Tag Archives: nuts

Food Porn: Pearson Nut Bar

Not one of my better pictures, I must admit, but it does call out to me in some way. Mostly because I love nut bars, from Planter’s Peanut Bar, to PayDays, to Pearson Nut Roll.

Way back a long time ago, some friends of mine and myself drove down to New Orleans on a whim. Having never been in “the South” prior to this trip, I had the driver stop at a Stuckey’s just so I could purchase a Pecan Log Roll. This forever deemed me as “weird” in their eyes.

Yet they all asked for a bit of my Pecan Log Roll, so felt I got the last laugh.


Holiday Cookies: Rustic Nut Bars

Another cookie recipe, another week of me shamelessly harvesting content from a food Magazine. This time, the magazine is the December 2005 issue of ‘Gourmet’. The recipe? Rustic Nut bars (found on page 110, for those of you playing at home).

These bars turned out great. However, it should be stated that you should enjoy nuts if you wish to make these cookies. If you’re sorta kinda indifferent to nuts, then you should probably avoid this recipe. Why? Because each bar is about 80% nuts, which may allow you to quickly OD on them.

Thankfully for me I love cashews, hazelnuts, almonds and pistachios. The results here reminded me of a cookie version of the PayDay bar, sans nougat. It’s quite good.

Cookie

  • 2 1/3 cups AP Flour
  • 1/2 cup bakers sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 stick (3/4 cup) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 large egg

Topping

  • 3 oz. whole almonds, with skin
  • 4 oz chopped hazelnuts
  • 2/3 cup clover honey
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and in slices
  • 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 6 oz cashews, salted and roasted
  • 5 oz pistachios, shelled and salted

Place oven rack in the middle position and pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. With a fork, start adding the pieces of butter, bit by bit. Use the tines of the fork to mash the butter. Continue this process with the butter and fork smashing until all the butter is gone and the flour-mixture looks like a coarse meal in pea-sized butter lumps.

Add the egg to the flour. Here I used my (clean) hands to mix the dough thoroughly, squeezing the dough to incorporate the butter efficiently.

Place the dough in a 13″x9″ buttered glass baking dish.Press the dough evenly on bottom. Do not press up the sides of the dish.

Place the dish in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove, and allow to cool for 40 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Place the almonds and hazelnuts in a shallow baking dish and roast in the oven from 8-10 minutes. Remove, and increase the oven temperature back to 375 degrees F.

In a medium sized sauce pan, bring the honey, brown sugar and salt to a small boil over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then boil, without stirring for 2 minutes. Add butter and cream and continue to boil for one minute, allowing the butter to melt. Remove from heat and add all of the nuts to the syrup, coating thoroughly.

Spread nut mixture over the cookie crust. Place baking dish back in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the top has carmelized and bubbled. Remove from oven and allow to cool in refrigerator for an hour.

Cut and serve.

Makes 64 bars, depending on the size of your cut

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Holiday Cookies, Recipes, Cookies


Pistachios – the Nut with issues

If ever there was a nut with identity issues, it’d be the poor little pistachio. Americans? We love ‘em dyed red. If you have them in ice cream, you’ll see it as a soft pastel green. Although some varieties of pistachios do have lightly rust-colored skins (especially if they are bruised) their primary color, the color of the meat of the nut, runs from light beige to bright green. So why are some dyed a bright red?

The Straight Dope has the answer: because years ago when pistachios were all imported into the U.S., the antiquated harvesting and processing methods in the Middle East often left blemishes on the hulls. So they dyed them to mask the unsightly marks. Red was chosen as red draws attention.

So when it comes to pistachios, remember this: They are almost never red, and are only slightly green.

These little nuts have been around for quite a long time. Archeologists have found evidence in a dig site at Jarmo, near northeastern Iraq, that pistachio nuts were a common food as early as 6750 BC. As you often see when it comes to popular foods, it became a favorite of those in power, which in turn made the pistachio associated with royalty and religion. Nebuchadnezzar, the ancient king of Babylon had pistachio trees planted in his hanging gardens. In the celebrated imperial court of Queen Belghais of Sheba, pistachios were a privilege for royalty and the elite…because Sheba thought the nut as a powerful aphrodisiac, and wanted the bliss of sexuality to be an upper class activity only. Back in the day, pistachios was the caviar of its time.

