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Crisp Spiced Nuts and Kicking Off the Holidays

30 Nov

Many years ago, I worked in the book industry.  Part of my job entailed getting to know as-yet-unpublished books, then promoting them as I (read: my employer and the publisher) saw fit.  When you receive an advance copy of a book that is not yet published, you tend to get a slightly different view of the book than most of the other people who later read the book will receive.  Sometimes your advance copy arrives in the form of a simple advance reader, a paperback copy of the book with a mostly spot-on version of the to-be published cover and words contained within. You might also receive an uncorrected proof of the book, meaning a copy of the book that is intact as a story, but not yet fully combed over by its editors and proofreaders (yes, those are two very different jobs) in order to purge the book of slight inconsistencies or errors.  If you are truly ensconced in the game, you might get your hands on a manuscript of a book, which could come in a form of a veritable ream of paper that has either been bound with glue and given a makeshift cover (fancy), stuck into a 3-ring binder (medium fancy), or neatly filed away in a padded manila envelope (not so fancy).

What can be found in any of these copies of pre-published books is sometimes extremely memorable, though more often than not you tend to forget what you’ve seen in them once the final, published version of a book comes out.  Once I read an advance copy of a book that boasted an entire chapter that ended up being removed from its final form.  Sometimes, if you are really paying attention, you can even notice certain sentences or phrases that ended up being altered.

Such was the case for one book that came out over a decade ago and happened to catch my fancy.*  In one particularly memorable paragraph, there reads an opening statement meant to convey a particular person’s penchant for Christmas.  The published line ended up reading, “Our mother was a Christmas extremist.”  To the point, for sure, but the opening sentence in the advance copy I read months before the book came out had me laughing out loud.  The original opening sentence?  “Our mother was a Christmas crackhead.”

Now, I can see why an editor would want someone to change that line.  If you are coming from the standpoint of someone who thinks you can convey that thought in a more conventional manner, with words that are perhaps not as hilariously pithy (to some, perhaps not to others), then sure, by all means, there is a case for changing the last word.  But coming from a strictly deadpan comedic standpoint, the original line is a total keeper.  To this day, I still remember that original sentence.  Every year, right around December, it never fails to pop into my head.  And the reason is because I, too, am a total Christmas crackhead.

I freaking love Christmas.  I love Christmas baking.  I love Christmas lights.  I love Christmas trees.  I love seeing throngs of people walking around wearing scarves and wool coats and complaining about the crowds of people pulsing around them.  I love Christmas display windows, I love Christmas toy drives, I love thinking up as many reasons as I can to surprise someone with Christmas treats.  See what I mean?  Total Christmas crackhead.

Which brings me to the point of this whole post.  My friends, have I got some Christmas recipes for you.  Using Christmas as my excuse, I am here to pummel you with recipe after recipe for the holiday season.  You want pies?  There will be pies.  Tarts?  Yes.  Snacks?  Oh, yes.  It is my sole intention to completely exhaust your kitchen this Christmas season, and to share with you all my complete and utter devotion to the joys of Christmas as it relates to your kitchen.  And your belly.

To start things off, I’ve got this superb recipe for crisp spiced nuts.  With their spicy cayenne kick and savory-sweet glaze, they not only make a perfect snack to nibble with a glass of wine or a cocktail, but, portioned out and dressed up in a nice gift box or jar, they make a fantastic host or hostess gift.  Keep in mind, however, that if you intend to share these nuts, you’d better start giving them away as soon as you possibly can after making them.  Wait too long, and you are likely to end up eating them all yourself, such is the sheer intensity of their tasty allure.  I have been known to (inadvisably) eat these for breakfast.  While I can’t say it was the best decision I ever made, I also can’t admit to completely regretting it, since, god help me, it was a mighty delicious breakfast while it lasted.

*I am really sorry, but I am fairly certain that I would upset someone by revealing which books this is.  The line was changed for a reason, so I probably shouldn’t be waxing nostalgic about something not meant to see the light of day.  I do not wish to cause any hurt feelings.

Crisp Spiced Nuts

(a recipe from my husband’s family)

2 large egg whites

1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

¾ cup sugar

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika

1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (the determined amount will depend a lot on the heat of your cayenne pepper—ours is quite hot, so I tend to use 1 heaping teaspoon, which provides enough heat to flavor the nuts without making me uncomfortable while I eat them)

4 ½ cups nuts (I like to use a mix of almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans)

¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, beat egg whites until very foamy.  Gradually beat in sugar, Worcestershire, paprika, salt, and cayenne.  Stir in nuts and melted butter.

Spread nuts in a single layer on a large baking sheet or roasting pan.  Bake in middle of oven, stirring every 10 minutes, until the nuts become crisp when cooled, about 25-40 minutes.  To test a nut for crispness, carefully remove it from the oven and allow it to cool slightly.  The nut’s glaze should turn firm and crisp after 2 or 3 minutes.

Remove nuts from oven when they still appear sticky, but a tested nut confirms that the glaze will turn crisp when cooled.  Spread the nuts on a sheet of foil to cool, separating the nuts as much as possible so they don’t harden into big clumps.

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One Response to “Crisp Spiced Nuts and Kicking Off the Holidays”

  1. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide November 30, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    Oh you have to report back on the google hits you’re bound to receive from using extremist and crackhead here. What a great post and a great recipe to boot.

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