Roasted Nuts

Nuts.  A healthy and filling snack.  Nuts are a great source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats as well as a number of vitamins and minerals.  Almonds are the highest in calcium of all nuts and and studies have shown that they can reduce the “bad” LDL cholesterol which is particularly harmful to heart health.  Pecans and walnuts have also been shown to lower bad cholesterol levels and contain compounds that act as antioxidants.  Walnuts, one of my favorites, may help to reduce inflammation which can contribute to many chronic diseases.  A study of college students found that eating walnuts increased cognition, suggesting they may have beneficial effects on the brain.  Walnuts are supposed to be the top nut for brain health.  That’s probably why I like them so much!  I’ve always been told that fish was brain food.  But maybe it’s really nuts!

Considering all of the health benefits, snacking on a handful of nuts each day, unless, of course, you have an allergy to tree nuts, is a good thing.  Eating nuts that are covered in chocolate might, however, cancel out the health benefits.  And while raw nuts are probably best, nuts that have been roasted with a little sea salt are ever so much better tasting.  My friend Jane gave me this quick and simple recipe for roasting nuts.  They are excellent!

Ingredients:

5 cups of raw nuts – I used pecans and almonds

1 1/2 T HOT water

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

2 T olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375.

Measure out your nuts into a large metal bowl.

Whisk together the 1 1/2 tsp of salt and the HOT water together until the salt is dissolved.

Using a spatula or wooden spoon pour the salt water over the nuts and stir well.

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and spread the nuts out in a single layer.

Bake for 8 minutes.  Remove from the oven, stir, and bake for an additional 8 minutes.  Depending on your oven temperature you may want to bake them for a couple more minutes.  You can sample a couple after 15-16 minutes remembering that once they cool they will crisp up a little more.  After baking return the hot nuts to the bowl and stir in the 2 T of olive oil and additional sea salt to taste.  Spread the nuts back out on the parchment covered pan and allow them to cool completely.  Once cooled store them in an airtight container.

ENJOY

NOTE:  I used raw almonds and pecans but any kind of raw nut would be good.

These nuts were so good I decided that some other flavor profiles might work as well.  I did a second batch adding 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla to the 2 T of olive oil and sprinkling 1 T of cinnamon and 2 T of superfine sugar on the hot nuts.   I could have added even a little more vanilla and cinnamon.

If you like things kicked up a bit, 1/2 to 1 tsp of cayenne pepper added to the sea salt at the end may be another good choice.

If you don’t have superfine salt or sugar on hand you can use a coffee grinder or mini food processor to accomplish a fine grind.

As with any recipe, you’re only limited by your imagination.

Marilyn’s Party Mix

Marilyn’s party mix has become a holiday tradition.  About eight years ago I quit smoking and decided to learn to knit to keep my hands and mind busy.  I’m sure this is a story I’ve blogged about previously but regardless…It was a great decision for a number of reasons but one of the best outcomes was the amazing band of women that became a very important part of my life.  We call ourselves the Knit Wits.  We meet almost weekly to knit, take road trips, and share stories and recipes (our pot lucks are fabulous).  Our ages and life paths varied pretty significantly but we all quickly grew to love and respect each other and cherish our time together.  Marilyn was the oldest of the Knit Wits.  She was 80, give or take a year, when we first met and we lost her to the ravages of cancer about three years ago. She was funny and spunky, told wonderful stories, was extremely generous and an excellent cook.  She shared recipes that we all still make and think of her every time we do. One of those recipes is her party mix.  I cannot imagine how much of this she made each year.  She would start shopping in the fall for ingredients.  I’m sure she went through no less than 20 pounds of butter or more each year just for her party mix. She could always tell us which grocery had butter on sale.  She gave party mix to friends and family by the gallons.  I always take some to my daughters for Christmas and her friends look forward to noshing on it.  So much so that I mailed some to a friend of hers in Miami who wasn’t able to make it to Chicago this Christmas.

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Almost everyone has had “Chex Mix.”  Marilyn had her own special version.  She embellished!  Her ingredients included but were not limited to:

Snyder’s pretzel mixes (including jalapeño bits)

Crispex

Cheese-Its (different favors)

Goldfish (different favors)

Bugles

Mixed nuts

Chex (rice, corn and wheat)

Gardellos rye crisps

Pretzels

Marilyn passed away in late August of 2012 and that Christmas we all got together and made Party Mix.  We had large bowls of all the ingredients on an assembly line and added a cup of this, a cup of that until we had filled a large roasting pan.  Then came the buttery, garlicky goodness.

4 sticks of butter

4 T worchestershire sauce

3 1/2 T Lawrey’s seasoning salt

1 T Lawrey’s garlic salt

1 T garlic powder

Peheat your oven to 250.  Melt 3 sticks of butter and add all of the spices.  Stir well.  Pour 5 T of the seasoned butter over the roasting pan full of mix and stir carefully to coat.  Bake for 20 minutes and repeat.  Do this three times until an hour has passed.  Melt and add the fourth stick of butter to the mix and repeat at 20 minute intervals for another hour.  After two hours pour the mix out onto freezer or parchment paper on your counter and allow it to cool completely before packaging it in zip lock bags or other containers.  Marilyn always saved coffe cans and the large containers nuts and other ingredients came in to package her party mix.  Your house will smell like garlic.

It’s addicting.  You will have garlic coming out of your pores and still go back for a little more.  RIP Marilyn.   I will think of you every year when I make this and I know that you are smiling.

 

 

Caramel Corn

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More holiday nosh!  This caramel corn is an irresistible, addictive sweet treat that’s easy to make. As a child I remember getting a box of cracker jacks and enjoying every bite of the molasses flavored, candy coated popcorn and peanuts AND finding the prize that was in every box. You might find a ring, stickers, plastic figurine, whistle, or a temporary tattoo. If any of you saved the toys from your cracker jacks they have become collectible and are probably worth a few coins. Whether or not this caramel corn makes you feel nostalgic I’m confident you’ll enjoy every last bite. And if you want to include a prize in every bag, well all the sweeter!

Ingredients:

16 cups popcorn (approximately 2 bags of microwave popcorn)

1 cup nuts (optional)

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp baking soda

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(Sorry I open the brown sugar bag on the wrong end.)

Spread popcorn (and nuts if you’re using) on a greased jelly roll pan or in a large roasting pan. Try to pick out any unpopped kernels to save on dental work as you’re munching your caramel corn.

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Preheat your oven to 250.

In a heavy saucepan combine sugar, butter, and corn syrup.

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Cook and stir until mixture comes to a boil. Boil mixture for 5 minutes without stirring.

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Remove from heat. With a wooden spoon stir in vanilla and baking soda stirring constantly.

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After the addition of the vanilla and the baking soda the consistency of the mixture makes a dramatic change.

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Pour the caramel over the popcorn and stir well to coat. Bake for 45 minutes stirring every 15 minutes.

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Pour out onto freezer or parchment paper to cool. Spread out to separate. Store in air tight containers or sealed zip lock bags.

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We made some with pecans and some with lightly salted cashews. You can use any kind of nut you prefer. Or you can go nutless. I have always used the light butter microwave popcorn but if you have a hot air popper or like to make your popcorn on the stove the old fashioned way it’s all good.

If you put a bowl of this out at your holiday party or while you’re watching a movie, I guarantee you it will be one of the first things to disappear.  Prize or no prize. Enjoy!!