Posts Tagged ‘nuts’

Those Sugar Plums, the ones that dance in the head during the long winter slumber in the most familiar Christmas story that’s likely ever been written. How did I get to be this age, with a teenager and a husband, long gone away from treasured annual reads of that classic story each year, the retelling of Santa’s magical visit, and not have any clue what a real sugar plum entailed? I want to kick myself.

Because, I’ll tell you something, and this is no small truth. Had I known about these delightful, sweet and simple little treats prior to this past week, how easy they are to put together and how eager and surprised everyone looks when you pull out a container and say “These are Sugar Plums. Yes! THOSE Sugar Plums!” I’m telling you, it would be all I need and I’d have been cranking out these nutty fruit-filled, orange-scented orbs the moment the calendar page flipped over to the month of Christmas.

My hope now is that I don’t go so far into overkill that I never want to see a dried apricot again. The delight and flavor and simplicity of these might possibly have that effect on me. Good thing Christmas is just a few days away. It’s a bit embarrassing, really, to be so interested in food of all kinds, the history of it, the stories it can tell and not be aware of this confection. But that’s what we have friends for, isn’t it? To enlighten us? To share the wealth?

And little could be simpler than combining rough-chopped nuts and dried fruit in a food processor along with honey and orange juice and whirring it all into an utterly fragrant crush of flavor. Even the rolling of the mixture was contemplative, as the sun warmed my backside and Miles Davis kept me company with his sultry trumpet. A late afternoon of putting together a Christmas fiction and ballet classic that I know I will love for years to come left me feeling a lot more festive than I have been lately. With the addition of a fragrant tree, dragged through a snowy wood, and boxes filled with a lifetime of memories and nostalgia also added some much-needed holiday spirit to my life. If all I need to do that is a few packages of dried fruit and some bags of nuts, then holidays from now on could become much more simpler. One can only hope, anyway.

Sugar Plums

Recipe from Field Guide to Candy by Anita Chu; Quirk Books, 2009    (and Susan)

2 cups almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup pitted dates
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
Unsweetened flaked coconut for rolling

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

2. Combine almonds, apricots, dates, cinnamon, and zest in a food processor and process into a finely ground mixture.

3. Add orange juice and honey, and combine until the mixture becomes a sticky ball.

4. Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into 1-inch balls. Roll in coconut. Place on the baking sheet and chill for about 1 hour until firm.

I used two cups equivalent of nuts, utilizing pistachios and pecans as well as almonds. It’s my holy trifecta of nutty favorites.  I might have used figs in place of dates, and on another go-round of this recipe, I probably will do just that along with dried cherries. The possibilities are endless for substitutions. Use raisins both black or gold, dried cranberries, currants, pineapple, mango. Other nuts like peanuts, walnuts, brazil nuts. Try it with lemon juice and zest for a different background of flavor.

I also added a teaspoon of ground nutmeg to the mix. Cinnamon and nutmeg are culinary best buds. They really get along so well together that it’s a shame to leave one out when the other is present.

I added a bit more honey and orange juice, as the amount in the recipe didn’t seem to be enough to make the mixture as sticky as it needed to hold together. Adjust it according to your taste preferences.

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Nuts, seeds…..it isn’t too complicated, but in trying to find out more information about this aromatic and amazing Middle Eastern spice mix (say ‘Doo-kah), I came across more variations on a theme than I ever anticipated. It’s just nuts. And seeds!

But apparently, it’s one of those ‘authentic’ spice blends that varies as much as the fingerprint on the cook who is creating the mix. Use roasted hazelnuts; no use roasted chick peas. Don’t use sunflower seeds…oh wait, this version calls for sunflower seeds. This one requires pumpkin seeds, this one walnuts This one needs a bay leaf! I need thyme!! I need cinnamon!!! I need telicherry peppercorns!!!!

Oooh boy….. I need a drink.

