Market Musings Blog

A condiment that brings the heat – Giardiniera

Okay, I won’t lie, in my house, we’re a little less than patient for spring to really be here.  Thinking about warm weather makes me think of grilling, which in turn makes me think about condiments.  About a year ago, I discovered my new favorite: giardiniera.

giardiniera soakingIn traditional Italian cuisine, this is simply a medley of pickled veggies, such as carrots, cauliflower, mild peppers, and beans soaked in salt and vinegar.  What I’m talking about, though, is actually a variety that originated in Chicago: some of the veggies above with a healthy dose of hot peppers, soaked in brine and then oil.  This type of giardiniera can is often found as an option to top Italian beef sandwiches, but adding it to most any sandwich/burger/sausage is tasty.  Or steak or chickenOr fish or eggs…or anything, really.  Also, it’s quite easy to make as home, allowing you to put your own unique twist on it.  Last summer, I tried my hand at making giardiniera, and just a few days ago emptied the last jar of that batch—time to make more!

Wanting to make my own, rather than just buying the standard, simple options from a big box store, I did my research into recipes, and opted to synthesize ideas from a handful.  I used this one from Jeff Mauro, but some of my additions or changes are below.

Giardiniera - colorful

  • 1 cup small-diced carrots
  • 1 cup tiny cauliflower florets
  • 4 to 8 serrano peppers, sliced into rings (depending on how much heat you want)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced small
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced small
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup diced olives (I used a plain green, but any of the olives we sell by the deli would work well)
  • ~2 cups olive oil or olive/canola blend, though most any cooking oil will work.
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano or Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Prep is easy, though a tad time consuming if you decide to make a large batch, like I did today.

    • Slice the serranos into coins (leaving in all that wonderful spice of seeds) and dice the rest of the veg up nice and small—getting the carrots cut up took the longest, but having big chunks isn’t ideal in the finished product.
    • In a non-reactive bowl, pour on the salt and add enough water to the bowl to just cover everything.  Give this a couple good stirs and let it sit in the fridge for a day or two.
    • After the soak time, drain in a colander and rinse well—the first time I did this, I didn’t rinse as well as I had thought and ended up with a saltier batch than anticipated.
    • Toss the pepper and veggie mixture with fresh ground black pepper and whatever herbs you want to use, and spoon it into mason jars.
    • Add enough oil to the jars to cover, close ‘em up, and let sit for another day to fully marinate.

While most recipes I’ve seen suggest using your fresh giardiniera within a few weeks, I’ve not had any problem with leaving my not-in-use jars at the far back of the fridge—the cold here might solidify the oil (which makes it pretty easy to spread, actually), but a few minutes at room temperature liquefies it pretty quickly.

Giardiniera - jars

Like most anything by way of homemade condiments, giardiniera lends itself well to personalization.  Want some extra heat?  Toss in some red pepper flakes or a little of your favorite hot sauce.  If you’re a fan of smokey flavors like this guy, try substituting some of the regular salt with the applewood smoked salt that we have available in both packaged grocery and bulk herbs (I tried this this time around—haven’t tasted it yet, but brining in smoked salt certainly imbued the veg mix with the aroma!).  If your household prefers more mild flavors, nix the serranos in favor of sweet peppers.  Grab some small jars and use this as homemade gifts for family and friends—if you can bring yourself to sharing!

Ben Zamora-Weiss is a staff member and blogger for Mississippi Market’s Eat Local Challenge. As mentioned above, you’ll also find him at the Selby store keeping the shelves stocked with the best locally baked breads we can find.

There’s oatmeal, and then there’s oatmeal.

oatmeal3_fullOunce for ounce, oats have more fat and more protein than most grains, making them perfect fodder for our keenly cold late winter. With their fat and fiber, they stick to your ribs, as people used to say. Folk wisdom has it that the Romans and the English believed that the invincibility of the Scots in battle was because of their oatmeal-heavy diet. True or not, the old ways aren’t wrong about oatmeal’s warming and filling effects. So while the cold winds howl and the temperatures hover south of 0°, here a few cozy oatmeal dishes to keep you full and cozy:

 

  • Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oats with Tasty Toppings
  • Oatmeal Pancakes

Cooking tip: There’s oatmeal, and then there’s oatmeal. The most nutritious, and tastiest oats are whole (oat groats): these are the entire oat package, roasted, so they have a lovely flavor to them. Steel-cut oats are oat groats that have been chopped into several pieces by whirling steel blades, so they remain high in food value as well. From there, the nutritional and taste values decline: rolled oats, quick rolled oats, and instant rolled oats offer less fiber and flavor. For the recipes here, use the oats specified.

