Holiday Snacks

Thanksgiving is next Thursday, and many of us will be welcoming
extended families from out of town to our homes and tables. Or, we
may be the guests, traveling to share the hospitality of
others.
Thanksgiving is next Thursday, and many of us will be welcoming extended families from out of town to our homes and tables. Or, we may be the guests, traveling to share the hospitality of others.

Grown children return home, and over the long weekend they often visit friends from high school who also have returned to the nest for the all-American holiday. Whether you are a host who wants to be prepared for drop-ins or a guest wanting to make a thank-you offering, I’ve pulled together some ideas to help you be prepared.

The late Maggie Baylis – a landscape architect, illustrator and cookbook writer – knew how to extend a warm welcome without great fuss. Once my mother and I visited her at Baylis at her tiny hillside home in San Francisco on our way to lunch. She served us glasses of cool white wine and a small dish of macadamia nuts.

The nuts were unusual enough to seem very special and few enough that we didn’t spoil our appetites for the meal to come.

Here are some ideas for similar tidbits you can keep on hand to serve unexpected company besides the legions of cookies and chocolates (not that there’s anything wrong with cookies and chocolates, goodness knows).

• Good olives: If you, like me, enjoy Kalamata olives, we are in luck because they are now available pitted in jars. Mazzetta is one brand that I’ve seen in several different supermarkets. Other markets have olive bars with a variety to choose from.

• Interesting crackers or flat bread, such as Ak-Mak or Lavash: These make ordinary cream cheese seem special.

• Nuts: Besides the elegant macadamia, I enjoy almonds, which are available dry roasted and in a variety of flavorings. Or, especially with people you don’t know very well, a bowl of walnuts in the shell and several simple nutcrackers can provide everybody with something to do with their hands while you snack and get to know each other. (Other nuts in the shell, such as almonds, filberts and brazil nuts, are too frustrating for this purpose, in my opinion.)

For something a little more elaborate, here is a recipe for candied nuts from Gourmet magazine. These could also be put into a recycled tin or jar, decorated with a bow and a sprig of greenery, and offered as a gift to your hostess next time you’re the guest.

Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

1 Tbs. unsalted butter plus extra for greasing

parchment

1/4 cup sugar

2 Tbs. light corn syrup

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

Rounded 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

2 cups mixed nuts

parchment paper for lining baking sheet

Step 1: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly butter parchment.

Step 2: Stir together butter, sugar, corn syrup, spices and salt in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add nuts and cook, stirring constantly, three minutes.

Step 3: Turn nuts out onto prepared baking sheet, separating any clumps. Bake, stirring once with a heat-proof spatula halfway through baking (keep nuts in one layer), until golden and bubbling, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Step 4: Cool on baking sheet on a rack 45 minutes, then break into small clusters with your hands.

These will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for one week.

Nuts also play a supporting role in many varieties of snack mix. This has evolved from the recipe on the back of Ralston Purina cereal boxes to dozens of ready-made types, both salty and sweet.

As well as being handy to have on hand, it is another item that can be festively packaged and offered as a simple gift.

Here is a slightly more sophisticated rendition of regular party mix from Cooks’ Illustrated.

Mexican-Spiced Almonds, Peanuts and Pumpkin Seeds

Makes about 2 cups

1 1/4 cup sliced almonds (4 1/2 ounces)

2/3 cup roasted unsalted peanuts (3 ounces), shelled

1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds (1 ounce)

Mexican Spice Mix

1 Tbs. granulated sugar

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

1/4 tsp. ground coriander

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/8 tsp. garlic powder

Simple Glaze

2 Tbs. water

1 tsp. light brown sugar or dark brown sugar

1 Tbs. unsalted butter

Step 1: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper, and spread almonds in even layer. Toast four minutes, rotate pan; add peanuts and pumpkin seeds, spreading in even layer. Continue to toast until fragrant and color deepens slightly, about four minutes longer. Transfer cookie sheet with nuts to wire rack.

Step 2: For the spice mix: While nuts and seeds are toasting, stir together sugar, salt, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, cayenne and garlic powder in medium bowl; set aside.

Step 3: For the glaze: Bring water, brown sugar, and butter to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Stir in toasted nuts and seeds and cook, stirring constantly with wooden spoon, until nuts are shiny and almost all liquid has evaporated, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Step 4: Transfer glazed nuts to bowl with spice mix; toss well to coat. Return glazed and spiced nuts to parchment-lined cookie sheet to cool (can be stored in an airtight container for up to five days).

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