Pecan Granola


There are a bajillion million granola recipes on the web, but I can’t resist contributing yet another to the pantheon.

What makes this recipe unique is its simplicity — every ingredient is necessary and in perfect balance with the others. I used a generous hand with the pecans, adding plenty of them and keeping the pieces large enough to highlight their luxurious flavor and texture. Slicing whole pecans might seem like an extra step (and by all means, use baking pieces if you’d prefer), but I love the effect here, and encourage you to try it out!

Agave syrup keeps things vegan-friendly, vanilla adds wonderful aroma, and a good amount of sea salt hits just the right salt-to-sweet ratio. And that’s that. No dried fruit, no flax seeds, no bells and whistles.

The last step of this recipe calls for leaving the granola in the oven for a few hours or over night, after you’ve turned off the heat, to allow it to cool completely. This allows it to dehydrate a bit more than if you’d let it cool on the counter right after baking, so it will stay crunchy longer. It also prevents curious beagles from jumping on the counter and eating all of your freshly-baked granola. Win-win if you ask me.


Pecan Granola (printer-friendly version)


6 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 1/2 cups whole pecans, sliced into 1/8” to 1/4”-thick pieces

2/3 cup canola oil
1 cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt


1. Preheat oven to 325°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

2. In a large (6-quart) mixing bowl, combine oats and sliced pecans. Set aside.

3. In a small (1-quart) saucepan over medium heat, combine the canola oil, agave nectar, vanilla extract, and salt.

4. When the mixture just begins to bubble, pour it over the oats and pecans and mix with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.

5. Spread the mixture out onto the lined sheet pan, then place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes total, stirring every 10 minutes to ensure even baking.

6. Turn the oven off and leave the granola in the oven. Leave for a few hours or over night, until cooled to room temperature. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.



When I got an email from Rachel last week about her new website, I couldn’t help but respond. Her angle? Promoting the health benefits and delicious uses of sauerkraut. I didn’t begin to enjoy the stuff until this year, when a friend of mine made an incredible stew featuring a full quart of the fermented cabbage condiment. Since then, I’ve adapted it for my slow cooker, and I can’t wait to try out Rachel’s recipe for Baja Fish Bundles, featured here!

- Coco a.k.a. Opera Girl

Tilapia is my absolute favorite from the white fish family. It’s a foolproof fish for those who are timid about cooking seafood. It absorbs any flavors added to it and always comes out buttery and flaky (even if I leave it in the oven too long!). Sauerkraut is an unbelievable complement to the mild fillet, giving it a savory and more complex flavor.

Krautlook’s Baja Fish Bundle recipe is worth bookmarking: it’s delicious, healthy, fast, and cheap. It might sound too good to be true, but I guarantee once you try it, it will be showing up on your plate more often than you may have expected. The trick to this recipe is making sure you fold your parchment packets enough so that the steam cannot escape. The steam should remain inside the packet in order to cook the fish and retain moisture.

Krautlook’s Baja Fish Bundles (printer-friendly version)

Makes 4 Fillets

4 tilapia fillets
½ c drained fresh salsa (could substitute Coco’s Hot and Spicy Ancho Tomatillo Salsa)
½ c drained and rinsed sauerkraut
¼ c sliced black olives
2 Tbsp. plus 4 extra dollops plain, non-fat Greek Yogurt

1.Preheat oven to 400°F.

2.Cut 12” x 12” squares of parchment baking paper; fold each in half to crease, then unfold.

3.Place fillets on paper squares; immediately to the right of the crease, centered between top and bottom.

4.Mix together salsa, sauerkraut, black olives, and 2 Tbsp. yogurt. Distribute evenly over fillets.

5.Fold unfilled side of paper over filling, matching edges.

6.Starting with the opposite edge, fold ¼” over crease; then fold and crease again to make a double fold.

7.Fold and double crease the other two edges to make double fold seals.

8.Place packets on baking sheet; bake 10 minutes or until packets puff up and brown slightly.

9.Slit each packet open being careful of released steam.

