Archive

Add a Touch of Tree Nuts to Your Easter Celebration

Everyone has their “go to” Easter dishes! They may be from our cultural background, family traditions or just foods that we relate to Easter, like fish, lamb, festive breads and chocolate. Here are some of those dishes and tips on how you can add your own favorite nut “touch” to make it just a bit more special, flavorful… and healthy!

Lamb dishes: Likely the only time of the year that many Americans embrace lamb is Easter. In many cultures, lamb and nuts go hand in hand, such as Middle Eastern cultures where lamb and pine nuts are inseparable, like these Kibbe meatballs from our chef’s collection, or these Lamb and Pine Nut Pastries. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Roast lamb is wonderful stuffed with a nut, herb, olive oil and lemon paste; rack of lamb welcomes a crust of nuts and rosemary, and home-made lamb burgers are great if you feel like an outdoors Easter to enjoy the spring weather.

Italian Easter Torte: A beautiful rustic pie with spinach or chard, ricotta and eggs rolled up in pastry. Pastry is so easy to make and much more enjoyable than store bought. By adding nut meal to the flour, not only will it have more depth and protein, but you can use less butter, as the nuts provide their own healthy oils. And, if you want to go totally dairy free, use home-made nut cheese. Soak nuts overnight in water, puree, strain and voila, you have both nut milk to use for your coffee, and a nut meal that you can press and refrigerate to add to any recipe that calls for cheese.

Fish: As we head up to Easter, many are avoiding meat and only eat fish. Nuts and fish work so well together: top grilled salmon with roasted almonds; crust any fish with finely chopped nuts, lemon zest and herbs before roasting; toss walnuts or pistachios in pasta with scallops; add cashews to prawn stir fry or lettuce cups; or give a rich nut and fresh herb stuffing to roasted whole fish.

Side dishes: One of the easiest and most festive ways to use nuts in cooking is to add them to side dishes. Green beans are lovely with toasted almonds and honey; faro or quinoa are delicious with the addition of chopped nuts such as pistachio and hazelnuts; or add nuts like macadamias and cashews to a puree such as potato, yam or butternut, to add thickness, a little crunch and wonderful flavor.

Greek Easter Bread and Hot Cross Buns: There are lots of recipes on the internet for making your own Easter Bread and Hot Cross Buns, and it’s always so much more fulfilling when you can make them from scratch. Add any nuts to the mix or even make a glaze with honey and sliced or chopped nuts to spoon over the top as they come out of the oven. Now that’s decadence in a nutshell!

Nut Easter Eggs: For a healthier take on Easter eggs, here’s a fun recipe to try below!

Happy Easter!

Chocolate Marcona Almonds

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Water 
  • 2 cups Marcona Almonds (any nut will work here)
  • 1 tablespoon Salt
  • 1 cup Bittersweet Chocolate (melted)
  • 1 1/2 cups Powdered Sugar

Instructions:

  1. Add the sugar and water to a large saucepan. Stir until the mixture resembles a “slush” consistency.
  2. Bring the sugar to a boil over high heat until the sugar turns a light amber color. Add the almonds and salt. Stir the almonds consistently until the sugar and nuts are caramelized to a dark amber color.
  3. Carefully transfer the almonds to a greased cookie sheet and cool to room temperature.
  4. Break up the almonds and add them to a large bowl with the melted chocolate. Using a rubber spatula, mix the almonds until the chocolate is thoroughly covering the almonds.
  5. Mix in the powdered sugar until all the almonds are covered with sugar (add more if necessary).
  6. Transfer nuts to a cookie sheet to set for 20 minutes. Store in a cool dry container. 

Romantic Recipes for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is nearing, and, for many of us, going out is not an option. So how can we make a meal at home a little more special for our loved one? Think nuts! Tree nuts are versatile and full of flavor and texture.

Here are some ideas for making your meal a little more romantic and special using nuts.

