Category Archives: hors d’oeuvres

New Year’s Eve 2012

Happy last year of the Mayan calendar! Here’s how I welcomed it: 

punch and jello shots just barely visible in the upper left corner

How the spread looked around 8pm

not pictured: meatballs, hummus, and quinoa-blackeyed pea bundles, all of which were delicious, but none of which I made so I can't tell you/link you to the recipe

Cheese Balls Three Ways: Cheddar-Cranberry, Roquefort-Shallot-Walnut, and Herbed Goat Cheese
Sourdough-risen Baguette
Sourdough-risen No-Knead Bread
Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with Parmeggiano & Almonds
Deviled Eggs with Caviar
Shrimp Cocktail
Cheddar-Ale Gougères
Mini Crab Cakes with Cilantro-Lime Ailoi 
Candied Cranberries
Dulce de Leche Crisps
Chocolate-covered Strawberries
Champagne Jell-O Shots with Raspberries
Dark Chocolate Truffles rolled in Coconut or Spiced Nut Crumble
Spiced Nuts
Admiral’s Punch

Mostly crudites and cheese balls left.

How it looked around 2am

Everything linked above was a repeat. New things I would make again: the mini-crab cakes, the champagne Jell-O shots, and the cheddar-ale gougères. All three were easy, delicious, and gone by the end of the night. Things I probably won’t make again: the dulce de leche crisps, which were kind of boring—neither sweet nor salty enough to be interesting, the truffles, because the nut butter made them a little grainy, and the cocktail sauce, which was exactly like cocktail sauce out of a bottle so why bother? Nothing else exceeded or fell short of expectations. Cheese balls are cheese balls. Caviar deviled eggs are caviar deviled eggs. Details on all of it after the jump.

Cheese Balls Three Ways (from Martha Stewart)

I think swiss cheese with rosemary rolled in crushed potato chips might be pretty good. Or a pimento cheese version with american + pimentos, rolled in...I don't know, maybe pecans?

These are tasty, pretty, and super simple: all three use the same cream cheese base and then you just fold in the different cheeses and roll them in different coatings. They’re also infinitely adaptable and can be made a few days in advance. Don’t like blue cheese and walnuts? How about pepper jack and pecans? Hate cheddar? Try swiss. Vehemently opposed to fruit and cheese combinations? Sundried tomatoes would be just as festive as the craisins. The one thing I might do in the future is halve everything: 3 lbs of cheese ball is a little much, even for a pretty big gathering. 

Candied Cranberries (from the Boston Examiner)

I keep thinking these would be a good garnish for something, but I'm not sure what...maybe some kind of custard? Eggnog creme brulee?Last year, I cooked the simple syrup to the hard ball stage, and the cranberries were almost impossible to extract and separate. This year, I followed the instructions exactly and they were much easier, but retained a lot more tartness & bitterness. I loved them anyway, but not everyone will. If you want them sweeter, you might try cooking the syrup to thread stage (230-235 F) before letting it cool and adding the berries.

Dulce de Leche Crisps (from Food and Wine)

I think unless "a grown-up twist" means "with booze in it," it's probably a bad thing.

Food and Wine described these as a “a grown-up twist on the classic Rice Krispies Treats,” which I guess is accurate in so far as adulthood is generally harder and less enjoyable. The rice gets toasted and combined with dulce de leche and sliced almonds, shaped into little mounds, sprinkled with salt and more dulce de leche, and baked. I think the main problem is they’re not quite sweet enough to provide a good counterpoint to the salt and just end up kind of “meh.” It’s possible that a drizzle of chocolate, a handful of butterscotch chips, and/or a pre-sweetened cereal would improve them, although those are probably all ways of regressing back to a less grown-up treat. Maybe the lesson here is that Rice Krispies, unlike cheddars and wine, don’t get better with age.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries (from The Food Network)

This was another one of the things we had a lot of leftovers of. It's possible I should have only made 1 lb of strawberries.

