Thursday, February 5, 2009

Warning: This article contains scrumptious nut recipes. Enjoy.

If food groups had zodiac signs, nuts would most certainly be Aquarians. For centuries, in late January and most of February—when the stars shine for Aquarians—great Aquarians have graced civilizations with their visionary strengths and compassion for humanity. Abraham Lincoln, please rise! On the light-hearted side, and true to air-sign Aquarian form, nuts are eccentric, versatile, feisty, flavourful, wholesome, sexy and the life of any party; holding their own as a sultry cocktail nibble or playing an alluring adjunct to any appetizer, salad, entrée or dessert.

Being world travelers, intellects and diplomats on the food front for hundreds of years, nuts pride themselves on their lively, ancient roots and colorful health-promoting virtues. Some even fire up amorous thoughts and spark romantic relations! Egyptian pharaohs hankered for almonds in their special breads and the Romans showered newlyweds with almonds as a fertility charm. The Greeks thought walnuts resembled the human skull and brain and believed the its healing properties could cure any kind of headache. Hmmm…something to keep in mind the next time your head is throbbing and the kids are driving you nuts? Today, we know walnuts contain a significant amount of omega-3s and that a handful (1/3 cup) a day will keep the cardiologist and neurologist away. Looking to improve your love life twinkle-toes? Skip the oysters and wolf down a handful of zinc-rich pecans—daily. Zinc helps the body produce testosterone, a key hormone for igniting “the mood” in both men and women. Most of all, nuts are healthy lifesavers thanks to their high caloric, protein, vitamin and mineral counts. Brazil nuts are rumoured to have saved the lives of starving Spanish troops in the 1500’s when a smart Spanish colonial collected thousands of Brazil nuts and fed them to his tired and hungry army.

Need a little incentive to get yourself in a nutty mood? Try these carefree nut-laden recipes and you’ll be feeling like a quirky, fun-loving Aquarian in no time:

Chic and Simple Walnut Tart

This recipe is so tasty and elegant; folks might think a patisserie made it!


1 ½ cups white flour

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ cup cool butter cut into cubes

Combine flour and sugar. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Turn into a 10 or 11” flan pan with a fluted edge. {It’s worth buying such a pan if you don’t have one. This recipe is that good!} Spread the loose mixture evenly over the dish, then press it up against the sides and firmly pat it into an even layer on the bottom. The crust will be fairly thick. Cover the edges loosely with a strip of tin foil. Set oven rack to the middle position. Bake the crust at 350F for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let it cool a little while you prepare the filling.


3 large eggs

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 ¼ cups coarsely chopped walnuts

With a wire whisk or electric mixer, beat the eggs until thick and foamy. Then beat in the sugar a little bit at a time, whisking well until sugar is dissolved. Stir in walnuts. Pour filling into partly baked crust and spread evenly. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes (turn halfway through) or until set and nicely browned. Remove from oven and set on a rack to cool completely before serving. Slice into thin wedges and top each slice with a walnut half. Sift icing sugar over top, if desired. [You may also freeze the wedges. Just let them thaw on a rack at room temperature for an hour or so before serving. Don’t reheat.]

Christmas Nuts

[Any time of the year, these are nuts are a great addition to a goat cheese salad with apple or pear wedges]

2 tbsp butter

2 cups pecans

1/8 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp cloves

1/8 tsp nutmeg

2 tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 300 F. In heavy skillet, warm the butter and sauté the nuts over medium-high heat 2-3 minutes until light brown.

In a medium bowl, put the spices and sugar and stir until well combined. Toss the nuts with the spice mixture. Pour the nuts into a foil-lined, lightly spray-greased, rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven, for about 10-15 minutes (stirring often) or until nuts are drier and spices adhere. Store in small glass jars or in plastic bags in the freezer.

Curried Cashews

[For a tasty side dish, add these nuts to steamed green beans, Brussels sprouts, rice or couscous]

3 tbsp vegetable oil

2 cups raw cashews

2 tsp curry powder

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp garam marsala (optional)

pinch cayenne

1 tsp salt

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot (if a drop of water sizzles in the oil, it’s ready) add the cashews.

Stir fry the cashews for 3-5 minutes until just golden brown. Watch carefully and stir frequently to prevent them from burning. Note: they continue to fry after being removed from the pan. Remove to a large, flat, rimmed cookie sheet lined with paper towels to soak up the oil. In small bowl, combine the curry powder, cumin, cayenne and salt and garam marsala. Pour the drained nuts into a large bowl, sprinkle spice mixture over the warm cashews and toss well to coat. Makes 2 cups. Store in small glass jars or in plastic bags in the freezer.

Almond-crusted Brie

1 (8-ounce wheel) Brie cheese

1/2 cup sliced almonds

3 tablespoons apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Slice the top rind off of cheese. Place cheese on a pie plate or round glass baking dish with a rim. Spread apricot jam across top of exposed cheese. Sprinkle sliced almonds on top of jam. Place in the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the almonds begin to brown. Serve warm, with slices of granny smith apples, crackers or crusty bread. Makes approximately 8 servings.

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