  • Oysters – Rather than just serve oysters in-shell, since it’s still cold outside, try a smooth oyster chowder. Decorate with a sprinkle of toasted nuts such as pistachios or walnuts and place an oyster on top! Or, if you’re a raw oyster purist, offer a mignonette (a sauce made typically with vinegar, pepper, and herbs) with raspberries and finely diced nuts to add a sweet and textural “wow.”
  • Cheese plate – Toasted nuts are a wonderful addition to your cheese plate, but you can personalize it more by stuffing some oysters with nuts. Almonds are commonly used, but you could also snuggle in some macadamias or hazelnuts for a lovely nibble with your glass of bubbly.
  • Pasta – There’s probably no more romantic a dish than a lovely pasta with some braised steak or even duck. Take a feather from the Italians’ cap and make a sauce using nuts (they commonly use walnuts, but you could use any nut) to make a creamy sauce. Simply soak some bread in milk, then squeeze out and puree with nuts, garlic or truffle oil, some fresh herbs such as basil or marjoram, and a little parmesan cheese.
  • Asparagus – Topping your perfectly blanched asparagus with a sprinkle of goat cheese and chopped toasted nuts such as hazelnuts, cashews or pine nuts is delicious, especially paired with a special glass of wine.
  • Stir fry – If you’re inspired to go Asian this Valentine’s Day, a stir fry, no matter what you use – chicken, beef, prawns or vegetarian – will be elevated with a scattering of toasted nuts such as macadamias, cashews or almonds.
  • The grand finale – Nuts and dessert possibilities are endless:
    • A lush parfait with crème fraiche, berries and nuts is light and luscious.
    • Pecans are wonderful in pie, but they also make a flavorful topping for a flourless chocolate cake or pudding.
    • The simplicity of sliced fruit and nuts is a perfect ending to a meal and allows you to linger with a glass of port, and a side of romance.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Nut Butters

Americans’ love affair with peanut butter is slowly spreading to other nut butters and pastes as our palates are becoming more diverse and open to new creations.  Perhaps one day grocery stores will have 10 nut butter machines, each grinding a different nut paste! In the meantime, if you want to explore the wonderful world of nut butters, it’s simple to make your own in a food processor with just enough oil (preferably using nut oil that is the same as the whole nut or just olive oil) to make the consistency you are looking for.  You can even add spices or other flavors to design your own personal butter!

Nut butters are a tasty and healthy spread alternative for sandwiches and crackers, scones or muffins! Try pecan butter with turkey and grilled peppers, or almond butter on a salad sandwich.  Hazelnut butter is gorgeous on crackers with a bit of goat cheese, prosciutto and arugula. And, you’ll never go back to a normal Caprese panini after you’ve tried it with pistachio butter made with some fresh basil!

But don’t stop with spreads, think of the sesame paste concept and make crunchy, roasted cashew butter, perhaps with some lemongrass and ginger and toss through rice noodles with some cooked prawns.  Or use walnut paste to thicken a white wine sauce with chicken rather than butter!  Macadamia paste mixed with wasabi and soy takes your sushi dip to a whole new level and makes it much more wine friendly too!

Got your creative juices going yet?  Whether roasted, raw, flavored, crunchy, smooth or just swirled through some honey and spooned over ice cream, nut butters can bring a whole new and healthy life to old dishes. Tap your kids for ideas too – you may be surprised!

Bon-appetite! From the Nutty Chef

Liven up your New Year’s Celebration with a Healthy Dose of Nuts

Whether you’re planning to serve appetizers, platters or desserts and sweets, nuts can add a tasty, unique and healthy twist to all kinds of dishes.  And, for a bonus, they add some terrific nutritional benefits!

Here are some ideas to jazz-up your festivities:

Is it a cheese platter you have in mind?  Buy a log of soft Chevre (goat cheese) and place in a bowl, mix in your favorite nuts, perhaps some dried fruit or herbs, roll back up again and even roll in more crushed nuts.  For adult parties, sneak in a dash of liqueur or truffle oil for a real indulgence!  Great with crackers!

Dips and chips?  Crushed nuts add marvelous texture and thickness to a dip, and work with all kinds of flavors. Try pistachios or macadamias in a spicy chili dip or hummus; almonds or hazelnuts in an avocado, artichoke or smoked salmon dip; and pecans and walnuts contrast beautifully with a white bean or artichoke dip.

Sliders or meatballs on the agenda?  There’s nothing quite like the crunch and flavor of roasted nuts in the mix. Hazelnuts are great with turkey; almonds with beef; pecans and walnuts in pork, and pistachios are divine with lamb sliders.

Personalize your bowl of nuts by dressing them up with spices and herbs. First, toss raw nuts in oil and then in your pick of spices such as curry, cumin, chili, garlic, coriander, or even vanilla powder. Next, roast for 8-10 minutes in a moderate oven until aromatic and crisp.

