood for making this for lunch and it was insanely delicious. I’ll just list off what I used rather than an actual recipe, since it’s really up to you the kind of toppings you’ll have on hand. I did use a variety of cooking methods for each ingredient because I knew exactly how I wanted this to be. I like contrasts in texture and taste and how roasting one thing, and grilling another creates those bursts of flavor that make the ordinary, extraordinary. Here’s what I used…

Ingredients:

Bacon cut into small pieces

Button and Oyster mushrooms, sliced

Grilled spring onions, chopped

1 bulb of garlic, roasted

Spinach

Fresh Mozzarella

Fontina Cheese

Parsley & thyme

Olive oil

Salt, pepper, and chili flakes

Now, if you’re feeling wiley and want to make the dough from scratch, I suggest this Classic Pizza Dough by Martha Stewart. It’s fairly easy to prepare and works well for both flatbread style and traditional pizza making. A high quality pre made pizza crust or heck… French bread or baguette will work just as well.

I roasted the garlic bulb in foil with a drizzle of olive oil in a 400 degree oven for about 35 min. I have a cast iron grill and used it to char the spring onions. I sautéed the bacon until it was nice and barely crisp. Removed it, then sautéed the mushrooms in the bacon fat. Cause I’m crazy like that and like to extract the most out of everything I cook with. 😜

I then added a pat of butter to the mushrooms, cause the bacon fat wasn’t enough… 😛 some fresh thyme leaves, chopped parsley, seasoned with salt and pepper and deglazed the pan with 1/4 cup of water. I removed the roasted garlic cloves and put them in a small bowl with more thyme and parsley, olive oil, chili flakes, s & p, and smooshed it all together to make a paste. I then shmeared the roasted garlic love on the flatbread dough and proceeded to add the other ingredients.

I put the fontina on first, then the shrooms, spinach, chopped onions, mozzarella, and finally, the bacon. I sprinkled some more chili flakes on top, drizzled with olive oil and baked it at 400 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. My oven runs pretty hot so things cook rather quickly, so check yours after 10 minutes and see if you need more time.

The end result for this was fantastic. From the nuttiness of the garlic, the char from the onions, the earthiness of the mushrooms and herbs, the creaminess of the melted cheeses, and the savory flavor of the bacon, with the perfect amount of heat from the chili flakes on top of the crispy, yet chewy flatbread was culinary magic.

I hope you try your hand at making some pizza & flatbread and have fun with different styles and cooking techniques to make it a mystic meal of your own. Thanks for stopping by, dear reader! Until we eat again… Happy Cooking!

Cheers, hugs, and meows!

Xo Nikki 💕✨

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All photos taken by moi! 😉

Thai Yellow Curry with Chicken and Vegetables

Greetings, Mystic Meows!

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely LOVE curries. There’s just something about the complexities of the spices involved that make it stand out in such memorable ways. Some people don’t really like curries because of it’s association with heat/chilis, but there is a difference between Thai Curries and Indian Curries. They both contain levels of spiciness, but this depends upon the amount of chili’s used to create the curry paste or mix in the first place.

Indian curries tend to incorporate a wide variety of dried spices like a masala mix, and Thai curries are typically made in the form of a paste using wet ingredients like galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime. Thai curries also tend to be a bit soupier, meaning that the curry sauce itself isn’t as thick as an Indian Curry. And it should be noted that not all Indian curries are coconut milk based.

When I’m out and about on any kind of food shopping excursion, I’m always on the hunt for something new to try and add to my cooking repertoire. Those key ingredients that help make my own mystics meals that much more epic and over the top. I found that in a brand called Mike’s Organic Curry Love and have been hooked on it ever since. The brand has been around since 2008, so it’s not a new thing on the market, it’s just new to me because I’ve only discovered it about 6 months ago.

