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Going crazy for nuts: Your best recipes

Creamy cashew/roasted garlic spread 

by Cathy Elton: Sure, vegan nut "cheese" can be silly, but Cathy takes one killer trick she's learned from making the stuff: soaking nuts overnight can make them luxuriously soft, and easily turned into a sweet purée. Add a wallop of roasted garlic, and you have something the texture of bean dip, but a whole lot richer. (Incidentally, Lisa Barlow also has a slew of recipes -- with wonderful photos! -- featuring these soaked, softened nuts.)

This entry to the Salon Kitchen Challenge comes to us courtesy of Cathy Elton. We haven't had a chance to try this recipe yet, but would love to hear about it if you do!

Being an almost-vegan, the idea of vegan cheese should appeal to me, but to be honest, I think it's silly. I've had nut cheeses made from cashews, and they tend to be bland and tasteless. The main flavor tends to come from the nutritional yeast often used in the process. Sorry, but if I want cheese, I'll break my cardiologist-ordered diet and eat a bite or two of English farmhouse cheddar.

Having said that, I took one cue from the vegan cheeseheads in developing my rich and creamy Italian cashew spread: I soaked the cashews overnight to make them soft. But rather than going for a thick, cheeselike texture, I created a spread that's more reminiscent of a white bean dip. The hefty dose of roasted garlic, along with lemon and olive oil, put it in a whole different league than faux cheese.

This would be good served on homemade crostini, or even cucumber slices. If you have it on crackers, be sure they don't have a strong flavor or the crackers will overwhelm the lovely roasted garlic taste.

See more of my heart-healthy recipes on my blog What Would Cathy Eat?

Cashew Roasted Garlic Spread

Ingredients

    * 2 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight in water, then drained
    * 1 whole head garlic
    * 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
    * 2 tablespoons lemon juice
    * 5 tablespoons water
    * ½ teaspoon salt
    * ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel off the outer papery skin of the garlic head. Slice along the top of the bulb (not the root end) to reveal a bit of the cloves.
  2. Place in a baking pan, drizzle with a teaspoon of olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.
  3. Place the drained cashews in a food processor. Add the roasted garlic, squeezing out the contents of each clove. Add the remaining ingredients and process until very smooth.
  4. Serve on whole grain bread or crostini. If serving on crackers, make sure they don't have a lot of salt or seasoning; you want the focus to be on the spread.
THIS WEEK'S ALTERNATE WINNERS:

Crunchy Mandelbrot by Vivian Henoch: "Mandelbrot" translates as "almond bread," but the treat is more crunchy, sweeter and coffee-friendly than that name might lead you to believe. Call them biscotti if you want, but either way, Vivian's got a nice one to share with you.

Mandelbrot: Jewish biscotti

Start with a sticky, rich, almond-studded dough, bake, and bake again for toasty, satisfying treats

This entry to the Salon Kitchen Challenge comes to us from Vivian Henoch. We haven't had a chance to try this recipe yet, but would love to hear about it if you do!

Call it biscotti, if you want to be fancy about it. Make it with whole pistachios, a splash of orange liqueur. Add coconut. Dip it in dark melted chocolate, if you must. It's all mandlebrot to me.

Mandlebrot (also mandelbroit) translates from Yiddish as almond bread. Jewish biscotti. A staple in my mother's cookie jar, and always on hand in my grandmother's kitchen -- both blessed memories. My grandmother's version was simple yet sublime, the ultimate coffee dunker: baked in small loaves, sliced, then returned to the oven for added crunch. My mother's recipe was sweeter, lighter, the dough thinner, almost batterlike.

I can channel my grandmother's recipe for mandelbrot, and when I follow it, it's out of a jumble of memories: the buttery baking aromas of her kitchen, the fragrance of roses in her summer garden, the cinnamon goodness of her noodle kugel and cheese blintzes ...

