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Gifts

Gift It: Cocoa Cherry Biscotti

Who doesn’t love the combination of chocolate and tart cherries? (I do! I do!)

We’ve been looking for a no-butter recipe for biscotti for a while and finally found one that was too tempting to pass up. The addition of dried cherries is my own — the original recipe uses walnuts. The tang of tart cherries against the backdrop of dark chocolate brings to mind one of my favorite desserts — Black Forest Cake, the only thing missing is the whipped cream...mmmmm. These crisp, rich tasting cookies are equally heavenly with a cup of hot black coffee in the morning as with a post-prandial glass of tawny port, or even to polish off the last of your California merlot after a meal.

I prefer biscotti dry — that is, with no chocolate or other coating. But for gifts, the biscotti can receive some extra special treatment: a dip in bittersweet chocolate! For the first batch, I tried a ganache-type dip I usually use for the aniseed-almond biscotti I usually make for the holidays. The anise biscotti have both butter and whole eggs in their recipe and can stand up to the high fat content of the cream and butter in the ganache, but these meringue style cocoa biscotti came out chewy rather than crisp once they were coated in ganache.
Still wonderful— but I wanted the cookie to keep its distinctive crunch. Plain melted chocolate worked better at maintaining the crunch while still giving the cookies some zazz.

The original recipe for these biscotti (with walnuts instead of cherries, and with no chocolate dip) are said to average about 40 calories per cookie since they have neither butter nor egg yolks. I’m not a dietician, but I’m guessing that substituting high-sugar dried fruit for high-calorie nuts comes out about even. Although I subscribe to the theory that homemade cookies eaten in the month of December have no calories, I know that not everyone else believes this (I’m guessing they don’t believe in Santa either). At less than 50 calories per cookie (minus the chocolate dip) and with their incredible chocolate flavor, these cookies are a treat that the calorie-conscious on any gift list will especially appreciate!

These biscotti are going to join Gram’s Nut Horns and the still growing number of cookie recipes from around the globe at Susan’s "Eat Christmas Cookies" event at Food Blogga. Susan’s third annual cookie round-up has already produced some really novel cookies, including ones with saffron and tofu, with cranberry relish, with buttermilk, and even with maple bacon and chocolate chips (that last one we’re going to try this week). You can check them all out, then submit your own until December 20th.


Happy Baking, Everyone!

** On the U.S. Mainland, we find dried tart cherries at Trader Joe’s, which is also a great source for baking goods including all kinds of nuts, organic powdered sugar, cocoa powder, Belgian chocolate and non-aluminum baking powder.If tart dried cherries are hard to find, you could substitute sweet bing cherries but I’ve found that the flavor of sweet cherries tends to get lost when paired with dark chocolate.


COCOA CHERRY BISCOTTI
(Adapted from “Italian Cocoa Biscotti” by Nick Maglieri in Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, et al. Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour, and Eggs, All Under 300 Calories per Generous Serving)
Makes about 50 cookies

1 3/4 cup (175g) flour
2/3 cup (65g) Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/4 cup (240g) raw sugar
1 cup (150g) dried tart cherries, cut into small pieces
6 large egg whites
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together flour and cocoa. Stir in baking powder, salt, sugar, and dried cherries. Set aside.

Whisk together egg whites and vanilla to soft peak. Add to the dry ingredients. Use a large rubber spatula to combine — the dough will seem dry at the start but as the sugar comes in contact with the meringue, the dough will become wetter and eventually quite tacky.

Liberally cover work surface with flour. Scrape the dough out, and with floured hands press together into a solid mass.

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Lightly coat cookie sheet with flour and gently roll each into a log that is as long as the pan you’re using. Logs may still show patches of white flour — that’s OK, it makes a nice contrast on the finished cookie. Arrange both logs on one pan.

Make certain the logs aren't too close to each other or to the sides of the pan. Slightly flatten each log with your fingertips.

Bake about 30 minutes, or until loaves are firm when pressed with a fingertip. Remove loaves, but leave oven on and place racks in the upper and lower thirds.