You don’t really need a recipe for this: melt some chocolate, dip strawberries in it. But the link above is useful for providing guidelines about how much chocolate to melt. I added some shortening because it prevents the chocolate from blooming without the fuss of perfect tempering and doesn’t change the taste/texture all that much. I also used a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off for drizzling, which is especially useful for the white chocolate which doesn’t really get runny enough to drizzle even when melted.

Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with Parmeggiano & Almonds

pro-tip: use not-thick-cut bacon

After trying these with chorizo, goat cheese, blue cheese, parmeggiano matchsticks, marcona almonds, and parmeggiano+almonds together, I think my favorite filling is still the first one I tried: chorizo. But they’re all pretty good. This year, I made the mistake of buying bacon that was too nice—really thick and gorgeously smoky, but it kept splitting as I tried to wrap the dates. Normal, not-thick, not specially-smoked bacon or proscuitto is the way to go.

Deviled Eggs with Caviar (from The Splendid Table)

we always have to have something with caviar, even though by "caviar" I usually mean cheap, frozen capelin roe

I added a few tablespoons of Dijon to these because eggs just don’t taste “deviled” to me without any mustard. You could probably use all sour cream or all Greek yogurt instead of a combination. The idea of sour cream + dill + caviar combo seemed vaguely Baltic to me, but they basically just tasted like deviled eggs with caviar. Good, but nothing all that special.

Shrimp Cocktail (from Smitten Kitchen)

ice in the bowl kept these nice and chilly all night I roughly followed poaching method described by Smitten Kitchen—simmered the shrimp shells and strained them out to make a stock, and then added a hefty glug of white wine, a dozen or so peppercorns, some tarragon and thyme and a lot of salt and sugar. Brought it all to a boil, threw the shrimp in, took it off the heat and covered it, let it sit for 8 minutes. Simple, tasty, but as mentioned above: the homemade cocktail sauce is not different or better than the prepared kind.

Champagne Jell-O Shots with Raspberries (aka “Champagne gelée” per Saveur, Epicurious, and Martha Stewart)

You could also use an 8x8 or 9x13 and just cut them into "shots"

These were definitely one of the highlights of the evening. I didn’t really follow any of the recipes linked above, although they provided the inspiration. Instead, I sprinkled two envelopes of plain gelatin over 2 cups of champagne and let it soak for 5 minutes while I boiled 1 cup of champagne with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup Elderberry cordial. I stirred the hot champagne syrup into the bowl with the soaked gelatin, stirred until the gelatin dissolved and then poured it into mini-muffin tins and plopped a raspberry in each one. I chilled them for about an hour. To unmold them, I set the mini-muffin pan in a shallow baking sheet filled with lukewarm water for 30-45 seconds and then inverted the pan over another baking sheet lined with plastic wrap. I had to shake it a little, but they popped out pretty easily.

I was really hoping some bubbles would get trapped in the gelatin, but no such luck—the champagne fizzed up when I sprinkled the gelatin over it and the boiled stuff also released all its gasses long before chilling. Based on this article, I think you’d have to add some champagne at the very end. Blumenthal dissolves the gelatin in about 2 1/2 oz champagne + 3 1/2 oz liqueur and then adds the rest of the champagne directly to the molds. So I think next time I’ll try dissolving the sugar in 1/2 cup champagne + 1/4 cup Elderberry cordial (or another liqueur), sprinkling the gelatin over 1/2 cup champagne, stirring those two together and letting them cool to room temp, and then pouring in the remaining 2 cups of champagne just before pouring it into the molds.  

Cheddar-Ale Gougères (from 101 Cookbooks)

gougeres are kind of like un-filled cream puffs, and might be tasty filled with something like a Greek or mayonnaise-based salad

I took Heidi’s advice to make these in advance up to the baking step and then freeze them—worked perfectly. They still puffed up like magic in the oven. I under-baked them slightly, so a few of them collapsed just a bit and they were a little doughy inside but still tasty. Like the cheese balls, you can flavor these however you like—any kind of cheese/herb liquid will work. I used a chocolate ale, sharp cheddar, and thyme. Maybe next time, I’ll try gruyere, white wine, and rosemary.