Slow-cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal

Makes enough for a week’s breakfasts.

Ingredients:
8½ cups of water
2 cups of steel-cut oats
1¾ cups of whole milk
½ cup of brown sugar
½ teaspoon of sea salt

Put all of the ingredients in a slow cooker, cover, and cook on low for 7–8 hours. Be sure that your cooker remains above 140°F. while the oatmeal is cooking. Once the oatmeal is done, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and stir it in.

Tasty Toppings
• Chopped dates, toasted hazelnuts, a dollop of  plain whole yogurt, topped with a thinly sliced    kumquat
• Orange zest, plain whole yogurt or mascarpone, dusting of cinnamon, and chopped dried
prunes
• Toasted walnuts*, plain whole yogurt or heavy cream, maple syrup

* The most reliable way to toast nuts is in the microwave. Put them in a glass dish and toast them, uncovered, for 2½ minutes, then taste them to see if they’re crisp enough.

Oatmeal Pancakes

This is a very old recipe from the Mother Lode country of northern California that yields the tastiest pancakes imaginable. The only catch is that you need to soak the rolled oats for at least 6 hours. Overnight soaks are just right.
Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients:
2 cups of buttermilk
2/3 cup rolled oats
Refrigerate for at least 6 hours

Then, mix in
1 egg
Add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
1/3 cup of whole wheat flour
1/3 cup of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
½ teaspoon of sea salt
2 tablespoons of oil
Stir together until batter is as smooth as oatmeal batter can get.

Heat a griddle or large cast-iron skillet until hot. Add 2½ tablespoons of oil or clarified butter; spoon the batter onto the hot surface, and cook until each pancake’s sides are slightly frilled and the center has mostly set. Flip over and cook the second side.

Taste it!

Sample overnight oats made with local Whole Grain Milling oats on Sunday, Feb. 23 from 11:30am-3:00pm at both stores.

Tea – finding the perfect mug

That great warming morning beverage, that iced and sun-brewed afternoon cup, or that mug at the end of the day to help the sleep come.  Mmmm, tea.

tea plantNot being able to stand the taste of coffee, in high school I turned to tea to help get that morning caffeine kick or power through the night-before-the-due-date papers, and in the years since, I’ve really tried to develop a wider appreciation for the drink, its history, and its various forms.  Given the variety of flavors and styles out there, it’s very surprising to remember that it all tracks back to one species of plant, and it’s up to the drying, cooking, aging, and flavoring to get to that final, unique product.

When thinking about tea, most people might first name the bitter green teas or the standard black or earl grey blends (hot or iced), or perhaps mention some of the health benefits to tea drinking.  Mississippi Market has a wide selection of teas, ranging from the classic stand-bys to herbal blends with extra, healthy characteristics to the occasional seasonal specialties.  Looking to try something new, or have a favorite style and want to get a lot at one time?  Check out the bulk teas, by the herbs and spices.  Bulk vs. bagged?  I usually buy bulk, because when I sit down to get school work done, I’ll often go through a pot as a time.  Also, I find that loose-leaf tea has a stronger flavor than the bagged varieties.  However, sometimes nothing beats the convenience of being able to drop a bag in a mug of hot water while getting groceries stocked out in the morning!  Many of my favorite teas can be found on the co-op’s shelves; here are some suggestions on what to check out next:

Lapsang Souchong has become one of my morning standbys ever since I moved to working early shifts because it’s hard to over-steep and it’s got a pretty high caffeine content.  This tea is one of very few to be dried by smoking, and the pinewood used in the process imbues a bold smokiness that comes across in both aroma and flavor (very reminiscent in this to another brown beverage I enjoy from Islay.  Somewhat sadly, we don’t currently offer a smoked tea in bulk, but I’m a fan of the Taylor’s of Harrogate box—50 tea bags for under 9 bucks!