Make your own designer gelato.  Select your favorite gelato flavor and allow it to soften slightly, then mix in your favorite nuts and refreeze.  Or, melt dark chocolate and pour over a tray scattered with freshly roasted nuts. Allow to set and break into pieces!

Nuts are one of the simplest ways to add surprise and intrigue to a dish – trust your instincts and create your own nutty delight!

Happy New Year and Bon-appétit from the Nutty Chef!

Nuts and Wine

Now that the holidays are here, many of us are planning parties, dinners and cocktail events. For the novice–and even knowledgeable–wine enthusiast it can be difficult to decide what wines to serve and what foods to pair them with…this is where nuts can come in very handy.

Adding nuts to food generally makes it much more wine-friendly. The rich and toasty character of nuts brings roundness to any dish, helping to bridge the food and wine.  Adding a sprinkle of toasted nuts to classically hard-to-pair foods such as asparagus, artichoke and salads can suddenly make them the perfect match for wine.  And chili or hot Asian foods with a few ground or chopped nuts folded through will have their heat softened enough by the nuts to allow the wine to pair nicely.

Wine pairs beautifully with nuts and cheese, here are some combination ideas that bring out the flavors and work well together:

  • Light zesty wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino, Pinot Grigio and Sancerre are great with pistachios and cashews, the brightness in the wine bringing out the undertones of the nuts and visa versa.
  • Sparkling wines and almonds are a real hit, whether toasted, raw, or marcona style.
  • Rich, fruity whites like Chardonnay and Ligonier, pair perfectly with hazelnuts and hazelnut paste with a touch of honey.
  • Rose and walnuts are delightful (or make walnut bread with lavender for a really perfect match) and pecans go any which way with lighter reds such a Pinot Noir.
  • Pretty much any roasted nut is going to bring out something great in rich aromatic, heady red wine as there are so many nut-like elements in these wines.

Have fun and health experimenting with different flavors this holiday season!

Cheers from the Nutty Chef!

Celebrate with Flavorful Nuts

Tree nuts are not only a delicious and healthy snack that can be eaten plain any time of the day, they can be “jazzed up” to give a special touch for any occasion or taste. Here are a few ideas to get your own creative juices inspired!

Ideas for Kids with a Penchant for Sweet Things:

Much better than a candy or sugar laden treat, toss raw nuts in enough warmed honey to coat, place on a parchment lined baking tray and bake on moderate heat until golden brown. Allow to cool, break apart and enjoy! If desired, dust with some nutmeg or cinnamon before cooling. You can even get the kids involved.

Nuts for Wine Lovers:

If you love wine, you’re probably familiar with a wine reduction, where you simmer wine until it’s a silky glaze. Toss nuts in this and allow them to soak before draining and roasting in a moderate oven until toasted! White or red is great, or even a liqueur – whisky pecans anyone?

Nuts for the Spice Lovers:

If you like a kick to your food, toss raw nuts in olive oil, drain well, then toss in your favorite spice blend, such as chili, cumin, curry, rosemary, Cajun spice, Chinese 5 Spice, cardamom, lemongrass or basil. Roast as above.

Chocolate Lovers:

Here’s a tasty alternative to chocolate coated nuts, and one that you can really personalize. Toast nuts then toss in melted honey or even molasses. Drain and then toss in cocoa power (dark or milk), and perhaps a few drops of peppermint, orange or vanilla extract. Or, toss in ground instant coffee and a few drops of Kahlua or Bailey’s and serve with coffee…makes great birthday gifts!

Asian Food Fans

Stir-fries commonly incorporate nuts of any kind, but try toasting nuts then tossing in honey and soy sauce, and cooling on parchment paper. This makes a lovely garnish over rice and noodle dishes, or if sushi is your penchant, puree nuts with wasabi, it makes sushi much more wine-friendly!

Whatever your flavor or preference, there’s a nut for it!

Happy New Year and Bon-appétit from the Nutty Chef!

Celebrating the Holidays with Nuts

Thinking of new ideas to make your celebration meals a bit more special – think of nuts!  Not only will they add a nutritional boost, but also a delightful crunch, flavor and creative spin.

Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices going:

Turkey Stuffing – add a few spoonfuls of diced roasted nuts, such as hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios and/or macadamias to your stuffing mix just before baking, and don’t forget to sprinkle some over the top as well.