Mini Crab Cakes with Cilantro-Lime Ailoi (from Always Order Dessert)

I think these were my favorite

Easy, delicious bite-sized crabcakes that don’t have to be deep-fried and are tasty even at room temperature. Can be baked in advance and held at room temp or re-warmed just before people show up.

Dark Chocolate Truffles (adapted from a Gourmet recipe)

in retrospect, I should have made a truffle yin-yang. my thirteen-year-old self is disappointed in me for failing to realize that at the time.

These were just okay. I used cashew butter in place of the almond butter, but neither that nor the dulce de leche came through much. So they just tasted like chocolate and the coatings, which wasn’t bad or anything, just nothing special. Plus, the centers weren’t nearly as smooth as traditional ganache-filled truffles. Instead of rolling them in cocoa powder, I did half in white chocolate with shredded coconut and half in dark chocolate with spiced nuts and chopped sliced almonds—the latter of which was great, and I would do again. I know I’m kind of doing the: “this recipe is mediocre. I didn’t follow it at all” thing, but I don’t think following it exactly would have yielded significantly better results.

So, there you have it: a merrily excessive farewell to the old and hello to the new. Wishing everyone a 2012 precisely as productive, pleasurable, meaningful, irreverent, nourishing, exciting, and relaxing as you want it to be.

New Year’s Eve pictures and links

With the spiced nuts and chocolate-covered buttercreams already done in advance, almost everything else could be made the day before the party and assembled or baked the day of. Before

Hey, 2011

Welcome to the new blog austerity. Rather than write out special feature posts for all the recipes I used for our fourth annual New Year’s Eve party, I’m just going to post pictures and links with brief annotations about how I modified them (if I did) or how I’d do them differently if I make them again. They’re all finger foods, so they’re perfect for entertaining or taking to an open house party where people will be grazing rather than sitting down with plates & silverware.

Clockwise from the bottom right:

Marshmallows with Toasted Coconut
Smoked Trout Pâté
Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Almonds (represented by the empty dish)
Goat Cheese & Pine Nut Canapés
Spinach-Artichoke Pinwheels
Spiced Nuts
Bourbon Balls
Assorted Cheesecake Bites
Fig and Blue Cheese Crackers
Scallop Mousse in Phyllo Cups
Chocolate-covered Buttercreams
Candied Cranberries
Crudité Platter with Harissa Dip


More pictures and recipes after the jump.

Marshmallows with Toasted Coconut

These were kind of like little poufy macaroon bites.

I used Alton Brown’s Homemade Marshmallow Recipe with almond extract in place of the vanilla, and I coated the pan in toasted coconut, sprinkled more on top, and rolled the sticky edges of the cut marshmallows in yet more. That required about 3 cups of sweetened shredded coconut, which I toasted by spreading it on cookie sheets and baking it for about 15 minutes in a 300F oven, stirring it every 5 minutes or so until it was golden brown. If you want to know more about the history of the marshmallow, that’s here.

Smoked Trout Pâté on Baguette

Would also make a lovely molded dish for a buffet served with crackers or toasted pita.

Based on a Good Housekeeping recipe, which only has 2/5 stars even though the sole reviewer says “AAA+” which seems a little hyperbolic, but maybe that’s just the nature of ebayspeak. For the party, I served it on homemade, sourdough-risen baguette. I plan on making it again the next time I make bagels because it evokes the lox & cream cheese thing, but smokier and creamier. I used regular cream cheese and mayonnaise and added a tablespoon of capers and a pinch of cayenne. The only other thing I’ll change the next time I make it is to scale it down, probably to 1/3 of the original, because the original recipe makes a kind of epic amount of pâté. Quoth Brian, who was in charge of spreading it on the baguette slices: “This is so boring. I don’t remember when I wasn’t spreading pâté on bread.”

Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Almonds

It turns out if you decide to secure the bacon with toothpicks and then you broil the dates instead of baking them, the toothpicks may go up in flame just like matchsticks and be basically useless for serving. Live and learn: soak the toothpicks in water first.