Cool loaves just enough so you can handle them, then using a sharp serrated knife cut into attractive straight or slightly diagonal slices about 1/2-inch thick. (I find it easier to slice the cookies while they are still warm as they harden and can crack once theyre completely cool.)

Place slices, cut side down, on the cookie sheets and return to oven for about 7 minutes. Remove pans and quickly turn each cookie over to toast other side and replace in oven for another 7 minutes. I usually try to remember to rotate the sheets so that the one that was on top for the first toast is now on the lower rack, but that’s not crucial. You might have to to this in 2 or more batches to toast all the cookies.

Cool completely on racks. Store in air-tight container until ready to serve or to dip in chocolate. Once dipped in chocolate, biscotti do not keep as well.


DARK CHOCOLATE COCOA CHERRY BISCOTTI

200g bittersweet or dark Belgian chocolate
4 dozen Cocoa Cherry Biscotti

Place a wire rack over cookie sheet or wax paper to catch chocolate drips.

Melt chocolate over double-boiler or at low setting in microwave. Place chocolate in shallow bowl and allow to cool to room temperature (if chocolate is warm when cookies are dipped, they will become chewy).

Dip one flat side of each biscotto in chocolate, then place on rack to harden chocolate.


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More holiday gift ideas: Sweet & Spicy Nuts, Green Tea Shortbread, Molasses Crinkles, Nut Horns

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Gram's Recipe Box: Nut Horns

Just in time for the holiday cookie season, we were given the gift of another recipe from T's grandmother's recipe box, this time for one of her personal favorites, Nut Horns.

I had never tried a nut horn before baking these last week, but during a recent visit with Gram while she is convalescing and undergoing rehabilitation she asked me to retrieve this recipe from her second recipe box at home and make them for her. Although I actually forgot to get the recipe cards on that trip, my MIL was kind enough to find the recipe (actually there were 2 versions in the files), scan the cards and email us photos of the cards, some of which are in Gram's handwriting and some of which are neatly typed. (Thanks, Mom!!)

For me, the best thing about having hard copies, or at least photos of hard copies, of personal recipes is seeing the notations, changes and adjustments that have been made and to see how a recipe might have evolved or grown over time. It is always more precious when it's in a loved one's own handwriting, too.

In this case, Gram's recipe was a little vague on the actual method of shaping and filling the dough and a brief web search for similar recipes was required to fill in the gaps for me. And since I had never tasted this cookie, I was unclear on what the final texture and taste should be. Here's what I've learned after this first attempt at a classic (which I'm happy to say met with Gram's approval)!

This recipe for nut horns yields a very tender, mildly sweet and nutty cookie that is very addictive with a cup of strong coffee! It starts with a yeast cream dough that does not have any sugar except for 1 tablespoon to feed the yeast and the powdered sugar for rolling the dough. The ground walnut meringue filling is just sweet enough to balance the dough, and the meringue rises and fills the cookie as it bakes so it is important to roll the dough loosely to allow the meringue room to expand.

Both Gram's recipe and most of the similar recipes I found on the web call for rolling out the dough on powdered sugar, which I found to be a very sticky proposition. Literally. This makes your dough very sticky and a bit difficult to work with. I tried one batch rolled out on plain flour, which was easier to work with but which changed both the sweetness of the dough (remember, it has very little sugar in it) and the appearance of the final cookie — those rolled in sugar had a pleasantly crackled appearance (see photo below), while those rolled in flour were smooth (see top photo). For the last 2 batches, though, I hit upon a system of putting first flour, then powdered sugar on the counter, then rolling the dough out — that makes the dough less sticky on your board or counter, while still giving it some of the traditional crackled surface once the cookie baked. But once powdered sugar is sprinkled over the baked cookie, only the most finicky connoisseur can really tell the difference in looks or taste. In fact, as she sampled the first cookie, Gram confided that she usually rolled out her cookies in flour because it went a lot faster that way.