Beans and Squash – when you’ve blanched green beans, toss with oil or melted butter, a spoon of honey and some toasted sliced almonds or diced pecans.  For a change, par cook squash, dice and toss with chopped raw nuts and maple syrup then bake until golden and crunchy.

Pumpkin Pie – take a delicious healthy twist for your pie shell by substituting half the butter for ground nuts or nut butter, or if it’s a graham crust, just toss in some raw chopped nuts.

Just nuts – for pre-dinner drinks or with your cheese plate course, toss your favorite nuts with oil and any spice or herb you fancy and bake until golden and aromatic – try rosemary and almonds, cumin and cashews, cinnamon and hazelnuts, chili and pecans, basil and walnuts, ginger and macadamias or cilantro and pistachios.

And for a wonderful side dish or light meal, try these muffins with squash and pine nuts…or walnuts, hazelnuts…

A new and fun way to serve barley risotto with earthy roasted squash – perfect for a special occasion or just for a snack.  You can just boil the barley if preferred, but this method brings out a lovely flavor and texture. You may think tea unusual for the glaze but it adds a rich depth to the mix.  Walnuts and pecans (or any nut for that matter) are marvelous with these too. Add them to the mix too if you like for some extra crunch.

Maple Syrup Glazed Barley, Tree Nut and Squash “Cupcakes”

Makes 10-12 cupcakes

Glaze

¾ cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons black tea

“Cupcakes”

12 ounces chopped squash or pumpkin (kaboocha is perfect)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1½ cups barley

1 teaspoon mustard seeds, optional

1 cup white wine

3 cups simmering stock or water

1 cup baby spinach

6 eggs

¼ cup milk

2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves

3 tablespoons pine nuts, or preferred nuts

Baby arugula, to serve

  1. Place the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until a glaze consistency, about 10 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F.   Brush muffin or cupcake pan with olive oil.
  3. Toss the squash with olive oil, to coat all the pieces and bake for 15-20 minutes or until just tender but still firm.
  4. While squash is cooking, place barley and mustard seeds in a large dry saucepan and lightly toast the grains on medium heat, shaking pan, for 1-2 minutes. Add the wine, reduce heat and cook until liquid is nearly absorbed, then add 2 cups of the stock or water and continue to cook until barley is plump and tender, adding extra stock if it becomes dry, and stirring occasionally.  Drain off any excess moisture.
  5. Place barley in a large bowl with the squash, spinach, beaten eggs and milk, and oregano.  Season to taste and mix well.  Spoon mixture into prepared muffin pan and sprinkle with nuts.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until set through.  Allow to sit in the pan a few minutes before turning out and serving with the glaze spooned over the top.  Add a few leaves baby arugula on top if desired.

Recipe and Styling – Sally James

Bon-appétit from the Nutty Chef!

Nutty Gifts

As Christmas approaches and we try to come up with creative new ideas for friends and family, a way to avoid the crammed stores and busy streets is to create a treat in your kitchen with a your own personal touch.  And nuts are the perfect ingredient to start with as there are so many wonderful appetizing and healthy ways to prepare them. Here are a few ideas I hope will inspire your own creative juices – all you need are some nice boxes or jars, some ribbon and voila!

Mint dusted nuts – toast nuts and while still warm place in a bowl with enough warmed honey to coat them.  Mix well to coat all sides then pour into a sieve to drain.  Next, combine equal amounts of powdered sugar and cornstarch in a large zip lock bag, add a couple of drops mint essence (or your favorite essence such as chocolate or coffee), add the nuts and toss really well.  Transfer to a lined tray to dry then package as desired!

Nutty sweets – place nuts, any kind of dried fruit, some rum and a little skim milk powder if desired in a food processor and grind to a coarse paste.  Shape into balls and then roll in coconut, sugar, sesame seeds or more finely chopped nuts.  Wrap individually in cultured cellophane or arrange in a recycled chocolate box.  Great for your health conscious or vegetarian foodie as gift idea!

Italian Panforte (fruit and nut slice) and Amaretti (nut based cookies) – you can find plenty of Panforte and Amaretti recipes on line and incorporate a whole mix of nuts for a traditional Italian Christmas idea.  It’s nice to make a selection of Amaretti using different nuts and arrange alternately in a nice box.

Or try making all of the above and mixing together for a nutty Christmas assortment!

