Monday, January 11, 2010


Happy new year! I know that after the holidays know we’re all sick of sweets and snacks and trying to eat light and healthy fare. Believe me, one of my goals for the month (possibly the year, but I’m not making any promises) is along the lines of “more kale, fewer cookie plates.” But I’ve got all these recipes from my Christmas baking burning a hole in my pocket now—I didn’t share them in December because I didn’t really want to reveal the secret formulas right before I gave everyone treat assortments as gifts,* and also because I needed time to photograph them all—and I don’t want to wait a whole year until they’re more seasonally appropriate to post. So: things are going to be retroactively cookie-intense around here for a little while. But I’ll try to at least throw a few kale recipes into the mix as well.

(*I still feel a little shifty about sharing the recipes, like it’ll ruin the magic or something. I already posted all my jam recipes (and jam featured heavily in my gift-giving this year) when I was desperate for material during NaBloPoMo, so I guess I’m already on the slippery slope. I’m counting on all of you to forget this little peek behind the curtain by the time next Christmas rolls around and I hand you your treats. Or at least be too busy or lazy to simply whip them up yourself now that you’ve seen how easy they are.)

I’m always hoping to make more savory goodies to share at holiday time, because everyone (including me) gets so overloaded on the sweets, but the only savory recipe I’ve managed to get around to is this one. Luckily, it’s a doozy. I’ve made it for the past two years, and only financial concerns (cashews can be pricy) prevent me from making dozens of pounds at a time. This year I made a triple recipe and barely had a handful for myself. But that’s probably for the best, because I think I could eat these addictive little gems until I burst—which is why, even though they’d be perfect for any party or just a relaxing evening in front of the TV, I try to forget about them for the other 11 months of the year. They’re not particularly unwholesome if eaten in moderation (only a touch of butter, sugar, and salt), but moderation is hard to achieve when these are around. They’re just the perfect mix of salty, sweet, spicy and savory, with a festive green pine-needle zip from the rosemary. (Don’t skimp on the rosemary! Spice-phobes can cut back the cayenne and sodium-watchers can dial down the salt, but the rosemary makes the recipe.)

The recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa; taking a tip from the commenters, I modified the procedure slightly to add the butter and then the spices to give everything to stick to the cashews. It’s still a struggle, but you’ll have a better chance of success with this method—and luckily, I’ve found that most snackers find the stray crumbs of butter-sugar-spice-herb debris quite as tasty as the cashews themselves. Aside from the mixing issues, this recipe is hard to mess up—as long as you don’t scorch the cashews! For the love of all that’s good and holy, watch those cashews in the oven like a hawk, because there is nothing sadder than spending upwards of $5 per pound on some nuts and then ruining them right off the bat. I speak from experience. However, I can also attest that as long as they aren’t blackened, even the overcooked cashews are pretty tasty when the seasoning is applied, so you can always save that batch for yourself and make better ones to give away.

1¼ pounds unsalted cashew nuts (this is sort of an odd amount; at Trader Joe’s the cashews come in one-pound bags, so that’s what I usually use and it’s fine)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon melted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Place the nuts on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until they are warmed through. (Watch them very closely to avoid burning. You don’t really want them to get especially brown; you just want them to be lightly toasted and activate their oils enough for the seasonings to stick.)

3. Meanwhile, combine the rosemary, pepper, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Place the melted butter in a separate small bowl (or just use the container you melted it in). Have a large empty mixing bowl and a rubber spatula ready.

4. When you remove the nuts from the oven, immediately pour them into the large bowl, and working quickly, drizzle the butter over them, add the seasonings, and then toss well with the spatula. Serve warm or (once cooled) store in an airtight container (they’re even better the next day). Can be frozen for longer storage.

Yields: 1¼ pounds
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: High, if you don’t scarf them all down immediately. They’ll stay fresh in the freezer for weeks.

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