You don’t really need a recipe for this, but here’s one from Martha Stewart. In the past, I’ve stuffed them with either chorizo or goat cheese, which usually required cutting the dates in half and was kind of a pain, which is why I went with almonds this year. I’ve also heard of people using pistachios, blue cheese, cream cheese, parmeggiano matchsticks, or ricotta. Last year, I served them in a sweet & sour pineapple/balsamic reduction sauce, which I kept warm in a chaffing dish. You could also make a spicy chorizo-laced dipping sauce. Or you can forego the stuffing and/or sauce entirely and they’ll still be pretty delicious.  

Herbed Goat Cheese with Toasted Pine Nuts on Baguette

This might also work as a vegetable and/or cracker dip, possibly thinned with a little cream.Not based on anything—really, the recipe is in the name. I combined a big log of goat cheese (10 oz) with the zest of a lemon, two cloves of garlic zapped for 15-20 seconds in the microwave just to tame the bite a little, and about tablespoon of fresh thyme and rosemary. Salt and pepper to taste and a pinch of cayenne. You could substitute a head of roasted garlic instead of raw, use 1-2 t. dried herbs instead of fresh, add a pinch of smoked paprika, some lemon juice, some olives or capers, or whatever you like. I toasted the pine nuts (about 1/3 cup) in a skillet over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes until they were fragrant and beginning to brown. You could also use toasted almond slices or chopped pecans or top it with something else, like roasted cherry tomatoes or pimentos. Like the trout pâté, this was served on slices of homemade sourdough-risen baguette.

Spinach-Artichoke Pinwheels

I got this from a Southern Living recipe posted on Myrecipes, and after making them three or four times I think I’ve decided they’re prettier than they are tasty. Perhaps they needed more cheese or something? The idea’s not bad, especially because you can make the filling and roll the puff pastry logs months in advance, and then it takes less than a half an hour to slice and bake them, and that’s including the time it takes to pre-heat the oven. I may try it again with pimento cheese instead of the spinach-artichoke spread. That wouldn’t provide as much of a visual contrast, but I think the spicy, tangy cheese filling would be a better foil for the buttery puff pastry. Or maybe I just need to add more/better parmesan and a hit of cayenne to the spinach-artichoke filling.

Spiced Nuts

new years 2011 063

That’s nearly 4 lbs of spiced nuts, approximately 50% of which are cashews. The imbalance was Brian’s doing, but I’m in favor because whenever I encounter a bowl of mixed nuts that includes cashews, I have to exert stupid amounts of willpower to be nut-blind and eat whatever happens to be on top, even if that’s a peanut. And sometimes, when I see other people near the bowl, I eye them suspiciously to see if they’re picking out the cashews the way I really want to. Which has resulted, more than once, in me catching someone else in the act of cashew-preferential nut consumption, and momentarily thinking uncharitable thoughts about them…before rushing over to join them before all the cashews are gone. My nut preferences are more or less moot once they’re all coated in a crunchy cinnamon and cayenne-spiked meringue—at which point, they’re all like crack—but it certainly doesn’t seem like you can go wrong by tipping the balance in favor of cashews.

Bourbon Balls

Much of the alcohol evaporates, so the booze provides more flavor than bite. Still, best to use something you like the taste of--apparently rum is a good alternative if you're not a fan of bourbon From Melissa Clark on Food52, these are basically balls of bourbon-soaked chocolate cookie crumbs studded with pecans. I let the “dough” sit, covered, for about 8 hours and thought it was a little dry when I began to shape the balls. In retrospect, I probably should have just added another glug of bourbon, but I thought maybe that was the texture it was supposed to have. I didn’t actually measure the cookie crumbs, because one package of Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers seemed like about 2.5 cups, but maybe the recipe is actually designed for a little less cookie? They were good, but definitely not super moist, so if I make them again, I’ll follow my instincts and add the extra bourbon.

Assorted Cheesecake Bites

new years 2011 047

This was the one thing I thought was pretty mediocre. I used an eHow recipe, halved. The original calls for only 1/2 cup sugar for 24 oz. cream cheese. I added a little more, but they still weren’t nearly as sweet as I usually expect cheesecake to be. I also wasn’t crazy about the vanilla wafer crust—if I make them again, I’ll do a more traditional graham cracker base. I also didn’t get especially creative with the toppings. Maybe in the future, if I make these again, I’ll flavor half of the cream cheese mixture with pumpkin & spices or melted dark chocolate and make little marbled cheesecake bites. As is, these are just kind of boring.

