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Saturday, December 29, 2012


Michael and I tend to take it easy on New Year's Eve. We used to blow it out big time by hitting  the road to celebrate in New York, Chicago, Washington, Louisville, Cincinnati, or Atlanta. Several years ago, we partied our brains out in New York until 4 o'clock in the morning before enjoying a one hour nap and braving the New Jersey Turnpike for the drive home.  Mistake. We lasted 25 miles down that dismal turnpike before checking into a hotel and passing out. Fun. One year, we celebrated the New Year under the glow of a red stoplight as we tried to make a last minute dash to a local gay bar before midnight. Didn't happen. After a brief bawdy rendition of Auld Lang Syne,  we made a u-turn and headed home.

Now, we happily stay home to celebrate New Year's Eve. We piddle around, snack on appetizers, and drink a lot before downing coffee drinks to watch the Times Square Chrystal Ball  slowly descend through the streaming confetti. After cheerful drunken tidings to everything we're grateful for, Michael and I quietly dance to Old Lang Syne  in our old Victorian living room. Bliss.

New Year's Eve snacks. This year, I'm leaning toward miniature welsh rarebits, steamed crab claws with drawn butter, stuffed mussels, shaved beef crostinis, and spiced nuts.

Spiced nuts?


Here's the deal. Our church has several reception teams that provide food and drinks for various occasions and post-service gatherings. Michael and I make up the auxiliary team.  The B team. The bench warmers. We're  the subs who are called in when other teams are sick, out of town, or have scheduling conflicts. This week, we've been tagged to host the much hyped and popular first Sunday after Christmas post service reception. Par-tay!

We love doing the receptions. We do. Really.  Although they're typically low key affairs, we enjoy bumping them up a bit. For our upcoming small-ish gathering,  I'm throwing together a simple cheese tray,  pear chips with cranberry dip, small bowl of spiced nuts. Sweet, savory, and simple.

I decided that while I was in the spiced nut business, I'd make a big batch and save a few for our late night New Year's Eve  armchair revelry.

I poured myself a large flute of leftover holiday champange
and played with my nuts.

Typically, most methods involve tossing mixed nuts with melted butter or beaten egg whites before adding  spices and baking them. I've prepared spiced nuts using  both methods with equal success...kind of.  I tend to  burn stuff.  I burn stuff a lot. Although I'm heroic at burning nuts and bread because distraction gets the best of me, I keep trying. I was well prepared for my usual baked nut stress until I stumbled across a stove-top method from Alton Brown. No oven. Happy nuts.

I used Alton Brown's  stove-top method with ingredients I had on hand.

I mixed 1/4 sugar, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder, 1/4 teaspoon allspice, 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon paprika, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. To add a hint of aromatic freshness, I dusted the snow off my rosemary bush, snipped a few stems, and tossed fresh rosemary leaves into the spice mix.

After cranking a large cast iron skillet over a medium flame, I dry toasted 2 pounds of mixed nuts. When they started to brown, I added 1/2 stick unsalted butter. As the butter foamed and gurgled up through the hot nuts, I added the spice mix, 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup, and the juice of half an orange. I stirred the sticky mess until it thickened before pouring it out onto a non-stick sil pat. After separating the nuts, I sprinkled them with fresh rosemary and orange zest.

Packed with layers of flavor, the crunchy spiced nuts were salty and sweet. While the ancho chile powder poked slight chocolate smokiness through  the bright zest and piney rosemary, the cayenne pepper added subtle lip-numbing heat.

Perfect with champagne.


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