They make a variety of curry pastes and sauces that are wonderfully authentic in flavor. There are several things I enjoy about the brand itself, including it’s packaging, ease of use, and minimal waste factor. They come in single use pouches and make enough for a nice hearty meal to feed 3 to 4 people, depending on if you even want to share any of it! The instructions are easy to follow, so any home cook at any skill level can create a mystic meal of their own that will impress the daylights out of your friends and loved ones. Trust me. 😛

I went with the Yellow Thai Curry Paste and added chicken to it, and a slew of veggies that I had that were screaming to be put into this recipe. Below is what I used to create this amazing meal. Enjoy!

Yellow Thai Curry with Chicken and Vegetables

8oz. chicken breast, diced into cubes

1/2 cup cubed sweet potato

1/2 cup cubed yukon potato

1 cup green beans, stems removed and cut in half

3/4 cup of diced yellow onion

1/2 cup of bell peppers, sliced

1 13.5 fl oz can of coconut milk ( I like the Chaokoh brand )

I packet of Mike’s Organic Curry Love’s Yellow Thai Curry Paste

2 T. vegetable oil

Salt and pepper to taste.

 

1. Boil the potatoes and cook them until they’re tender, but not mushy. I put both kinds together in the same pot with a touch of salt in the water. Once cooked, drain and set aside. Should take about 10 minutes.

2. In a large skillet over medium heat, add the 2 Tbls of oil and the chicken, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and start to brown the meat. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add in the green beans, onions, and bell peppers and continue to sauté together for another 5 to 6 minutes.

3. Add the yellow curry paste and mix into the chicken and vegetables to help break it up and distribute into the ingredients. Sauté together for about a minute.

4. Add the can of coconut milk, being sure to scrape all the goodness out of the can, and stir all together. Lower the heat to a simmer, adjust the salt and pepper, and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

5. Add the cooked potatoes, and gently stir into the curry. Remove from the heat and serve. Meow!

 

I opted to serve this with Basmati Rice, but it can be eaten as it is, with some yummy noodles or with some toasty bread. And of course you can make your curry with whatever the flip you want! Meat, no meat, seafood… Anything goes! I hope you give this recipe and this brand of curry pastes a try. It’s so worth it, in particularly if you’re looking to jazz up your next meal and try something new!

Thank you so much for stopping by, dear reader… Until we eat again. Happy Cooking and Happy Eating!

xo Nikki

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Cheesy Poblano Corn Fritters and Garlicky Green Beans with Mushrooms

Greetings, Mystic Meows!

I love making side dishes. For me they often become the center of the meal and I like their versatility when it comes to how to eat and serve them. And I typically throw the rule book out the window when I’m cooking, anyways… 😛 Both of these recipes are vegetarian friendly and perfect for any kind of meal, morning, noon, or night. I’ll start with the Corn Fritters.

Corn can sometimes be a one trick pony in the sense that most of the time, speaking for myself, I prepare it the same way ( with butter and a pinch of salt ) because my daughter’s super picky when it comes to the way she eats. However, she’s becoming increasingly curious about the dishes I’ve been making for these blog posts and is at least “tasting” what I make. It’s a start, right? So I tried out a dish I haven’t made in a long time.

Fritters are made up of a thick batter containing fruits or meats and vegetables depending on the recipe. Some are deep fried in lots of oil and are bit rounded or oval since they’re spoon dropped into it. In this recipe the fritters are more of a pancake shape, use way less oil, and are nice and crispy on both sides thanks to all the yummy cheese getting fried to perfection. They’re really easy to prep and cook and I recommend using fresh corn if you have it, but you can use canned or frozen corn as well. Just make sure you drain and dry the canned corn, and defrost the frozen corn and again, dry it to absorb excess water.

Cheesy Poblano Corn Fritters

2 Cups of corn

1 medium sized Poblano pepper, seeded and small diced

1 half jalapeño pepper, seeded and small diced

1/4 cup sliced green onion

1/8 cup chopped cilantro

1 large clove of garlic, minced

1 cup shredded jack cheese

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup AP flour

2 large eggs

3/4 cup of milk

3/4 teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1/4 cup vegetable oil for frying

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients, wet and dry. Mix together well. The batter will be VERY thick.

Heat up your favorite frying pan over medium heat and add 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil per batch of Fritters.

