Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Real Cocktail Nut

Anyone who knows me can probably attest to the fact that I really like nuts, especially almonds. I buy giant bags of raw almonds at a time, which usually leads me to attempt roasting and flavoring them, since I can usually spare a few in case it doesn’t turn out. And honestly, before recently, I never had them turn out well. Ever. I would roast and roast, but to no avail, they just came out of the oven undercooked yet somehow stale, or just plain burnt.

When I would try to season them, they were pulled from the oven, time after time, totally unflavored, with sad piles of burnt sugar and cinnamon surrounding them. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, I was always putting some sort of liquid on the nuts, either a cooking spray or melted butter, then tossing them with sugar and cinnamon or salt and spices, putting them in a warm oven, usually set at 375 and checking often to see when they were done. I never got a good batch though, not even once. You can only imagine how sad this made me. What seemed to be one of the simpler culinary endeavors was becoming the bane of my existence.

Recently, however, I’ve been seeing recipes for candied and spiced nuts all over the place, on other blogs, in magazines, and I realized what I was doing wrong. All of these recipes had different temperature settings and time recommendations, but what was constant throughout them was the use of egg white to wet the nuts before tossing them with the seasoning. Egg white!!! This whole time, all I needed was egg white. Think of all the lost nuts, the forgotten almonds that gave their existence to being coated in cooking spray! What was I thinking? Of course egg white would work better! It actually had the ability to have things adhere to it and to form a coating around the nut. This way they wouldn’t get that stale, only faintly crispy but ultimately spongy texture with which I had become oh so prone to endowing my almonds. I know you must be saying, there is no way an almond could be spongy, but believe me, I managed to torture the bite out of these poor things with crummy coatings and excess heat.

In an effort to prove myself worthy of roasting my almonds once again, I started slowly, with a recipe from Shauna James Ahern, a source that has never let me down before. I have kept the basics of this recipe, the oven temperature and the cooking time, in tact below. Though originally a recipe for pecans, there was no way this could go wrong – right?

And they didn’t go wrong, really – they weren’t the best candied almonds I’ve ever had but they were certainly good and sugary, if perhaps a bit too cinnamony. I fed them to a bunch of my friends, and they ate them without protest, so I suppose that was a good sign. I was on the up-and-up with my almonds.

Once I got the general technique and timing down, I was able to move on to more creative combinations. At first my idea was to create a steakhouse almond by adding Worcestershire sauce to some other combination of spices. Then I got the idea that I’m sharing with you below – a Bloody Mary almond. It’s the true epitome of a cocktail nut, as it is, for all intents and purposes, a nut that is flavored like a cocktail. Well, I almost got all the way there, the only element that was missing was the tomato element, but I’m not really sure how to impart such a flavor onto an almond without literally dunking it in tomato juice and having it taste nasty. If you have any ideas, feel free to leave them below. The horseradish was missing from there too, but I was at least able to give the almonds some heat with cayenne.

Bloody Mary Almonds

First: a disclaimer. I didn’t really measure anything, so please accept my apologies for that.

Wisk together one egg white, about six drops each of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco (or other hot sauce) and a teaspoon of water until foamy.*

Combine some salt, sugar, salt-free lemon pepper seasoning, celery seed and cayenne pepper. I’m not totally sure what my exact measurements were, but the majority of the mixture was made up of salt, sugar and lemon pepper seasoning. I probably used about an eighth to a quarter of a teaspoon each of the celery seed and the cayenne. If you like your Bloody Mary Almonds a bit spicier, feel free to add more cayenne. I would err on the lower side of the celery seed measurements since it’s a pretty strong flavor, and you can always add more if you think you need some. Regardless, since I didn’t give real measurements I would suggest tasting the mixture (a simple finger test does plenty good) and adjusting to your personal tastes. Everyone likes his or her Bloody Mary a different way.

Mix the almonds into the egg white mixture to coat. Remove, allowing excess egg white to drip off and then mix in with the spice mixture. As you can probably tell from the photo above, I didn’t coat the entire surface area of my nuts – that would have probably been a bit much.

Spread the almonds out on a baking sheet and pop in a 225 degree oven. Stir the nuts occasionally (about every ten to fifteen minutes or so) to ensure even cooking. Roast for about an hour, or until the liquid on the nuts is just about dry.

Note: I’ll make these again at some point in the near future and try to report back with exact measurements. My apologies for not doing so from the get-go (I had misplaced my measuring spoons – sorry!!)**

* If you are using less than four cups of nuts, you will not need to use the whole mixture. I would suggest starting out with about half of that and going from there – if you think your nuts need to be a bit wetter, add away. You can always just add the whole mixture to whatever nuts you’re planning on using and just spill out the excess, just make sure no matter what that the egg whites are foamy when the nuts are added.

** Don’t worry, they’re back.

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