After tasting the first batch of cookies as they came out of the oven, I admit that I tweaked the filling a little — you can't really taste the spices I've added to Gram's original recipe, but they just seem to round out the flavor of the walnuts. The new additions are marked (**) so you can try Gram's original or the tweaked version (or both). Gram only taste-tested her orginal version, so that's the one that actually has her "grin of approval".

Another point of difference I saw among nut horn recipes was whether you spread the filling over the entire rolled-out dough before cutting it into 8 pieces (Gram used this method); or cut the dough, then put filling just in the lower half or third of the dough before rolling it up. As mentioned earlier, the filling is actually a meringue (whipped egg whites and sugar) and is expected to rise quite dramatically as it bakes.


For the first 2 batches I followed Gram's instructions and rolled out the dough balls into a 9-inch circle, spread one-sixth of the flling over each circle, then cut 8 pie-shaped wedges, and loosely rolled up each wedge beginning at the wide part. Once I saw how much the filling expanded and cracked the dough in some places and spilled over in others, I switched to the other method for the last 4 batches and filled only the lower half or third of the wedge before rolling (that's what is recommended in the recipe below). In the photo above, the cookies in the foreground were filled only in the lower half and I think make for a neater presentation (especially for gift-giving). The ones in the background (slightly blurry) are filled from wedge to point. Surprisingly, the cookies have about the same amount of filling whichever method you use so the final taste is pretty equal no matter which rolling method you choose.

I'm not sure whether I'll have time to make another batch of nut horns this holiday season, because we have so many recipes bookmarked to try from past "Eat Christmas Cookies" events sponsored by Susan at Food Blogga. Last year we added Gram's Molasses Crinkles to Susan's Christmas cookie platter and this year we'll continue the tradition by sending along these delicate Nut Horns for this third annual international cookie fest! Check out the first 2 years of cookie fabulousness now at Food Blogga, or send along your own favorite treats. Susan will post periodic Round-ups of this year's cookies as they are submitted so check back for new cookie inspiration until the event closes on December 20th.


GRAM'S NUT HORNS
Makes 48 cookies

Note: Dough has to chill for at least 6 hours before finishing. If you have a marble work surface, it will help keep the dough cool as you roll and fill.

½ cup/ 120ml lukewarm water
1 2oz./56g cake yeast, or 1 packet (.25oz) active dry yeast
1 TBL raw sugar
½ lb/455g butter, cold
3 cups/445g unbleached plain flour
3 egg yolks from large eggs, beaten
(reserve 2 whites and keep refrigerated to make Filling)
8 TBL/8 oz/120ml heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
powdered sugar for rollling dough and to dust for garnish

Dissolve yeast and sugar in lukewarm water, and set aside until foaming.

Cut butter into flour until crumbly. Combine egg yolks, cream and vanilla, and beat well. Add to flour and mix to combine.

Add yeast mixture and form into a ball for kneading — dough should not be sticky. Sprinkle with teaspoonful of flour until dough is not tacky. Knead until smooth. Refrigerate overnight, or at least 6 hours.


Prepare Filling no sooner than 1 hour before you are ready to roll out dough or it may become too stiff.

Filling:
½ lb/ 225g walnuts, ground
1½ cup/285g raw sugar
2 egg whites from large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
** 1/2 tsp cinnamon
** 1/8 tsp or less fresh ground nutmeg
(Cinnamon and nutmeg are not in Gram's recipe — see notes above)

Make Filling: Beat egg whites to soft peak. Slowly add sugar, with the beaters on the whole time. Fold in vanilla and nuts. (Note: since I was using raw sugar, I could not hold a soft peak because raw sugar is so granular — but the fillling worked anyway.)

Pre-heat oven to 375/180C.

Sprinkle work surface with flour. Lightly flatten dough, divide into 6 parts and roll each into a ball. Keep remaining balls of dough covered and refrigerated as you work with the first one. (Note: I recommend using flour for the first roll since you need to refrigerate the remaining dough — if you use powdered sugar and then refrigerate, the remaining balls of dough are very sticky when they come out of the fridge... as I found out the hard way...)