This occurred deep into the middle ages. Remember that trade affected cost, and the cost of importing pistachios into the regions of France, Italy and Spain made the little nut available only to those with money. Then, after pistachio plants made their way into the farm lands of Italy and Spain, they became more available to the general populace.

This probably explains its identity issue. Think about it – if you were once on the top of the heap, and then find yourself being sold in vending machines along side of Good n Plenty’s, then you’d want to disguise yourself as well.

At any rate, we move from walnuts to pistachios. I’m thinking about making baklava, maybe some Persian dishes and definitely ice cream. My goal with the ice cream making? To see just how green the ice cream becomes.


Walnuts

No more beans. Thank GAWD! Look, beans are…well…okay. I don’t dislike them at all. But when it comes to the food world, beans are Hyundais. Yes, they’re dependable, but they are also lacking in flash. “More substance than style” one might say…if one were prone to cliches.

So I’m moving on. I want to talk about Walnuts, a food so flashy, so high end, that their very name indicates it’s place in the world. Juglans regia is a Latin contraction of Jovis glans meaning regal nut of Jupiter (“Jupiter’s nuts”) or nut of “the Gods”. When you have Gods eating you, you know you’ve hit the big time.

Walnuts were thrown to Roman wedding guests by the groom to bring good health. Unless a walnut hit one in the eye or throat, in which case it was fairly safe to say that the nut was thrown by the groom out of sheer sadism.

Their are 21 species of walnuts, but generally speaking, there are only two that you have to think about when it comes to walnuts:

  • Juglans regia L. – Persian Walnut, Common Walnut
  • Juglans nigra L. – Black Walnut

The Persian walnut is the one we are all used to. Why? Because the other 20 genuses of walnuts have very thick shells, making the amount of effort required to get the meat of the nut more than the reward of the nut itself.

The exception that proves the rule surrounds the black walnut. Yes its difficult to get the meat of a black walnut. But the taste of the black walnut is exceptional, making a favorite of chefs and bakers everywhere. And that’s where I come in.

I could make several kinds of dishes with walnuts. But really, do you want a recipe for a salad with walnuts, or would you rather have a recipe for banana-walnut cake recipe?

I think the answer it fairly clear.


How to Toast Almonds

When you toast your almonds, it extracts a bit of the almond oil and chars it, giving the almond a deeper flavor that adds complexity to whatever recipe you add almonds. And it’s ultra simple. I’ll give you two ways to do it.

Via the Saucepan

Place your almonds in a heavy, ungreased skillet. Stir often over medium heat until golden brown, 5- 7 minutes. Remove from heat.

Via the Oven

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread nuts in one layer on ungreased shallow pie tin or baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden.


Almonds: Who Really Cares?

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve gone to far. I wonder if my process of acquiring knowledge of all things food can ever so slightly cross the line from trivial pursuit to dangerous obsession. If one can point others to the most concise resource for almond information online, who, aside from those in the almond industry, would look at me with pity and shame.

I mean think about it.. how many people in your day to day dealings can tell you that the nonpareil is the dominant almond on the American markey today? That the nonpareil is the standard from which all other almond varities are judged. The nonpareil is the benchmark for all other almonds! Does anyone really care?

(I hear a collective “No” from the daily readership)

I mean, I could tell you all that there are hundreds of varieties of almonds, much in the same way there are hundreds of varieties of apples or pears. There’s the carmel, the california and the mission (these three, along with the vaunted nonpareil make up almost all of the almonds in America). But there’s also the butte, the padre and the ruby. There’s also the wood colony, ne plus and the livingston. I can tell you this, but in truth…does anyone care?

I can tell you that almonds are graded by three primary criteria…the thickness of the shell, the smoothness of the paper, and the size of the kernal.

