Sunday, June 23, 2024

Nut mixes: Always a crowd pleaser

I love having get-togethers with friends, whether it’s the holiday season or not. And while I can put together a multi-course, sit-down dinner for six and make it look easy, I’m not very good at making snack-type things – appetizers and munchies to eat before the main meal. Those I struggle with. 

Over the years, I’ve compiled a handful of tried-and-true recipes to help me with what seems like such a silly problem. Spiced nut mixes, whether savory or candied, are some of my mainstays. They’re easy to make, always delicious, seem very special, and everyone loves them. Plus, they’re a conversation starter!

Except for the Hot Honey Mix, all of these recipes use raw nuts that are spiced and then roasted in the oven at a low heat. Remember that nuts burn quickly, going from “not ready” to “oh no!” in the blink of an eye. Use a timer and keep a close watch. Because of their natural oil content, nuts continue to cook for a few minutes once you take them out of the oven. Err on the side of caution and do a taste test to check if they’re done.

All of these nut mixes are perfect for gifting, too. Pack in a pretty jar or cellophane bag tied with a ribbon, and you’re good to go. They’re easier to make than cookies and will be just as well-received. 

Molly’s Candied Pecans

  • 2 cups raw pecan halves
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar 
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, the best you can afford or find
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ tsp. flake sea salt

Heat oven to 325F (165C). Spread pecan halves on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake about 10 minutes, until lightly toasted and fragrant; set aside. Boil brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until mixture is foamy and slightly thickened, 2–3 minutes. Add pecans and cook, stirring constantly, until well coated, about 3 minutes. You want to cook the nuts in the syrup long enough that when they cool they will be crunchy. Spread on a prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with sea salt; let cool completely. Break into bite-size pieces before serving. Try not to eat them all at once.

Mexican Spiced Chocolate Pecans

  • ½ cup dark brown sugar or grated piloncillo
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp. minced dark chocolate
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. cayenne 
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 large egg white
  • 4 cups raw pecans (about 1 lb.)

Preheat oven to 300F (150C). Line a baking sheet with parchment. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate, salt, cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger.

In a large bowl, lightly beat egg white until slightly foamy. Stir in spiced sugar until a smooth batter forms (it will start out looking dry but will loosen as you stir). Fold in pecans until evenly coated. Spread glazed pecans in a single even layer on the prepared baking sheet and bake until nuts are lightly toasted, about 25 minutes.

Let cool, stirring nuts every few minutes to prevent sticking. Once cool, break up any remaining clumps and serve. Nuts can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Perfect Nut Mix. (Unsplash)

Hot Honey Nut Mix

  • 4 cups unsalted, roasted whole nuts (such as cashews, pecans, pistachios or a mix)
  • 1 cup seeds (such as pumpkin, sesame, millet, quinoa, sunflower, nigella or a mix)
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter or coconut oil
  • 1 tsp. red-pepper flakes or cayenne powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. brown or turbinado sugar
  • Optional: ½ tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. ground ginger

Heat oven to 325F (165C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine nuts and seeds. Stir in cinnamon and ginger, if using.

In a small saucepan on the stove or in a bowl in a microwave, combine honey, butter, red pepper flakes or cayenne and ½ tsp. salt. Heat until butter melts. 

Pour the honey butter mixture over the nuts and seeds and stir until well coated. Dump onto the prepared baking sheet and spread out in an even layer. You want the nuts spread out as much as possible.

Bake, stirring occasionally, until nuts are tacky and look and smell toasted, 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle over the remaining ½ tsp. salt and all of the sugar. Let cool on the baking sheet, then transfer to a bowl and serve. Store in an airtight container up to four days. Makes about 6 cups.

Smoky Candied Almonds

  • ½ cup dark brown sugar or grated piloncillo
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp. Old Bay seasoning
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 1 large egg white
  • 4 cups whole, raw, skin-on almonds (about 1¼ lbs.)

Preheat oven to 300°F (150C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or grease with oil or nonstick cooking spray. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, salt, paprika, cayenne, Old Bay, and black pepper.

In a large bowl, lightly beat egg white until slightly foamy. Stir in spiced sugar until a smooth batter forms (it starts out looking dry but loosens as you stir). Fold in almonds until evenly coated. Spread glazed almonds in a single even layer on the prepared baking sheet and bake until nuts are lightly toasted about 25 minutes.

Let cool, stirring nuts every few minutes to prevent sticking. Once cool, break up any remaining clumps and serve. Nuts can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.

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