To keep the final dough tender, use a light touch when rolling. Sprinkle work surface with flour, then cover generously with powdered sugar. (See notes above for flour vs. powdered sugar for rolling.) Roll first ball of dough to about a 9”/230mm circle.

Working quickly, cut into 8 wedges and fill each wedge with 1 heaping teaspoon of nut filling spread over widest half or third of the wedge. Roll dough starting at widest part and ending at the point. (Also see notes and photo above for alternative method for fillling cookies.) Bend corners of the cookie to the middle to achieve a nice crescent shape, and place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until light brown. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Each ball of dough will give you 8 cookies. Working with 2 cookie sheets, I put each batch of 8 cookies in the oven as soon as I was done so they didn't sit in the warm kitchen too long. Because of the high fat content from the butter and cream, the cookies would tend to soften and flatten if left in the warm environment. Also make sure your cookie sheet is completely cool before placing finished crescents on them — a quick way to cool a warm cookie sheet is to place it on a cool, wet kitchen towel for 1 minute or so. The wet towel pulls heat from the pan faster than air-cooling.

Cool cookies completely on rack. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

These seem best the first few days after baking, and then lose their tender quality with every passing day, although they were still wonderful the first 8 days after baking (they didn't last past that so I can't vouch for longer storage). If the cookies don't have sugar dusted on them yet, they can be re-warmed and re-sofened if wrapped loosely in foil and set in a pre-heated toaster oven for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired.``


If the cookies have to travel, omit the powdered sugar when packing since sugar can make the cookies sticky by the time they reach their destination (as you probably guessed, these were destined for Gram's bedside). You might include a note suggesting a sprinkle of powdered sugar before serving.

Happy Baking, Everyone!

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Green Tea Shortbread


We do love green tea. Hot or iced, in cakes, ice cream, custard, cookies — it’s all good. We drink almost all teas — green or black — without sugar; more by habit than for health. With sweets, though, we both agree that the best part of the earthy, herbaceous flavor of green tea is that hint of bitterness that comes through just before the sweet awakens the taste buds. Lovely.

With the advent of medical studies touting the anti-oxidant benefits of green tea, it’s been wonderful to see the spread of green tea consumption and green tea flavored goodies on menus and supermarket shelves. I see that a wave of Matcha Cookies hit the blogosphere last year and went right around the world! I first came across an entry for a green tea flavored cookie in
Obachan’s Kitchen, one which she had made a few years earlier, but had noted that she was not satisfied with the recipe. I went back to the standard shortbread recipe we usually use (confession: I last made these in 2001) and decided to substitute part of the flour with ground green tea powder and see what happened. Besides, I got to use one of my favorite kitchen gadgets, too.

For this recipe I did not use matcha, I used ground green tea leaves. Matcha is a specific grade of green tea that has been ground to powder for use in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and is prized for its astringent quality. I used home-grade green tea leaves and ground them at home in a ceramic grater. A local Japanese department store (Shirokiya) sells this grater for home tea brewing, especially for cold brewing. I received one as a present a couple of years ago, and I love it. It’s nice to be able to add green tea powder as a condiment and flavoring agent to many different foods, like these cookies. Otherwise, you can purchase “matcha powder for cooking” (which I suspect is the same grade of green tea we used here), and actual matcha in gourmet shops, tea shops and on-line.

In adapting our shortbread recipe, I heeded Obachan’s note that more than 2 teaspoons of matcha per 100g of flour would be too bitter, and so only used 2 teaspoons in this batch. The resulting shortbread had the wonderful color and pleasing flavor of green tea, but was a tad too sweet for my taste, even without the extra sugar topping. One of the reasons I make shortbread so rarely is that you really can’t cut down on the ratio of sugar to butter without sacrificing shortbread’s melt-in-your-mouth quality; whereas with other cookies, I often cut down the amount of sugar in the recipe by 1/4 to 1/3. I think most people would find the balance between green tea and sugar in the recipe below just right, especially if served with a pot of
ocha (Japanese green tea). Since I’m using green tea powder instead of real matcha, next time I would risk replacing another teaspoon of flour with green tea. It’s not something I would advise other bakers to do unless they are looking for a bitter edge in their shortbread.