I can tell you that there is prussic acid naturally occuring in bitter almonds. Most California almonds are of termed ‘sweet’ rather than ‘bitter’, and thus have far less of this poison, if any at all. But because we Americans come from a paranoid stock. we have (or rather our government has) banned sales of bitter almonds, completely ignoring the fact that heat breaks down prussic acid.

The result of this is that those pesky europeans, who have far less fears of foods than we do, have no qualms of harvesting bitter almonds and, you know, actually making the almonds safe to eat. Thus they can press an oil that is more fragrant and flavorful than the bland oil pressed from sweet almonds. They also are used to make bitter-almond extract, which imparts highly concentrated almond flavor, and very sparingly (one bitter almond per
100 sweet almonds), to add nuance to marzipan. In Italy, bitter-almond paste is used to make the crisp amaretti cookies, and bitter-almond extract gives amaretto liqueur its character.

Europeans make Marzipan and amaretto; we make crappy mass produced chocolate. Leave it to American know-how to water down the taste of a nut.

So yeah, this is what I know about almonds. I’m still not sure if this knowledge is a good thing, as all it seems to do is annoy the wait staff and baristas of my local hang outs.


Almond Joy

Amygdalus communis L. is probably the oldest nut gathered (and later farmed) by humans. It’s is small, encased in a shell that looks like a peach pit, and tastes great when used to flavor amaretto (and for those of you who want to send me gifts, Amaretto is my favorite liqueur…hint, hint). But almonds are much more more than that.

Originally found and farmed in Central Asia, in China and Mongolia, almonds were able to become popular becuase they were easy to transport. For those who later traveled the trade routes throughout the orient, and then later on the Silk Road, almonds were most certainly a quick snack one could eat while on horseback. Never underestimate convenience when it comes to popularizing foods. Of course, the fact that almond plants grow well and quickly also helps. Another tip if you want to popularize a food…make sure it’s ubiquotous. Apparently one could not swing a dead cat without heating almond plants while traveling the Silk Road.

Remember this name: Father Junipero Serra. This is the guy who brought almonds to California as he was setting up missionaries in southern California. Considering that in 2003, California had produced 1.08 billion meat pounds. That, my friends, is a lot of almonds. Wholesale cost of almonds per pound? $6. Six dollars multiplied by 1.08 billion equals a booming almond economy.

But more to the point, almonds mean marzipan, which also originated in the Orient. Of course, the noble houses of Europe later called an exclusive dessert on their dinner tables, and served as a luxury gift for the Empire’s highest dignitaries. It also was supposed to have medicinal powers, which leads me to believe that the following dialogue occured on many occasions:

Doctor/Barber: You are ill. I have determined that you have a slowing of the blood. For this, I perscribe….leeches!

Patient: Are you sure about the leeches? Perhaps marzipan would quicken my blood.

Doctor/Barber: Nope, nope. Who’s the doctor here anyways? It’s leeches. Leeches and a salt lick.

Patient:(under his breath) Bastard!

Back in 4,000 BC, almonds were found in most every ancient civilization. The Middle East, Israel, Greece, Egypt all grew almonds and used them in their diet. References to the almond is all through the bible, even figuring prominently in the design of the ancient Hebrew seven-branched lampstand…the Menorah. When Moses was instructed to build a tabernacle in the desert he was told to furnish it with holy vessels, including gold lampstand.

Jehovah: Moses…I want you to build a tabernacle in my name. And include a gold lampstand.

Moses: Oh yes My Lord. And how shall I design the gold lampstand?

Jehovah: I will leave that to you.

Moses: Thank you my Lord. I shall shape it in the shape of …an almond plant!

Jehovah:(under his breath) Bastard!

Oh there is so much to look forward to when researching almonds…oddly enough, most of them involving chocolate.Jordon almonds, Almond Joy, Chocolate covered Marzipan. Almond Ice cream, Almond bread….Mmmmm. I’m gonna be busy. Plus, as an added benefit, they’re good for you, as they’re chock full of monosaturated fat…which sounds really, really impressive if I knew what that meant.