Thankfully, all this clicking around on the web came after I had already made up the recipe from the current issue of Food and Wine magazine. Had I done all this foot work beforehand, I may have just tossed my hands in the air begging for mercy. Cooking, at least in my kitchen, just doesn’t need to be so whittled away like one may peel an onion. I’m all for the philosophy that if it works for you, then that’s the best way to go.

And this recipe worked for me. But then again, I am a nutcase, er, well, I mean….. I really like nuts. To eat. And a recipe with no less than four types of nuts in it deserves a spot in my kitchen. Pistachios, almonds, cashews and hazelnuts are oven-roasted; coriander and cumin seed, along with unsweetened coconut and sesame seeds are lightly toasted in a hot skillet, and the resulting fragrant chaos is pulsed in a food processor to a coarse consistency. Or chunky. Or a powder. Or a paste. According to the endless variations, you can pick your level of nutty destruction, and if you’re one to have texture issues, this is a good thing.

The one thing that all the recipes I came across seem to agree on is that the most common way to eat the delectable mess of nuts is to dip bread into olive oil and then dredge it in the mix. I can vouch for the reliability of this usage; it works really well. And had I not made a delicious Chicken Satay for dinner, with a nice vegetable coucous on the side, I would have been fully satisfied to consume the entire ciabatta loaf dipped in perfect oil and rich with the heady crunch of this blend. Even upon discovering that an error on my part resulted in about 10 times more cumin seeds in my mix than the original recipe called for, it was still wonderful, fragrant, and happily received. I can’t wait to spoon it into my morning yogurt, sprinkle it over a salad, blend it into hot cereal, use it to coat chicken, spoon onto ice cream……..

You see……the resulting possibilities, as I have discovered, are as endless as the recipe variations I found, making it not only delicious, but infinitely versatile as well. And I just love foods like that.

(jump for recipe and notes)


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Sweet Saffron Pilaf with Nuts and Currants

1 ¼ c. basmati rice
2 ½ c. water
¼ t. saffron threads
1 T. milk or cream
1/8 c. canola oil or ghee
A 2-inch cinnamon stick
10 green cardamom pods, pounded in a bowl or pestle to open the shells
A 1-ince piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
¼ c. dried currants
¼ c. chopped roasted almonds
¼ c. pistachios, shelled and chopped
¼ c. sugar

Combine rice and water in medium bowl and soak for 20 minutes. Drain, reserving water, and set rice aside.
Gently crush saffron threads in small bowl with back of spoon. Stir in milk and mix gently. Set aside.
Combine oil or ghee, cinnamon stick, cardamom and ginger in medium, heavy bottom pan (with a cover) over medium high heat, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in currants and nuts and cook, stirring often, for 2-3 minutes. Add rice, stir to coat and cook for 1-3 minutes. Pour in reserved water, stir and bring to a high simmer, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle rice evenly with sugar, then drizzle saffron/milk mix over the top. Cover pan again, and on very low heat, cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and allow rice to rest 10-15 minutes. Serve hot garnished with fresh toasted nuts if desired.

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So with all the good news out there about the health benefits of eating nuts, having a container of trail mix, or gorp if you are so inclined, on your counter for snacks seems like it would be a great idea, doesn’t it? Lots of grocers and all natural food stores carry bulk products where you can scoop out what you want and customize your mix to your liking. It’s a simple, easy snack that you can take anywhere; Mike will scoop up a baggie full to have in the car when he has a client meeting and it keeps him from stopping to get something junky when he is on the road.

For our favorite blend, I like to use dried apricots, craisins, dried blueberries and black raisins for the fruit; soynuts, unsalted roasted almonds, unsalted sunflower nuts, pistachios and salted roasted peanuts for the nutty component. I throw in handfuls and stir until it looks right; it certainly isn’t rocket science. Some salt is ok, and for whatever oddball reason, I really like dried apricots dusted with some of that salt. I have sometimes put in chocolate chips, flaked coconut or currants too. It’s entirely up to you as to what you use, that’s the beauty of it. So if you’ll pardon me, I’ve got the munchies and a perfect snack to satisfy it.

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