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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Aw, nuts

I'm nuts about both of these recipes.
I like to keep some kind of flavored nut on hand because they're great as snacks, party treats or salad toppers. Recently I gave some as hostess gifts, and they were happily received. They seem especially appreciated by those who try to avoid desserts or who watch their carbohydrate intake. Also see the earlier posting on Rosemary Almonds.

Sherry-Spiced Nuts

1 egg white
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp. dry sherry or water (I've always used sherry)
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice*
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper (optional)
2 cups whole cashews (or almonds, macadamia nuts and/or hazelnuts)

Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk egg white till just a little frothy and whisk in sugar, sherry (or water), pumpkin pie spice, allspice and red pepper if using. Stir in nuts till coated.
Line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Spread nuts on foil.

Bake for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally (Don't skip this or you'll end up with a too-dark mass of sticky nuts). Cool; break apart large clusters. Store, covered, in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks. Makes 2 cups.

From Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Appetizers magazine, 2001

*If like me you don't keep pumpkin pie spice on hand, you can make your own. For two teaspoons (I always double the cashew recipe), combine 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ginger and 1/4 tsp. each nutmeg and cloves.

Vanilla Pecans (or Walnuts)
1 pound pecan halves
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 tbsp. corn oil
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. dried orange peel
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cinnamon 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
2 heaping tbsp. sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Blanch the nuts for 1 minute in boiling water (not longer!). Drain well. While still hot, put in a bowl and toss with sugar and combined oil-vanilla. Let stand 10 minutes. Arrange nuts on rimmed baking tray. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, turning every 10 minutes until nuts are light brown an crispy. Don't let them burn!

Meanwhile, combine vanilla, salt, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, dried orange peel and sugar. Toss with still-hot nuts in bowl. Allow to cool, stirring occasionally. Store in airtight container.

From The Frog Commissary Cookbook by Steven Poses, Anne Clark and Becky Roller

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Blue Cheese Walnut Spread

I like to have a cheese spread around when we entertain. They're generally easy to whip up but look like more work than they are. That makes guests feel special (the way guests should feel). I most recently served these at a church game night at our house (OK, it was a month ago, but "I'm a little behind," as late co-worker Bill Bierman used to quip.)

The first recipe, for a blue cheese spread (on right in photo), is from Better Homes and Gardens' 2006 holiday Appetizers publication. It's very tasty, even when you tone down the pungent blue cheese with neufchatel (my variation). I served it with crackers, but I know it would be great with the fruit the original recipe suggests. The second recipe, also very nice, is an herbed goat cheese spread that is very flexible as to what herbs you use. I just headed for my trusty indoor rosemary "bush," the basil on the patio and my perennials. Not sure where I got that recipe, since it's an old computer printout.


8 oz. blue cheese
8 oz. neufchatel/light cream cheese (optional, but nice to add for those not totally enamored of blue cheese)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (or light margarine)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped

Let cheese and butter stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Cut or crumble cheese into small pieces, Slice butter into 1/2-inch pieces. Place cheeses and butter into food processor. Cover and process until almost smooth, scraping downside of bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Stir in walnuts.
Transfer to small serving bowls. If desired, sprinkle with additional walnuts. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature for one hour before serving. To soften, stir well. Serve with crackers, pretzel chips, apples, pears and/or flatbread.

Makes about 3 cups. Can be halved.
NOTE: Since this post I have made it with toasted pecans and added a teaspoon or so of bourbon.... really nice.


10 1/2 oz. goat cheese, at room temperature
2 tsp. finely minced fresh marjoram (I used rosemary)
2 tsp. finely minced fresh tarragon (I used sage)
2 tsp. finely minced fresh Italian parsley
2 tsp. finely minced fresh thyme
2 tsp. finely minced fresh dill
2 tsp. finely minced fresh basil
1 tsp. finely minced fresh chives (didn't have any)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Low-fat milk for thinning

In medium bowl, combine cheese, herbs and cayenne. Stir until well-blended (or use electric mixer). Add milk to thin to desired consistency. (It will thicken up a bit when chilled.)

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or more to blend flavors. Bring to room temperature before serving with crackers.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer Pasta Salad with Roasted Vegetables

This recipe makes a veritable vat of pasta salad. As much as we liked it, I knew it was too much for the two of us to eat in a reasonable time, so I trucked some to my book club potluck, and they seemed to enjoy it, too.

The recipe is from The Roasted Vegetable by Andrea Chesman. I love this cookbook. Other great recipes I've tried from it: Bejeweled Squash Cubes (perfect for winter holidays), Cider-Glazed Acorn Squash, Zucchini Chips with Feta and Herbs, Fall Vegetable Tart. There hasn't been a dud yet.

Changes I made: I used all zucchini and ancient sweets (long, slightly sweeter red bell peppers) because we don't like green pepper and I had a giant zucchini from the garden of my friend Keri. I used Vidalia instead of running out to buy shallots. No tomatoes, because my garden is poky. Skipped the olives. Used fresh mozzarella "pearls" from Sam's Club. Added Parmesan. Obviously, there's some flexibility here.


2 small zucchini, cut into matchsticks
2 small yellow squash, cut into matchsticks
1 medium-size green bell pepper, seeded and cut into matchsticks
1 medium-size red bell pepper, seeded and cut into matchsticks
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup "white" balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. lemon juice (fresh is best, but not necessary)
1 tsp. sugar (I used a rounded tablespoon)
Salt and ground black pepper
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. penne, twists, ziti or other similarly shaped pasta
1 bunch (10 to 12 oz.) fresh spinach, tough stems discarded, leaves chopped
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup. brine-cured black olives such as Kalamata (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
8 oz. (or more) fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan (my addition)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil/spray a large shallow roasting pan or half-sheet pan.

In a large bowl combine zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers and shallot. In small bowl whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Whisk in 5 tbsp. of the oil until fully emulsified. (Or, dump the vinaigrette ingredients in a shaker and shake your groove thang.) Pour 3 tbsp. of the vinaigrette over the vegetables and toss well. Arrange in a single layer on the pan.

Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally for even cooking. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, rinse under cold running water to cool, drain again and transfer to a large bowl. Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil and toss to coat. (Note: I used to skip this step in pasta salads to save fat until I read that it helps keep the dressing from soaking in too much.)

Add the roasted vegetables, spinach, tomatoes, olives, basil and mozzarella. Toss well. Chill if not serving soon. (After you've stored it in the fridge, let it rest at room temperature for a bit to take the chill off.)

Just before serving, add the rest of the vinaigrette and toss again. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.