Scoop about 1/4 cup of the batter into your frying pan, frying 3 to 4 scoops at a time. Press down with a spatula to round them out, not making them too flat or thin.

Fry for about 4 minutes per side until golden brown on both sides. Serve them warm with sour cream if you’re feeling fancy 😉 Makes between 10 to 12 pieces. *Side note: I didn’t feel the need to add any extra salt since the cheeses are pretty savory, but feel free if you want to add more S & P at the end. Btw, my daughter took the tiniest bite… Baby steps. 🤪

Now on to the next recipe…

Green beans are one of my favorite vegetables to make as a side dish, however I also love to use them as a salad topper and as a main course. Easy to eat raw or cooked and again, extremely versatile, there are countless ways to incorporate them into your next mystic meal 😉✨

I also love mushrooms and combining these two together is always a win-win for me. With so many people taking control of their eating habits by meal prepping for the week, this is a great recipe to add to your next green salad, grilled chicken or fish, grain bowls, etc.

I must admit… I’m from the Julia Child school of butter, and this recipe uses a fair amount, but you can of course use olive oil or cooking oil of choice. I just happen to prefer using butter and for me, it adds a richness to the dish that I love and let’s face it… Butter is delicious, but use as little or as much as you see fit for yourself.

Garlicky Green Beans with Mushrooms

1 pound green beans, cleaned and stems removed

8oz of your favorite mushrooms, sliced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup thin sliced onion or shallots

1 Tablespoon fresh chopped thyme

1 Tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

4 Tablespoons of butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a medium pot of salted water to boil and add the green beans. Cook in rapidly boiling water for no more than 2 minutes. Drain the green beans and cool under cold running water or in an ice bath. Drain and set aside.

In a large pan over medium heat, add the butter, garlic, mushrooms, and onions and sauté until the vegetables just start to caramelize. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Add the green beans and cook together for about 3 minutes. Then add the thyme and parsley, mix together. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve.

There you have it, dear reader! Two very different, vegetarian and easy to prepare side dishes that I hope you try out and add to your next Mystic Meal! Happy Cooking and Happy Eating! And Happy Easter, too!

Cheers, hugs, and meows!

Xo Nikki 💕

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CBD Infused Foods

Greetings, Mystic Meows!

Chefs all over the world predicted that in 2019 one of the biggest food trends we would see is the incorporation of CBD in pretty much everything edible. From drinks to pet food, chips to chocolate, chefs are seeing unique opportunities for new cuisine and experimental dining options by the inclusion and infusion of cannibis and CBD oil. Just take a look at what a company called Cannabinoid Creations is doing with CBD infusion.

What exactly is CBD? CannaBiDiol is a compound found in the resin of the cannibis flower, and has a rich medicinal history going back for a long time. As in, thousands of years. Unlike the THC compound, CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it won’t get you “high”, so it’s not going to alter your state of mind upon consumption.

However, CBD research indicates that the changes it causes the body might be beneficial. I’ll link a couple of places where you can learn more about it. So far it’s research has shown that it might relieve pain, depression, anxiety, causes of acne, and alleviate certain cancer symptoms.

CBD Benefits

CBD and the FDA

As far as consumption, there’s a variety of ways in which food is being used to entice us into trying CBD products in the latest health food vitamin, chocolate confection, infused coffee, and treats for our pets. Even fast food chains are jumping on the CBD bandwagon. Carl’s Jr., a West coast fast food chain known as Hardy’s on the East coast, recently announced that it is debuting the Rocky Mountain High Cheeseburger infused with CBD on 4/20. You need to be 18yrs or older to purchase it, of course… But the variety of ways that CBD will be making its way into everything you can think of will be intriguing to see and taste.

It’s an interesting and controversial subject considering that no one can say for sure how beneficial CBD really is for us, but as a chef I can totally see the appeal to incorporating it into recipes as these days it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep consumers engaged and interested in following food trends that aren’t embracing a plant based, sustainable, zero waste mentality. CBD would fall into plant based, I suppose.

