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baja-fish-bundles-krautlook

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.

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jamaican-style-beans-and-rice-tall

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

greetings-from-austin-coco-brendan

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.

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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-funny-couch-lounging

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.

jamaican-style-beans-and-rice-wide

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.

dinner-plate-rice-beans-outer-spice-roasted-vegetables

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

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

outer-spice

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

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smoky-maple-pecans

Have you ever picked up a bag of spiced, roasted nuts at the grocery store? Look carefully at the weight of the package, and then compare the price to a bag of raw, unseasoned nuts. More often than not, you’ll notice that the price per ounce is about twice as high when you go the pre-spiced route.

It’s dead simple to make your own spiced nuts at home, and you probably have all of the ingredients in your pantry already. My recipe is just a template — keep the amounts of nuts, sweetener, spice and seasoning the same, but feel free to substitute your favorites of each. For instance, you could use honey or agave syrup instead of the maple. Substitute chili powder or a dab of sriracha for the Aleppo pepper. Use regular sea salt or kosher salt instead of the smoked variety. You get the idea.

I will say, this particular combo was truly delicious, and I’ll definitely be making them again. When I received a package of goodies for review including smoked salt from New Zealand, I wasn’t sure what to use it on. Upon opening the container I was met with a wallop of barbecue pit smoke — they sure aren’t kidding around with this stuff! Used judiciously, it’ll be a fantastic addition to my seasoning repertoire. Just a quarter teaspoon seasons an entire half pound of pecans, and the smoke is a fantastic counterpoint to flavorful maple syrup and brightly spicy Aleppo pepper.

Put these out in a tray for your guests to snack on with cocktails (they’d be great alongside whiskey sours), or sprinkle them on top of salads.

Smoky Maple Pecans

1/2 lb. pecan halves
2 Tbsp. Grade B maple syrup
1/4 tsp. Aleppo pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. Mesquite Smoked Pacific Sea Salt

1. Preheat oven to 300F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Spread out the pecans on the baking sheet, then toss with the maple syrup, pepper flakes, and salt.

3. Bake for 25 minutes, or until pecans are well-toasted but not burned. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

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pumpkin-pie-power-bites

Happy My Birthday, Dear Readers! Any other January babies out there? Perhaps you can commiserate with me, in that having a birthday right after the holidays is a little strange. My body is, quite frankly, tired of all of the sugar and cookies from last month’s celebrations, so the typical birthday sweets just don’t have much appeal.

And so, I choose to celebrate the last of my 20-something birthdays (aaack!) with a healthy treat. A generous serving of four power bites includes only a teaspoon of honey (and you can easily substitute in agave nectar for an all-vegan recipe). The natural sweetness of pumpkin, cashews, and warm spices more than makes up for any lack of sugar.

Enjoy these as a post-yoga snack, a quick out-the-door breakfast (add a yogurt cup for a meal with a little more staying power), or don your fuzziest robe and nibble a few along with your morning coffee, as I am on this perfectly cozy morning.

pumpkin-pie-power-bites-2

Pumpkin Pie Power Bites (printer-friendly version)

makes about 45 bites

1 1/2 C. pumpkin puree
1/4 C. clover honey
1/4 C. virgin coconut oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

3 C. cashew meal, divided
2 C. oat bran

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

1. In a large (11-cup) food processor, combine pumpkin puree, honey, coconut oil, vanilla, spices, baking powder, and salt. Turn on the processor and let mix for about 10 seconds, until the ingredients are fully mixed. Leave the food processor running.

2. Slowly pour 2 cups of the cashew meal into the food processor, processing until incorporated, still leaving the machine running.

3. Slowly pour in the oat bran, process until fully incorporated, and then finally turn off the food processor.

4. Pour the remaining 1 C. of cashew meal into a shallow bowl or onto a plate.

5. Roll the dough into 1-tablespoon balls, then roll in the cashew meal to fully coat. Place the dough balls onto the cookie sheet. Don’t worry about placing them far apart, as the dough will not spread during baking.