10.Top each fillet with dollop of yogurt.

Rachel Carlson is a guest blogger from Krautlook, a website dedicated to sauerkraut recipes and health benefits. Visit Krautlook on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

Corn quesadillas made with fresh masa and queso oaxaca.

In case you hadn’t heard, Oaxaca has established itself as Mexico’s gastronomic capital.  With varied geography including a coastal border, mountainous regions, and fertile farmlands, indigenous and transplanted cultures have created a diverse cuisine that defines the state. Whether you’re seeking chicken mole, banana leaf tamales, seafood dishes, or a glass of mezcal, you’ll find a quintessential example in Oaxacan cuisine.

Adolfo Gomez and his mother, Doña Libo.

Adolfo Gomez and his mother, Doña Libo.

Thanks to the Gomez family, we have a fantastic Oaxacan restaurant right here in the Bay Area. Located in downtown San Jose, Mezcal’s beautiful dining room and large patio appeals to corporate clients and downtown diners alike. Owner Adolfo runs the business, and his brother Octavio and mother Libo preside over the kitchen. Adolfo’s sister and aunt still live in Oaxaca, where they make the chocolate and grow all of the epazote, oregano, and other herbs used in the restaurant.

Doña Libo Gomez creates all of the recipes. Here, she demonstrates making tortillas by hand.

Doña Libo creates all of the recipes. Here, she demonstrates making tortillas by hand.

Doña Libo is extremely particular about sourcing Mexican ingredients for authentic Oaxacan dishes, and her recipes sing with fresh flavors. The tortillas are made in-house, horchata is blended fresh daily, and guacamole is prepared table-side in imported molcajetes.


Only cilantro, white onion, jalapeño, and salt are added to the avocado guacamole.

Chapulines, a.k.a. grasshoppers, are a common ingredient in Oaxacan cuisine. While they’re not necessarily an every day food in Oaxaca, they are far from exotic in the region. At Mezcal, you can eat them in a traditional manner, served with chips and a creamy avocado sauce. They’re a bit chewy, adding an extra savory, salty note to an otherwise familiar appetizer of chips and guacamole.

Chapulines, a.k.a. grasshoppers, served with chips and a creamy avocado sauce.

Chapulines, a.k.a. grasshoppers, served with chips and a creamy avocado sauce.

Aside from the queso-filled quesadillas and pecan ice cream, very little dairy is used in the recipes at Mezcal. The tortilla soup is thick and creamy without any cream — the tomato-based soup is thick and flavorful, with garnishes of crispy tortilla strips and silky avocado.


Thick and creamy, dairy-free tortilla soup.

You won’t find a lot of lime juice and hot peppers in the dishes here, either. Adolfo explained that those ingredients are used to mask off flavors, and they prefer to let the taste of the other ingredients come through.


Horchata with cantaloupe and chopped pecans.

While most people outside of Mexico are familiar with tequila, mezcal is only starting to gain a following here. Tequila is actually a type of mezcal, its name denominationally controlled, not unlike French champagne or Italian Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese. Unlike tequila, mezcal is known for its smoky flavor, produced when the agave is cooked before its juice is extracted and distilled into liquor.

Traditional condiments for mezcal: salt with arbol chiles, sal de gusano, lime, and oranges.

Traditional condiments for mezcal: salt with arbol chiles, sal de gusano, limes, and oranges.

The restaurant has an extensive list of regional mezcales, all made with 100% agave juice. With our meal, we were treated to a tasting of three mezcales from Don Amado, a distillery based in Oaxaca. The Rustico, Reposado, and Añejo varieties are aged for varying amounts of time, resulting in their different flavors. The Rustico is a mezcal blanco, aged for the shortest amount of time. It is clear in color and has a stronger bite than the longer-aged añejo, which is smooth and mellow. The reposado is aged for a medium amount of time (about 4-8 months on average), and is generally preferred as an ingredient in cocktails.

Don Amado mezcales. From left to right: añejo, reposado, and rustico.