pu-erh tea brick

A pu-erh brick

Second on my favorites list is also my newest passion: Pu-erh.  This ancient Chinese-style tea (which you may find in a variety of spellings) is processed in a fascinating way.  Leaves are usually air-dried, then lightly pan-toasted to stop the natural enzymatic processes within them.  At this point, the leaves are allowed to ferment over the course of multiple months, during which time the chemicals that give tea it’s normally characteristic bitterness are all but eliminated and the anti-oxidant levels rise in replacement.  The end product steeps into an incredibly smooth, earthy-tasting tea, often looking as dark as coffee.  We offer pu-erh in bulk loose-leaf, and at specialty tea shops you might be able to find bricks, where the leaves have been highly compressed to preserve the flavors.

Blue Flower Earl Grey is one of my wife’s favorites (as I think it appeals to her sweet tooth without actually being sweetened).  This blend is a standard Earl Grey (black tea with a touch of citrus oil) with dried petals of blue malva flowers.  The oils from the flower give an ever-so-light floral essence to the tea, which helps to mellow the boldness that often comes with the typical Earl Grey, and the ever-so-slight natural sweetness that’s hard not to enjoy.

Jasmine_PearlsJasmine Pearl is another slightly sweet tea you can find in the bulk set.  The fresh, still-green leaves are hand-rolled, dried, and then set overnight in a room of jasmine flowers at their peak of fragrance; even this short exposure is enough to turn the pearls from just green tea to something magical.  A fun aspect to steeping pearls of tea is watching them unfurl as they sit in water; I find this a reminder that tea is in fact a leaf, not a bag of dried herbs. Want to see what I mean?  Try some!

While talking about green teas, matcha also comes to mind.  Most people see the green powder and think of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, which makes prominent use of the fine-ground leaves.  However, having matcha around can help bring tea out of the mug; it’s strong flavor and light color lend themselves to a number of food uses, such as cakes, frostings, ice cream, smoothies, and light cream sauces for desserts, salads, and entrees alike.

Lastly, let’s not forget about chai.  While the chai lattes offered in many coffee shops today are often very milky and sweet, it’s really easy to make a calorie-friendly spiced tea bev for yourself at home.  We carry a couple different bagged forms (from Tazo and Tulsi, for example), as well as the 500 Mile Chai in bulk.  Prepare as directed, and add just a splash of milk and maybe a pinch of sugar—sweetened condensed milk works well, too—and this way you can control the interplay of the spice, sweet, and fat to make your perfect mug.

Ben Zamora-Weiss is a staff member and blogger for Mississippi Market’s Eat Local Challenge. As mentioned above, you’ll also find him at the Selby store keeping the shelves stocked with the best locally baked breads we can find.

Hoppin’ John for good luck in the new year

New Year’s Day in the American South is celebrated in many families with Hoppin’ John, a stew made with black eyed peas. Some people add a penny or other small trinket to the beans when serving them. Whoever finds it is promised especially good luck in the new year. As many recipes can be found for Hoppin’ John as there are cooks who make it, so use this one as a foundation for creating your own version. Read more …

Easy salads complement summer meals

We love the versatility of beans and grains, especially for making summer salads. They work great as a side dish or an entrée; they’re great for a crowd (make one for the next barbeque you’re invited to); and, they make great leftovers (make a salad at the start of the week and you’ll have lunches for the following days).

We’ve borrowed this handy chart from Mark Bittman – it breaks down just how easy it is to make your own salads and dressings. Plus, it suggests various additions so that you can mix & match.  The Basic Bean & Grain Salad is a good place to start. The Pinto Bean & Quinoa salad is an example of what you can come up with when you combine the ingredients in the chart. You’re bound to a nave a new salad each week of the summer!