Bon-nut-appetit and cheers for the season,

The Nutty Chef

Add a Cool Nutty Touch to Summer’s Bounty

It’s the season where farmers’ markets pop up on every street corner, and the sun-kissed flavors make food so much more enjoyable. Tree nuts can add not only a delightful crunch and toasty flavor to the plate, they bring greater satiety and nutritional value, meaning you’ll want to snack less throughout the day–a win-win!  We all know how wonderful it is to sprinkle your favorite nuts on a salad, but here are some other ideas for incorporating tree nuts into summer meals:

  • Asparagus and any nut is a partnership made in heaven – the French and Italians love it with hazelnuts and almonds, but the plump spears are also marvelous with pecans, pistachios and walnuts.  Try grilling, roasting or blanching asparagus and then adding a crumble of goat cheese or ricotta and some roasted tree nuts. Or, for a main dish, add to pasta or risotto with roughly chopped nuts, basil, lemon and olive oil.
  • Artichokes make a delightful summer dip for vegetable crudités; add nuts such as pistachios and almonds to the mix with lemon and herbs. Puree cucumber, kefir, mint and green grapes along with almonds, cashews, pecans and pine nuts for a rich and creamy chilled soup without the saturated fat (see recipe below).
  • Those plump baby beets are divine served with crumbled walnuts or pecans, and perhaps some Greek yogurt. And, finely shaved radishes over fresh summer greens make a lovely salad with any kind of nut.  My favorites are hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios for a lovely mix of color, flavor and texture.
  • Try a warm salad of steamed garden peas and fava beans with mint, a squeeze of Meyer lemon and crumbled cashews, macadamias and hazelnuts.  And for the main scene? Rhubarb stalks – diced and sautéed with walnuts over a grilled chicken breast.

Finally, for a perfect finish you can’t beat cut up fresh stone fruit, melons and ruby grapefruit with a scattering of nuts and a spoon of Greek yogurt for a tasty treat!

Summer is for fun, so have some of your own with tree nuts!

Bon-appétit from the Nutty Chef!

Chilled Cucumber and Tree Nut Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices ciabatta bread, crusts removed and diced
  • 1 1/2 cups diced cucumber, Persian, Lemon and English are great
  • 2 cups green grapes
  • ½ cup tree nuts of choice
  • 2-3 teaspoons sherry or wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8-10 leaves mint
  • ¼ – ½ cup kefir* or plain yogurt

Instructions:

  1. Cover the bread in iced water and soak 5 minutes. Squeeze out excess water.
  2. Place bread in a blender with the cucumber, grapes, tree nuts, vinegar, oil and mint.
  3. Puree, adding kefir in a steady stream until desired consistency.  Season to taste, adding more vinegar if not “punchy” enough.
  4. Chill 30 minutes before serving. (Some people like to strain the soup, but I prefer the fiber and texture as it is.)

*Kefir is a fermented milk drink similar to liquid yogurt

Go Nuts for Romance…

When people think of romantic meals or foods, usually chocolate, lobster and champagne are the kinds of things that come to mind.  We all know nuts are loaded with nutrients that can keep our bodies and minds as healthy as possible. But they also contribute a more sensual pleasure to meals – texture!  We sometimes forget that texture can add as much interest to a meal as flavor – it does in fact contribute to and sometimes alter the flavor.  Here are some ways to make your meal more exotically romantic with some added nuts.

Breakfast in bed with pancakes, nuts, banana and honey anyone?  But on to the real meal…

  • Nibbles for Champagne – roast almonds then toss with a touch of truffle oil, or olive oil and sprinkle with a little truffle salt.
  • A silky soft soup of squash, peas, potato and leek or corn gets a delectable rich creaminess, by adding a handful of macadamias to the mix and then pureeing.
  • Scallops with a crust – make a crumb of hazelnuts and polenta and roll scallops in before pan searing, then serve on a silky bed of pureed corn.
  • A smooth and tantalizing dressing for salads can be made by pureeing roasted walnuts with a touch of walnut oil, lemon juice and Dijon. Add a few whole roasted nuts for texture.
  • Make your own sumptuous gateau – chop pecans and pistachios and roast with a dusting of sugar until caramelized, then fold through softened gelato or frozen yogurt.  Press into a tray and drizzle with melted chocolate then refreeze.
  • For a sweet and romantically elegant dessert, make a large meringue adding any ground nuts to the mix and smooth a hollow in the center.  Cook slowly, cool and fill with whipped cream and fruit!  Delicious!

This Valentine’s Day give your body, hearts and senses a touch of nuts!

From the nutty, but romantic chef!