Don Amado mezcales. From left to right: añejo, reposado, and rustico.

We capped off our meal at Mezcal with a delicious, house-made ice cream. Its texture was similar to granita, with bits of chopped pecan and a dollop of raspberry jam on top.

Ice cream with pecans and raspberry sauce.

Ice cream with pecans and raspberry sauce.

Thank you, Adolfo and Doña Libo, for sharing so much of your knowledge and culture with us at this event! I can’t wait to come back for dinner with my friends and family and try more of your Oaxacan specialties.

This event was sponsored by Foodie.com, a Glam Media company. 

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Organic Choice for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

Eating healthy and choosing organic produce go hand in hand. Especially when shopping for the dirty dozen, I reach for the organic varieties of my favorite fruits and vegetables. I've never tried my hand at growing them at home, though, and so I jumped at the offer from Scotts to try out their new Organic Choice line.

Organic Plant Food photo 100958_01_zps2640dd9f.jpg

This morning, I received bags of Scotts Organic Choice plant food and potting mix. They're all purpose blends, meant for growing everything from flowers to fruits and vegetables. I'll be putting together a little Mediterranean herb garden in my backyard, and hopefully reporting back with some positive results soon!

Organic Potting Mix photo 72986510_2_zps4074cb63.jpg

I've always wanted to start an herb garden, as we had a great one in the backyard when I was growing up. As I understand it, woody herbs require less water than more tender herbs like parsley and basil, so I'll be growing some oregano, thyme, whatever else looks great at my local nursery.

I hope my thumb is green enough to grow a few herbs and feature them in a recipe for the next post in this series. Ideally, I'll have a Mediterranean marinade to share with you in late May. Wish me luck!

Scotts Organic Choice products are available for sale at major retailers in select markets. 

Visit Sponsor's Site


When the kind people at Marukan sent me some product samples a couple weeks ago, I had one dish in mind: Japanese cucumber salad, a.k.a. sunomono. I wanted to use their seasoned rice vinegar to streamline the salad — instead of adding sugar, salt, and vinegar, I’d use one convenient ingredient containing all three.

This salad has only four ingredients, and comes together in about ten minutes, or as fast as you can thinly slice a pound of cucumbers! It’s the perfect first course for a sushi dinner, or as a vegetable side with miso-marinated fish and steamed rice.

I’ve given classic sunomono a little twist by adding one of my favorite ingredients, hot sesame oil. This roasted sesame oil spiked with hot chili oil is meant to be used sparingly — just a few drops adds wonderful sesame aroma and a hint of heat.

Sesame Cucumber Salad

serves 4


1 pound Persian cucumbers, sliced into thin rounds
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
1/8 teaspoon hot sesame oil


1. Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving, allowing cucumbers to lightly pickle in the vinegar dressing.

Marukan rice vinegar was provided to me for review, free of charge. All opinions are my own.


Oh hey, guys! Guess what? I got married. No kidding.


An iconic mural in the SoCo neighborhood.

Almost two weeks ago, Brendan and I flew to Austin to meet up with our best friends and enjoy the SXSW music festival. After three days of fantastic live music, BBQ, Tex-Mex food and craft brews, we were married in a short and sweet civil ceremony presided over by Austin’s finest Senior District Court Judge. After the ceremony, we all drove down to Driftwood to eat an enormous lunch of BBQ at The Salt Lick before parting ways and heading home.

wedding photos-23

The four of us put away three full platters of BBQ, plus the requisite side dishes.

And so, we are back in the Bay Area, settling into our happily married life. It’s not much different than unmarried life, save for a couple of shiny rings on our fingers and a whole lot of excited relatives and friends wanting to celebrate our union. In case you didn’t know, it turns out that when you try to avoid planning a wedding, you basically end up doing the whole thing in reverse. In the coming weeks we’re having a big family dinner, going to a cocktail party thrown by some close friends, and then getting down to the business of figuring out how to throw together some sort of bigger (but not too big) celebration.


Looking forward to some celebratory cocktails with these folks!