I’m looking forward to seeing how creative and inventive chefs and other companies are going to be with it all and what changes people will feel if consuming CBD on the regular. Time will tell! Until next time dear reader… Happy Cooking and Happy Eating!

Cheers, hugs, and meows!

Xo Nikki 💖✨

Follow Mystic Meals on Instagram!!

Photos courtesy of Carl’s Jr., and Google images 😉

LA Weekly

Hello there, Mystic Foodies!

Recently I was given the opportunity to submit an article to LA Weekly about some fellow Chef friends of mine who have recently started their own Mexican inspired weekend pop up, Tortilla Con Amor based out of North Hollywood, Ca. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have something I’ve written published in a mainstream publication, and I hope you meows give it read and enjoy the story.

Even if you don’t live anywhere near California, be sure to follow Tortilla Con Amor on social media and watch their food journey unfold, just as my own is blossoming in unexpected ways. I will continue to write for myself, and whoever wants to read about the people, meals, ingredients, and experiences that have and continue to make their impression in my life. You can also keep up with me at Mystic Meals on Instagram!

Happy reading, and happy cooking!

Cheers, hugs, and meows!

Xo Nikki

https://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/on-the-street-feeling-the-love-at-tortilla-con-amor-10138020

‘‘Tis the season!

Season’s Greetings, dear meows!

Wow! I can’t believe it’s December already! Where did the year go? One more month and then on to 2018! I don’t know about you meows, but 2017 was quite an interesting year for me. Lots of ups and downs, unexpected surprises, a lot of hard work and sacrifice, and a whole bunch of memories! Speaking of memories…

The holiday season is where eating, cooking, and food in general take center stage, at least for me 😉 This year for Thanksgiving, the roasted Turkey I made turned out exceptionally good. Literally picture perfect. See? 😉 ( pat’s self on the back… )

My secret? I dry brined the bird. It’s a great way to impart maximum flavor and ensuring crispy browned skin, while keeping the meat tender and juicy! Here’s a simple and easy dry brine rub that works wonders on Chicken & Turkey! For me, roasting low and slow, then turning up the oven temp towards the end really helps with the end results…

Dry Salt Brine Rub :

3 tablespoons kosher salt 

1 1/2 teaspoons dried herbs, such as thyme, sage, and rosemary, or blend

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 (14- to 16-pound) thawed whole turkey (not kosher or pre-salted)

The reason for not using a kosher bird is that they typically have a salted solution added to them. Try to find a bird that has no pre seasoning or solutions injected into it. Use half the amount of rub if you’re using a whole chicken instead of a turkey. Pat your bird dry before adding the rub. They key here is get the dry rub under the skin as best as you can, and using the rest all over the outside of the bird. Then let it rest in the fridge, uncovered for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days max. The process of osmosis will draw out the natural juices from the bird, and then miraculously the meat then reabsorbs them, basically seasoning itself from the outside in. So worth it!

This year for Christmas, I’m not sure what I’m going to make. I’m leaning towards cooking some of the ethnic dishes Colombians and Puerto Rican’s typically prepare around this time of year. Pernil, which is roasted pork shoulder, is always a crowd pleaser and perfect for feeding a ton of meows.

Accompanied by yellow saffron rice, beans, salad and a creamy flan for dessert? Yes, meow! I haven’t made a flan in a while and I hope I haven’t lost my touch!

What are some of your favorite Christmas foods to make? I’ll be back here soon with some more recipes that’ll be great for holidays and beyond! But before I go… Lest we forget to make a yummy cocktail for toasting to the season! I found this one on Pinterest and I’m definitely gonna make a batch of these!

Pomegranate Mules

2oz. Vodka

1oz. pomegranate juice

1 Tbls. pomegranate seeds

1 Tbls. lime juice

1 tsp. honey

1/2 cup ice

Ginger beer or ginger ale

sprig of rosemary

In a cocktail glass, stir together the vodka, pomegranate juice, seeds, lime juice, honey and ice. Top off with the ginger beer and add a sprig of rosemary to garnish.