Mix & Match - Make your own salads

Basic Bean & Grain Salad
ingredients
Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
1⁄4 cup olive oil, or to taste
1⁄4 cup chopped red onion or shallot
Salt and black pepper
4 cups cooked or canned beans, drained, or cooked grains, or a combination
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preparation: Combine lemon juice, oil, onion, and salt and pepper in a large bowl and whisk. If you’ve just cooked the beans or grains, add them to the dressing while they are still hot. Toss gently until the beans or grains are coated, adding more oil or lemon juice if you like.
Let cool to room temperature (or refrigerate), stirring every now and then to redistribute the dressing. Stir in the parsley just before serving, then taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Simple Pinto Bean & Quinoa Salad
Ingredients
Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
1⁄4 cup olive oil, or to taste
1-2 tsp Dijon mustard
1⁄4 cup chopped shallot
Salt and black pepper
2 cups cooked pinto beans
2 cups cooked quinoa
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preparation: Combine the lemon juice, oil, shallot, and salt and pepper in a large bowl and whisk. Add cooked beans and grains to the dressing while they are still hot. Toss gently until the beans and grains are coated, adding more oil or lemon juice if you like.
Let cool to room temperature (or refrigerate), stirring every now and then to redistribute the dressing. Stir in the parsley just before serving, then taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Add fresh veggies, or serve with greens or crusty bread.
Adapted from Mark Bittman.

 

Iced Coffee – at home or at the co-op

I’m a great fan of high-grown African coffees, but boy—they’re no fan of me! If you’re like me, you should try cold-pressed coffee.

It couldn’t be simpler: the cold-press method tames acidity (and caffeine content, too), producing sweet, brightly flavored cups that can be drunk straight but I prefer to temper with milk. And what better, in summer, than Vietnamese coffee (cà-phê-sua)—that sweet, languorous drink? I think the sharpness of a high-acidity coffee, tamed by cold-press and sweetened condensed milk, yields the best of all possible cups—the perfect drink for sitting on the porch on a scorching-hot Minnesota summer day.

You could win a Co-op Discovery Box! Snap a pic of your cold press coffee. Tag #trythischallenge Twitter/Instagram!

Vietnamese Coffee
Makes 1 cup

6 oz. very concentrated cold-press East African coffee*
1 tablespoon to ¼ cup sweetened condensed milk

1. Stir coffee and milk together.
2. Pour over a glass filled with ice.

*Try Peace Coffee’s Ethiopian—sensational.

New to cold-press coffee?
You can make it using a variety of methods. This one uses a Toddy:

1. Plug the hole in the bottom of the coffee maker, spritz the filter, and place it in the bottom.
2. Add a cup of cold water and 6 ounces of finely ground coffee. Pour in 3 more cups of cold water, slowly circling the measuring cup over the grounds. Add another 6 ounces of coffee, wait 5 minutes, then add another 3 cups of cold water. Don’t stir! But you can lightly tap the grounds that are floating on top to make sure they become wetted (they’ll eventually sink).
3. Allow to steep for 12–18 hours. (You do not have to refrigerate the Toddy.) Decant the coffee by removing the stopper and allowing the coffee to flow into a two-quart glass canning jar. It will keep well in the fridge for about 2 weeks.

But, you can also make it using a French press.

Out and about? Stop by our stores to pick up a Cowfee. You read that right, a Cowfee. It’s an iced latté to-go – cold press, milk and organic cane sugar chilled to cool you down & pick you up. Available now at the Selby store & coming soon to West 7th.

Bulk Love: Twist ties, stickers & glass jars

We sell Restore the Earth dish soap soap in bulk & in a package. This local company uses plant-based solvents and other biodegradable ingredients.

We sell Restore the Earth dish soap soap in bulk & in a package. This local company uses plant-based solvents and other biodegradable ingredients.

Shopping in the bulk section is fun for many reasons: no packaging hiding the food – you can see it all, the scoops and bins are hands-on, you can load up however much (or little) you’d like, and we have stickers & twist ties to label your containers. You can bring in your own jars and containers or use one of our bags. Shopping in bulk is versatile and the best part is that it’s easy on the earth and your pocketbook.

Less Food Waste
Research shows that between 25% and 50% of the food Americans purchase ends up in the garbage or compost.  Buying in bulk means you can buy only the amount you need– no waste!

Lower Costs, Lower Prices
Without all those packages to design, manufacture and fill, our suppliers can offer us better costs on bulk foods than packaged foods,  and we pass those savings on to you.

Less Packaging Waste
Americans discard 570 million pounds of food packaging each day.  By bringing your own containers for bulk foods, you avoid much of the waste associated with packaged products.

Here’s a primer for buying in bulk:

If you bring your own container, weigh it and record the weight while empty.  That’s the tare weight.

2. Fill your container with the amount you need. Pelase use the clean scoops and funnels provided or ask for assistance. We’re happy to help!

