Thursday, December 16, 2010

Spiced Nuts



Sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don’t…

No wait, I’m always ready to nibble on Spiced Nuts, even if they were intended for another purpose, and not meant for snacks. Really, you can’t eat just one… they are too delicious, almost addictive. These sweet, spicy nuts are a favorite appetizer at home and on the boat. Quick and easy to prepare, they are perfect for impromptu company. 

Such flavorful morsels are real stars when sprinkled over a salad of mixed greens with sliced pears and blue cheese crumbles. Add pomegranates or plumped, dried cranberries and you have a festive holiday look.

Spiced Nuts are a terrific topping for a bowl of ice cream and chocolate sauce, and add crunch and a flavor pop when crumbled over brownie batter. Oh yum, now I’m getting hungry.

The original recipe specified pecan halves, but I choose to prepare batches of mixed nuts - almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, etc. Since not everyone like every variety, it is nice to give your guests a choice. Pick your favorites. (Me? I reach for the pecans.)

The nuts keep well, stored for a several days in an airtight container, or frozen in a zip-lok bag and held in the freezer for a few months.

Disclaimer: I have trouble keeping them in my pantry; some mysterious shrinkage phenomenon causes them to disappear rapidly. One solution is to fill a small container for immediate snacking and freeze or hide the rest of the batch.

Photo: Spiced almonds, pecans and walnuts

 SPICED NUTS
Based on a recipe from Bon Appetit, December 1990

Ingredients:

1 10-ounce package pecan halves (or some other nut)
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 F. 
  2. Place the nuts in a medium bowl. Melt the butter over low heat in a heavy small saucepan. Add cumin and cayenne and stir until aromatic, about 15 seconds. Pour the flavored butter over the nuts. Add the sugar and salt and stir to coat. (If there's excess butter in the bottom of the bowl, add more nuts, sugar and salt and stir again.) 
  3. Transfer to a baking sheet large enough to hold the nuts in a single layer. Bake until nuts are toasted and fragrant, stirring and turning occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Be careful not to burn the nuts! 
  4. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Pecans can be prepared 5 days ahead. Store in airtight container. The nuts will freeze well for months.

Notes: 

  1. Substitute other nuts or spices, according to your preferences. Dried rosemary, garlic powder, curry and smokey Spanish paprika (pimenton) have worked well (but not all at the same time). 
  2. Adjust salt and sugar to taste.
  3. The recipe doubles and triples easily, but you will need additional baking sheets to handle the larger quantity in single layers.

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