Thank you meows for being here and I hope to hear from you! Happy Holidays and Happy Cooking!

Cheers, hugs & meows! Nikki 💖✨😻

Photo credits by Jay Luna, Google images, Micha Morton and Pinterest 😉

 The Gemini Kitchen!

Michele with Chef Susan Feniger
Greetings, dear meows! One of the things I love about writing this blog is being able to show off some of my most talented friends, such as this lovely lady I’m about to introduce you to.

I first met Michele Stueven a little over a year ago when she and her son, Erik Glode filmed an  interview with me at The Northridge Farmer’s Market here in Los Angeles. We became fast friends and bonded over our mutual love of farmers market fare, and of course… COOKING! She started out her career path in the world of journalism, and now Michele has her own catering business called The Gemini Kitchen, and has quite the following on social media. From her enticing photographs of the dishes she creates, to showcasing the flora and fauna that captures her eye on her adventures throughout Southern California, Michele has a keen sense and artistic style, with a knack for being extremely creative in the kitchen.


Michele is a true Cali girl with a unique perspective and connection to its landscape. She graciously let me pick her brain a bit and walks us through her journey into how she became the culinary maven she is today. She even gave us a wonderful dinner menu with recipes that embrace the warm weather months perfectly! Enjoy! 😊

MM:  Tell us a bit about yourself, Michele? How did you first get started in the field of journalism? How has that industry managed to keep up with the ever changing ways in which we receive information? 

MS: I’m a native Angeleno and have lived here all my life. I grew up on the beach in Santa Monica, only child to German immigrants. We spent summers in Germany and traveling Europe, a tradition I’ve continued with my two sons. Spending most of my time at a relative’s restaurant in Bavaria – the Tuscany of Germany – I became fascinated and obsessed with food and cooking. My love for salads and and seasonal ingredients actually sprouted from the country of beer and sausage.

I was a journalism major at Cal State Northridge and went on to work for the Associated Press as a photo editor, a German Media Group asst. correspondent and then photo editor/video producer and reporter for People Magazine. With the slow death of the magazine world, I ventured out to see what the internet could do for me. My love of food, flowers and photography gave birth to the Gemini Kitchen almost exactly one year ago. I never seem to run out of subjects and am giddy about the fact that I don’t have to run anything by layers of editors. I have the final say in everything, can post what and whenever I feel like it. The final decision is always my own and not by result of committee. Don’t miss that at all.The crazy irony here is that the same social media explosion that resulted in the death of print media and journalism is the reason I’ve even been able to do this and reinvent myself. Sometimes you have to embrace the enemy to find your peace.

MM:  The Gemini Kitchen is a great name! How did you come up with it, and what lead you to finally turn your lifelong passion for cooking into a catering business? Who are some of the Chefs that inspire you? 

MS: To supplement and inspire the blog (and hello, to make money) I decided to put years of catering family and school functions for hundreds of people to some use and get cooking. My best friend (a fellow Gemini) was going through a horrid divorce at the time and has never cooked a day in her life. She needed food and I needed a job, so I became her personal chef. I began catering events for her and soon by word of mouth, started gathering a stable of regular clients.
Having grown up with the dawn of California cuisine, I’m most inspired by women chefs like Suzanne Goin, Alice WatersSusan Feniger, Nancy Silverton. I also like Giada De Laurentiis a lot, because she cooks healthy and sensibly and is a local Angeleno like me. Even though I do need my occasional cheeseburger and fries, I’m not much for over the top food.

 

Michele with Chef Giada De Laurentiis

MM: You also take beautiful photographs of the things you come across at various farmers markets, and have a great eye for details in nature. I love the pictures of the flowers you see on your travels that you post on social media. Is photography another way for you to express your artistic side?

MS: Photography has been a part of my life forever. In fact my Journalism career started when a local newspaper photographer took a picture of me on the beach in a bikini (still have that foto.) I hounded him to introduce me to his editor for an internship which lead to my first paying magazine job. I like to treat my blog like a magazine layout , from my many moons in the print world.