Fig and Blue Cheese Crackers

My friend Sara recommends eating them upside down so you taste the sweetness of the fig first, otherwise it can be overshadowed by the blue cheese.

This recipe from Food52 is similar to classic southern cheese straws—essentially a pastry crust recipe substituting cheese for some of the butter—but instead of cutting them into sticks, you cut them in  circles, make a tiny depression in the middle, and fill it with a dab of fig preserves. The result is like a little, buttery, bite-sized version of one of my favorite salads. I imagine you could use any kind of cheese/fruit pairing you like—goat cheese and raspberry, sharp cheddar with cherry or apricot, etc. Additionally, you can make them a day or two in advance, but make sure they’re fully cooled before you store them between layers of waxed paper or the fig preserves will stick.

Scallop MousseIf you have access to an Asian market or grocery store with a decent selection of Asian foods, you can probably get roe for about $2/oz rather than $20/oz. Another one from Food52, this one from ChefJune. Brian made this, and we both thought it was really amazing…until he added the vermouth-soaked gelatin. After that, it was polarizing. Brian thought it was so bad he didn’t want to serve it, but at least one person at the party said it was his favorite thing. I thought it was good, but not as good as it was before adding the vermouth. In the future, I would use white wine instead of the vermouth. The recipe shows it molded into one big shell, and also suggested using madeleine molds for individual serving-sizes. We just chilled it in a bowl and then scooped it into pre-baked phyllo cups with a melon baller.

Chocolate-covered Buttercreams

new years 2011 053

I’ve already posted about these, but a special message to the haters out there: don’t knock my flavor choices until you’ve tried them. I’m not “chasing the next thing.” Peppermint, cinnamon, orange, lavender, almond, and rose are all traditional candy flavorings. Lavender and rose aren’t very common in the U.S. today (although many gourmet chocolatiers and several national brands do sell lavender-flavored chocolate) but they have been popular at other times and places. In the words of a kindergartener: Don’t yuck my yum.

Candied Cranberries

If you don't overcook the syrup, they'll be prettierWhole, fresh cranberries coated in a hard candy shell and rolled in more sugar for sparkle—they pop when you bite into them, tart and sweet and totally delicious. I sort of followed Leah Bloom’s recipe on the Examiner, but I let the simple syrup cook to hard ball stage. That turned out to be a terrible idea, because it began to set into one big sauce-pan sized chunk of cranberry brittle almost before it was cool enough to try to separate the cranberries out and roll them in sugar. So next time, I’ll actually follow the recipe. These would make a lovely garnish for a holiday dessert, too—they’re like little edible jewels.

Harissa Dip with Crudité Platter

Rippley carrots and cucumbers courtesy of my new mandoline, which was a Christmas present.

I just kind of made this up as I went along: a jar of roasted red peppers, a half-pound block of feta cheese, 2 or 3 ounces of cream cheese, 3 or 4 teaspoons of harissa, a pinch of cayenne, a handful of fresh cilantro, the juice of about half a lemon, and salt to taste—all whizzed in a food processor until smooth. Creamy, briny, tangy, spicy. Thinned with a little more lemon juice and perhaps a little olive oil, this might make a nice salad dressing, too.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Artichoke and Roasted Garlic Chick Pea Dip

this picture gives you basically the whole recipe

Belated epilogue to last week’s posts about artichokes: a recipe you can use to test the “sweet” effect of preserved artichokes that’s not the typical, creamy spinach affair. While I was trying to figure out what to call it, I got into a little debate about what counts as “hummus,” hinging on the importance of tahini. I was initially pro-“hummus,” arguing that you can buy “hummus” labeled “tahini-free” (why on earth any sizable number of people would desire tahini-free hummus I have no idea—are there really that many people with sesame allergies? Is it a fat-phobia thing?). But I had to concede that the label implies that hummus would normally be expected to have tahini, and indeed wikipedia defines hummus as “a dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and garlic.” On the other hand, it also says the full name in Arabic is “حُمُّص بطحينة (ḥummuṣ bi tahnia) which means chickpeas with tahina,” which simultaneously implies that hummus always has tahini and that hummus qua hummus is something separate from tahini.

