Holiday Gifts: Nuts to you!

Except for people with nut allergies it's hard to find folks who don't like those crunchy marvels. Not only are they delicious but they also can be transformed into the most exquisite gifts in almost no time. And the fact that they travel relatively well makes them an interesting food staple for people who like to paddle. But apart from great taste, decent longevity on a kayak or canoe trip, nuts are also precious for your health. They are loaded with proteins, good fats for your arteries and they also help regulate blood sugar levels. They are also a good source of dietary fibers, which help you feel full longer. They make fantastic snacks. So why not make them even sexier and turn them into great gifts for the Holiday season?

A few tips

First, it is important to buy nuts from a reputable source. I like to buy mine in bulk at large health food stores because they have an important turnover which assures you that the nuts you buy will stay fresh longer. They can eventually become rancid when old due to their high fat content. So the fresher the better! Health Food stores also have a good selection of organic nuts, an option you might want to consider too. Some people like to buy nuts in the shell but I don't bother: it's too much work!

Recipes for Paddlers

Sweet and spicy nuts (yield 5 1/2 cups)

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3 tsp fine salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 pinch all-spice
  • 2 cups unsalted almonds
  • 2 cups unsalted pecans
  • 1 cup unsalted cashews

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until light and fluffy. Stir in spices and nuts and mix gently to combine. Place on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and cook at 300°F for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, mix well to separate and cook 15 more minutes. Remove from oven, repeat the tossing process and cook 10 to 15 more minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 1 hour. Place in a few cute metal Christmas boxes lined with parchment paper.

Will keep for 2 to 4 weeks if kept in a cool, dry place.

Sweet pecans

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp clove
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 6 cups unsalted pecans

Proceed exactly as for the spicy nuts (see previous).

Salted nut brittle

  • 1 tsp canola or sunflower oil
  • 3 cups salted peanuts (without skin)
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1,5 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1,5 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup water

In a bowl, combine baking soda and butter without mixing. Set aside. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Lightly oil the paper and set aside too.

In a pot, bring sugar, corn syrup and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook sugar until it turns a light caramel/amber color (15 minutes approx.). Remove from heat and quickly add butter and baking soda. It will make bubbles; mix well with a wooden spoon. Stir in peanuts and pour onto the baking sheets with a spoon. Spread as much as possible to obtain a thin layer. Let cool completely at room temperature.

Break into pieces and place in single layers lined with parchment or waxed paper in a cute Christmas metal box.

Nut and dried fruit loaf mix

  • 1 1/2 cup unbleached white flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 pinch clove
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tbsp crystalized ginger, finely chopped

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together. Pour into a plastic bag and add the preparation card. Nicely tie with a ribbon.

Preparation card (to include for a gift) In a large bowl combine the loaf mixture with 2 eggs and 1 cup milk at room temperature. Mix just enough to moisten the preparation and pour into a 9 in. greased loaf pan lined with greased parchment paper. Cook at 350°F for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool 1 hour before unmolding.

Note: this loaf will keep for up to 3 days wrapped in parchment paper and placed in an airtight container during a paddling trip.

Paddling trip pistachio pasta sauce
(8 portions)

  • 1 cup finely chopped pistachios
  • 3/4 cup dried parmesan cheese
  • 8 dried Italian tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 tbsp dried parsley
  • 3 tbsp dried basil
  • 2 tbsp dried chives
  • 1 garlic head, unpealed
  • 1 cup olive oil

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients, except garlic and olive oil. Pour into a plastic bag and add the preparation card. Nicely tie with a ribbon. Place in a package with 1 small bottle of olive oil and 1 small bottle of white wine (optional). Complete with a package of Italian artisan pastas.

Preparation card (to include for a gift) (4 portions) Cook pasta and keep 1/4 to 1/2 cup of boiling water for the sauce. In a large bowl combine half the pesto preparation with 1/2 cup white wine, broth or water (depending on availability). Add olive oil, half the garlic (crushed and minced) and 1/4 cup of the cooking pasta water. Mix well to combine and pour over hot pasta. Toss and serve immediately.

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