December 19, 2014

"Holiday Seasoned Nuts, Brittles & Barks"

It’s that time of year, when we spread love through food with family and friends. The season is filled with joy and laughter, and the gift of giving is among us all. It’s sometimes hard to decide what this years’ festive treat will be. But if you like homemade goodies, and can follow some simple guidelines, I am sure you will come out of this feeling and looking like a pro, and have all your loved ones impressed by your efforts!

Brittles
Brittles are such an easy and decorative gift that gleams with craftsmanship and love. Peanut and almond brittle are probably the most commonly prepared brittles during the holidays. But these nutty, sweet, candies are much more versatile than the layperson would know. I’ve baked recipes including spiced pumpkin seed brittle cookies, toffee peanut brittle brownies, and folded chocolate almond brittle into ice cream. Put your favorite brittle in the food processor until it is the texture of sugar, sprinkle on your favorite brulee, and use the kitchen blowtorch to form the crunchy caramelized top we all love! Don’t stop there though, get creative and encourage your friends and family to explore the many ways to enjoy this tasty holiday treat!

Add baking soda or butter to make a more delicate brittle The trick, though, is to make a candy that's truly brittle so that it breaks when you bite it, rather than a hard candy that must be sucked like a lollipop or toffee. By adding baking soda to the sugar syrup, you unleash a zillion minuscule air bubbles that give the candy a porous, delicate texture. Butter also helps to make the candy tender and easier to chew, as well as adding its own rich flavor.

Peppermint Bark
The recipe for peppermint bark uses few ingredients, with only chocolate and mint candies required. Some recipes also add peppermint flavoring. The candies used may be candy canes, or mint candies. The candies should be broken up, and the chocolate is melted. These two ingredients are combined on a baking sheet and then chilled until firm. The bark is then removed from the sheet and broken into pieces in a similar way to peanut brittle.

Seasoned Nuts
Although nuts take center stage in preparations such as brittle, they are far more complex and versatile. Seasoned nuts are a great evening starter, and a fun gift to give. Mixing different varieties or singling out a favorite, is half the fun! Some of my favorites include pistachios, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, cashews, peanuts, macadamia, hazelnuts, almonds, and adding a variety of seeds like pumpkin, flax or sunflower seeds. Once that decision is made, decide if the mixture is going to be served warm or at room temperature. Typically the nuts are roasted first, then mixed with butter or egg whites to bind, and tossed in a flavorful mixtures of spices. Sweet and Spicy nuts are among Americans’ favorite, using brown sugar or maple syrup and bourbon with cayenne pepper and paprika.

Other favorite flavorings and spices of mine include fresh or dried thyme, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, nutmeg, allspice, soy sauce, and sea salt. To really wow your friends, prepare each nut in a different way, and then mix them together. Try smoking almonds, and candying pecans. Then cayenne roast walnuts and coconut toast some macadamia nuts. Mix all those nuts together and the flavors will really explode on the palette. Try mixing nuts and fruits together like dried cranberries, pineapples, raisins or figs. Get creative with seasonings, and don’t knock it till you try it! Food can be a lot of fun, and your imagination and willingness to try new flavor combinations, will open up so many doors in the world of cooking.

I wish you all a Holiday season full of love and success.

All the Best

Lou

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