Ultimately, I decided that the rosemary and artichoke made it sufficiently distinct from hummus to merit a different name, but it’s definitely hummus-like. However, that’s no reason to feel wedded to the chick peas. If I’d had cannellini beans, I probably would have used those instead. Cranberry beans or black-eyed peas would probably work as well. And of course, if you have sufficient foresight, you can use dried beans instead of canned.

The “sweet” effect is definitely more pronounced before you add the acid, but like most bean-based dips/soups, you’ll probably want the acid in there to brighten the flavors. So f you really want to play with taste perversion, try it without the acid first. Let the dip really coat your tongue, give it a minute, and then drink some water. See if it doesn’t taste at least a little bit sweet.

Serve with bread, chips, crackers, cut vegetables, or as a sandwich spread. Makes a little more than 2 cups.

Recipe: Artichoke and Roasted Garlic Chick Pea Dip

  • 1 head garlic, roasted
  • 1 12-15 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1 16 oz. can chickpeas, drained
  • 3-4 T. olive oil
  • 2 t. kosher salt (might want to start with 1 t. regular salt and adjust to taste)
  • 1 t. black pepper
  • 1/8 t. cayenne pepper
  • herbs (optional and flexible—I used about 1 t. fresh rosemary and 1 t. dried “Italian seasoning. I wish I’d had about 1 T. fresh parsley; any combination of rosemary, oregano, thyme, and/or parsley, fresh or dried would be great)
  • 1 t. white wine vinegar and/or 1 T. lemon juice 

the lazy person's roasted garlic1. Roast the garlic. Some people say you should slice the head in half and brush it with olive oil or some other kind of fanciness, but I never bother with that. I just wrap the whole head in foil and throw it in a 350-400F oven for 45-60 minutes. If I’m not using the oven for something else, I do it in the toaster oven to save energy. And basically anytime I’m going to have the oven on for 45+ minutes, I throw a head of garlic in too because why not? It’s delicious on its own, just mashed up with a little salt and spread on bread or crackers, and it’s awesome in a million other things—bean dips, composed butters, bread, mashed root vegetables, squash puree, salad dressings. You can do this up to a week in advance and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.

2. Once the garlic is cool enough to handle, peel the cloves into a blender or food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for 1 T. of the olive oil and the acid.

once it's roasted the peel just falls away

3. Puree, adding more oil or water if necessary to make the mixture smooth and creamy. Adjust seasoning to taste, including adding lemon juice and/or white wine vinegar if desired.

not much to look at, but you could pretty it up with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of paprika just like hummus if you were so inclined

NYE 2010 Part I: Party Nibbles You Can Make Weeks in Advance

Life, as usual, gets in the way of finishing all the half-completed entries on cholesterol, trans-fats, cherry-almond oatmeal muffins, butternut squash soup, pie crust with and without lard, how to make your own sourdough starter, etc. It’s folly to start yet another series of entries I’ll never get around to finishing, but I tried cramming all the things I made for New Year’s Eve into one post, and I just couldn’t do it. 

This is why.

Roughly clockwise from the upper left corner, that’s matzoh toffee, peppermint bark, spicy cheese straws, spiced nuts, goat cheese and fig jam crostini, smoked salmon rolls, more nuts and cheese straws, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo, warm crab florentine dip with flatbread and sourdough, flourless chocolate-orange cake, shortbread bars with strawberry-raspberry, peach-apricot, and blueberry preserve fillings, more cheese straws and nuts.

There’s no way I could have made and served that many different things by myself if many of them couldn’t be made in advance. So that’s the theme of the first entry in the NYE 2010 series. These are all things that I made before Christmas. In most cases, I doubled or tripled the recipes and packed most of them into tins and boxes to give as gifts. But I set aside enough to put out on New Year’s Eve. In short, these are handy recipes to have, especially around the holidays.

