That's what we have to say to the arrival of the holidays.
We say it not to bemoan the rampant consumerism the season brings, though. Nor to complain about the sudden (some might say traumatic) accumulation of family members in one location, or the incredible alacrity with which money disappears from our bank accounts this time of the year. (Like sands through the hourglass, so are the dollars of our paychecks.)
We simply happen to love eating nuts. Once the weather gets nippy, we always begin storing ideas for winter feasts. This year, nuts naturally came to mind.
Maybe it's because nuts have been getting some great press lately, for the amazing amount of nutrients that they contain in their cute little packages. (According to the Yale-New Haven Nutrition Advisor, most nuts contain significant doses of the antioxidant vitamin E, protein, dietary fiber, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and folate.)
They're relatively high in calories, it's true. The nuts Americans consume most _ peanuts (technically a legume, but nutty enough for our purposes), walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios_hover between 550 and 660 calories per 3.5 ounces, and about 80 percent of those calories come from fat. But it's healthful fat that may help prevent heart disease and lower blood pressure.
Yes, the more we know about nuts, the more enamored of them we become. So we have to wonder: Where have the nutty holiday traditions gone? And by that we do not mean the escapades of your mild-mannered uncle, the one who removes his clothing after a couple of eggnogs. We mean, quite literally, chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But we'd settle for the hand-carved wooden bowl that once appeared in every home as part of the holiday tradition. The last time we saw a nutcracker in December, it was onstage, wearing a giant leotard, dancing along to Tchaikovsky.
So we're starting a modern tradition: nuts to the holidays. And to get things off to a rollicking start, this year we'll have a holiday dinner with nuts in as many dishes as possible. Is that too nutty?
Know your nuts
Almonds: All of the U.S. commercial almond crop is grown in California, and it supplies almost 80 percent of the world market. Long recognized for its delicate flavor, pleasant texture and healthfulness (one ounce has almost 35 percent of the daily value for vitamin E), the almond (which is actually a fruit related to the plum), was known as a commodity on the Silk Road, according to the Almond Board; the trees were brought to California in the 1700s by Franciscan padres, who planted the trees at missions along the coastline's El Camino Real.
Cashew: There's a reason you've probably never seen a cashew still in its shell. Cashews, native to Brazil, grow opposite the stem end of the cashew apple, which is a "false fruit"; actual fruit is what we know as the nut. Even more vexing, the "apple" rots quickly once it falls to the ground, still attached to the "nut," which is in turn surrounded by a caustic substance similar to poison ivy, which is so strong it is sometimes used to burn off warts, according to The Oxford Companion to Food. But the nuts are so delicious!
Hazelnuts: Aka filberts and cobnuts, hazelnuts have grown wild since the days of primitive man and been cultivated since classical times in many parts of the world. It is the most distinctly flavored nut _ "so individual that it cannot be described by reference to another," according to the writer Waverley Root, who then goes a little daffy comparing their flavor to other foods ("the elusive aroma of some mushrooms"). In addition, according to the International Dried Fruit and Nut Foundation, the hazelnut is "present in the Greek-Roman Mythology and in the Bible, always mentioned for its extraordinary nutritional and healing values, even as a tool for finding buried treasures and subterranean streams of water."
Peanut: Not a nut, strictly speaking, but a legume, peanuts have the most inspiring story in American history, thanks to the former slave and agricultural visionary George Washington Carver. In the early 1900s, he discovered more than 300 uses for what had previously been considered livestock feed. Two peanut farmers have been elected president: Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter.
Pecan: Georgia is the country's largest producer of pecans. They are the only tree nut native to America, and Thomas Jefferson was nuts for them, planting hundreds of trees (which are known to live hundreds, even thousands, of years); he probably never would have guessed that someday pecans would be "the first fresh food consumed on space flights by American astronauts. Apollo 13 (1970) and Apollo 14 (1971) crew members enjoyed fresh, raw pecan kernels from vacuum-packed plastic packages," according to the Texas Pecan Board.
Pistachio: The seed of the Persian Pistacia vera tree, the pistachio is native to Asia Minor and has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years. It was not until they were imported to the United States, however, that someone got the hot idea of dying "the smiling nut" (as they are known in Turkey) bright red. According to John Mariani's "Dictionary of Food and Drink," that tradition is said to have started at the hands of a Brooklyn street vender named Zaloom, who wanted to make his pale brown nuts stand out.
