Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ah nuts!

During the holiday season I like to have extra snacks or appetizers around, in case people stop by or who knows,we may decide, spur of the moment, to entertain. One of the easiest treats to keep around is spiced nuts and by this I mean they are simple to make ahead and store. However be warned! They are so delicious they quickly disappear.  The  recipe is from the Barefoot in Paris Cookbook (Barefoot Contessa), which in turn based it upon the nuts served at the Union Square Cafe in NYC. I've added suggestions for modifications that would use other spices or other nuts. I love the nuts from Trader Joe's. Make sure you buy unsalted nuts as you add salt in the recipe.

I was going to try one of the variations of the savory recipe below before Thanksgiving. I had bought pecans for a pie but decided we didn't need a third pie for 10 people! So I was going to try them with the chili powder. However when I pulled the nuts out, I had purchased the pieces, rather than the full nuts which would not work great for the savory recipe. So instead I decided to make a pecan brittle. I found a recipe online( that I adapted by adding pumpkin spice and OMG, were they out of this world. They were devoured every time I put them out. The recipe makes a big batch (We had them 3 times, served in a cocktail sized bowl). The inspiration for this adaptation came from the caramel popcorn lady at the West Chester Artisan's Exchange ( She makes a superb caramel popcorn with pumpkin spice and pecans mixed in...I can't stop eating it when I have it in the house. My sister and I quickly went through the large bag on a road trip to Pittsburgh! 

So here are two recipes for sweet and one savory...keep them on hand for the holiday season, if you can keep Y/OUR hands off of them!

Pecan / Pumpin Spiced Brittle 

3 cups pecans pieces (a pound)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 TBSP butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
several shakes of cinnamon

1) In a saucepan over medium/medium-high heat combine sugar, water and salt.
2) When the mixture comes to a gentle boil and the sugar is dissolved, set a timer for ten minutes.
3) Stirring occasionally, watch for the color to change from clear, to a light amber color. This may take 10 minutes or up to 20, depending on the heat of medium/medium-high on your stove. As soon as the color is a light, golden amber – get it off the heat! If you’d like, use a candy thermometer and when the mixture reaches 300(F) take it off the heat.
4) Working quickly, and stirring continuously, add butter, vanilla, baking soda and spices. The mixture will foam. Continue stirring until the foaming subsides and the mixture starts to get glossy.
5) Stir in the nuts all at once and quickly turn out onto a silicon baking mat or very well greased baking sheet or a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Another blog recommended heating the baking sheet in a warm oven (about 200 degrees) before you pour the brittle onto it. This would allow it to spread a bit easier. I didn't try it but it makes sense to me.
6) Flatten the mixture as needed and allow to cool for about 20 minutes, until brittle.

Salty / Savory Cashews (or other nuts)

1 pound roasted unsalted whole cashews (or pecans or almonds)
2 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon chili, curry or five-spice powder)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper  (cut to 1/4 teaspoon if you like, if you are using chili powder)
2 teaspooon brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter.

1)Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the nuts on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for 5 minutes.
2)In a large bowl, mix the rosemary (or other herbs), cayenne, sugar, salt and butter. Toss the warm nuts with the butter-herb mixture.
They can be served warm or cold. They keep in an air-tight plastic container for a week or two.

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