GREEN TEA SHORTBREAD
Makes about 24 cookies
**1/2 cup (or U.S. 1 stick) (110g) unsalted butter (no substitutes)
4-1/2 TBL. (55g) fine granulated sugar (aka caster, not powdered)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 cup (100g) all purpose flour
2 tsp. green tea powder
1/3 cup (55g) mochiko (glutinous rice four) or semolina

extra sugar for crunchy topping (optional)

**Update (01/06/09): With thanks to Nat for pointing out that the butter equivalencies originally were not correct -- the metric was correct, but the U.S. equivalent was off by half. My apologies to anyone who followed the U.S. measure and whose shortbread was too dry.

Beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat together on low until the sugar is just incorporated (will still feel grainy).
Combine flour, green tea powder, salt and mochiko together. Add to butter mixture and stir well by hand to make a smooth paste, do not overwork the dough or your shortbread will come out like a brick.

Either roll into a log 1.5 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and chill (to make button cookies, as shown here); or flatten into a disc between two sheets of plastic wrap to a thickness of 1/2 inch and chill (to cut our shapes). Chill for 20 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 325F/170C.

To make buttons, slice log into 1/2-inch pieces.

Or use your favorite small cookie cutter to stamp out shapes. Gently re-roll, flatten and chill before stamping out more.

(Optional garnish) Place 2-3 TBL. of sugar on a small plate. Gently press one side of the cookie in sugar, and lay sugar side up on an ungreased baking sheet.

If cookies start to look shiny, place sheet in fridge for 5 minutes before baking. Bake in pre-heated oven for 10-12 minutes. To check for doneness, look for opaqueness and a sandy quality in the cookies (see photo, right, for raw and cooked cookie comparison), and you will smell butter and green tea. They will still feel a little soft when hot, but will harden a bit on cooling. Do not over-bake or they will transform into miniature papaerweights. Because of the high ratio of sugar to butterfat, these cookies will keep their tender crumb.

Cool completely on wire rack. Store in air-tight container at room temperature for up to one week.


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More Cookies and Other Homemade Gift Ideas:
Nut Horns, Cocoa Cherry Biscotti, Sweet & Spicy Nuts

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A Gift for . . . You

Hawaii: The Rainbow State indeed!
I've thought about this for a couple of weeks. And I hesitated only because I can still see vividly the skeptical looks of my own friends and family the first time I tell them about this. It's that "Oka-a-a-ay, what crazy thing are you talking about now" look. (Deep breath) Okay, here goes.

I am offering to every person who comes across this post the gift of Reiki healing this New Year's Eve. On that day I will include in my daily Reiki distance healing session, every person who requests a healing by [sending an email] below. As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, for over two years I have been a Reiki practitioner in the second-degree, which just means that I can offer healing to persons who are not physically present in front of me
you can be in the next room or on the other side of the planet, and receive healing. I practice daily self-healing with Reiki, and usually end with a distance healing session for close friends and family who have accepted Reiki to heal physical, emotional and spiritual hurt.

A quick recap: "Reiki is a form a energy healing and balancing that was developed and named by Japanese researcher and teacher, Usui Mikao, in the late 19th century. Dr. Usui studied many ancient healing arts in Asia, including India. He distilled what he learned into the practice he called, Reiki
a term coined from the Japanese words, Rei, meaning “universal” and Ki, meaning “life energy.” . . . [In] Reiki, the healer does not direct or in any way control the energy — she is only a conduit; instead, it is the patient’s responsibility to accept the energy, which flows always where it is needed most. "

Some important things to know about Reiki to assist you in your decision whether you want to accept this gift.

Reiki is not based on any religion or faith practice
there is no calling to any god, saint or other personification. Personally, I am a Roman Catholic, and when I practice Reiki I only pray that I may be empty of any bias or need to control the outcome. When done in person, the healer lays her hands above the recipient's body in different positions, moving from head to feet or directed in a place where healing is desired (a particular backache, for instance). In distance healing, the healer simply thinks on the person requesting healing at an agreed time and place.