Walnut: The provenance of the walnut is largely unknown _ some say it's from what was known as Persia, and the California walnut is actually a Persian walnut. But according to the California Walnut Board, walnuts are the oldest tree food known to man, dating back to the year 7000 B.C. They're most famous for packing the most alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid, than any other nut in the nutbowl and they protect your heart, so who cares about where they're from? Fun fact: Walnuts are not picked; they are removed from trees by a mechanical shaker.
By the numbers:
6: Number of pounds of peanuts and peanut butter the average American eats each year, according to the National Peanut Board.
810: The number of peanuts it takes to make an 18-ounce jar of peanut butter, according to the Alabama Peanut Producers Association.
88 million: Number of pounds of pecans produced yearly in Georgia, the nation's largest producer; Texas runs a close second.
99: Percentage of the country's commercial walnut crop grown in California.
More number crunching:
Cashews: 1 ounce = 160 calories, 13 g fat; rich in B vitamins
Pistachios: 1 ounce = 160 calories, 13 g fat; especially rich in potassium
Pecans: 1 ounce = 200 calories; 20 g fat; rich in vitamin E
Walnuts: 1 ounce = 190 calories; 18 g fat; rich in omega-3 fatty acid
Hazelnuts (or filberts): 1 ounce = 180 calories; 17 g fat; high in the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan
Almonds: 1 ounce = 166 calories, 14 g fat; 35 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin E
Glazed Duck with pistachios, clementine sauce
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Chill: 4 hours
Makes: 8 servings
The ducks for this festive dish can be braised and refrigerated 1 day ahead. The glaze can be made and the sauce started up to six hours ahead. Cool separately, uncovered, then refrigerate, covered. Reheat the glaze and stir before using. Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet magazine.
2 ducks, about 4 pounds each, excess fat removed
2 tablespoons coarse salt
2 onions, quartered
1 large rib celery, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 pounds clementines
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur or brandy
1 1/2 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 cups shelled pistachios, chopped
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees; heat a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Starting at the large cavity end of each duck, separate skin from breast meat as much as possible by working your fingers between skin and meat, being careful not to tear. Prick skin all over with a fork. Place ducks breast side up in a large deep roasting pan. Rub each duck inside and out with coarse salt. Divide onions and celery between cavities. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the sugar around the ducks. Pour enough boiling water over ducks (to help tighten the skin) to reach halfway up them; don't fill roasting pan to more than 1 inch from rim. Cover pan tightly with heavy-duty foil; braise in oven 1 hour. Remove pan from oven; remove foil. Carefully turn ducks over, using one large wooden spoon to turn each duck and another inside cavity to hold it. Cover with foil; braise until meat is tender but not falling off the bone, about 1 hour.
2. Transfer ducks to two large plates. Drain any juices inside ducks back into pan; transfer pan juice to a large bowl. Return ducks to roasting pan, breast sides up; let cool. Refrigerate duck and juices, uncovered, 4 hours. Remove fat from chilled pan juices.
3. Remove zest from 2 large or 4 small clementines with a vegetable peeler; cut zest into fine strips. Blanch the strips in a small saucepan of boiling water 5 minutes; drain. Squeeze enough juice from remaining clementines to measure 2 cups. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a 3-quart heavy saucepan. Add vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons of the sugar; heat to a boil. Cook until reduced to about 1/3 cup, about 25 minutes. Transfer 1 tablespoon of the glaze to a cup; reserve. Stir zest strips and 1 cup of the pan juices into glaze remaining in pan; reserve.
4. Heat oven to 500 degrees. Roast ducks, uncovered, until skin is crisp, 25-35 minutes. Brush reserved tablespoon of the glaze over ducks; transfer ducks to a platter. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from roasting pan; set roasting pan over 2 burners. Add shallots; cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until softened and pale golden, 3-5 minutes. Add 2 cups of the reserved pan juices (reserve any remaining juices for another use); heat to a boil. Cook, scraping up brown bits, 2 minutes. Pour through a fine mesh sieve into the glaze and zest mixture; heat to a boil.
5. Stir together liqueur and arrowroot in a small cup until smooth; whisk into sauce. Simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve duck with sauce; sprinkle with pistachios.
Nutrition informationPer serving: 520 calories, 48 percent of calories from fat, 28 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 114 mg cholesterol, 25 g carbohydrates, 42 g protein, 1027 mg sodium, 6 g fiber
VIDALIA ONIONS STUFFED WITH SAUSAGE AND PECANS
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Stand: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
Adapted from "The Savannah Cookbook," by Damon Lee Fowler.