6. Bake for 20 minutes and remove from oven. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before eating, and to room temperature before storing. Power bites will keep in an airtight container for 1 week, or frozen for up to 2 months.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 9.52.21 AM

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salsa-topped beans and rice

I don’t know about you, but nobody ever taught me how to cook with dried chiles. They certainly aren’t programmed into my Eastern European DNA, and my parents didn’t cook much spicy food while I was growing up.

ancho chiles toasting in a cast iron panLuckily, mystery ingredients are easily demystified with a simple internet search these days. Chile neophytes are blessed with an embarrassment of recipes by Rick Bayless, patron saint of seekers of authentic Mexican cooking methods written in English. There’s also the option of googling for recipes in Spanish, then translating pages back into English.

serranos, jalapeños, and tomatillos

In my copious reading, I learned that in order to prepare dried chiles for cooking, one must first toast or fry them in a pan to release their aroma. Next, the chiles need to be hydrated, either by blending into a sauce, or soaking in hot water. Soaked peppers become pliable and soft, and can then added to salsas, stews and marinades.

I chose to go the salsa route with my first foray into dried chile cooking — my tortilla chip-addicted boyfriend was such a fan of my tomato and pepita salsa, I figured I’d try for another win. This one is based on tomatillos and anchos, and also includes toasted pepitas (a.k.a. shelled pumpkin seeds) to offset the chile spice.

pepitas

We’re big fans of chile heat around here, so I left the seeds in the serrano peppers, and chose to simmer the ancho chiles with their seeds before removing them. Turns out my capsicums weren’t fooling around, and the resulting sauce packed a whole lot of heat. For a more “medium” level of spice, I’d suggest seeding the anchos before toasting, and removing the seeds from all of the fresh peppers before roasting.

salsa in the food processor

This recipe produces about a quart of rich, dark salsa with slightly bitter overtones from the dried chiles. We’ve been eating it with chips, and spooning it onto beans and rice. Mixed with some freshly-squeezed orange juice and a glug or two of chicken broth, it’s a wonderful marinade for chicken thighs and drumsticks, braised slowly and served over rice. It also freezes very well. We’re looking forward to making our way through the rest of this tasty sauce!

salsa over pinto beans and rice

Hot and Spicy Ancho Tomatillo Salsa (printer-friendly version

Makes about 1 quart of salsa

1 lb. tomatillos, peeled, rinsed and halved
4 serrano peppers, halved, seeds left in
4 jalapeño peppers, halved and seeded
1 medium red onion, cut into wedges
1/3 C. raw pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
6 ancho chiles (dried)
1/4 C. olive oil
juice of 2 limes
1/2 C. cilantro leaves

1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat oven to 425F.

2. Place the tomatillos, serrano and jalapeño peppers, and onion on the lined baking sheet, skin side up. Bake for 25 minutes.

3. While the vegetables are roasting, heat a medium (10-inch) cast-iron pan over a medium flame. Add the pepitas and toast for a few minutes, just until browned and beginning to pop. Set aside.

4. In the same cast-iron pan over medium heat, toast the ancho chiles until they begin to become aromatic and lighten in color a bit, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups of water and simmer for 10 minutes.

5. Use a slotted spoon to remove the ancho chiles from the water. Split open, remove seeds, and cut the peppers into 1-inch strips. Set aside.

6. Remove the pan of roasted vegetables from the oven, then turn the heat up to broil. Place the baking sheet in the broiler (or at the top of your oven, wherever the heating element or flame is located) and broil for 5 minutes, until all of the pepper and tomatillo skins are well browned but not blackened. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are still warm but no longer boiling hot.

7. Place the roasted vegetables, toasted pepitas, and seeded, hydrated ancho chilis in a medium (12-cup) food processor. Add the olive oil, lime juice, and cilantro. Process for about 1 minute, until all of the ingredients are blended into a smooth salsa.

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