MM: You document your culinary travels and film quite a bit of what you do. Ever consider having your own show? If so, what would you want it to be like?  Any plans on writing a cookbook in the future?

MS: I would love my own show and I’ve already been toying with some book ideas. I’d like them to be very visual and sort of a combination food ingredient and travelogue theme. I’d like to be the Huell Howser of Food – picking strawberries and tomatoes in Oxnard, chasing pigs in San Diego, fishing for ling cod in the channel islands. Then offer recipes from those adventures.

MM: What are some of your favorite go to types of cuisine to cook? As a caterer, what would you say are some of your greatest hits on the menu? 

MS:   I like to cook seasonal and healthy. I roast and bbq a lot. People love vegetables these days and I’ve noticed that clients are interested in finger foods and more about grazing and having a variety of items to choose from. My antipasti platters are a huge seller, a combination of veggies, meats and cheeses and whatever happens to look good at the farmers market. Kabobs and finger sandwiches are big right now: Tarragon Chicken Salad Finger Sandwiches with Cranberries, Salmon Mousse Finger Sandwiches.

Antipasto Plates

MM: With summer rapidly approaching, I’m sure you’ve got some yummy tricks up your sleeve! I would love it if you’d share some recipes with us! What would you suggest as a 3 course menu that celebrates the season? And what wines or drinks would you recommend? 

MS:  Gazpacho, Cedar Plank Halibut with Black Lemon Brown Rice, Strawberry and Plum Crostada. J Vineyards Pinot Gris and some homemade Limoncello with the Crostada.

MM: Here’s Michele’s recipes for Cedar Plank Halibut with Black Lemon Brown Rice! 



Cedar Plank Halibut

Serves 6

6 pieces of halibut (salmon works too)
Olive Oil, Sweet or Spicy Paprika, Garlic Salt, 

2 lemons

2 cedar or other wood planks, available at most hardware and grocery stores including Whole Foods


Soak the planks in water according to package directions for about an hour, while you are heating up the BBQ on one side of the grill.


Rub the fish with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika and garlic salt. Once the grill is hot, dry the planks and place the seasoned fish on top. Place planks on the side of the barbecue that is not on fire. Cover and roast for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the halibut is firm to the touch. Check on it now and then. Just before you carefully remove from the grill, squeeze with generous amounts of fresh lemon juice.


Black Lemon Rice
2 cups rice
4 cups water

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. butter or olive oil

1 black lemon (also known as loomi, can be found at any market that specializes in Middle Eastern spices. It’s actually a lime that has been boiled and then left out in the sun to dry.)


Bring all ingredients to a boil and cover. Cook 20 minutes for white rice and 45 minutes for brown rice.)

 

MM:  Thank you so much! Sounds amazing! Can’t wait to try my hand at it! Yum! Speaking of courses, if you could describe yourself as a drink, appetizer, entree, and dessert, what would they be and why? 
MS: I’m a Greyhound (fast and nimble,) Ceviche (spicy and cool) Roasted Branzino (warm and delicate) Strawberries Macerated in Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar topped with Sour Cream (the two sides of a Gemini.)
MM: Great answers! Now… If you could have a dinner party with 10 guests, living or dead, famous or not, who would be on the guest list and what would you be serving? 

MS: My mom, dad, husband, sons, Father Paul, Maya Angelou, Mother Theresa, Joni Mitchell, Alfred Hitchock. All vegetarian, Indian-inspired.

MM: What a fantastic dinner party that would be! Alright, so if you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be? 

MS: Lake Tahoe
MM: Nice! Tahoe’s a beautiful place. Ok. It’s top 5 time! Name your top 5 favorite: fruits, vegetables, and drinks!

MS: Fennel, Arugula, Onions, Grapefruit, Sapphire Gibson
MM:  Fried chicken, pizza, or cheeseburgers? 

MS: Cheeseburgers. That said, my favorite food is Mexican. Can eat it everyday and is a huge part of my inspiration, growing up in Southern California. Ole!