Reiki does not require that the recipient believe in Reiki or know anything about it. Only two things are required. First, and most important, the recipient must want to be healed and must ACCEPT HELP. This may sound self-evident, but I know from my own experience that some people find it hard to accept help, any kind of help. I do. The first time I experienced healing in my first Reiki course I had all kinds of barriers that blocked the energy flow. I
thought I wanted healing, I thought I was receptive to it. But it wasn't until my teacher pointed out that I was resisting the healing and said, "it's okay to receive help, you know" that I took a deep breath, then began to feel the energy she and the other students were sending. If you're a caregiver or nurturer by nature, it's important that you give yourself permission to accept help.

The second requirement is that the recipient take responsibility for their healing. This is demonstrated by returning the energy value of the healing received. Among friends and family, exchange of energy value between the healer and the recipient is part of the give-and-take of a close relationship. But with those who are strangers to the healer, the recipient most often demonstrates the value of the healing received with a monetary payment. I'm not asking for anything like that. The value I ask for is a personal kindness to someone who is a total stranger to you. This does not have to cost money, but it does have to be personal (person to person), and it does have to cost something whether it's personal discomfort from looking a homeless person in the face and greeting her warmly, or taking time from the holiday frolicking to visit a hospice or elder care home, or finding something kind to say to the harried retail clerk at the mall. How do I get value from something you do for someone who is a total stranger to us both?? Trust me, I just do.

Reiki does not provide an instant cure. It is healing that is part of a process of correcting imbalance. Normally, Reiki practitioners will work with a client for several sessions lasting a half-hour to an hour, depending on the need. Many healthy people enjoy the warmth and deep relaxation they receive during Reiki and will seek healing as a way to keep their energy flow in check and themselves healthy (maybe that's you, too).

The most common side effect of Reiki healing is falling into deep sleep during or the evening after a session. I'm not kidding.
Even Haiku takes a moment for quiet

So you're not sick. There's nothing wrong with you. Why would you want to do this? Energy imbalance causes all kinds of mess. This knowledge is at the heart of the great traditional medicine practices in the world -- Traditional Chinese Medicine, Indian Ayurvedic, Japanese Kampo, and so many others. We're seeing this on a global scale, too, ecologically, politically, socially. Many of the aches and ills we experience daily (sleeplessness, anxiety, headaches, back aches, cramps) and even great ills (cancer, heart disease) are caused by energy imbalances to which we are completely blind. But our bodies know what is out of whack and given a chance, the body will begin to heal itself. I'm offering this healing on this particular day so we can all participate in correcting an energy imbalance in ourselves (maybe) and in the world (definitely). You will have taken a brave step and spent energy in a kindness to a stranger, and now a gift of energy healing will come back to you. See how that flow works?

How to take advantage of this offer? Simple. Please leave a comment with 1) your full name (first and last), 2) the city and country you will be in on Dec. 31st, and 3) this statement: I would like Reiki healing. That's it!

Only your first name and the city/country you are from will appear in the comments that the public sees -- I moderate and will remove any identifying information before publication. But your name and location are necessary for me to include you in the healing. If you are a blogger who writes anonymously under a "nom de web" (as I do), just leave the URL field in the comment form blank so there's no connection between your real name and your blog.

I don't need to know anything about why or for what the healing is intended. Reiki healers do not guide or direct healing in any way, the energy goes where it is needed.

The final thing is that if you would like healing for other people in your life, please have them leave a comment themselves. We need to establish a connection as healer and recipient, and they must take responsibility for and accept the healing personally.

On New Year's Eve day, I will start my normal Reiki session at 0430 Hawaii Standard Time (1430 UTC/GMT), and this normally lasts an hour. Depending on how many folks participate, this could go longer. You do not need to remember the hour or even be aware (or awake!) during the session, I mention the time only as general information. I will check comments and include all who have asked for healing up to the time I start.