3. Record the PLU number from the bin on the container. All the cashier will need is thePLU number and the tare weight and product.

Bulk eggs allow for you to buy just enough - breakfast for one or brunch for twenty.

Bulk eggs allow for you to buy just enough – breakfast for one or brunch for twenty.

Beyond the bulk section
With all the bins and jugs, the bulk department is easy to spot. But don’t forget that we sell plenty of other products in bulk too – produce, eggs and meat at our West 7th meat & seafood counter, allowing you to buy just as much as you need.

 

 

 

Make Oscar night pop!

Old-Fashioned Popcorn

Buying popcorn in bulk assures freshness. Whole Grain Milling, of Welcome MN provides our bulk popcorn.

Buying popcorn in bulk assures freshness. Whole Grain Milling, of Welcome MN, provides our bulk popcorn.

Sitting down to a good movie isn’t quite the same without a bag of popcorn, so why would you watch the awards without one?

Food historians believe popped corn was the first culinary use of maize, and they trace its use back to the Aztecs and Incas in Mexico in the fifth century BCE. The first recorded uses of it in North America were in the 1840s, when the kernels were brought to New England by American sailors. A popcorn craze soon followed, fueled in part by increasing travel: popcorn could be sold to train and stage passengers. It became a favorite in saloons as well, where highly salted free popcorn encouraged drinking. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, the 1877

Popcorn balls were part of a popcorn snack wave that started in the mid 1800s.

Popcorn balls were part of a popcorn snack wave that started in the mid 1800s.

edition of which was published in Minneapolis, contains a recipe for “Pop-Corn Balls . . . such as the street peddlers sell.” At the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the confection Cracker Jacks was introduced to a nationwide audience and became a long-lasting success: popcorn, molasses, and peanuts. The early movie industry increased popcorn’s popularity, as did the growing number of baseball stadiums, for freshly popped corn drizzled with butter was both delicious and an ideal snack, since it required nothing more than hands and a simple container to eat it.

In an odd way, the arrival of the microwave oven in the 1970s spelled the decline of popcorn—not of its popularity, but of its tastiness. The overly salted, overly heated popcorn produced with commercial microwaved packets pales beside the flavor of freshly popped, stovetop-made popcorn.

Stovetop popcorn offers more in flavor than its salty sibling,  microwave popcorn.

Stovetop popcorn offers more in flavor than its salty sibling, microwave popcorn.

Here’s how to make popcorn that’s leagues better than the microwave variety. It takes very little more time, and it affords you the luxury of deciding what, if any, toppings you want to add to it.

Plain Stovetop Popcorn
Use a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Don’t crank the heat too high; the oil will degrade at high temperatures and singe the corn kernels.

 

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons of high smokepoint oil (for example, canola or grapeseed)
½ cup corn for popping*
salt to taste

Toppings (optional): melted butter, tasty olive oil, caster (extra-fine) sugar, brown sugar, toasted nuts, nutritional yeast, powdered chipotle or cayenne, molasses

  • Put the oil in the pot, turn heat to MEDIUM, and add 2–3 kernels of corn. Cover the pot.
  • As soon as the kernels have popped, add the rest of them, cover, and shake the pot back and forth a few times each minute to distribute the oil and prevent the kernels from burning.
  • When you can no longer hear popping, remove the pot from the burner.
  • Pour the popcorn into a big bowl; drizzle with butter or oil and add salt, a bit at a time, until you like the level of saltiness. If you want sugared popcorn, add the caster sugar or brown sugar as soon as possible so it partially melts from the corn’s heat.
  • Nutritional yeast is tasty on popcorn, as is a bit of heat from powdered chipotle or cayenne. For old-fashioned, nineteenth-century American popcorn, add some molasses and toasted nuts and mix them in thoroughly. You can also make a heavy sugar syrup, allow it to cool and thicken a bit, and use it to form popcorn into balls. Pour the syrup over the popcorn, then use your greased hands to form the balls—children love to do this.

* Buy your popcorn in bulk if possible, because popping corn that gets a lot of turnover contains more moisture and pops faster and more thoroughly.

A versatile holiday cookie dough + recipes

Everyone loves holiday cookies, though few people have the time to make several varieties. But here is a master dough recipe that you can easily vary to produce cookies with three distinctive flavors and appearances. These are delicate, crunchy cookies made with the season’s nuts, and each of them will win you raves.

