I finished the last of my work travel for the year, getting home late on Thursday evening, just as the kids were getting ready to head off to NYC with their dad and his parents, celebrating not just Christmas but his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. While the kids were having fun watching the Rockettes and checking out everything the Big Apple has to offer, Eli and I headed into Boston for a night, to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, then dinner in the North End and a little holiday shopping.
We got home this afternoon after a stop at the grocery store, and I got into serious nesting mode – we’re 10 days to Christmas, and we still have a lot to do. Other than a few bottles of wine to give away, we’re basically done with all but the baking of things and mailing of a few packages and well, all the Christmas cards. Just a little behind.
Since those packages have to be mailed out ASAP, and I always want to include some of my homemade treats, I set out to make my Spiced Nuts, which are a great addition to boxes of cookies and fairly addictive. I took the original recipe from a book called Food For Friends by Sally Pasley Vargas, which, if you like to give food gifts, is worth ever cent of the $4.35 that Amazon is currently selling it for and then some. I tweaked the recipe to combine it with a recipe my Great Aunt Sally used to make, and I think the edits I have made turned both very good recipes into even an even better one.
I’m a huge fan of giving cookies and homemade things as gifts, but I tend to like things that are savory more than sweet myself, so most gifts of sweets get eaten by the other people in my life. These nuts are a the best combination of salty, sweet and spicy, perfect for a cheese board, in a basket of goodies, or for a hostess served with a bottle of wine. Ideal for cold January nights in front of a fire too.
Most of all, while a little time intensive, they are absurdly easy, with 2 caveats: Don’t stray far from the kitchen when cooking – nuts go from browned and yummy to burned very quickly. These are great to make when you are already in the kitchen preparing dinner. And prepare the walnuts separately from the almonds and pecans – they burn easier.
You will need:
2 Cups Pecans
2 Cups Almonds
4 Cups Walnuts
3 Cups Sugar
1 1/2 Cup Water
4 tsp Vanilla Extract
3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil (don’t substitute olive oil here)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
dash or two of cayenne (if you aren’t going to have small people eat them – if they might, skip this)
2 large foil-covered baking sheets
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Mix together the cinnamon, salt and pepper in a small container. Set aside.
Combine the sugar and the water and turn on low heat. Add the first 4 cups of nuts and bring to a low boil for 5 minutes.
Remove the nuts with a slotted spoon and spread out on the first baking sheet in a single layer.
Bake for approximately 25 minutes, watching to ensure that the nuts brown but do not burn
Repeat for the walnuts, using the same sugar water.
Remove the baked nuts from the oven and move into a heap on the foil.
Sprinkle each pile of nuts with 2 tsp vanilla, then oil, then half of the spice mixture, stirring to coat.
Spread the nuts back into a single layer and return to the oven for approximately 10 minutes, watching closely.
Remove from the oven and let cool. Combine the nuts into a container. Use within 10-14 days.