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!
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!
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 😉
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 Waters, Susan 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.
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.
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
6 pieces of halibut (salmon works too) Olive Oil, Sweet or Spicy Paprika, Garlic Salt,
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: 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 😉