Thursday, November 17, 2011


Thanksgiving is nigh and I am bound for the nuthouse. Nuts are a fabulous snack. Throughout the winter we keep a supply of in-shell nuts in a pewter bowl, along with a small fleet of nutcrackers. I'm still a little twitchy about the hand-pinching metal nutcrackers that tormented me during my youth. The perennial favorite remains the olive wood screw-type model I tucked in my younger daughter's stocking one year.

The nuthouse is, in this case, Treasure Island or Whole foods, where I can purchase in-shell nuts in bulk bins, not bags. Bulk is preferable to bags because I like to control the number of Brazil nuts that go into the mix. Brazil nuts are cool to look at but they are super fatty and really hard to crack. They taste a lot like an over-sized macadamia nut. They actually have less total fat than the macadamia but the breakdown of fats is less favorable in the Brazil. Where 3.5 ounces of macadamias have 74 total fat grams, 10 of those grams are saturated, 60 are monounsaturated and 4 are polyunsaturated. The same weight of Brazil nuts has 66 grams of fat, about 17 of which are saturated, 27 of which are monounsaturated and 22 are polyunsaturated.

I mention fat math because sometimes people think that just because something grows on a tree it's a good idea to shovel it down the gullet. 10 grams of saturated fat is the very low end of a daily limit for many people, so macadamias are probably sort of a health hazard, even with their glorious ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fat. The thing with nuts is to not go overboard. Really. Keep it to a few at a time. This is why the in-shell variety is so great - all that cracking and hand-pinching slows you down.

In-shell nuts are a winter tradition I'll never break. For parties or gatherings where a cocktail assortment is just the thing I have a new recipe.  I made bowls of roasted nuts for a party this summer and stashed them around like a 50s housewife would stash ashtrays. They were an enormous hit. I adapted a recipe from the ever-reliable Martha Stewart's Hors D'oevres Handbook. This is what I did:

Cocktail Roasted Nuts
Makes 3 cups

1 cup each raw almonds, cashews and pecan halves
2 t canola oil
2 t kosher salt
1 T packed brown sugar, or maple sugar
1/8  t cayenne

Preheat oven to 350. Place nuts in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast for 6-8 minutes or until fragrant.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the remaining ingredients. When the nuts are done roasting, add them the bowl and toss to coat. Allow to cool briefly before adding to serving bowls. They are great warm. Reheat if you like for about 5 minutes at 300.

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