My grandmother's Mandelbrot (approximately)

Ingredients

    * 3 large eggs
    * 1¼ cups sugar
    * ¾ cup vegetable oil
    * 1 tablespoon grated orange rind
    * 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    * 4 cups all-purpose flour
    * 1½ teaspoons baking powder
    * ¼ teaspoon salt
    * 1 cup slivered almonds, chopped
    * 1 tablespoon sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    * 1 tablespoon anise seeds (optional)

Directions

  1. Beat eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl with an electric mixer until blended. Beat in orange rind and vanilla. Sift flour with baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add to egg mixture. Stir on low speed of mixer just until blended. Stir in almonds on low speed.
  2. Shape dough into four log-shaped rolls, each about 2 inches wide. Place on greased baking sheet. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Use spatula to smooth dough and to push again into log shape if it has spread a bit. Sprinkle top with cinnamon sugar and pat to make it adhere to sides as well. While dough is resting, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned and set. Transfer carefully to a board and let stand until cool enough to handle. With a sharp knife, carefully cut into diagonal slices about ½-inch thick; dough will be slightly soft inside. Return slices in one layer to 2 or 3 cleaned baking sheets.
  4. Bake about 7 minutes per side or until lightly toasted so they are beige and dotted in places with golden brown; side of cookie touching baking sheet will brown first. Watch carefully so cookies don't brown throughout or they will be too hard and dry. Cool on a rack. Keep in airtight containers.

Creamy Creole Pralines

If you're born and raised in New Orleans, you don't fit anywhere else. Nothing against any other city, but it's just a way of life, a culture, that's so unique. It's just the idea of having Mardi Gras, the idea in the face of everything that's happened, taking the time to celebrate. It is something you need to do to keep yourself going. ~ Fred LeBlanc

PRALINES

Coming as I do from the land of its birth, I admit complete partisanship in the pronunciation controversy around this confection. It’s very simple: “Praw-LEENS”.  Anything else is wrong, wrong, wrong!
 
New Orleans still has old-fashioned confectioneries in the French Quarter and elsewhere around town that specialize in this brown sugar and pecan marvel. Pralines were sold on the streets of New Orleans and were a good source of income for many women of color before the dawn of the twentieth century. If you're lucky, you'll have one handed to you in a glassine sleeve instead of a plastic bag.
 
There's at least one street vendor left, a man who frequents the St. Charles streetcar stop at Canal and Carondelet. Y'all say "hi" if you get down that way.

PECANS:  Pronounced puh-KAHNS, people. Don't be talking about no pee-can around me.
 
The pecan is at the heart of a good Louisiana praline. The French who settled in the New World yearned for the sugar coated almonds from home, called "pralines." Alas, almonds did not grow in Louisiana--but pecans did. Cane sugar was abundant, as was rich cream. So the Louisiana French set about improving on the delightful treat and a Creole confection was born.

It's amazing how you can give a few of the same ingredients to different people and come out with candies that have completely different personalities. Some pralines are sugary and thin, some are thick and creamy. Some have little pieces of pecan, others have halves. I don't think I have ever had a bad praline, but I like them best creamy and chunky with big old pieces of pecan.

I began to develop my ultimate praline when I taught Creole and Cajun cooking. The original recipe I used was in one of Louisiana's many venerable regional cookbooks, Cookin' on the Horseshoe. (False River, in Pointe Coupee Parish, is a sizeable horseshoe shaped lake left behind after the shiftings and twists of the great Mississippi. Hence the name of the cookbook.) Tweaks and adjustments over time have turned this recipe into my standard, the one I'll pass on to my grandchildren.

    * 3 cups packed brown sugar
    * 2 cups light cream
    * 6 Tablespoons butter
    * 4 cups pecan halves

Spray sides of a heavy 4-quart saucepan with non-stick spray. In it, combine sugars and cream. Cook and stir over medium-high heat to boiling.

Clip candy thermometer to side of pan. Cook and stir over medium-low heat to 234 degrees—soft-ball stage.

Remove from heat. Add butter, but do not stir. Cool, without stirring, to 150 degrees.

Stir in nuts. Beat till candy just begins to thicken but is still glossy (about 3 minutes.)

Drop by spoonfuls onto baking sheets sprayed with cooking spray or lined with parchment paper. If candy becomes too stiff, stir in a few drops hot water. Store tightly covered.