More pictures and recipes below for Spiced Nuts, Matzoh Toffee, Peppermint Bark, and Spicy Cheese Straws.

Spiced Nuts (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

One of the things I miss most about living in New York City is the smell that wafts from the street vendors who sell their version of these: nuts encrusted in cinnamon and sugar. I would occasionally cross the street just to pass a walk by one of the carts or linger a little downwind. But I rarely bought them—partially because they’re kind of expensive, but also because the taste doesn’t quite live up to the smell. They’re not very crunchy, which I assume is an inevitable cost of keeping them warm. And maybe that’s an acceptable trade-off, not just because of how the heat augments the smell, but because the heat makes the wax paper pouches they come in kind of soft and flexible, and especially in winter, walking down the street holding a warm little bundle of nuts that smell like grandmothers’ kitchens probably smell in heaven is basically sublime in the full sense of the word—like, it really does inspire the kind of immediate awareness of your own happiness and well-being that gives meaning to the cliche, “so happy I could die.”

Making these at home will never be able to compete with that experience. But on just the level of taste, these win hands down. It’s the bite from the cayenne and extra hit of salt in these and the fact that they stay crunchy—I’m actually not allowed to make them again until next Christmas because they’re so irresistible.

I used a mixture of pecan halves, hazelnuts, almonds, and cashews, and I can’t think of a nut that wouldn’t be even better this way. This recipe uses a beaten egg white to adhere the spice mixture. Some recipes use butter, some add an herb like rosemary, some forego the sugar. I don’t think there’s a bad way to make spiced nuts. This is just one way that is very, very good.


  • 1 lb nuts (like almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecan halves, or walnut halves)
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. cayenne
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 T. water


1. Preheat oven to 300F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.

2. Beat the egg white and water until the the mixture is frothy, but not stiff. Add to the nuts and stir to make sure they’re all moistened all over.

3. Combine the brown sugar, white sugar, salt, and spices. Pour the mixture over the nuts and toss until they’re evenly coated.

4. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Let cool and break apart.

If they’re still sticky after they cool, which happened with one of three pans I made (it got the dregs of a triple batch, so I think it had more of the egg white than the other two), you can just put it back in the oven for another 10-15 min.

Matzoh Toffee (from David Lebovitz)

The function of the Matzoh here seems to be to add structure and snap to the toffee, which is baked instead of finished on the stovetop. That means no candy thermometer necessary, no washing down the sides of a pan with water to prevent crystallization, etc. As with most things involving caramelized sugar, a healthy pinch of salt does a lot to enhance the flavor. I made three batches, which used almost exactly one box of Matzoh and made enough to fill three large tins with more than enough left over to serve on New Year’s Eve.

still learning to use my new camera...


  • ~4 sheets unsalted matzoh
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped, toasted sliced almonds


1. Preheat the oven to 375F and line an 11”x17” pan with foil. Cover the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

2. Line the baking sheet with the matzoh, breaking them as necessary to fit.

3. Melt the butter and brown sugar over medium heat until it boils. Boil for 3 min, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add vanilla and salt.

4. Pour the mixture over the crackers, using a spatula to spread evenly.

5. Put in the oven and lower heat to 375. Bake for 15 min, checking occasionally to make sure it’s not burning. I turn the pans about halfway through because my oven’s uneven.

6. Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the hot surface and let stand 5 min. When melted, spread into a thin, even layer. Then sprinkle the toasted almonds over the top.

7. When completely cool, break into pieces.

Peppermint Bark (from Orangette)

This is basically like a sheet of truffle: two layers of tempered white chocolate with a layer of dark chocolate ganache flavored with peppermint extract in the middle. Topped with crushed peppermints. You have to cool each layer before spreading the next and last year I had some problems with the ganache melting. So this year, I froze one batch before pouring the top layer of white chocolate. And for some reason, that batch eventually…sort of wept. A lot of the crushed peppermint became a sort of sticky pink goop. The other batch was lovely, I swear, but that all got given away as Christmas gifts. Thus the little picture: I’m ashamed of my goopy bark.