Thanks again Michele! Be sure to check out her Facebook page, The Gemini Kitchen to keep up with all of her latest info and social media posts! You can also find her on Instagram & Twitter! I hope this inspires you to get out there, take some risks, embrace the changes that come your way and turn those lemons life hands you into limoncello! And go check out your local farmers market! You never know what you’ll find… Happy Cooking!

Cheers, hugs & meows! 

Nikki Meow 💖✨😻

All photographs courtesy of Erik Glode Productions & Michele Stueven 😉

French Onion Soup! 

Do you ever just get stumped on what to cook for yourself or your family? As a Chef, there are times when I can be really whimsical and creative in my own home kitchen. But when you have a picky 2 1/2 year old it gets a little crazy sometimes to think up meals that they’ll eat. To be honest though, sometimes it’s easier feeding my daughter than it is to feed myself!

I suppose it’s because of the repetitive aspect. The food rut. That’s where we tend to make and eat the same foods on a loop, over and over again because it’s either quick, easy, doesn’t require too much thought, or all of the above. We all need some inspiration to help motivate us, right?

Well here in SoCal where I live, the weather’s starting to go through “the change”. 😛 Meaning that the temperature’s starting to get a little colder. Out of nowhere I had this wicked craving to make French Onion Soup. Does that ever happen to you? You start craving something all friggin’ day long and you just have to have it or make it? So, that’s exactly what I did.

I started by slicing up 4 medium sized onions. 2 yellow and 2 red. That just happened to be what I had on hand, but you can use whatever combo of onions you like, including shallots, scallions, etc. They all have a delicious flavor profile that will add to the end result of your soup if you decide to make some for yourself.

Then I added about 1/4 cup of olive oil to my cooking pot ( at medium heat) and added in the sliced onions to begin caramelizing them and cook them down. My goal here is to brown the onions and release their natural sugars without burning them. This, for me, took about 25 minutes.

Once my onions were nice and sexy, I added 3 cloves of crushed garlic, thyme, ( fresh or dried) 3 cups of beef stock (I just happened to have some) and 3 cups of water, salt and pepper. That was it. I let that cook on a medium low flame for about 1 1/2 hours, reducing the broth by at least a third to help concentrate those flavors. I found myself adding more salt and about 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar to help balance that savory sweet taste I was looking for.


Of course you can also use chicken stock, vegetable stock, or plain water to make this soup. Just adjust the seasonings to your liking. This recipe is by no means a traditional version of French Onion Soup, just my way of making it, especially when you have to make changes based on what you have in your fridge or cupboard.

However, another key element to this soup is cheese and croutons! When you order this at a restaurant it typically comes garnished with a crouton completely covered in thick, melted, glorious, golden brown bubbly broiled Gruyere or Comte cheese! Well… I didn’t have any of that 😏 I did have some Swiss, Mozzarella, and some good old fashioned white bread! So I fired up the oven to 350 degrees, put my bread on a sheet pan, added the cheeses and let them get nice and toasty for about 20 minutes.

Then I ladled my soup into a bowl, cut up the croutons into bite sized pieces and placed them right on top of the soup. Man oh MAN was this a delicious meal! Granted, it wasn’t exactly what I would make in a restaurant setting or even be served as a diner, but that’s not the point. I was able to achieve the flavors and textures I was looking for simply by working with what I had, and not letting the lack of certain other ingredients prevent me from making the soup anyways.


I think that’s what happens to us in our kitchens as well… We’ll look around and go, I don’t have this, or I only have 3 of the 5 things I need to make it, and then we end up making something else instead of just giving it a go and thinking outside the box. Cooking requires a lot of compromise and last minute changes, and it’s in those moments that we create something really unexpected. One of the most important things to do when cooking is to keep it simple. Simplicity.

And of course, cook with lots of love. From the heart. ❤️ I was really happy with the way the soup came out and was glad that I decided to make it! I hope this helps inspire you to get in your kitchen and make a soup, or even order a bowl of French Onion next time you go out to eat and it’s on the menu. Thanks a lot for hanging with me! Cheers, hugs & meows!
Nikki Meow

Top photo courtesy of Google 😉