I hope you will do me the honor of accepting this gift. Thank you for hearing me out and reading this far into a non-food related post! If you have any questions, any at all, about Reiki or about this gift, please don't be shy. Your interest is valued and your question is welcome.


UPDATE: Resources if you would like to explore more about Reiki
here.
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Gift It: Sweet & Spicy Nuts


(The lead photo is entered in the CLICK! Photo Event sponsored by Bee and Jai at Jugalbandi -- a chance for amateur photographers to play with a food theme and get some feedback. December's theme is, of course, Nuts!
Is this droolworthy??)




It's the season for gifting and remembering not just family and friends, but colleagues and teachers, veterinarians and mechanics all those who touch our lives on a regular basis. A gift from the kitchen, like all hand-made gifts, is a gift of love. But many folks are wary of sweet treats at this time of year when so many sweet temptations are swirling and calling ("Taste me" . . . "I only come around once a year")

With this in mind, I opted to make Sweet and Spicy Nuts, instead of our usual Dark Chocolate Merlot Truffles. Tree nuts, such as the almonds, walnuts and pecans used here, provide a healthy dose of unsaturated fats
which can reduce the LDL (bad) cholesterol in one's blood and lower the risk of heart disease. (A) In fact, since 2003, the US Food and Drug Administration has recommended daily consumption of 1.5 ounces of tree nuts as part of a low saturated fat and cholesterol diet to reduce the risk of heart disease. Tree nuts are also an excellent source of heart-healthy vitamins and minerals. Although the FDA does warn against sweetened nuts because of the higher calories, these nuts are much less sweet than commercially sweetened nuts, and they're on offer as a healthier alternative to my beloved chocolate truffles.

This easy recipe coats the the nuts in egg white and spiced sugar mix, then they are baked for until the coating hardens. The recipe is incredibly versatile
change up the nuts, or the spiced sugar mix to suit your taste (try cumin, cinnamon, chipotle or Aleppo peppers, Chinese five spice, quatre epices, pumpkin pie spice, whatever your imagination conjures up!).

The final bonus is that you can dress up these nuts for the harried gourmets in your life as part of a Recipe Kit. Include the nuts, and your pre-made sauce or salad dressing, and a recipe card to put it all together in a snap. This year I tried to re-create the wonderful flavor of a sweet and spicy shrimp with candied walnuts dish we had in a downtown restaurant: the pre-mixed sauce and a cup of spiced nuts will allow the recipient of this package to add his or her own chicken or shrimp, and have a gourmet Chinese meal on the dinner table in in the time it takes to cook a pot of rice. But maybe you have a chicken salad recipe, or a stir-fried noodle dish, anything you think your recipient will enjoy to which these nuts will add that "je ne sais qua" touch.

SWEET & SPICY MIXED NUTS
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 large egg white
6 cups unsalted nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, natural almonds and/or cashews

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Grease two 101/2” x 151/2” jelly-roll pans. (Or do in batches)

In small bowl, stir sugar, salt, cinnamon, black pepper and cayenne.

In large bowl, beat egg white to soft peaks. Stir nuts into egg white. Sprinkle sugar mixture; toss well until nuts are completely coated.

Spread nuts evenly in pans, no overlapping. Bake nuts 25 minutes, or until golden brown and dry, stir twice during baking. Quickly transfer nuts to waxed paper, and spread in single layer to cool until hard. Package as desired in tightly covered container and store at room temperature up to a month.

Gifting tip: These beautiful heavy cut-glass tumblers made perfect vessels for the nuts before wrapping. After nibbling their heart-healthy treats, the recipients can use the glasses as a candy dish, votive candle holder, or a drinking cup (what a novel idea) in lieu of disposable cups at the office. Thrift stores and flea markets often carry vintage glass, and even crystal, alternatives to expensive but cheaply-made "partyware." Don't be afraid to re-use and recycle!


(A) Read more about the health benefits of tree nuts in this
WebMD article: The New Low-Cholesterol Diet: Nuts

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More Holiday Gift Ideas:
Green Tea Shortbread, Nut Horns, Cocoa Cherry Biscotti

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