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hummus-california-style When you tell people you write a food blog, one of the first questions they ask you is, “So, have you thought about writing a cookbook?” Why yes, yes I have. My dream cookbook project would be called A Californian Kitchen, wherein I’d showcase my handiest kitchen skill: bastardizing versions of classic dishes to suit my West Coast whims. Someday, my friends. For now, I’ll share my basic, go-to hummus recipe. Since I bogarted my parents’ food processor some months ago, I’ve made many batches and settled on my favorite proportions of chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and sea salt. Five ingredients are all it takes. Many recipes include olive oil and cumin as well, but I really like the flavor of the rich and slightly bitter tahini to come through in full force. hummus-california-style-2 As for the Californian twist, I’ve used Meyer lemon juice instead of the regular variety, and pared down the ingredient list to just the necessities. Meyer lemon juice is a lot sweeter than the jucie from Eureka lemons, the variety you’ll usually find in the grocery store. It also has a headier aroma, like lemon with a hint of tangerine. When you see these seasonal beauties in the produce section, snap ‘em up — they’re wonderful for sweet and savory dishes alike. My friend Danielle’s tree is in full production mode, so I’ll be throwing these into everything I can as long as she’s providing them. I like to use dried chickpeas, as they are about a third the cost of the canned variety, taste markedly better, and I can add as much or as little salt as I like during the cooking process. However, this recipe calls for precisely the amount of dried chickpeas as one 15-ounce can, so feel free to substitute if you are short on time.

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Hummus, California Style (printer-friendly version)

Ingredients:

2/3 cup (1/4 pound) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

juice of 3 large meyer lemons (yields 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup tahini
1 medium-sized clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

1. Place the soaked chickpeas in a medium (2-quart) saucepan, and add enough water to cover by a few inches, along with the 2 teaspoons of sea salt.

2. Bring up to a boil over medium heat, then turn down to low heat and let simmer, covered, until the chickpeas are tender but not falling apart.This will take anywhere from one to two hours, depending on the freshness of your dried beans. If the water gets too low due to long cooking time, simply add more boiling hot water to the pot. After one hour of cooking, taste every 15 minutes or so to check for doneness.

3. Once the chickpeas are finished cooking, drain in a colander and set aside to cool until no longer steaming hot, about 30 minutes.

4. Pour the chickpeas into a food processor and add the lemon juice, tahini, garlic, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Process until very smooth, using a spatula to scrape down the sides of the container halfway through processing. Adjust salt to taste, if desired.

5. Transfer to a tightly covered container and store, refrigerated, for up to one week.

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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!

pecan-granola-ingredients
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.

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Pecan Granola (printer-friendly version)

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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