Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Going Nuts

No matter how much I plan--and I do plan--there are always a million things to do on the last days before Christmas. Is there enough food, enough snacks, enough cookies, enough wine, enough gifts? Although none of the above has ever occurred, I live in fear. Each year I seem to get sucked into the last minute frenzy.

So what am I doing? I'm going nuts--party nuts, that is. Party nuts are wonderful snacks to accompany a drink, a dessert or a cup of coffee. They could be savory, sweet or spicy. They are generally easy and quick to make, and they give you a big bang for your buck. They are great to have on hand during the holidays for last minute hostess gifts or to serve to drop-in guests. Just pop a batch into the freezer, and you will be good to go.

This is Wine Bar Nut Mix ready for the oven

Wine Bar Nut Mix from The Casual Vineyard Table by Carolyn Wente and Kimball Jones

2 cups pecans
2 cups almonds
2 cups walnuts
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped mixed fresh rosemary, sage, savory and thyme (or dried equivalent of whatever you have)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I use 1/2 teaspoon)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350F. In a bowl, toss the nuts with the maple syrup, olive oil, herbs and cayenne. Spread nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned. Season with salt and pepper and toss frequently until cool. Makes 6 cups. Can be stored in an airtight container for 2 weeks.

My favorite recipe for party nuts has to be Holy Mole Pecans that was posted on the now defunct Although they are simple to make, they take about 1 1/2 hours to roast in a slow oven. This is not a problem if you are at home anyway doing other things. They are perfect served as is or as a great crunchy topping for ice cream topped with Tia Maria, or my favorite, Patron XO Cafe.

Holy Mole Pecans before entering oven

Holy Mole Pecans

1 large egg white (2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Mexican if you can get it)
2 cups raw pecan halves
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Pinch habanero powder, or cayenne if you want a touch of heat

Preheat oven to 225F. Line baking sheet with parchment or non-stick foil.

Place egg white in bowl and whip until frothy. Whip in vanilla, then gently add pecans and toss until completely coated with mixture.

Sift remaining ingredients into a medium-sized bowl. Add sugar-cocoa mixture to pecans one quarter at a time, and very gently toss until well coated. I use my hands. Transfer pecans to prepared sheet and arrange in a single layer. Try not to let pecans touch each other.

Bake 30 minutes. Gently turn over nuts and continue to bake, stirring every 15 minutes until coating is lightly colored and dried out, about 1 hour and 15 minutes total. Remove from oven an immediately loosen nuts with metal spatula. Cool completely before serving.

Holy Mole Pecans out of oven

So, during this holiday season, don't go nuts--get into the kitchen and make some party nuts.

Merry Christmas to all!