James Beard’s Nut Butter Balls
Austrian Nut Crescents
New Mexican Biscochitos

The first two of these cookies use identical doughs and differ in their shapes and flavorings—Nut Butter Balls are most glorious with pecans or hazelnuts, while Austrian Nut Crescents feature walnuts. Set aside one-third of the dough to modify for making traditional New Mexican Biscochitos.

The Master Dough

Ingredients:
2 c. unsalted butter
1/4–1/3 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
4 c. sifted all-purpose flour

  • Preheat oven to 325°; use middle rack of oven.
  • Cream butter; add sugar and beat in until mixture is fluffy. Add vanilla.
  • Add flour.
  • Divide dough into three portions; place each in a separate bowl.

Cooking Tip: To grind nuts, you may use a hand-crank nut mill, a food processor or a coffee grinder (not the one you use for coffee, though!).  Just be sure to pulse briefly if you use the electric options- Or you’ll end up with nut butters!

Nut Butter Balls

Ingredients:
1/3 master dough
1 1/3. c. finely ground pecans or hazelnuts
2/3 Tbsp. brandy (optional)
Powdered sugar, sifted                   

  • Add 1 1/3 c. c. finely ground pecans or hazelnuts. Using fingers, mix nuts lightly into dough.
  • If desired, add brandy and mix lightly again.
  • Roll out portions of dough, 1/4 c. at a time, into 1/2-inch diameter snakes. Cut into 1/2-inch lengths and roll between your hands into small balls. Place on ungreased baking sheet and cook for 10–12 minutes.
  • While they’re still warm, roll balls in sifted powdered sugar. 

Austrian Nut Crescents:

Ingredients:
1/3 master dough
1 1/3 c. finely ground walnuts
Powdered sugar, sifted

  • Add 1 1/3 c. c. finely ground walnuts to dough. Using fingers, mix nuts lightly into dough.
  • Chill dough in refrigerator until it can be easily rolled into a log about 1 inch in diameter.
  • Roll dough into a log, and cut off slices about 1 inch thick. Place each section on an ungreased cookie sheet, and bend each end of cookie so that it forms a crescent. Bake for 10–12 minutes until lightly colored.
  • While they’re still slightly warm, sift powdered sugar from far above cookies so that it coats them very delicately.

New Mexican Biscochitos

Ingredients:
1 egg
1/3 master dough
1 1/3 c. more of sifted all-purpose sifted flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 Tbsp. brandy
1 tsp. anise seed, ground or anise oil extract
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • Add egg to 1/3 of Master Dough; stir in thoroughly, then add flour, baking powder, salt, brandy, and anise seed.
  • Flour a board and roll out dough 1/4-inch thick. Use cookie cutters or cut into your own shapes. Before placing on greased cookie sheet, sift combined sugar and cinnamon over cookies from a height so that it coats them very delicately.
  • Place cookies on pan and bake for 10–12 minutes.

Spiced Nuts for the Holidays

Fireplaces, holidays, snow (?) , . . . and nuts. People eat more nuts in winter than other times of year, and not just because they go so well with cozy, indoor socializing. What makes nuts so delicious is their wonderful fats, each distinctively flavored, each delicious in its own way.

To bring out the fullest flavor in fresh nuts, you’ll want to toast them. If you’re a purist, simply heating up a cast-iron skillet for about 5 minutes on medium heat, then tossing the nuts in it until they start to smell really good and develop brown patches, is sufficient. (Be sure to pour them out of the pan as soon as they reach this stage, or they’ll burn: cast-iron skillets do not cool off for a long time after you remove them from the heat.)

If your taste runs to more piquant nuts, here are a few simple treatments from around the world that you can make in minutes. I’ve also included a wonderful microwaved candied nut recipe. I suggest using a cast-iron or carbon-steel wok to avoid the messiness associated with slinging sugar around the stove. Have a greased baking sheet or a big sheet of aluminum foil ready to pour these candied nuts onto immediately.

Peppered Pecans

This recipe has a long and winding road; the version below comes from the late Barbara Tropp’s  China Moon Café in San Francisco.