4 large Vidalia or other sweet onions, whole, unpeeled
1/2 pound breakfast sausage
1/2 cup each: soft bread crumbs, chopped toasted pecans, see note
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper and nutmeg
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place the onions in a Dutch oven; add enough water to cover. Remove onions; cover pan. Heat the water to a boil; add salt. Add onions to the pan; heat to a boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer until onions are almost tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking liquid; let cool, about 20 minutes.
2. Trim onion roots, leaving layers attached; cut off about one-quarter of the onion at the stem end. Peel off brown outer skin. Carefully scoop out and reserve centers with a small spoon or melon baller, leaving 3 layers, without breaking through root end. Place onions root side down in a lightly buttered 9-inch square baking dish. Chop reserved onion centers.
3. Heat a skillet over medium heat; crumble in the sausage. Cook, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped onion; cook until onion begins to color, about 4 minutes. Turn off heat; stir in the bread crumbs, pecans, marjoram, parsley, sage and salt. Add pepper and nutmeg to taste. Carefully spoon filling into onion shells, mounding it on top. Sprinkle tops with grated cheese.
4. Pour enough reserved cooking liquid into pan to come about 1/4 inch up the sides. Bake in center of oven until cheese is golden brown and filling is heated through, about 40 minutes. Let stand a few minutes, basting with cooking liquid. Serve in shallow bowls with remaining cooking liquid.
Note: Toast pecans in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until aromatic, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook; they will continue to cook off the heat.
Per serving: 330 calories, 62 percent of calories from fat, 23 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 31 mg cholesterol, 19 g carbohydrates, 13 g protein, 728 mg sodium, 3 g fiber
BITTER GREENS WITH TAMARI, ROASTED WALNUTS, CHERRIES AND BLUE CHEESE
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Marinate: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
Adapted from a recipe by Michel Nischan, in "The Oprah Magazine Cookbook." Tamari, a mellow type of soy sauce, can be found in the supermarket's Asian food aisles.
1 tablespoon tamari
2 teaspoons molasses
1/8 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 cup walnut halves
1/4 cup each: apple juice, balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup dried cherries, see note
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
9 ounces mixed salad greens (arugula, frisee, dandelion, watercress)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup crumbled Stilton or other blue cheese
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together tamari, molasses, 1/8 teaspoon each of the salt, black pepper and red pepper in a small bowl until blended. Add walnuts; toss to coat. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a wire rack set over a baking sheet; roast about 10 minutes, or until browned. Remove from oven; let cool. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat apple juice and vinegar to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Place the cherries in a small bowl. Pour the hot juice mixture over the cherries; marinate 30 minutes. Strain the juice mixture from cherries back into the saucepan. Heat the mixture to a boil; reduce heat to medium. Cook until reduced to 1/4 cup, 15-17 minutes. Stir in oil; set aside to cool completely.
3. Combine the greens, reserved walnuts, cherries, onion and remaining 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and black and red peppers. Whisk dressing; drizzle over salad. Toss to coat. Sprinkle with the blue cheese.
Note: Dried cherries are sold in specialty markets and some supermarkets in the produce or baking aisles.
Per serving: 481 calories, 60 percent of calories from fat, 33 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 35 g carbohydrates, 14 g protein, 713 mg sodium, 9 g fiber
HAZELNUT BROWNIE TORTE WITH ESPRESSO AND GOAT CHEESE TOPPING
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Makes: 16 servings
This rich, marbled brownie cake is adapted from "Goat Cheese," by Maggie Foard.
7 ounces 70-percent bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 square (1 ounce) unsweetened chocolate
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 cup hazelnuts, chopped
Topping:4 ounces fresh, mild goat cheese
1/4 cup freshly made espresso or strong coffee, cooled
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/2 beaten egg (about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper, greased on both sides.
2. Combine the chocolates and butter in a microwave-safe bowl; heat on medium power in 1-minute intervals, stirring vigorously between intervals, until chocolate and butter have melted and blended. (This also can be done over simmering water in top of a double boiler; remove from heat before continuing.) Whisk in the sugar and salt. Whisk in eggs, one at a time. Stir in the flour until thoroughly combined. Scatter hazelnuts on bottom of prepared pan. Spoon all but 1/2 cup of the chocolate mixture into the pan.
3. For topping, combine the goat cheese, espresso, confectioners' sugar, egg and vanilla in a medium bowl; whisk until combined. Drizzle the goat cheese mixture over the chocolate batter in the pan. Dot the reserved 1/2 cup chocolate batter over the top; create a swirl pattern using a knife. Bake until the top is set but not dry, 30-35 minutes; cool on a rack. Chill thoroughly before cutting. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Per serving: 239 calories, 59 percent of calories from fat, 17 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 52 mg cholesterol, 21 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 76 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
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