Like most couples these days, we were living together for months before we tied the knot. We both feel like we hit jackpot with our current digs — the place has a small yard with a high fence, just right for our curious and mischievous beagle, and we’re about a three minute walk from Trader Joe’s. The neighborhood is safe and quiet, with beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay just a few blocks’ walk uphill.


BB in his favorite spot on the couch.

It’s really nice here, a lot nicer than both of our previous living situations. Like many millennials, I had been living at my parents’ place, which comes with its own set of challenges. Meanwhile, Brendan’s house was in a less-than-safe area of town, so dining options nearby were fairly limited — pizza guys wouldn’t even deliver to the neighborhood.

The one saving grace of that place was its proximity to some of the best Caribbean food in the Bay Area. Takeout from Back A Yard Grill quickly became a date night favorite — we’d set ourselves up on the couch to watch episodes of Brisco County Jr., our plates full of jerk chicken and salmon, steamed vegetables, stewed collard greens, and my favorite side dish, rice and beans.


The rice and beans dish served at Back A Yard is referred to in Jamaican cuisine as Rice and Peas, as the most authentic versions feature pigeon peas. They can be hard to find in most grocery stores, and kidney beans are a fine substitution — they’re used in the version at Back A Yard as well as my own recipe below. I also used a habanero pepper in lieu of the more traditional scotch bonnet variety, as they are much easier to track down in my neck of the woods.


We enjoyed our rice and beans with some grilled sausages, as well as vegetables roasted with Outer Spice, a tasty mix of herbs and Himalayan salt. Tossed with olive oil and the spice mix, then roasted at 425°F for about 40 minutes, this side dish of sliced fennel, bell peppers, and eggplant rounded out a well-balanced, healthy dinner.

Jamaican-Style Rice and Kidney Beans (printer-friendly version)

serves 6


1 1/2 cups brown basmati rice
2 cups water

1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup coconut milk
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 green onion, smashed
1 habanero pepper, left whole
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt


1. Combine rice and water in a 2-quart saucepan. Let soak for one hour.

2. Add remaining ingredients to saucepan and stir until combined — the garlic cloves, green onion, and habanero will float at the top of the liquid.

3. Place the saucepan over medium heat, bring up to a boil, then turn down to low and let simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, until rice is fluffy and all of the liquid is absorbed. Turn off heat and let stand for 15 minutes.

4. Discard the garlic cloves, green onion, and habanero pepper. For a traditional presentation, scoop the rice and beans into a cup measure or bowl, patting down with a spoon to create a firm mound. Flip over onto a plate, unmold and serve.

Recipe Notes

▪ Whenever I cook a rice dish, I let it stand off the heat for 10 or 15 minutes before serving. This allows the moisture and heat to redistribute throughout the dish, unsticking any stubborn rice from the bottom of the pot and fluffing it up a bit, too.

▪ If you’d like a spicier dish, use a toothpick to poke holes in the habanero (or scotch bonnet if you can find one) before adding it to the pot. Left whole, the pepper will add aroma and a bit of spice to the dish, but not much in the way of discernible heat.


*Outer Spice seasoning was provided to me for review, free of charge. All opinions are my own.


A savory spice mix with kick. Thanks for the sample, Outer Spice!



Maple is one of our favorite natural sweeteners around here. I always pour a small swig on top of my sourdough waffles, and it goes into my granola, scones, and spiced pecans too. When I happened upon the Tonewood booth at this year’s Fancy Food show, I knew I’d have a favorite new product on my hands.

Tonewood’s Maple Flakes are made with only pure maple syrup — the moisture is removed, leaving crunchy, golden flakes. This morning’s breakfast is pictured above: homemade walnut levain bread spread with peanut butter and topped with maple flakes. Just a light sprinkle added great texture and sweetness, and this combo made for a seriously hearty start to my day. Maple flakes would be delicious on top of oatmeal, too — can’t wait to try that out soon!

This product was provided free of charge by Tonewood Maple. All opinions are my own. 



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