I actually tossed the goopy pieces in more crushed peppermint in an attempt to mitigate the goopiness, but of course that just made them even goopier. and the lesson is: when a recipe for candy tells you to chill something in the refrigerator, it may not be a good idea to chill it in the freezer


  • 17 oz. white chocolate, chopped (I use Callebaut)
  • about 30 striped peppermints, finely crushed
  • 7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 T. heavy cream
  • 3/4 t. peppermint extract


1. Cover the bottom of a baking sheet with foil and mark a 9”x12” rectangle.

2. Put the white chocolate in a metal bowl and set it over a bowl of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted, but don’t let it get too hot. Should be ~110F. Pour 2/3 cup onto the prepared pan and spread evenly to the edges of the rectangle. This is much, much easier using an off-set spatula. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup of the crushed peppermints on top and chill for at least 15 min in the refrigerator.

3. Meanwhile, melt the bittersweet chocolate with the cream and peppermint extract in a saucepan over low heat just until the mixture is smooth. Let cook until barely warm to the touch.

4. Spread the chocolate layer over the chilled white chocolate. Chill at least 25 minutes in the refrigerator.

5. Re-warm the remaining white chocolate to 110F. Pour over the chilled ganache and spread to cover. Sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints and chill until firm.

6. Lift foil from baking sheet to a cutting board and peel the foil away. Cut into 2” strips, cut each strip into 2-3” pieces, and cut those diagonally into 2 triangles.

Spicy Cheese Straws

 (adapted from a recipe on GOD-DESS I think I found elsewhere)

These are basically thin strips of cheese-flavored pie crust spiked with cayenne, the homemade version of store-bought cheese crackers. These : Cheez-Its as Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies : Chips Ahoy. The more you like the cheese you use, the more you will probably like the straws it produces, but as with most baked goods there is a ceiling. In other words, don’t use commodity cheese, but don’t use $16/lb cheese either. I shoot for something as sharp as I can get for around $8/lb. You can also make interesting variations using cheeses like parmeggiano, romano, and asiago and an herb like rosemary or thyme instead of the paprika/cayenne, but cheddar-blue-cayenne is my favorite.someday I will learn to focus and frame things in a way that is not vaguely disorienting


  • 8 oz. butter, cut into 1/2” cubes and frozen
  • 8 oz. sharp cheddar, grated
  • 2 oz. blue cheese, grated or crumbled
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 t. paprika
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 T. ice water


1. Cut and freeze the butter while you grate the cheese. I use a food processor.

2. If using a food processor, switch to the normal blade and add the flour, salt, spices, and butter. Pulse a dozen times or so, until the pieces of butter are the size of small peas. If mixing in a bowl, use a pastry cutter, fork, or two knives to combine the ingredients into a lumpy meal.

3. If using a food processor, let it run while adding the ice water in a slow stream. Stop as soon as the mixture begins to stick to itself and form a ball of dough. If mixing in a bowl, add the water 1 tsp. at a time until it begins to form a dough.

4. Spread a piece of plastic wrap out and dump the mixture onto it. Using the plastic wrap, press the mixture into a slab or a tube about 1” thick, wrap well and chill in the refrigerator for 30 min.

5. Preheat the oven to 350. Break the dough into 4 equal parts, re-wrap 3 and return them to the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a tube about 12” long and 1” thick. Flatten it so it’s a rectangle about 12” long, 2” wide, and 1/2” thick. Then, use a rolling pin or empty wine bottle or glass to roll it out to about 18” long, 3-4” wide, and 1/8” thick.

6.  Slice the dough into strips about 3/8” thick and place on ungreased cookie sheets. You don’t want them to touch, but they can be pretty close together.

7. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to brown. Watch them closely towards the end of the baking time, and rotate the sheets so they bake evenly if your oven, like mine, is uneven. If you under-bake them, they won’t be crisp, but too much and they’ll taste burnt.

8. Cool on paper towels, which will wick away a little of the excess grease. When cool, store in airtight containers.