Ingredients:

¼ c. white sugar
1 Tbs. kosher salt
2 Tbs. coarsely ground black pepper
1 c. pecans

  1. Combine sugar, salt, and pepper.
  2. Heat cast-iron skillet or wok on MEDIUM until hot (about 5 minutes). Add pecans; toss until oils come to surface (about 1 minute).
  3. Sprinkle nuts with half of sugar-salt-pepper mixture and shake pan until sugar melts (about 1 minute). Add rest of seasoning mixture; continue shaking pan until pecans are coated with melted mixture.
  4. Immediately turn nuts out onto baking sheet or plate. When they’ve cooled enough to be handled, separate them. Cool completely, then store in an airtight jar or can.

 

Candied Chestnuts (Juri Ama-ni, Japan)

Ingredients:

1 lb. chestnuts, peeled
1 2/3 c. white sugar
2 c. water

  1. Slice off very bottom of chestnuts so they’re flat. Soak for 30 minutes in cold water to remove bitterness, then drain and dry them.
  2. Add cold water to a pot deep enough to cover chestnuts; add nuts and bring to boil on HIGH. Reduce heat to LOW after water comes to a boil, and simmer until chestnuts become tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove pot from heat; pour into sieve or colander, and run cold water over nuts to cool them. When they’ve drained and cooled, return them to pot.
  4. Put water and sugar in a wok (not nonstick!) or large saucepan on MEDIUM, stir to dissolve sugar, and bring to a boil slowly. Boil until syrup  becomes slightly thickened. If foam forms, skim it off.
  5.  Pour sugar syrup into pot over chestnuts, cover with a lid, and simmer on LOW for 10–15 minutes, until nuts are nicely coated. Set pot aside for 24 hours, unrefrigerated. (The high sugar content will prevent any foodborne microorganisms from getting a foothold.)
  6. If you can bear to wait, simmer the pot’s contents a second time on LOW for 10-15 minutes, and cool again before eating.

Choose Your Own Adventure Spiced Nuts

You can use any nuts you like for this quicky version of candied nuts. Be sure to dry-toast nuts (see above) before you toss with the sugar-olive oil syrup. (The olive oil keeps the nuts and their sugar coating slightly moist instead of crackly.)

Ingredients:

¼ c. granulated sugar
¼ c. water
1 Tbs. mild extra-virgin olive oil
1½–2 c. of dry-toasted nuts
Your favorite flavorings*

*The sky’s the limit! You could add ½ tsp. powdered chipotle; 1 tsp. vanilla extract; ½ tsp. powdered cardamom; ½ tsp. powdered wasabi; ½ tsp. hot Spanish paprika (pimentón) . . .

  1. Put sugar, water, and olive oil in heavy skillet, wok, or saucepan over MEDIUM heat; stir occasionally until mixture comes to a boil, then reduce syrup by about 1/3—the syrup should have become a warm, toasty medium brown.
  2. Add toasted nuts to mixture, stir in thoroughly, and immediately pour out onto greased baking sheet or aluminum foil. When nuts cool enough to touch, separate them. Cool thoroughly, then store in glass jar or airtight tin.

 

Barbara Kafka’s Microwaved Peanut Brittle

This is a bulletproof recipe, and so easy to make. Find the original in Kafka’s brilliant Microwave Gourmet (1987).

Ingredients:

1 c. white sugar
½ c. light corn syrup*
½ c. water
1½ c. raw peanuts
vegetable oil

* We sell corn syrup near the holidays. You can also use agave syrup. Plain corn syrup has been demonized; it’s a simple sugar with a lower glycemic index than white sugar.  High fructose corn syrup is a different story!

  1. Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in 8-c. tempered-glass measuring cup. Cook, uncovered, at 100% for 3 minutes.
  2. Remove from oven and stir thoroughly. Add peanuts; stir again. Cover tightly with microwave plastic wrap or porcelain plate that completely covers top and cook at 100% for 15 minutes.
  3. Lightly coat silicon spatula and large baking sheet or marble slab with vegetable oil. Remove glass cup from microwave; pierce plastic with tip of knife to release steam, and remove plastic carefully or remove plate by facing it away from you.
  4. Pour nut mixture onto oiled surface. Using spatula, spread nuts to distribute them throughout syrup. Allow brittle to harden. When it’s cooled, break into chunks with rolling pin and store in airtight container.