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The Nuts

October 14, 2007

Alas, not a poker post. Instead, I’ve been tinkering the last few days with spiced and roasted nuts, both sweet and savory. (I’m at home, I figure I should be in the kitchen at least part of the day.)

They’re super-easy to make, very forgiving in their recipes, and then, after all the spicing and the cooking, you get to eat them. Good stuff. That said, for all that they’re easy, I burned the hell out of the first batch. Burned them black and brown, straight through. The batches since then, though, have each been good in their own ways.

If you want to try something similar, here’s what you do:

Sweet Cashews

Sweet Cashews

4 cups unsalted cashews
4 tablespoons butter
a little shy of 6 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed/powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground orange peel
some nutmeg
some salt

Mix all those spices, except the salt, in a little bowl and set them aside. Don’t lose them.

Get a saucepan, something with a lot of surface area, and put it over medium heat. (Don’t use a wok — I tried that, and not enough nuts were hot enough at the same time.) Better to use too little heat than too much. Cashews toast fast.

Put those cashews into the saucepan. They’re start to smell good almost immediately. You could pop a few out of the pan and into your mouth, but they’re, you know, in a saucepan over medium heat, so be careful. Stir them around for four or five or more minutes, and toss some salt in there with them. Even better: grind sea salt on them. Sea salt’s great. If some of the cashews are getting a little (or a lot) browned on the sides, I think that’s a good sign, because that is genuine toasting, and those cashews are going to taste great.

But it’s time for butter. Put the butter in the pan and stir it all around. A good measure for time I found: Put in that half stick as a stick and keep it all moving until there’s no more stick, just buttery cashews.

Next, sprinkle on that mix of spices. Do it in a few batches, maybe thirds, so you can get the cashews into the brown-sugar glaze that’s forming. Stir like crazy. I didn’t stir enough and I ended up with a bunch of brown-sugar goop all over, which sounds like it would taste great, and maybe is, if you like to just in front of the TV and eat brown sugar. (Looking at you, wife.)

Oh! You know what? If you got a good lid for that saucepan, put it on and toss those cashews like you were stir-frying shrimp or something. That ought to work.

When they’re done, pour them onto a cookie sheet with or without aluminum foil. (How will you know when they’re done? My experience has been that they’re done about 60 seconds before I stop stirring them.) Spread them out into a single layer. Eat a few. Remember: they’re hot. Also, at this point, they’re probably gooey. Scrape out any excess brown sugar goop. Maybe give some of that to the dog, if she’s good.

Let them cool about an hour. (Good luck not touching them for an hour.) You should end up with tasty, sweet cashews with a soft glaze and uneven coating of spiced brown sugar. These isn’t the kind of recipe that yields a lethal, teeth-splitting candy shell. If, through the delicate alchemy of the process, you end up with something unexpected, don’t look at me. I pretty much just cross my fingers and put in cinnamon when I don’t know what to do.

Savory Cashews

Savory Cashews

about 2 cups unsalted cashews
2 tablespoons butter
roughly 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed/powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon or so jerk seasoning
too much garlic
several pinch-fulls of herbes de Provence (which you know I love)
a whole bunch of sea salt

The first time I tried these, I dressed them all up and then roasted them on the grill. Smelled great. Were ruined. I also made my classic mistake of putting a little bit of every damn spice I like or like the name of, which created a taste with no particular flavor. It was okay, but it wasn’t exactly compelling eating. My mouth was all, “Uh, okay, but I don’t know what this is.”

This time I just mimicked the sweet recipe but tossed in a bunch of savory junk. I’d read a recipe for rosemary roasted cashews that also used brown sugar, so I figured what the hell. Everybody likes brown sugar, right? Or, rather, my wife likes brown sugar, right? I put some in, and thought of it as insurance. Plus it helps the spices stick, and keeps stuff from getting too hot. (I love it when you eat something, and it’s sweet, and then it’s spicy, so you go back for more to get the sweet back, and get caught in that delicious cycle.)

The jerk seasoning I used was McCormick’s, which is mostly sugar, red pepper, thyme, allspice, salt and onion. All the sugar in there, combined with all the brown sugar I put with it, ended up with these savory things still being pretty sweet. Also, I only used about two-thirds of the spices and brown sugar I listed. It seemed like too much brown sugar. So, to counterbalance the spices that didn’t get added because they were mixed in with the brown sugar I didn’t add, I put in a bunch more garlic and jerk seasoning.

Anyway, the routine here is the same as above: medium heat, toast, butter, spices, stir, stir, stir, spread out, cool. If it doesn’t come out looking like the picture, or tasting any good, I don’t know what to tell you. I pretty much just cross my fingers and put in lots of garlic when I don’t know what to do.

Music: PJ Harvey, “The Devil”

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