Holiday 2012 was a season that, though merry and chaotic and full of togetherness and profoundly fattening, did not find me in the kitchen for consecutive hours.
It was the first time I had gone out with my family to Niagara County for Thanksgiving in many years, revitalizing a very old tradition in order to pull family very close and celebrate Grandma Jean. It was the first time I was not with my own family on Christmas, and the first time spending Christmas with Danny’s family (and therefore also the first Christmas where travel beyond Chicagoland suburb-hopping was required). In short, I spent the holidays in other people’s homes, where the most our gracious hosts would allow from us was minimum kitchen contributions.
But, of course, I couldn’t bring nothing. I could also not just bring beverages, or flowers or chocolates or other host/ess gifts. I am just this side of a compulsive cook. If people are gathering, I need to make something. Anything.
So Holiday 2012 was the Season of the Snack.
Danny and I made a double batch of these cookies – this time with 100% whole wheat flour, which ended up being an excellent selling point to Danny’s sister when rationalizing the wisdom of giving one or two button-sized cookies to our sunbeam of a nephew. The yield was almost obscene. We were bringing cookies everywhere we went, pawning them on sweet tooths near and far.
I also made, over the course of Thanksgiving/Christmas, two separate batches of what Danny has come to refer to as Holiday Nuts (despite wanting very badly to name them Deez Nutz). (Sorry, quick side giggle: What is really most compelling about the latter option is that the recipe is based on an Ina Garten recipe, and it would be a glorious day on earth when Ina shouts “deeeeez nuuuuutz” on air. Okay enough.)
A single batch of these spicy candied nuts is enough for an army to snack on – even I was surprised at how much was left after the horde of Hayners, who, overall, are a rather strapping bunch, had had their fill and still about 1/3 of the jar was left. And the flavors of these nuts are kind of miraculous. If you set up a 4-way tug-of-war between spicy, savory, sweet, and salty, let them push and pull for a while, then managed to snap a photo of all four teams just at the moment where they look at each other and realize that fighting is silly and they were all actually best friends all along… that is the sort of harmony at work here.
My friend Linda made these nuts last winter for a gathering, and one by one, I think all who were assembled that evening sidled up to her at some point to ask for the recipe. She emailed us the recipe the next day – an email I still have archived and know to look up by its hilarious, Murder-She-Wrote-esque subject line: “my nut secrets.”
As I mentioned, this is adapted from an Ina Garten recipe. The main adaptation, at least for my part (and, I believe, for Linda’s as well), is that I use an equal proportion of walnuts to pecans to cashews to almonds. This is mostly because we are not really a household of many nuts – we don’t keep them on hand for everyday. So when I have plans to make these, I buy all of them at the same time and get them from the bulk department; I am not about to eyeball 1/2 cup of anything while walnuts are spilling forth from a gravity bin. (Also, I am turned off by the fact that the original recipe calls for cashews – the most expensive nut in that selection – in the greatest proportion. What somebody has missed, whether it’s Ina or whoever, is that nooks and crannies are of the highest value when candying anything. So if you’re doing it right, you’re actually favoring the comparatively humble pecan and walnut.)
Another small adaptation – and a festive one at that, I think – is that I will often swap regular orange juice for clementine juice. When I make these, ’tis usually the season for holiday citrus, and it is a fun thing to incorporate, not to mention the fact that it helps pare down the ocean of clementines in our fruit drawer. It also occurs to me that blood oranges and Meyer lemons possess significant potential for this recipe.
In my now-rather-extensive experience with these, I believe it is safe to say that they are a perfect contribution to any party for a multitude of reasons:
- The low-hanging fruit: they have that sweet-salty thing going on. Half the hearts in the room = already won.
- They are certainly spicy, which will please people like my husband, my dad, and all my dad’s brothers.
- But not too spicy. My mom – she of the mild salsas and the look of horror at the mention of crushed red pepper flakes – LOVES these.
- They’re nuts, and they’re roasted with sugar, salt, AND an acid, so they keep for quite some time in an airtight container. (Meaning you can make one batch to
rule them alltake to a zillion parties.)
- If you have a mild twee streak, you can pack these in any one, two, or twelve of the reused/pretty jars you’ve been hoarding ever since you started your Pinterest account.
- If you don’t have a twee streak, but would like to cultivate one, these nuts are an excellent excuse to purchase a few Le Parfait jars – something I did some years back and have never regretted.
I’m telling you: these will soon become a standby for all occasions. Just don’t keep them in the house for too long, or you’ll find yourself empty-handed on the day you needed deez nutz.
- Vegetable oil
- 2 cups of each of the following nuts (unless someone has an allergy to a specific type, in which case, vary as necessary, as long as you’ve got about 8 cups). Make sure all are whole and unsalted:
- Walnut halves
- Pecan halves
- 1/3 c maple syrup (the real stuff, if that’s not obvious)
- 1/4 c light brown sugar, lightly packed
- 3 T freshly squeezed clementine juice (or blood orange, satsuma, Meyer lemon, or regular orange)
- 2 t ground chipotle powder (not chili powder, not ancho powder.)
- 4 T minced fresh rosemary leaves, divided
- Kosher salt
You’ll also need 2 (rimmed) sheet pans and either parchment paper or a couple of Silpats if you have them. (You can do this without a liner on the pan, but the cleanup is a little ridiculous.)
Preheat the oven to 350.
If you’re not using any sort of liner layer on your pan, brush it generously with oil.
In a small mixing bowl, combine 2 T of vegetable oil, the maple syrup, brown sugar, clementine juice, chipotle powder, 2 T of the rosemary and 2 t of salt. Whisk until combined.
Dump your nuts in a big mixing bowl (heh), then pour the syrup mixture over them, using a wooden spoon, or, even more helpful, some tongs, to coat the nuts completely. At first it may seem like you don’t have enough of the syrup mixture, but just keep working with the spoon until there’s an even sheen on everything in the bowl.
Divide the nuts between the two pans so that you’ve got an even, single layer on each pan. Roast the nuts for about 25 minutes, stirring once or twice to make sure they roast evenly. They’re done when they are nicely glazed and their color has deepened.
When you’ve taken them out of the oven, sprinkle with 2 more teaspoons of salt (so 1 tsp for each pan), and the remaining 2 T of rosemary (also divided between the pans). Toss well and set aside on a counter to cool, stirring occasionally to keep them from sticking in one big chunk. (As my husband will tell you, getting a small chunk of nuts is like getting a Golden Ticket – but you just want to make sure it’s not one big wall of nuts.)
You can serve these warm, but they are just as good (if not better, I think) cooled off at room temperature. Store in airtight containers.